Crater Lake in the Jewel Basin is normally not a difficult hike. You head up from the Camp Misery Trailhead near Bigfork and hike along Alpine Trail No. 7 for about five miles and you’re there.
Sure, there’s some elevation gain and loss along the way, but nothing serious — a thousand feet or so, maybe a little more.
So last weekend we decided to camp at Crater (which, by the way, has one of the most scenic outhouses in the West). The trip went along smoothly until we hit Birch Lake.
There was snow. Lots of snow. We kept pushing on and the snow got deeper and deeper. The trail peeked out of the drifts every now and then, but it was pretty much all snow — anywhere from three to 10 feet — all along the scenic little lake.
I figured it would let up when we got past the lake, which is shaded, but it didn’t. The next two miles or so to Crater we encountered drift after drift. The snow at least was pretty much perfect for spring snow — hard enough so that you didn’t posthole, but soft enough so that you could kick in steps on the steep spots.
You wouldn’t think that snow would slow you down that much — but it did. It took us roughly two hours to go two miles. Up one drift, down another; hike the trail a little ways on good old terra firma and then back up over another drift. And so it went.
The original plan was actually to get into Black Hawk Lakes, but by the time we got to Crater, the day was pretty much shot.
Once we dropped down into Crater, there wasn’t any snow at all (save for the usual places you’d expect to see snow in late June, like north-facing gullies).
The snow did have a silver lining: There wasn’t a soul back there. We had the place to ourselves. Did an evening climb, caught a fish or two and even slept in the next morning.
Then it was back through the drifts at about the same pace. The snow is leaving rapidly, of course. Our tracks from the day before were fading fast. Still, it will likely be a couple of weeks before it’s all gone. I’m guessing that area around Birch Lake must have gotten some pretty good lake effect snow this winter, even more than what the rest of the basin received.