Beartooth day hike- it could have been far worse. Sept 11, 2023 21:24:32 GMT -8 rebeccad, GaliWalker, and 4 more like this
Post by hikerjer on Sept 11, 2023 21:24:32 GMT -8
This past weekend, I towed my teardrop camper up to the Beartooth Plateau for some time away from the city to camp and do a little hiking, something I've been able to do precious little of this summer. It was a beautiful weekend and I found a lovely dispersed camping site at Long Lake at about 9500 ft, right at tree line. I arrived late Friday afternoon and spent a restful night with the idea of hiking part of the Beartooth High Lakes trail, which I had not done in years. The plan was to hike in about 4-5 miles to a lake and then return via the same route. It's a fairly easy hike with remarkably little elevation gain or loss. All went well in spite of my dog and I getting a late start after a leisurely breakfast. At the turn around point about 4 miles in, I took a look at the map and noticed that I could probably complete the entire loop as it was only abut 2:00 pm and it was only about 4–5 miles to complete the loop. I pondered the decision for a wile while I sat in a beautiful meadow and watched the clouds and hawks circle. As I really don't enjoy in and out hikes, I made my decision to deviate from my original plan and rather than turn back to my truck, I would complete the loop. The obvious problem was that I would end up on the highway about, what I figured was, five miles from where my truck was parked. But,what could possibly go wrong? No problem. I figured I'd be out by 5:00 pm at the latest which would give me plenty of time to hitchhike back to the truck at my starting point. You know, after 50 years of hiking, you'd think I was a little bit smarter. But, what was there to worry about. I'd hitchhiked the Beartooth Highway (US 212) many times in similar situations without a problem. So, off I went and finished the complete loop at about 5:15 pm at the Gardiner Lake TH on the highway at about 10,500 ft., probably one of the highest trailheads in the northern Rockies and well above tree line. I was confident that I'd soon get a ride. I didn't. Shortly after reaching the highway, the weather went south, and a thick fog rolled in. I could hardly see 20 yards. It was some of the densest soup I've ever been in. To make mattes worse, traffic almost became nonexistent. The very few cars that passed didn't stop even if they could see me, which was doubtful. After an hour or so of waiting by road in one of the few places that had a pullout, I decided that I had better start walking the five miles back to the truck. It would be long and a bit dangerous in the dense fog, as there is no shoulder for most of the road. The weather continued to deteriorate and with the fog it was rapidly getting darker, but I felt I had little choice but to push on. So, with dog in tow, I started walking. After I had gone what I thought was about 5 miles, I realized I still had along way to go and that without a ride, I'd never make it to the truck until late that night. At that altitude there is absolutely no cover in the way of trees or about anything else and it was getting colder and wetter. Not a good situation at all. Still, what could I do but push on? I walked for another hour or so with very few cars passing and none stopping. By now I was tired kind of worried as I realized that by not turning back I had really made a dumb decision. It could easily turn into a survival situation. Around 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm and almost completely dark, I stopped to rest at a pullout and low and behold, the first car I had seen in nearly an hour pulled over and offered a ride. It was a young man from Minnesota on his way to the Tetons via Yellowstone Park. It was, obviously, a welcome offer. Furthermore, it turned out I had greatly misjudged the distance back to my truck due to the numerous switchbacks on the road. It would have been nearly another extremely long five miles to the truck. That would have been tough. I might have been able to do it, but I sure am glad I didn't have to. James ended up sharing my campsite with me that night, during which it dropped to well below freezing with a dusting of snow, before continuing on his way to the Tetons. The next morning dawned cold but clear. I hooked up my trailer and headed off the plateau to Red Loge where I enjoyed a hearty breakfast, strolled around town a bit and then headed home. So, what could have been a very discouraging, even dangerous day, luckily, turned out OK. Man, I've got to stop this nonsense. I'm just too fricking old.