A Hike NE Of Elk Lake
The summer of 2010 will definitely go down as the 'Summer Of The Hike'! I have enjoyed some fabulous hikes both around the lodge, in the Centennial Mountains, and even into the Madison Range and the Lion's Head Mountains. All of these hikes were easy to do from my home base at the lodge. Furthermore, each one (as is normal with a good hike) offered its own unique aspects to treasure and return to as the snowy weather begins to shut down my hiking for the year.
Over the course of the next few months without doubt I will be sharing my experiences in photo and word. Thus, as I enjoy a different kind of outdoor recreation - one which requires different modes of recreation (snowshoes, skies, or a snowmobile) - I will also share the summer treasures I enjoyed using a simpler form of transportation - my feet!
Some of the nicest hikes I enjoyed this year were around Elk Lake. However, because I have hiked so much of this country (and because I am easily bored :-), I enjoy exploring new areas or at least semi-new areas. The hike I chose for this mid-September afternoon was into country I had traversed on a snowmobile - and minimally coverd on foot a few years back. In spite of those prior excursions, I had never really explored the area.
Typically I hike in the mornings (as either morning or evening are the best times to see wildlife - at least on a normal day - and the best lighting for photos). However, on this particular sunny fall day, the morning had passed without a hike so I jumped at the opportunity to venture out during the afternoon.
Parking my car at the north end of Elk Lake, I headed across the meadow / marshy area at the lake's mouth. This time of year the ground is dry and thus the walk was easy - as well as beautiful.
From here I headed up the old jeep trail. For those of you who are not aware, there is an old jeep trail at the north east end of Elk Lake. It heads up the mountain and into Antelope Basin and dates back to the resort's early years. When Faye and Edna Selby started the resort back in 1933, there was no road into our valley. The Selbys built the road to the resort using a team of horses. Rumor has it they lost one team into the lake's cold waters as they worked to scrape a way around the lake's south-west shore.
Once completed, the road allowed the Selbys and their guests to access the resort grounds via vehicle, but the land beyond that point was accessible only by foot, horseback or boat. To overcome this obstacle and provide access to the already famous waters of Hidden Lake, the Selby's drove an old car across Elk Lake's frozen surface to the north end. They installed a wooden dock on the lake's north-west shore, and come summer, they began offering what became a large part of their income - a motorized trip to Hidden Lake via boat and car! For the privilege of accessing and fishing Hidden Lake, I have heard guests paid up to $20 per person! Considering we are talking about the 1940's and 1950's, that is a major testimony to the quality of Hidden Lake's fishing (then and now).
Some folks, however, were not willing to pad the Selby's pockets quite so heavily. On the other hand, they weren't interested in walking in (an option from either Elk Lake or Cliff Lake). Thus the old jeep road came into existence.
I have no idea who discovered and developed the route, but from the depth of the ruts which remain today, it obviously received plenty of use. Granted, it was not for the faint of heart, but it was definitely a thorn in the Selby's side!
The old jeep road meanders mostly east and a little south into Antelope Basin. However, my goal was the ridge to the north (and a little east) of Elk Lake so partway up the hill I turned in a more northerly direction. I soon reached the open meadows above the trees and began enjoying some spectacular views of Elk Lake and the Centennial Mountains. This ridge certainly offered a nice look at the lake's north end.
Climbing the hill, I was amazed to hear wolves howling in the distance. They appeared to be somewhere to the west of Hidden Lake. I have heard them howl in the past, but I had never heard them in the middle of the day before.
As I topped the ridge, a several birds riding the updrafts soared above. While they surely were well above me, they seemed mere feet overhead. At first I thought I they were hawks, but on closer inspection I found they were buzzards.
In some parts of the world buzzards are a regular visitor. However, in the Greater Yellowstone Eco-System they are rarely seen. Thus seeing several soaring on the wind made me wonder what dead animal I was about to stumble across.
Topping the ridge I was rewarded with some beautiful views of Horn Mountain and Antelope Basin to my east.
To my west the road to Hidden Lake looked quite a bit further down than I expected. In fact, the height of the ridge and the steep drop off came as something of a surprise. From the valley floor it does not look nearly this impressive!
Fall is an interesting time of year in the Centennial. Sometimes it comes and goes so quickly it seems the leaves are barely gold before the wind strips the branches bare. Other years the leaves shimmer gold and red for days on end. Other years fall comes in waves - a pocket of gold here and there while in other spots green rules. This was one of those years. Thus while in some areas the leaves showed no sign of succumbing to fall's frosty nights, others were gloriously red and gold.
Along this ridge I found spots of gold and spots of green as well as flashes of red and purple and yellow and orange among the other foliage.
Yet, in spite of winter's warning call, some flowers still persisted in showing forth their own glorious colors!
Perhaps the best part of this hike was the Elk Lake landscape as seen from the top. The steep drop off allowed me to enjoy panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside. And, while my hike was truncated due to the passing time, I know I will be back - for there is much to explore along this ridge. And, if I can find a large enough chunk of time, I have little doubt further up the ridge the views will only get better and better!
Lady of the Lake