Beartooth Wilderness - Flat Rock Lake Lollipop Loop - July 26, 2021

scatman

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The Beartooth Wilderness has been on my bucket list for years now, but I could never seem to fit it into my backpacking schedule. This past fall, I made a commitment that I would check it off of my list this summer.

My route was to begin at the Island Lake Trailhead, which is located just off of the Beartooth Highway, about 27 miles ( I think) east of Cooke City. I conceived a six day lollipop loop trip that would take me up into the alpine country and spit me back out at the same trailhead without hopefully seeing too much of the same scenery on my way back to the trailhead.

On rather short notice, I extended an invitation to @Bob to join me, and he graciously accepted. He had one caveat though, he needed to be out of the backcountry one day earlier than me due to commitments back home. So we decided to meet at the Beartooth Lake Trailhead, drop his vehicle off, and then proceed on to the Island Lake Trailhead where we would begin our trip.

When planning, I tried to break up the route into segments that I thought I could get done in a day of mostly off-trail hiking. When I sent the route to Bob, he had a few suggestions on lakes that he thought might have better views/fishing opportunities, so we ended up splitting the days into around six mile days between our campsites.

As many of you probably know, the Beartooths lend themselves to what I will call "lake hopping" across the plateau, so this is exactly what we did.

Our typical day would consist of getting up when the sun hit our tents, this could be anywhere between 7:30 in the morning up to 8:15 am. Of course, we would then have some breakfast, pack up our gear, and then head out towards our next campsite. Our backpacking time between campsites ran into the six and a half hours to up over eight hours on some days. It just depended on the terrain we encountered, lunch breaks, stopping to catch a good view, and Bob enjoyed fishing at some of the lakes we passed along our route.

The wildflowers along our entire route were tremendous. It had to be the perfect time of year this year for them. The mosquitoes on the other hand were relentless. My shoulders and back were just covered with bites. I guess that is the price one pays in order to see the flowers at their peak.

Here is our story:


Flat_Rock_Lake_Lollipop_Loop.jpg

Overview map of our route. Bob's early exit to the Beartooth Lake trailhead is show in red.



Day 1 - Island Lake Trailhead to Albino Lake

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Day 1 overview map

There is a campground next to the Island Lake Trailhead, so the Island Lake area is a fairly popular place for folks to recreate at this time of year. That would probably explain the number of people that we encountered on our first day going in. We saw people who were fishing and boating on Island Lake, more people fishing on Night Lake, and we encountered day hikers along the trail who had headed up to Becker Lake, and even on to Albino Lake to fish for the day.

There is an official trail that takes you maybe 1.5 miles past Night Lake, then a social trail north to Becker Lake and then on to Albino. This made the first day rather straight forward and relatively easy for us. As we approached Becker Lake, we began to get into the upper alpine environment that the Beartooths are known for.

As we reached Albino Lake that evening, there was a group of maybe twenty people (part of a youth group we learned later) that were leaving the lake, but that still left quite a few who were hanging around the south end of Albino. We headed to the far northwest side of the lake to have some solitude for the night.

After turning in for the night, I heard something trotting along by my tent, and then another trot, trot, trot. At first I thought it might be deer heading down to the lake for some water, but after continuing to hear this trotting next to my tent, I decided to investigate what was making the noise. When I opened up the fly to my tent, there was a mountain goat staring me in the face, and she had a little one in tow. I said, "Hey buddy", which made the little one take off, but the adult only took a couple of steps back. Soon the little one returned to her side. While this was fun to watch, I began to wonder if a mountain goat would chew on our gear? Did it want to nibble on a backpack strap? Or my boots? I wasn't sure, but it worried me a bit. Well, this went on for a good portion of the night, but I still managed to get some sleep.

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Bob, checking out the info sign at the Island Lake Trailhead

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A look north towards Lonesome Mountain as we head towards Becker Lake

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Moving on towards Albino Lake, with Becker Lake to the south

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Arriving at Albino Lake - our home for the night

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The northwest corner of the lake where we would make camp for the night

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Bob taking in the view and the aplenglow. Where Bob is sitting became a favorite place for the mountain goats later that night.

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My tent at our first campsite.


Day 2 - Albino Lake to Flat Rock Lake

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Day 2 overview map

Heading to Flat Rock Lake today. The social trail that brought us to Albino Lake will continue onto the first part of Jasper Lake, but then we will be off trail for the next couple of days. This day was probably the toughest for me, probably due to the first off-trail portion, plus my pack was still a bit heavy.

I learned quickly that the beginning of each day would require a steep hike up and out of a lake basin in order to get to the next lake. Smart aren't I? :)

When we reached Jasper, Bob took out his rod and fished for awhile along the western shore. To me, it looked like he was getting a catch with almost every cast.

