30 days in the Beartooth Mountain Range
As cliche as it may sound, this is supposed to be the last summer before our lives really begin. At this point in my life I should have an answer to the question I had been asked since I spoke my first words; “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. At eighteen years old I still don’t have the slightest idea. As much as I feel as though I am the only one who is this lost, I think most of us are. It was only last month we were asking permission to use the bathroom and now we are supposed to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives. The expectation is that we all go to college, but even then you should have a rough idea of what field you would like to go into.
Anyway, it’s June 9th, the day after graduation. The plan is I will be leaving for Germany in October to spend a year interning at my aunt’s job in Cologne. “She works in advertising” is what I have been saying when asked what exactly I will be doing there. “Oh, so is that something you are interested in?” is usually the response I get. Again, I have no clue. I have this idea that I will fly off to a foreign country, enjoy a year away from everything I know, meeting new people, working and traveling, and I will return knowing exactly how I want my life to turn out and what I will do to get there. Who knows, maybe I won’t come back. Right now, all I want to do is get away and have some time to think. A few of my friends had the same idea so that is exactly what we had planned to do a few months back. We will be leaving tomorrow for a backpacking trip that will consume the majority of our summers. I bought this journal, hopefully I will put it to good use throughout this trip.
After months of planning and preparation our route was set, our supplies was packed into the back of the trailer and we were on our way. Our road trip to the Beartooth Mountain range would last two days and then we would begin our backpacking adventure in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana for 30 days and 30 nights. Today we made it from Saint Paul to Mandan, North Dakota, where we just set up camp in an RV park. There is a hot springs pool here so we went for a swim. A small karaoke stage faced the pool and as the sun went down little string lights lit it up. We used the coin showers to rinse off afterwards and because there weren’t many people around we chanted Sam’s name until she skipped on to the small platform giggling, ukulele in hand. She sang our favorite song, rivers and roads by the head and the heart, as she strummed away on her uke. We all sang along, arm in arm. It was a warm cloudy day but it’s cooling down now so we headed back to our tent and built a fire. Most of us are now journaling. I keep thinking we have forgotten something but Madeline made sure that we didn’t. I can not believe the adventure we are about to undertake. We have been waiting for this trip all of high school and this is it. I promised myself I would journal everyday. I hope to remember this trip for the rest of my life. Well we have a lot more driving to do in the morning and Madeline, Eva, Sam, Vaia and Leah are all calling me into the tent. More tomorrow.
I woke up to the quiet but piercing sound of Eva’s alarm this morning and had to wake the others so we could get moving. It was early and no one was on the road but us. None of us spoke as we all marveled at the emerging blue sky and how it emphasized the clouds burnt orange color. We stopped soon to grab some cereal and milk from a gas station store, which was all that was open. Eva opened the trailer and climbed around our gear to find our sierra cups. We sat in the empty parking lot of the gas station cross-legged with our sierra cups in our laps spooning lucky charms. We then piled back into the van and were once again on our way. We switched off drivers, listened to music, read books and we soon arrived at Beartooth pass around 1 o’clock.Everyone immediately put down what they were doing and fixed their gazes outside. I rolled down the windows to let in the mountain air. There were smiles all around and everyone was laughing and singing along to the music and commenting on the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. You could feel the excitement and energy throughout the car. This is a moment I will never forget, I remember thinking. We pulled over to the side of the narrow road and jumped out of the car, cameras in hand. We took a few pictures and I stretched out my arms hugging the air. I can’t believe this is only the beginning. We eventually kept on driving and arrived at our trailhead. We then set up camp and went over our supplies one last time before we would begin our journey the following morning.
We woke up with the sun this morning to get used to not having watches or anything to tell time with on trail. We packed up all the clothes we were going to need for our first loop and then evenly distributed the food so that we would all have to carry a similar weight. We did the same with our gear, put on our hiking boots, threw on our packs and the 6 of us hiked up to the trailhead. We didn’t have too long of a day ahead of us. We had decided we would hike just short of 5 miles and have an early night to make up for the early mornings. We weren’t far into the mountains yet and saw a few people on day hikes. When we got to our campsite we decided to make a dinner of lentil curry. I’m glad we got that meal out of the way. We found a place far enough from our tent to cook and lit the stove. This spot was overlooking Kersey lake. Although this was beautiful, i knew it would only get better. Im laying in the tent right now and I can hear Sam and Vaia playing shadow people, Sam on her uke and Vaia on her pack guitar. Im drifting off..
