This was a magnificent loop backpack in the Spanish Peaks area accessed through the Flying D Ranch (owned by Ted Turner). The route begins at the Spanish Creek trailhead and goes for about 4 miles along the creek pretty level, then gradually climbing to a junction. From the junction, you can either go to Spanish Lakes or turn left to Mirror Lake, which would be our path.
That first afternoon, September 6th/Wednesday, we got to the trailhead about 4:30pm after I’d finished my classes. We hiked in 4 miles to the Mirror Lake junction, where there are some flat spots and obvious camping. Though right on the trail, we camped there as we assumed we would not see any other hikers. Yeti and I set up camp and had our sandwiches and soon packed it in. We’d made about 900 feet of elevation gain.
On Thursday morning, September 7th, after coffee, we proceeded up the trail towards Mirror Lake. The trail gets much steeper here. Unfortunately, the smoke was pretty bad and the views were all hazy. It’s a shame, as the terrain is spectacular with craggy peaks all the way in the surrounding views. Mirror Lake is aptly named: the circle of peaks are perfectly “mirrored” in the water. We stopped for a snack break here, finding several camp spots to the left of the trail.
Climbing up from the lake, you follow a pretty babbling stream – good water even though it’s been so dry all summer. Looking back, the Spanish Peaks loom dramatically.
Again, the path gets steeper and rockier approaching Summit Lake, a glacial lake ringed by stony faces of the many mountains. It is a beautiful spot – more isolated than Mirror Lake. You could camp here, though you’d have to search around for flat spots a bit further away from the water. We had a nice lunch here, cooking hot meals as we had the water source. We knew the ridge we’d be up on that evening would be dry and planned not to cook that night.
From the lake, you lose hundreds of feet to walk through a greener valley enclosed by the surrounding peaks. We could see Beacon Point and Indian Ridge ahead, which was our destination. One more lake (Thompson) and several streams were in the valley; I later wished I’d carried one extra liter of water. But, I didn’t want an extra 2.5 pounds on my back for the big climb ahead.
The climb up to Beacon Point was tough – very steep and much more rugged than I’d anticipated. Amazing rocks, jagged peaks, and some knife edge trail was on the agenda. Yeti had to take it slowly, as it was a really relentless steep up and hard on his heart. But, we finally made it to the top over 10,200 feet! This was our high point. We had a break up on the open crest and looked at our route ahead: a long down over a knife edge to a saddle, then up again to a treeless crest with a huge cairn on top. There we’d walk along the ridge for bit, head down, then up again to the ridge.
Views all the way were unreal: too bad for the smoky haze. With blue, blue sky this would have been gorgeous. It was quite wonderful anyway, and an exciting hike down and up to the other side of Indian Ridge. By this time, it was 6pm and we hoped to find a camp spot further along the ridge where there were some scrubby trees. Luckily, we did find a flat spot that wasn’t too rocky and set up the tents. We were quite tired and only cooked hot drinks to conserve our meager water. No water up here until we reached a lake several miles down Indian Ridge. A good sleep and quiet night with a full moon.
On Friday morning September 8th, we left without any coffee and made our way along the ridge to Thompson Lake. The ridge walk was very pleasant with a few ups mostly down now! A short steep down brought us to the lake, which was only a small snow melt filled spot. Lots of birds there enjoying a drink. I made some coffee using lake water and practiced with our Sawyer filter that Christine had given us for Christmas. It was kind of slow, but worked fine. Yeti and I were both remarking that we’d seen almost no wildlife.
After our nice stop, we headed off glad that it was going to be a downhill walk from the lake. Just about 15 minutes from the lake as we rounded a bend in the trail, Yeti says, “Bear.” It was a sow with two big cubs. The cubs had scurried up the trees and the sow stood guard. We were several hundred feet away, so didn’t feel too worried. The sow made no threatening moves and once we made noise, she and the cubs ran away! Well, we were thrilled to have seen them and with a good outcome for humans and bears!
Down, down, down we went through the trees and very dry vegetation. We turn off the ridge and eventually you see signs for the Flying D again. For a while, the trail parallels a branch of Hell Roaring Creek, but high above the water. After about 9 miles, we’d come out by our car opposite from where we’d started. Great trip and we got out early enough (noon) to make it back to Belgrade to treat ourselves to lunch at the Spotted Horse!