Crater Lake – The Jewel Basin

I’ve had many adventures in my 22 years, but I’m just beginning to write them down. I’ve been sharing my adventures through photos and facebook updates for quite a while, but none of those forms of media are as powerful as storytelling. Here’s my first story.

 

My roommate Mackenzie and I are huge fans of hiking. We live in Montana, and there’s quite possibly no better place in the United States for two young women who love hiking to live. We both moved here from significantly less impressive states, and are both incredibly lucky to have found each other. When you meet someone in a small town with the same interests as you, AND with the same level of athleticism as you… there’s no choice but to milk that friendship for all it’s worth.

We’ve done many hikes together now, but a few days ago we decided to try and hike to Crater Lake in the Flathead National Forest. This was the very first hike I found on AllTrails when I moved to Montana, so we thought it was about time to try it out.

Like all hikes in the Jewel Basin, the trail starts out at Camp Misery – they all encompassing trailhead. Why is it called Camp Misery?  I do not know, for I have never been miserable up there. If I had to guess, however, I’d say maybe because the road is incredibly rough and there’s never any parking at the top – but that’s never stopped me and Ruby Sue, my little red Subaru!

We start up the main trail, this section we’ve done many times. It’s beautiful – giving us views of the Flathead Valley, the Swan and Mission ranges, what seems like billions of wildflowers, and not too many other hikers. Then, 1.5 miles in, we reach the junction where the trail splits off into 5 different trails, including the one down to Birch Lake and eventually Crater Lake.

IMG_1065The trail leading up to the junction. Wildflowers, mountains, and spectacular views.

As we head down towards Birch Lake we revel in the sunshine, vastness of Flathead Lake, and how easy the trail is. Occasionally singing aloud to Taylor Swift to ward off any unwanted bear encounters, we are having a blast. The trail runs along the edge of Mount Aeneas for a while with a steep, rocky cliff on one edge, leading us to be extra careful about where we placed our happy-go-lucky steps.

IMG_1240Walking along the side of Mount Aeneas – this particular section was gorgeous and relatively less sketchy than some other parts.

We soon arrived at Birch Lake, 3 miles from where we originally started. It was a gorgeous sight, and we decided to stop and fuel up and watch a man relax while fly fishing. There were oodles of jumping fish, but we never saw him catch anything but water. He didn’t seem bothered, and I admired that. After a quick snack, we were excited to see Crater Lake, so we embarked on the last 2.4 miles to our destination.

IMG_1266Birch Lake – serene and blue, and the perfect place for a mid-hike break.

This next section of hike goes through thick forest, so our bear senses were on high alert. We began to sing along with Taylor even more, and occasionally making loud, strange noises to alert any nearby bears of our presence, rather than the boring “hey bear” that most people yell. I was consciously thinking about my bear spray for most of this section, and there were at least 3 instances where one of us suddenly stopped or gasped and sufficiently freaked the other out.

But alas, of all the noises we heard, most were squirrels and the others never proved to be threatening, so we kept trekking along. It became very apparent to us that most people hike to Birch Lake and call it quits, because we only saw one man on this stretch, and the trail became very overgrown and tricky. In fact, we didn’t even make it all the way to Crater Lake because the trail just ended. With no lake in sight. What??

We ended up bushwhacking for about 0.3 miles until we could see Crater Lake, but barely, and with no visible way to get anywhere near it. There were impressive slabs of rock all around us, and we fantasized about seeing a mountain lion appear atop one, and then decided to turn back and spend our time at the much more accessible Birch Lake.

IMG_1297The best view that we could get of Crater Lake. Beautiful, but relatively inaccessible.

We made our way back through the forest to Birch Lake, taking full advantage of the views and perfect photo-ops. The very easy hike down to the lakes was slightly more challenging on the way back up, but we’ve done worse. Plus, we had previously seen a man carrying a giant wooden door/table (it’s unclear what exactly it was, but it was heavy) up the trail, so at least we didn’t have to bring anything but ourselves back up the mountain.

IMG_1332One of those perfect photo-op rocks.

Running into some friends on our way back, it’s pretty clear that 1) Montana in general is just one small town and 2) the Jewel Basin is a spectacular destination that we are lucky enough to live only minutes away from. But possibly the most unlikely thing to happen on this day trip was a brief encounter with a large bull moose on the road back down to civilization… we had no idea we’d ever see a moose up on that mountain. The beautiful thing is that anything can happen here in these rockies, though.

 

Peace and love,

Juliana

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