With two days to explore the southern Madison Valley, my babe Kara and I were looking for an overnight trip into mountains that would offer four things: an alpine lake, wicked scenery, never-been-there country and the chance to scope some elk for the upcoming hunting season. It also couldn't take too much time to get there, as it was already late afternoon when we topped off our tanks in Twin Bridges. Lake Cameron, a smallish gem high above Bear Creek in the Madison Range, fit the bill perfectly.
Four-ish miles from the trailhead, and located in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness' Taylor-Hilgard Unit, the 8,947-foot Cameron Lake sits nestled among small, forested ridgtops, great campsites and killer wildlife habitat. After a half mile of walking along Bear Creek's swift-flowing north fork, the path turns north, climbing 2,400' up a sun-baked, south-facing slope, through wildflower meadows and towering old growth conifers.
We didn't start walking until early evening, and stalled out many times along the climb to watch the light dance across the stunning southern Madison Valley.
We arrived at the lake just in time to pitch the tent and snap a bunch of hot-burning branches off beetle-killed pines for a fire. We kicked back and enoyed some G&Ts as the sun set.
The next morning we headed straight uphill, traversing the stunning, two-mile long, multi-summit ridgetop of Cedar Mountain.
The route was beautiful and challenging, taking us longer than we'd expected. We kicked back for some time on the summit, ogling Cedar Lake, The Sphynx, Lone Peak, the Yellowstone Club (where the bull elk were) and other interesting landmarks. Instead of backtracking we chose a looping route across the upper basin that pretty much kicked our butts. But amid the crumbling and decomposing rock ridges and screefields we found some fun glissading and rocked it quickly down and across the mountain, stepping off the speedy corn when the water running beneath thinning bridges made us nervous.
Arriving back at our Cameron Lake tentsite, again at sunset, we were beat, hungry and nearly out of food. But instead of heading back to the rig—and on to Ennis for burgers and beers—we opted to stay one more night in Nirvana. I built a fire, we picked at the heavily-mined and peanut-rich trailmix and passed out by the coals before crawling back to the tent and crashing hard.
Only two things lame about on this one—an unescapable mat of decomposing horse shit blanketing nearly any spot big enough to pitch a tent, and an army of mosquitos that, fortunately, chose to retire early.
We got up early, brewed the last of our coffee and followed fresh grizzly tracks down the trail and toward our truck, the one we didn't yet know we were locked out of.