I recently read an article by Brett French, who is in charge of the outdoor stuff at the Billings Gazette, about his recent discovery of Deep Lake. I guess in my arrogance, I thought everyone knew about Deep Lake. Most certainly everyone around Clark does, except perhaps for some of the newer arrivals.
As stated in French’s article on the area, the problem with Deep Lake is getting to Deep Lake. However, if you know the area, you can get there via the old Morrison Jeep road that runs from the bottom of the Clark’s Fork Canyon to a trailhead close to the “Top Of The World “ store sitting a couple of miles below Beartooth Pass. The road has a couple of spots on top where you can park the wheels and access the lake trail, a few hundred yards further, on foot.
There’s also a foot trail that goes up Little Rocky Canyon, but is usually a hassle to get through. The problem with that lower trail is the constantly shifting rocks and the ever-present possibility of yet another earthquake. Plus, you need to be in excellent physical shape if that’s the route you choose. I’ve been there via both routes and both have its charms and problems.
From talking to longtime residents and native old-timers in the area back when Sandi and I lived on Line Creek above Clark, my understanding is that the last major quake occurred back in the 1950s. That last significant earth shake might have even happened at the same time Quake Lake over on the western side of the mountains was formed, as that was a major seismic event. Literally, the mountains trembled.
Years ago I read an article claiming our red shirts stocked Deep Lake with silver salmon anticipating some future interest by the angling community. This is the reason I initially visited the lake, to check out the fishing. I accessed the lake from the trail up the canyon. There’s also a trail through the forest and up the canyons ridges that leads to the top. Both are tough hikes and rattlesnakes or grizzlies can be anywhere.
One problem in the lower canyon trail is the intermittent rock slides that keep covering that trail. The rocks in the canyon where the bottom trail goes through are seriously unstable and given to falling and sliding around at odd times, so taking that route can become a bit dicey. However, I figured that if Game and Fish really planted those fish as advertised, there could be some monsters in there, so I went up.
I have fished the lake a couple of times, over 25 years ago, with both mini-lures and garden hackle, and went away totally skunked. My son Greg, who is the fly fishing enthusiast in our family, took a couple of buddies up the lower trail when he was a teenager. If memory serves, they went up the lower canyon trail. I believe they were all into the fly fishing discipline, but I don’t remember if they caught any fish or not.
It’s easier to access the lake from the top once you’re up there, but either way, take a light pack with you, a cell phone and plenty of water. Moleskin and elastic wraps for sprains and such are a good idea. And a gun and/or bear spray. Those bears can be aggressive.
If you can’t pack your trash back out with you, don’t go. Also, take a walking stick with you or cut one from the dead branches littering the forest floor before you start down. Your legs and knees will thank you. It’s a steep climb down a dirt semi-trail to the shoreline and a heck of a climb out if you choose to leave via the trail taking you back to the top.
One option is to have someone drop you off on top and, when you leave the lake, scramble out over the rock pile that’s the lower trail. It’ll save a lot of extra hiking if you either leave a vehicle down below at the end of the two track or have someone waiting to pick you up.
According to French’s story, a geologist named John Boehmke stumbled on this slide area back in the 1990s while exploring for new areas to exploit and introduced it to another enthusiast, Auzie Blevins. Both are retired geologists if I remember French’s article correctly.
My impression of the article was the retired geologist that told French about it, wants to develop the dirt two-track that leads to it, across mostly private land I think, into a road, ending in a trailhead giving access to everyone. I believe the impetus of the geologist to develop this pristine area is to convert it into a study area for rock nuts like him. One excuse given by him for this expensive and intrusive venture was to enable geologists to determine the age of Deep Lake. All of which can be done without all of the proposed development.
Call me selfish if you will, but there are areas, like Deep Lake, that should preclude development. To develop those pristine areas would be like catching a wild, free ranging golden eagle and putting it in a cage just so the curious could poke it with sticks. It borders on the immoral to me.
Mostly this development thing centers around the propensity of certain intellectuals to want to study everything from mating frogs in the Amazon Jungle to petrified dinosaur eggs in Siberia, all paid for by taxpayers. And this just to justify these intellectuals high dollar degrees and lifestyles, while using the rational of it adding to mankind’s collective knowledge. Who really gives a rip how old that lake is besides some egocentric geologists?
What I can’t understand is why a responsible, wilderness loving journalist, as French professes to be, would advocate popularizing the exploitation of a place like Deep Lake? I’ve said for years the best way to destroy a pristine ecosystem was to make it a designated wilderness area or turn it into a study area. When that happens, people from miles around will bring in their trash to leave behind.
If this development proceeds, then the next thing you know they’ll be launching commercial climbing expeditions up the far wall of the lake, outfitted by commercial opportunists and accessed by kayak. All to the exclusion of solitude-loving backcountry wanderers. Look at what has happened to Ten Sleep Canyon in a few short years.
Hopefully that’s not the future of Deep Lake or we’ll be ankle deep in waste and clueless tourists up there.
My advice? If you go there, along with your fishing tackle and sun screen, take enough gun. The bears up there probably think bear spray is salad dressing.