Let me prelude by saying that the 12.6 mile round trip excursion to Cracker Lake was worth it...100 times over!
The trail starts in the back of the parking lot of the Many Glacier Hotel. The first two miles are shared with horses, and to our 'luck' we got stuck behind a group right off the bat. We slowly made our way through the first two miles until the trail widened enough for us to squeeze, safely, by the horses. Another couple had caught up to us in the meantime, so we were eager to make up for lost time and enjoy the hike, alone. It wasn't long until the switchbacks started, and the couple behind us got further and further away, until the lady in the red jacket and the guy with the grizzly beard disappeared completely.
We started early enough that there didn't seem to be many people on the trail. Hiking in a solo pair has pros and cons. It was good for us because ALL of the other hikes we had done thus far had been pretty crowded. There were moments where we would find ourselves hiking alone, but these moments were brief. On the Cracker Lake trail, that is all we got...solitude. It enhances the untouched wilderness around you, and allows you to fully appreciate the majesty of the outdoors. But this also has a downside. If there was one spot at Glacier National Park you were guaranteed to see a bear, it would be the Many Glacier area. On the Cracker Lake trail, we had to be especially careful about bears for three reasons:
1) The berry bushes. The bushes hugged the trail in most spots, and were sometimes taller than me. You never knew if something was in the bush right next to you. (Always carry bear spray in bear country!)
2) The switchbacks. Since there were switchbacks a plenty on this trail, we had to be extra careful. You could not always see where the switchback lead...or what might be behind it. For example, a little over halfway through the trail, I hear a rustling right before we were about to turn the corner of the switchback. My heart dropped...until a deer poked his head around the corner. He got so close to us, I could have reached out and touched him. Luckily it was just a sweet deer friend, but it could have been anything so we were on extra alert. (Always carry bear spray in bear country!)
3) The solitude. Since the trail wasn't crowded and noisy with dozens of people, we had to make sure we were always talking. A difficult task while hiking 6.3 miles up switchbacks, gaining 1,400 feet of elevation. Our favorite thing to shout and sing was the 'Bear song' I made up, and it worked perfectly. We didn't come across any bears.
At the end of the trail, we climbed over a little hill to get the full exposure of Cracker Lake. The deep turquoise color of the glacially fed lake was jaw dropping. The color is a result of light refraction through glacial silt deposited by the inactive Siyeh Glacier, which lies north of Mount Siyeh. It was truly an unbelievably sight, and my favorite destination ever! We hiked down the side of the lake to the shoreline on the opposite side, had lunch, took some photos, and did some more exploring before making our journey back.
As we made our way back, more than 25 people passed us, hiking to the beautiful turquoise lake we had just come from. I hope they found the same tranquility, beauty and solitude we had experienced. The peace I found at Cracker Lake is something I will always hold with me.