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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.
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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'

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

Image
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

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