Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Leigh Lake the Hike

The trail takes you to the second largest high elevation lake in Montana.  The trail is 1.6 miles one way with about 1200 feet elevation gain.  The trail starts with a steady incline and a well-marked trail.  As the trail continues it gets narrower and has had less maintenance.  The last half mile gets to be a challenge to follow the trail with several area requiring some hands on to get up the rocky slopes.

I met my hiking partners Jackie and Mike 7am and we loaded up and headed to the trial head.  Mike and Jackie has a home in AZ and spent a large part of the year traveling.  When I was camp hosting in Moab UT this spring we met and have stayed in contact.  When temperature started hitting 100+ degrees in AZ they decided they were headed north and I was blessed when they picked Libby MT.  My life style brings me new friends all the time but it is always nice to meet back up with an old friend.

The road to trail head was in good condition and the trail was in okay shape.  Weather was perfect for the hike (58 clear starting and ending 75ish clear) we started out at 7am and arrived at the trail head a little before 8am.  The first turn a Forest Service (FS) road off US-2 was marked and easy to find as well as the next turn.  The instruction stated that FS867 was to change to FS1478 but it did not say turn and there were no signage???  We had our MVUM (FS Motor Vehicle Use Map) and it showed that it we needed to make a turn.  The ride thru the FS roads was nice there are a few residences in the beginning with most of the trip was along a mountain stream through the forest with some great views of the mountains that still had some snow at the upper elevations.  As we rounded one curve it looked like a large shaggy dog was running down the road ahead of us…a rusty brown.  We then realized we had a bear in the road but he/she was not interested in stopping for a photo shoot.  Never did get a side view to positively id the type of bear and the road was too hard packed to check for possible prints…so we called it a Grizzly probably 800-900 lbs (more like a 200 black bear maybe as if we could guest the weight). 

The trail started out with an incline and continued with a well-marked steep incline trail for about the first mile.  Mike has been having a problem with one of his knees and decided to head back after about a quarter of a mile.  Jackie and I continued on to see the lake.  At about one mile in we reached the base of the water fall.  A long climb and worth every step the view was breath-taking.  At the base of the water fall the trail splits with the better trail crossing the creek with this better trail only accessible in late summer or fall due to the level of the creek.  The optional trail is not welled marked and has several places we were pretty much crawling up the rocky sections to reach the next section of trail. 

On the trail in we met up with three young women headed out that had packed in and spend the night at the lake.  They told us it was worth the effort and watch out for the goats around the lake they visited them yesterday and last night in their camp.  We asked them to find Mike in the parking area and tell him we were still headed in and in good shape.  As we got to the bottom of the water fall we had a hiker(Andy from Maryland) catch up with up and he informed up that Mike was doing well and quite comfortable in the parking area.  The three of us hiked together for a while but our hiking abilities were not up to our new partners’ and he pushed on ahead of us.  When we reached the lake our new friend was there so we spent a little more time chatting and Andy was off headed back down the trail.  He asked about the goats the girls had seen and asked if we had spotted any.  We had not and in talking he was interested the size and how he could locate them and as we were talking we spotted one up on the mountain side.  The goat we spotted was at a distance that made it impossible to tell for sure if it was a goat or sheep so we all agreed it was a goat.  Jackie and I took a break explored the area and had a light lunch. 

As we were leaving the lake a group of hiker’s young children, young adults, and older couples were arriving at the lake.  Some with fishing equipment, binoculars, and cameras out for a day in the great outdoors of Montana.  As we headed back down the trail there was a steady flow of hikers headed to the lake.  The return hike was just as spectacular as the hike up the mountain with lots of great views and some physical challenges along the way.  We arrived back at the trail head 11:30ish about a four hour hike.  On the way out we asked a couple of hikers’ if then had talked to Mike and they had not that had Jackie and me asking ourselves where could Mike be, he has never met a stranger and always have an interesting story to share.  We get back to the truck and it has a note from Mike…I am taking a walk back toward the main road out pick me up on your way out.  We met several vehicles headed to the trail head and each one informed us Mike was several miles farther down the road.  We found Mike about five miles up the road from the trail head sitting near the creek enjoying the day. 

In the end Mike may not have climbed the elevation but he walked about twice the distance that we had.

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