Montana 2001 Backpaking trip to the Beartooth Wilderness


3 at Island Lake This is us at the trailhead for our 2001 expedition. We are at the Island Lake Trailhead, at 9,500 feet, just off the Beartooth Highway. A little smarter this year, we only planned a 7 mile hike. Of course the hike after we set up camp nearly killed us, but more on that later.


On the way This is about 2 miles up the trailhead. Time for our first break to stop and enjoy the scenery. Pretty amazing, if you ask me. Even if you don't ask me, it's still pretty amazing.


Scott and I Just finishing up our first break about 2 miles in. My lungs have let me know that we are at high altitude by wheezing and such. That, and I was not in the greatest of shape.


Waterfall in the Distance If you look carefully, there is a waterfall falling into the lake in the distance. As a note to self, that lake would be a great day hike if one had limited time.


Becker Lake About 5 miles after leaving the trailhead, we came across Becker Lake. When I think of the Beartooths, this is the picture that comes to mind. Steep cliffs and deep lakes with tons of fish.


Campsite This is where we finally set up camp. Beautiful view from our tents, and in the only trees at the lake. You see, Albino Lake is at 10,000 feet, which is above normal timberline. That, and we camped about 100 feet above the lake. A long walk down to water, but shelter was more important as winds buffeted the area often during the afternoon.


Lonesome Mountain This is Lonesome Mountain with Albino lake in the foreground. You can see better how high off the lake we really were, and the barreness of the land at that altitude. Only saw a few people, which is always one of the best parts.


Lonesome Mountain The shoreline around the lake had very deep drop-offs which can make for great fishing. We all caught quite a few cutthroat trout and really didn't have to work for them. They were all in the 10-14 inch range, and all relatively well fed it appeared.


Baby Goat Woke up one morning to some visitors near our campsite. We counted 14 mountain goats at one time, including this baby one. They tried to befriend us, but I am skeptical of any friends with pointy horns on their head.


Mountain Goat This mountain goat decided to strike a pose for us on a rock. What a show off. The picture turned out well with the sun rays and such.
Mountain Goat 2


Jasper Lake This was the beginning of our hike of death explained at the bottom of this page. It started out innocently enough with a gorgeous view of Jasper Lake, just north of Albino Lake.


Cliff we climbed On the left edge of this picture, you can see part of the cliff we climbed. Unfortuneately, we don't have a full picture of it, because by the time we thought a picture might be nice, we were a little busy hanging on for dear life.


South from on top of the cliff This is the most beautiful picture I have ever seen. Sure, the scenery is nice, but this is from the top of the cliff, after our near death experiences. I never thought I would have a view like this again, or any other view, for that matter.


Albino Lake This was the view coming back into camp after our dayhike of death. Our tent was just above the patch of trees across the lake. As you can see, this was really the only shelter at the lake. Notice the whole mountain, except for where we camped has slid into the lake. We didn't see that until this, our last evening. I slept a little less easily, that's for sure.


Sunset A nice sunset that Nate was able to capture off the mountain behind our tents. It's hard to find a bad camping spot in the Beartooth Mountains.


Ok, here's the story as to why we are headless in this picture. At our camping spot next to Albino lake in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, we awoke one morning and thought. I protested the thinking part, but was voted down. It was decided that we should take a gander around Lonesome Mountain that afternoon. Seemed easy enough, especially if the other side of the mountain was like the side we could see from the lake. If you don't see the logic, check a few pictures down and see that the side of Lonesome Mountain that we could see looked promising. Anyhoo, we made our way across the other side of the lake to the saddle on the north side of Albino Lake. The views were spectacular, but someone who shall remain nameless wanted a "peak experience" as he called it. So, as we began to make our way around the other side of the mountain, we came across a huge boulder field. Normally this would have been a stupid thing to try to cross, but the lack of oxygen having gotten to our brains by now, we decided to pick our way across the 1/2 mile rockslide. Now, to Nate's credit, he was against the whole climbing the rockslide part. However, with much cajoling from Scott and myself (basically calling his manhood into question) he decided to follow us.

After crossing the field, things still did not look promising for Scott's "peak experience". Oops, I named him. Oh well, serves him right for making us continue. (At least that's the version I remember). We pressed on making our way around the mountain. As we rounded the next bend, a sight that we were not amused by suddenly loomed in our way; a sixty foot cliff. A quick survey of the situation gave us 3 options. 1. Go back the way we came, including the rockslide. 2. Take an extra 3-mile hike to get around the cliff the other way, or 3. Climb the cliff.

We were already tired from hiking as far as we had, so we immediately ruled out the extra 3-mile hike. It was then either backtrack or climb. Now Scott at this point decided that the "peak experience" was not as important as he thought it was, so he voted to go back. Nate and myself, having narrowly escaped death on that rockslide, voted to try the cliff. We did not realize at the time that we would again narrowly escape death by climbing the cliff. There was much protest coming from Scott, but his manhood was now being called into question, so he caved. I went up the left side, and Nate and Scott went up the right side. It turned out there really was no "right" side. All sides were very, very wrong. The route Scott and Nate took was up a crevice in the cliff, with Nate leading the way. Part way up, a rock that he thought would make a good foothold gave way, nailing Scott in the chest. Both managed to hang on, but not without a few funny noises in the process.

Meanwhile, around the corner a bit, I had managed to reach a point about 10 feet from the top. It was at this point that my handholds stopped appearing. I was standing on a 4 inch wide ledge looking for somewhere to grab on to. I saw the spot about 10 feet to my right. So, pressed against the cliff face, I scooted over to perceived safety. As soon as my hands reached the new handholds, the ledge I was standing on gave way, causing no uncertain panic in myself. My hands now had a good hold, but my feet had decided to take up swinging. Realizing that this was no place to test my new handholds, I managed to get my feet to a more solid ledge and finished scurrying to the top. I reached top just after Nate, and just before Scott.

We took a few minutes to reflect on our near death experience, then decided to finish the journey. Well, after another 4 relatively uneventful miles, we reached camp with a new appreciation for life. We then realized that by next year the fear would have subsided and we'd probably forget that doing stuff like that is stupid. That's what makes our trips so memorable, we tell ourselves, with a nagging foreboding that next year will hold some surprises as well.


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