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Trip Report: Jewel Basin

I have a hard time with fall. On the one hand I love it. I love how the color of the light makes familiar scenes turn all soft and gold. I love how the air smells crisp and you’re almost guaranteed dramatic morning mist. I love how fallen leaves light up the ground and trails stop being dusty. But summer’s ending breaks my heart. I’m obsessed with reliable sunlight and long evenings. I’m never ready for long nights and unpredictable weather.

Hiking in the fall can be an adjustment too. Days can be the perfect temperature and so beautiful it hurts, but they can just as easily be wet and miserable. Nights are almost always long and cold. After spending all summer going to bed before the sun even drops below the horizon I’m surprised to find myself racing nightfall to camp. Most of our trips this time of year are day trips. As our schedules fill up with town obligations it seems to be all we have time for.

Last weekend we did a big loop day hike around Jewel Basin that made me feel a little better about the seasonal transition. It’s been on our to do list all summer but between road closures and fires and all the other trails on the agenda we just hadn’t gotten to it. It’s an area I’ve been wanting to check out for a while, perched high on the Swans and set aside just for hikers. Jewel Basin is accessible from either the Flathead Valley or the Hungry Horse Reservoir but after a summer of driving the east side of the reservoir we were happy to have a destination on the west side of the Swans that didn’t require driving along the reservoir. We headed up Saturday night and camped near the trail head to be ready for an early start on Sunday. We’ve been to a lot of trail heads and we’ve camped at a fair number of them. For the most part they tend to be pretty quiet places. I was expecting that on a chilly Sunday in early October we were pretty much guaranteed to have the place to ourselves. Boy was I wrong. Several other groups also headed up the trail that morning, including a large group of gossiping, giggling middle-aged women who followed close behind us.

Despite the number of people in the parking lot we didn’t see a soul once we were out of sight of the truck and out of range of the giggling cohort behind us. The trail climbs quickly from the trail head to an easy pass into a veritable alpine playground on the other side. The trail is well-graded and winds its way past peaks and lakes and through alpine meadows, mature forests and an old burn. The day was beautiful, a little too smoky to be the picturesque crisp clear fall day but the haze just seemed to accentuate the angle of the light. The undergrowth was lit up red and yellow and pale, about-to-turn-yellow green. It was beautiful, and driving home as we chatted about the projects on tap for the next few months I felt a little better about the transition to fall.

The specs:
We took trail 8 from Camp Misery over the pass, past the Twin Lakes to trail 55. We followed 55 all the way around past Tongue Mountain and Clayton Lake to trail number 1 (if anyone can tell me how the forest service numbers trails I’ll give you some kind of prize…). We followed trail 1 up Graves Creek, past Black Lake (beautiful!) over the pass and back to Camp Misery via 68 and 8. The whole loop took us about six and a half hours with an hour break for lunch (Jamie) and picking huckleberries (me). We used the Flathead National Forest map of Jewel Basin but the whole area will be on our upcoming North Half of the Bob Marshall complex map as well which should be available by next spring.

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