The Beaten Path

Some days in the mountains are just plain more fun than others.

Sometimes poor planning comes back to bite you in the ass, sometimes it makes the adventure even better. Thankfully this weekend was the latter. I’d never been to the Beartooths before, but everything I’d heard about the Beaten Path was that it was stellar. It’s a 26 mile thru-hike that bisects the Absaroka-Beartooth range from east to west. The trail gets its notoriety among hikers because it well represents the Beartooth range as a whole, giving you views of everything from the range’s jagged peaks to its deep forested canyons. We both went into this day with high expectations, and it delivered in spades.

I talked my buddy Sam Pannoni into the adventure on short notice — gotta love friends that can make a Friday adventure happen when the call comes on Thursday night.

With my typical half-assed planning we didn’t get out of Missoula until 8 pm on Friday night. But somehow the both of us got most of the essentials into the car, made a quick grocery store stop, grabbed a couple Subway sandwiches and hit the road. High spirits and loud music accompanied us out of Missoula. By the time we hit Cooke City at 2am, though, all we wanted was to find a place to park the car and get a couple hours of sleep.

But all’s well that ends well. I woke up a couple minutes before the 6 am alarm; one of those awesome adventure mornings when your body knows it’s going to be a great day and can’t wait to get it started.

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still dealing with a big toe tendon injury

Our plan was to run the trail from Clarks Fork Trailhead on the Cooke City side to East Rosebud Lake, and back. We had no time goals for the day, but just wanted to see the whole length of the trail and have a good time.

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Sam’s right, the views did suck

The trail never gets too rocky or technical, and just going one way you pass something like 12 or 13 different lakes. They all have their own unique character. I loved this variety. Some were tucked down in narrow, tree-chocked canyons, some up in the sparse alpine plateau, others with rugged cliffs coming right down to their flanks, and yet others spilling cascading waterfalls.

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Dewey Lake

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The day kept to scattered clouds at most, except for a couple hours of light rain once we hit the turnaround point at East Rosebud Lake. But this just toughened our resolve to grind it out — not that you ever really feel that you’re in the grind in this place.

I love how different things can put you in a low spot on a long run, and different things can lift you back up. Sometimes it’s a beautiful sight, sometimes it’s your buddy cracking you up, and sometimes you just turn the mental corner and carry yourself up and out of whatever funk you get into.

Today, it was this couple who we’d seen earlier in the day. When we’d passed them in the morning they were on the trail hiking, but now in the late afternoon they’d found a nice campsite and were hanging around a small fire. They saw us come jogging up in the rain and it was pretty funny to see their reactions when they realized that we were actually doing it end-to-to-end. We laughed a bit, they jokingly offered us some whiskey, and then we were off. The conversation couldn’t of lasted more than a minute, but the smiling faces and good-natured ribbing they gave us was just enough to pull both of us back into a better mental place. I’d daresay I even got close to enjoying the rain for the rest of the hour it lasted.

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Sunset found us just off the plateau after passing Fossil Lake for the second time in the day. We shuffled the next few hours through the dark, endless trees and finally found the car in our headlamps. I can’t remember exactly how long it took us — 15 or 16 hours, I think for 52 miles and roughly 7,700 feet of vertical gain. Pretty good for a ramblin’ Saturday.

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