Low an­gle means high plea­sure.

Crys­tal Lake, MT

Backpacker - - NEWS -

When the snow flies and the For­est Ser­vice closes the Crys­tal Lake ac­cess road (De­cem­ber 1), quiet de­scends on Mon­tana’s over­looked Big Snowy Moun­tains. That makes for lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion book­ing the one-room For­est Ser­vice cabin (sleeps six; mat­tresses and stoves pro­vided) on the lake’s shore­line—and within strik­ing dis­tance of ice caves and plenty of low-an­gle ski­ing. Skin 6 miles from the road clo­sure and then an­other mile across the frozen lake to sur­vey the bounty: 8,000-foot peaks with snow-filled chutes splin­ter­ing their forested slopes.

Set up base­camp in the cabin and set out on the Ice Caves Trail (#493) from Crys­tal Lake’s east­ern shore for a 3-mile skin to Snow Crest along West Peak’s ridge­line. Dou­glas firs and pon­derosa pines shel­ter the first part of the climb be­fore views open over Mon­tana’s cen­tral plains and north to the 6,000-foot Ju­dith Moun­tains. Turn south (hiker’s left) on #654 and tour the 100-foot-wide cav­ern where it’s al­ways win­ter: Cold in­te­rior temps mean the lime­stone cave’s icy floor and pil­lars re­main in­tact all year. Re­turn to Snowy Crest, click in, and ski the north­ern aspect back to Crys­tal Lake ( be avy aware). On snow­shoes? Con­tinue to West Peak’s 8,211-foot sum­mit and de­scend via Grand­view Point for an 11-mile loop.

TRAIL­HEAD 46.867097, -109.518337; 106 miles south­east of Great Falls on Crys­tal Lake Rd. CABIN Crys­tal Lake Cabin ($25/night for the whole cabin); recre­ation.gov PER­MIT None CON­TACT bit.do/crys­tal-lake

With a lit­tle luck, the view from Neahkah­nie Sea Cliffs (off the Cape Fal­con Trail) will in­clude a sun­set- col­ored Pa­cific and the spouts of gray whales.

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