Trail #132 in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness begins at the end of an atrocious, crater-filled road that winds through a logged area for about two miles. No, "road" is too generous a word. A road is what we turned off of two miles back -- an unpaved gravel affair, but nothing too dire. This, on the other hand, is a two-mile ribbon of unforested space covered in large rocks, pitted with gigantic holes, and actually strewn in places with fallen trees. This cannot be called a road so much as an obstacle course.
I've been on some bad roads. We once hauled a canoe along the Inside North Fork Road in Glacier National Park, and I think I have some residual brain damage from that ride. Though I'd thought it impossible, this one was worse. What I'm trying to say, in my customary delicate manner, is that one really ought not to attempt to reach Trail #132 to Leigh Lake without an extremely sturdy vehicle, or at least a healthy dollop of idiotic bravado. Both would help.
But if you get there, it's a treat. First hikes of the season have always been misery for me. I get all soft and flabby in the winter, mentally and physically (even softer and flabbier than usual), and hauling it all up a mountain is kind of a challenge. The hike to Leigh Lake is only 3 miles round trip with an elevation change of 1,000 feet each way. (I was also carrying a full pack and tripod.)
It wasn't hot, but it was warm enough that we became hot as we climbed steadily up to the lake. Large patches of snow lingered off trail, and we could hear the constant sound of snowmelt rushing off the mountains. After about an hour we arrived at a sheer rock face deluged in a seasonal waterfall. I placed my hands on it and let the ice cold water run over my wrists. Thomas, our year-old dog, had a drink.
At length, I turned around and saw this:
Hmm. Not bad. So I turned back around and kept going. Once you reach the base of the waterfall where the lake spills over into the valley, the trail forks and you have two options. One is to the right and one is to the left. The trail to the left is supposedly well-marked and not quite as steep, while the one to right involves scrambling on a scree-strewn trail that braids often and is easily lost.
So naturally we never found the left fork. Scrambling over the rock I was amazed to see that the alpine wildflowers were in full bloom, even though it was only Memorial Day weekend. Once we clambered up over the lip of the cirque, we could see the trail to the lake winding through a carpet of glacier lilies.
To me, an ascent is much less painful than a steep descent. Sure, it's harder on the lungs, but it's infinitely kinder to the feet and legs. Maybe it's my center of gravity, but I have to make a steep descent low to the ground. This produces what my husband calls "machine-gun leg," or the staccato quivering of muscles that have been overworked. The insult continues on a normal but still descending trail, as one's toes jam mercilessly into boots with every step down.
But it doesn't last long, and it's all part of the game, and it still beats the living hell out of any other day parked at a computer. We made it down, though we were slightly dehydrated from a mistake calculating our fluid needs for the day. We went to the DQ on the edge of town and I sucked down a root beer float, which solved the problem immediately.