Flathead National Forest - Jewel Basin Hiking Area - July 22, 1989 - Member Trip Report

Hike Name: Flathead National Forest - Jewel Basin Hiking Area
Country: United States
State: Montana
Trip Rating: 5 stars
Trip Date: July 22, 1989
Duration: 6 hours
Trail Conditions: Fair to Good
Trail Traffic: Light
Trip Weather: Sunny, Partly Cloudy
Trip Winds: Light
Trip Precipitation: None
Trip Temperature: High: 71-80, Low: 31-40 degrees Fahrenheit
Trip Report: I hiked this trail in the Jewel Basin 8 times over the 10 years that I lived in Kalispell, MT, always accompanied by my father. This trail remains one of our two personal favorites. The trip detailed in this log was one of our early hikes in the Jewel Basin, and the only one with a bear encounter. I would like to dedicate this trip log to my father. Dad introduced me to the joys of hiking and backpacking in the 1960s, and we hiked countless trails together right up until he was nearly 80 years old. Throughout the rest of his life he remained dedicated to the Sierra Club and its battles to preserve some of our beautiful American wilderness.

We left my home in Kalispell at 6AM and were on the trail at Jewel Basin at 7AM. There was still frost on the shady side of the mountain. It’s a good thing that most of the climb up the face of the Swan Mountain Range is done in the car going to the trailhead as the last 800’ on foot are always the hardest of the day – when you’re cold. We met the warming rays of the sun when we emerged from the switchbacks into the pass. At Picnic Lakes 200’ lower, we paused for a 15-minute break to admire Mt. Aeneas awash in the morning sun. Then we pushed off for Black Lake 500’ lower. As often happens on this part of the trail, early in the hiking season, the underbrush had overgrown the trail. We blundered around for awhile and then decided to bushwhack it to Black Lake, which we could plainly see below us.

At the north shore of Black Lake we picked up the trail again and followed it 200’ lower to the lovely Jewel Basin with its five small lakes or ponds. The trail goes between these crystal clear lakes. How nice it would be to have a cabin here and be able to see this wonderful scenery every day. After leaving the Jewel Basin, the trail passes around a ridge that is fairly steep on its east and north sides. Here the trail has a steep talus slope below it, and is lined with huckleberry bushes on the uphill side, at the edge of the forest – prime bear feeding country! As we came around a bend in the trail we froze in our tracks for a moment. Thirty feet in front of us a grizzly bear was rearing up on its hind legs and peering menacingly at us. We quickly slipped out of our packs, dropped them on the trail, and then carefully picked our way down the talus slope, while keeping an eye on the bear. Grizzly bears are heavy in the foreparts, and because of that, they will not follow you down a steep slope where they run the risk of becoming a fur-covered bowling ball. We watched the bear until it started up the mountain and into the woods away from us and the trail. To our dismay, we saw two cubs follow it up the slope – a grizzly sow!

After we recovered our packs and stepped out on the trail, at a quicker pace, mind you, Dad said to me, “You have often asked me what it was like during World War II. How did we keep from getting scared out of our wits when our ship was under attack? Well, I think you know now. It was just like that bear encounter. We were well-trained during the war and we just did the job we were trained to do and did not have time during combat to get scared. Later, when you had time to think about it, it could be scary, but it was over by then. We have practiced many times for this bear encounter, and we weren’t scared – we just did what we had trained to do. Later, when we’re home, then we can get scared.”

When we dropped another 500’ to the approaches to Blackfoot Lake, we found the trail was a muddy track, just a tad bit firmer than the quagmire to either side of it. It was only this way for a short distance and then as forded Graves Creek we found dry ground on the other side. From Blackfoot Lake, the trail enters its most difficult segment. Here we climb 1300’ in only one mile, mostly exposed to the sun as the timber is sparse on this slope. We paused often to catch our breath and wipe our brow. At the top of the climb, the trail become a gentle incline to the pass. Here we are rewarded with a magnificent view – Twin Lakes below us and the stunning peaks of Glacier National Park in front of us.

We turned through the little pass and emerged on the west side of the mountain where we had an awesome view for 50 miles in every direction. Far below us was the Flathead Valley with its beautiful Flathead Lake. The first half of the return trail is fairly level, but it clings to the steep face of the mountain and is mostly out in the open, giving us great vistas at every turn. Then it enters the trees as it begins the 800’ descent to the parking lot at the trailhead.



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