Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our Adventures in Back Country Camping, Day 1

It seems like Erik and I have been talking about camping in the back country forever, although it's probably only been more like ten years since we've been married only about that long. Well, this past weekend the stars finally all aligned enough to enable us to fulfill that hope. We only had a couple of days to prepare and assemble supplies, but we were able to get it all together and get the girls to my in-law's for the weekend in time to head out of town around 1pm on Thursday. 

Our destination was  an area south of Wisdom, Montana called The Miner Lakes. A couple hours drive to Wisdom where we grabbed a late lunch/early dinner. Then another half-hour or so down the road to the turn off. We drove a good dirt road to an established campground at the Lower Miner Lake.

This is the view of the area we would be exploring from the highway as we drove towards the dirt road.
You drive around the campground to a road with a large yellow caution sign which states,  "Road is Not Maintained for Cars or Trailers". That road goes for about three miles before it has a gate and is the trail head for several trails in the area. We didn't really want to tack on three extra miles to our hike, and the road looked okay at the beginning, so we continued on down the road in our Toyota Camry despite my hesitations. We probably made it about two miles before Erik threw in the towel and parked us up on the side in the grass. There were portions of the road that were totally drive-able, but there were other portions that I'm surprised we didn't get high-centered on or cause major damage to my car. It gave me quite a bit of anxiety driving down that road! If (when) we do this hike again we will definitely drive our truck even if it costs an arm and a leg in gas to get there. When we got to the official trail head, there were several pick-ups and a couple quads parked there. In fact, we didn't see another car  anywhere on that road. 

But hey, it saved us 2 extra miles of hiking! So after we parked the car and strapped on our packs it was a little after 5pm and we headed up the trail. About ten minutes later I looked at my watch wondered what in the world made me think this would be fun? My pack was so uncomfortable and heavy. I really had to haul this thing several miles uphill? I was starting to doubt my decision to do this, but I was determined to give it a good honest effort and to not whine, so didn't say anything to Erik. We made it to the real trail head for Upper Miner Lakes and headed on up. A bit up the trail we encountered a sign for "Hamby Creek" and a trail splitting off to the left from the main trail. The sign said nothing about Miner Lakes, just Rocky Lake and the Continental Divide trail. We knew we didn't want Hamby Creek so we continued on up the main trail. After awhile we encountered another trail splitting off to the left and crossing the creek, only this time there was no sign save a tiny triangle with the letters "CD" on a tree with an arrow pointing forward. So which way do we go? We'd looked at the topo map a lot before coming but it was hard to tell which way to go with no sign.  We decided to keep heading forward.

We hiked and hiked and become more and more frustrated by the lack of signage. It was a rocky and kinda steep climb and we kept taking breaks. I was breathing heavy and sweating like crazy. It had been two hours since we left the main trail head and I told Erik that if we didn't arrive somewhere, whether it be Rocky Lake or Miner Lakes, within twenty minutes or so I was gonna be concerned. Then, much to my delight we saw someone coming down the trail. A dad and his three kids stopped to talk and we asked them what trail we were even on. Turns out we were on the trail to Rocky Lakes and yes we should've turned at that green bridge back where there was no sign. Ugh.

So, do we push on another nearly 2 miles to Rocky Lake or do we back track and hike the probably 3 miles to Upper Miner Lakes from the bridge? I was tired, but we really wanted to be at Miner Lakes, so we turned around and followed the friendly hiker down to the bridge where we turned and finally headed towards Upper Miner Lakes. Thankfully it was 8pm by this time and not very sunny so the hike wasn't as hot as it could've been. The trail to Upper Miner Lakes is also not too difficult, so even though it was uphill it could've been worse. It was right about this time that I noticed there were some weird loops up above my shoulders on my pack (new to me, having just bought it Wednesday morning). I asked Erik what they went to and we realized they were for tightening up my pack to my back, bringing it closer to my body. Oh my word, what a difference that made in how I was carrying that thing. If only I would've figured that out miles and miles ago! It definitely helped me get through the rest of the hike having my pack fitting me correctly. 

We finally made it to Upper Miner Lake (the first one) and I was so happy to see that water through the trees! We hiked along the lake a bit before coming across a really cool campsite. Nice flat, mostly level, spot for a tent and even an established rock campfire pit complete with benches on three sides. We set up our tent, unpacked our bags and sat down on one of the benches. It was still mostly light, but the moon was just peeking over the peak...

Erik built a tiny fire.

And we doped up on Deep Woods Off because the mosquitoes where ruthless. 

I was so happy to have arrived at our destination! Oh you can see two bear grass plants in the background, towards the left on this picture. They were everywhere.

Tired Kendra being weird.

We ate a chocolate bar, put out the fire and crawled into our sleeping bags. I was so tired I thought I'd sleep like a baby, but instead I tossed and turned most of the night. My air mattress was comfy, but I think I was still a little anxious, my legs were achy and I was just out of sorts. Sleeping in the sleeping bag is just not the same as a comfy bed. It rained a bit, but we stayed warm and dry, thankfully, and woke up to a new day in paradise.

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