It might have looked like a good idea to hope for the Going-to-the-Sun road to open so that I could go on a hike to Hidden Lake before I had to leave Montana. The reason why the road was still closed in late June, however, should have been a warning enough about what conditions I was about to encounter above Logan’s Pass. But did I put two and two together? Nope.
I drove to West Glacier on my very last full day in Montana quite hopeful. Two days before, I was told at the visitor center that the likelihood of the road being open was “very high,” and I really wanted to go see Hidden Lake. (Let’s not talk about how successful I was at actually being able to see it.) After slowly making my way up the winding road full of waterfalls small and big, I made it to the visitor center up at Logan’s Pass.
Nonetheless, I put on my running shoes – the only shoes I had besides my hiking sandals – and after fishing out my jacket and a couple more layers of clothes, I bravely stepped out into the rain.
I imagine myself as this graceful heroine standing with her hands on her hips while the wind rips at her, yes she doesn’t even bat an eye at the elements and pushes through the storm while her hair flies around her in beautiful waves. What I must have looked like was probably quite different; hunched over to keep the wind from getting the rain in my face, wrapped in several layers of clothing to keep warm and with my hair sticking on my cheeks and flying frantically in front of my face despite it being tied in a ponytail.
As if the mountains appreciated my resolve, the wind calmed down, the rain suddenly stopped, and a sucker hole or two appeared in the sky. Yes, sucker holes they were, not a promise of the weather getting miraculously better. Too excited to realize this, I started up the snowy slopes.
Sun appeared for a few rare seconds and only after about half a mile, I was already shedding the layers of clothes. Now, I say half a mile but it felt like five miles to be honest, because for every step I took to get up the slopes, I slid three-quarters of that step down.
Others were trying their luck in getting up to the lake and it took three of us to figure out how to get through a very steep and very slippery snow field.
“Yeah, microspikes could come in handy,” I noted and we all laughed at my poor attempt at a joke because none of us actually wore hiking shoes; all of us were runners from the Glacier Half Marathon and all of us started up the trail (buried some six feet under the snow in places) in our running shoes – and because this was a road race, those weren’t even trail-runners. Was it a bad idea? Yes. Did we regret it? … Luckily, no.
The two stayed behind to wait for their friend who was still battling his way up some two or three hundred feet below us, and I kept going. Soon, a very steep peak on my right was blocking out the wind a little and the going got much easier – in places, there wasn’t even any snow!
My shoes were very much soaked at this point and it was only the physical exertion what kept my feet from freezing and falling off. The trail led me along a ledge, edges of which disappeared in thick fog; a cloud that sat on the mountain. It felt strange; should I fall off the ledge, I might never stop falling.
One short, nasty, snow-filled descent later, the lake was right in front of me. At least that’s what the information table said, not that I could see it…
“Well, the lake is sure staying true to its name,” I joked with two young people who reached the lake only a few minutes after me. “We’re, in fact, the only ones who can see the truly Hidden Lake, compared to whomever comes here on a sunny day.” They laughed at my horrible attempt at a joke and threw their own in; “Yeah. Amateurs, those people,” said the guy.
The cloud was refusing to move off the mountain even after the wind changed and started to rip through the mountain pass. The temperature suddenly dropped and my fellow hikers soon tried to take cover in between the few low trees that were growing up there. We were way high up for any tree that could be big enough to offer any better kind of protection against the elements to grow there.
I put back on all my layers, the rain was falling hard again and the cold was biting at my hands. Then, suddenly and for only a couple seconds, the lake appeared. Partly and still covered in haze, but it was there.
“Hey! Guys! The lake is… semi-visible,” I called for the two wisely hiding in between the trees. We took the few seconds in which we could see the lake to admire it; it was filled with large ice floes and sat right below the slopes of another steep peak.
The beauty lasted only for a few moments and then, making fun of the “beautiful” view that offered itself when the clouds rolled back in, we took a couple pictures posing in front of this white nothing. Considered the situation, we actually had a good fun.
We started to retrace our steps to get back to where our cars were parked. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be; the fog got even thicker and all the landmarks we saw on our way up were hidden in it, safe from our sight.
Okay. Do you remember how I told you that the only thing missing was lightning? Well, it wasn’t missing anymore. The thick fog we were now trying to find our way down through suddenly lit up in a flash of fierce light and only a second or two later, the thunder came, so loud that it sounded like the whole mountain was crumbling to the ground. It was time to get the hell out of dodge.
When we reached the snowy slopes again, we more or less skied back down on our shoes.It seemed like we’ve outran the storm at least a little, and after descending a couple hundred feet, we were out of the clouds and able to see the visitor center deep below us. As we continued down the slopes, a few last seconds of beautiful views were offered to us by the mountain.
We said good-bye and they headed to the visitor center and I back to my car. There, I changed into dry clothes (have you ever tried to change clothes in a tiny convertible?), not really being able to give a second thought to the possibility of someone seeing me in the car in my underwear, and the moment I turned the key in the ignition, the storm caught up and unleashed itself in its full power over the mountain pass.
The only thing I could think about was how grateful I was not to be on the top of the mountain anymore, because the lightning there was living its best life.
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