Cool Dip in Lake Helps Shake off Heat of Beau-Coup Elevation Gain
It was long. It was hard. It was 14 miles with 2,800 feet of elevation gain with "relentless up, up up," as one website describes the hike, and a great precursor for our hike to Sperry Chalet over Gunsight Pass. Most of us considered this a get-in-shape hike to see if we were ready for our big one later in August.
The day started by leaving Great Falls around 5:30 a.m. and getting on-trail by 8:30. We met Carol in the Pray Lake parking area of the Two-Med campground. She had about the same amount of driving from Condon that we did from Great Falls: 2.5 hours.
Ten of us hit the trail, enjoying the flowers from the get-go with fireweed and goldenrod providing a great foreground for our views of Sinopah mountain. As we started out along the northshore trail around Two Medicine Lake, we didn't see a soul, which surprised us, until after the turn for the pass, at which time some who had taken the boat overtook us. But Mary N and her family were not among them, so we wondered if she had thought better of the weather since there was a 50 percent chance of showers in the afternoon.
We continued on, making good time on the first four miles of the hike, which has little elevation gain.
But then, Mary and family did catch us, right at the turn for No Name Lake, as we were resting after a bit of uphill. We chatted a bit, admired her grandbaby and then headed up the trail behind Mary, her daughter/son-in law, granddaughter and husband, saving the half-mile spur to the lake for the way back.
At this point, the pitch of the path takes a decidedly steeper turn, so we mustered our energy for an uphill climb. Some of us struggled on the way, but the views just got better and better while the alpine flowers put on a show: blue explorer's gentian, Indian paintbrush, St. John's Wort, asters, pink monkey flowers, sulphur buckwheat, pearly everlasting, western tobacco root (valerian), and ocean spray.
As we approached Big Horn Basin, a rocky area where the sheep bed down, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the majestic animals, but no luck there. Some of the hikers who were now headed back down told us two were on top, so we still hoped to see a few.
When we finally arrived at the top, we were overcome with the views of the other side: two glaciers (Blackfoot and Jackson) and the remnants of the former Lupfer glacier as well as Mount Stimpson, 8888 and St. Nick looming in the background. It was now 1 p.m., a bit later than we had hoped, but we were very happy to enjoy our lunch with such spectacular scenery along with a few pesky critters (Colombian and golden-mantled ground squirrels) hoping for a handout.
Another interesting thing to see was the remnants of last year's Thompson fire. It has burned the whole Nyack area that use to be such a gorgeous emerald green that it shocked the eyes. Now the green is only on one small part that avoided the fire somehow. A gentleman and his partner offered to take our photo as long as we posted it with the hashtag #montanamoment when we got home, so we handed over a variety of phones and cameras. He said he worked for the department of commerce in Helena.
At 2 p.m., we had to scurry off the top as storm clouds started brewing in the west. Katie reminded everyone that we needed to be off the top by 2 p.m. as this is the time when electrical storms start. Therefore, we couldn't go up the extra 500 feet to the edge of Flinsch peak, so we didn't get in a full 3200 feet that we had hoped to attain, nor the extra mile. So Katie decided that we would for sure hike around No Name lake to get in one more mile and cool our feet.
So we descended as quickly as we could to get into the trees just in case of lightning, which we did. We came across many other parties passing us now, asking about the last boat time and how to get to the dock. The biggest surprise hikers were Katie's husband Tom and his hiking partner Gordon. They had hiked Pitamakan Dawson,but we had thought they were hiking the other way, not expecting to see them. We were all impressed that they had hiked almost six more miles than we did and they caught us! Of course, they didn't swim in the lake or relax at the pass.
Tom and Gordon told us they saw a young bull moose in the velvet on the way out. Kuntz and Susan saw something big wander through the bushes in about the same spot but weren't sure what it was.
When we reached No Name Lake, we were happy to take a bit of a break, soak and rest our feet. Carol decided to swim and tried to encourage others too as well. So Beth stripped down and joined her. They both said it wasn't too chilly and they felt like they could do Dawson Pass again they were so refreshed. It didn't convince anyone else to swim though. When we were done, Chrissie looked up and spotted a goat by a snow field right by the lake! What a treat.
The rest of the way back along the north shore of Two Med lake was uneventful except for the threatening thunder that kept crashing above us. We kept our poles down low and hoped for the best. The storm hardly produced a sprinkle though, so we didn't get wet.
During this part of the hike, Catherine and Beth started getting serious about huckleberry picking, lagging behind but then catching up and repeating until the end of the hike. They only managed to collect about a cup of berries each, so Beth supplemented hers with service berries (Saskatoon to our Canadian friends). Beth planned to make some wild berry muffins while Catherine had a hankering for a huckleberry margarita.
After this long hike, we earned our meal at the Glacier Park Lodge, where the lounge host actually allowed us to sit in the dining room yet order off the lounge menu. Last time we tried this tactic, we were scowled at and scolded by the waiter. This time our waitress was quite friendly, and some of us ordered off the dining menu anyway. And we had another surprise as we entered the lodge: Gail, who had led a hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake, was just exiting with her hikers. They had had a fantastic day. And we also ran into Rich from the Tribune, so Kuntz got after him about an article she had written and the reaction to it.
Even though the clouds rolled in, no real rain or hail materialized, so the drive home was dark but, thankfully, not in a storm. We arrived back at the school district offices at 10:30 p.m. Carol said she took a power nap and arrived back in Condon about an hour later than we.
Who went: Catherine, Sara, Kuntz, Kathy M, Chrissie, Sue, Susan, Beth, Katie, Carol