Even before we entered Canada, I knew that our run on "the glacier trail" was going to be a highlight. This was a trail that Mike @Digiratus added to our itinerary, having discovered - and run - it several years earlier with Monte @Blackdog and Ben @m3bassman. There was more that made this a special place, but I'm already getting ahead of myself.
First, we had to get there.
As with many of the routes so far, this one started in a valley, granite peaks soaring high above.
Horsethief Creek wasn't bursting at its seams, but there was no shortage of water, either.
With Mike in the lead, the first 25 miles of trail were nothing to write home about. As we had in the morning - and twice the day before - we followed the creek as it slowly climbed along the valley floor. Trees lined much of the road, and though I'd hoped we would find a spot similar to the alpine vistas of Rady Creek - or even Leadqueen Mountain - to camp, I found myself wondering if we'd once again find ourselves tucked into the trees with distant views of the glacier above.
Even if we camped in the trees, it wasn't as though the distant views were anything to scoff at.
Slowly, we climbed higher, a glacier eventually coming into view.
Still far from any snow or ice, we had less than a mile of trail remaining when I rounded a bend to find Mike out of his truck and inspecting a bridge. Looking through my windshield, I immediately assumed that we would be turning around - the entire bridge, but especially the second half, was in very rough shape.
Jokingly, I teased Mike about being hesitant to take the Redhead across.
Safety ..first? Or "out the window?"
"Oh, we're going across," he smiled, "I just wanted a spotter."
I didn't say it, but as I carefully picked my way across on foot, I thought back to our time together on the Grand Bench near Lake Powell. I believe the reaction I had - to an admittedly riskier operation, especially given my lack of experience at the time - was, "Seriously?"
Guiding each other across, I could swear I heard Mike let out his own, "Seriously?!" when I stopped directing him left, right, or forward, and had him stop in this position.
Whereas we'd climbed slowly before crossing the creek, the grade of the trail increased dramatically on the far side. Flipping the truck from 2WD into 4-Lo, Mike continued to lead the way as we left the trees below and worked our way into the rocks and snow.
Now we're getting somewhere.
We weren't even there yet, but I couldn't believe the amazing little cabin nestled into the bowl below the glaciers.
Out of the truck several times as we climbed the last 1500' of trail, I quickly fell behind. Of course - remembering his first time up the mountain - Mike was understanding, and I found him waiting once again at the last obstacle between us and the end of the trail.
One last river - if it could be called that at this elevation - to cross.
No problem for the Redhead.
Didn't even get the sliders wet (this time).
Even across the creek there was much to see, so our tortoise-and-hare game continued, Mike as close as he could get to the glacier before I could even pull myself away from the cute little cabin.
I could see that the road continued, but a large snowdrift rendered it impassable.
Eventually, I found myself parked as high as I could get, right there next to Mike.
It was here - looking out over the surrounding landscape - that Mike spoke just two words: "Hallowed ground." Not sure what he was referring to, I think I sort of tilted my head and did my best impression of the people's eyebrow (which is to say, no impression at all beyond a weird contortion of my face).
Luckily, Mike picked up on my confusion. "This spot - right here where we are parked - is where Ben proposed to Kirsten," he said. A big grin spread across my face, and over the next hour, I asked way too many questions about the lead-up-to and execution-of the proposal. Suffice it to say, I could totally see why this would be a great spot for such an event, and knowing that I could see the place where it all went down made this place all the more awesome.
Looking out over Hallowed Ground.
Even having run a trail before lunch in order to eat up some daylight hours, it wasn't yet 4:00pm but there was no way I was leaving this place before morning. Earlier in the day, Mike had briefly mentioned that we might head back down to find camp in the trees, but with temperatures in the mid-70s °F, and the views of the glaciers all around us, even he was content to find a spot - a little closer to the edge for me, and a little further for him - to call home for the rest of the day.
I suppose this spot will do. Oh, how we suffer.
