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Home » Adventures » Beartooth Wilderness » Hiking In

Day 3 — The Hiking

We woke up in the morning at Tim’s and actually got to take showers. This would be our last opportunity to clean ourselves for a while. After getting ready and morning devotions, we headed over to the city of Red Lodge for breakfast. On the way we passed Bearcreek, an old, almost abandoned mining town. There had been an explosion in the mine in the 40’s, and it was shut down. Many of the old building were still around along with the structures which once supported the operation of the mine. There were still some people living there, but nothing near when the mine was active.

We ate at the Red Lodge Cafe, and I ordered a full stack of pancakes. It had been a while since I have ordered breakfast in a restaurant (mmm…cold cereal), so I forgot exactly how big a “full stack” was. I was able to scarf it all down though, and since we did not have lunch scheduled for that day (we would be hiking), I was actually fortunate to have consumed a huge breakfast.

Another thing I learned about Montana that was a little nice/odd was that the state has no sales tax. Of course, all of the tourist traps (i.e. where we were) enacted city or county wide sales taxes to take a couple of more dollars away from the tourists. I am not sure what Montana’s big revenue stream was to support themselves, but they must have found something (perhaps dirt?). One area where they might have made up for it was in their gasoline taxes, which were pretty high. I thought this was odd because Montana was so incredibly large, with vast distances forcing people to drive a lot to get anywhere. It would seem if I were I citizen of this state I would rather have some other taxes than gas, which I would have to purchase fairly often. But I guess in the end, it is rob Peter to pay Paul so where the taxes are charged does not matter that much, since the government will still try to take X dollars so it can “function.” As always, the goal is to make sure the government taxes the other guy.

Beartooth Pass

A giant smiley face made out of rocks

A giant smiley face made out of rocks

To actually get to our trailhead, we had to leave Red Lodge and travel over the Beartooth Pass. The Beartooth Pass was an approximately 8,000 ft climb over the Beartooth Mountains between Red Lodge and Cook City, Montana. The road snakes itself through the mountains, somehow coming out on the other side. There were also quite a few nice look outs along the pass. It had been a while since I was in the mountains so I had forgotten just how beautiful they were. Most memorable though, at one of the overlooks someone made a giant smiley face out of rocks on the other side of the valley. The hippie tradition lives on!

The winding road going over Beartooth Pass

The winding road going over Beartooth Pass

Traveling over the mountains, I was reminded how much of a difference changes in elevation can make. I lived in Indiana where change in elevation was usually less than about twenty feet so I never got much exposure to thin air. As a result I had some fun going over the pass. The first lookout was located at about 9,000 ft, and I did not notice much difference in temperature or air than at Red Lodge (about 3,000 ft). At the top of the pass though (11,000 ft) the air temperature had dropped by probably twenty or thirty degrees, and I could tell how much thinner the air was. Despite being in decent shape, I would get winded fairly quickly just walking or climbing around on the rocks. It would be neat to be up there a lot so I could make my lungs super-human strong.

The Trail

After going over the pass, we had just a short drive down the other side to the real beginnings of our adventure. We pulled into the parking lot of the Clarks Fork Trailhead, and started removing our gear from the vehicles and placing it on our backs. The trail we were hiking actually was twenty some odd miles long, ending at probably another parking lot. We were only going to be hiking on about the first eight miles though. Just before we started on the trail, a ranger spotted us and reminded us that open fires were prohibited because of the extremely high fire danger. Even though I was already aware of this, it was still a bit disappointing since we would not be able to have any camp fires, which are always fun. On the plus side though, our clothes would not reek of smoke after we got off the trail.

