A Visit To Sheep Lake (Part 1)

For several years I have wanted to hike into Sheep Lake - ever since some horseback riders from Virginia hauled their horses all the way to Montana just to ride in our mountains. After they shared photos from their trip into this country, I was hooked.

For the last two years it has been on my to-do list. This year I finally had the chance to do it - so, with my faithful hiking buddies, I headed for the trail. As we were loading up our packs and preparing to head off, a USFS crew began unloading their horses. We thought we might see them again (actually we thought they would pass us on the way up - thus I will brag on my crew because THEY DIDN'T). Great hiking guys!

I have learned any time you head up "----" Creek Trail (whatever creek it may be), you can be sure you will cross water - probably several times. After my experiences last year (for example hiking the Odell Creek Trail), I have come to expect anything from slippery logs to stob-studded booby traps to good bridges. Thus trail, however, turned out better than most, with good bridges. . .

Most of the time! Why the USFS had bridges over every stream crossing but the second one - I do not know. On our way back the logs were dry and the crossing easy. On our way out that morning (when we definitely did NOT want wet feet) the logs were wet and slick. Thankfully no one fell in.

We had enjoyed a leasurely morning yet we were blessed with a comfortable hike - cool enough yet warm enough. The bugs weren't too bad and the day was absolutely gorgeous. Put all that together with some great hiking companions and a drop-dead-gorgeous setting and. . .we were hiking in paradise!

The lower section of the trail turned my mind to bears! The lush creekside provided the perfect environment for a jungle which often grew higher than our heads (yes - there are people in this picture - look closely at the middle of the photo). Thimbleberries. Gooseberries. Huckleberries. Raspberries. Currants. And more provided what looked to me to be the 'perfect' bear haven. Thus we kept the bear spray ready and corraled the youngest (and most energetic) member of the party in the middle of the pack (much to his chagrin).

Sheep Creek is a beautiful creek which offers many photo opportunities in spite of the heavy undergrowth. In fact, while our path often took us far from its banks, its delightful rumble and rush were rarely out of earshot.

After about a half-an-hour, our trail began to climb away from the lush creek bottom. It wound its way through an open forest. Oddly enough, even though the trail did return, at times, to the creek's bank, the heavy undergrowth did not return. (Note the youngest hiker. This is the one the horseback riders thought would slow us down - probably because he has the shortest legs. Yet, if you look closely, you will see he is not only keeping up, he even has the energy to stop regularly and pitch a few rocks - which means, of course, he has to run faster and farther to catch back up. Why, oh why, does he get all the extra energy?)

All that running and throwing did make him thirsty, however. This shady spot seemed the perfect spot to grab a drink, rest our legs (or not), and take a breather (always expecting to see the horseback riders coming around the bend). Soon, however, we were back on the trail.

About forty-five minutes into our hike the forest began to give way to rocks. Rocky Screes. Rock Slides. Big Beautiful Brazen Rocks. Rocks which tempted us to take a closer look - but not enough to get us off the trail.

However, the youngest hiker (with the shortest legs - who'd been doing the most running already) had to do a little climbing - PLEASE MOM! So, a couple minutes were allotted to climbing one big rock and then a quick photo shoot then hit the trail kid!

About fifteen minutes later we crossed the creek once again and began switch-backing our way up the mountainside. I will say this trail is nicely laid out. It is wide and level and even offers decent grading on most of the climbs.

The switchbacks landed us in a lovely meadow. For the most part, the rest of our trail traversed through a series of high mountain meadows, always gaining elevation as it proceeded to our destination.

One last time we crossed Sheep Creek. From this point onward we would pretty much follow the creek (at a distance) to its source.

Did I mention this hike was GORGEOUS! All of the hike was pretty, but once we popped out into the open meadows, the scenery became stellar. Rocky mountains buttressed 'round our meadows, bulking large on each side of our trail.

Up, Up, Up we wound - following the winding trail past stands of timber and across grassy fields. Rough rocky crags drew our eyes upwards. Puffy white clouds adorned an azure sky.

And wildflowers lined our pathway by the thousands. Boulder-strewn hillsides showed a rougher side, but the posies softened the picture. A LOT! In fact, there were many spots (like the one shown above) where I couldn't help but think of glossy magazine photographs depicting cultured yards upon which thousands of dollars had been spent trying to achieve something this gorgeous! Yet, in the Creator's garden, the harsh and the gentle are mated to create beauty beyond words (and beyond imitation).

Even surrounded by such beauty we were starting to wonder if Sheep Lake really existed. Our trail continued to meander through the meadows. The creek continued to gurgle and giggle by our side. Around each corner another breathtaking vista appeared. But where was the lake? Little did I know at the foot of that mountain in the distance (the one with the snow) lay that sparkling gem. Join me next time as we reach our destination.

Lady of the Lake

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