Leigh Lake Backpacking | First Trip of the Year
After a relatively light winter here in eastern Washington, Eugene and I decided to get a head start on our backpacking season. Mid June here in the Pacific Northwest usually means lots of snow still in the hills, but since we didn’t get much snow in the winter months, we decided to go for a trip into the mountains. After much searching and calling around to various ranger stations, we decided to go to Leigh Lake, an alpine area up in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana.
After loading up the Jeep, we set out on the 4 hour drive, and arrived at the trailhead with no complications. The weather was definitely something you’d expect from the mountains. Sunshine here and there, alternating with overcast skies and rain. Luckily the trail was only a mile and a half, and we’d come with our rain coats and gators. The trail was beautiful, and we stopped along the way to take photos, get a shot on the glidecam for our film, or just simply take in the magnificent views.
The hike being only a mile and a half, we arrived at Leigh Lake in no time, though we were soaked from the waist down in frigid water from the thick, wet foliage leaning into the trail. But it was all worth it. The lake was spectacular alright, but the real prize was the towering enormity of Snowshoe Peak; it rose out of the lake in a sheer cliff and continued 3600 feet into the sky, where it was shrouded by ragged clouds. We would have to wait for the weather to clear before we could see the mountain in all of its glory.
And we were definitely in for some serious weather. The clouds darkened, and as we scrambled to set up our tents and make a much needed fire, the skies began to dump snow down on our tiny camp. The forecast had promised an inch of snow, and we were definitely going to get it.
After warming up by the crackling fire and getting some hot food down, we decided that we would be best off in the tent and the coziness of our down sleeping bags. As we prayed for the night and snuggled in, we both hoped for better weather in the morning.
At 5 am the next morning, as I popped my head out of the tent in the morning light to check on the situation, I was greeted by a brisk mountain breeze. The sky above was blue, with just a few remaining tufts of clouds scurrying away towards the horizons. The tinted morning sun was streaked across the jagged rock of Snowshoe Peak, accenting it among the surrounding peaks. Now that the clouds had cleared, we could see that there was still a lot of snow on the ascents to the peak; some of the drifts looked to be a hundred feet thick!
Accepting the fact that we weren’t going to make it to the 8,737 foot peak without the necessary gear (which we didn’t bring), we decided to spend our day scrambling up the surrounding ridge and seeing what we could see from there. We pulled our food out of the tree (Montana is bear country, to be sure), and after a hearty breakfast we were on our way. The climbing was steep, and I was out of shape. In addition to that, Eugene was packing the drone, and I was toting the glidecam – we weren’t going to miss the opportunity to get some amazing shots from up high.
After climbing to a ridge 1500 feet above the lake, we decided that it was far enough – the slopes were slippery from the fresh snow, and the path up to the peak was covered by tens of feet of snow. We had climbed so high that our camp, visible below next to Leigh Lake, was just a speck. However, the peak towering above us seemed nearly as high as before. This thing was massive! It really put into perspective how tiny I was, how huge this mountain was, and how much greater was He who planted this gargantuan heap of rock there.
As Eugene set up the drone and took it out over the peak, I found a spot between two twisted, weathered trees to hang up my Out Gear Recreation hammock that Nate had sent us. The view was spectacular – I could see Leigh Lake far below, the beautiful nature all around, and Snowshoe Peak directly in front. I could ask for nothing more.
As I swung slowly to and fro, eating my lunch, I realized that I had gotten all that I had expected from this trip and more. This is what I had been looking for when I came up here, and I had it. The view of the mountain, the experience, the challenge, and God, who seemed closer than ever up here. I couldn’t think of a better trip to start off the year with Eugene, and as we descended back down to camp, and went on our way back to the jeep, I was content.
Here is the film Eugene and I made from our trip up here!
And here is the behind the scenes video: