By Brett Haverstick
Marty met us at the Bear Creek Trailhead at 9 a.m. We left my car in the lot, and she shuttled us over to Blodgett. Tim and I unloaded our packs, and went over our itinerary one last time. We expected to be back at Bear Creek in 5-6 days and then drive my car home.
It was a fairly warm morning for autumn. We hiked eleven miles before making camp below Blodgett Pass. We found a nice spot along the creek, and got a small fire going and cooked dinner. Soup with a side dish of pasta was on the menu, and the crackling of the fire eased us into the night. We did our dishes and crawled into the tent for some sleep. We were in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Montana and Idaho, and the mountains were home for the next week.
We woke to the soft, soothing sound of Blodgett Creek. After a quick breakfast, we packed up camp and hiked up to the pass, which is at 6800 ft. The views of Blodgett Canyon and Sand Creek beyond it were stunning. We rested in the saddle before dropping into Sand Creek, and then hiked five or six miles and set up camp at Big Sand Lake.
We spent the afternoon exploring the perimeter of the lake and basking in the sunshine. The trees and vegetation rejoiced with crimson reds, golden yellows, soft oranges, and fading greens. We took a dip in the lake (it was freezing!) and went back to camp to prepare dinner. Stars began appearing above our heads and soon the “Milky Way” stretched across the never-ending dark sky.
The rain drops started hitting our tent sometime in the middle of the night. A cold weather front had moved in, and the temperature had dropped between thirty and forty degrees from the day before. We ate a quick breakfast, packed up our soggy gear, and started climbing over the next saddle towards Goat Peak, which is at 7800 ft. By the time we hit the saddle, the rain had turned to snow and our pants were soaked, along with our feet. Tim, still acclimating to the mountain elevation, was feeling a little dizzy. My hands were starting to go numb, and we still had another thousand feet to climb and ten miles to our next camp. This was not what we had in mind.
With the snow growing thicker and the trail getting harder and harder to see, Tim yelled out, “Should we turn around?” Without hesitation I said, “Yes!”, and we headed back up to the saddle and began the descent back to Big Sand Lake. Within an hour, we were back at the lake and the snow had switched to a light rain. Tim somehow got a fire going, and we put on dry clothes and huddled near the flames in an attempt to warm up. We ate some food, and within a few hours, we were feeling much better and began to laugh about the freak snowstorm. It was in the mid 70s the first two days of the trip, and then, boom, the weather changed on a dime!
We spent the next couple days hiking the way we came, and camped one night under the star-studded skies of Blodgett Lake. We found someone in the trailhead parking lot to give me a ride to my car at Bear Creek, and then I drove back to Blodgett to pick up Tim.
Despite the strong urge to keep hiking through the snow and sticking to our planned route, turning around on day three of our trip was an excellent decision. Had we kept going, something bad could have happened, and our situation could have become tenuous. As the saying goes, “It’s not the mountain that we conquer, but ourselves.”
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Thank you everyone for reading this story. Appreciate all the positive feedback, and please consider submitting an essay of your own from a recent trip into the Wilderness!
Sorry that You had to change plans, but always enjoy the story and how you could change those plans and make for a great outing, despite snow, falling temps and freezing hands and etc...!
I agree! My daughter and I woke up early one frigid morning to find we were buried under 6 inches of snow. The day before we had hiked into the Wind Rivers with a week's worth of food. It was early morning. Suddenly we heard a shout. Couldn't see anybody. Then another. We could barely make out 3 hikers. They wanted to know if we were staying. They had decided to walk out. No, we weren't going to give up so easily. It kept snowing and we were under 10 inches now with no way to see through the heavily falling snow. I thought we should leave. My daughter didn't. "With all this food? That's crazy. Let's give it to lunchtime." Another few hikers yelled from a distance to see if we were planning on leaving. We waved goodbye to them. Finally, I exercised my mother's potential and declared that we must get out. Who knows how long this would go on. We hesitantly packed up, brushed over a foot of snow off our heavy soggy tent and hanging food bag and headed down the trail for 15 miles. As we drove north and kept looking back, the mountains were enveloped in charcoal, billowing clouds. Threatening. For the next 4 days, the storm never abated. We knew we had made a sensible decision to turn back.
The old saying "wool will save your life; cotton will take it." Wool stays warm when wet. Turning around was 100% thing to do. We have rigged a rain tarp, built the fire under it and stood under it to eat. ..Then into the sleeping bags..... Never "push your luck" in the wilderness; save rescue teams big trouble.
I liked your description of the mountains, the star studded skays , and then i was most fascinated by youpromt and uniform consent to turn round!
In September 2003, I was day hiking up Big Timber Creek, north of Big Timber, Montana. I crossed the Creek by hopping on rocks (there was no bridge then) and started up the trail to Blue Lake. The higher I got, the more snow appeared on the trail. The snow looked like it was ready to freeze and it was mid-afternoon. I thought to myself "I'm alone. No one knows where I am. If I get hurt, I could die here." I turned around.
You always have to know when to turn around.
My old friend, Bill Steward, age 78, says, "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear"! Can't say that I agree, but he has hiked miles from coast to prove it, so I always recall his words when the weather makes me turn back.
I am so glad you used your common sense and decided to return to stay safe. There will be many more outdoor adventures for you now. ? I am just heart broken about the family that went hiking in the Sierras in 100+ degree weather and as a result lost their lives. A couple, baby and dog who will never get to explore more outdoor adventures. ?
Very well spoken. There's a gorgeous lake in Emigrant Wilderness that I badly wanted to show to a dear friend, and between food poisoning from jerky and a swollen, impassable river, it took 3 tries and 2 years to complete our mission. I can't count the number of times I've turned back on other trips when the weather or a party member's health made continuing a bad idea, and I greatly appreciate you speaking up about this so publicly. It always hurts to feel like you've been defeated in the moment of that decision to turn back, but learning when to change plans on the fly is one of the best lessons Mama Nature can teach us.
The 180 degree turn should always be an option for hikers/backpackers and small plane pilots. It saves a lot of lives. Thank you for sharing you experience.
I think that people who do stupid actions should pay for their rescue (Canada they do) as they put the rescuers in danger too.
Great adventure! Reading about the many people venturing into areas they have NO business being in currently just makes me wonder what were they thinking - or were they? I've never been lucky enough to go to these wonderful places, so I live vicariously thru people like you. Thank you so much for including me.
I am not a person who skies or particularly likes very cold weather but I fell in love with that picture of Bear Creek in the fall with the beautiful colors of the leaves changing and a clear blue sky nestled in what appears to be pine or alpine trees with big mountains in the background.
I believe this part of the country should be protected for all present & future generations of people who want to visit and enjoy nature .
Oops sorry may have sent a blank comment there. Thanks a lot for your story. I could visualize it all and it felt like I was right there. Which was very nice as I no longer can backpack. Your story brought back a memory of trying to hike Mt Whitney for my 30th birthday in mid August. We were going up from the back side and hiking about 8 miles a day to get there. Every day it would rain earlier and earlier in the day, in the mid 80s rain in the morning in the Sierra was very unusual. We couldn’t dry out our gear. On day three we reluctantly turned around and hiked 25 miles straight back to the trailhead. Our plan was a one way trip and we arranged pick up on the other side of Mt Whitney. A farrier offered to drive us back to Visalia. He had a VW bug filled with boxes of horse shoes and only a driver’s seat. It was still very fun to be in the mountains.