Grinnell Lake – Spring 2019

As part of Glacier National Park’s Harlequin Duck project, a few of us headed over to the east side of the park to look for Harlequin Ducks. Sean (one of the park’s wildlife techs) and I went up to Grinnell Lake in the Many Glacier area of the park.

While we didn’t find any Harlequins, we found plenty of animals, beauty, and snow on a beautiful spring day.

After meeting up near the headquarters of Glacier National Park, all of us on the Harlequin Duck project headed out to our respective areas. Some of the group were heading up the McDonald Creek drainage while four of us headed over to the east side. One group went up the St. Mary drainage and two of use continued north to Many Glacier.

The road had just been opened to Many Glacier and we rolled in on a perfect, bluebird day. The birds were singing like crazy and the water was reflecting the stunning mountains. We weren’t sure if we were going to need snowshoes or not, but we put them on almost immediately after getting on the trail.

Our plan was to head up the Cataract Creek drainage towards Grinnell Lake, looking at the creek as we worked our way up. Harlequins had been spotted just below Hidden Falls in the past and that was where we were headed.

We spent some time along the shoreline off trail at the beginning, but stayed on the trail for the most part… or we stayed “over” the trail. Short sections of the trail were dry, but nothing more than 25 yards or so.

After spying a Common Loon, some Common Mergansers, and a Barrow’s Goldeneye pair in the lake, we continued up to the lake’s inlet and up along the creek. The trail here mostly passed through the trees with intermittent views of the creek, then Stump Lake. More ducks, but no Harlequins.

The first view of Lake Josephine is at its outlet and is always jaw-dropping. It featured a little bit of open water where a moose was foraging until it saw us. It trotted away and rounded the corner out of site. While Swiftcurrent Lake was only 10% frozen or so, Lake Josephine was probably 75% frozen over. The mountains had plenty of snow still and it was frequently rumbling down the hillside. Areas above not covered in snow had a cool mix of Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep.

We heard a handful of young men working their way on the other side of the lake up toward Grinnell Glacier which is foolish at best this time of year. A section of the trail passes through cliff bands which are completely covered in snow and absolutely not navigable. What makes them even more deadly is the snow perched above that releases and roars down the mountain.

After a long slog through the snow, we arrived near Hidden Falls which we could barely see. No ducks were in Cataract Creek, but a bat made a surprise appearance for a few seconds which left us scratching our heads. While in that drainage, we heard a jet flying over, but it persisted and we realized that it wasn’t a jet at all, but a huge release of snow across the lake. It rumbled for minutes as all of the snow finally trickled to a stop.

Our immediate concern was for those young men and we went down to the lake’s edge and looked up along the hillside, eventually spotting all four of them, turned around and making their way back. Their footprints visible within 100 yards of the slide. It could have been ugly.

After we knew everyone was okay, we soaked in the beauty of the basin. Normally, the lake has it’s mesmerizing greenish color, being so near the glacier above. This early in the spring, however, it was almost all white as it still had its layer of ice and snow on top. Only about 10% of the water was open.

We followed the shoreline to the outlet of the lake and followed the creek down and ate lunch at a nice overlook of the creek. We found the trail and backtracked to the head of Lake Josephine. We could see above that there wasn’t any dangerous snow, so we switched to the lake’s north shoreline where we could remove our snowshoes for a bit.

Grizzly track on our snowshoe track

We came to the foot of the lake, climbed the ridge up and over to Swiftcurrent Lake, then headed back over to the bridge to go back the way we came. Along the way we encountered our old snowshoe tracks, but on top of them were Grizzly tracks! We were following the bear out and it must have found our path preferred.

Once we were back at the lodge, we looked across the lake to see a couple more Moose foraging in the willows. We chatted with a worker there who saw the bear earlier walking along the shoreline.

While we didn’t find our ducks, we weren’t complaining. We were worked from all of the snowshoe travel, a bit sunburned, and super thankful for all of the animals, beauty, and perfect weather.

Outlet of Lake Josephine

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6 responses to “Grinnell Lake – Spring 2019”

  1. Chris Avatar

    Sounds like a great project. Glad you weren’t doing any SAR or body recovery from the slide. Definitely a sketchy area this time of year. Nice pics too!

    1. Martin Avatar

      My thoughts, exactly! After reading “Death in Glacier National Park” and “Death and Survival in Glacier National Park” (both must-reads, IMHO), those young guys were definitely making a bid to be featured in future editions!

      Anyway, thank you so much, Jake, for this report! I’ve never been to GNP in the winter, but am starting to get the itch!

  2. Denise Page Avatar
    Denise Page

    Wonderful! Thanks for the outstanding pics and for sharing your experience. Glad there did not need to be a rescue included in said experience.

  3. Jake – thank you for report and pics. Sound of avalanche must be pretty scary and then bear tracks in your snowshoes – that will get your heartbeats up a notch.

  4. Hey Jake..if I come out there sometime would you be willing to guide me on a trip or two?.. ..I usually hike and climb alone but would enjoy company in griz country..and I will guide you in the Grand Canyon some time..thanks..

  5. Hugh Grinnell Avatar
    Hugh Grinnell

    Jake, I loved the photos and video. Congratulations on a terrific project.

    I think you and I spoke last year, possibly about topography photos.

    My book, The Father of Glacier National Park, was just published on March 2. George Bird Grinnell is a distant cousin of mine, and I named the book: “The Father of Glacier National Park”. I have copies of his daily field journals (1885-1898), his 50 published articles about his explorations (1885 – 1891), and his personal correspondence with his guides, other exploration members, and Blackfeet Indians. I compiled these into a 208 page, 100 photograph history book, which is an unusual history in that it tells the story of the man who made the history — in his own words. It is published by The History Press which created a quality book. The books I deliver have an extra chapter included which I inadvertently left out of my final manuscript submittal. It was too late for the printing cycle. I have attached two items for your project members to review. One attachment contains two reviews of the book, one from a former “jammer” and one from “Mike” who posted his review. If any of you would like to become an owner of a copy which I personalize and autograph, simply reply to this email. The book price is $21.99 with a $3.00 mail fee. If more than one person wishes a copy and if the books are mailed to the same address, the mail charge is reduced to $2.00 per copy and the book price drops to $19.00. I would need to know how to personalize each book.

    If you have questions, please feel free to contact me by email reply or by phone: 520-488-6809. I live in Arizona, so there is a one hour time difference.

    Thank you.

    Hugh Grinnell

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