Cabinet Mountain Backpacking, Part 2

This is Part 2 of my Labor Day backpacking trip to Snowshoe Lake. Part 1 is over here.

Our plan to make sure we checked out above the lake before heading out was a great one. It was simply gorgeous up there! After playing on some of the big boulders, we headed back to the lake, packed up and headed for the car. We made good time heading back out (except for that one point where we lost the trail, ended up in a bit of a swamp and had to resort to boulder hopping along the river for awhile before scrambling back up the hill to find the trail).

Snowshoe Lake
Sprocket and his snow
Hiking buddies
Waterfall near the headwaters of the North Fork Bull River
I had to make Sprocket wait to swim so I could capture the perfect reflection!

We really enjoyed our trip, it reminded me how much I love backpacking. We haven’t been nearly often enough and I look forward to doing more soon!

Waterfalls coming down a cliff next to the river


Cabinet Mountain Backpacking, Part 1

Cabinet mountains in the backgroun

I’ve been to the Cabinets a few times now and I really love them. They’re probably the closest range to us that features the beautiful rocky peaks above tree-line. In the past, I’ve used the Rock Creek road to access Cliff Lake and it’s surrounding area. That’s an awesome area since the road takes you wayyyy up and it’s an easy hike to the alpine meadows area.

Instead of going that route this time, I decided to head into Snowshoe Lake. It’s been ages since I’ve been backpacking and I was really excited to get out even if it wasn’t anything crazy intense. The trip report I read on getting to Snowshoe Lake was a little vague about where the trailhead was since the road (FS #2722) washed out a few years ago.

Lemme tell you. It’s not vague and you really shouldn’t think about it too hard. There’s a bridge where the Bull River Road used to be with clear parking spots just for you. Instead, I followed the directions I found online and went 3+ miles from the junction with Highway 56 and took a nice little 2 mile (each way) jaunt down a closed road that went…nowhere.

We hopped back in the jeep and went back down the road. When I looked at the sign at the trailhead (that clearly indicated this trail was the replacement for road 2722) I was a bit exasperated with myself that I hadn’t slowed down to look here before continuing up FS Rd #410 (aka South Fork Bull River Rd). There was nothing to be done though, so Sprocket and I shouldered our packs again and headed out.

It’s too bad that the road is washed out since it’s not particularly scenic on the way to the old trailhead. Sprocket and I made pretty decent time, said hello to some horse packers staying at the trailhead and continued on. The trail was narrow and didn’t seem to have many places to camp off of it so I started to get a little nervous. About 3/4 of a mile up the trail, I spotted a little spot on the river with some pretty small gravel so we scrambled down. It actually wound up being a perfect little spot. I was worried Sprocket would want to swim but he seemed pretty tired (Sprocket, you only did about 6 miles!) and just laid down when I told him to.

Cuddling in the tent

We both scarfed down some dinner and retired to the tent. And crashed. Sprocket was super happy to be able to snuggle! (Doggies who are not allowed on the bed <3 sleeping in tents!) In the morning, he didn’t waste one second before wading in the river. I barely started eating my breakfast before he started whining…he was ready for more hiking!!

Happy hiking dog.

The trail climbed steadily but we made pretty great time on our way to Verdun Creek (~3 miles from the old trail head). After the creek crossing, the trail became more of a way trail and was occasionally a bit hard to pick out. I ended up putting Sprocket in front of me…he seemed to be able to sniff it out and see it under the brush more than me. About 2 miles past the creek, we reached the “headwall” of the N. Fork Bull River. Sprocket and I chose to go up an old stream bed rather than going right up the face. I had to help him up onto a couple of boulders but this was definitely the right choice.

(Word to the wise: Sprocket and I made it up and down just fine; there were a couple of places he didn’t like but he’s been on similar stuff before. However, I wouldn’t recommend this as a hike with dogs.)

