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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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Cabin Fever: Basin Lake Hike – Part 2

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For part 1 click here

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.

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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.

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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).

Cabin Fever: Basin Lake Hike

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Cabin Fever has hit. Okay, it hit several months back if you really want to know, but the weather has not cooperated very well. But this last weekend we decided that we were done waiting. We were going out – even if it was just for the day. So without much planning we hit the road and found ourselves outside of Red Lodge, Montana.

The road was closed so we couldn’t go all the way up it, but there was a little pull off at a trailhead that said it went up to Basin Lake. Never having been there, but having our fishing gear handy we decided that it would be a good hike for us. It started out perfect – great views, some small waterfalls with ice bridges spanning across them, easy trek – but uphill enough that it gave our legs a good stretch.

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I stopped to take some pictures and feeling a little artistic I knelt in the snow to get a better picture of a bright orange leaf.

“Don’t be stupid.” Jack, lovingly, chided me. “Now you will be wet and cold.”

But I wasn’t too worried.

The trouble came when we lost the trail under a little snow. Then we weren’t sure where to go and neither were the other two guys out hiking with their dogs. However, we did buy a GPS for days like these and after a little consultation with it, Jack assured me and the other two guys that up was the way to go.

Not a trail that inclined easily up though.

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So up we went and I tried to keep positive by thinking what good exercise this was, rather than on focusing on the burn that told me that I should have been better at getting in shape for hiking season.

Once we did reach the top I realized we weren’t really on top of much, but the trail was supposed to be over the next crest – which was farther away than it looked.

Nope.

Instead we found snow, but we kept pushing on. “The trail is just another 200 feet.” Jack assured me.

“This better be one heck of a lake.” I said as we continued up another crest.

But all we found was a maze of fallen trees and branches to climb over. And more snow. Soon it became so bad that the snow was thigh deep and I was thankful that Jack had made me put on my Under Armor before we headed out because my jeans were soaked through. My faith in the GPS was falling every moment and I wondered what would happen if we had to stay overnight. I realized how little we had thought to bring were that the case.

But I wasn’t too worried and I was determined to find the lake, despite Jack beginning to think that maybe we should head back – but sure as heck not the way that we came from.

To Be Continued…

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