I had the opportunity to go on my first backpack (yes, you read that right) of the year at Slide Lake in Glacier National Park this past weekend. The plan was to hike up Lee Ridge, drop down to Slide Lake, explore around and then hike back out the next day. Originally, we were going to go over Saturday night, but the weather dictated otherwise and we ended up with a stellar day on Friday.
Craig and I picked up our permits on Friday morning and headed out to the Chief Mountain area. This time of year, the crowds are down, the weather is variable, and the campsites are open. The colors are changing and the aspens were a beautiful yellow, frequently taking our breath away. We parked at the pullout near the Lee Ridge trailhead and headed into the backcountry.
The first four miles of hiking along the Lee Ridge trail aren’t steep and aren’t really exciting. It’s a pleasant forest, but feels like forever. As we climbed out of the trees and onto the terraced section of the ridge, you have two more miles of incredible views. This is hands down, my favorite section. The trail gets steeper here, but that’s okay as frequent stops are needed both to catch your breath and to enjoy the scenery.
Behind you to the north lies foothills and plains into Canada. To the west, across the Belly River drainage, you see towering mountains including Glacier’s ceiling, Mt. Cleveland. In front of you, the beautiful, striated Gable Mountain beckons you on, along the alpine slopes of Lee Ridge. Perhaps my favorite view is of Chief Mountain. It is a beautiful and powerful mountain. As you hike up, the perspective changes with the two spikes along its ridgeline called Ninaki and Papoose. The clouds were whispey and dramatic. Despite the constant wind up there, I love it.
As we approached the Gable Pass trail at the top of the ridge, we started to encounter some snow that had fallen a few days prior. This was a reminder that things are changing and you probably don’t want to get caught out in it unprepared. We walked along towards Gable Pass, slipping a little over a combination of wet snow drifts, melting puddles and mud. Once we reached Gable Pass and began dropping down, the snow eased off which was welcome. The stretch heading down to Slide Lake is ridiculously steep.
We passed the limestone boulder fields with the eeps of pikas coming from them. We didn’t stick around to see any of them as we were trying to get to camp so we could set up and explore a little. Teasing views of Slide Lake appeared before the last dense section of trees.
We popped out at the lake and went to the campground, hung our food and set up camp. From there, we walked along the shoreline of Slide Lake. I’d seen an old log structure there a few years back and also wanted to check out the waterfall.
After a creek crossing and some bushwhacking, we made it to the log structure nestled in a picturesque scene. A little more bushwhacking brought us near to the waterfall.. but not quite to its base. We headed back for dinner and nestled into our sleeping bags.
The wind. The wind blew non-stop all night. I’ve spent a couple of nights at Slide Lake and think that it has been crazy every night. I welcomed the morning and we decided to take off a bit earlier than we wanted due to the approaching gray clouds. We missed the approaching weather and slid into our car. Good to spend a night out in the woods again.