Headwall, North Fork Bull River

From the top of the headwall it was a pretty short hike to the lake. We were there by about 1:30 and spent the afternoon relaxing. Sprocket did some swimming and I read. The sun was shining but it was a little chilly up there…there were several large patches of snow visible above the lake still! (BRRRR.) Sprocket was less than pleased when I cut off his swimming time at about 3pm so that he could dry before getting in the tent. He’d just sit, look at the lake and whimper. Pathetic dog. We headed to bed early so we could get up and explore above the lake some in the morning.

4th Of July: Circumnavigating the Cabinets, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our 4th of July adventure in Montana. (Part 1)

I woke up snuggled between Forrest and Sprocket and not too horribly cold at all. The sun was shining and we had the whole day for adventuring. We let Sprocket out of the tent as we emerged from the tent. It took him about thirty seconds to hop into the river. We pulled the tent into the sun for the dew to dry and ate our breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. Our plans to hike off of Vermillion Pass sort of got trashed when we had to head lower to find a camp so we decided to make up the day as we went along—especially since we didn’t have a map for the Kootenai National Forest and were functioning only with the bleed from our Lolo and Idaho Panhandle National Forest maps.

Sprocket in Happy Gulch

Forrest picked out Silver Butte Pass (4,272′, Pass #3) as a likely destination. Down the Vermillion River we went to the junction with the Vermillion River road. We took a quick look at Vermillion Falls and then branched off the main road to the Pass. As we wound our way up the mountain, I realized, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” And then, “Oh dear, I think this road only exits the mountains to the east.” (I totally had been there in Fall 2010 on my first Cabinets adventure). The east side of the mountains was a little further than we were planning on going but by the time I was sure I knew where we were headed we decided to go for it anyway.

Rainbow over Vermillion Falls

Sure enough, we popped out of the woods on Highway 2 about thirty miles south of Libby. Although we didn’t have a map, we knew that most of the Cabinets were either official wilderness or a designated roadless area so we either had to go back the way we came or head up to Libby. We figured that Libby would have some sort of 4th of July festival so we headed that way. Turns out, Libby doesn’t have much of anything.

Kootenai Falls

We bought some fruit and chips and decided to head back into the mountains to BBQ the rest of our hot dogs. We stopped to hike down to Kootenai Falls—pictures just can’t do justice to the amount of water moving through that canyon! Leaving the falls, we looped back south on Montana Highway 56 back towards Thompson Falls. We stopped to let Sprocket swim in Bull Lake but there were a lot of people around so we decided to continue on. Just south of the lake we started to get some amazing views of the Cabinets and then we spotted a Forest Service road heading up towards them. Based on the edges of the area we could see on our maps I guessed that it was a loop that would bring us back to the highway in about 10 miles so away we went.

Dock jumping at Bull Lake

We detoured up a spur road that seemed like it would give us some views. The maps even showed a lookout on top. The road ended in a buggy area with some decent views but we were hungry and decided to cook the last of our hot dogs before deciding what to do. Although we weren’t sure how far the lookout was (it was either a mile or 3 miles…) we decided to go for it. When we spotted the lookout, it was over on the next ridge, about two miles away, and since the bugs were really bad, Team 3Up made the call to settle for our views from the parking area.

Chipmunk in the Jeep

After we made it back to the main road, going over Snake Creek Pass (3,604′, Pass #4) and then back to the highway, it was time to get ourselves home. The drive home over Thompson Pass (4,862′, Pass #5) and Dobson Pass (4,235′, Pass #6) was all pavement and uneventful aside from getting an ice cream cone in Prichard.

Cabinet Mountains from the west

The Cabinets

Friday, Sprocket and I headed over to the Cabinet Mountains, it’s a nice drive over Thompson Pass from here (only about an hour and half). I had dinner in Noxon, Montana before heading up to the trailhead.

Herford’s Restaurant

We spent the night cuddled up in the back of the Cherokee. Sprocket’s a good cuddler. Unfortunately, Saturday was really cloudy. Up at elevation we were completely socked in. Sprocket didn’t really mind and ran around like a crazy dog. I was a little nervous because there was bear scat everywhere but we hiked out to Cliff Lake and thought about hiking up St. Paul peak. Continue reading “The Cabinets”