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The Night I Thought I Was Going To Die

Summer of 2014 was a summer that completely got away from us. Our weekends were completely and impossibly booked and now I can’t even remember with what. Sadly, that meant that the 4th of July weekend was the only time that we could get away for a two night camping trip – a two night trip that turned into one.

It had been too long since we had been camping, let alone done any backpacking – something my body reminded me of as soon as we hit Lake Fork trail head just outside of Red Lodge. Since it was only the 3rd of July we had our fingers crossed that we could out distance any crowds and find a decent spot to make camp.

It isn’t a hard 5 miles up to Lost Lake, the trail is forest service made and mostly shaded. A little over halfway to Lost Lake is Broadwater ‘Lake’, which is just a wide spot in the creek, but it has a nice bank which makes it a good resting spot or picnic point if you don’t plan on going any farther. We kept going however, ready to see the lake we were really headed for. As we went the brewing storm clouds in the distance hurried us forward.

Thankfully the side trail to Lost is well marked and after a few more minutes we dropped down into the main campground by the lake. We headed left off the trail to see if there were any spots more remote as the thunder began to rumble through the sky, but there is nothing over there. So Jack took me back to the main camp and pulled out the tent’s rain fly and draped it over me and the gear while he and Bailey went the opposite direction. I hunkered down as rain began to fall. Thankfully Jack came back a few minutes later saying he found a good spot so we scooped our gear up and dashed over to it. We  were able to set up the tent and crawl in before the storm worsened.

Sadly, we did very little exploring, but we did find another great camping spot up to the trail  a little ways by an awesome swimming hole (not so great of a fishing hole though). But all plans to come back later that night and have a quiet little swim were abandoned when someone else – and his large German shepherd named Satan – took the spot.

After a delicious dinner of steak, mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal and s’mores, Jack just stood looking across the lake. When I asked him what he was thinking about he said he wanted to see one of the large boulders in the rock field above us fall down the mountainside. Not too much later we heard one rumble down.

That’s when I remembered how my parents never liked to camp under the shadows of tall rocky mountains, but how could you not camp here? It was so beautiful.

We crawled into bed earlier than we usually would and zipped our sleeping bags together for room and body heat (a trick I discovered at Cliff Lake). The addition of a dog in a two person tent made getting comfortable a bit tricky.

I bolted awake, sitting upright with my flight response on high. The thundering sound echoing loud through the canyon woke all three of us at once. Without even thinking I knew it was the rocks tumbling down the mountainside. I froze and waited for the barrage of a landslide that would sound our end.

“Ash, it’s okay. It’s just a rock.”

My breathing was heavy and quick as my body debated whether or not to fly out of the tent in a desperate escape through the forest in the dark.

“You okay? It probably wasn’t even that big. Go back to sleep.”

Reluctantly I laid back down, but I wiggled into my Underarmour leggings in case we had to run.

“What are you doing?” I knew Jack was trying to go back to sleep and all my moving was keeping him awake. “We can leave first thing in the morning. I promise.”

I glanced at my phone hoping it was 5 and that outside the sun was threatening to rise.

1 am. Of course.

All I could think of was the Hebgen Earthquake of ’59 that buried campers when the side of a mountain crashed on top of them. The sounds of the wind ripping through the trees overhead did nothing to ease my nervousness as a snuggled back down, trying for an hour to convince myself that no more boulders were falling and that I would not die tonight.

The morning came early though since Bailey kept moving around too much for Jack to sleep, which meant that he in turn kept moving and waking me up.

“Do you want to leave?” He asked.

I didn’t really. At least I wasn’t ready to end the trip, but relocating to another camping site sounded good to me at this point. Besides, we still had plans to hike the off trail route up to Black Canyon Lake which sits above the treeline of the mountains. As soon as we stepped out of the tent however, we realized the still blowing wind was bringing dark clouds over the mountain tops above us.

Since the unexpected change in weather meant that it would be sheer foolishness to hike out of the protection of the trees and onto the exposed rocks during a lightning storm, all that was left for us to do was to pack up our gear and head back down the trail ahead of the storm.

If you’re interested in doing this trip (better hopefully) than here’s what you need to know!

  • Head out of Red Lodge approximately 11.5 miles and turn onto Lake Fork Road. Follow the road to its end, which is where the trail head is.
  • Lost Lake is five miles from the trail head, but the trail is not very steep and has lots of shade.
  • This is a very popular trail and destination! So expect to have others around.

Roosevelt Arch Turns 111

Beartooth Pass in Pictures

Back in July we met up with some great friends of ours, Chaney & Lashae and their daughter Maubry for a day of driving around the Montana/Wyoming mountains.

Lashae, Chaney, & Maubry

We climbed up the Beartooth Pass, a tight winding highway up the side of the mountains above Red Lodge, Montana.

Kind of scary to drive, I’m not gonna lie

When we got out at the top to stretch we were lucky enough to see some amazing wildlife up close and personal.

