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Blogging about gardening in zone 4, marriage, our golden retriever and life in general.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hiking the Ridge

Hey there! How the heck are you? Can you believe it’s August? Yeah, me either. Especially when it smelled like fall the other day. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I’m not ready to break the ice scraper out again.

Last weekend my college friend (and sorority sister) Alli came up from Nashville to visit Bozeman. Alli is a native Coloradan who just finished her Master’s Degree in GIS from Western Kentucky University while working for the Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville. I’m so proud to have kick-ass friends who are adventurous, ambitious and who understands my bemusement at “Tennucky” culture.

One of the goals during Alli’s visit was to hike from the M to Fairy Lake along the Bridger Ridge; a 21 mile hike at about 9,000 feet of altitude. Alli and I both like to hike, and have done limited mountain climbing in the past. So we decided to go for it, knowing that we’d have cell service the entire length of the ridge and that my sister was in town and could retrieve us if necessary.

I need to back off the Ridge hike for a minute and mention that my interest in extreme (to me) hiking/ mountain climbing comes from my dad, who is a “big” mountaineer. By big, I mean most mountaineers aren’t “skinny” at 265 lbs. He’s climbed on Mt. Rainier in Washington 13 times, and summated 3. For my 16th birthday, my parents gave me the option of having a party or going snowshoeing on Mt. Rainier with dad. I chose Rainier, and it’s one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on.

Although I’ve hiked a lot since then, I hadn’t done any real climbing per se since then, 11 years ago (wow, 11 years, really?). So I was super pumped to try it out with Alli on what seemed like a straightforward climb with a lot of emergency exits down gulches and canyons. Turns out, I’m an idiot. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be!

We started Monday morning at 5:00am. Got up, ate breakfast had a cup of coffee, dressed and drove to the M trailhead. Snapped a quick picture and started hiking up. Slow and steady. I was concerned with how Alli would handle the altitude coming from Nashville.

In the "M" trailhead parking lot.

There were two cars at the trailhead, and we saw both people coming down. I totally didn’t expect to see anyone else up there! Who does this shit for fun on a random Monday morning?

Sunrise over Bozeman.

See the parking lot in the lower right hand corner of the photo? That's where we started.

We got to the M, then started hiking up to Mt. Baldy. I should add that the M to Baldy is a 4,000 foot elevation gain. Yes. The number four followed by THREE ZEROS. We had to take a break as the sun came up at Gretchen Rock, so named for my sister who at the age of 10 pitched a fit on a hike to this point and said she’s never hiking again and we could leave her there.
The "M", laid out in the 19teens by MSU engineering students.

Sunrise on Gretchen Rock.

The badass hiking partner

Those hiking boots? Why I think I bought them in 1996 in Seattle on a day hike on Rainier with my mom, dad and cousin Blake.

What goes up, must come down.

Getting to the top of Baldy. The trailhead starts at the bottom right of the mountain, and Bozeman is to the right out of the picture.
We hiked and hiked and hiked up up up, and arrived at the top of Baldy at 10am. Even this early, I knew we’d never make it the 21 miles to Fairy Lake at the pace we were going.
We stopped for a snack and a break, and two women come running towards us from Mt. Bridger. Practically frolicking towards us at 9,000+ feet. What. The. Hell. They were all chatty and excited to see some people on Baldy, before taking off to run down to the M. Alli and I both expressed our amazement, mostly tinged by disgust if not outright annoyance, at people who run the ridge for fun. As Alli put it, “Fucking white Kenyans. Who do they think they are.” (By this, we both meant, duuuuudddddeeee you’re in WAY better shape than I am, and I can’t even fathom doing this shit regularly as part of the daily grind)

The route ahead. Bright perky girl's tennis shoes in the left of the picture. What a wierdo.
As we were getting ready to keep moving, another girl comes running up from the M. She was young, bright and perky, and wore no socks in her tennis shoes. I asked her if she is running the Bridger Ridge Run, an upcoming event in which local Kenyans (Read: white ass mountain runners with a death wish who are running from SOMETHING) run from Fairy Lake to the M on the ridge. Let me explain. These fools get up at 5am to start from Fairy Lake at 6am, and then proceed to run 21 miles on top of the fucking mountain range in 4-5 hours. Totally, absolutely, retarded. I’m not sure if I finished our hike with more or less respect for the people who attempt this feat of running.

Photo on top of Baldy, courtesy of bright perky 17 year old.
Anyway, the bright perky girl answers my “are you running the ridge” question with “oh, no, you have to be 18 to do it, and I’m not old enough yet.”

That’s right folks. She’s 17 and running Baldy for fun on a Monday morning. Totally, absolutely not what I was doing at 17 on a Monday morning.

After getting out athletic egos crushed by the bright perky girl, Alli and I proceeded down Baldy towards Bridger Mountain. As the hike went on, the trail became more and more of a scramble. Tricky footing where you had to plan your next move, stand back, cross your eyes and try to find a trail, and occasionally just charge ahead without knowing exactly where you were going; other than forward.
Down off of Baldy, looking back at where we've already been.

Frickity-frack, where is the trail?

As we scrambled around Mt. Bridger, Alli slipped coming down the rocks and got a major ass bruise. I’d like to put the photo up, but I haven’t asked Alli if I could post a photo of her ass-crack turning purple. She’s a champ though, brushed it off, and kept moving.
Looking back again, there's Baldy on the left.

Onward towards the Saddle, which is the highest point in this photo.

Just keep going.
Again, looking back at what we've already come across.

Shitballs, this is a tight trail.

