Saturday brought a great opportunity…it was Raptor Fest here in Bozeman, when hopefully hundreds of birds of prey offer a fly-by along the west side of the Bridgers, for those who are interested in spending some time birding. I heard about a self-guided walk to the peak of the highest ski lift at Bridger Bowl and thought that would make for a great endurance outing. Yep, that it did.
Saturday dawned bright and calm…a perfect walking day, especially after the snow and cold we’ve had. I was on the road to the Bridgers by 10:30am, which turned out to be good timing. I checked at the lodge to be sure of where to go, confirmed that I could start at the gate above the lodge area and proceeded. I was surprised to come across only three cars in the parking lot…Raptor Fest is a big event and I’d figured I’d be hiking with crowds. This is black bear country and they’re always on my mind…I’d been hoping for safety in numbers.
No matter. I hadn’t come this far to call it a day, so I set off up the road after the locked gate.
It was lovely and quiet…not a sound, really, and the road was a gentle climb. I rounded a couple of corners and then came across three couples walking down, who I immediately figured would take care of the three cars in the parking lot, meaning now I was completely on my own.
The road continued and eventually opened up to view of the ski area. A bit later a couple of employees came along on 4-wheelers and I flagged them down to double-check that I was on the right path. After they radioed around a bit, they determined that yes, I was, although there’d been a walking path, apparently marked with signs, beginning at the parking lot. Figured. I can get lost in the woods. I can get lost on a marked path. This is just not good and has to change. Anyway, they pointed out the road/path that I was to follow and we could actually see someone way up ahead. Good. I was no longer alone. And, that person had cleared the way of bears.
So, I was headed up to the peak in the centre of this photo. The road would become more evident as I got further along, but basically it switchbacked across the centre of this scene, until it ran just below the outcrop near the top. It was a good rate of climb for me…I figure I’m about a 2.1 mile/hour walker under exertion. The best for me is to walk and stop as needed, but really, I was delighted with my breathing…steady but not gaspy. All those walks to the M were paying off.
An example of the type of self-guided trail sign that I was to look for and which, when I got on the right path, was nice to see along the way.
Nice to come across just this kind of track and not that of its big, black, hairy and claw-footed distant relative.
All the way up I was walking in a few inches of snow. My hiking boots hadn’t ever seen snow before and I was impressed with how they kept my feet dry. Actually, after today, I’ve changed my mind about wanting a new pair of boots…we’re now completely bonded. More on that in a bit, but by the time I came down all the snow was melted and the road was a bit of a muddy mess. I was very happy that I’d gotten there at the time I had.
More of the road. I realized at this time that I was one of the early walkers…so few footprints ahead of me.
The road, as it begins the long uphill that had been visible from below. I was beginning to think that maybe I’d be at the top at the final turn…in hindsight I’d forgotten that from earlier views that this was obviously not the case. It didn’t really matter…I was still fine and completely enjoying the climb. Such a beautiful day…sunshine and very little wind. I had pulled on my mittens by now, but a short-sleeved t-shirt and vest sufficed. I generate a fair bit of heat while working this hard 🙂
The approach to the “final” corner…only to get here and find…
…that I hadn’t gotten to the edge of the earth just yet. Actually, there was still a fair way to go to reach the top of the chair lift run. I should mention now that even though I’ve skied a bit in the past, it’s not my thing. (I know…living in The Ski Area and not a skier? Sad, but true.) My balance is incredibly wobbly and I don’t leave for a walk without my trusty hiking poles. Anyway, onwards and upwards.
Nearing the top of the chair lift.
Okay, I was there. But, no one else was, except for one guy kind of stumbling down a narrow, mucky and very steep path. Sure enough…more of those self-guided signs were on that path, indicating that that was the route to the top. The guy adjusted his gear and started back up and I confirmed with him that that was the route (while hoping it wasn’t), but, sure enough, that was the way we were to go. He said it was a slick path and a climb for about 20 minutes. I took a look at the mucky beginning of the route and without doubt, knew it wasn’t for me. So, what was it that made me take that first step? Desire to get to the top? Ego? A slight delirious madness at 8700′? To this day I don’t know way I didn’t say ‘good enough,’ enjoy the tremendous view from this point and turn around. But, nope, I got past through the first few muddy runs and started up this…
And, this is my final photo until the top. This part was okay…with concentration it was fine. But, above this the path turned into tight switchbacks on by now a slick trail, sometimes scrambling through narrow rock passages, but at all times, without anything…absolutely nothing…beside the trail. Except straight down. It took my complete focus on each step to keep going. One misstep on a mud-covered rock could spell disaster. I’d never gotten myself into a position like this before…I know the limits of my balance…somehow I’d left all common sense at the top of the chair lift. I’d still like to know why.
