Saturday, July 09, 2016

Quick Glacier Slide Lake backpack

Red-striped Chief Mountain is partially hidden by pointed Nanaki and Papoose peaks

Yellow Mountain towers over Slide Lake, created by an earthquake slide off the mountain

In the alpine meadow beneath Gable Peak at the head of Lee Ridge
I love the Chief Mountain area of northeast Glacier Park.
I climbed the mountain nearly 8 years ago via the Lee Ridge route just south of the Canadian border.
I hadn't returned until a couple of days ago when the backpacking itch got to me.
My first choice had been Morningstar Lake in the Cut Bank Creek area of the park, but that campground was full.
There's usually not much competition for the three sites at Slide Lake however, and I grabbed one of the spots.
I parked my car at the Chief Mountain lot and walked up the road south to the Lee Ridge site, hardly visible to anyone who drives by ----- look for the red tag at about a half mile.
It is 6 miles to Gable Pass and another 2.3 miles down to the lake.
The first almost four miles of the hike is truly unexceptional by Glacier standards;  all of in deep forest without any views.
But, when coming out of the forest the views knock you out:  Chief and Gable mountains dominating the south and west horizons.
Chief is a narrow finger in the sky when viewed from the south.   My view from the north revealed a much stouter mountain, actually a reddish/buff-colored wall above a large scree field.  Below it the fingers of smaller Papoose and Nanaki on a narrow ridge leading to that field.
Gable is really three peaks, with the summit peak another finger pointing at an angle.
Below it on the Lee Ridge is an alpine meadow full of wildflowers, grasses, gnarled-short trees and shrubs.  To the north is the mighty Belly River Valley and Canada, dominated by peaks like Glacier's highest-Mount Cleveland, Bear and Sentinel.  Off to the east, the Great Plains, although the Canadian Rockies appear to bend in that direction on the horizon.
These views grandly make up for the hike in the woods.
The open Lee Ridge is marked by giant stone cairns.
At the 6 mile mark, the trail splits to Slide Lake to the left, and the Belly River Ranger Station to the right.  Some 2,200 feet has been gained from the trailhead.
Magenta colored Indian Paintbrush at Gable Pass
The walk to Gable Pass is at the base of Gable Mountain, which has crumbled away, leaving huge, stone debris on the path.  This is at about 7,300 feet, and here in summer there are some snow fields.
Through the pass, the stone debris plunges south toward Slide Lake and is joined by debris from the base of Chief Mountain.  These rocks fill chutes looking like stone avalanches.
The trail to Slide Lake is steep and drops about 1,200 feet to the lake, which sits at the base of massive Yellow Mountain.
Slide Lake is really two lakes ---- the first a large lake at the base of a waterfall below Seward Peak, the second a smaller lake created by an (earthquake induced) rock slide off Yellow Mountain.
There are bull trout in these lakes and the Park Service is trying to re-establish its health, so fishing is prohibited.
The wind blew and it rained during the night, but the campground is protected in deep timber.
It is one of the few campgrounds in the backcountry where fires are allowed, and a group of four young St. Mary Lodge seasonal workers camped there, started one and kept it going, keeping the place cozy in the unsettled weather.
The flowers on the lake's grassy slopes were outstanding.
That group walked out on the road that passes through the Blackfeet Reservation, a rough, uninviting, rutted and cattle infested trace, some 7 miles to the Chief Mountain Highway.
That was too hostile for me, and despite a light drizzle I went back up the Gable Pass in the morning and walked out the way I had come in, on Lee Ridge.
This country is lightly used, but well worth the visit, particularly to see the open ridge and Gable Pass.

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