And sometimes you've got to embrace your inner mountain goat. See me up near the top?
First summit of Saddle Peak.
We summated the Saddle, and I called Dusty to tell him we were going to come down at Bridger Bowl. I could see the Deer Park Chalet, the Schlushman’s lift and the Pierre’s Knob Lift, and thought we could be down to the main lodge parking lot in two hours. I arranged for Gretch to pick us up, and we started moving forward.

Moving towards the next summit. See the rock cairn at the top?
Prayer flags on Saddle Peak.
Down from the Saddle, working our way towards the Schlushman's Lift at Bridger Bowl ski area.
Looking back at where we've been.
Here is where you’ll notice that the photo’s stop. From the top of the saddle on to the Schlushman’s lift, we just struggled to stay on our feet and keep moving. It was after noon, and we still had plenty of food and plenty of water, but we were tired. More than physically wiped, it takes pretty strong mental focus to not fall off the fucking mountain at that point. And I was so focused on getting down, I think I was sending Alli mental death glares for continuing to pull out the camera to document what felt like a really difficult situation. Thus the lack of photos. But suffice to say, it wasn't pretty. Two tired, mentally exhausted girls.

So we got to Schlushmans. And realized there was no trail down. We considered scrambling mountain-goat style down across steep meadows with Volkswagen sized boulders and shale that in the winter are double black diamond runs. Then we collectively pulled our heads out of our (bruised) asses and realized that safe, slow and steady was a better decision. So we kept hiking on the ridge along the top of Bridger Bowl trying to find a safe route down.

All week people had asked me if we were coming down “the cat track” at Bridger. I knew it was a safe exit route from the ridge, but I didn’t know where it was. I’d skied A cat track at Bridger, but I thought maybe there were multiple cat tracks. I hoped there were cat tracks to come down in the middle of the ski area, rather than at the only one I knew of all the fucking way across the ski area and another two hours of hiking just to get to the trail down.

So we hiked on, at one point dipping to the west off of the ridge and out of site of the ski area. And on, and on, and on. At this point, my main focus was getting down safely, and keeping me and Alli from getting into a situation we couldn’t get out of.
After what seemed like forever, but must have been about an hour and a half of hiking on the ridge, we reached the Cat Track, the only cat track at the far end of the Bowl. We started to move downhill (FINALLY!!!) about 45 minutes AFTER we were supposed to meet Gretchen. Since there is no cell service at the Bridger Bowl chalet, I called DJ to relay a message to Gretchen if she called him. I imagined Gretchen getting worried about us on our expedition and calling the authorities, so I told DJ to tell Gretchen that we’d be down, it was going to take us a while and sit tight. DJ later told me that Gretch did call him, only to rant and rave about how late we were and what the hell… but it didn’t cross her mind that we might be in danger. DJ relayed the message, and once Gretch saw the photos she understood what we were trying to do.
Anyway, so we started walking down the Cat Track. At this point we’ve both consumed all of our camelback’s and a nalgene of water, with one nalgene waiting. Gretch was bringing up Gatorade with her. Oh my god. I would have killed for a zip line to the lodge. Or a hang glider. Or skiis. It took us two and a half hours to hike down from the ridge to the lodge, with every step getting more and more painful.
Heel blisters from the hiking boots. They actually look a lot worse today.
We stopped at the Deer Park Chalet to use the maintenance crew’s bathrooms since Alli can’t pee in the wild (Ladies: quick poll, would you rather pop a squat outside or use a pit toilet? I’m a pop a squat girl. The air on the cheeks feeling from a pit toilet creeps me out). The last photo of the hike is the lodge ahead of us, which was a glorious, glorious site.
FINALLY!!!!!! !!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!! (can you tell we were relieved?)

Gretch met us at the lodge about 20 minutes after we arrived, in a good mood (thankfully). And we went home. Three days later, I’m still pretty sore in the hamstrings, but mostly on my feet, where I have some sweeeettttt blisters. I have no idea how I’m going to wear anything but flip flops for the next month.

Looking back on it, I’m really glad Alli and I did the hike. We even started talking on Wednesday of completing it next summer by hiking from Fairy Lake to Bridger Bowl. Crazy? Maybe. But in a good way.

Alli and I talked a lot up there about ourselves and people we know. We share a desire to be strong, independent women who can take care of themselves no matter the circumstances. I like doing crazy shit like this because it’s really empowering to get yourself into a state of affairs like we did, and then through the action of putting one foot in front of the other, get yourself out of the situation. Not to mention, the view is fabulous, and when else can you justify eating two luna bars, a PB & J sandwhich, apple, beef jerkey, string cheese and 8 cups of trail mix and still come home weighing less than when you left?

I’m overwhelmingly grateful to have someone like Alli in my life. A girlfriend to have adventures with, road trip with, ascend and descend with and to bounce stuff off of. She’s awesome, and I hope she’ll put up with me long enough to continue to do this shit for a long time!

I should also really thank Gretchen for coming to get us. Any Robyn. And Jenni. Thanks guys, you rock for being the sherpas of our grand adventure!


  1. I'd like to make a couple remarks:

    1) SERIOUSLY! How do people RUN this!?!?
    2) I kept taking pictures, because if I died on the trail, I wanted a photo display of WHY I didn't make it
    3) I tried cropping a photo of my bruise in a way that wouldn't reveal that it was on my ass. No luck. Instead I'm forced to show it off to coworkers via the picture on my phone. Today the color scheme is yellow and mauve.

  2. you two are freaking nuts!! you lost me at getting up at 5 am ;-)