Beartooths 2023 - Day 5

2024-05-25 | 8 min read

We woke up around ten or eleven PM to strong winds accompanied by thunder, lightning, and rain. The wind gusts were so strong they were bowing the tent in on us. We lay there wide awake praying the tent would hold and that the storm would pass. About an hour later things finally calmed down. We both got out of the tent to look around and could see stars directly ahead. We could also see the storm still traveling off in the distance.

We woke up again around one or two to strong wind. This time there was no thunder, lightning, or rain. The wind battered our tent relentlessly while it bowed in enough to hit our legs. We weren’t sure how much the tent could take or if it would stay staked down. The wind first came in gusts with breaks in between, but eventually, it was continuous with no breaks.

We took turns holding up the tent against the wind until around 6 AM when we decided we might as well take down the tent and head out. We stuffed our gear into our backpacks and I ran them out of the tent to a location with less wind. Logan stayed in the tent to hold it down while I carefully took it down making sure not to lose anything to the wind.

Once we had everything packed away we set off down the trail. We would have breakfast someplace with less wind. We were tired from the lack of sleep, but we hiked on. Sidenote: the tent we were using was a Big Agnes Copper Spur. My hat goes off to Big Agnes. The tent held firm in crazy winds and didn’t break. It’s probably been used for over 100 nights, so it’s not like it’s a tent fresh from the factory.

The wind continued as we hiked, but in the shelter of trees, it was much more manageable. After a short while, we caught the first view of East Rosebud, our next destination. We hiked down into the valley and into the East Rosebud campground. As we entered the campground we could smell breakfast being cooked. A couple greeted us as we walked and talked with us about the storm and the trail ahead. Once our conversation was done we headed to a picnic table to eat our breakfast and repack our hastily packed backpacks. For me, breakfast was a Snickerdoodle pop tart. It didn’t really taste like a Snickerdoodle at all. Next to the pit toilets, we spotted trash cans! We could dump our trash off and not have to keep carrying it! This would surely shave off an ounce or two.

The next section of the trail was something we’d been looking forward to, but was also an unknown. This section of the trail is called “The Beaten Path” and is the most famous of the routes in the Beartooths. It’s 26 miles going through the Beartooths with some of the most spectacular views the wilderness has to offer. The section was the main reason we were doing this hike. We didn’t want to do an out-and-back of the trail, so we were doing a loop that included it. The unknown part was due to some flooding in 2022. It had washed out portions of the first 6 miles from East Rosebud and had also taken out a bridge across a lake at mile 6. I had talked to a ranger and they had said crews had trails all the way to Elk Lake, about 3.5 miles in. After that the trail was “rock scrambles” and there wasn’t much more said. It was passable as long as we were willing to wade across where the bridge was out. We’d give it a shot, but we also knew this might mean we’d have to turn around if we couldn’t find the trail or if the rock scrambling was too much.

We set off down the trail and the mountains opened up to us. They towered above us in awe-inspiring beauty. The kind that takes your breath away because it’s so spectacular. This continued for the length of the trail for the day. The mountains towered ever higher the farther we went and we seemed more and more insignificant.

As we hiked could see the damage from the flood. Huge swaths of mountainside cut away. Massive fields of rocks showed where the creek had flooded, and they dwarfed the current creek flow. We could tell in different places where the trail had been fixed.

We eventually hit what used to be Elk Lake and we stopped for a short break. We’d never seen Elk Lake before, but now it looked mostly like some mud with different branches of the creek flowing through it. The mud must have been washed there from upstream.

As we left Elk Lake the trail abruptly ended. Time for “rock scrambling.” I use Gaia GPS to plan all my hikes, and I had the app on my phone to help here. I followed where the trail should have been through the current creek bed and we eventually joined up with a section of the trail that had survived the flood. Continuing one we went back and forth a couple of times between trail and washed out trail. Most of the time there were cairns someone had placed that guided us along. Without the cairns, the day would have been a lot harder. As we neared a steep section of the trail I was worried it was washed away and we wouldn’t be able to make it up a steep rock scramble. Thankfully, the last mile or so of the trail to Rimrock Lake (the lake at mile 6 with the bridge out) was fully intact save for two feet that had washed away and left the trail with a several hundred-foot drop. We stepped around the two feet and continued on.

Once at Rimrock, there were some logs across where the lake turned into the creek. Gusts of wind made the crossing hard, but we made it without issue. With the washed-out section complete we took a well-deserved break and thanked God that we had made it without issue.

Two short, uneventful miles later we arrived at our campsite for the night near Rainbow Lake. It was still quite windy out, so we found a tent site that was well sheltered from the wind. We were excited because tonight we didn’t need to hang a bear bag. All of our smellables fit in our bear cans! After we set up camp we relaxed and finished off our snacks for the day. I enjoyed a nice “Dad's Root beer” drink mix which is quite good - at least good to my trail taste (as we all know, things on the trail taste much better than off the trail because you’re quite hungry and almost anything will taste good). Next up was a dip in the lake. I didn’t stay in long because of how cold it was and how cold the wind made it, but it was nice and refreshing.

After a dinner of pasta and salmon, we headed to bed. Due to the lack of sleep from the night before we had lots of sleeping to do.

  • Watch: 72%
  • Phone: 51%
  • GPS: 56%