Sometimes it's the path of mistake and uncertainty that turns out the best. The plan was for Jill and I to go on a two day, 23 mile backpacking loop in the Spanish Peaks, about 45 minutes south of Bozeman. Jill found the hike in a book, we had the directions printed out and hit the trail early Saturday morning. about 45 minutes into our hike we came to a junction which the directions sited as being mile 3, our first clue something was wrong, we surely hadn't already gone 2 miles, but we took the trail to the left, leaving the green Meadows dotted with yellow and purple flowers and were swallowed up by the green forest.
We came to the next junction at 4.5 miles marked with signs indicating the which trail the different paths lead to, but none of them lead to the trail we were supposed to be on, again we chose the path to the left, staying on the same 407 Spanish Peaks trail. We left the flat forest floor and began a climb that would weave in an out of the forest, past lakes and streams for another 4+. With the change in elevation came the change in trail surfaces, from mostly dirt single track to mostly rock single track. Not really notable aside from the fact that I was wearing my VFF's. The plan was to start in VFF's and switch to my cross country flats when my feet start to hurt, but upon arriving at the trailhead I realized I forgot my flats, and I surely wasn't going to wear my hiking boots, so it was VFF's or nothing.
About 4 miles into the climb we reach the next trail junction. By this time we were certain we weren't going to complete our predetermined look, but the mountains were beautiful, and we decided to follow the trail where it leads us. Neither one of us had been in the Spanish Peaks before and didn't know what to expect. With it's green Meadows and tall grey jagged peaks, we both agreed it reminded us of Glacier National Park. The thing I love about hiking in the mountains that I can't get while hiking or running in the forests of the Midwest is the uncertainty of the views that lay ahead. You never know when you're going to pop out into a break in the trees and be greeted with a sprawling view of the mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see, and once you get above tree line, every climb is made with anticipation of what lies beyond.
We again decided to take the trail to the left, which from looking at it seemed to lead over a mountain pass but wasn't clear where it went from there. As I reached eye level to the top of the climb I caught a reflection of the sun in the ground above me. As I took a couple more steps, gaining a couple feet in elevation I could see an alpine lake about 10 feet in front. It was pretty cool to just walk up a mountain and be greeted by a pristine lake with no forewarning.
The lake was just sitting on a break of two mountains about about 7000-8000 feet in elevation the pass was about 100 yards long, and was we followed the trail to the other side of the lake and got our first glimpse of what was beyond, we found our selves staring down into a lush green valley, equipped with a fast network of streams green grass and wildflowers making up the colors of the rainbow. It was such a vast contrast to what we had experienced the last 4+ miles of our hike. We went from rocky mountains to lush green valley in the time it took to butt slide down a 100 yard snowfield.
We followed the trail throughout the valley about a mile before deciding that there could be no better place than this to camp for the night. So we set up our tent, the only residents in the mountain enclosed valley. Well...there was one other resident. A very curious deer that kept making wide circles around our camp site, always coming back within 20 or so feet of us before eating some grass and making another loop. This went on for a couple hours before he finally went to bed for the night.
the next day we made our way out of the valley, climbing up the fallen rock to the side of the snowfield we had sled down, past the lake, down the mountains, through the woods, into the Meadows and back to civilization. Another successful Montana summer weekend.
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