Night time-lapse of wilderness camping in Montana at Cliff Lake. Rock Peak is the main mountain in the background. I took a 20 second exposure at a 30 second interval for three hours (11pm-2am) with an 18mm lens at f/3.5 and 2,000 ISO.
Song: Something Elated
Artist: Broke For Free
Album: Something EP
Other than the precarious drive up the mountain, Cliff Lake is far too easy to get to. Easy, nearly flat, 1+ mile hike. The Northwest had a very low snow pack this year but there was still a little snow up there when we went. About half of the hike was over snow. The weather was perfect and we caught an amazing sunset. Once it got dark we lit up the campfire and I set up the camera to take the time-lapse above. Although it looks like the sunrise in the video, it’s actually the moonrise.
Took a quick trip up to Gem Lake with Tyson and my dog. There was a lot more snow than we anticipated. The original plan was to hike/camp at Lake Estelle but snow was blocking the road about 11 miles up Trestle Creek Rd. So we backtracked and took Lighting Creek Rd which was blocked about 18 miles in. Plan B kicked in and we hiked up to Gem Lake since we were right at that trailhead.
The trail was covered with snow for about half of it’s length but the snow was stable so the hiking was pretty easy. Once we reached Gem Lake we got lucky and found just enough level ground without snow to fit our tents. We hoped to see the full moon that night but it was too cloudy. Then next morning we woke up to rain and decided to hike out.
Somehow, seven old friends (and one 13 year old) were able to coordinate enough time off to get together and hike an amazing loop in the Cabinets of Montana for 4 days. Here’s the breakdown and a bunch of photos.
Wednesday, July 17th
I picked up Healy after work and along with my dog we drive to the Baree Lake trailhead via Silver Butte Pass. We meet up with Stangle, his son, Garcia, Lunzer and Armstrong. There’s already a campfire going when Healy and I arrive. We have a couple beers and go to sleep.
Thursday, July 18th
We all get up early (except Lunzer), hike up to the lake and set up camp. Lunzer sleeps in and hikes up alone, hours later. There’s plenty of room for all of us. Fish jumping all day. Lots of mosquitos. The water is surprisingly warm. I swim several times. Catch and release a few fish.
The Legend of the Magnet Was Way Hardcore
Somehow, a very heavy industrial strength magnet made it’s way into little Stangel’s backpack. This thing weighed 2 or 3 lbs. Everyone knows that this magnet will be snuck into someone else’s pack for the hike to Bear Lakes.
Baker is supposed to meet us if he can get off work early enough. He and I have two-way radios so I check on it periodically. Finally, after dinner I hear my radio crack. It’s Baker and it looks like he’ll make it to the lake before dark.
Half of the group wants to stay at Baree Lake another day instead of hiking up to Bear Lakes. I decide that if we’re staying another day, that I’m hiking up to the peak that overlooks the lake. The Stangels and Garcia vow to go too.
Friday, July 19th
Stangel 1 & 2, Garcia and I get up not so early and hike up to the junction with the Cabinet Divide Trail. Baker hikes halfway just to check out the trail. We decide to hike a little ways up and down the Cabinet Divide Trail just to see what we’re in for tomorrow. After trail hiking a bit, we bushwack a little and hike up to the peak. Glorious views to be had. We eat lunch and hang out for a while before hiking back down.
The Legend of the Magnet Continues – On Top of Baree Peak
Nick carried the Magnet to the peak. The legend of the Magnet was way hardcore.
More swimming and fishing. Caught a frog. It’s amazing up here.
Saturday, July 20th
The Legend of the Magnet Continues – Garcia Gets Duped
I wake up super early and find the giant magnet. I hide it in my pack, waiting for my moment. Once everyone is nearly packed I plan on hiding it in some sucker’s backpack. Garcia leaves his pack unattended for a moment and I spring into action. It doesn’t work. Garcia sees me put the Magnet in his pack, so he takes it out and gives it back to the younger Stangel, then leaves his pack unattended again. Young Stangel immediately puts the Magnet back in Garcia’s pack. Garcia has no idea. Garcia teases him about carrying the Magnet the whole hike, not realizing he is the sucker.
“How does that Magnet feel in your pack?”
“Like it’s not even there!”
The Cabinet Divide Trail is awesome. Great views everywhere you look. Easy hiking along a high mountain ridge. It’s great.
We hit the junction to Bear Lakes and the views keep getting better. Eventually the trail drops down a series of switchbacks and we find our way to one of the Little Bear Lakes. Most of us really want to get to Big Bear Lake. I remembered reading that we needed make our way around the little lake on a talus slope. Big mistake. We did that, and had an epic bushwack down to Big Bear Lake. Sprained ankles, blisters etc. It was not the best route.
