Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Tenkara USA Rhodo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tenkara USA Rhodo. Show all posts

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Glacier Day Two: Hiking and Fishing at Snyder Lake

Hitting Our Stride on the Trail to Snyder Lake 

On our first full day in Glacier National Park, we had learned some valuable lessons. Looking to put those lessons into practice, we began a routine on day two that would stick with us the rest of our time in Glacier with one notable exception. The first part of this routine involved getting up rather early. Since we had just come from Tennessee, our bodies were still wired to get up on Tennessee time so this wasn't as hard as you might think. On the other hand, neither me nor my wife are naturally morning people, so there was a strong urge to sleep just a little longer the first few mornings. As we began to reap the benefits of our early mornings, this urge was easier and easier to fight. 

The second part of this routine was to immediately leave camp for the trailhead as soon as we got out of bed. Breakfast and lunch prep could happen at the trailhead since our cooler and other meal items were always in the trunk of the car. We learned early on that getting to the trailhead first was of paramount importance, and we could do other parts of our morning routine once we got there. Parking was at a premium and we simply could not do hikes we had planned on if we didn't get an early start.

The plan for day two came together quickly. We wanted a medium length hike that would feature some elevation gain and loss to start warming up for bigger hikes ahead. The trail to Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park is supposed to be 4.4 miles from the trailhead to the backcountry campsite at the lake. We expected to cover a bit more ground than that with some extra exploring while we were there. 

Snyder Lake Trail Map

The hike to Snyder Lake actually begins on the Gunsight Pass Trail. This trail connects the east and west sides of Glacier National Park, but on this day, we would only be covering a small portion of it. The first mile and a half or a little more of our day was on the Gunsight Pass Trail before the Snyder Lake Trail took off to the northeast. The trail climbed rapidly from Lake McDonald to the trail junction before continuing up to Snyder Lake. As far as climbs went, the steepest part was the early portion of the Gunsight Pass trail. While the Snyder Lake Trail is still climbing, it is a steady but gentle climb compared to others we would do in Glacier.

Early on in our hike, I was quickly distracted by the majestic forest we were traveling through. The hemlocks were recognizable to a traveler from East Tennessee although these were the western variety. Other evergreens grew in abundance as well. There is something magical about any forest, but to someone who is used to mostly deciduous forests, I always revel in evergreen forests more than any other.

Forest near Lake McDonald on the way to Snyder Lake


On the forest floor, I was finding enough flowers to get quickly distracted. In fact, we were still almost within sight of the car when I was down on my knees taking pictures. The wintergreen or Pipsissewa was blooming profusely. Quickly realizing I couldn't photograph all of the flowers, I got back up and tried to stay focused on the uphill climb. There would be plenty more flowers ahead. 

Pipsissewa along the Gunsight Pass trail on the way to Snyder Lake

Wintergreen or pipsissewa on the way to Snyder Lake


Right around the trail junction where the Snyder Lake Trail took off from the Gunsight Pass Trail, we met some backpackers and exchanged pleasantries. They were heading out after a few days in the backcountry and warned us strongly about bears. I think I may have been too enthusiastic with my inquiries on the topic. As we were walking away, I heard one of them say something muffled to which another replied, "At least they have some bear spray." Needless to say, I think they were concerned for our safety. 

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

Let's just take a moment now to cover some important information. First, if you ever meet me in the woods, I may come across as though I'm out looking for wildlife. That's not exactly true, but I'm definitely always interested in seeing it. Spotting wildlife is a highlight of every trip we take. You might even deduce that I'm a little too interested in finding grizzly bears. However, I probably respect them more than 99.9% of other people do. Yes, I would love to see one while out on the trail sometime, but I'm totally okay when that doesn't happen. In fact, I actively take measures to make sure they know I'm around which probably means I'm eliminating most opportunities to see one. 

While in the woods in grizzly country, I highly recommend keeping bear spray close and easy to hand. I also recommend making LOTS of noise, and I don't mean timid quiet noise. This is noise that alerts anything and everything around to your presence. You'll hear me talking loudly both to myself, my wife, and of course the bears. My favorite is the traditional "hey bear!!!" but I mix it up a lot as well. That gets boring after a little while. 

Some people choose to wear bear bells (say that five times fast). You've probably even heard the old joke about those bear bells. The first time I ever heard the joke was right before my first trip to Yellowstone. I wasn't sure how serious the joke was, but when I hit my first trail in Yellowstone solo and ran into other hikers with bells, it really hit me that I was out in the woods with something a little bigger and badder than me. Ever since, I've hiked a lot in grizzly country, and I've always made a lot of noise. I've even wore a bell a time or two, but honestly they don't make enough noise if you ask me. Your own voice is much better, you just need to remember to constantly use it.

