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