Sunday, June 7, 2015

Around Twin Lakes in the Jewel Basin

Only a week has gone by, yet so much snow has melted that the Camp Misery parking lot in northwestern Montana’s Jewel Basin is now completely clear.  Eli and I take the Windy Gap Trail up the valley though glacier lily slopes.  Then around the bend to a different world of scree fields, and through the gap into the snow-country.  Maybe we will reach Twin Lakes, maybe not. This type of hike is about exploring, not reaching any destination.  To see how far you can go in all directions, to push the limits of terrain and skill.
Into the snow.
All the melting has changed the terrain and hiking conditions.  Slushier snow, more tree-well holes, and deeper suncups makes for unstable footing.  There are a few tumbles and the exhilaration of falling.  It was much easier hiking the previous week on the superhighways of firm, continuous snow.  The thing that’s the same is the challenge of navigation without being able to see the trail.
Where's the trail?
Why are we up here when we could stay in the wildflower country down below where it is lush and easy and feet won’t go numb from cold?  The feeling that these snowy landscapes give me that permeates my being and provides an intangible answer.  The feeling of being small amid the vastness.  I live for moments like this.  The awe.  I need nothing more.
Simply awesome.
Our hike takes the shape of a many-pointed star.  We try each of the trails radiating out from Windy Gap— an out and back to Twin Lakes (the only lake we end up reaching), then off in either direction along the Alpine Trail as far as we dare. 
Down to Twin Lakes.
The mirrored reflection in Twin Lakes is broken by bubbles caused by decomposing organic matter.
I like exploring like this.  Your understanding of the topography and terrain deeps when you head out in many directions instead of sticking to the linear, unidirectional path.

“Let’s go this way, I think we can make it around that knob.”  Then after kickstepping halfway up the slope, “I’m too scared, let’s turn around.”

Eli makes the call to turn around at other points—when bushwhacking steeply downhill towards the end of the day proves too exhausting.  Again, when the cornices above us look dangerous.  I like that we turn around when we do.  We make it to the top of a huge snowfield on the way to Wildcat Lake and the view is breathtaking. 
What are we doing here?
I thing I love about the star shaped hike is that there is no autopilot hiking—you are confronted at every moment with questions of what am I doing here and where I am going.  You keep wondering why, why, why am I here.  By looking at these questions from all the directions, perhaps I can come closer to an answer.

For more information on the Jewel Basin of northwestern Montana:
Jewel Basin Hiking Area
Jewel Basin map
Where are you going?


  1. Nice...a star hike. Breathtaking views or just nature saying here is the star tip turn back. Beautiful way to explore.

    1. I almost called it an ameoba-with-crazy-pseudopods-extending-everywhere hike, but I think "star" sounds a little nicer.

      Definitely enjoy exploring like this!

      Hope you are doing well, Susan! Hugs to you!