Beartooths 2023 - Day 6

2024-06-01 | 7 min read

We woke up at a normal time and the tent was dry. No strong winds had come in the night and we had slept great.

As we got ready for the day we talked about where we were headed. The next day would be a trip to Cooke City to resupply, so we wanted to get as close to the town as we could. If we hiked all the way to the trailhead and then crossed the Beartooth Highway we would reach Chief Joseph Campground and stay the night there. Then tomorrow we would only be 3 miles from Cooke City. It would be 17 miles to reach the campground, but we agreed we wanted to go for it.

After enjoying a cookies and creme Pop Tart for breakfast we set out for the day. We had about 7 miles of uphill and then 10 miles of downhill.

The beauty from the day before continued. We hiked around many lakes and marveled at their beauty. Some looked shallow, and some looked deep. Some had roaring waterfalls feeding them, and some had gentle creeks feeding them. One lake in particular, Duggan Lake, had named falls: Impasse Falls. From the distance, they looked cool, but as we hiked up to the top of them we realized there was a nice pool at the bottom that we could have taken a swim at. Next time. We stopped for a snack break at the top of the falls.

As we hiked on we came across Fossil Lake. It was a large lake with many inlets and rocks. It was hard to tell that it was all one lake, but according to the map it was. We took a longer snack break here as it was the end of the uphill and the start of the downhill.

Hiking down we again passed many lakes. Our favorite was Bald Knob Lake. It was beautiful and looked to have some great campsites. Next time we’ll have to stay there.

As we got closer to the trailhead we passed some other hikers and some horses. The first people we had seen since the morning before in East Rosebud. Our pace also slowed down. Logan had a tight knee and the downhill was not helpful.

Getting closer to Kersey Lake, the last lake we were to pass, the trail turned into a horse hoof mud festival. It was not super muddy, but it had been when the horses went through and it had dried into a fun mess that made it hard to walk on. We hiked on thinking of the campground for the night (pit toilets!) and Cooke City tomorrow.

As we neared the trailhead we came to a bridge across the river with several steps on the other side. Logan could barely bend his tight knee to go up the steps and was in a lot of pain if he tried to bend it. Thankfully we were almost to the trailhead so we would soon be done for the day.

We stopped briefly at the trailhead to read the info sign and we saw that, just like our map, Chief Joseph Campground was right across the highway. We set off up the little drive to the highway, but when we got there the campground was nowhere to be found. There was maybe an old road across the highway, but it had a bunch of stumps and downed trees on it. Apparently, the campground didn’t exist. This was a problem. Logan needed to be done for the day. We couldn’t camp at the trailhead because it said no camping. We decided that we needed to be done with the entire trip due to Logan’s knee, but we wanted to get through the night before we figured out how to get 17 miles back to our car.

On the map, there was another campground 1.5 miles away. We decided that we’d head there. I would hike faster and Logan would go at whatever pace was comfortable for him. Then I could come back and take his pack to make it easier. Off I went. As I got closer I saw a sign that said “No Tents” for the campground. Great. I didn’t want to turn around because we still needed to go somewhere, so I continued on. When I reached the campground it said hard-sided camping only (RVs) and mentioned known grizzly bear activity. I decided that our best bet was to go to Cooke City. In the gravel entry to the campground I scrapped “WENT TO COOKE CITY - JON” with my trekking pole so Logan would know where I went.

A short bit up the road I spotted a man out walking his dog. I approached him and asked if he knew of anyone who could give us a ride to our car. I offered that we could pay as well. I also asked if there was anywhere to pitch a tent. He said because of the grizzly bears there wasn’t a spot anywhere nearby to pitch our tent. He pointed me across the highway to where I could find a forest ranger.

I headed over to where the forest ranger would be and knocked on the door. Campsite hosts were inside and he said he could take us back to our car. I got into his Jeep and we headed out to pick up Logan. He was not far away and we loaded his gear into the vehicle. We set off down the highway to our car. It was after sunset at this point so we got to see the glow of the sun over the mountain peaks as we drove.

Arriving at our car we thanked the man for giving us a ride and offered him some money to cover the trouble. He refused and told us to pay it forward. We said our goodbyes and got into our car.

We were bummed to be done earlier than planned, but thankful for everything we had been able to do. Over 90 miles of hiking. Some of the most beautiful views. And we had gotten to hike The Beaten Path. No trip goes 100% to plan, and this trip proved that point. We had a blast, and we’ll definitely be coming back to hike in the Beartooths again. It might be my favorite backpacking trip so far.