There's one photo that sums up our trip to Montana this October. No, it isn't publish-worthy. It isn't from a fancy camera or a nice piece of glass. It isn't exceptionally clear, and doesn't focus on a breathtaking view. This hardly high resolution photo is raw and captures emotion. Our trip to Montana this year was difficult—more difficult than most will understand. It was a mental, emotional, and physical roller coaster.
The image above was caught with my Gopro while evacuating the mountains during a snow storm. Frozen beard, frozen eyelashes, exhaustion, physically and mentally beat. Things got pretty serious pretty fast. It’s easy to admire the beauty of the country. The difficulty is making sure you don’t underestimate it. Twenty-four hours prior, we started a grueling ten mile hike, at the end of which we dropped our 50+ pound packs and set up base camp. We had enough food and supplies for four to five days and intended to stay for that length of time. After ascending 3,500 ft and setting up our temporary home, we set out on our evening hunt. We walked an additional five miles and lured one frisky spike bull into range.
Shortly after dark we returned to camp to enjoy a Mountain House dinner and fell fast asleep. In the middle of the night, we were woken by the sound of falling snow on the tent. The next morning the sky was still spitting snow. It had begun to accumulate. We quickly dressed with all the layers we’d brought with us while preparing an oatmeal breakfast. The oatmeal absorbed the last of our fresh water supply, but the warm cereal did wonders for our chilled, fatigued bodies.
Shortly after breakfast we took off on our morning hunt, and quickly determined we were wasting our time. The weather was getting more intense: The wind was picking up, the snow was falling heavier, and our visibility had dissipated. We needed to evacuate the mountain and head for lower ground—a decision that was unanimous but difficult to make. The thought of turning back so quickly damaged our spirits, and knowing what it would take to get out in addition to the time and exertion it took to get here gnawed at us. But we knew what could happen if we didn’t.
We scrambled to pick up camp and pack everything away. Our first stop was a pool of water from which we’d filtered on our way up. Cold fingers made it difficult to operate the filter, but it didn’t take long to realize it was frozen. With our supply of fresh water now nonexistent, we scooped water from the icy pool into our canteens. The brown murky water was in need of sterilization. Luckily, we’d thrown a few Katadyn tablets in the packs for such occasions.
With water in tow we began our decent. The snow and wind had not subsided but only intensified. The trails were now covered in snow, hard to see, and very easy to miss. Thankfully, our GPS kept us from wandering too far off track when the snow led us astray. To say that it was all “downhill from there” is a slight understatement. We covered ground fast and only stopped for a few minutes at a time. We struggled with the sections that forced us up hill, and the struggle resulted in a mixture of sweat and general moisture that formed under our rainwear. It didn’t take long to warm enough to shed layers and resort to drinking the murky water. Our minds wandered few places other than the miserable trek and we had to tell ourselves to keep pushing.
Eventually we made it out of the mountains and into the unguarded, rolling pastures where the wind literally blew us off the trail. The gusts ranged from 40 to 50 mph and the snow blinded as it whipped across the hills. But the danger was over. At this point we knew we had made it. Though it was hard to get excited about pushing even further, we were within three miles of the truck. These last miles crawled, but eventually the truck was visible in the distance. We both rejoiced when we hit the flat parking lot and quickly shed our wet layers and began warming up in the truck. Our shoulders and muscles ached from the heavy packs and 20+ miles we had put on in a little over 24 hours. At this point there was only one thing to do: hit one of the many hot springs in the area and recover! The trip did not go as planned but, there are few hunts that I've been on that turn out like I imagine beforehand.