Finally we came into a big open clearing at the peak of the mountain and by this time we were both ready to find the trail and get back to the car. Then just as we were going back into the trees I looked around us and realized that at that moment we were standing in the middle of a cloud that had rolled in over the tree tops. Not only that, but the cloud was starting to drop flakes of snow all around us.
Jack hurried me onward, going in front and making ‘post holes’ in the knee deep snow so that I could follow in his tracks.
“Come on, we need to keep moving to stay warm.” He prodded as I stopped to take another hasty picture and I knew he was right. We were both only wearing light jackets, our jeans were hopelessly wet and I began to take note that all of the snow that lodged in my shoes earlier as I tripped and climbed my way up to this point had now melted, soaking my socks and making a swimming pool in my shoes. Despite that, I was surprisingly warm now – but I knew it wouldn’t last.
Sure enough as we moved I felt my ankles beginning to numb and Jack was beginning to tire. I thought of the other two hikers and wondered where they were and hoped they had better luck than we were. Nothing around us was familiar and I was starting to get anxious as the water in my shoes began to drop in temperature and turn more and more icy.
We regained the trail however and I caught the sound of a creek, which meant that we must be close to where we started earlier and then I heard birds chirping happily before we broke back out into the sunlight. But still, nothing was familiar. So we walked and hurried as much as our tired feet would go. We listened to the crunching of the snow which was often followed by a jerking feeling as it gave way beneath us and we slipped forward.
At one point Jack came to a sudden halt that alarmed me and when I asked what was wrong he said that he saw fresh signs of moose.
Soon after that we came along side the creek and to my joy found a bridge we had passed earlier. Once across it we were home free. We sloshed and slid our way back along the trail that we had hiked up earlier. Trying to hurry on finally we saw the other two hikers from earlier headed down the slope.
They pulled away as we trudged into the parking lot. Apparently they didn’t want to talk to us – maybe they were upset that we mislead them – but I wasn’t too worried at this point because all I wanted was to sit in the car with the heater on full blast. (But if you two guys with the three legged dog who followed a couple up the mountain in Red Lodge ever do read this, please know that we are very sorry and now we really do know where the trail leads).