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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.

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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'

Day 3: The Trek to Hidden Lake

July 6th, 2013 – Day 3: The Trek to Hidden Lake

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As I write this I am listening to distant thunder and the pitter-patter of rain on the canvas of my tent. Last night went better than I thought – I wasn’t as nervous as I thought. But the ground was hard and uncomfortable and  I woke up throughout the night, but neither Jack nor I crawled out of bed until nine-thrity when it became so sweltering hot  in our tent.

We cooked our breakfast burritos up and visited about having a hideaway cabin tucked back somewhere in the woods that only we knew about. After breakfast we took our time packing up our camp and stowing the canoe and unnecessary gear out of the way until the return trip. By the time that we threw our packs on and started following the path that led back to Hidden it was already eleven o’clock.

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The Boat in Otter Lake

The packs were heavy and it wasn’t long until  I was tired and my sunburned legs were covered in scratches from the pine needles and wild rosebushes that brushed against them as I walked along narrow trails. But the trek was beautiful as we made our way through meadows before heading back into the trees. We stopped at Otter Lake (though there were no otters to be seen) for a short fishing break. It was a small green lake with a rowboat sunk in the middle of it. After his first trip, Jack asked a local, long time hiker about it he said that the boat had been there as long as he could remember. Does anyone know the story of the boat?

Instead as Jack & Erik meandered around the shore looking for their perfect fishing holes I laid down in the tall grass to get away from the flies and it seemed to work. However, as I relaxed and watched the clouds in the sky I suddenly heard Erik loudly cursing the flies, saying that he felt like a dead animal being attacked by them and couldn’t stay another minute.

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Goose Lake

So we scrambled out of the valley and took up our packs again. Shortly after this we began heading more uphill and soon we passed by Goose Lake, which was on of the most picturesque I’ve seen, but this time we didn’t stop. Not long thereafter we emerged out of the trees and saw Hidden Lake. It was larger than I expected and incredibly blue and clear. As we made our way around the shore we were all excited to see the rope swing hanging temptingly next to the refreshing water. Between the heat and the flies we couldn’t resist and within minutes the guys were in the lake. It took me a little while to try (ok, ok, it was a little like the scene from the Notebook, just not as dramatic), but once I was in it was a blast.

Rope Swing
Rope Swing

After a long while at the rope swing we continued on, apparently looking for the right spot to camp. We went through several before climbing to the top of a hill that jutted out into the lake. Jack pronounced this as the same place that they stayed last time and the packs were dropped.  I wanted to sleep down by the water where there was a little flat spot under a tree, but after a closer look I decided that the top of the hill was probably the better choice. By the end of our stay I changed my mind about our camping spot, mostly because the view of the lake from above was breathtaking.

I unrolled my sleeping bag on the dirt and at my lunch inside to try and avoid some of the flies and mosquitoes while Jack and Erik visited and ate. But the first drops of rain came so we vacated our lunch in a hurry to get our shelters up and Jack and I zipped up the tent fly just as the hail started. When the weather let up I dozed while the other two went fishing and then I began to write.

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Cheers!

For the start of our journey click here.

Cliff Lake – Day 2

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July 5th, 2013 – Day 2: Cliff Lake

Jack was so excited to get on the road this morning while I was just tired. I kept ignoring his suggestions to get up. When I did though he and Erik had a breakfast of eggs & cream cheese tortillas ready (so it did pay off!).

We were on the road by eight, headed towards the little town of Ennis where we stopped and grabbed some gas and snacks (ie. a milkshake) and Erik posted a letter to his brother. For the rest of the drive we watched the tall mountains off to the left – particularly the Sphinx. Erik had previously summited it and was describing the routes to best make it to the peak. We talked about doing it together someday as well as perhaps the Three Kings which were directly beyond.

Soon we were close to our destination, we passed by some old abandoned settlement and then through the open before we started dipping down. I was anxious to see the lake, tucked down in the hills so that you would hardly even know it was there.

