Friday, July 23, 2010

A peek at Jewel Basin

Katie and I at Jewel Basin Lake

On the trail
I guess you can say I had a hole in my Montana backcountry education.
I had never been to northwest Montana’s Jewel Basin Hiking Area in the Swan Mountains east of Kalispell until Wednesday of this week. Yes, I had made several half-hearted tries over the years, but my attentions have always been focused on the Front, the Island Ranges and Glacier National Park.
What got me off the dime was my wife, Katie’s, love for the area. A Flathead High School grad, she had been there many times while spending her teen years in Kalispell.
The 15,000 acre area, with 27 alpine lakes and more than 50 miles of hiking trails, has always interested her, and she encouraged me to try it out.
We took off from Great Falls on Tuesday, traveling by way of Rogers Pass, Lincoln, and Seeley Lake, stopping outside Seeley for my first look at the Morrell Falls, a pleasant 5-mile roundtrip on a heavily forested trail with a 90-foot waterfall as a payoff.
We headed to Bigfork where we stayed at the barely affordable Timbers motel, just outside town.
Bigfork has become such a tourist destination that the $104 per night bill is considered a bargain.
In the morning we stopped at the Swan District ranger station to pick up a Jewel Basin map ($2, a bargain) and then it was a straight shot north a few miles to Echo Lake where we crossed the lake and turned onto a well-marked gravel road that climbed steadily to a great parking area at Camp Misery Trailhead
Our destination was Crater Lake via trails past Birch Lake. A major portion of the hike was on the Alpine Trail No. 7, a high trail that afforded tremendous views of Flathead Lake, its Wild Horse Island, and the Flathead Valley below us.
I was surprised by how rugged and untouched this popular destination is.
There were more than 20 cars in the parking lot on this mid-week hike, yet hikers quickly dispersed and we found no crowding.
The scenery was pretty typically west-side Bob Marshall/Great Bear scenery. The peaks resembled Ousel Peak, a great little climb off Highway 2 east of West Glacier in the Great Bear.
The vegetation is fairly thick and climbs to the tops of these small peaks. Mount Aeneas, at just below 7,000 feet, is the highest in the area and is easily accessed by trail, as is Crater Mountain.
The trails undulate and can be steep and precipitous in places, the ground quite rocky with streams intermittently crossing them.
From Camp Misery Trailhead it was 3 miles to Birch Lake and another 3 miles or so Crater Lake.
There was still lots of snow and we crossed many patches that were melting, exposing fields of brilliant yellow Glacier Lilies.
We saw lots of goat hair, but no goats, and no signs of grizzlies.
The country had a wild feel to it despite its proximity to one of Montana’s major population centers.
It will be a place I’ll put on my calendar yearly until I see it all.
Family enjoying Morrell Falls

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