Glacial Waters

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Clear waters of McDonald CreekWith a name like Glacier National Park you know there’s going to be large amounts of frozen water hanging around.  While the 25 active glaciers in the park are a huge draw for the hiking crowd I found the liquid water in the park, and the accompanying hikes, to be a real highlight.  McDonald Creek, following the western section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, flows down from Mount Geduhn and provides even the casual visitor with views of pristine glistening water.  Going-to-the-Sun Road offers multiple opportunities, beginning just past the 10 mile long Lake McDonald, to pull over and view cascading waters, deep blue-green pools and rushing rapids.  Standing on the edge of some of the pools the water is so clear it makes it difficult to judge it’s depth.  Slick rocks surround these ice cold waters and drowning, not grizzly attacks, is the number one life ending event in Glacier.  When hiking near water in Glacier, and indeed anywhere, be sure of your footing and avoid slick algae covered rocks.  Avoid jumping from rock to rock above the water and risking injury.  Many of the water crossings just off the road in Glacier have easy bridge crossings, but when you’re in the back country miles from help a slip and fall can spell disaster.

Avalanche CreekOne of the easiest hikes with water views in the park is the Trail of the Cedars.  This 1 mile long trail follows a wood planked board walk on it’s eastern half and a paved walking path on the west.  Parking can be problematic during peak seasons, but during my visit in October I came across less than 15 people in this area.  Following the path east to west you’ll gaze upward at towering Western Hemlocks and Red Cedars.  Some of the cedars in this area can measure 7 feet in diameter and be well over 500 years old.  As you continue down the board walk you’ll come to the highlight of the hike as a bridge spans Avalanche creek which has run 1.6 miles to this point from Avalanche Lake.  There’s a well worn but steep dirt path here that allows you to walk along and above Avalanche Creek and make the hike all the way to Avalanche Lake if you desire.  Views from the bridge give a close hand look at the power water holds as it has carved through the solid rock to form Avalanche Gorge.  My hiking partners and I made the walk up to Avalanche Lake and the views further up the trail are just as moving.   Trail of the Cedars continues to the west from here following a paved path that winds along Avalanche Creek and returns to a parking area.

Avalanche LakeIf you decide to make the hike to Avalanche Lake be prepared for some quick elevation changes.  While not difficult it’s enough to get the muscles burning as you follow the creek up out of the gorge and into dark green forest hill sides.  You’ll eventually see the creek fall away to your left as you ascend higher toward the lake.  You never quite leave earshot of it however and the sounds of rushing water will follow you all the way to the southern edge of Avalanche Lake.  As you approach the lake you’ll first see hundreds of downed trees.  These are the casualties of the frequent avalanches that give the water features of this area their names.   Above the northern shore of the lake towers Bearhat Mountain at approximately 8700 feet.  During the drier parts of the year if you look carefully you can make out multiple waterfalls cascading down hillsides to feed into the lake.  If you come when the snow melt is causing these streams to swell you’ll be treated to a magnificent backdrop to the green lake.

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