Cliff Lake
Cliff Lake

We pulled down to the boat launch and I stood excited on the banks while the guys unloaded the car (I did help some, but they had certain ways that they wanted the canoe loaded). I had stood by these shores one other time when the banks were covered with snow and dreamed about this moment in time.

None too soon were we settled in the canoe – me settled in the bottom on a life jacket nestled amongst all of our packs & gear. We set off at an easy pace and kept an eye out for the rope bridge that Jack had been telling us about, but when we found it all we saw were the steps leading up to the bank and the rope frayed high up in the tree. Both Jack & Erik were disappointed, but I was somewhat relieved since it looked like it went pretty high.

So instead we stopped at a fallen tree and jumped off that into the water for a swim. The water was warm and crystal clear – I could see my shadow reflecting on the bottom of the lake below me as I watched for fish that would swim around below. Not only that, but the water was a beautiful gem blue where it was deep and turquoise closer to the shore.

When we got back into the canoe I watched the gentle ripples and swells of the water, mesmerized. Jack & Erik watched the massive fish glide in droves beneath us. We passed through “the pinch” in the lake before it opened up and an tall island jutted out in front of us. We  turned to the right of it and pulled off for some fishing and some granola bars & ramen noodles. That’s also where Erik threw a dead crawdad at me so that he could watch me shriek and jump backwards. Soon everyone was fishing and both guys caught fish while I continued to cast out my line with no return.

When we were back in the canoe again I trolled while the boys rowed on and soon caught my first fish – that was the only way I would catch any on this trip I soon found.

First Fish Of The DayErik's Fish

Farther up the lake turned and became narrow and shallow with tall reeds growing in it – Jack would later remark that it looked like the Dead Marshes from the Lord of the Rings, which would then prompt quotations from that scene in his best Gollum voice.

We canoed through the reeds until we came to the head of the lake where a little path led the way up to the camping place right on the edge of the tree line. We set up camp and waited out a brief hailstorm before Jack realized we were short a fishing pole which we must have left at our lunching point.

Mine was the biggest one.
Mine was the biggest one.

So we backtracked and left Erik to fly fish while we retrieved the rod. That is when we ended up in a thunderstorm. So we pulled over and Jack continued to fish, while I sat up the embankment a little ways and listened to the thunder crack around us while I tried to update my journal.

Erik rejoined us and we found the missing fishing pole and on the way back I sat on the bow of the boat facing Jack and filled our quota of 9 fish for the day. Which made for a delicious dinner along with some roasted potatoes, oatmeal and s’mores.

I stood and watched the gloom come around us as the tall mountains above cast there shadows onto us and admitted that this was my first trip way out in the middle of nowhere alone.

“It’s either something you hate, or something you absolutely love.” Erik told me. Thankfully, as I stretched out in our little tent that night I realized that this was something that I absolutely loved.

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Evening View

Cliff Lake Trip – Day 1: Bozeman, Montana

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Bozeman, Montana

Introduction:

Back in 2009 Jack and his good friend Eric spent four days on a trip to Cliff Lake, bringing me back many stories. Stories of gorgeous scenery & wildlife, of vodka bottles found in the lake, of accidentally spraying themselves with outdated bear spray and of the canoe springing a leak in the middle of the lake. All of which made me extremely jealous – except for the bear spray incident of course. Ever since then I have been dying to go on a trip with the two of them, but especially the Cliff Lake trip.

The preparations for the sequel began last year, just two  September nights before Jack and I were married. We sat on the back deck and visited about their trip and began to talk about a future one. We pulled out our phones and set a date then and there for the following June.

As the winter and spring passed I began to get nervous about the whole trip coming together as busy summer schedules slowly came together. Our date got bumped back several times until we all decided to take advantage of work vacation over the 4th of July.

So it was that I found myself with my bag packed for my first real backpacking trip.

