T.H.E E.N.D Chronicles of a Hiker-III

This has nothing to do with the new album of Black Eyed Peas!

 

I started hiking in the summer of 2009 to be precise on April 20th on the middle cottonwood creek in the Bridger mountains. I had been hiking Bridger, Hyalite and Gallatin areas since then. Most of the hikes I have done is along with Devil including the first one on the middle cottonwood. We decided to finish out hiking by going to Hyalite peak on the weekend of 3rd October . But as the events turned out yesterday,( I started writing this blog on sep 27th) we decided that it should be our last hike together so as to have a fitting end to a beautiful summer of hikes, accomplishments, doubts, arguments and many other things.  So, the hike of yesterday was a 20mile trail called as the Bridger ridge trail, where the most rugged technical 20mile trail race in the whole world occur. You can find more information on this link about that race. It is definitely the most difficult terrain to run on, even to walk on. With knife sharp edges of the ridge with shale, limestone, sandstone and volcanics, this is definitely a rugged terrain. Before I begin my account on the hike, I would like to mention few other topics I thought was apt for this hike. 1) “Why do we torture ourselves?” 2) “Is there a trail really up there?” 3) Elements.

Ok! So, In the morning of Saturday the 26th Sept, I woke up around 5a.m, I was feverish and Pukish and wasn’t in the best of my health. Devil came and she was pretty much ready and she was sad to see me in my sad state. I took sometime to get myself together and was a bit late than our purported time to leave Bozeman. But I got ready and once I had 2 Bananas and few glasses of hot water, I was ready and geared to drive to the Sacagawea trailhead. I hate to drive in that road, its an unpaved 7 mile stretch from the US-86 highway. The total distance from home is 25miles. We reached the trailhead around 6.30am. The sunrise was around 7-7.15a.m. We had hoped to catch it on top of Sacagawea Peak, But that seemed impossible then. We got ready and started the hike at 6.50a.m and on our way to Sacagawea peak in the Canyon, we saw the most prettiest sunrise ever.

The weather prediction for the day was windy and partly cloudy. The wind was already on our face at the base of the summit on the eastern side. It was a chilly morning, I had 3 sets of clothing in me, But it was just the beginning. As we started hiking towards the Sacagawea satiated by the gorgeous sunrise ever seen. We also witnessed a herd of Mountain goats on their way to north side of Bridger,  we witnessed a total of 40-50 goats on this whole hike.

The 3 layers of clothing seemed less. The problem with the wind is that it robs the moisture from your body so fast that you will feel dehydrated and tired quite fast. Once we reached the saddle between the Hardscrabble and Sacagawea peak, the wind from the west side was so strong that, we were having second thoughts about this 20mile hike.

 

It was our second hike to Sacagawea, but this one was more demanding with very less food on the stomach and the inclement weather was not helping either. Once we reached Sacagawea peak, it was so windy that it was hard to stand. The peak is so short of space that there is no place to sit because of sharp rocks and shales. We had planned to have breakfast at the peak, we figured it was impossible to have food there because of the wind. But luckily there was a rocky wall which prevented the wind to almost 100% on the east side. There was absolute silence in there to have a peaceful breakfast witnessing the sun rise above the horizon and with the a priori effect of wind oozing behind us.

Once we finished the breakfast, we felt lazy and wanted to sleep, as the thought of standing up in the wind itself was grueling. We got up and continued our journey to Nayanuki peak, as this entire trail is on the ridge.

Once we went pass the peak, we reached a saddle where we had to go downhill for a while just to cross the Ross peak, as it was impossible to climb Ross Peak without climbing gear. We witnessed few more Mountain goats on our way to Ross pass. My right knee was hurting during that stretch, I had to pop two ibuprofen pills and Icy-hot balm to keep me going. We were constantly hydrated with Gatorade, water, Oranges and life saving Saliva.

Once we reached Ross pass, We were heading towards Saddle peak, with the name, I felt it would be easy, trust me it was the most brutal Peak in the whole hike.

The problem with the Saddle peak was that it is deceitful. When we were climbing, we felt we had reached peak every now and then, but only to witness the trail leading uphill even more. But once we reached the peak, the trail continued on rocky terrain which I can’t imagine to walk on, forget running.

With the whole hard terrain, I don’t want to forget to mention the views from those peaks which were breathtaking and left us at awe whenever we paused to get our breath in those elevation where the air density is also low. In between Devil used to ask me “Why do we torture ourselves..?” I would try to explain her in my stupid convincing rhetorical manner everything else other than the answer to such a question.

The saddle peak went on and on, The hard terrain kept on testing us. We had our first set of our lunch in there, since we decided to have it in two phases so that, we will be light and we won’t feel bloated. At certain places in the Saddle peak, we didn’t have any clue where to go, it was easier in a sense because we just had to follow the ridge, but the question remained, “Is there a trail really up there..?” We had to take few steps just to see whether it heads to the steep valley, the deep chasms or the actual ridge. Once we had the first set of lunch and set out, we were awaited by the Bridger peak. The famous Bridger bowl ski resort is situated there on the east side of the peak. The resort had 2 or 3 lifts all the way up to the peak, we hadn’t seen a single human till then, but we saw few on the top of lifts who just came up by the lifts. We didn’t have any conversation and all, as they were a bit far as well.

