A most memorable wilderness experience.
By Mahala Wedel
July 28, 2014 marked my Grandma Wedel’s 80th birthday. The entire extended family tried to decide how to best celebrate this historic event. Since the summer months in Montana provide wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, and many recreational opportunities, everyone agreed to travel up to Montana to spend a week of family togetherness, exploring the wilderness, and the surrounding lakes and rivers. People made the journey from all parts of the country, including Indiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas to join together at my home in Libby, Montana. Many of the younger relatives had never been to this area and therefore never had the opportunity to experience the mountain wilderness.
This week of celebration was spent engaging in softball, volleyball, floating the Kootenai River, along with tubing and water skiing on Thompson Lake. A full day of swimming and picnicking at Howard Lake was also enjoyed. One of the highlights of the week’s activities was a day hike to Bramlet Lake in the Cabinet Wilderness. While sitting around the backyard bonfire one evening, we discussed preparations for the following day’s excursion. As the details of the hike were planned, the anticipation and the excitement grew.
Early in the morning, packs were filled with water, snacks, mosquito repellent, and extra clothing. Twenty family members drove to the Bramlet Lake trailhead, as we started our adventure for the day. It was a clear crisp morning in the mountains of Montana. Shortly after walking up the trail, we noticed an abundance of huckleberries. The “out-of-towners” were amazed by the prevalence and flavor of this mountain snack. Throughout the hike we would often stop and enjoy this unique, tasty berry. Along the way we paused several times to take pictures and gazed at the magnificent scenery. I felt fortunate that I lived in such a beautiful area and was proud to be able to share such a place with my extended family. Many commented on the spectacular and unspoiled beauty of this place I called home.
After approximately two hours on the trail, which was sometimes very steep, we arrived at our destination, Bramlet Lake. The pristine lake was as cold as the mountain air. The reflection of the mountains peaks could be seen in the crystal clear water. We then noticed a waterfall on the opposite side of the lake gently falling across a rock face. Some made their way around the lake to explore; some bravely waded into the water, and the rest tried their luck at fishing. When we came together later in the afternoon to enjoy our snacks, we were all in awe of this breathtaking wilderness and acknowledged that 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of its formation. I felt a sense of appreciation to those, that so many years ago, had the foresight to preserve these special areas. I also realized that we all have a responsibility to continue to protect this beautiful land. In the spirit of preservation, we left nothing behind, packing out all of our containers and wrappers. Before we headed back down the trail, we took a family picture in front of Bramlet Lake. We also paused at several viewpoints for additional photos to forever capture the memories of this special time together. And, of course, we stopped many times on the way down the trail to devour more huckleberries.
It was a grand way to celebrate both my Grandmother’s 80th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.
Mahala’s piece was submitted to the annual FSPW Scholarship essay competition, and published in The Western News in April of 2015.