Okay, time out here…even though while just typing this my palms are sweaty. Yes, people did pass me. But, even they said they’d be glad to get back to the road. And, yes, I’ve watched YouTube videos of the Bridger Ridge run. People do this kind of stuff here all the time and probably hardly think about it. That’s not my point. I don’t do this kind of stuff. And it was me in well over my head.
The top. Yep, just had to walk this ridge out to that concrete platform. This was the ultimate birding spot for Raptor Fest. The guy in red was establishing a live tv feed, and the three others were recording migrating raptors. I sat in the black chair.
Well, the birds. There’d been about 50 Golden Eagles spotted up till this point. Hey, I’d spotted three Turkey Vultures on my way up. There’d been a bit of a quiet spell until around now, when Golden Eagles were showing up again. I snapped a picture of one (below), but the bird doesn’t show up…instead, it’s a view of the Gallatin Valley. Note that we’re above the treetops. Well, we’re on the ridge, so that makes sense. There’s no where higher to be.
And, a view to the other side, toward Bridger Bowl ski resort.
Part of the count board shows up here. The birders had certainly seen a nice variety of migrants. I sat there and tried to concentrate on birding. The wind was a bit stronger and I almost put on my jacket, but really, my body kind of took over from my mind at that point. My fingers took off my sunglasses – they had been sliding all over the place on the sweaty way up – and put them in my backpack, then they packed away my mittens, so I could have a firm grasp on my hiking poles – and then, although my totally naive plan had been to have lunch up here, I stood up. All I could think about was not getting cold and freezing up and being even further wobbly and really, I just told myself that I had to get back down to the road. The longer I sat there, the more overcome I was becoming. So, my body just got me up and taking those first steps.
Actually, at this point on my camera roll I have a picture of myself. I took it because I thought, well, if this is it for me, maybe someone will find my iPhone and my family will have a last picture of me looking happy. Oh, so dramatic, I guess, but that was my thought process. I won’t post the picture here…I’m smiling, but looking totally stressed out. It’s a keeper, though, and one I’ll look at in the future, to remember.
So. On my way. It was a matter of talking out loud to myself. Okay…you took that step so now you’re that much further down. Lean…lean into the mountain. Watch that rock. Pick up each foot…no stumbling. Okay, here’s the scramble section. Switchback and lean. And on and on….actually gaining a little confidence as I got past the sticky spots, but being careful to not get too confident…one misstep and I’d be in trouble. Accidents happen.
And, then I was through the final slippery section and back at the top of the chair lift.
I called our daughter from here, and although she hadn’t known what I’d been through, I just had to talk with someone. Such relief. From here I was looking back down at the ski lodge (by the distant pond) and the walk back down seemed like a stroll in the park.
I took a picture of myself at this point, too, and such relief on my face. I’ll post it here, in tiny format 🙂
After this, it was just the walk down. A look up at where I’d been…
…before a much-needed lunch stop on a huge old tree, looking down to the lodge.
One last look up to where I’d been…
…basically to the centre top of this photo. I found the proper path on the way down, complete with many more signs marking the way. I have to do better. And then, the carpark, by now a very welcome sight.
My mud-caked hiking boots and poles. My new best friends. I think I’ll keep them.
And, what it was all about…
Or, was it? I set out anticipating a great walk. I got that. Why did I go beyond my abilities? I’ve had to wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans a couple of times just while recounting this. I’m not the “I did it!” kind of person. Guess maybe I’ll figure it out over time. Meanwhile, I spent a great deal of time the next day, sitting in a comfy lawn chair right here….
This, too, was a perfect day.