Mountain Goats

We stopped for a picnic lunch at a campground outside of Cooke City. After throwing our garbage away we started to leave the campground when we noticed the campground host standing in the middle of the road watching us and looking down at a piece of paper. We stopped to see what was going on and apparently after we left the camping site he went and found someone else’s trash in the bear proof box and accused us of leaving it.  He threatened to send us a ticket despite Jack trying to reason with him – thankfully we never did get a fine in the mail. Even though being falsely accused didn’t make us want to ever use that campground in the future, it is important to be good stewards of the land and also to just be safe by not leaving trash and especially trash that smells like food lying around.

As we headed down into Wyoming we began climbing another, smaller pass.

Chief Joseph Trail

At the top is a lookout over the valley below and on the lookout are many tiny little chipmunks that have apparently been fed because they are quite fond of humans. Maubry was also quite fascinated with them.

Even though the drive up or down the Beartooth Pass can be somewhat daunting, for the explorer the great view, the great country and the great time are all well worth it!

White Sulphur Springs


The beginning of this February was extremely cold in Montana, with temperatures dropping all the way down to 30 F below zero. It has been ridiculous. Jack & I talked about getting away to somewhere warmer for Valentines Day,  but since neither of us are very patient and the weather was due to warm up we decided to go to our favorite hot springs in White Sulphur, Montana a week ahead of time.

So Friday night after work we headed off, just grabbing some fast food because we would already be arriving late. I couldn’t complain about it though because I love traveling at night. Thankfully, the roads weren’t too icy and the drove was mostly uneventful. That is until were were in the middle of a rather intense conversation and Jack looked over at me for a split second and I simultaneously looked up at the road.

Deer!” I screamed.

Looking back now it was silly. Obviously something that large and dark colored couldn’t be a deer, but my mind didn’t process that we were about to hit an elk.

I squeezed my eyes shut and felt the grab of the seat belt as Jack hit the brakes. I thought that there was no way that we were going to miss it and I waited for the impact. But it never came. When I looked up there was no sign of the elk anywhere. Jack (who thankfully has the presence of mind to keep his eyes open while avoiding elk) said he saw it slip on the ice for a split second before it disappeared on the side of the road. I spent the next few minutes to White Sulphur in tears, nearly hyperventilating from the sudden shock.

By the time we threw our bags into our room I was composed and thoughts of the elk disappeared as we quickly changed and made our way towards the pools. I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing it felt. The cold night and the steaming hot pools (which are kept at temperatures ranging from 98-105 degrees depending on the pool) blended almost perfectly to be a comfortable temperature. Between the darkness and the heavy steam rising around us, it was nearly impossible to see others, so it felt like we had complete privacy.

The next morning when went back out, it was even colder at zero degrees. If anything wet was out of the water for any period of time would freeze solid. That is why smart people left their shoes and other clothing items right inside the door instead of leaving them poolside like we did. That is also how Jack turned into Jack Frost.

Overall, the stay was very relaxing. We would definitely recommend that if you go in the winter to stay in a room close to the pool because the motel part is a long, cold walk away. We stayed in the new part of the hotel and we were very impressed with the large rooms and comfortable beds. My only complaint was that the walls and floors seemed thin and we could hear the guy two doors down repeatedly blowing his nose. So make sure you get a room that isn’t on the pool side if you are an early sleeper.

The water is supposed to be full of healthy minerals and I have heard people swear that constant exposure will even make warts go away. My skin and hair was incredibly soft the next morning and as always I left wishing that there was a way I could have constant access to the water there.

Day 5: Homeward Bound

July 8th, 2013 – Day 5: Homeward Bound

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Shortly after breakfast we began to gather all of our belongings together. We needed to get going relatively soon to be back home at a decent hour so that we could get ready for work the next morning. We stashed our nifty grate for the fire, tore the tent down and stashed all of our gear back into our three packs. Finally, I went through and brushed all the pine needles back under the area where we had the tent.

Do You See...
Do you see what I had to live with all week?

The Beaten PathThe trek back to Cliff Lake was all downhill, the weather was perfect and we made good timing. Thankfully, we found our canoe right where we left it, as well as the dry bag with all of our life jackets which we hid way back in the hillside.

But one of our dry bags was missing.

Jack & Erik had tied it high up in a tree away from the beaten path, but it was no where to be seen. We looked all over for any sign of the bright yellow bag or any of its contents. Our first thought was that a bear had taken it, but there was not a shred of anything that remotely looked like it could have been from our gear. Besides, there is no way a bear could have reached it.

Thankfully, to the best of our memories, we could only remember it having a couple of Jack’s t-shirts, some of our dry soup and cocoa mixes and our trash.

When we decided that there was no hope of finding it, we pushed the canoe off into the water once again. We spent most of our trip back tossing around theories about what happened to our bag, but we still don’t know.