Surrounded by stunning views.
Mr. Ground Squirrel (Golden-Mantled) seemed happy to share his domain with us... or perhaps his excitement was in hopes of a treat.
Once we had the tents set up, it was time to do a bit of exploring, some relaxing, and eventually a bit of eating. Exploring - at least for me, for now - was limited to the immediate area around camp, starting with the cabin. I couldn't believe the condition of this place. Obviously many years old - it'd been here for a decade or more - its joints were still tight and there was no sign of rodents having made their way in. The windows - all glass - were in great shape, and provisions lined the walls and shelves. Surely, it is a welcome shelter in the dead of winter, should one find themselves in the vicinity.
Stunning on the outside.
Clean and cozy within.
Relaxing took the form it always does on trips like this - sitting around in our camp chairs, chatting about this and that - and on returning from the cabin, Mike and I gazed up at the glaciers, marveling at their size, Mike pointing out the path that "the kids" had taken - a bit further up the road from the place Ben had proposed - to get up onto one of the glaciers itself.
A Norway Spruce "flower." I don't actually know what this is, but a lot of the trees had them at the tips of their branches.
As we chatted, the already cloudy skies began to darken. Not much, but enough that Mike mentioned that it "felt" like rain, and I decided it was time to make dinner "just in case."
Ominous skies approaching from the south.
Rain moving into the valley.
In the end, it rained - albeit on-and-off and mostly reasonably lightly - for a couple of hours. At times it was enough to send us looking for cover, eventually emerging to enjoy a few more minutes around the propane campfire. Somewhere during that time, the sun peeked through as it neared the horizon - low enough that its rays never touched the ground, but still bright enough that we were both sent scurrying for our cameras in order to capture the luminous light in the sky.
After a gray afternoon, which we expected to block any color at sunset, this was most unexpected!
A few minutes later, the colors changed dramatically. It would have been so interesting to see what was happening closer to the horizon.
Neither one of us was going to miss this!
I don't remember exactly what time we went to bed, but a few drops were still falling on the rain fly as I tried to keep my eyes open long enough to read a single chapter on my Kindle. With the temperature outside cooling down to the pleasant "1 comforter" range, glacial runoff cascading down the granite, and the soft pattering of the rain on the tent, I soon found myself enjoying the best night of sleep I'd have all trip.
I never did finish that chapter.
The Following Morning...
I knew I wanted to get up to one of the glaciers, so I was out of bed and on my way a little after 5:30am - just as the sun was rising on the horizon, but well before it crested the tall ridges of the bowl in which we were camped. While the clouds hadn't disappeared as I hoped - revealing a crisp, blue background behind the snow and ice - they did have a bit more texture than the evening before, adding enough visual interest that I was pleasantly surprised.
Heading up. Distances here are deceiving; I had nearly a mile - and 1000 vertical feet - to climb.
Tucked up behind a couple of moraines - or perhaps what were once terminal moraines - I wondered if I'd find a cirque with a lake at its base. At the very least, I knew I'd be crossing a couple of major waterways cascading down the glacial till, and I'd worn my Muck boots to make traversal a breeze. Of course, they made the rest of the climb a bit of a slog, and I found myself wishing I'd also brought along my sneakers.
Dozens of these streams rushed down the mountain, feeding the rivers below.
Interesting discoveries abounded as I slowly made my way up the mountainside. Even at this early hour it was already quite warm - in the lower 70s °F - each stop giving me an excuse to cool down and catch my breath just a little bit.
I'm not generally a fan of cairns, but I couldn't help but to admire this one - one of the most elaborate I've ever seen.
Part way up - though not where I'd envisioned - a lake!
Don't worry, I didn't bleed out. I thought the red staining on the snow was pollen - from wildflowers and perhaps the red modules we'd found at the tips of the fir branches - but it turns out to be produced by select types of green algae, including the species Chlamydomonas nivalis. Living in high-altitude snow fields around the world, the green algae produce a red pigment during the warm seasons.
I've never seen so many varieties of Indian Paintbrush in such close proximity. Closer to camp, I'd also seen a deep purple, for a total of nine!
Every now and then I'd turn around, camp getting smaller and smaller below.
No one else awake yet. The power of 240mm zoom.
I wouldn't call this a lake - yet - but I loved how the ice was visible underwater in this this crystal-clear, turquoise puddle.
Eventually, I was within - what seemed at the time - to be spitting distance of the glacier. Here, the steel gray of the ice contrasted with the bright white of the snow and the earth tones of the rocks plucked from the mountains. I couldn't help but to admire the enormity of what I was looking at as I plotted my final approach to the glacier.
A route in mind, I set up the camera to snap a couple photos a minute, and set out. Even now - more than an hour into my hike - I misjudged distances, and the trek to the glacier took more than 20 minutes.
And I'm off!
I quickly discovered that my only hope of maintaining traction was to stay on the snow. Even the rocky area below me (in this photo) was impassable due to the slick ice underneath.
Rocks, warmed by the sun, slowly sink into the ice. Still, resting only on the surface, they offer no traction at all.
By the time I reached the glacier, I was nearly invisible in the frame.
Reaching the glacier was fantastic. And terrifying. While I never felt as though I was going to fall into a crevasse, I did steer clear of a couple prominent ones along the edge of the ice. More sketchy was my insistence on getting out onto an exposed section of glacier - perhaps the slipperiest surface on which I've ever had the pleasure of crossing.
I was glad for my Muck boots at this point, since the rubber soles are much softer and stickier than my sneakers - giving me enough traction to remain upright on the steely ice.
The way I'd come. The exposure of ice in the foreground - perhaps 20 feet wide and 300 feet long - is what I'd just crossed.
I'd touch the ice of the main face, but never walk on it. Too steep.
I don't know if all glaciers are layered like this one, but it made for a very interesting texture.
Wall of water.
As I stood at the base of the ice wall, the sun finally poked over the ridge - it was time to start heading back towards camp. As always, the trip down would be quicker than the trip up - gravity assisting in the descent - but I still found myself stopping along the way to admire little treasures that I'd missed on my first pass.
Soaking in the view one last time.
Nestled into the granite and quartz, these purple flowers were tiny and cute.
The cirque in the lower left is where I'd expected to find a lake, but there was nothing.
Glacial till was literally covered in a sea of wildflowers. Mostly, Indian Paintbrush.
I got back to camp right around 8:30am, immediately apologizing to Mike for not taking my handheld ham radio. In fact, it hadn't even crossed my mind when I'd left - though I had grabbed my Garmin inReach Mini - and luckily Mike wasn't too worried by the time I got back (although I think if I'd been gone another hour, the situation may have been different).
At any rate, we set about our usual breaking of camp - each of us with our own routines that we have down to a science after hundreds of nights on the trail - and in less than 30 minutes we were ready to go. Mike was in the lead, as I snapped a few final photos of what is now one of the top 10 places I've ever had the opportunity to visit.
At the edge of amazing.
Leading the way.
Bringing up the rear.
Crossing the creek.
Back into the trees.
Making our way down the mountain, I couldn't help but reflect on what a great place this had been. How, as we'd pushed our trucks up this same road just 18 hours earlier, I'd been worried that we'd be camped at a lower elevation, with nothing but tantalizing views of the glacier above. Instead - for me - it was the highlight of the trip, and I found myself frequently casting my gaze to my mirrors in the hopes of catching a final glimpse.
What a magical place.
At the rate we're going, these glaciers won't be here much longer.
Eventually, the trees closed in on the trail and the views were gone. Gravity pulling our Tacomas toward town, we'd make a quick run into Radium Hot Springs for fuel and a short burst of connectivity, before heading out on one final run into the mountains.
A trail that - for one of us - seemed vaguely familiar.