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Fairy Lake, MT | Truefortune Workshop

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Fairy Lake, MT


Daniel Shyles

A photographic definition of serenity. I had been staying at Battle Ridge campground which offered some nice trails and sightseeing, ie views of the snowcapped mountains. But a grim history and its proximity to the roadway deemed it an unfulfilling camping experience as far as intrepid adventure goes. It is convenient for hopping into Bozeman, and has accommodations such as a few vault toilets, picnic table, and camp grill. But, today and tonight I want something different.

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Up the trail from Battle Ridge


Here I am, in a perfect meditative state on earth where I truly get to know myself and contemplate the universe and existence. Some of my favorite things. I decided to take today simply to do that. I did a bit of reading, but mostly tended a fire all day. I am wary of bears, and have my food in a tree far from my sleeping area. I'm the only one here, beside this frigid lake and frozen landscape in June. I have my tent and hammock set up right next to the lake shore, but what's it like here?

Far removed from the main roads and a good hour from Bozeman, you can access Fairy Lake by the forest roads and hiking trails. Many of the trails around the area have Fairy Lake as the destination with the College "M" trail in Bozeman connecting a twenty-one mile hike to the lake. An entry gate on my chosen access point at the bottom of the mountain, close to Route 86, warns that highway legal vehicles are not really allowed up here... Still, the way was open so I began the climb. 

Driving slowly (recognizing the reason for the extra 30-40 mins from Bozeman) over much heavy gravel and rocks for about three miles, I thought I was lost... "Where is this place?" My perception of the magnitude of this area was way out of proportion. It takes a long time to get anywhere here. I checked the GPS with my single bar of service to find that I wasn't even halfway...

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Some pelicans dodge me as I climb


A bit further, I came upon a ridge at the left right jog before turning southwest toward the lake. I happily saw another vehicle, though one much better suited for such terrain, parked at the top... No one around... they must be hiking... I started to see some patches of snow here and there. I'm getting pretty high up... I attempted to continue on, but came abruptly to a closed gate. RESTRICTED ACCESS, it said. The car could go no further... Should I turn around? Go back to Battle Ridge? Hell no. I came to at least see Fairy Lake. So I parked near the other car, and collected my backpack, tent and other necessities for the night. 

Up I go, past the Restricted sign... Shouldn't be much farther, right?

The climb is fairly steep... as I progressed I saw more snow, until a flow of ice and snow (a temporary glacier, seemingly) covered the entire road. Good thing I've got my boots, and the snow keeps my feet cool. Perfect (those wellies can get hot in the sun). I came to a bit of a flat area, snow everywhere, patches of dirt here and there, a ridge of green grass where the snow had already melted, south facing. I also encountered a strange puddle, constantly writhing and releasing large air bubbles. I took a break from hiking to examine it. Is it melt water form snow uphill being pushed underground? It's a quicksand of a sort. I put a sizable stick in the most agitated spot, and about three feet of it disappeared. There it stayed.

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Having a rest during the climb


About a two mile trek from the car, though it felt longer as my pack was heavy and went up the whole way, and I saw Elf Lake, not to be confused with Fairy Lake. It's an indicator that you're super close! I got excited, to say the least... and no bears yet! Goin' for the gold. Around the bend I arrived at the Fairy Lake Recreation Area, but to my dismay the campsites are nowhere near the lake shore. Where is the lake? A quick downward path over some more snow, and I found it!

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Elf Lake


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Just a note: I'm walking on five feet of snow... in June



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The beautiful Fairy Lake. Gorgeous, despite the spooky, foggy weather.



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The lake is crystal clear and spotted with blue-green ice sheets. 


A path around a third of the lake brought me to several areas with fire pits already constructed. At the end of the established path is a bridge running over the pour-off from the lake down the side of the mountain. After a few paces around the pathed area, keeping alert for bears... Why am I afraid? ... I set up my tent just after the bridge within earshot of the running water... nice white noise ... I set up the eno hammock between a couple trees near the tent and plopped down in it for some lunch... leakfast, I guess... brunch? Nah... leakfast.

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 The pour-off creek from the lake


Still dealing with the clouds and a chill, and of course a fear of bears, I found a fire pit opposite the stream from my tent... I'm the only one here ... I'll stretch out a bit. With some dryish pine needles branches and some kindling the fire was a cinch... plus a lighter... I'm not that good. Already I felt a feeling of calm and a bit more security. Funny how fire can do that. Controlled, it's our friend and even a mode of protection.

I sat on the logs surrounding the pit and read some Cosmos, then stared into the fire thinking about how fire is radiated plasma caused by heat stripping electrons from their nuclei. It is not one of four "elements". There are 92 naturally occurring elements, none of which are Earth (made of many molecules), Water (a molecule), Air (many molecules), nor Fire (a plasma). 

Anyway, here I sat for a good bit until it was time to explore my surroundings a bit more. By that time, the sun had peeked through the clouds. Oh my, I can see blue sky! Woah, HUGE mountain ridges surrounding the lake on the far side! That's where the water's coming from, after all. What a beautiful sight! I wish I hadn't been an idiot and forgot my charger and let my phone die... Even so, no photo could truly do these sights justice. You must see them for yourself. 

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A (weak) try at a photo of the mountains using my compy


I took a stroll around the whole lake. Maybe not a stroll, but a fairly serious hike, climbing on the steep, snowy base of the mountain on the far side. The recration side of the lake is tame, with a path, and even some flatish deer paths into the woods. When you traverse around to the opposite side, you find you're standing one foot much higher than the other, a 50º+ incline on five feet of hard packed snow. Watch where you step... my legs often were sucked down up to my hips, generally over a patch of flowing water. 

As I walked along the face, I found it easier to go higher to avoid slipping into the lake. No hypothermia, please-thank-you. Higher up, I noticed a (really) steep pass leading over the first ridge. I'd told myself earlier as I gazed up at the mountain eagerly... You don't need to climb that... not today... not alone. When I found myself a hundred feet away, I couldn't resist. Climbing quickly became a four-limbed ordeal. I had to pick and choose my path around steep swaths of snow vs 70º dirt/rock faces. Up and up and up... eventually to a flat patch in a new set of woods... thin woods. I could see light pouring close ahead. To my right emerged a modest pond, quite dirty. 

Beyond the trees I glimpsed the most monstrous cliff. Just a little further, and yes! This is what I came here for... this view of monumental natural phenomena.

I basked in the snow and sunlight that poured over the cliffs. In front is the intimidating, almost vertical precipice. To its right rises another mountain top with a jagged spire to its immediate left... Sacagawea Peak? Between the two mountains is a snow flow where I could continue my climb. In its current state, a fabulous skiing opportunity. 


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Now, the sun is in its final throes for the day... it'll be chilly, but I can rest soundly knowing this place better than many. A beautiful refuge.

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A final look to the mountains in the surrounding area


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