Backpacking the Rattlesnake Wilderness

Finally spring break has arrived! It is time to replace the textbooks and study guides for trail maps and hiking boots. To start the week off I decided to load up the backpack and hit the rattlesnake wilderness with my buddy James. We planned on packing in about 8 miles on our first day, and then hitting the peak the second day, followed by our descent on the third and final day. It was a well thought out plan that would have worked out beautifully if it was not for a few tiny problems.

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James and I at the trailhead pre-hike.

Now I am was born an east coast boy and I have not been accustomed to the ridiculous climate that the western states have. So in saying that, when we started hiking it was a mild 55 degrees out and looked to be steadily climbing. Now I forgot to mention that we were also gaining 5000 feet in elevation during this hike/trek, so bear this in mind as you continue to read. Anyways we started hiking at about 1 in the afternoon, and not 20 minutes into our excursion it started to rain/snow. This was nothing really and did not dampen our spirits, although it did dampen our clothing and packs. After the wintry mix concluded the sun came out and dried us out in time for the next bit of precipitation. This time though it was hail. Now it was not large, but the fact remains it was hail!

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A good hatchet is a great backpacking companion.

After our brief encounter with the hail we continued on. We started to hit some serious elevation gain about an hour and a half into the journey, we took it slow and enjoyed the good hard work. Then we met our first fellow hiker who was coming back down. As he walked towards me I noticed that his boots and pants were pretty wet which seemed a little strange. After we met and exchanged names and other backpacker info, he then informed me that he have turned around without reaching his destination because the SNOW was too DEEP. Great, this is exactly what I wanted to here. Anyways we pushed on and soon found out that our fellow hiker was not lying. We hit snow with still about 3 miles of intense hiking to go. With our pace reduced and break periods increased we continued onward and upward. After hours or grueling hiking in what appeared to be 30-40 inches of snow (increasing with elevation) we finally decided to stop and make camp. I also forgot to mention that the temperature had now dropped below freezing and the wind had also come out to play.

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We figured there was about 50 inches of snow at our first campsite.

As soon as I got my tent set up I grabbed my sleeping back and crawled in for a nap. I woke up to the sound of James chopping some fire wood and making a fire. I put on all the clothes that I had brought (not many) and went out to join him. Fortunately the wind had died down, but the temperature was still dropping. We made a fire, cooked dinner, and then I hit the sack hoping that the next day would be full of sun and warmth.

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Making fires on the snow is a tricky business. We woke up the next morning and found the ashes about 4 feet down in the snow!

I woke up the next morning the with the sun shining, which was a lovely feeling. James and I enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and pop tarts and then hit the trail. We decided to just leave our camping gear and do the rest of the journey as a day hike. We made it about 3/4 our a mile until we hit the north facing side of the mountain and started sinking down to our thighs in the snow. This unfortunately was as far as we could go. We had to turn around with our destination in sight, so close yet so far away. We journeyed back to camp and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of our time. After getting back to camp we decided to move it all to the ridgeline where we could at least get a view.

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Some of the visible peaks from our campsite.

We made camp number 2 and then just bummed around camp for the rest of the day trying to stay warm and out of the wind. The warmest place for me was my sleeping bag, so I took a nice nap or tried to anyways.

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My tent placement for camp site number two made for some beautiful vistas.

The day ended with another fire side meal and a few night pictures of the surrounding area.

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Missoula in the distance was a spectacular view. It is amazing to be able to do all this not 10 miles out of downtown.

We woke in the morning after another chilly night (22 degrees) and made breakfast. After our morning meal we packed it all up and headed back down to the trailhead where we would hopefully meet our ride.

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He seems a little upset about his arrangement.

It was a great weekend and I learned a lot about “spring” backpacking. I will never again head into the mountains as unprepared. I hope you all enjoyed the post and I am looking forward to hearing your comments. Also check back next week to see how the rest of my spring break goes.

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“Our” peak!

 

Montana Happenings

Enjoy the photo-journal of the last few weeks here in Missoula, MT.

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Fishing the famed Bitterroot river in search of the elusive yet stunning rainbow trout.
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Trying my tying hand at a few streamers. Unfortunately school has kept me away from my tying bench of late, so the fly box is looking a little scarce.
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The bitterroot did not give up many fish, but the ones it did were captivating in their beauty.
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The escape! They seem so happy to swim away, its like they don’t like to be caught or something.
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I found this old deserted car along side one of the local rivers. Not sure how it got there, or how long it has been there.
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I ran into the local sheep heard as I was traversing rock creek one day.
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The classic tail and net shot!
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Garret and I explored some new water on rock creek, and were quite satisfied with the results!
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What he lacked in size he sure made up for in color.

 

 

Summit Seeking – Spring Break

For Spring Break Ethan, Marshall, and I took a southbound journey into the Appalachian mountains. We planned to summit six states by hiking their highest mountains. Leaving just before midnight allowed us to be in Virginia by sunrise, where we picked up a great breakfast at Casey’s Diner.

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Casey’s Diner was a good way to start the day

Despite the fact that we were running on only one hour of sleep, we were full of energy and ready to conquer, so we began our first state summit: Mt. Rogers of Virginia. The hike was very scenic, with wild ponies and awesome rocky vistas that offered 360 degree views.

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Ethan getting dangerously close to a Pony

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The wind was fierce up here

After Virginia’s summit, we wasted no time and headed for Kentucky to bag its highest point: Black Mountain. This mountain required just a short hike, which was shortened even more when a kind local gave us a ride back down the mountain.

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Sunset on Black Mountain
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Hitching a ride

No sleep finally caught up to us and we crashed for the night at a campsite. But by morning we were ready to defeat Tennessee at Clingman’s Dome. We battled 16 miles of trail which had a lot of snow and ice cover. It was a long trip, but the view made it worth it.

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Tennessee still had a wintry feel to it
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The summit of Clingman’s Dome!
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Looking North into the Carolinas

The next day we peaked Georgia’s Brasstown Bald and South Carolina’s Sassafras Mountain. The weather really got nice this day; nice enough for me to break out my sandals!

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Climbing Sassafras
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Flannels were required
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It’s not a road trip without some off-roading

On the final day we woke at 3:30 am to begin hiking Mt. Mitchell (N.C.), which is the highest peak East of the Mississippi. We made it to the top just before sunrise, which was our goal. Unfortunately there was a heavy fog, so we missed the sunrise altogether. My first experience of night hiking was still a great adventure!

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Good headlamps were a must
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Our sixth and final summit!

We were dead tired, but full of tons of great memories. I’m looking forward to next spring break for more state summits!