One of the lesser-visited high lakes in the Idaho Selkirk Mountains offers a wealth of overlooked reasons to shoulder a pack and take an extended hike.
Snow Lake is a choice trip, especially for hikers with dogs.
It holds cutthroat trout for the anglers and offers several “beyond the trail” hiking and scrambling options for peak baggers.
One of the best views of the Selkirk Crest is just a short bushwhack up from the lake.
Hikers inspired by the power of nature can see the fresh impact of an avalanche that filled about 20 percent of the lake with timber and debris this spring.
And if you like huckleberries, plan a trip for late August.
Trail 185 to Snow Lake isn’t as romantic as some paths in the rugged mountain range that stretches north from Spokane Valley into British Columbia. The route runs wide over an old road bed for about four miles before narrowing to a single track the last mile.
Most hikers hang a right turn 1.5 miles up from the trailhead, bound for Bottleneck Lake.
But the wide route up Snow Creek, which crosses or parallels numerous creeks and drainage ditches, keeps a dog’s motor running cool even on a hot summer day. The trail is mostly soft dirt, which is relatively easy on a dog’s feet.
Bonners Ferry Ranger District trail crews designed the numerous creek crossings with hikers in mind. Virtually all of them have boulders placed so perfectly that a hiker barely needs to break a good stride to zip over the streams.
The beauty of this hike struck me (again) last weekend after a half dozen of my buddies had excuses for not joining me on a good Sunday hike to explore the damage caused by the spring avalanche.
My English setter, Scout, was more than ready to go, as usual, just as my other dogs – Dickens, Radar and Sage – have done in previous decades. So I set my sights on the Snow Lake-Bottleneck Lake loop, a grand 10.5-mile tour of the area.
Tracks in the trail indicated the occupants from the three cars at the trailhead had turned off to Bottleneck Lake, leaving us delightfully alone. The anticipation built in the last stretch to Snow Lake as Bottleneck Peak and rocky ridges scraped the skyline.
Snow Lake’s shoreline tends to be soggy until late summer, leaving a small window for camping and a large opening for mosquitoes to propagate.
Indeed, we were alone at the lake.
I spotted two cutthroats under fresh timber littering the water from an avalanche so powerful it snapped century-old trees near their bases.
Scout enjoyed a good swim before we headed over the snow still lingering in the outlet area and up the lake’s west slope, which has been kept mostly open by fire and snowslides. Huckleberries were prolific, but still green and the size of BBs.
From the ridge above the lake, I scrambled south on rocky ridges toward Roman Nose Peak, before doubling back and waltzing along a sweet-walking ridge of granite dappled with colorful penstemon and bear grass to the cairn on Bottleneck Peak.
The trek was slowed by a couple of staunch points on dusky grouse – one of the factors one must consider when hiking with a bird dog.
But who’s in a hurry when you’re looking west over the upper Pack River Road at some of the best granite scenery in the Selkirks: Gunsight Peak, Chimney Rock, the Seven Sisters, Harrison Peak – all in a line, scratching the sky like shark teeth.
From Bottleneck Peak, I looked between my feet down the near-vertical face to Bottleneck Lake below.
A family, including two kids around the age of 9 or 10 had scrambled up from their Bottleneck Lake campsite. I was impressed. Bushwhacking isn’t appealing to many kids, but this boy and girl seemed to be eating it up.
I left the easy-going open ridge above Snow Lake and eased down into the timber for a short, steep, brushy drop that requires holding brush to check slips and slides. Soon I was skirting across the talus below the peak’s vertical northeast face and up to another sweet walk on a granite-paved ridge that bends around to Bottleneck Lake.
One more short bushwhack brought me to the trail leading to the lake’s shore.
Scout enjoyed another swim before we headed out on the nicely designed Bottleneck Lake Trail 187.
I was reveling in the landscape I’d covered as I hit cruising speed toward the trailhead on the way out to complete my loop when I passed three men trekking in the other way.
They were day hiking to Bottleneck Lake before coming out to camp at Roman Nose Lakes that night. They planned to hike there before heading to Myrtle Lake the next day, and then who knows. …
The options for hikers in this area of the Selkirks are fairly staggering, sometimes lonely, but never disappointing – even if your dog is the only buddy who knows the secret.