Winter Doldrums In Montana
Little Matterhorn above Snyder Lakes Basin The same ridgeline in the summer of 2008 with BLUE skies (cougar14 photo)
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The winter doldrums are officially here in Northwestern Montana near Glacier National Park.
Many of the locals escape for a few days or for a week of sun to the warm(er) weather of Arizona or Mexico. Others languish inside the confines of their homes eagerly anticipating the arrival of the spring robins which indicate that winter is soon to loosen its grasp on the hills and mountains.
With few options for activities that do not include dealing with temperatures below the freezing mark others venture out into Montana’s winter wonderland and discover an untapped wilderness that has unique opportunities and challenges as well as beautiful scenery clothed with sugary-white snow.
After weeks of making and breaking plans montanarendonk and I headed up to snowshoe to the Snyder Lakes Basin in Glacier National Park. We were considering this outing as a pre-trip equipment test for the more strenuous trip of climbing to the Mount Brown Lookout later in the season.
After a quick breakfast and hastily shuffling my youngest to elementary school we headed up to Glacier National Park. In the Flathead Valley there were a few blue patches of sky which is a rare occurrence in the usually inversion packed gray cloudy days of winter in Northwestern Montana. we were hopefully for clearing skies. As usual we hope for the best with regards to weather and winter outings and today would be no different.
Ice Falls on Mount Brown Wolf Track
A slightly brisk 25 degree Fahrenheit temperature met us at the trailhead and we opted to wear just a long sleeved shirt and leave the jackets in our packs. Donning hats, gloves, trekking poles and our packs we headed up the icy path from Lake McDonald Lodge. YakTracs made my footing solid while the montanarendonk slipped his way up the trail behind me.
The Sperry Chalet Trail climbs for 1.8 miles to a junction where the Snyder Lake trail heads north. Another 2 miles up the trail is Snyder Lake. The Snyder Lake trail was marked with a well worn 6-12 inch rut and there was no fresh snow. We made good time as we were packing our snowshoes and did not put them on until we were about ½ mile from the lower lake where the snow was less compacted due to less usage. The trail ends at the lower lake and we had discussed traversing around the basin to the upper lake.
After gaining 2,100 feet from the trailhead we arrived in a beautiful bowl with high walls surrounding the wooded basin. There are actually two lakes in this basin. The lower lake is essentially a wide spot in the creek that is perfect for producing mosquitos and a few tiny cutthroat trout. In the summer the mosquitos here are horrendous but the only wildlife we saw were a few squirrels, deer tracks and even a fresh set of wolf tracks.
The views (even with gray skies) were amazing. In the summer (so I am told as I have only visited the basin on a rainy cloudy day in July, 2009) there numerous water flows and waterfalls that come out of the surrounding mountains and flow down into the valley. In winter the icefalls were absolutely spectacular and there are a few of them that become routes for ice climbing. Some of them were light blue in color, others practically clear and others were colored more of a light tea color which I presume was a result of being colored by the minerals in the rocks which the water flows through.
The mountains surrounding the Snyder Lakes Basin Edwards Mountain
and Mount Brown
were minimally visible in the cloudy weather.
Because it is only 7,612 feet in height the Little Matterhorn was more visible and stood proudly over the arete between this basin and the Avalanche Lake Basin to the north.
Clouds….clouds….and more clouds
The Arete between Snyder Lakes Basin and Avalanche Lake Basin
If only it was a brilliant sunny day!
If we could magically snap our fingers and make blue skies. It would erase the doldrums of winter.
Now Enters the Temptation to Photoshop.
This magical program lets the user “create” the illusion of blue skies. Lighten photos to enhance the exposure. Edit colors and change hues to make the scene more appealing to the eye.
It is certainly tempting to alter photos from this trip. Having the Little Matterhorn decked in winter’s grasp with a bright blue sky would certainly make a stunning photo. Light blue ice falls in front of a sunny blue sky would certainly be more pleasant to look at, but I think that nature in its original form is just as pleasant to look at and certainly is more honest and authentic.
Who needs sunshine (or Photoshop) when you can get out into Glacier National Park’s backcountry playground?
Heading home on the slopes of Mount Brown
Due to a quickly dwindling time frame we opted to snowshoe up the slope to a set of ice falls that were about 200 feet high rather than traverse to the upper lake. Montanarendonk had to get back to town to help coach a freshman high school basketball game. The 800 or so feet climb was exhilarating as were the views. This valley is literally surrounded by ice hanging down its cliffs.
Heading back down the trail was uneventful. We met two other groups one of which was going to camp in the basin. Overall we gained about 2,900 feet on a little over 4 miles.