As we left Jasper and began off-trailing it, we started to have to make a decision when we reached the next lake or pond on our route, and that was which way to take around the lake. Sometimes the choice was easy, sometimes not so much. I guess it added to the adventure. :thinking:

After Jasper, we passed by Triskele, Donelson, and Maryott Lakes, before dropping down towards Crystal Lake. This is where I realized that Bob is half mountain goat! :D He was going down those rocks like a hot knife through butter.

We didn't actually reach Crystal Lake though as once we dropped, we contoured around and up the Sierra Creek Drainage towards Flat Rock Lake instead.

They last little climb to Flat Rock was tiring to me, but it was worth the view once we reached the lake.

On our second night, Bob had the mountain goats at his tent, as they grazed within a foot of his head. He had his tent fly open for the night, and he was able to watch three goats. Pretty cool.

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The first saddle that we had to deal with today. Hiking out of the Albino Lake Basin

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Jasper Lake below. We are about to lose the social trail at this point.

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A peak down at the northeast end of Golden Lake, which we would visit later on our route


Ahead is the next pass we have to go over on our way to Triskele

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Working our way up the pass

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View to the north from the saddle

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View to the northwest from the top of the saddle

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Triskele Lake

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More high alpine views

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Bob, taking it all in

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Donelson Lake

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Which side is easiest?

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Dropping down towards Crystal, though we would never reach it.

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Sierra Creek down below

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Contouring around the mountain as we make our way up the drainage

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A lot of cascading waterfalls on this trip :thumbsup: Fallls on Sierra Creek

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The Flat Rock Lake Basin ahead

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One more waterfall to go

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Our campsite at Flat Rock Lake


Day 3 - Flat Rock Lake to Jorden Lake

Anchor_Lake_Lollipop_Loop_Day_3.jpg

Day 3 map overview

We began the day with a steep climb out of the Flat Rock Lake Basin and up towards Copepod Lake. Originally, our route would take us past Cladocera Lake and up over the pass to the northwest of the lake, then down along a string of unnamed lakes to Big Butte Lake, but we decided to cut up and over south of Copepod Lake, then down towards Erratic Lake. Again, we didn't actually reach Erratic Lake, as we contoured over to Robble Lake, then on west and down to Big Butte Lake.

Views from the high alpine along our new route were spectacular, and we stopped and had lunch on a peak I named "Bob's Peak."

Once we reached Big Butte, we made our way south to Jorden Lake where we set up camp on the north end of the lake. The route down from Widowed Lake to Jorden was a steep descent.

This third day was another tiring one for me, not as bad as day two, probably because the I got more sleep due to the goats bothering Bob instead of me. :) Unfortunately, we wouldn't see another goat for the rest of our trip. Also, we got a bit of rain for the first time on our trip this day.

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A new morning on Flat Rock Lake. A look up at the pass we will have to cross over

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The wildflowers were so beautiful on this trip. Monkeyflower, paintbrush and groundsel on the way up to the pass

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Another cascade we followed up the pass

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Still a little more to go

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Copepod Lake

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High country views - Castle Rock Mountain

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Snowfields were plentiful cutting across towards Erratic Lake

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Bob, perched on his namesake peak - unnamed lake below

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A look back north at Bob's Peak

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A look to the southwest

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Bluebells and paintbrush

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Erratic Lake below

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Coming up on Robble Lake

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Another cascade to climb

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Till Lake - again which side looks the quickest? Good question. We chose the southern shore.

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Gravel Lake

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Big Butte Lake below with a lot of rock hopping on the descent to the lake. Desolation Lake can be seen in the distance and was
part of our original route.


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A group of yellow columbine on our way down to Big Butte

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Dropping to Anchor Lake

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Widowed Lake

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Steep descent to Jorden Lake

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Jorden Lake, viewed from our campsite


Day 4 - Jorden Lake to Cloverleaf Lakes

Anchor_Lake_Lollipop_Loop_Day_4.jpg

Day 4 overview map

On this day we go to see some short sections of trail before heading off-trail again. There was a trail out of Jorden Lake, but unfortunately it went straight up the mountainside, and was a little bit hard to follow at times. So much for making good time. :(

Once at the top of the hill, we left the trail and headed down a nice meadowed canyon towards Lake Elaine. There was some slight bushwhacking through willows and forest along this stretch as we neared Lake Elaine.

When we reached Elaine, we ran into a group of four backpackers who we had seen out ahead of us before, on our drop down towards Crystal Lake a couple of days ago. They ended up camping at Crystal Lake that night before moving on to Elaine. These gentlemen were all from Wyoming and had backpacked in the Wind Rivers, one of them also in the Bighorns previously. One of them was kind enough to take a shot of Bob and myself before they headed out towards Granite Lake.

