El. Gain: ~150 m (500 ft). Dist.: 20 kms roundtrip. Max. el.: ~1,615 m (~5,300')
- July 1st, 2006. This long trailhike is the first part of a classic backpacking route that leads from the trailhead on the Going to the Sun road to Lake Macdonald in West Glacier. The hike to Gunsight Lake is about 10 kms one-way. For ambitious folks interested in travelling to Lake Macdonald, the trail continues over Gunsight Pass and down the Sperry Glacier trail down for a total distance of 32 kms. As a day hike, this could be done but it would be an extremely long outing.
We headed out towards Gunsight Lake and were hoping to either gain some elevation by scouting out Gunsight Pass or by trying to follow the trail that leads towards the Jackson Glacier. We saw the shuttle bus schedule at the trailhead and were somewhat interested in going all the way to Lake Macdonald, but the reality of the situation was that we were not leaving at an early enough time to be able to cover the miles between the trailhead and Lake Macdonald in time to catch the shuttle-bus.
Note: there is a trail heading towards the base of Jackson Glacier that is shown on my map, but according to my hiking book the trail is not maintained by the park and often gets overgrown by cowparsnip and other shrubbery).
The initial couple of hours of the Gunsight Lake trail is through forest and the St. Mary River is a constant companion, which I found to be of some significance as I recently started a job with the St. Mary Irrigation district in southern Alberta. The meltwaters from Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers contribute to the flow and Gunsight Lake must surely be the 'official' headwater of the St. Mary River, which has a beautiful aqua-green hue that is not so apparent by the time the waters reach the canals in Alberta! There is an interesting waterfall that we reached after about an hour and a half of walking that was a kilometre's detour off of the main trail (Florence Falls).
After about 8kms the trail opens up and there are wide open views accoss the valley to the Blackfoot and Jackson glaciers. As we finally neared Gunsight Lake we started to notice some dark grey clouds and heard loud cracks of thunder overhead. Raindrops started to fall, but we figured that after 3 hours of hiking, we owed it to ourselves to at least catch a glimpse of the lake. There were several beautiful waterfalls streaming down the cliffs at Gunsight Lake and the rains backed off so we took a break at the lake and snapped some pix before beating a retreat back to the car without exploring further afield. On the way back we encountered a couple of huge toads along the trail, but aside from that we did not encounter much wildlife. The skies cleared up a bit and we were beginning to have regretted not exploring the Pass, but by 5:00 PM the instable weather returned and we ended up jogging back to our vehicle with thunderclaps echoing off the mountains and the rains beginning to fall in earnest.
All in all a great day!
Follow the Going to the Sun road to the Jackson Glacier Lookout and follow the Gunsight Lake trail.
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