Hanging with the homeboys.
This past weekend three friends and I did a one-night backpacking trip to a lake nestled at the base of a beautiful limestone wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The weather was perfect and the scenery was amazing but the best thing about this one was getting to spend time with three good friends doing something we all enjoy. We got the idea for this trip from the book 100 Classic Hikes: Montana by Douglas Lorain – a great resource for planning summer adventures. The four of us left Helena at 7 am, made the 135-mile drive to the trailhead near Swift Dam (18 miles west of Dupuyer), and started hiking at 10:30 am Saturday morning. (Photo Tour)
Ups and downs.
The most challenging aspect of this trip was the elevation gain. According to Lorain, the hike is a 15 miles round-trip with 4,150 feet of elevation gain over two days. That’s a lot of uphill for a leisurely weekend backpacking trip, especially for a foursome of sixty-somethings. Thankfully, most of the uphill was during the first day, although there was one steep stretch on day two. If you can handle the ups and downs, and are okay with some bushwhacking, side-hilling, route-finding, and camping in bear country, there are many things about this trip to enjoy. Here are some highlights . . .
1. Beauty of the burn.
Like it or not, wildfire plays an important role in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. About a third of our hike was through an eerily beautiful area that burned in the Strawberry Fire of 2017. Although it didn’t provide much shade, the site of thousands of blonde, barkless trees rising from a plush carpet of wildflowers made for a very pleasant vibe. The variety and abundance of wildflowers was something to behold!
2. Up against it.
Anyone who has driven Highway #89 between Augusta and Browning in the morning light knows what a treat it is to see the jagged mountains and long white cliffs of the Rocky Mountain Front – they’re just different from other mountains. To walk along the base of one of those towering reefs, as we did on our way to the lake, was pretty unique.
3. Sound of silence.
Tent-camping with a small group of friends at a scenic, isolated lake never gets old, and Walling Reef Lake checked all the boxes – a patch of forest along one side adjacent to a big open area for tents, and situated at the base of an impressive 1000-foot limestone wall (part of Walling Reef). It had been breezy much of the day but Saturday night was perfectly calm. The lack of wind and no airplanes flying over made for an incredibly quiet night. There weren’t any clouds either, so we woke up to a light frost, which melted quickly as the Sun rose. The morning light also illuminated the wall on the west side of the lake, making for quite a site as we sipped our morning coffee.
4. Scenic side-trip.
After breaking camp on Sunday morning we took a short walk to the edge of the un-named reef just east of Walling Reef before turning back toward the trailhead. The half-mile excursion to the edge provided a great view of the entire length of Walling Reef in the morning light as well as spectacular views of the Front to our north and south. It was fun to look out over the ecosystems below the reefs, dotted with little lakes and streams, gradually transitioning into the expansive prairie. We had a nice view of Heart Butte and Split Mountain, and could even see the Sweet Grass Hills and mountains along the eastern edge of Glacier Park. Sharing this side-trip with of three good friends was the best part of the weekend.
- Photo Tour of Our Hike to Walling Reef Lake.
Best viewed on a larger screen – Be sure to read the captions.
- Map of the area that we hiked to reach Walling Reef Lake.
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Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.