At last – a forecast of “partly sunny” after several days of rain. Now was the opportunity to grab our packs and head out to the Jewel Basin for our annual fall hike.The Jewel has some of the best displays of fall color and I was looking forward to the drive up the mountain to Camp Misery.
Improvements had not be made to the washboard road as hoped, but the slow-moving journey to the parking lot seemed faster, with colorful fall scenery keeping me occupied. Gaining in elevation, our surroundings began to look more like Christmas than Halloween. Right at 5,000 feet, tall pines stood flocked in snow, and red and yellow foliage peeked out from under a blanket of white. David wondered about road conditions…would we encounter an impasse before getting to the parking lot.
There were no problems getting to Camp Misery, where we found a parking lot practically empty of vehicles. Only a few cars were there, compared to summer, when getting a parking spot is nearly impossible. Even though it was just a few, I was glad to know other hikers were on the trails. Exchanging pleasantries gives motivation, and returning hikers often provide information in the form of trail conditions.
With temperatures in the 30’s, we dressed for winter and began hiking up the old road which would eventually lead us to Malfunction Junction.
Huckleberries were still plentiful along the trail and bears shouldn’t have a problem fattening up before denning for winter. The berries were also a bonus for Eileen who snacked on frosty berries along the trail. Our stash of huckleberry jam never seems enough and I wished we had gone berry picking in the Jewel as well as on Big Mountain.
The trail was amazing beautiful. The combination of snowy peaks and vibrant fall colors didn’t fail to please. At Malfunction Junction we took the fork to Mount Aeneas. As we progressed along the trail the snow got deeper, although my guess would be it was only a couple of inches. Trudging uphill through snow is like walking in sand and David and I made frequent stops to enjoy the view.
Alone most of the way, tracks in the snow gave indication that others had come and gone before. We now heard voices up ahead. Shortly after that, we crossed paths with a woman and, what we think was, her 30-something son.
“We turned around at the next switchback,” she said.
I’m not sure if they got cold feet and turned around because of trail conditions or because the guy was wearing sandals. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a case of frostbite by the time he was done.
Forging ahead and around the switchback, the ascent became steep. Mallory broke trail through deeper snow and as I followed, I fancied myself a mountaineer following Sir Edmund Hillary (Okay that’s a stretch, the ascent to Mount Aeneas doesn’t compare to Mount Everest, but it’s fun to psych yourself out on tough stretches of trail).
Reaching the Swan Crest, we feasted our eyes upon 360-degree-top-of-the-world views. To our east, Glacier National Park and sheer wilderness spread out as far as the eye could see, and to our west were outstanding views of the valley and Flathead Lake.
After a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some exploration following a set of tracks that disappeared off of the mountain, it was back down the trail. The skies finally cleared and the sun shone, letting the weatherman off of the hook for what I might have otherwise considered an incorrect forecast.
It was around 6 o’clock when we pulled out of the parking lot at Camp Misery to head for home.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Several days of drizzling rain in the valley were several days of snow at the higher elevations of The Jewel Basin. The Jewel was stunning dressed in her coat of many colors;, yellow, orange, and browns of autumn – green and white of winter. She was a gem!
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