It’s 90 degrees in the valley but there’s still snow in the crevices of the Swan Mountains. Strawberry Lake in the Jewel Basin hiking area is a quintessential alpine lake. Hidden in a crevice between the peaks, the water is cold and clear. If you stand and watch you can see the trout surfacing for flies on the surface. There’s one. Wait a minute, one over there also. No, I didn’t have my rod with me.
The journey starts with a three mile drive up a narrow dirt road to the trail head. Go slow around those turns, there’s not much room for cars to pass each other. Once at the trailhead, stick the car in the bushes and start climbing. The climb isn’t very steep but it is very steady for the first hour or so. This is where you realize the air is thinner here than where you grew up, at least where I grew up.
Switchback after switchback takes you through towering pines clinging to the steep slope. The forest here is old, trees are tall, pillars holding up the fir ceiling. There are no trail markers like there are back east but this is a well-used, well cleared trail. After about hour, you’ll round a turn and start working your way along the face of the mountain for another forty-five minutes. The trail clings to the side of the mountain, reach out your right arm and you can almost touch the slope.
On a clear day like we had, the view behind you over the Flathead Valley is endless. You can see the canola fields, Echo Lake, the city of Kalispell and, if you bend over a little, Flathead Lake. Flathead is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi. It’s very cool.
Don’t forget to appreciate the small things along the way.
And always wear good shoes!