Avalanche Lake, Waterton-Glacier National Peace Park, MT

I passed through the cedar forest and hiked 2 miles to Avalanche Lake, a secluded lake surrounded by high mountains on all sides and fed by snow and glacial runoff from Sperry Glacier in the peaks above. In the distance I could see and hear the water rushing down the cliffs in narrow strips of frothy white, disappearing into the forest below, then emerging in wide, shallow streams running across the rocky shore and feeding into the lake. The water was as smooth as glass, and the young trout made plopping sounds as they struck the surface for lingering insects. I could see them clearly below the blue water, hovering in place one moment, then catching sight of me and darting behind a submerged log the next. The lake was shallow along the edge, littered with dead branches and stumps washed down in avalanches and warm weather thaws, but dark and deep towards the center. I spotted what looked like bear shit on a pebbly stretch of shore, not that I’m an expert on that, but I assumed this was a place frequented by bears, knowing the surroundings were ideal habitat for bears. My discovery stirred up thoughts of a bear rushing out of the dense forest surrounding me, charging at me as I stood between it and the lake, imagined stumbling upon a mother and her cubs around the next curve in the shore. I was weary being so far around the lake, so far from the trail and entering denser brush. My only escape would be to jump into the lake and swim for it. I continued along the rocky shore, circling the entire lake, about a mile long and half-mile across, and eventually came to an area completely jammed with dead trees, criss-crossed in every direction, blocking my passage like some immense obstacle course of rotting, rickety logs. I had been hiking along the lake for about an hour, and I was close to completing the entire circumference, save for about a quarter mile of this seemingly impassable logjam. Turning around would double my hiking time, so I decided to forge ahead, carefully making my way across the slippery logs, getting stabbed by stray branches, almost falling into the lake numerous times, cursing at my stupidity for not scanning the entire shore and seeing this obvious obstacle that I would eventually reach, if only I had taken the time to do so. My chosen route ended up taking an extra hour anyways, and after bushwacking through more dense brush, I emerged onto a narrow shore and realized I was on the other side of the McDonald Creek, about 12 feet wide, separating me from the path about 200 feet away. I stood there panting, short of breath and covered in scrapes, branches sticking out from under my pack, leaves in my hair, looking like the most pathetic mountain man that ever stepped foot into the great wide open. I could see a few hikers leisurely walking along the shore across the lake, and I hoped they wouldn’t see me standing there on the other side of this immense cluster of dead logs, stuck on the other side of a creek, knowing how stupid I must look. The water didn’t seem too deep, but the creek bed was littered with stones that I knew would be slippery as hell. No choice but to cross, so I took off my boots and socks, tied them around my neck, rolled up my jeans, and stepped into the frigid water, finding it deeper than I thought. My balance was terrible due to the uneven terrain and me holding my camera and gear above my head, and I almost ate it on the algae-covered rocks, but finally reached the far shore with only wet jeans and cold, sore feet. I sat on a flat boulder and let the sun warm me up again before heading back onto the trail and out of the forest, returning to my waiting car once again slightly battered, but invigorated and ready to make the next mistake.

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