Across the Beartooths, Update #3: day one

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The first day of my mini-expedition started like many others: with deep frustration.

I had been driving all night, with a couple spotty moments of rest. I arrived in Red Lodge, Montana much later than I had hoped- at 3:30pm. I was hoping to be well into the mountains by then. In the distance, I could see the tops of the Beartooth peaks, and suddenly felt a nervous hesitance replacing my impatience. It was a familiar feeling I had always experienced when preparing for a solo trip deep in the backcountry. All the preparation and eagerness to start suddenly disappears when I find my feet at the trailhead.

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By the time I checked all my gear and packed it again in my small REI backpack, it was 4:30pm. I took off running up the trail at a brisk shuffle; the pack was heavy enough to halt a fast stride, but light enough to allow me to move without much restrain. I met a trail runner a few miles up, who couldn’t help but stop at my appearance.

He asked where I was going, and when I told him my plan to cross as much of the mountain range as I could in the course of the weekend, his eyes widened. “Do you, like, have enough food?” he asked concerned, glancing back at my small kit. I assured him I did, and that I was prepared for the ambitious expedition- but he stared at me unconvinced. “Alright then, be careful out there,” he said before disappearing. I imagine he went home and checked the news that weekend waiting for the inevitable story of the lone fast-packer lost in the mountains.

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As soon as I hit the alpine, a feeling of bliss carried my feet, and I felt lighter once again. I gorged on Snickers bars and beef sticks, never stopping, trying to make up for lost ground. I kept my eyes on the distance for bears, but without binoculars, I couldn’t see very far.

Just before dark, I crested a small rise and found two large bull elk monarchs standing against the skyline majestically. I paused long enough to take some splendid photos, before continuing on my search for a place to sleep.

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I set up camp in-between a pile of massive white granite boulders, and could barely stay awake long enough to cook my dinner of rice and beans over my small stove. I had covered exactly 10 miles that afternoon- 10 difficult miles- and I was worn out. I would need to rest as much as possible, since the next day, I would push for 35 or more miles. I fell asleep to the sound of a herd of elk feeding in the alpine meadows below me, calling into the starry night.

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( montana , backpacking , photography )

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