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.