We slept in this morning and woke up when the sun started warming up the tents and it got a bit stuffy. Today the goal was to get in a longer hike so we could camp further into the mountains. However, as we slowly emerged from the tents with sore legs and aching backs we agreed to only try and make it to Russell lake tonight. The air was humid and the trail was muddy, a mosquitos favorite combination. We stopped multiple times to reapply bug spray and re-hydrate. We were all getting pretty irritable between swatting mosquitoes and carrying our heavy packs on our raw shoulders. Eva had been eaten alive. Her shoulders and arms, everywhere her tank top did not cover, were covered in red swollen bites. We stopped for T.L. (trail lunch) in the least swampy area we could find. We reassured each other that we were only going to get stronger and the packs would only get lighter and this lightened the mood. We made jokes about the hiking conditions between handfuls of trail mix and spoonfuls of peanut butter and then decided to push to Russell. Exhausted, we arrived at the lake in the late-afternoon and split up to find a campsite. We divided up the tasks, setting up a cook spot and putting together the tents. When everything was set up and we had changed out of our hiking boots and into our warm clothes, everyone gathered around the cook spot, mosquito nets all around. I love this part of the day. After a hard day of hiking there is nothing better than sitting around the stove, looking at the mountains in the distance and telling stories as we cook our well earned, calorie rich meal. I am so excited that this is only day 4. Well, I just climbed into my sleeping bag..
It was an early morning. Today we wanted to push to Skull lake and potentially lay over the following day. We took down the tent, had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and gathered around the maps. Madeline had recommended that everyday we switch off who would navigate and it was my turn. We located the direction to Skull and were off. I am so grateful to have Leah here to keep us all entertained. She is always coming up with games to play as we hike or making us laugh with her awful jokes. We arrived at skull lake shortly after our lunch break. We had good luck with the weather so far and decided to go for a swim before setting up camp. Its good to take advantage of the weather in the mountains because it changes in the blink of an eye and who knows when you will be able to wash off next. Alpine lakes are frigid, so when I say swim, i mean rinsing off as quick as possible before you get brain freeze and can’t feel your toes. We dropped our packs and stripped down to our underwear, and still wearing our hiking boots, ran down to the shore of Skull Lake. I held my breath as I waded into the clear water and dunked under for a few seconds. As I came up I gasped, I always think it won’t be that bad and I am always proven wrong. Using a handful of sand I had grabbed from the bottom I rushed to scrub the dried mud off of my calves that had accumulated after our day of hiking. I sprinted out of the lake as fast as the water would allow me. The rest of them followed, having had done the same, and we were all laughing and shivering and running around ridiculously trying to dry off. Another thing about swimming in Alpine lakes; you probably won’t have a towel handy because it is unnecessary weight and takes forever to dry. We got tired quickly from running around in the new altitude, and being mostly dry we exploded our packs in search of warm, clean (well cleaner) clothes. After setting up the tent and throwing in our bedding, we found a cook spot and Vaia lit the stove. Tonight we had made calzones, my favorite. This was a more time consuming meal but since we weren’t planning on hiking the next morning and wanted a more leisurely night it was perfect. Leah made the dough, Sam mixed the sauces and Madeline, Eva and I cut up the cheese, onions and other toppings. At this point in our trip we still have fresh produce which we are hoping to use before it goes bad. We all rolled out our dough and put together our calzones. Madeline took over the stove to fry so that Vaia and Sam could play for us. We hummed along and watched the sun go down as the calzones sizzled over the stove. When dinner was ready we lit little candles that Eva had packed and ate, you could tell by the silence that we had all been hungry. After dinner we cleaned our own sierra cups and the remaining dishes with Dr. Bronners, spraying the dirty dishwater as we went. We dispersed to brush teeth and use the bathroom so we wouldn’t have to get out of the tent alone in the middle of the night. Eventually we had all crawled into our designated tents for the night. I am going to read for a little before I fall asleep. It has been a solid day.
I slept like a wet towel last night, as Leah would say. Eva and I woke up to empty tents and put on our shoes to find the others. It looked like the rest of them had been up for a while and they were reading as Madeline boiled water for coffee. The sun was just beginning to rise and it was evident that it would be another beautiful day. As Eva and I sat down next to the others Madeline asked if we would should layover at Skull. This would mean we would keep things set up and go for a day hike but stay another night at this campsite. We all agreed. What was the rush anyway? After a long breakfast of some mediocre chocolate chip pancakes (we used the wrong flour..) we left camp with small day-packs on our backs containing sunscreen, a hacky sack, flashlights, cameras, snacks and rain gear. We followed the trail near our campsite for few minutes and then cut left towards Fizzle lake. Wildflowers covered every inch of the ground and it was difficult to choose a path which would harm the least of them. There were the long, bright red ones called Indian Paintbrushes, the lavender ones with dozens of little flowers that resembled elephant heads and my absolute favorite, the mountain bluebell. These flowers are incredible: they survive the harsh mountain weather conditions year round while still blooming their vibrant flowers. We arrived at Fizzle shortly. We played some hacky sack and joked around for awhile before we noticed it may start to rain. We figured we would be safe for a good hour so we ate a snack and made our way back to camp slowly.