Friday, 20 June 2014

August Wilderness Trip, Site Selection: Beartooth Mountains

Every year when I a start planning our annual wilderness backpacking trip I have that "Aha" moment when I find "the right route".  After reviewing potential sites in Fitzpatrick Wilderness in Wyoming as well as a few spots in the Tetons, I cast my gaze northwards and eventually settled on a spot in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains of Montana.  The scenery and wild nature of this vast wilderness rivals nearly any spot in the lower 48.  For an idea of what some of this scenery looks like, check out the photos from this website:

After I had decided that the Beartooths were likely the best spot, I then needed to select the right route.  My travelling companions will agree that I have a tendency to pick some pretty strenuous routes, whereby we end up staring at the ground, gasping for air while we spend the better part of each day huffing it up the mountains.  This time, I'm determined to find the right balance between covering good distance and time for exploration!  I ordered and read this guide to hiking in the beartooths and started looking at potential routes:

The criteria for our ideal route is simple:
1) Great scenery
2) Isolation
3) Long enough to get away from the crowds, but short enough to allow for time to explore

Based on the guide book, I think that the best trail for us is the route from the East Rosebud Trailhead to Clarks Fork Trailhead.  Unlike our previous trips, this route is not a loop, but instead a one way trip from one trailhead to another, which will involve some shuffling of cars.  The guide book describes this route as traveling through the heart of the Beartooth Mountains and the trail is studded with sparkling blue alpine lakes.  The entire trail is just over 45km, including side trips, and if we are spending 6 nights along the trail, this gives us plenty of time to explore!

Getting to this wilderness area will be half the battle! Google Maps puts it at approximately 26hrs drive from the Guelph area, and we are gonna do this non-stop! Mike, Jensen and I will be heading from Ontario and Kyle will be doing a solo run from Victoria, B.C.

We will leave the Guelph area on Friday August 8th, arrive at the Beartooth Mountains late on Sunday night, drop Kyle's Jeep at the Clarks Fork Trailhead, drive to Red Lodge with Mike's car and stay in a hotel until Sunday morning when we will continue to our starting point at the East Rosebud Trailhead.

Here is a google maps of the approximate trail we will be taking.  Sunday morning will involve us starting from the East Rosebud Trailhead and hiking a fair distance to our first camp at Ranibow Lake.  The first half of the trail will be the most strenuous since it is mostly uphill.  On day 2 we will continue down the main trail until we reach a spot where I am planning to jump off trail for a bit to head to Medicine Lake where we will stay on Monday night.  On Tuesday we can continue on to Cairn Lake or stay at Medicine Lake if we like it.  This area is supposed to have some spectacular scenery, so we will want to spend a couple nights in the area (Tuesday and Wednesday night).  On Thursday we will continue down the trail to Fossil Lake where we will stay Thursday night, and Friday night will be halfway to the trailhead.  The last leg of the trip is the least scenic, and is all downhill, so we can make good time out to the trailhead.  We can then leave on Saturday morning for home.  The nice thing about wilderness areas is that there are no designated campsites, which gives you the freedom to select your own sites and adjust your route according to how you are feeling.

We are all excited about our third annual backpacking trip together. 2012: New Mexico, 2013: Colorado, 2014: MONTANA!

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