Turning back is never easy, but sometimes the best decision

By Brett Haverstick

BrettMarty 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!

FCRONRW

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.”

 

 

S B 10 21

 

Brett is Wilderness Watch's membership and development director.
 

Editor's note:

“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Commenting guidelines:

We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.

 

Hulahula River Pingo
We Need Big Holistic Wilderness
 

Comments 32

Guest - Melissa Polick on Friday, 22 October 2021 09:31

Proud of you two, for being "Brave" and understanding Nature. Great Story and thank you for Everything that You do!!? ?

Proud of you two, for being "Brave" and understanding Nature. Great Story and thank you for Everything that You do!!? ?
Guest - don f. hamilton on Friday, 22 October 2021 09:23

Your adventures and pix bring back wonderful memories, especially if you are almost 85 and your days in the wild are over, but seem so vivid now. So keep up the good work. How fun they were!

Your adventures and pix bring back wonderful memories, especially if you are almost 85 and your days in the wild are over, but seem so vivid now. So keep up the good work. How fun they were!
Guest - Barbara Dailey on Friday, 22 October 2021 09:20

Thank you for sharing your story!

Thank you for sharing your story!
Guest - Susan Lea on Friday, 22 October 2021 09:14

Always choose Safe/Safety. Always go prepared. I skied 25+ miles into a remote spot in the Sierras/CA in the early 1970s, camped and during the night, temperatures dropped to less than 20 degrees below zero F, and I had to really fight to live. I found all of the wool items in my pack and put those on. Boiled water, and kept drinking it as hot as I could. I saw three ghostlike shapes swirling about near my tent round and round. The next day, rescue folks showed up as I moved out, all of whom believed I would be dead like the three campers who died there a week earlier. Lived on to save other campers from hypothermia etc. over the years on other expeditions. Go prepared.

Always choose Safe/Safety. Always go prepared. I skied 25+ miles into a remote spot in the Sierras/CA in the early 1970s, camped and during the night, temperatures dropped to less than 20 degrees below zero F, and I had to really fight to live. I found all of the wool items in my pack and put those on. Boiled water, and kept drinking it as hot as I could. I saw three ghostlike shapes swirling about near my tent round and round. The next day, rescue folks showed up as I moved out, all of whom believed I would be dead like the three campers who died there a week earlier. Lived on to save other campers from hypothermia etc. over the years on other expeditions. Go prepared.
Guest - Cynthia Hill on Friday, 22 October 2021 09:11

I read this aloud to my husband who no longer backpacks at age 77 but did for years in his youth including the Bitterroots. Brought back great memories for him. You made a good decision!

I read this aloud to my husband who no longer backpacks at age 77 but did for years in his youth including the Bitterroots. Brought back great memories for him. You made a good decision!
Guest - Brian Pierce on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:59

With Wilderness Watch we are able to keep watch what is going on here on our beloved Earth and beyond. Thanks and keep up the good work.

With Wilderness Watch we are able to keep watch what is going on here on our beloved Earth and beyond. Thanks and keep up the good work.
Guest - Dennis A Werner on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:44

Turning back was a good idea . Sorry the weather went sour on you.

Turning back was a good idea . Sorry the weather went sour on you.
Guest - Larry on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:33

Kudos to the both of you. Smart move. As a former wilderness and back country ranger changes in weather should always be at the forefront of a backpackers mind. Those who don’t respect Mother Natures power can pay a severe price.

Kudos to the both of you. Smart move. As a former wilderness and back country ranger changes in weather should always be at the forefront of a backpackers mind. Those who don’t respect Mother Natures power can pay a severe price.
Guest - Adrienne S. on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:29

I enjoy reading about your adventures in the wilderness, thank you for sharing.

I enjoy reading about your adventures in the wilderness, thank you for sharing.
Guest - Tobysgirl on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:23

Very smart! You can hardly call western Maine wilderness, but we were once going to climb Old Speck and decided not to when a hiker came down and told us how slippery everything was. I can't understand what is going on these days -- two separate people had to be rescued off of Katahdin in Baxter State Park recently on the same day. You don't go climbing unless you are dressed properly, outfitted properly, and know what you're getting yourself into. Back when I used to hike in the White Mountains, the search and rescue people said they were going to start charging for rescues. Does anyone know if this happened? I definitely think that should be the policy in Maine.

Very smart! You can hardly call western Maine wilderness, but we were once going to climb Old Speck and decided not to when a hiker came down and told us how slippery everything was. I can't understand what is going on these days -- two separate people had to be rescued off of Katahdin in Baxter State Park recently on the same day. You don't go climbing unless you are dressed properly, outfitted properly, and know what you're getting yourself into. Back when I used to hike in the White Mountains, the search and rescue people said they were going to start charging for rescues. Does anyone know if this happened? I definitely think that should be the policy in Maine.
Guest - Susan O'Rourke on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:21

I love a good ending-well done!

I love a good ending-well done!
Guest - gerard kuehn on Friday, 22 October 2021 08:21

thank you for all you do

thank you for all you do
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