Day 6: Many Glacier Campground, Glacier National Park, MontanaWe amble over to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn this morning for breakfast, and are reminded again of the deceased founder of Glacier National Park, for one of the breakfast entrees offered here is the Frittata ala Grinnell, an Italian omelet with diced vegetables and meats. Hardly a fitting tribute for “the father of American conservation”, but actually it sounds pretty tasty so I order it, just to hear the old chap take a few spins in his grave. In fact, if my own friends can’t find a mountain or a glacier or a lake to name after me when I’m dead, I suppose an omelet would be okay too.
Where Swiftcurrent Lake flows over a steep ledge and into Lake Sherburne sits the Many Glacier Hotel, a lovely old Swiss-style chalet built in 1915 by the Great Northern Railway. The stories of Glacier National Park and J.J. Hill’s great railway are intricately interwoven: Hill needed a glorious natural wonderland to attract profitable passenger traffic for his railroad, while the movement to preserve the park certainly benefited from the public’s awareness of its beauty. Yet both had to tread a fine line between preservation and over-commercialization. It is a struggle that continues today, but with new commercial interests.
It is cold and wet today, a forty-mile-per-hour wind whipping in across the lake, making the old lodge creak and groan. The jagged peak of Mount Grinnell slices open the bellies of the low-moving clouds, spilling their contents of sleet and snow and rain. Camped out around the grand fireplace, the centerpiece of the lodge’s great hall, there is already a big pack of old folks, crocheting and doing crossword puzzles.
We carefully edge a little closer to see if we might find a spot to warm ourselves by the fire, but the oldsters scowl and hiss at us like a pack of wrinkly iguanas defending their big flat sunning rock. We hastily retreat, and decide to brave the elements and board the boat for a ranger-guided cruise and hike up to Grinnell Lake.
The reluctant sun makes alternate appearances between the light showers now as we motor across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes, then hike through the woods up to the lake. The water here is icy-cold, and as I reach in to examine some colorful stones, my hands are immediately infused with an aching pain. Perched high above, just below the knife-like edge of the Continental Divide, Grinnell Glacier melts and flows into the lake, beginning its journey of thousands of miles to Hudson Bay nearly seven thousand feet below.
On the hike back to the boat, I ask the ranger why she occasionally sings out loudly to alert any passing bruins that might be on the trail, instead of wearing the silver bear-bells popular in all the finer park gift shops. Don’t they work, I ask? “Around here,” she smiles knowingly, “we call them dinner bells.”
Back at the hotel, Lorie and I hurry to take in a ranger presentation, “After the Party: Winter in Glacier”. We finally return to camp and turn in for the night.