After Crystal, we picked up a social trail to Green Lake, where Bob found a single flip-flop (they still call them that don't they? :)) which he would put to good use on a coupe of wide creek fords that were ahead - the first of which was the outlet of Green Lake.

On the east side of Green, we picked up a trail that again went straight up the hill! Please! At the top of the hill, we passed by Trail Lake before dropping down to Wright Lake. At Wright, it was again off-trail to Martin Lake where we chatted with a couple of people camped at the Lake.

Once we left Martin, it was a steep climb up to Rachel Lake, and then onto Cloverleaf Lakes for the night.

As we were rock hopping along the south side of the western most Cloverleaf Lake, the sky cut loose and we had to set up camp in the pouring rain. :mad: During the storm the temperature dropped to 52, which I believe was the coldest temp on our trip.

Back in the rocks again to camp, we thought we might get some mountain goat visitors again, but it wasn't to be.

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Hiking up and out from the Jorden Lake Basin on a trail. Can you see the trail? Yeah, neither can I.

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Heading back off-trail now as we drop into the canyon and head towards Lake Elaine

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Meadow hiking towards Lake Elaine

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Group shot at the Lake. That's an external frame pack in the lower left hand corner. Old School! :thumbsup:

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Green Lake

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Bob, contemplating using his single flip-flop at the outlet of Green Lake

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The trail from hell. Viewed from our lunch break location. I'm going to need some
calories for this one.


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It's a good thing that Bob let me eat my lunch before tackling this hill, because if he hadn't this would have occurred about a quarter
of the way up instead of almost at the top. :roflmao: This horse trail is the curse of Dooley @Rockskipper, the curse of Dooley I tell you.


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Trail Lake

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Wright Lake

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Martin Lake - the steep pass to Rachel dead ahead.

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Approaching the rocky climb.

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Egads! Help! :p

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Rachel Lake

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Fringed Grass of Parnassus - sounds fancy, at Rachel Lake

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More climbing ahead

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Just gorgeous

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Didn't we just go up a fall? :)

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Cloverleaf Lakes (the western lake). We are headed to the other side of the lake and all hell broke loose as we made our way along
the rocks you see in the shot along the south end of the lake. Bob said that he never saw me move so fast.
:D

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Campsite at Cloverleaf Lakes after the deluge

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Bob catches another cutthroat

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Ground squirrel at camp who we will see more of on day 5

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View to the west towards the outlet, in the evening through the storm clouds


Day 5 - Cloverleaf Lakes to Night Lake for me, to the Beartooth Lake Trailhead for Bob

Anchor_Lake_Lollipop_Loop_Day_5.jpg

Day 5 overview map

Today's route takes us up and over to Golden Lake which we had looked down on on day two. The outlet of Golden was a bit tricky (thought me might be cliffed out), but we managed a rocky/boulder descent to an absolutely gorgeous meadow and stream below.

Before reaching Hidden Lake, we had to take a left, ford the outlet stream of Golden Lake and then head up a pass to the east in order to drop down to T-Lake.

Just after T-Lake, we picked up the official trail, and it was trail hiking the rest of the way out for both of us.

Soon, we reached the junction for Bob to head up and over the ridge and then drop down to Beartooth Creek and head back to his vehicle at the trailhead. We said our goodbyes and I headed east towards Beauty Lake and on to Night Lake for my last night in the backcountry.

When I reached the Beauty Lake Trail Junction, I took a few minutes and ate some lunch. While eating a man comes down the trail that leads to Becker Lake with his cell phone in his hand and a one-eyed dog. He stops and starts asking me all kinds of questions. Questions like, "If I go up this trail what lakes can I see?" I told him that Beauty Lake was just through the trees if he wanted to see a lake. He responded that he thought he'd head to Becker Lake. I said, "You just came down the trail that leads to Becker." "Oh," he said. He then told me he had his pack in the car and was thinking about backpacking to up above tree line. I said, "That sounds like fun" He then went down the trail towards Beauty Lake. Not five minutes later he is back at the junction, and says, " I need to get far away from roads," and then he heads up the trail towards T-Lake. First, there is no road at Beauty Lake, and I thought to myself I just might be reading about this guy in the papers (old school) or on the internet for you younger folk. :)

After he left, I continued on to Night Lake and found a place to set up camp, eat some dinner and call it a day.

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Morning on Cloverleaf Lakes. Blue sky!