A waterfall at the start of the trail

A waterfall at the start of the trail

After only minimal jibber-jabber at the trail head, we actually started hiking around 1:30, heading for our campsite, Bald Knob. The group actually stretched out pretty quickly, with the college age adventurers leading the charge and the adults bringing up the rear. The hiking itself was very enjoyable. The trail was well maintained and the scenery was beautiful. The trail basically followed a river, which connected many mountain lakes. So between the waterfalls, lakes, mountains, or trees there was just about always something to keep my eyes occupied. It is on trips like these that I ask myself why I am a CS major who will be stuck in an office for his job. I still have yet to find a job which combines my nerd side with my love for the outdoors. Anyway, back to the story. The trail was pretty narrow and a little ruff. There were not any boulders to climb over, but there were many switch backs and rocks along the trail. Despite this though, the trail was actually used by horseback riders too. I thought the trail would be too narrow and rugged for horses to travel very easily, but I guess that was why I study computers at school and not horsies. A nice bonus though was the minimal amount of bugs on the trail. At the beginning there were some, but my 100% Wal-Mart brand DEET kept them away pretty well. By the time we had traveled a couple of miles, almost all the bugs had disappeared. It was nice not having to swat mosquitoes every five seconds.

Rock slides along the trail

It was around eight miles from the trailhead to our campsite, which included about an 800 ft climb from the start to the end. I was able to keep up pretty well and did not get too exhausted. Hiking with a backpack, however, was a lot different than even long day hikes. Having the extra weight really slowed me down and made hiking a little difficult. It was also a weird feeling to remove my pack after I had been hiking for a while. Since I had the pack on enough to have gotten accustomed to the extra weight, it felt like I was jumping with every step right after I took off the pack. So be sure you are not right next to a cliff when you remove your pack or it may be hazardous for your health…SPLAT!


Russell Lake

Russell Lake

We arrived at our campsite about 5:30, meaning our total time hiking was about four hours. The group had spread out along the trail though, so only about half of us were in the first group to arrive (me, Jason, Garrett, and Mitchell). Despite feeling good for most of the hike, the day had taken its toll and my legs were pretty tired, not to mention a couple of blisters that had formed on my feet. Also, for the first couple of miles, I had worn my pack too low so it had rubbed against my hips, causing some unpleasant sores to develop. My pack had also given my shoulders quiet a workout, so they were sore too. By this time my large breakfast had been digested and my stomach once again wanted food. After just relaxing for a little bit, we decided to start pumping water in order to get get dinner ready. We had burners, fuel, and the food with us. One problem though…we did not have any water pumps. Because of some incidents in the past, there was a rule that the last people on the trail must have a water filter with them. It was customary though, that the first group of people to arrive at camp start pumping water. It looked like we made a little mistake and left all three water filters with the people in the back. Not much we could do though, except wait for them to make their way up the trail.

Looking down a long waterfall

While hiking I stayed fairly warm. I believe I only had a flannel shirt on, but between the weather and physical activity I had generated plenty of body heat. After sitting around camp for a while and with the sun setting, I began to get a little cool. I really hoped that it would not get too cold though (like some other times) because I really did not feel like freezing my butt off.

While we were waiting for the others to arrive (or at least their water filters), we erected our tents and the rest of camp. Finally, Reverend Matthews showed up, about two hours after we had initially arrived at Bald Knob. He was doing fine, just taking his time traversing the trail. Those of us who were already at camp though were pretty eager to take his water filter so we could eat. After obtaining the apparatus though, we discovered that it did not work. There was a bad seal somewhere which prevented it from creating a vacuum and actually pumping water. So once again we were forced to sit and wait for the last two people to arrive with their filters, which we really hoped worked.

View of a small lake in a partial clearing in the mountains

After waiting for a while longer, Wierschke and Brian arrived. We confiscated their water filters and thankfully they worked. We began the arduous task of pumping water from Bald Knob Lake, which was directly adjacent to our campsite. The filters were pretty clean so pumping our gallon of water (with two people going at it) did not take very long. It was about 8:30 by the time we finished though, so darkness had begun to sink in and we were forced to cook by flashlight. For all of our labors we feasted on instant turkey tetrazzini, which actually did not taste too bad.

After dinner, Jason and I hung the bear bag while others cleaned the dishes. Bears were not a major problem in this area, but we did not want to chance anything. To get the bag up though, we had to climb around in the trees on top of a hill near our camp, guided only by flashlights. We were able to locate a suitable tree, and after a couple of attempts got the bag hung, hopefully out of the reach of bears.

By now, the day had worn us pretty well, so we had evening devotions and everyone headed for bed. Despite being sore and having a slight mishap with the water filters, I really enjoyed myself this day.