In America, they like their three day weekends, much more than longer breaks, so instead of what I am used to having for Easter – a few weeks off – we had one Friday off classes. So, aiming to make the most of it, we gathered together a group of friends with a range of nationalities: British, Kiwi, American, Australian and Irish, sorted out tents, food and transport and after a few hiccups, by 9.30am on the Friday we set off on our adventure.
We had a convoy of three cars; Mine and Sean’s Chevy, Lee’s Jeep and Ollie’s Van. The road trip was marked with classic country songs, some strange experimental pop and some old classics. We had a total of 8 in our car (full capacity) along with tents, duvets, sleeping bags and enough food to feed an army. We headed south west to the wilderness, excited for the weekend’s adventures.
The drive wasn’t too long as far as America standards go so we arrived in the Absoroka Beartooth Wilderness pretty early after a sketchy drive down some backcountry roads, with signs dotted along it warning of bears and various other wildlife. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies but a little bit chilly once we got out of the cars. We had planned to hike the Pine Creek Trail (more info can be found here) which we were told was around 10 miles up and down, with a lake at the top of the mountain to greet us.
Hiking is interesting for me, I really love the idea of it; I love being outdoors, walking and seeing the views, but I was not raised on mountains, the air is much thinner here and as you climb, it gets harder to breathe. I find I usually lose my breath near the beginning since my body is not adjusted and then by the time we have been going for a while, I adapt to the air and actually start to enjoy it. Then it gets steep and tough and even the experienced hikers are catching their breath, then you reach the top and see beautiful views and start to think; why don’t I hike more? It’s a funny little cycle. But deep down, I do really love the rush I get when I reach the top of a tough hike and see the views I get rewarded with.
We began the hike once we had all regrouped and it was really beautiful, with the views getting better with each curve in the trail (I have been told by american friends that these are called ‘switchbacks’), the group spilt off into lots of little ones with some of the faster ones speeding up ahead – this was inevitable with there being so many of us.
I think we hiked for around 5/6 hours in total and all the way up this mountainous trail, reaching the first ‘landmark’ of the trail was cool, a huge waterfall which some of us climbed up the side of, and subsequently witnessed a waterfall ice avalanche – pretty unexpected and made us all jump out of our skins.
We climbed over rivers and hiked through deep deep snow – none of us had prepared with snow grips so it was tricky to keep upright at some points but really fun, and lots of sliding over, bambi jokes and laughing at each other ensued. Also a few snowball fights too! Definitely had the upper hand being in front – hills are quite the advantage. The climb was hard in parts but the views just kept on getting better – sounding more and more like a cliche these days!
The groups got further and further apart but we were hoping to make it to the lake, we kept on climbing and made a lot of progress but after sitting down for a break and watching rocks and snow merging together as they picked up speed and fell off the mountain, we realised that we were in an avalanche zone and shortly before 3.30, a couple of others from our group met us on their way down after they had witnessed an avalanche which made us all decide that despite the fact that we wanted to reach the lake, it probably wasn’t worth the risk and we also wanted to be at base for tent set up and cooking before sundown.
The climb down was much easier than the climb up, but also very slippery so the best option seemed to be to sit down and slide down. So, the 17 or so of us, all beganosliding down this huge mountain, which warranted a lot of giggles and hysteria – what a sight it must have been! But I must say it is one of the best memories of my time in Montana, surrounded by great people and in a state of joyous hysteria as we slid down Pine Creek Trail.
Soon, we had to be sensible again and actually walk the trail, it didn’t take us too long to get down and soon we were off attempting to find an open campsite with drinking water (a rarity in the Montana wild – something that I am still not used to or ever very well prepared for!) which took a bit of time, first of all, we lost one of the cars; they went the wrong way and ended up in Livingston (a local-ish town), when we got to the campsite we had planned to camp at, there was no wind cover or water (but it was very pretty) so after a quick stop, we eventually found another one nearby to the Yellowstone River which was closed for the season but the gate was still open so we decided to risk it since it was only one night!
Once everyone had set up their tents, or car beds for some of us, we got a campfire started, all cooked dinner on stoves, and then cracked open some ciders. Marshmallows were toasted, games were played and a few lone sweet potatoes were roasted for a very long time. Not sure if they were worth the wait….
After a long night of chatting and fireside sitting, we all headed to bed and slept very well after such an eventful day, though it was pretty cold at night, with us needing to use all the layers we had. The next morning after a camping breakfast and packing up of the tents, we began the drive back to Bozeman with a quick stop in the town of Livingston for a look around the beautiful old buildings and the quaint shops.
It was such a fun weekend and nice to explore a little more of my ‘home’ state while I have the chance! I feel really lucky to have the opportunities I do and was great to spend some more time with the British Contingency of MSU.