I've never been attacked by a grizzly and hope never to have it happen. That's why I go to so much trouble to avoid any close encounters. If it did happen though, I hope I would follow the advice everyone should follow. In a nutshell, with a black bear, fight back. With a grizzly, play dead and try to cover your neck and the back of your head while you're at it. Grizzly bears will often come back when you start to "wake" up, so don't go that route too soon. Again, I can't overstate the importance of bear spray while hiking in bear country. Some people choose firearms as well, but that sounds like way more hassle than its worth, and if you don't hit the bear perfectly, it will still come get you. The bear spray is much more reliable. Anyway, enough about bears. Lets' get back to the hike...

Snyder Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

Shortly after turning onto the Snyder Lake Trail, I made the most amazing discovery. Before our trip, I had been hoping to find some huckleberries somewhere in Glacier or on part two of our trip in northern Idaho. Lots of research had me fairly comfortable with identifying them, but so far we had found some of the look alike plants but not the real thing. We had barely started onto the actual Snyder Lake Trail when I noticed some berries on low bushes along the trail. My first taste had me sold. Huckleberries are delicious! 

You might remember that I really like huckleberry ice cream and it is always a highlight of my trips to Yellowstone National Park. We were not sure if we would try any ice cream on this trip for a variety of reasons but mostly due to COVID. So, as a consolation, I had prepared for huckleberry pancakes. Unfortunately, when we discovered our first huckleberries, I wasn't ready to collect them. We would have to hope for another opportunity. After this first discovery, I would make sure I was prepared for huckleberries anytime I thought I might want to collect a few.

As you hike the Snyder Lake Trail, you will begin passing through areas affected by the Sprague Fire. This wildfire happened just a few years ago so the landscape still has that raw look. Because of how recently the landscape has been affected by fire, the trail begins to open up a bit sooner than it otherwise might. Through here, you will definitely be feeling the summer sun. Shade became more and more infrequent until we had mostly given up on finding it. Water breaks became more important as we were still adjusting to the dry western air. However, the sunlight was also helping many wildflowers grow that might otherwise not be there. I soon found some new ones for me including the streambank globemallow and the green false hellebore. 

Streambank Globemallow in Glacier National Park on Snyder Lake Trail

green false hellebore on the Snyder Lake Trail

Tall green false hellebore trailside on the way to Snyder Lake


In fact, I was finding so many flowers that I quickly decided I couldn't waste my whole day on them if we were going to enjoy Snyder Lake. We did manage to get a couple of selfies on the trail. I also took a few of my wife walking through wildflowers that were taller than she was! Glacier is extremely lush with lots of moisture coming off the hillsides to water the various wildflowers.

On trail heading towards Snyder Lake

Lush wildflowers growing tall on Snyder Lake Trail


Eventually, the trail began to level out and we could sense that the lake was just ahead. Snyder Lake is nestled in a high basin at just under a mile in elevation. The lake is surrounded by Mt. Brown to the northwest, Edwards Mountain to the east, and the Little Matterhorn to the northeast. Just beyond Edwards Mountain lies the beautiful Sperry glacier and Comeau Pass, but we'll save that story for another day. The views at Snyder Lake are impressive, but not so much as when you get a bit higher in elevation. However, the reasonable distance from the trailhead and lovely hike make this a definite must for anyone who is serious about hiking in Glacier National Park. It is also a good fallback option when other parking lots have filled up as there is a decent amount of parking at the Sperry Chaley/Gunsight Pass trailhead.

Mount Brown over Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park


The terrain is wide open leading up to the lake, but there are plenty of trees in the immediate vicinity of the lake that survived the Sprague Fire. Nestled among the trees on the east side of the lake is a backcountry campsite. While we often wished we could have been spending the night on some of our hikes, the bugs made you second guess whether that would actually be a good idea. Snyder Lake was nowhere close to being the worst for bugs though and we were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Here we found some wildlife beyond the birds we had spotted on the hike in. 

Ground squirrels and chipmunks are always some of our favorites when out hiking. Snyder Lake was no different. These bold little critters had clearly been fed from time to time by unscrupulous hikers. We had to keep a close eye on them and our backpacks. The golden mantled ground squirrels there would try climbing into our packs in search of edibles given the opportunity. My wife in particular enjoyed photographing them although I got a few pictures as well. It was good fun for her while I got in my first fishing in Glacier National Park. 

Golden mantled ground squirrel at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake


You know I would eventually get around to doing some fly fishing. While the Glacier National Park portion of our trip was not really about fishing, I could not completely ignore the fishing either. The good news about fishing in Glacier National Park is that you do not need a fishing license with just a few small exceptions. Make sure to check the current fishing regulations to make sure you are familiar with those exceptions, but the lack of a license requirement actually made fishing here a no brainer. 