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Baby ground squirrels. The had a burrow near out tent sites

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Momma is back

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She began carrying the young ones to a different burrow further away from us

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Approaching the eastern most Cloverleaf Lakes

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Heading up and over to Golden Lake

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Unnamed Peak along the way

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Another unnamed peak

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View from the pass

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Looking down on Golden Lake with Lonesome Mountain back again

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The outlet at Golden Lake. It looks like it might be unpassable, but we found a grassy ledge that went up and through the cliff band

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More boulder hopping to be done to drop down to the meadow

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A look back up towards the outlet of Golden Lake

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The meadow below

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A quick break with a wonderful view ahead

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Ready to ford the outlet stream of Golden Lake

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Bob, fording the outlet stream

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View to the west as we begin to climb up to the pass

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Our last pass of the trip

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Northern end of Hidden Lake below

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Lonesome Lake and to the north below along with Lonesome Mountain

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T-Lake ahead

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Lonesome Mountain

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Bob, making his way up and over the ridge towards Beartooth Creek

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Some mushrooms along the trail

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Unnamed lake ahead

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Beartooth Plateau in the distance

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Official trail

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Beauty Lake

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Junction signpost

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Night Lake

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Last night's tent site on Night Lake

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A mushroom near camp

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And another one


Day 6 - Night Lake to the Island Lake Trailhead

Anchor_Lake_Lollipop_Loop_Day_6.jpg

Day 6 overview map

A quick and easy hike out on day six. It was short enough that I didn't need my knee brace for this one. :thumbsup:

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A look back at Island Lake and the Beartooth Plateau

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Back at the info sign

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Arriving at the Subaru at the trailhead.


Well, what a trip! Bob clocked in at 33 miles and I eked out an extra mile at 34. I really feel like you need to add about ten percent to these distance totals though to get the true mileage of our trip. While Bob hikes in a straight line, I know I'm at a constant zigzag so maybe I did 45 miles. :lol:

While the scenery and wildflowers were worth the price of admission alone, other than the mountain goats, we didn't see any other big game wildlife the entire time. Even signs of them like scat and tracks were minimal - zero sign of bear. That kind of surprised me to a certain extent.

The warm nights caught me off guard too. I was expecting in the 40's, but got high 50's and low 60's instead.

Still, well worth the time to see the wilderness if you have never been before in my opinion.

I'm hoping that Bob will chime in with some of his thoughts on the trip. He can also address any fishing questions as to which were the best lakes to fish at, what type of lure to use, and how to hold your mouth just right in order to reel in the really big one. :) Also, he may have some images that add to the feel of our route, so hopefully he will share a few. Thanks Bob, I enjoyed it.


The End
 

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Diane Greer

Member
Joined
Nov 28, 2013
Messages
16
Great trip report and beautiful photos. Love the Beartooths. Looks like some great off trail routes to explore on the next trip!
 

kwc

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Joined
Mar 31, 2016
Messages
577
Outstanding trip report and photos! Thank you for sharing the adventure. The wildflower photos are great, probably even better in person, eh?
 

OldBill

Member
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
214
Nice trip! Stream crossing in a single flip-flop? Pretty light stream crossing shoes for sure!
Surprised about no bear sign or sightings. Only been further S along Clark's Fk and Sunlight Basin. Had a lot of warnings about recent kills by griz .
 
Last edited:

Bob

Trailmaster
Joined
Mar 3, 2013
Messages
2,851
Nice trip! Stream crossing in a single flip-flop? Pretty light stream crossing shoes for sure!
Surprised about no bear sign or sightings. Only been further S along Clark's Fk and Sunlight Basin. Had a lot of warnings about recent kills by griz .
I was doing stream crossing barefoot..... Hate wet shoes. I put to use what I find.....
 
Joined
Jan 18, 2014
Messages
137
Wow…didn’t take ya fer that romantic Scat! Ya had me tearin up a bit with th pic where ya laid down n kissed n hugged th trail! Glad y’all weren’t eaten by th mountain goats! Th pics were spectacular…but it seemed y’all were either goin straight uphill or descending thru Boulder fields! Ouch.
Did y’all fry up any of those trout for supper ?
Thanks for takin me along on y’all’s trip vicariously!
 

Bob

Trailmaster
Joined
Mar 3, 2013
Messages
2,851
Wow…didn’t take ya fer that romantic Scat! Ya had me tearin up a bit with th pic where ya laid down n kissed n hugged th trail! Glad y’all weren’t eaten by th mountain goats! Th pics were spectacular…but it seemed y’all were either goin straight uphill or descending thru Boulder fields! Ouch.
Did y’all fry up any of those trout for supper ?
Thanks for takin me along on y’all’s trip vicariously!
Kissed and hugged the trail?!? ........... Scat passed out cause of the climb up the trail.... 450 vert in .5 miles
 

TractorDoc

Member
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Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
237
Fantastic and Inspirational.

Wildflowers would have been worth it alone. No pictures of Mountain Goats? Are you sure it was not @Bob nibbling on your pack strap?

Glad you guys had such a great experience. Hope those are not your teeth marks I see on those mushrooms from the last day!
 

Jon Carbaugh

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Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Messages
211
Looks like an awesome trip, and a great route! I know you were in heaven with all those wildflowers. Well done!
 
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