Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 8 - June 13, 2012

Just before reaching Snydet Lake we had to cross a couple sizable patches of snow. If you stepped into a hole you could expect to sink a couple of feet if not more. With the sun high and bright in the sky I found I had to squint as I crossed the snow.

We awoke to partly cloudy skies. What a wonderful change. Sunshine was shining through the windows our rooms and the day promised to be much more pleasant from the outset than the previous day had been. It is always easier to get moving and out and about when it is not grey and raining. Anyone who has had to do camp chores in the rain knows this to be true.

It is easily a 40 mile drive from Kalispel to Lake McDonald. We arrived at the Sperry Trailhead which is across from the Lake McDoanld Lodge a little after 09:30 and were on the trail by 09:45. The temperature was probably right around 50F at this point but we expected to warm right up as the trail, a 4.4 mile hike to Snyder Lake (9.9 miles round trip) would ascend 2,147 feet. At first the trail is very wide, easily wide enough for a car to drive though it really is a trail and never was a road of any type. The climb is actually pretty steep probably gaining 600 feet in the first 0.6 miles before easing off and rising an additional 400 feet over the subsequent mile. You will find yourself striding through forest here but it has a different feel from the climax forest of hemlocks you find when walking a trail like the Johns Lake Loop. This forest has more variety of trees; it certainly has shrubs and such growing at ground level. In the background, sounding temptingly close but invisible, is the roar of Snyder Creek tumbling down into Lake McDonald. I don't think you ever actually see the creek. Now and then during the initial climb a view of Lake McDonald becomes visible but it never was much of a photographic moment. I'd say we had better views of Jenny Lake when we hiked up to Inspiration Point.

After we passed the intersection that heads one way to Snyder Lake and in the opposite direction to Fish Lake the climbing became much easier. But the trail grew considerably wetter. The word our guidebook uses to describe the trail conditions is "damp" and I think this is an understatement. The trail narrows from the very wide to traditional trail-width and begins heading north-northeast slowly gaining elevation over the next 2.8 miles. Numerous small streams, surely seasonal, flow from north to south draining into Snyder Creek. These streams turn many stretches of the trail, which you share with horse traffic (though we saw no horses) into muddy quagmires. I suppose it isn't practical to put puncheon over the worst stretches given that would probably make the trail tougher for the horses but it sure would make it easier to keep your feet dry without making slight detours off the trail to find a higher drier patch of ground. I suppose if you are wearing ankle-high shoes, espeically waterproof lined ones, this will not be a problem but if you are wearing low-cut shoes espeically trail runners expect to soak your feet in water and mud. I certainly did.

We found the ascent was slow going as we tried to avoid the worst of the muck but it wasn't a tough climb. As we ascended we noticed that the plants seemed to be changing somewhat. For example, we started to notice glacier lillies and bunches of bear grass and cow parsnip along the way. When we came to a scree field we started to hear the high piping squeaks of pika calling to each other. I suppose they were announcing our presence. They had to do that a lot as several small groups of people were on the trail at the same time we were. One duo were clearly doing trail maintenance: a two-man chainsaw crew whose work we encountered a couple of times. Thanks.

After leaving the scree field and the well defined rocky path we came to our last major obstacle: a large snow field. This snow patch was quite firm and probably close to 3 feet deep. Certainly the couple of holes I stepped into swallowed my leg up to my thigh. We carefully worked our way across the snow following the footsteps of those who had gone before and in due time came to the bridge that crosses the outlet for Snyder Lake.

While perhaps not quite as ete catching as Avalanche Lake Snyder Lake is still quite pretty.

Snyder Lake is a small lake. It sits in a basin that though nice didn't have quite the same wow factor we expereienced wtih Avalanche Lake. That isn't to say it wasn't nice; just not quite as eye catching. You can hike farther around to see additional views of the lake and we went a little ways around (nowhere near as far as some) before we turned back to return to the trailhead.

The flora changed as we climbed the 2,147 from the trailhead to Snyder Lake. That is one reason I enjoyed this hike even with its sometimes annoying muddy stretches.

The return trip went onsiderably more quickly than the ascent did. We managed to travel through the muddy stretches more quickly than we had on the outbound leg and the steep descent down the wide poriton of trail seemed to fly by. We probably descended the 4.4 miles at least 30 minutes more quickly than we had done the outbound journey.

The afternoon was spent in either our small rustic rooms or in the main lodge. The rooms aren't much. They're small and the furnishings are definitely nothing to write home about. In some ways they are a bit reminiscent of the rooms we had in Tortuguero, Costa Rica though those rooms were more airy. I know Dad was less than thrilled with our lodging.
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