Monday, August 06, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 3 - Lakes and Falls

I carry a thermometer in my pack so I can either brag or complain, depending on how far temperatures range from comfortable.  On the morning of day three the thermometer registered a cool 41F (5C).  That's almost a brag, but the temperature really should have fallen below freezing to get any significant bragging traction.

After our a wet evening the night before, clear skies before dawn looked pretty inviting.  The large rocks near our campsite were already dry because of their slow release of heat from days of hot sunshine, so we laid out everything wet.  When the sun came over the ridge a little after six , drying moved faster.  We hung around the Twin Outlets Lake campsite until almost ten to dry out and rest.

Not long after mounting up the for the third day we saw one of the most beautiful vistas of the trip.  Larry stands on the lakeshore sans pack in the picture of this vista at right.

It turned out to be the beginning of a series of stunning lakes and falls.  Not far from the outlet of this lake, the water of the creek squeezes through a channel one could almost jump.  It shoots out at high pressure on its way to more rapids and falls.

I remember thinking as we padded along that you can't see scenery like this from a highway.  There are some marvelous sights along the North American road system, but because of how trails work, the walker is right up close to the scenery....and not whizzing by at 60 mph (97 kph).  The scenery on this trip is unparalleled with any Rocky Mountain scenery I have seen over the years.

Impass Falls was one of those unparalleled sights.  After shooting through rock flumes and racing through rock-choked channels, East Rosebud Creeks falls down a steep bank for perhaps 200 feet.  The trail passes not far from the falls.

I thought this must be Lake At Falls, an intriguingly named body of water....but it's Duggan Lake.  Lake At Falls is another waterfall fed lake.  Its most visible waterfall comes from much higher Martin Lake, but with less water than Impass.

Trail on cliffs could have been the name for this section of the Beaten Path.  The trail almost looks hewn into the rock or blown out of it, but I think for the most part, it follows a natural ledge.  In many places, the trail is shored up by some careful rock placement that builds up the path.  In one notable place, aging iron bolts, bars, and wooden cribbing hold the trail from careening down the mountain.

The trail was mostly pretty wide along these places, but narrow in a few.  These places didn't seem particularly dangerous, but it was a little unnerving to see rock on one side and at least 100 feet (30 m) of very thin air on the other.

After passing Lake at Falls we stopped for lunch.  I have a love-hate relationship with summer sausage.  The only time I ever eat it is while camping.  It is calorie dense, and lasts a long time in moderate temperatures. I should probably stop writing about this now.

My Swedish heritage dictates eating a certain amount of rye crisp bread, so I brought some of that along, partly because it, too, lasts a long time, but mainly because I like it, and I'm not saying that because of some buried cultural imperative.  I have tried many kinds of rye crisp, and this is the first time I have managed to buy one that actually tastes like cardboard.  It's probably fine with butter and jam, and it did have a lot of fiber.  You may be wondering at this point how I know what cardboard tastes like.

While we were eating the summer sausage, cheese and cardboard, a USFS trail maintenance worker walked up.  She carried a very efficient looking saw-on-a-pole and a shovel in the back pack.  We chatted a while about the trail and its history.  She said it had been in place since the 1930's when the CCC put a LOT of time into it.  That explained the amazing amount of rock work on the trail.

It also made me think about what might happen to the trail if a time comes when the USFS is no longer fiscally able to take care of it.  Avalanches, high water, and just freeze-thaw cycles can really change things in a short time.  There are a few places that could easily become impassable, and that would be the end of through traffic.

This afternoon at 1:30 my thermometer read 76F (24C).  That seems pretty warm to an Alaska boy like me, but it beat the 90F+ (32C) temperatures in Bozeman.  On day one, I wore shorts, but did fine with my long pants the other days.

We kept going because we wanted to make it a fairly easy fourth day to the rendezvous we planned with Larry's son at Elk Lake.  We did stop for a while near Rainbow Lake to chat with a Montana FW&P game warden.  He had hiked in the eight miles (12.8 km) to check compliance with the fishing regulations.  There are fish in many of these lakes.

Rimrock Lake was our last campsite.  I think it was the most attractive.  It was nice and open, and dry.  It was easy to take a splash in the lake and clean up.  We finished our chores and crawled into our sleeping bags.

I had fallen asleep when I felt Larry's elbow hitting me.  "Did you hear that?" he said.  I hadn't, but if Larry, who isn't easily alarmed was sitting up, I was going to listen carefully.  I sat up.  The rustling around outside our tent came soon again.  This was no junco thrashing around for bugs in the leaves.

Grizzly bears are not uncommon in the Montana mountains, and while we hadn't seen any sign of them, we had pulled our food up into a tree each night out of long habit.  The USFS has wisely required bear proof containers or bear proof storage for travelers in this area.  This requirement is not only good for individual campers, it's good for bears.  Fed bears usually become dead bears, I have learned over the years.  Once a bear gets the idea that humans have food, it becomes either a serious annoyance or a danger....and it winds up hurting a person, is killed, or both.

We each carried a can of "bear repellent" for the entire trip.  I love that name: it conjures up images of bears buzzing around, but confused about landing because of the smell.  And if it is a repellent, why don't we spray it on our own skin?  Could we get a combination insect and bear repellent?

We also carried a pistol as a last resort.  I don't want to shoot a bear....the bear is just being a bear, we share the same backyard, and killing a threatened species in defense of life means explaining oneself to officialdom. And then there is the specter of wounding a bear.....

We peered a little apprehensively out under the tent fly and saw.....deer prancing in the dim light.  Four of them.  Mostly they were just looking around our camp site, but there was also some prancing going on.  There was a buck in the group.  Were they showing off for each other?  Were they having fun?  I am intrigued by animal play behavior, but I would have also been happier to observe their antics at a more reasonable hour.

It rained twice today.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album


  1. Next time you are in the Montana Wilderness....the rule for camping is 100 ft from streams and 200 feet from Lakes. Don't get caught by Forest Service they will fine you!

  2. Thanks for the tip. It's not an obvious requirement; I don't remember seeing the restriction at either end of the trail.