The small flat path that continues to… climb


I got more than I bargained for a few weeks ago when a good friend and I planned a Saturday morning hike. I was upfront with her about my limited hiking this spring and summer due to… first wet weather, then hot weather, then windy weather.

That said, I’m in good shape and exercise most days of the week, so I wasn’t trying to shy away from moderate workouts in any way.

My friend suggested a short 4 mile round trip hike to Skiumah Lake about 8 miles east of West Glacier. She thought she hiked it years ago with her son and remembered it as quite flat and not strenuous. She was bringing her dog, a spunky, well-behaved young yellow lab.

When we met at park n’ ride in Columbia Falls, I asked if she had brought her hiking poles. I admitted that I just threw mine in my car in case she brought hers so I wouldn’t regret not bringing mine, adding that I usually only appreciate having them for the downhill.

My friend reiterated that this hike was pretty flat so she didn’t bring her own. I left mine behind and got into his car.

We easily found the fork thanks to a book on day hikes she had brought. The half mile from the highway to the trailhead was a “single lane” and the shrubbery arches creaked and groaned against the car as we slid through.

As we were getting ready, my friend reconsidered if she had ever hiked this particular trail, concluding that she had not. But that was only a 4 mile hike, right?

As soon as we started through a dense growth of Bigleaf Maple and other thick, deciduous brush almost overhead, the trail started to climb. I was, luckily, suitably dressed in light trousers and a long sleeved shirt, as we were basically walking through the shrubbery.

After about 30 minutes of steady climbing, my friend commented that the author of the hiking book might reconsider her rating of the hike as “moderate”. The trail opened up so we could at least see what might be conspiring to trip us up, but it didn’t level out…pretty much at all except for a nicely planed log bridge with a sturdy handrail spanning Skiumah Creek, which our companion dog was thrilled to splash about.

As we checked our devices to see how far we had walked, a cliff started to appear above the forest at a close distance and we thought the lake was below, so we were close.

We finally pushed through the woods about 1 1/2 hours after we started (I was long past the “bright” stage and heading towards wilting), Lake Skiumah in front of us with the cliff overlooking it. The shore nearest to us was choked with old windfalls and thistles; descending to the lake would have been a considerable ordeal with the high potential of impaling us on a natural punji stick. (The dog, however, had no trouble navigating and had a great time in the lake.)

We found two small patches of shade and some logs to sit on to eat our lunch, but as the day was only going to get warmer, we didn’t linger.

We were a little apprehensive about the 2 mile descent (why didn’t I bring my hiking poles?) but we took our time, we only stumbled a few times both… minor, really .

The stunning views of Mt Stimson and Mt Pinchot in Glacier Park on the descent were a nice surprise and once back in the car we agreed the descent wasn’t as bad as expected.

But, having planned a much less strenuous outing, the Skiumah Lake Trail threw down the gauntlet. That evening I did some research online and found the trail described as “1,200 foot elevation gain for about 2 miles – steep the whole way”, “beautiful, but steep”” bring a machete”, “treacherous trek”, “very steep”, and the sardonic review “hiking poles were very useful”.

I don’t blame my good friend for misremembering the trail because she’s walked circles around me in her life and walked more trails than you can shake an alder stick, but the next times, I’ll take ownership of my shared outings and do some research on your chair first.

Community Editor Carol Marino can be reached at 406-758-4440 or [email protected]

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