Tallest mountain in Montana
Erik and I left Los Alamos a little after 5pm headed north. We had to pick Bill up at DIA on Saturday around noon so we took our time getting up to Colorado. On the drive up Erik suggested a night climb of a peak to kill time. I was just getting over a stomach flu but the idea sounded interesting. Which one? Well, there's decent camping near Kite Lake and neither of us had climb Mount Buckskin. Deal. At 10:30pm we set off in the dark up the slopes from the Buckskin Gulch TH. A clear, mostly calm night was the order for the evening. We summitted Mount Buckskin a little after midnight, descended to Kite Lake and walked the road back to the car lower down at the Buckskin Gulch TH by 1:30am. A nice three hour tour. We sacked out under the stars by the road.
Saturday, July 2nd
After waking up around 6:30am we stopped in Breckenridge for coffee and bagel sandwiches and cruised into Denver and way the hell out to DIA by 11:30am. We had Bill in tow by 12:15pm and hit the road north driving through Cheyenne, WY and Casper, WY. Dinner at the Wonder Bar grill in Casper was filthy good. However, my stomach wasn't yet normal and, in extremely rare form, I did not finish my meal nor my 24oz New Belgium 1554 Black Ale. Not to worry, Erik took it for the team and cleaned up after me. Well done, E!
On the road for a few more hours found us driving through Shoshoni, WY and Thermopolis, WY. We stopped to check out the "largest mineral hot springs in the world" in Thermopolis at sunset. Sunset sounds late but at that northerly location, it was really like 9pm. We hit the road again plowing through Red Lodge, MT and finally finding some national forest land near Luther, MT after midnight. Accessing national forest land in MT is difficult as it turns out. We had to go about 13 miles off the highway to get to NF land. But we made it and slept like babies in the tent that night.
Sunday, July 3rd
We slept until nearly 9am. Packed up and on the road again we finished the drive to the Mystic Lake trailhead in the Beartooth Mountains in the Absaroka Wilderness. The driving that morning was beautiful and very idlyllic. Wonderful Montana country. We packed up our overnight bivy backpacks and set off up the trail at 11:55am for three miles to Mystic Lake. Mystic Lake has a hydroelectric plant attached to it so we had a great view of a gigantic water main from the trailhead all the way to the lake on the opposite side of the valley. We passed a number of day hikers on the way to the lake and at 1:08pm we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the gigantic Mystic Lake.
Mystic Lake view.
The lake consumes nearly 3 miles of land in the valley. Awesome. We could also finally see some higher peaks in the background towards Granite Peak.
We found a nice section of beach along the lake and enjoyed an afternoon snack by the water before heading on. We had to make a decision about our route at this point. There are two ways to approach the east ridge of Granite Peak-via Froze-to-Death Plateau or via Huckleberry Creek. We didn't like the sound of "too numerous to count" switchbacks up to Froze-to-Death Plateau so we decided on the "log and boulder hopping" up Huckleberry Creek. Huckleberry Creek reaches Mystic Lake on the the lake's west side so we hiked along great trail past numerous campsites and fishermen to the far end of Mystic Lake. At the point where a large stream with a nice wooden bridge over it enters the lake from the south, that's Huckleberry Creek. The description we had wasn't too obvious about this so we spent a little extra time hiking more to the west and ended up Island Lake before realizing we had passed Huckleberry. Backtracking we found a small cairn marking a faint trail up the creek's west side.
We took this trail and it quickly turned into a nice trail. Around 3:30pm we began the boulder hopping in earnest and hopped past Huckleberry Lake around 3:45pm. From there the trail was faint an intermittent between short sections of boulders and vegetation but with decent route finding skills it's not hard to stay on track. The trail steepened considerably to climb up to Princess Lake at 9, 170' at 4:45pm.
Princess Lake view.