Big Bear Lake is incredibly beautiful. Stangel said he saw a cabin on a cliff overlooking the lake. After setting up camp a few of us go check it out. This cabin has the best view ever. It’s locked up, quite nice and there isn’t really a trail to it. We have no idea why it’s there.
I go swimming and take a nap. Some of the guys go cliff jumping into the lake. It’s a really beautiful place. A few fish are caught and we decide to cook them up. Delicious Alpine Lake Cutthroat Trout! After dinner, the moon comes out and we watch it for hours. I take a midnight dip in the moonlight and get a moontan. I’m definitely hiking back to this lake someday.
Sunday, July 21
We get up early to pack up and hike out. We find the trail out of Big Bear Lake. That’s definitely the way to go. Hiking out was fairly uneventful. Young Stangel carries the Magnet out. We all meet in Sandpoint for lunch and talk about the trip. The word “EPIC” keeps coming up. It really was.
I was fortunate enough to get a free weekend off as an early Father’s Day present, so into the wild I went. James and Nathan were able to go which was great, since the last time the three of us backpacked together was about six years ago at Glacier National Park.
After a little discussion we decided to try out Little Spar Lake in the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, with a solid plan B in case there was too much snow at Little Spar. On the drive over we became a little concerned by the amount of snow in the surrounding peaks, but decided that there is really only one way to find out just how much snow is up there – by hiking right to it.
The drive to the trailhead was cut short by a 1/4 of a mile because of a washout. This washout became our first of many creek crossings. Most of the creeks were simple but a couple were knee deep and one was way too dangerous to ford, but luckily we found some fallen tree bridges downriver that we were able to use.
As we got closer to the lake we began seeing more and more snow. Soon we were hiking up through the forest over several feet of snow with no bare ground to be seen. We were prepared to camp on snow, but it’s just not that fun hanging around with cold wet feet and I’ve never had good luck with backcountry campfires on top of snow. Fortunately, right as we got to the lake there was just enough bare ground for our tents and a few huge flat boulders jutting out into the water that we could hang out on and enjoy the glorious view. It was heaven.
Looking through old photos and found this pic of my ’64 El Camino parked at a secret trailhead in Montana. Good car, good memories. It had a rebuilt 230 cu in straight-six and it originally had a three speed manual column shifter (“three-on-the-tree”), but I replaced that with a standard four speed manual (“four on the floor!”). It looked nice but it wasn’t a hot rod.
Sadly, I wrecked this car pretty bad on a different backpacking trip. Long story short: I was ejected from the vehicle (out the door – not through the window) and totaled the car. Major concussion, broken nose, fractured jaw, fractured sinus cavity, ocular lacerations dangerously close to my eye, 80 mile ambulance ride and two full days in the hospital. I recovered fully and only have a barely noticeable scar under my right eye. I may revisit this story sometime in fuller detail, but for now – look at that cool car!
Some of you might know that I do all the design work for Huckleberry’s Natural Market. It’s work that I thoroughly enjoy. They’re a great company with a great mission:
“to produce for and provide our customers with the best tasting, most healthful food possible and to pledge a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.“
Today’s ad (above) features a photo I took years ago on a backpacking trip with my friend James. Nothing pleases me more than getting to use some of my adventure photography for commercial use (insert comment about selling out as an artist here), and then bragging about it on my website!
James and I were camped at a little lake for a couple of days before we decided to spend the last night up on the ridge. We hauled everything (including a few gallons of water) up to a great meadow on the ridge and made camp. The views were beautiful and we could see for miles. It was different camping up high on a ridge vs. by a lake in a valley. We had no access to water and we were severely exposed to incoming weather.
Late that afternoon we noticed very dark and ominous clouds approaching our location. We gathered as much firewood as we could to prepare for rain. We burned all of it waiting for the storm, then we called it a night. Half an hour later we had access to fresh running water in the form of a stream running through James’ tent. Thunder and lighting was cracking and flashing all around us. The sound of the wind and rain was like a freight train. A few hours into it I had to go to the bathroom. I was a little worried to leave the “safety” of my tent, but when nature calls you answer. I only walked a few feet away from my tent because the visibility was almost zero. I turned around to look at my tent and I could barely make it out in the “fog”. We were literally inside of a thunderhead cloud. The moisture was thick as smoke. I took a leak quickly and hurried back to my tent. The rest of the night was spent sleeping lightly in between loud thunder claps.
