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Iceberg Lake

Glacier National Park, Montana

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park, Montana. We checked into our room at the Many Glacier Hotel, checked out the view from our balcony, and then readied ourselves for an adventurous hike to Iceberg Lake. The trail to Iceberg Lake is 9 miles roundtrip and passes through prime Grizzly Bear territory, so always be prepared for the possibility of bear encounters and verse yourself on bear etiquette.

Iceberg Lake is an aquamarine jewel tucked away in Glacier's backcountry, it is surrounded on three sides by towering mountains—the northeast facing cirque keeps the lake in shadow. Ice-out often does not occur until mid-July, and icebergs for which the lake was named can be seen floating in the lake after the melt occurs. We had no idea if indeed the lake was still frozen, or completely thawed, when we set out on our journey, but we were psyched to find out.

The hike begins behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and immediately starts climbing, rather steeply, for about 0.1 miles, where it then intersects with trail #167. We continued on, heading northwest, towards the lake. Along the way many wildflowers were gracing the hillsides with their delicate blooms including: fireweed, Indian paintbrush, monkeyflowers, and beargrass.

When I hiked the trail in July of 2003, I had an encounter—not of the grizzly kind, but of the celebrity kind. I rounded a corner and came face to face with a few fellow hikers. When I looked up from the rocky trail to exchange pleasantries I could hardly believe my eyes! Right there on the trail, about to shake my hand in greeting, was Jack Hanna. You might know him as "Jungle Jack," from his appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman” , “Good Morning America” and his television show "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures", or from serving as ambassador of the Columbus Zoo. He was the nicest person you would ever want to meet, and what a great person to encounter on a hiking trail in grizzly country. He introduced me to his friend Jim Dobbs and to their wives, posed for a picture, and gave me advice on hiking the trail—all four of them were extremely kind and a pleasure to meet.

The beginning portion of the trail takes the hiker through an alpine area below the south slopes of Altyn Peak and Mt. Henkel, with occasional glimpses of Wilbur Creek far below in the marshy wetlands—before we knew it we had reached Ptarmigan Falls at 2.3 miles,and the only sign of bear activity was an occasional pile of scat.

Just after passing Ptarmigan Falls, the trail turns southwest and follows the Ptarmigan Wall through some spectacular scenery. The glacial cirque that holds Iceberg Lake is now quite evident and the anticipation builds with every step.

We descended into the valley that holds the lake and crossed a couple of footbridges to round a corner and catch our first view of the lake. What an incredible sight! Huge chunks of ice were floating in the turquoise waters of the lake, and towering cliffs cast their shadow from 3,000 feet above its shores.

Sook and I explored the shores of Iceberg Lake, enjoyed a picnic lunch, then began our hike back to the Many Glacier Hotel—the return hike allowed us to experience the beautiful alpine scenery for a second time, late day light changing the vista dramatically.


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