Once we completed the entire Bridger peak, which spanned for some distance and took us couple of hours. We reached the end of Bridger peak, We were witnessing the steep climb to Baldy mountain, the one which you can see as twin bald mountains in the picture above. We had our second phase of lunch there and took a pretty long rest of about 15-20minutes. The wind was still strong from the west, whenever we were in the woods, the wind was a bit soft, whenever we were in the open, it was unrelenting.  For the entire day wind was blowing, thankfully the temperature was not low as it was in the morning, which made me and devil shed our clothes two one or two layers.

The Baldy mountain was standing like an immovable object unfazed by the wind and the erosion which has been happening for years. what it definitely achieved was to lower my confidence as it posed a strong threat. But it wasn’t deceitful like Saddle peak, and it wasn’t tough either.

Another thing, I wanted to mention was the power of elements, I was witnessing the power of wind, constantly blowing, making small increments at a time in order to erode rocks and what not, constantly tiring us, constantly reminding us to take each step carefully else we will be in the gorges. Wind(Air)-I salute you

We were witnessing Earth at it’s very best, Mountains in all directions, To south lied the Gallatin and Madison range, to north lied the Elkhorn Mountains, to East lied the Crazy mountains, and to west the beautiful Absaroka range and we on top of the Bridger range. No wonder MSU has a caption “Mountains and minds” The impact Mountains create on human mind is truly mesmerizing. Also, sages go to the Himalayas for whatever they are seeking and not to Goan beaches. Earth-I salute you.

On the west side, we could see the power of water all along the range, the erosion clearly visible from the top, making gorges, canyons, creeks, rivers and streams cleaning everything. The most powerful of the elements, the most patient, the most subtle of all, the soothing water, the element where life begins. Water- I salute you.

We could see the devastation created by a major fire which had broken out few years back and the remnants were still there, but I wasn’t ready for what I was going to witness. The dry fall evening which was windy to make matter worse had ignited fire on the west side of Bridger range. Fear was the first emotion which came to my mind. It seemed small in the beginning just like any inferno, but the wind was not helping. We were climbing the Baldy by then, I stopped in between and dialed 911 to inform them of the raging fire.

The newspaper link. I was disturbed by the turn of events. My camera stopped working at that point. Not before me catching a snap of the beginning stage of the fire. Fire-I  salute you as well.

We were so disturbed that, we went on a wrong trail from Baldy Mountain, but it took some time for us to realize that. Once we figured out, it was too late to go back to the trail, as we lost elevation pretty fast. The Steep downhill climb was bad as well. We had covered around 16miles or so until we had reached Baldy mountain, We had steady drop of elevation from there to the M in 4 miles. But suddenly we were in some unknown canyon. Our initial guess was that we were in Sypes canyon. We kept on continuing the trail, it was getting darker, and spookier, I had to keep on talking to shoo away any bear. Devil got tired of my stupid non-stop banter.

 

We witnessed a huge herd of Mountain goats here as well, few of ‘em at close proximity. Sadly, my camera was not working then. We were constantly losing elevation. We reached a very familiar spot. It was not familiar, but something was very eerie about that place, some kind of resemblance. We kept on continuing on trails we felt as the right one. Some odd calculations took us forward. She mentioned that it must be middle cottonwood creek trail, I didn’t rule out that possibility, as Sypes Canyon, and Canyon of Middle cottonwood where next to each other. As we proceeded, the familiarity increased. We were skeptical, but after some point, the familiarity was so high that, we couldn’t avoid that possibility, After some more distance, a mark post was standing which removed all our doubts. The same mark post we had seen 5 months back. There was snow all the way 5 months back, but it was dry fall now, that gave us the teasing familiarity. We were surprised, elated and more than that relieved, as the post revealed that the trail head was just a mile away. We reached the trail head, but the person supposed to pick us up was expecting us one hour back at the M trail head, We had to continue walking to get hold of somebody to pick us up, it took another hour, we walked and walked to for almost an hour. The total duration we had walked was 13 hours. The total distance just under 25miles(rather than the planned 20miles). We reached home around 8.30pm.

Exhausted. Blisters. Worn muscles.

We had gulped 6 bottles of Gatorade, 4 bottles of water, few oranges, 6 Ibuprofen, Lot of Icy hot, 4 Sandwiches, 4 Bananas down. 

We thought that this should be our last hike, as it was a fitting end for a wonderful summer of hikes. By chance, it snowed 2 days later, making it impossible to hike to Hyalite peak, the next weekend. No qualms. The same snowfall extinguished the fire that broke out after raging for 2days. Thanks to snowfall for a change. Devil had to get a ride next day morning first thing to bring her car back from the trailhead, where she saw rangers evacuating any campers, as there was a possibility of fire spreading through the region.

As this hike posed a fitting end to the number of hikes, I selected this title over others, though all of ‘em would have suited well.

-Santhosh

P.S. There may be some inaccuracies in the blog, as I am writing it down a month after.