A Bechler Trip Cut Short

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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May 31, 2015
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October 10-11, 2020

A friend of ours had been planning a Bechler trip for the past year. The plan was to do 3 nights, starting at Lone Star trailhead and finishing at Bechler Ranger Station, making a stop at Mr. Bubbles along the way. That was complicated by the Lone Star Fire that burned in the area this summer and fall. The NPS ended up having to alter our permits and we ended with an out-and-back itinerary starting and ending at the Bechler Ranger Station. I had never backpacked inside the park before, so I was looking forward to it regardless.

The weather in the weeks leading up to the trip was very dry and pretty warm. That weather pattern was forecasted to change on the day we started, with it being warm and sunny for most of the day, giving way to snow and cooler temperatures for the remainder of the trip.

I left home early to get to the trailhead by 9. However, the people I was meeting let me know an hour into my drive that they were running an hour late. No problem, since the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway was on my route to the TH, and I had never seen either the Upper or Lower falls. I had the Upper Falls entirely to myself as the sun began to shine in the deep canyon. I didn't make it to the Lower Falls.
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I was pretty much speechless at how pretty it was, and I was glad my timing was good with the sunrise.

I made the rest of drive at a pretty leisurely pace, stopping where I wanted to get out and look around. I only ended up waiting at the trailhead for a few minutes before everyone else showed up. We got our permits and headed out. I didn't take many photos of the first few miles, as it's all in the woods.

We got to the swinging bridge and crossed.

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We kept on through the meadow, and Andrew did his best to make his stride look realistic.
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We made it to the Bechler River ford, and the water was very cold.
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Two other groups were headed out as we put our shoes back on. One was a bunch of college aged people (I almost called them kids, but I'm not really that much older than they were), and some of the guys carried some of the girls on their backs across the river. We watched, expecting someone to get dropped into the river, but they all made it across just fine. Impressive.

It wasn't too much farther to our camp site. I can't remember the number, and I'm too lazy to pull it up right now. I'll edit this and add it later. It was a nice camp site though. We stayed at 9B4, and it had a nice view of the river.

This was the view of the river from the back of the camp site.
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We set up the tents in the spot that appeared to see the most use. After setting up, we learned that the true tent site was up the hill. It was much less disturbed than where we had set up. We didn't move our tents, but for more than one reason, which will be discussed below, I will use the designated spot if I ever camp at the same site again.

We hung out and had dinner, played hearts, and talked around the fire. We were expecting the rain/snow to start earlier, but it held off right until we were getting into our tents for bed. It was just a steady shower at first, but it kept up for a long time, and developed into heavier rain. The rain continued for several hours. Around midnight, I looked in my vestibule and my tent was sitting in a giant puddle. Pressing on the floor of the tent felt like a water bed. Except there were a few tiny holes in the tent floor, so water had seeped into the tent. I also must have had a leaky seam somewhere in my tent fly, because water was dripping in, in addition to condensation dropping down occasionally. Not good. I got up to go to the bathroom, and everyone's tents were sitting in their own respective puddles. Around 3 a.m., the rain turned to snow, and the change was audible.

I got up in the morning to asses the damage. Sleeping bag: wet. Sleeping pad: soaked. Tent floor: soaked. I seemed to have had the worst luck, but Alex had gotten water in his tent too. Andrew and Kirstie were the driest. The puddles had gone away, at least.

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I think if we had set up in the less used but official tent spot, we would have fared much better. Here's a shot of that area with snow.
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I had pretty much decided I was hiking out after seeing how wet my stuff had gotten. The others talked for a bit to decide. The forecast called for more rain and snow, with not too much sun for the rest of the trip. They weren't confident that they'd get their stuff dried out, and they weren't confident they were going to have much fun, so they decided to bail with me and head back to Jackson where they had already planned to spend most of the next week. It was a crappy call to have to make, but I don't think I'd have done too hot with a wet and/or frozen sleeping bag for two more nights.

The sun did come out for a while that morning. It was a really nice morning.


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The nice weather began to fade as big clouds continued to build to the west. We started to feel more confident in our decision. The river ford was higher that morning due to all the rain. We all opted to cross in our underwear to avoid getting our pants wet in the high water.

We got to the swinging bridge and the storm was right on us.

