Friday, September 2, 2011

DAY #4: Beartooth Mountains Backpacking Trip

 That's Rachel, making her way up Cardiac Hill! Note the serious drop-off. Yes, it was that steep! It was an incredible challenge with rewarding views that made the climb that much more awesome.

Monday, August  22, 2011

We woke up to a beautiful morning. Dewdrops on the grass, low fog rolling across the surface of the mirrored lake, campfire smoke coming through the trees in bright, foggy streaks… we were all in heaven. I think everyone had a permanent smile on their face. At one point during the day Randall said, “My smile muscles are sore.” It was perfectly said.

We all munched down breakfast. For me? Oatmeal and coffee, of course! We were all anticipating, if that’s the right word, Cardiac Hill, which we’d heard so much about. It’s a steep climb up to a saddle before descending down the Lower Aero Lake. I believe the ascent was around 1500 feet… but in less than a mile! Yes – pretty much straight up.

Our trail in the morning was pretty mellow at first with some beautiful views. We all ran out of adjectives after the first couple hours into the hike. You can only say “incredible,” or “amazing,” or “beautiful” so many times! I can’t even describe the prettiness we were absorbing! We came to Zimmer Creek and enjoyed the sound of the rushing water, and then we had to cross it. The crossing wasn’t an easy one. Some of us were able to rock-hop across, but others found it easier to take the shoes off and go barefoot to feel the rocks and get a grip before taking the next step. The water was moving pretty fast, it was knee-deep, cold, and the rocks underneath were slippery. But we all made it across with no falls. Whew! Excitement on day 1!

After the river crossing, it wasn’t long before we began up Cardiac Hill. It was difficult. We took quite a few stops to take pictures… well, that might’ve been an excuse to stop, take a breather and a drink of water, but hey – whatever works! The flowers were everywhere, scattered all the way up the mountainside – all colors of the rainbow, too! With the green grass, the colorful wildflowers, the whitish rocks and boulders – all against the bright blue, sunshiny sky… we had to take lots of photos!

Once at the top of the saddle, we all gathered in a flattish spot to have a break and eat our lunch, and Rachel and I laid out our tent to dry from the previous nights’ storms. There was a giant rock balancing up high, which I had to climb up to. From up there, I could see down the other side of the saddle to Lower Aero Lake, which was as blue as the sky. Perfect.

To my right I saw a giant snow field. I got this idea to go sledding. But I didn’t have a sled. Well, it was a warm, sunny day… and I had fast-drying hiking shorts on. I clambered over, sat on my butt, kicked a few times to get going, and Whoooosh! Away I went! It was so much fun, I did it another couple of times. My wet butt dried in about 15 minutes.

After lunch, which was a late lunch, we were off-trail for the first time and had a little trouble getting our bearings… well, we knew where we were, but we hadn’t figured out our “system” yet. We were also dealing with some crazy-steep snowfields that wouldn’t normally be there, and we were navigating a different direction that what we thought we would – as recommended by a passing fisherman that was just in the area. We scrambled through our first couple of giant boulder fields (there would be MANY, MANY, MANY more of these as the days went by!!!), and we crossed our first snow field. We kept crawling over small hills to see our descent down towards the lake. We were hoping to make it to the stream between Lower and Upper Aero Lakes, but instead, with noodley legs, we all settled for a really sweet spot just up from the water along Lower Aero Lake.

Rachel and I stuck our tent in a nice little cubby. It turned out to be the perfect little spot. Randall and Gary jumped in the water to rinse off. It looked, um, QUITE cold. I was quite impressed with their braveness.

We didn’t get any rain, and when the sun started to go down, the mountains surround Lower Aero Lake gave off a golden hue, the sky stayed blue, and the clouds lit up as if they were reflecting the lake in them. It was a gorgeous night. I had Chicken Curry and hot cocoa for dinner.

I really enjoyed the boulder scrambling, but could tell they became a challenge towards the end of the day when we were all tired. This would turn out to be something we’d figure out the next day, and work around the best we could. It was certainly not easy terrain to hike through! Beautiful, difficult, rewarding… but not even close to leisurely or easy…

I went to bed with a little headache, but figured if was from the elevation. So I took a couple Ibuprofen and drank a ton of water. I was hoping to wake up early to see the sun rise. I promised myself I’d watch at least one sunrise come up over the mountains, and I figured this was the perfect spot. I set my watch alarm for 5am and cuddled up in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.

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