The waters of Glacier are largely very low on nutrients leading to rather small fish. There are definitely some exceptions, but as a whole, the fishing is not noteworthy in the least. Thus, the Park does not require a fishing license, but there are still some special regulations you should check into. Certain streams and lakes are permanently closed to fishing to protect native species. Others have seasonal closures. With only one or two exceptions, the Park requires fishing to be done with artificial flies or lures only. Anglers are limited to one rod in use. 

While the fishing in Glacier National Park might not normally produce the same trophy sized fish that anglers are accustomed to elsewhere in Montana, the fish are still hungry, willing, and plentiful if you find the right place. Snyder Lake is one of those places. The fish here are quite small, however. For someone used to fly fishing and guiding in the Smokies, this wasn't a problem. 

I had begun a habit that I would continue throughout our time in Glacier National Park. A Tenkara USA rod would accompany me on nearly every hike. For the most part, I did not do any fishing on our hikes. However, I was always prepared just in case. If you have ever found yourself miles from your vehicle without fishing gear and discovered lots of trout, you know how frustrating it is. I decided I wasn't going to find myself in that position. If the opportunity arose, I was prepared to fish. The rod that I brought on this trip was the Rhodo. This is the rod I reach for most often in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it proved to be excellent for my purposes in Glacier National Park as well. It is lightweight, so I don't really notice it in my pack. 

My Osprey Backpack with a Tenkara USA Rhodo


The small cutthroat trout of Snyder Lake were not at all picky. A small Parachute Adams seemed to be all I needed. Even my wife got in on the action and caught a few fish! The trout were cruising around looking for something to eat. If you got a good presentation without throwing a shadow over the fish, they would generally eat. Fly fishing with a Tenkara rod is interesting since you have a fixed length line. We would wait until a cutthroat trout would cruise into range and then present the fly. Here are a few of the fish we caught. 

Tenkara caught cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Closeup of a Snyder Lake cutthroat trout on a Parachute Adams

My wife's cutthroat trout on Snyder Lake

A closeup of my wife's catch fly fishing Snyder Lake

Snyder Lake cutthroat trout caught fly fishing with a Tenkara rod

A nicer cutthroat trout caught while fly fishing Snyder Lake

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake Video

While fly fishing at Snyder lake with my Tenkara rod, I asked my wife to take a quick video. Here is the result. Oh, and while you're at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel please!


Hiking Back Out From Snyder Lake

All good things must come to an end. On this day in particular, we were changing campsites and needed to get settled in to our new place. The original trip plan was to spend a large chunk of our time at Many Glacier. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the entire east side of the Park was closed. We were left scrambling for alternative camping arrangements and stumbled upon the wonderful Glacier Campground in West Glacier. We wanted to be back before dark to get our campsite arranged and supper made. 

Before the hike back out, we made one side detour. There were some small waterfalls at the head of Snyder Lake. Water surges down a steep but short canyon from Upper Snyder Lake to Snyder Lake and we wanted to explore a bit. We worked our way across the rocks around the north side of Snyder Lake and to the inlet creek. On our way, we spotted a golden eagle soaring above but didn't get any decent pictures. Climbing up the hill, we eventually gained a good view of the first waterfall. Looking on up the canyon, I could see a fairly good route continuing towards Upper Snyder Lake, but it was getting late and we really needed to be going. A trip to Upper Snyder Lake will be in my future, but on this day we needed to head on. 

Waterfall at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Selfie at waterfall at Snyder Lake

I also paused long enough to take some pictures of Snyder Lake from another angle. This day was amazingly calm which offered some beautiful reflections in the lake. Calm winds are a rarity out west, so we greatly enjoyed this fine summer day. 

Snyder Lake as viewed from the head of the lake

Looking down towards Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Not too far down the trail, I began to get distracted by wildflowers again. Glacier National Park has incredible displays of wildflowers, and I was enjoying every new discovery and some old favorites. The colors of some of the flowers were almost fake they were so brilliant. The first is Alberta beardtongue (I think, please let me know if you have a better idea!) or some other penstemon and the second is one of my favorites from our trip, the purple monkeyflower. I'm a bit unclear on why it is the purple monkeyflower when the color is obviously pink, but then I'm not the one naming these things. 



The late day sunlight was filtering through the trees as we descended back towards Lake McDonald. When we arrived back at the car, we had covered 9.75 miles according to my wife's watch. We were tired but not sore. A good supper and a well deserved night's rest was all we needed or wanted. The next day's adventure would arrive soon enough and we wanted to be ready. 

Snyder Lake Trail in the late day sun