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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