The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex consists of three national wilderness areas covering over 1.5 million acres of roadless, remote backcountry and numerous trails in northwestern Montana. Koessler Lake is a 15-mile hike from the trailhead at Holland Lake and is nestled in a stunning glacier-carved cirque at the foot of Ptarmigan Mountain. Your only options for getting there are by foot or horseback, and be sure to bring a friend and bear spray, since the Bob Marshall has the highest concentration of grizzlies in the Lower 48. Those who backpack in may wish to spend the first night at Upper Holland Lake, six miles from the trailhead, then hike the remaining nine miles to Koessler Lake, via the unbelievably beautiful and majestic Gordon Pass, the next day. The junction off the main trail to Koessler can be easy to miss, so be on the lookout. The area is used frequently by backcountry horse outfitters, so try to get there early to establish a campsite, and use Leave No Trace practices to keep the area pristine.
In general, snow lingers into early or mid-June, and the first snowstorms often begin again in early September, making the area most accessible in July and August. The area gets a lot of rainfall in the summer and becomes a lush, temperate rain forest, teeming with wildflowers and tall weeds. Full rain gear is recommended, as moisture from the dense, wet vegetation will soak through clothing quickly. Weather patterns in Bob Marshall country can change frequently and without warning, and snowfall is possible anytime. During the day, 70s and 80s are typical, with nighttime temperatures frequently dipping down into the 40s and even 30s on clear nights. Short-range, detailed forecasts are available at local ranger stations and are worth checking before you head out.
Your goal, as a photographer, is to get to Koessler Lake with enough light left in the day to scout out the best photo spots so you know where you have to be for sunrise the next morning. A wide-angle lens is essential for full sweeping views of the lake and Ptarmigan Mountain. The shoreline is very difficult to access, with a lot of deadfall, but there are also fantastic views of the area, and plenty of wildflowers for foreground, that are away from the shore. Opportunities for macro photography are endless. A telephoto is useful to focus on intimate landscapes, as well as the abundant wildlife in the area. Always be “bear aware” and carry bear spray with you at all times, as it’s easy to get lost in your photography and put yourself in danger.
Summer is the most accessible and beautiful time for camping and photography, generally July and August, but be prepared for rain or even snow anytime. Wildflowers typically peak in this area in late July/early August.