*The following posts are written from the journal that I kept while on the trip.

July 4th, 2013 Day 1: Bozeman, Montana

Sprawled across Erik’s couch, I think that the hardest part of this trip so far is just the fact that I have never been backpacking before, while Jack has and he has been regulating everything I take so that my pack won’t be too heavy. I fought hard to bring my book and this journal before I realized that my best course of action would be to silently slip that second book in my pack and to just wear my flip-flops and pack my hiking shoes. I did good though. Usually as our departure time gets closer I start shoving whatever I can think of into my bag, but I didn’t this time.

The drive was uneventful & relaxing. I fought the urge to doze so I could visit with Jack. The drive is one of the most relaxing parts of trips for me. I love just having plenty of  time to talk without having all the distractions that are usually around and having the anticipation of the trip to come.

We pulled into town and easily found Erik’s house where we would stay the first night. We didn’t spend much time there though, instead we headed out and did some grocery shopping for the evening before heading out of town and up Hyalite Canyon until we came to the lake. It was beautiful and open surrounded by trees. Despite the fact that it was the 4th, we easily found a quiet piece of the lake.

Hyalite Lake

Although I was unsure that it was really warm enough, the guys wanted to get in the water and try our new life jackets out, so I changed into my swimsuit. Erik popped the tops on three Corona’s and shoved lime wedges into them before we headed into the water. Thankfully, it wasn’t as cold as I thought and the fact that it is a no-wake lake meant that it was peaceful.

Once we got out Erik started a fire and Jack cooked up our steaks to perfection. We laid there on the bank and visited until the light faded. We headed back home to do some food prep, deciding not to go watch fireworks like we had originally planned, but we heard them exploding all night long and saw a few as we laid in the back lawn. It was warm enough that we moved inside to the couch to watch a movie before calling it a night for the early morning ahead of us. It was so warm in the house that I slept in my swimsuit and shorts and we just threw our sleeping bag on top of the bed without covering up.

Day 2

Woodbine: Setting Up Camp

Woodbine Trip, Day 1 –

Day 1 actually wavered between being Friday or Saturday, but not having laundry done proved to be the deciding factor in that. We also wavered on whether this was going to be a camping trip or a combined camping/backpacking trip, but I, Ashley, have to confess that I was a little bit nervous about camping so remote since I’ve never done that before (this was only the first time that we have camped together as a couple).

So it was that Saturday morning we pulled into an extremely crowded campground. So crowded that as we drove around the only good looking site was reserved. Because of course, we didn’t think to do that. We pulled into site 3, the only other site that was open, and I was extremely disappointed because there wasn’t the room like in the other camp sites. However, once we walked around it turned out to be a good thing. It was right next to the creek, there was a little nook that our tent fit perfectly in, and it wasn’t a very crowded area of the campground. We also found out that it was one of the more popular sites and had been occupied the night before, but whoever was there froze out and left it fore us.*

Very quickly after we decided to stay and set up camp and make things official by getting our registration in place so no one would kick us out or take our spot.

A Cozy CampSetting up camp took surprisingly very little effort, seeing as Jane (our mode of transportation that is) was loaded down with supplies. I don’t have a picture of that, but we packed that car so full that we really could not have taken much more.

After that we sat around and enjoyed our space, the fact that we were up here in this amazing place. Even all of the people around us could not take away from the looming grandeur of the mountains high overhead or the peaceful gurgling of the creek beside us. It was enlivening and refreshing and aweing all that the same time.

We made a simple lunch before deciding that we needed to go do something, so we decided to hike up to Woodbine Falls, which will have to be a whole other post because it was so spectacular and amazing!

One we were back we settled back down and spent the evening relaxing while sitting around the campfire and visiting.

Mountain Flower

*Campsite #3 is a non-reservation site, however we also really liked the looks of #42, which has lots of trees, is close to the water as well as the trailhead to the waterfalls.

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