Let me add a little context here before we go any further… I have NEVER been backpacking before. My mom says that’s not true and that we backpacked when I was little near Cultus Lake, but even then they had to bribe me with Skittles the whole way and I seem to have completely blocked the entire experience. I have enjoyed camping the few times I’ve gone but, much like my good friend Katie, my idea of camping involves a roller suitcase full of beer and an air mattress. So when Paige told me we were backpacking in and then camping, I said yes more to prove to myself that I could do it than because I actually had a deep desire to lug a huge backpack around for 10 miles. Anyway – I have no experience with backpacking, but even I know that it starts getting dark at 9:30pm and is pitch black at 10:15pm. That would mean that we would need to hike just under 5 miles in less than 2 hours. Even then, we’d be setting up camp in the dark. But Justin had faith that we could make it in time so off we went.
Now, this hike had been chosen because our good friend Joe Blattner had told Justin that it was “super easy,” that he had “hiked it with his mom” and that anyone could easily “do this hike in the dark.” The hiking book classified the hike as moderate and described some pretty tough terrain. But we took Joe’s word for it. I mean, if his MOM could do it, why couldn’t we? We found out soon enough that Joe is either a HUGE LIAR or his mom is one tough cookie. This was not so much a hike, as an obstacle course. The majority of the trail is part of a Wilderness Area, which means no motorized vehicles of any kind can enter, which means no roads, no bridges, no nothing. This left us climbing steep rock walls, stepping over dozens of fallen trees and fording up to twenty or so streams and creeks. Sometimes we were on the trail, sometimes we were just off-roading it.
As expected, come 9:30pm it starts getting dark. I’m a little concerned but Justin keeps telling us that if it gets too dark we’ll just set up camp in a clearing by the side of the trail. About 9:45pm we head into a forested area. In my mind, this forest was a straight-up Blair Witch, Princess Bride, completely FREAKY forest. I was already creeped out enough by the “trail markers” (i.e. Blair Witch rocks), but to make matters worse now I can’t see, we’re wading through fast-flowing creeks, I’m having to carry Jackson (who so far had been a ROCK STAR) and then the worst of the worst happens – Justin goes DOWN. Justin is our leader, our captain. The only one who knows at all what he’s doing and all of a sudden he’s laying on the trail with horrible leg cramps. Justin had the heaviest pack by far and was carrying all the weight on his shoulders since his hip strap was broken. Paige, being an excellent wife, took control (while I’m fighting back tears for the 3rd time) and switched packs with Justin so we could keep moving and get out of the trees.
Once we were out, we found a clearing and immediately set up camp. I had been warned that this was bear country (there was a sign about it at the trailhead and Justin always has bear spray on him, but it was really put into perspective for me while we were hoisting all our food into the trees and peeing half a mile from camp so the bears wouldn’t smell us. So now there’s the Blair Witch AND bears to worry about. So we all pile into the tent with the dogs and try to sleep. But of course I can’t sleep because 1. I’m terrified 2. I’m sleeping on the ground 3. It’s freezing cold 4. Animals are walking around outside our tent. Do I sound like a baby yet? It will get worse. I took a picture right before we went to sleep just to prove that we had made it and were still alive so far...
So the morning finally arrives. Justin has been up for a long time, has purified some water for us and is cooking breakfast. Everyone feels much better in the daylight and we were all pleasantly surprised to find that we had set up camp in a gorgeous location next to a creek and surrounded by mountains. After we ate and packed up camp, we hiked the remaining quarter of a mile to Little Rock Creek Lake. The lake was incredibly scenic and spilled over on one side in gorgeous waterfalls that almost looked man made. Paige and I changed into our swimsuits and laid out by the waterfalls with the dogs while Justin did some fly-fishing. I wanted nothing more after a few hours of relaxation then to get dressed, get in a car and drive home. But NOOOO, we have a five-mile hike ahead of us to get home.
The hike back was long, but was mostly downhill and was light the whole way. We didn’t really talk much – all of us just wanted to get back to the car and have it all be over. Justin’s back and shoulders were really hurting him and Paige was in serious danger of losing a toenail. I had rolled my ankle upwards of 10 times and was weaving dangerously along the trail. Finally, we think we’re getting close but what we all forgot was that to get into the valley that led to Little Rock Creek Lake, we had to hike down a steep hill for quite a while. And that means we had to hike back UP that hill to get out. This wasn’t a normal hike up hill. This was a fricking alpine trek. Paige is very good at just walking steadily along uphill, whereas I have bursts of energy and then have to rest every 20 feet or so. She eventually left me and, as I turned to look uphill for the 40th time, I felt ridiculously nauseas and vomited on the spot. It was kind of like red water, which concerned me. I mean, I’d had red bell peppers earlier in the day but it just as easily could have been blood. We’ll never know for sure…
Three and a half hours later, we were back in the car with the air conditioner blasting, drinking gallons of water and checking the dog’s breathing to make sure they were still alive. Overall, there were some good moments. There were also some frustrating moments. And some terrifying moments. Definitely a memorable 24 hours if nothing else. My goal for the next few weeks is to find a book entitled “Super Easy Montana Backpacking Trips.” Then maybe, MAYBE, we’ll give this backpacking thing another go.