Spring in Western Montana is both a tease of the summer to come and a reminder of the winter past. Sometimes we get to experience both ends of the spectrum in the same day.
Last week a friend and I took a hike around Lake Como on a sunny, warm afternoon. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I remember asking my hiking partner at the last minute, “Should I bring my hat?” I grabbed it, deciding it would keep the sun out of my eyes and prevent my nose from getting sunburned. Little did I realize the true benefit the hat would eventually serve.
Lake Como is about 10 miles south of Hamilton, Montana. The trail loops the lake at a distance of 7+ miles. We departed from the north swimming beach parking area taking a clockwise direction, intending to enjoy the sunny day by hiking the entire loop. With the water level low, we were able to traverse below the dam along the rocky water line … a place that soon would be 25 feet under water from the melting winter snowpack.
After passing the south parking area and boat launch ramp at less then a mile, we noticed darkening skies and wondered about the real possibility of a spring thundershower. It was still warm and we debated the probability of the clouds just passing us by. In the spring, Montana doesn’t seem to care if the weatherman had predicted only a 30% chance of rain…
At about mile 3, after several lightning strikes and thunderclaps, the skies opened up. First hail, then sleet and within a few minutes a downpour of rain. After seeking refuge under one of nature’s umbrellas, a thick pine, I decided it was time to put on my sweatshirt and wind-breaker. Shorts and a t-shirt were not the best attire for the plummeting temperature.
The shower didn’t last long, maybe 15 minutes. We gladly continued our trek only to be caught in a 2nd downpour in less then a mile. This time we were in a more open area so we ran down the muddy trail with ever closer lightening strikes and loud rumbling thunder. Finding another tree canopy we rested 10 minutes until the cloudburst was finished. The rest of the hike was uneventful from a weather point of view, although the temperature was probably 30 degrees cooler than when we started our trek 4 hours earlier.
I realized my hat was soaked but my head mostly dry. How ironic that I took the hat to prevent a sunburn and ended up using it for warmth and keeping dry. And how silly I felt when putting my backpack together at home prior to leaving and thinking, ‘Should I take gloves?’ … gloves would have been nice for the final 2 miles!
The trail around Lake Como is well traveled and easy to follow, and I highly recommend it if you are in the area. It follows natural terrains with gentle rises in elevation, ranging from 20 to 100 feet above the water. This offers a picturesque view of the lake though the trees, and Como Peak makes a splendid backdrop. There are countless beautiful places like this to hike in Montana, but spring is an unpredictable season! The mountains receive snow frequently during these spring storms while the valleys get rain, and we experienced firsthand that spring rains are often preceded by hail and sleet.
So get out there and enjoy the taste of summer yet to come … but take a hat!
Next Blog Title: Big Old Fat rain … Little Itty-Bitty Rain!
Next Blog Date: Thursday, April 29, 2010