We made good timing across the lake, not stopping until we got back to the tree that we jumped off of on our first day there. Both Jack and Erik wanted to take one last swim, but I stayed on shore and watched them, not wanting to get chilled.

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We took a few more minutes for some photo-ops of the three of us – which of course is not an easy feat, even with the self timer on the camera. But we did get our shot in the end.

After a few more minutes of rowing we were back on the main shore where we loaded up the car and drove off, leaving the last four and a half days of excitement behind us, waiting for when we return.

All of Us

Overview:

Interested in taking this trip for yourself? Here’s some of the details to help you plan:

Weather

The weather when we went during the first week of July was perfect for fishing, it was warm all day and there were rainstorms every afternoon. It was just warm enough to get you into the chill lake water – though I would have liked it a little warmer, I don’t think the guys would agree.  The only downside was the insane amount of flies & horseflies.

When Jack & Erik went the first time they went the beginning of June and the weather was cooler, they didn’t do much swimming, but there were no flies. Next time I would like to try August once it dries out a little more.

Accessibility

The hike from the end of Cliff Lake to Hidden was short and a fairly easy hike, especially if you weren’t carrying all of your camp with you. It has some short, somewhat steeper inclines, but for the most part it is an easy gradual climb. It is also clearly marked so you have no chance of missing it.

No boat? No problem – you can reach Hidden Lake from Wilderness Edge Resort (which is located at the nearest prong of Cliff Lake), or you can reach it from the opposite direction of Elk Lake. We have never taken either of these routes, but we would love to hear from you if you have!

Fishing

Fishing is definitely something to take into consideration when planning your trip. Hidden Lake is only open to fishing from June 15th – November 30th according to the FWP site (the same goes for Otter, Goose, & Elk Lakes).

We didn’t do much fishing at Hidden, but at Cliff (which is open to fishing year round) we maxed out our limit of 3 lake trout per person.

Make sure to check the current regulations before you go!

Privacy

If you have been reading any of Our Escapes to this point, you will realize that when it comes to camping, privacy is one of the most important aspects to us. This trip is perfect for getting away from everyone.

We were all anticipating tons of people since it was the 4th of July weekend, but there were only a few boats out on Cliff (it helps that it is a no wake lake). We didn’t meet anyone on the trail heading back to Cliff and there were only about 3 groups of people (who weren’t even overnighters) around Hidden and all of them seemed to want to mind their own business just as much as we did.

Day 4: Hideaway Camp

July 7th, 2013 – Day 4: Camp Hideaway

Hidden Lake, Montana

This morning after breakfast I finished gathering flat rocks off of the hillside and placed them in a ring around the place where I had cleared last night to make a fire ring. Shortly after I started this Lewis and Clark went off to see if they could find some dead fell for seating. When I went to check on them they had found a large log, downhill from the camp of course, that they were working on cutting into sections with their hatchets. Eventually, they had two decent size logs that they lugged up the hill. By the time they had them up I had finished my fire ring, so I watched as they drove wooden stakes in the ground to keep the logs from rolling down to the lake.

As soon as it was warm enough we went back to the rope swing and took turns dropping into the cool water and then getting out and being eaten by some more flies.

When we returned to camp the guys headed back down to the lake for some more swimming while I attempted to even out my tan, or sunburn rather. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun, but the hollering coming from below me was too tempting and when I looked down and saw them floating out on a log I went down and joined them. I grabbed a log of my own, since it seemed like their goal was to knock each other off. We floated  for a while before the chill of the water became too much and we went back to shore.

Twin BoatsSince we kept seeing people in boats drifting across the lake we headed to the far end of the lake to see where they were at. We were greatly pleased with ourselves when, from across the inlet, we found that our self-made camp was indeed, hidden from view. Thus, with all of our creativity we decided to name it Camp Hideaway.

Sure enough there were boats padlocked up at the far end of the lake, but apparently you had to hike all the way past the next lake (around 3 miles) in order to rent them, so instead we turned back. We spent the late afternoon trying to concoct a way to heat a stone hot enough to boil a pot of water on, because by now we were out of any fresh drinking water and had to boil lake water to drink. Of course, of the many things we forgot on the trip (seriously, the cinnamon rolls?!?!), we also forgot to refresh on how to purify drinking water….so we boiled it for roughly 2 minutes and then drank it through a straw filter.

You can avoid the possibility of nausea, diarrhea or stomach cramps from lake water by filtering it through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and then boiling it for one minute–or, if at a location one or more miles above sea level, for three minutes. Once the water has cooled, pour it back and forth from one clean container to another to aerate it and improve the taste, if you wish. Store boiled water in clean containers with covers.

Livestrong.com

Later, Jack and Erik went back to the rope swing while I enjoyed some solitary time at Hideaway. On their return they stumbled on an old grate under some bushes and a log and hauled it back up to camp. It worked perfectly for putting over the fire and cooking up our last dinner.

Swimmin'

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