Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 1 - Russell Lake

When my brother turned 60, he asked if I would join him on a summer hike in the Montana mountains in lieu of celebrating with him in Bozeman in mid-January.  We had been hiking together since Boy Scout days in the early 1960's....almost 50 years of backpacking.  It wasn't a hard question to answer.

The hike that Larry -- an experienced Montana hiker and climber -- selected was one that he had been thinking about for years.  The hike starts (or ends) near the NE entry of Yellowstone National Park and ends 26 trail miles (42 km) northeast of there at East Rosebud Lake, west of Red Lodge.  The trail is often referred to as "the Beaten Path".  The path is pretty well beaten, but it really ought to be called something else.  It has to be one of the most scenic mountain trails in the country.

We took four days to make the trip.  Some take longer to really look over the country.  It is at least 26 miles of up and down trekking over fairly rough country. Even with a fairly tame name, the trail is not for the faint-of-heart or unprepared.  There are many opportunities for serious injury or death along the trail....and rescue could be many hours away.  Even in mid-summer, the warm sun can turn to freezing rain and hail in an astonishingly short time.  The creeks are all very cold and some quite dangerous in places.  Some sections of trail are perched along cliffs high above lakes.That said, the Beaten Path winds through a never-ending procession of multi-colored flowers along watercourses and blue mountain ponds and lakes.  All of the scenery is beautiful and some of it is drop-dead gorgeous.  It's an unforgettable trip!

Our parents have loved the mountains since they first made their acquaintance more than a half century ago, so they were happy to drive us from their home in Bozeman through Yellowstone Park to the trailhead just outside the park's northeast entrance on the east side of Cooke City.  There were a number of trails taking off so once we got going, there was some comfort in my Accuterra / NeoTreks GPS iPhone app when it showed us on the right trail after all.  (Screen shot at right does not show a position indication)  Backtracking is not fun at the best of times, and especially so when packing heavy.

Forest fires are a fact of life wherever there are forests.  It turns out that fires actually play an important role in forest health and productivity, but there is some sadness in what was and what cannot be again for many years.  The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 torched some of this country, too, and the tall skeletons of lodge pole pine reminded us of its long reach as we passed though.

Horses are another fact of life in these mountains and we saw several mounted groups going our way and others coming back from excursions higher up the trails.  Having used horses in the past, I was a little wistful for the creak of leather and the smell and companionship of horses.....not to mention the lighter load on my back.

We lunched in a small copse of unburned trees above Kersey Lake.  The late July sun was hot, but the air under the trees pleasant.  Before hauling out the fixings, I touched off the second "OK" transmission on our SPOT messenger (photo at right). The first was at the trailhead. The SPOT is a small GPS receiver and satellite band transmitter.  The device finds itself using GPS, and then transmits the OK signal with the device coordinates.  That OK signal and map location is emailed and/or texted to a customizable list of friends and family.  In the event of a problem, one can transmit a "need help" signal, or a "911" in the event of a life-threatening emergency.  We found on our return that SPOT worked almost every time.  Those times that  our OK signal was not received was probably due to the steep sides of some of the canyons from which we transmitted, or my not leaving it sending for the recommended 20 minutes.   Our family reported that it was great knowing we were okay, and that we were progressing. I activated the SPOT every time we took off our packs.

We made it as far as Russell Lake the first night, and as at other evening stops, found good camping sites awaiting us.  No one else was in this or any of the other sites we stopped for the night.  I touched off the SPOT again to let the home team know our whereabouts.

I also peeled down and walked into the cold lake and splashed water all over my sweaty smelly self.  My other set of clothes felt awesome after that.  There were some buzzing blood seekers about, but scarcely enough to warrant repellent application.  Bug dope is an ally, but not much of a friend.  I'd rather swat than daub unless the little suckers are really nasty.

As we were finishing our dinner, we noticed a mule deer doe walking right through the woods toward us.  She seemed almost tame, but finally decided at about 20 feet (6.1 meters) that we might have been a little more frightening than she at first believed.  She never did run, but just ambled off in another direction.

The sun retired a little before 8 pm, and so did we.  When we both got up in the middle of the night for the usual reason, we found a million stars and galaxies wheeling silently overhead in the clear sky.  Larry pointed out that in addition to the incredible sky, it was at least a small mercy that the mosquitoes trying so hard earlier in the evening had also gone to bed.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album

No comments:

Post a Comment