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Jan 03 2020

Enjoying the Unexpected on a Trip to Ten Lakes

The best adventures don’t go according to plan

Exploring Montana

I had always heard that early summer in Montana can be hard. The unpredictable rain and still-melting snow can put a halt to any adventure, but after waiting days for blue skies to appear, I decided to brave the looming grey clouds and go for a hike. 

My thirst for adventure led me to the 34,000-acre Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area. Amy, MWA’s conservation director, had mentioned that it was Recommended Wilderness, and she’d also warned me of the thriving bear and wolverine population that resided there. I was excited to explore this new place, and I certainly was not about to let some clouds – or some hungry critters – stop me.  

Driving past Graves Creek and towards Ten Lakes, it was hard to believe just how wild this country is. As far as the eye could see were untouched mountains covered in dense tree cover. Cliffs towered above me, peeking out of the thick cloud cover. As I drove, the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes, and snow started to appear before I reached Bluebird Trailhead, where I had planned to start a ten-mile loop hike. This trail would bring me past Paradise Lake and Wolverine Lakes, and — if the clouds broke — provide me with amazing mountain views. 

There was just one surprise at the trailhead: three feet of snow! I hadn’t even thought about bringing snowshoes with me. It was June 17th. Everywhere else, people were enjoying the beach, trying to stay away from the heat, but here I was putting on a second pair of wool socks and trying to barter with my brother for a down jacket. Between the grey skies and the snow, I could tell that I was in the wild. This forest was a force to be reckoned with. 

After hiking for a few miles and post-holing through the snow too many times to count, I arrived to a small unnamed lake. Despite the five-foot drifts, I’d expected a pristine blue gem, but of course it was completely frozen over! At first I was a bit disappointed, thinking my ten-mile hike was a flop. Instead of luxuriating by sapphire water, I was standing beside a frozen lake, scrambling to put on a raincoat as the grey skies began to spit on me.

But then I took a step back. I saw the towering cliffs behind the lake, the trees standing like silent giants above me. There was a complete peace that only a snow-covered forest can bring. I sat down in the snow, ate a PB&J, and realized that the perfect adventure doesn’t always mean bright blue skies and clear trails. Sometimes the best adventures come from the best surprises, like being able to sled in the middle of June. 

Back at the trailhead, I headed to Little Therriault Lake, which was gorgeously clear of all snow and ice. It made for a great fishing spot, and as the skies began to clear, the lake reflected the most pristine blue. I was able to sit on the bank and watch a mallard swimming with her ducklings. I listened to the wind sweeping through the trees and the quiet lap of the water on the bank.
Sometimes adventures don’t pan out quite like you hope. But that’s OK. Sometimes, the unexpected is the best adventure.  

– Maddie Matarazzo, MWA’s 2017 summer intern