It’s a big day full of trail miles and elevation, but the payoff for covering over 20 miles and 5,000ft in elevation gain is the incredible views looking down on the iconic Iceberg Lake and incredible views all day long from Iceberg Peak and it’s neighbor down the ridge, South Iceberg Peak, in Glacier National Park.
After parking at the Loop, we started on the Loop Trail under a moody sky. Often experienced coming down in the heat of the day, going up in the morning is a much more pleasant experience. Due to a quickly melting snowpack, the seasonal streams were low for this time of year but still flowing. The flowers were popping and we passed the largest huckleberries we think we’ve ever seen.
The clouds kept the air cool and drifted around the mountains to the west creating dimension to the dramatic skyline as we emerged from the taller vegetation. The trail ascends up to the spiny ridge of the Continental Divide where the clouds were shrouding much of the ridgeline. Our destination peaks lie further north along this ridge and we planned to make the ascent of them based upon whether or not they were going to clear up.
The trail climbs up through a lush section of trail before diving into the subalpine fir forest. Granite Park was not too far from us now. Instead of hiking all the way up to the chalet, we made a left at the trail for the campground, skirting below the chalet and made our way up to the northern stretch of the Highline Trail.
As soon as we joined up with the Highline, we rounded a ridge and another world opens up. Vast rolling meadows with stretches of rounded domes of exposed rock, all lined by trees stretched out for miles. The craggy peaks of the park backdropped the dramatic scenery.
We passed through alpine flower meadows below the steep ridges, following the terrain as it gently moved up and down. We spied a grizzly digging up glacier lily bulbs and a mule deer buck, with antlers still in velvet, foraging among the fresh, new growth. Flycatchers, thrushes, and sparrows filled the air with their song as we moved through the cool, mountain air.
The first technical hazard we had to navigate was the infamous Ahern Drift, a late season snowfield that stretches across the trail. Its steep angle makes it challenging and dangerous. After testing it out, we decided to skirt below it. Once on the other side of the drift, we sized up Iceberg Peak as its foreboding wall towered in front of us. From this angle, it looked impossibly steep.
I had climbed this peak in 2012 with Blake Passmore of Climb Glacier National Park as he was working on this summit for his book. It was fun to revisit this peak and was helpful to be holding his book in my hand to help with remembering the route. From the drift, we planned our ascent, then continued off to the creek bed and began climbing.
When doing climbs, I always recommend getting some info on the climb before you go and getting familiar with the type of peak scrambles and route finding that Glacier has. This is not only safer, but will save you time and energy going up and down, getting cliffed out, etc so you can have a safe, rewarding day. While we were up there, a couple that was ahead of us didn’t know the route and spent at least an hour wasting their time trying to navigate a cliff band, then ended up following us up after we passed through it way to the south of them.
We climbed up the creek bed then through a navigable gap in the first cliff band. From there we traversed below another cliff band (where a goat was foraging) to the shoulder of the mountain where we could climb up onto the top of the next band. Once on top of that second cliff band, it was just a slog up through a long scree field. Satisfied to be done with that section, we worked our way up the final knob that is the summit.
Thousands of people visit Iceberg Lake each year for its incredible color and iconic icebergs floating in the water. The lake is dramatically set below towering cliffs and it was incredible to sit at the top of these cliffs and enjoy a different perspective of the gorgeous lake, over 3,000ft below.
Of course that’s not the only view from the summit as stunning views looking north to Helen Lake, Ahern Peak, Ahern Glacier, and Ipasha Peak dazzle. To the south, Swiftcurrent Mountain and our next destination, South Iceberg Peak were in the foreground of another majestic sea of summits.
After a snack and some photos, we continued our journey south along the Continental Divide, picking our way through the ridgeline. We encountered a few more sections that were a little more technical (and some routes we made delightfully so) as we stayed fairly true to the ridgeline. We finally ascended to the top of South Iceberg, then continued on down the ridge.
Instead of descending the way we came up, we worked our way to the next knob. This one requires skirting the cliff bands to the east, then finding a route up. Using Blake’s book, we found a skinny ledge, that led to an easy climb up to the more relaxed slope. From there, it was straightforward to walk to the saddle of the ridge, then drop off to the west and pick our way back down to the Northern Highline Trail.
After a tedious descent, we arrived back on the easy going of the trail and hiked back over to the Granite Park Chalet, seeing the grizzly still busy with the glacier lily bulbs and a marmot with a mouthful of vegetation. We swung into the chalet and said hello to the staff there, then worked our way down the Loop Trail back to our car as the sun dropped low on the horizon.