©Bert Gildart: On Monday morning about 9 a.m., August 22, 2016, this is the way the Jewel Basin Hiking area appeared from the porch of our house.
Smoke from a substantial fire in the Hamilton, Montana, area (about 100 miles to the south) had crept into the Flathead, muting the sun and obscuring Jewel Basin. At times like this conditions afford unusual photographic opportunities that can create stunning images.
On the flip side, my eyes are watering and my sinuses are partially blocked.
Scientists tell us global warning has increased the frequency of fires and the conditions you see here may become the new norm. Oh my aching sinuses.
Of course the Jewel Basin Hiking Area doesn’t always look this way, though smoke muting the sun does presage future conditions. But frequency could be reduced, offering a future more like what we saw last week while on a family hike to Mount Aeneas, one of the highest mountains in the Swan Range.
From our house the distance is only about 10 miles to the Forest Service parking lot, known as Camp Misery, but that required about a 45 minutes because the last stretch of the drive is over a bumpy logging road. However, views along the way are spectacular.
The “Jewel” straddles the Swan Range within sight of Flathead Lake to the south, Hungry Horse Reservoir to the east and Glacier to the north. It’s a hiker’s and backpacker’s dream and has more than fulfilled the promise which the Forest Service envisioned. The challenge, of course, is to maintain conditions so the area’s beauty and history prevail.
The area is characterized by glacier-carved peaks and cirques, which surround valleys dotted with 37 alpine lakes. Fifty miles of hiking trails connect most of the lakes, and aside from getting from the valley floor to the basin rim, most of the hiking is not too strenuous. Several years ago Janie and I produced a guide to the Flathead and Glacier and we devoted a section to exploring hiking trails in this area.
From our guide book about Glacier and the Flathead Valley, the highest peak, Mount Aeneas, was named for an Iroquois Indian. His name was Big Knife and he arrived in the Flathead valley sometime in the 1870’s and was adopted by the Kootenai people. Somewhere along the way, his name was changed to Aeneas, a name borrowed from the Greek and Romans, meaning “Man Without a Country.”
L to R: Family members Alun Polga and his son Griff test a flank that leads to Mount Aeneas;
Polga family pause at saddle en route to Aeneas; pausing at saddle where we recalled
famous John Muir quote: Climb The Mountains and Get Their Good Tidings.
NATIVE USAGE: Also included in our book are quotes from one of the area’s noted hikers, who is a good friend. Elaine Synder is a volunteer hike leader with the Montana Wilderness Association and she says that from the top of Aeneas you can see in all directions. She says that your sweep includes vistas of early Indian settlements, some of which are thousands of years old. “There are places,” says Synder, “that were used in the last century by Native Americans who camped, hunted, and gathered in the valley.” She says there is evidence that the peak itself was an important perspective point for early day hunters, just as it often has been for us.
On the day family members and I climbed and explored the Jewel Basin Hiking area the skies were perfectly clear. In fact, though we were surrounded by areas where fires were raging, the Flathead remained smoke free until two days ago. Lighting, however, has torched off the vast forests in the Flathead Valley, now parched from weeks of hot temperatures and a lack of rain. Not surprisingly, such conditions have produced forest fires — and now, of course, smoke.
For those of us who believe the predictions of world scientists, I guess we’re getting a hint of what the future might bode. Sad, because some of the deleterious aspects of our compromised environment could have been forestalled.
THIS TIME IN OCTOBER OF 2006
4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
Hiking Shenandoah National Park
Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.
Big Sky Country is beautiful
Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State
Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
What makes Glacier, Glacier?
Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent
Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy