Friday, September 2, 2011

DAY #3: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

 In the woods, on our way!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Today was the day we were finally going to get our backpacks on our backs and hit the wilderness. We were all very excited. When we woke up around 6AM, we all walked out of the tree cover that our tents were tucked underneath from our nighttime setup, and we gasped at our first view of the mountains. We weren’t far at all from Red Lodge, and that is the last town before heading up the famous Beartooth Pass.

We all went through our packs and bear canisters one more time to see if there was any unnecessary items that we could take out to save weight. We were all feeling fairly confident in our packing and planning, so not much stayed back. We were all in the 40-pound range for 6 days in the wilderness. I felt comfortable with that.

A little sidenote: when setting up camp at night, you sometimes can’t quite tell what you might be putting your tent next to. As careful as we were about stashing our food to keep critters big and small away from our silnylon protected walls, when we woke up, Leo had a deer skull next to his tent, and we had sliced potatoes scattered around ours. Guess we could’ve slept with our food!

We hit the road into Red Lodge and stopped in at the grocery store. We all rummaged through for last-minute items. Batteries, souvenir $5 t-shirts, breakfast muffins, cheese, and Rachel even bought the cutest little apricot that looked just like a butt. We can have fun with just about anything!

Our next stop was the Yodeler’s Motel. We made our reservations for when we got out of the woods on Friday the 26th. We knew we’d all want to sleep in a bed with fluffy pillows and have hot showers before going out for dinner. Or after dinner, depending on how hungry we were! The had rooms available, so we got that taken care of, then hit the road for the gas station. We fueled up our gas tanks, filled our Camelbak bladders and water bottles, grabbed our last cups of brewed coffee, a quick breakfast snack or two, then once again hit the road. We were on our way to ascent the Beartooth Pass.

The scenery was incredible. We took hairpin turns up the mountains, stopped at little pull-offs for pictures, gawked at the waterfalls waaaay off in the distance, enjoyed the bright blue sky, sunshine and puffy white clouds, and really had a great time with each others’ company. We had a great group, and we all already knew that we were all going to get along and just have an absolutely amazing time together.

We stopped at a little turnoff up high where there was a walkway and a lookout. It was the Rock Creek Vista Point at 9,190 feet. We still had over 1,000 feet to drive up before heading over the pass and back down towards where our starting trailhead was located. But we planned for two or three hours on this road, so we took our time and really enjoyed immersing ourselves in the beauty around us.

After coming around a couple of turns, we spotted the Bear’s Tooth. It’s a sharp peak, that looks kind of like a sharp tooth, coming out from the mountains in the distance. We pulled over and got a group picture. My dad found a snow field, made a snowball, and just before I took the picture with my camera propped on the side mirror of the van with my gorillapod, he threw the snowball towards the windshield, but it missed and hit the side mirror right below my camera. The snow exploded and went right straight down my shirt and up my sleeves. A perfect, unintended shot! It was good for a laugh. And turns out, I’d have my revenge on him later!

We decided to drive down to Cooke City for one last cold soda, coffee or lunch before we officially left civilization behind for 6 days. On the way there, we dropped my mom and dad’s Envoy off at our ending point, the Clark’s Fork Trailhead. We shifted backpacks and gear so that all the day bags were in the Envoy and all 8 of us and all 8 of our backpacks were stuffed into the van. We drove into Cooke city, splurged on our last citified treats, then got back on the road and drove up a steep, rough, gravel road to the Lady of the Lake Trailhead.

We piled out, got a few beginning shots, then headed up the road towards trail. We passed some amazingly super-courteous ATV drivers, and they even gave Randall, Rachel and I a quick tour of an old mine. That was a pretty cool start to our trip. After a river crossing, we were officially on hiker’s only trail. Aaaaah. Serenity.

We hiked through some beautiful mountain woods, and I enjoyed one of my favorite things in the entire world… the smell of the mountain air. Down in the trees its’ really sweet-smelling. It must come from one of the pines, but I just kept taking in deep breaths, trying to really take in as much as I could. I knew I’d miss it the minute we were done… but I wasn’t going to even think about that yet!

One thing I was surprised by was the wildflowers. I guess the weather is about 2 weeks behind, so normally the bugs would be gone, but they were abundant, but with the bugs we got some incredible wildflowers. SO worth the bugs! And the bugs in the mountain, like the mosquitoes, are so slow! Must be the thin air, but we’re all used to the Wisconsin mosquitoes, and we all felt like mosquito-swattin’ pros as we squished them in mid-air with our thumb and forefingers. Entertainment is so much more simple in the backcountry!

We hiked on until we found a really sweet spot at the end of the Lady of the Lake. We set up tents before it started to rain and thunder. Rachel and I sat down by the water and enjoyed the few beers we packed in for night #1 as we listened to the thunder bounce off all the mountains around us. It sounded so incredibly intimidating! We actually laughed out loud because it was so crazy cool! It rained on and off the whole evening, but cleared up just before dark, so we were still able to have a fire and really enjoy the first evening.

Margie brought out a gift for everyone tonight, too. They were hiking boot pins that she had blessed by her priest. As she was telling us the story of him blessing the pins, and the prayer he recited off the top of his head, she started to cry – she was so moved by his thoughtfulness and prayer that she could barely tell the story of the boots. It was really touching and sweet. We wore them with pride the rest of the trip and remembered the prayer that went with them. It helped give a little boost of strength when we were feeling tired at the end of the day.

For dinner I had Alfredo noodles with tuna. Other smells around the campfire were spaghetti, burritos, and pasta primavera. Delish! After dinner was all done, we hid our bear canisters for the first time in a boulder field outside our camp. If a bear were to mess with them where we stashed them, they wouldn’t roll too far. We were all able to wedge them in between rocks without any problem. I was kinda’ digging the simplicity of just stashing my food on the ground, rather than rigging up a rope in a tree. It’s just the extra 2 pounds of the container that’s a bummer!

After dinner and hiding bear canisters, we fought drooping eyelids to enjoy Rachel’s LifeSavers Wint-O-Green sparkalicious fun – then most of the group hit their tents. Randall stayed up and showed Rachel and I an Iridium flare in the night sky. He had a chart that told him what time it would show up, what direction to look and what angle it would be from the horizon. We stood and started at the sky until Randall exclaimed, “There it is!” We saw it light up, moving across the sky, getting brighter and brighter before it faded out and was gone. He explained to us that it was the solar panels on a satellite that was reflecting the sun. It was so cool to see it after being predicted from a chart!

Not long after that we also retreated to our tents and slept in the mountains for our first night.

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