The trip didn't go exactly to plan... really, what does these days.
Nine days turned into four when my hiking partner hurt his back. And four days turned into three when reality set in.
In the end, it was a wonderful trip. I'm so glad I got to spend some time up in the mountains after keeping my nose dutifully in study books for the last few months (and before it gets stuck back there again).
Matt and Mandy are first time backpackers (and friends) who had planned a trip for the same time as mine. So I just tagged along with them.
Their plan was to climb Blacktooth. Mandy laughs pretty hard at this idea now.
While it doesn't necessarily take technical climbing skills, there are plenty of mountain men in these parts who've never made it up there because of the necessary congruence of weather, season and time for a successful summit.
I never had the heart to tell them they definitely wouldn't make it, I love people who dream big. And besides, miracles do happen. Just not on this trip!
I went along for the ride. While I was sure we weren't going to summit, I wasn't sure how far we'd get. The Bighorns have a number of trails which are neither designated nor maintained, so it all depended on our luck (which didn't end up being very good in this respect).
Originally we had planned to spend Friday night at the trailhead, but Mandy and Matt weren't ready to go until Saturday morning (again, first time is always the toughest!). So we only made it to the pass before Highland Park before we needed to camp Saturday evening.
It was a tough trip up and up and up. And Matt must have been carrying close to 70 pounds! I like to keep my pack around 40, although it was really closer to 45.
One advantage to going with novices, however, is that they overestimate what they can comfortably carry. And so these lovelies carried up massive T-Bone steaks for all! Mmmm! I could hardly eat any of the instant mashed sweet potatoes that I had brought!
The night went a little rough. I moved my tent at midnight because the wind was too harsh and my tent was so low the side would hit me with a particularly stiff gust. Additionally, going from Sheridan at 3,743 ft above sea level to the pass at 10,350 ft was apparently a little too much.
A slight headache, a little nausea and a heartbeat that wouldn't go below 100 bpm all night kept me company (although I was super awake to move my tent because of it!). I let Matt and Mandy know how I was feeling, just in case the altitude sickness worsened.
We all had visions of packing up in complete darkness and moving to a lower elevation at 3 AM, but fortunately, I ended up feeling pretty good. So we decided the following morning to continue on, but only to go as far as Peggy Lake since that would drop us below 10,000 feet for the next night.
Trail markers that change direction with the wind and vague trails made the hike a little difficult (we actually didn't end up following the official trail at all beyond this point).
Monkshood is one flower I recognize from my childhood hiking the Wasatch in Utah. It was nice to be in a place so wild and yet so familiar.
The pikas chatted through the evening and started up again in the morning. They're one of many sub-alpine species most directly affected by climate change.
We followed trails to the lake where we were going to camp, but they weren't official trails. They didn't always go where we wanted and they didn't always continue.
We got to the campsite after going the long way around another lake and some serious boulder hopping (east, west, left, right, what's the difference!).
Indian Paintbrush, another childhood memory.
I occupied myself with photography while Matt kindly pumped water from Highland Lake. I think he felt it was his penance since I had carried water up the mountain that he and Mandy ended up needing (I don't think I estimated how much I needed very well the first time out either).
Other than hiking, I also filled my time with NOTHING! I literally sat on rocks and looked at the view (rocks plural because I had to move every few minutes because of the mosquitos). It was sooooo luxurious!