SMACK! I crush another bloodthirsty pest with the heel of my hand, leaving a smear of my own bright red blood across my lower calf. The mosquitos, unusually absent from our hike up to Avalanche Lake, were apparently waiting to ambush us at the serene lakeshore.
Hilde covers her face with her paws to escape the deer flies probing her eyes. Will puts on his rain jacket, hood up, to try to evade the bloodsuckers. I have the brightest idea of all: rain jacket up top, repurposed fleece sweater on bottom. I look ridiculous, but I’m not getting bit. As much. Hilde’s officially in her teenage years: have you ever seen a dog look so embarrassed?
As intrusive as they were, the mosquitos weren’t the most overwhelming thing about Avalanche Lake. Located just below Hilgard Peak in Madison County, Avalanche is an absolute jewel of a sub-alpine lake. On one side the dense forest runs all the way to the marshy shore, but on the other an avalanche of rocks piles down from the peak above. There’s not another person in site. This is paradise.
We’ve spent many a summer in Western Montana (Will more than I, though for me visiting Montana feels like coming home.) but this is the first time we’ve explored the mountains north of Hebgen Lake. Today we picked Avalanche because we needed to get some exercise, wanted to explore some new territory, and were excited to do some fishing.
The hike in is an easy 6 miles, nicely graded, with a good 2,200 feet of elevation gain. Along the way we passed through several huge avalanche fields that have done their best to wipe the trail off the side of the mountain: something the trail crews have been battling valiantly against, based on the chain link and cement construction we saw in some of the culverts.
When not picking through rock fall the trail meanders through some of the most gorgeous, wildflower filled meadows Montana has to offer. Something about these meadows evades modern photography (at least, the equipment we have) because none of the photos we took do any sort of justice to the real deal.
We’re fishing with a “fly and a bubble” setup. The bubble is a little clear plastic ball that is half filled with water, that gives some weight to help cast the fly. The fly is a Parachute Adams that Bob tied for Will last Christmas.
Will fishes for a minute while Hilde and I look on. She wants so badly to be in the water, chasing that thing that Will keeps throwing out, that she’s visibly shaking. I have to hold on to her to keep her from jumping in and scaring all the fish.
After a while Hilde gets too antsy so Will takes her exploring while I fish for a while. I’m incredibly successful in catching things: several varieties of bush, a down tree, even my own garish fleece pants. Eventually I tangle the line and, in trying to fix it, manage to mess up the whole setup. I call Will and he comes back to rescue me.
Frustrated with my lack of skill, I let Will take over and Hilde and I head off up the mountainside. Above the lake is another secret meadow, even more beautiful than the ones we passed on our way in. We find a cave and for a minute I’m worried there might be a bear inside, but Hilde is bouncing so I know that there isn’t anything dangerous nearby. We peek in for a minute before we get the heeby jeebies and move on.
The start of the meadow above the lake.
Looking back towards the lake.
On the way back down the creek Hilde’s understanding of route finding and english astound me. Climbing over large boulders is hard for her, so I tell her to run up and around. She heads uphill, picking her way through bushes too dense for me to forge, and meets me below the big rock section. I know she doesn’t know what I’m saying, but she sure understands me. I’m lucky to have such an incredible trail partner.
Will catches Hilde’s eye and she’s off – into the water, swimming after his bubble. Fishing is hard when 80lbs of dog is trying to help! I meet up with them as Will starts packing up his stuff. He’s excited – he caught his first fish! It was tiny, but still the first fish he’s caught on his own.
We head out before the mosquitos can finish us off, though they do get points for trying.