It was still raining the next morning. We somehow managed to get a fire going using James’ wet wood fire starting skills. The fire was nice but nothing could dry us out in that rain. We solemnly packed up all of our wet gear and bushwacked our way down the mountain for hours in the rain. 10 years later I scanned in some old backpacking photos and put one in a natural market ad. Totally worth it.
This was my dog Snow’s first backpacking trip and she was so excited she barely laid down the entire drive! I have been training her with a dog backpack and every time I get it out she goes nuts. “Oh boy, we’re goin’ on a hike!”. Little did she know that it was an over-nighter in Big Sky Country. Montana!
I’ve been all over the Cabinet Mountains but had never been to Leigh Lake. I’ve summited Snowshoe Peak several times and looked down on the 2nd largest lake in the Cabinets, but never actually stood on it’s shores. It has a very short (but steep) 1 mile trail to get to it, which has always turned me off. Generally the shorter the hike, the more people you’ll see – not my cup of tea.
With this season’s massive snowpack there was a definite possibility that we might not even be able to drive all the way to the trial head. We just figured it would keep a lot of people out and create a little more solitude (bonus). After a little pre-planning I got out of work early last Friday, grabbed my gear, grabbed my dog, picked up Jon and headed to Montana.
It turns out we were able to drive all the way to the trailhead. The hike itself was pretty easy until the last quarter mile. We had to negotiate snowfields, raging waterfalls and some light scrambling. The entire lake was still frozen over and there were very few spots to put a tent down without being on the snow. Avalanches rumbling off of Snowshoe Peak were frequent and amazing. Nearly our entire time there was spent taking pictures and watching the avalanches.
While we were there a local photographer, Bob Hosea, hiked up for the day. He stayed for a few hours and we chatted with him a bit. He gave me his business card and once I got home I emailed him. He sent me a few of the photos he took that day and they were incredible. How lucky is he to live so close to such a great area?
As for my dog, Snow, she did great. She carried all of her own stuff and probably ran about 200 miles in total. When we got home she slept for three days. I’m pretty sure she had fun.
This famous local formation is one of my favorite places. Part of the incredible Selkirk Crest and visible from Priest Lake it rises 400 or so feet above the ridge it sits on.
Chimney Rock was my first traditional multi-pitch climb. That first time, we backpacked in the long way (6 miles vs. 3) from the East along the pack river trail. A memorable trip to say the least. Future trips have always been made from the Priest Lake side. Even though you hike up and over Mt. Roothaan on this route it is still much shorter. So far I’ve only climbed the Standard Route three times and a weird variation of the Rappel Chimney Route once – level II, trad 5.4 & 5.7 respectively.
This past June of 2010 we hiked in from the West side. The entire 3 mile approach was snow. It was a gloriously sunny day though, and we climbed the rock with no problems. Climbing the face surrounded by the basins and peaks covered in snow made that climb pretty special.
It’s BIG. It is the fifth highest mountain of the continental USA and the highest volcano of the Cascade Range. This massive mountain is the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States with multiple glaciers and routes of all technical levels. Mount Rainier offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. That’s why a lot of climbers attempt it.
So far I’ve attempted the climb four times with one successful summit. Not exactly the best track record. My first two attempts were fun trips even though we didn’t summit – one because of poor planning/training (newbs) the other because of bad weather. A third attempt finally brought success and some more great stories. My fourth attempt was a new sport for me; ski mountaineering (AT). Using gear that’s a cross between telemark and downhill skis enabled me to “skin” up like a cross country skier, yet lock those heels down for some serious alpine skiing on the way down. Poor training on my part stopped me from making the summit on that trip, but the ride down was incredible. Longest single-run downhill vertical ski of my life.
I have some great climbing buddies and we know our stuff so we’ve never had to fork over the big bucks for guide services. I hear they charge $1,000 plus! To each his own I suppose. I recommend taking a mountaineering course and climbing it with trusted friends instead of wealthy strangers. An annual climbing permit is only $30.
The reason I bring any of this up is simple. I need to jazz this blog up with some awesome photos of my climbing trips to Mt. Rainier. So without any further ado. Pictures!
Backpacked up to Engle Lake with Jon on Friday. It never rained hard but we were soaked the whole time. 100% humidity. We were literally in the water soaked clouds the entire time. Once at the lake we did manage to get a great campfire going, which helped dry out our boots. Later that night I asked Jon to be a groomsman in my wedding. He accepted. Five more to go.
On Saturday morning we decided to pack up because it didn’t look like the weather was going to change. We hiked up to the summit of Engle Peak and back down in very cloudy and rainy conditions on our way out. No decent views from the top. Just wind and clouds. We were soaked.
Overall it was a fun trip. I definitely want to go back in better weather.