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We walked the last 3-4 miles in a graupel storm. It wasn't too bad though.
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It turned to snow, and the snow came down pretty steady for quite a while. There was maybe 1/2 inch of snow at the ranger station. I was a bit concerned I'd get stuck in the snow and mud on my way out, but the Outback handled it well. Here's a shot from after I had gotten to lower elevation and out of the snow.

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All in all, I'm glad I went, especially because it's only the second backpacking trip I did all year.

We're going to try again next year. And I'm going to patch my tent floor and reseal the seams beforehand.
 
Last edited:

Rockskipper

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Sometimes the foiled trips are the most memorable. Love the photo of the trees reflected in the water - the one after the sentence "It was a really nice morning," cause now I see another with the river, which is also nice.
 

LarryBoy

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Leaky tents are nooooo fun! It's always tough to call it, but like you said, a wet sleeping bag is nothing to play around with. I walked through the Bechler in early July and it was all knee-deep water and horrid mosquitos. Glad you saw it at a nicer time of year!
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
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Leaky tents are nooooo fun! It's always tough to call it, but like you said, a wet sleeping bag is nothing to play around with. I walked through the Bechler in early July and it was all knee-deep water and horrid mosquitos. Glad you saw it at a nicer time of year!
I can only imagine how rough that would be. Haha. The hot dry spell really worked wonders for us. The ground was bone dry almost throughout the entire meadow. Two of the others kept commenting on how nice that was and how they'd never had such dry ground there. Apparently those tall waymarks in the meadow become quite helpful when the meadow is completely covered in water!
 

Jackson

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Glad you made the attempt, and as @LarryBoy said, wise choice pulling out. Beautiful part of the Park

I love seeing the new Montana plates on your car.
It was a corner I had never seen. I love how far out in the "middle of nowhere" it is. Although it would've bit me in the behind if I had gotten stuck in the mud/snow on the way out!

Haha I love seeing the Montana plates too. Really loving those waterfowl refuge plates we have on the Outback. They were a new release this year, so they're still pretty uncommon on the road. Our new Impreza will be getting Greater Yellowstone Coalition plates. I love all the options they have here for specialized plates with donations to nonprofits.
 

Titans

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Thanks for sharing Jackson, beautiful photos of the River with the clouds. Good choice to head back! Those new plates look awesome indeed. Are you getting snow tires this year for your Subaru? We have them on the WRX in the winter, it makes a big difference.
 

Jackson

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Joined
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Thanks for sharing Jackson, beautiful photos of the River with the clouds. Good choice to head back! Those new plates look awesome indeed. Are you getting snow tires this year for your Subaru? We have them on the WRX in the winter, it makes a big difference.
Thanks!

We've got snow tires for the Impreza, and that one's the daily driver. Haven't bought them for the Outback. The ones for the Impreza were thrown in as part of the deal when we bought it, actually.
 

Yvonne

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definitely, a trip to remember!!! I had similar conditions over Labor Day when a storm moved through and changed to snow overnight.
Ended up with six inches of snow, but luckily my tent was dry and no holes or water seeping through.

Many of my hikes also fell through because of the Lonestar fire but I still had a great time
 

Jackson

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definitely, a trip to remember!!! I had similar conditions over Labor Day when a storm moved through and changed to snow overnight.
Ended up with six inches of snow, but luckily my tent was dry and no holes or water seeping through.

Many of my hikes also fell through because of the Lonestar fire but I still had a great time
Crazy how variable the weather can be in the area. I love it.

Glad you were able to make the most of it! And now you've still got all those hikes ready to go for next year.
 

scatman

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You're not going to let a little fire at the trailhead stop you are you? I have failed you young padawan. :D Sorry that you missed out on the rest of the Bechler Canyon and Mr. Bubbles. I guess that means you'll be heading in with me next September to find the old trail up onto the Pitchstone Plateau eh? You'd probably have time to hike down the trail and have a soak. :thumbsup:
 

Jackson

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You're not going to let a little fire at the trailhead stop you are you? I have failed you young padawan. :D Sorry that you missed out on the rest of the Bechler Canyon and Mr. Bubbles. I guess that means you'll be heading in with me next September to find the old trail up onto the Pitchstone Plateau eh? You'd probably have time to hike down the trail and have a soak. :thumbsup:
Sign me up! For real.

Also Andrew, the guy who planned the whole thing, was pretty disappointed that we had to hike out, and he's putting in for the permits from Lone Star to Bechler again next year. I'll probably join him on that. Need to load up on the backpacking trips next year. This year was a bust.
 
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