Monday, July 21, 2014

Hiking Mirror Lake Trail

Mirror Lake Trail
One of the most famous and sought after hiking trails in Southwestern Montana is the Mirror Lake Trail. This hike is in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, a unique area in Montana, as it is surrounded by a National Forests, wild and undisturbed by development. This popular trail is utilized by horses and hikers alike for a day trip or overnight adventure. If you have the time, there are many options to make a loop out of the hike and explore some of Montana’s Big Sky country.
My husband and I have had this on our hiking list forever. We really wanted to hike from the Spanish Creek trailhead through the ridgeline and out to Deer Creek trailhead. This 25 mile or more hike will require a multiple day commitment and we had just one day for fun-so we went with the famous Mirror Lake Trail.
To reach the trailhead you turn off Highway 191 at Spanish Creek Road and drive through the Flying D Ranch, Ted Turner’s property, which has a large Bison herd on it. There is access for two trailheads the Little Hell Roaring Creek and the South Fork Spanish Creek trails. To access the Mirror Lake Trail you need to take the South Fork of the Spanish Creek Trail Number 407.
We started our hike in the morning. The wildflowers were gorgeous and abundant throughout the whole hike, I had to resist stopping to take photos otherwise the hike would have been much longer. The beginning of the hike is relatively flat and slightly shady. There are plenty of watering holes for your furry friends that hike with you. We hit our first split in the trail, about 3 miles out. The sign will direct you to follow the left trail onto the South Fork of the Spanish Creek Trail Number 407-Mirror Lake and Spanish Lakes access. If you took the trail on the right, you would continue onto Pioneer Falls and eventually ending in a long trek to Ennis, Montana.
As we hiked, we passed in and out of the woods, with Blaze Mountain in the background and we could see the draw that we would be hiking into Mirror Lake.

We eventually came to a split in the trail again with a sign pointing us left towards Mirror Lake. The split to the right would take you to High Lakes Trail. The sign said we had hiked 4.5 miles at this fork on the trail-yeah! It was not a hard 4.5 miles but we could see that ahead we would be hitting switchback hell very shortly.

We continued on for about another mile going up and down through a thick forest. Finally the first switchback was on us. There was intermittent shade and water for my dog Fredo, which helped all of us.
We kept climbing and of course thinking at every turn in the switchbacks that we were almost there. As we hiked there was still snow clinging to the couloirs and waterfalls pouring over the steep drops of Blaze Mountain.

As we ascended we got a great view of the valley we had hiked up, what a trek. We finally made it to the top and to our surprise and luck were the only people at Mirror Lake. Fredo couldn’t wait to swim and I was so hot and sticky I wanted to swim also. As soon as I stepped into the lake I changed my mind, it was ice cold, but Fredo enjoyed it-must be nice having a fur coat.

We enjoyed sitting by the lake and eating our lunch and resting sore legs. We walked around and there were many backcountry camping spots that could host hikers or horseback riders. We saw a herd of Mountain goats on the cliffs of Blaze Mountain and saw ski tracks from some adventurous skiers in the couloirs. If you continued to ascend you would head towards Gallatin Peak and could end up hiking towards Big Sky or make a loop and drop into Hell Roaring Trail.

After an hour of relaxing and Fredo swimming, we headed back down the trail. Of course the downhill went faster and we couldn’t wait to get back to the car. I would say we averaged about 2 mile per hour on this 14 mile hike. I would recommend making a loop and camping if you have the time. On the Huffing and Puffing Scale, I would give it a 6. Finally, I checked Mirror Lake off my list but I can’t wait to hike it again.

Huffing and Puffing Scale
1 = A piece of cake, I could hike this all day! (easy)
2 = Should I go farther…why not! (easy)
3 = Did I even sweat? (easy/moderate)
4 = A few switchbacks aren’t so bad (moderate)
5 = Thank god for the downhill sections (moderate)
6 = One switchback at a time (moderate/high)
7: Can’t talk, must breathe (high)

8 = Sweating and swearing a lot, but the view will be worth it! (high/extreme)

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