©Bert Gildart: Snow swished beneath our skis and the sound mixed occasionally with the distant echo of a lonesome railroad whistle, adding nostalgic to an already romantic setting.
Trees were weighted with dense layers of snow, and as we reached the outer limits of the well-groomed back-country trail known as the Highline, clouds lifted and we could see lofty peaks spiraling upward from nearby Glacier National Park.
SURROUNDED BY ICONS
At this point, Janie and I had reached the summit of trails forming this delightful wilderness setting.
We stopped for a few moments to enjoy the spectacle, appreciating that we were also engulfed by the Bob Marshall and the Great Bear wilderness areas.
A trail-side gauge indicted snow depths of over five feet, and we pointed our skis downward, quickly gliding along Pileated run; and, then, several miles later, to a sign pointing us to the hotel, from which our outing had originated.
We removed our skis, walked a bridge that crossed over a series of railroad tracks, then picked up a snow path that took us to the steps of the Izaak Walton Inn. The rustic lodge serves as a year-around retreat for those who want access in the summer to hiking, fishing and rafting – and in the winter to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
L TO R: In addition to about 35 rooms, the hotel also offers caboose accommodations; goat is the symbol of Great Northern and official mammal of GNP; Empire Builder and freight train stopped at Izaak Walton.
Over the years, the rustic hotel has become one of our favorite destinations, and though it offers no cell phone reception and no TV, it does offer a form of charm that is unrivaled.
ROMANCE & NOSTALGIA
Placing our skis in the pegs provided, we stepped into a lounge graced by a stone hearth, which contained a robust log fire that crackled and radiated warmth. We purchased two glasses of wine then turned to the soft chairs, which invited relaxation. We sat and began looking around.
A center table cross-sectioned from a huge tamarack tree dominated the lounge and was complemented by end tables adorned with lamps and lampshades etched with images of mountain goats. Glass-covered bookcases contained old books to include a number of Reader’s Digest Condensed books.
DISTANT TRAIN TRAVELERS
Continuing our visual sweep, we noted signal lamps hung from posts reminding us that it was the train that had first brought visitors to Glacier and that this old lodge was a part of that history. And, then, as though to punctuate that thought, Amtrak’s Empire Builder whistled its way to a stop at a nearby concrete slab, which was embedded with jackets of propane-heated water, installed to prevent the accumulation of snow.
L TO R: Lodgepole pines flank Middle Fork River Trail; descending Highline Trail; Janie waxing skis prior to day along one of the many trails forming hotel complex.
More visitors to the lodge – and we later learned that some had boarded the train in Seattle. That evening the west-bound equivalent arrived, and this time several skiers hailed from Chicago, again, providing testimony that the rustic wooden hotel is a Mecca for those with a yen for nostalgia and the outdoors.
ICONIC FISHING AUTHOR
Izaak Walton Inn was built in 1939 in part to accommodate train crews, but also to accommodate visitors who expected to use an entrance station to Glacier that would be constructed several miles away near Park Creek. The entrance never materialized, but as time went by, outdoor people began to gravitate to the lodge. Appropriately the lodge was named for Sir Izaak Walton, the 16th century English author and sportsman who wrote The Compleat Angler. Sure enough, the area provides wildlife viewing, rafting and lots of trout fishing.
RESIDENT SKI GUIDE
But on this particularly occasion, Janie and I were there for the skiing and to gather information for a book we’ve been commissioned to write on certain classic aspects of Glacier. Certainly the old hotel – with its history, railroad themes, multitude of outdoor activities, as well as its cozy bedrooms and wonderful dinning – fulfills the requisite. The lodge even offers a resident ski guide and next day we’d heard that Mark Ambre would be offering a guided tour to a challenging area in Glacier not far from Firebrand Pass.
How could we pass up something like that? In fact, we couldn’t, appreciating that the Izaak Walton was indeed a lodge for all seasons and that it offered all these activities against a backdrop of nostalgia that remained true to the area’s history — and Glacier National Park’s intent.