Sunday, September 25, 2022

The little, level trail that keeps on … climbing

| August 21, 2022 12:00 AM

I got more than I bargained for a couple of weeks ago when a good friend and I made plans for a Saturday morning hike. I was candid with her about my limited hiking this spring and summer due to … first, the wet weather, then the hot weather, and then the windy weather.

That said, I’m in fair shape and do some form of exercise most days of the week, so in no way was I trying to wiggle out of a moderate workout.

My friend suggested a little 4-mile roundtrip hike to Skiumah Lake about 8 miles east of West Glacier. She thought she’d hiked it years ago with her son and remembered it as being pretty level and not strenuous. She was bringing along her dog, a young, spunky and well-behaved yellow Lab.

When we met up at the Columbia Falls park n’ ride, I asked if she had brought her trekking poles. I admitted that I just threw mine in my car in case she’d brought hers so I wouldn’t regret not bringing mine, adding I usually only appreciate having them for the downhill.

My friend reiterated that this hike was pretty level so she hadn’t brought hers. I left mine behind and climbed into her car.

We found the turn-off easily thanks to a book on day hikes she’d brought. The half-mile drive off the highway to the trailhead was “single track” and the shrub bows squeaked and moaned against the car as we crept in.

As we were gearing up, my friend reconsidered whether she had actually ever hiked this particular trail, concluding she actually hadn’t. But it was only a 4-mile hike, right?

Right as we started out through a dense growth of bigleaf maple and other thick, deciduous brush nearly over our heads, the trail started to climb. I was, thankfully, appropriately dressed in light weight pants and a long-sleeved shirt since we were basically bushwhacking through shrubbery.

After about 30 minutes of steady climbing, my friend commented that the author of the hiking book might reconsider her rating of the hike as “moderate.” The trail opened up so we could at least see what might conspire to trip us, but it did not level out … pretty much at all, except for a nicely planed log bridge with a sturdy handrail spanning Skiumah Creek, which our dog companion was delighted to splash through.

As we checked our devices to see how far we’d hiked, a bluff began to peek through above the forest in the near distance and we figured the lake was below it so we were close.

We finally pushed through the woods about 1 ½ hours after we’d started, (I’d long passed the “glowing” stage and was waxing toward wilting), Skiumah Lake before us with the bluff towering above it. The shoreline nearest us was choked with old blowdown and thistle; hiking down to the lake would have been a considerable hardship with the potential high for impaling ourselves on some natural punji stick. (The dog, however, had no trouble navigating and had a satisfying romp in the lake.)

We found two small patches of shade and logs to sit on to eat our lunch, but since the day was only going to get warmer we didn’t linger.

We were a little apprehensive about the 2-mile downhill hike (Why hadn’t I just brought my trekking poles?) but we took our time, both of us only stumbling a few times … minor, really.

The lofty views of Mount Stimson and Mount Pinchot in Glacier Park on the hike down were a lovely surprise and, once we got back to the car, we agreed that the downhill wasn’t as bad as we’d expected it would be.

But, having planned for an outing of much less intensity, the Skiumah Lake Trail threw down the gauntlet. That evening I did some browsing online and found the trail described as “a 1,200 feet elevation gain in about 2 miles — steep all the way,” “gorgeous, but steep” “bring a machete,” “treacherous trek,” “seriously steep,” and the taunting review “hiking poles were very helpful.”

I don’t fault my good friend for mis-remembering the trail because she’s hiked circles around me in her lifetime and been on more trails than you can shake an alder stick at, but next time I’ll take some ownership of my shared outings and do some armchair research first.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or

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