Walking with Mountain Goats

Yesterday turned out to be quite the day.  Jeff and I decided to try our skills at walking to the highest peak in the Bridgers – Sacagawea (sorry to my North Dakota buddies for using the local spelling).  The peak sits at 9,600′

To get to the trailhead you’d take the turn off for Fairy Lake road, which is a fairly good road for the first three miles or so, but then turns into a collection of potholes and ruts interspersed with pointy rocks and boulders.  It amazes me that folks travel this road in sedans, but then we live among extreme everythings.

So, after that bone-jarring ride, we arrived at the parking lot for the Fairy Lake campground and found the trailhead. We were anticipating a four-mile walk, taking about four hours, with a 2,000′ gain.

The trail at the beginning was a soft path through a forest – so nice after so many rocky paths of late.  We began to climb above the tree line in a bit and here, with Jeff in the lead, you can get a feel for the angle we were beginning to climb…


In short time we were high enough that snow was still present.  This “back side” of the Bridgers is colder than our valley side and gets tons of snow in the winter…but it was a surprising sight.


Our vista then opened up to the where we were headed – the “saddle” between Hardscrabble Peak on the right, here, and the trail to Sacagawea on the left.


A little closer and you can see some of the switchbacks that we’d be taking to reach the saddle


This climb wasn’t too bad at all…the switchbacks tempered the angle of climb.  The only trouble I had was at the corner at a couple of the turns, where I really couldn’t see good places to plant my feet for the next step.  What I keep in mind when I begin to stall out like that and before a sense of doom begins to set in…is that bizillions of people have been in these places before me, without (reported) incident, so just dig in and keep moving.

So, with that in mind, we reached the saddle and had the view of our climb on one side…


…and a view of the Gallatin Valley on the other…


Hardscrabble Peak was to the north and to the south was the path we were to take, to Sacagawea…


The trail straight ahead is the path to the peak, which is toward the left in the distance.  It starts out fine, just a little climb and weaves its way around the ridge in the distance before turning sharply toward Sacagawea.  The last 1000 yds or so are a bit more challenging, at least for me, in that the path becomes steep and somewhat slippery at the beginning and then turns into sizeable rocks that a walker picks his/her way through. And, the rocks move. My strategy was to get up each section as fast as I could, before my boots could slip and then rest before tackling the next section.  Worked going up, and at this point, I forced myself to not think about going down 🙂

So, at the top, where a walker is treated to a 360 degree view…to the south, the Bridger range…


…and to the north, Hardscrabble Peak and beyond.  You can see the switchbacks we followed to reach the saddle.  They’re so well-defined it almost looks like I drew them on the photo.  Well-used path.


It was a clear day and we could see the Crazy Mountains to the east and the Tobacco Roots to the west.

Of course, the photos of each of us on the peak of Sacagawea…


…and Jeff, looking completely at home at 9,600’…


Here’s a shot of looking along the ridge of the Bridgers, complete with its natural inhabitants – mountain goats!  Definitely more their home than mine, but they kindly shared the small peak.  I don’t know the natural disposition of this creature, but I was thankful that these two individuals, which looked to be a mother and a yearling, weren’t about to try bunting us out of their space.  There was only one way to be tossed.


Also in this path you can see the ridge path – the route taken by the Bridger Ridge Race runners, an annual event taking place every second Saturday of August.  The racers tear up the route we’d followed, go through their first check-in on the peak of Sacagawea and then roar down the south side, heading for the path you can see and beyond, toward the finish line at The M, just under 20 miles to the south.  They’re incredible athletes and someday I’d like to be at check-in station along the ridge just to watch them go by.  The fastest complete the race in around 3:30 hours; others up to eight hours.  Really something.

Time came to face the downward walk, so we set off, with me creeping along.  I have no pride nor form when it comes to crawling down a slippery mountain…my goal is simply to make it without breaking any part of me, which I managed, once again, to do.  A stop for a photo, looking south along the Bridgers…


….and another, looking toward the Gallatin Valley…


…and then it was back on the path toward the saddle (with Hardscrabble Peak ahead).


We stopped at the saddle for lunch and had a look back up at Sacagawea while we dined…


…and then started down the dreaded switchbacks.  I finally met one walker among the hundreds we’ve passed on trails, with some common sense.  She was stalled out and sitting at a switchback corner, in fear.  She had a friend with her, so she was fine, but I could completely sympathize.  I think she and I are the sensible ones…realizing the significance of the situation we’ve wandered into.  Anyway…she slowly made her way down and I continued to do my best imitation of a mountain goat…


…and after this it was a matter of walking back down through the forest, to the parking lot.  We decided that we should see Fairy Lake since we were so close, so we walked down a short path for a photo…


…and then back at the parking lot we walked down a set of steps to the lake.  We rested a bit there, enjoying such an unusual environment for the Bridgers, before tackling the drive out and the drive home, during which I promptly fell asleep.

Jeff and I celebrated our accomplishment by going out to the locally owned Campania Pizza place, for a delicious meal of guilt-free calories.  A side benefit and a nice end to a nice day.

PS: Mountain Dog sat this one out.  She has tummy troubles and her tummy was in full-out gurgling mode in the morning.  She was quite content to sleep in her kennel, with promises of great walks ahead.


About walksandrambles

My love of walking began in 2005, when, travelling with my Girl Scout troop to Switzerland, I joined a group of Norwegians for a day, to walk up Elsignenalp. I wasn't at all sure I could make it, but the guide was kind and through her encouragement, started out. It was an all-day affair for me and I was always the last one, but this didn't matter a bit...I'd found my new love! No photos exist for this...the camera went missing on a train...but I remember toasting myself with a cup of tea from my thermos at the top...it was a day of tough work and pure pleasure. If you walk, you know what I mean!
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