Hiking: 15.4 mi / 3000 ft. climbing
Home: Swiftcurrent Motel Cabin
We’re spending a lot of money to be able to explore the Many Glacier valley, so let’s go big before we go home. Wait, we don’t have a home to go to, but soon the Swiftcurrent Motel manager will tell us, like a bartender, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”. Before arriving at the park, I semi-randomly came across hikinginglacier.com and quickly settled into using it for trail information in the park, despite never learning anything about its provenance. They have a “Top 10” page, and while of course everyone’s opinion will differ, the unknown author seemed to value similar things as us. The #2-ranked trail (only behind the world-famous Highline Loop) was Swiftcurrent Pass. At over 15 miles round-trip from our cabin door, it would be the longest hike we’ve ever done, but we’re trusting that our two previous double-digit hikes here frightened our nonexistent hiking muscles into taking emergency action to get into shape.
We got breakfast at Nell’s as soon as they opened, and, properly fueled, were quickly on our way to the trail that conveniently starts right from the motel complex. Cool and green to start, we went five miles tracing a line of lakes along the valley floor, rising not even 300 feet. The views of the mountains encircling and rising nearly 4000 feet above us were astounding, but the most-unbelievable thing was that this trail would somehow take us up and over the most beautiful dead-end I’ve ever seen in my life.
A series of switchbacks pushed us inexorably upwards, but never at a slope that winded us too badly. The perspective became airplane-like, and never has flying like a bird seemed more-attractive.
There is a giant pile of rocks marking the pass at the Continental Divide and the “end” of this named hike, but hikinginglacier.com helpfully recommended continuing on another quarter-mile down to the other side, because there we see an entirely new world, the even grander McDonald valley, and a preview of what we would see if and when we did the Highline Trail. There we had lunch on the rocks, marveling at the endless mountains. What we did not do was climb an extra 1500 ft. up to the Swiftcurrent Fire Tower (using the highest-elevation maintained trail in the park), because we’re finally wise enough to not extend ourselves that far.
Backtracking over to “our” side of the pass, the return hike was perhaps even better, as the skies had opened up more, and we had a better of understanding of what we were even looking at in this three-dimensional space that challenges human comprehension. We started seeing a few more people, but overall the trail was nearly empty, just the way we like it. One of those people was Jonathan, a University of Wisconsin environmental professor taking an appropriate sabbatical trip to the park, who, wiser-than-us, had decided to turn around only halfway up the pass, to live to hike another day. We leapfrogged on the way down several times, but then joined forces to “race” the last couple miles together.
While I’m not yet at a loss for words, from this point on, the photos can tell a better story than I can. So I’ll let them take us back to the cabin, where we ended footsore and tired, but extremely satisfied. After some wildly-high expectations that didn’t quite get met for Rett on our first two on-foot forays in Glacier, she declared Swiftcurrent Pass to perhaps the best hike she’s ever done, even surpassing an autumn circuit of Maple Pass Loop in Washington. And I couldn’t find any reason to disagree with that. On this July 4th, in this National Park, all I can say is “America, Fuck Yeah!”