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Montana Beartooth Mountains trip


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My wife and I did a 6 day trip in the Beartooth's last week. As a little background, I have no idea how many trips I have made in this area since 1965 but suspect I spent better than a year's time there and never tire of it. And I make no claims as to seeing it all-just a lot of it. This trip was supposed to be a "beaten path" trip from Cooke city to Alpine on East Rosebud Creek but one of the couple we were going to go with was in a car accident the prior week so they couldn't make it. We decided to do a loop with about 2/3's being off-trail. Overall, this ended up being close to a 30 mile trip.


This trip started and ended at the Chief Joseph Trailhead about 3 miles east of Cooke City (Montana) on US 212. The first day we packed a little over 7 miles with an overall elevation gain of about 1500 feet (starting at an elevation of 8000') and camped at Bald Knob Lake. This was all on FS Trail 3, referred to locally as "the beaten path" and I am guessing we saw about a dozen people and one horse pack train. So follow along-there will be a separate post for each day.

Broadwater River about 100 yards from the trailhead. One of the canines just about put her pack in there and I ended up "lunchboxing" both dog packs from that point as there wasn't room for them in the pack. It wasn't until Day 3 that they would finally fit in the pack.


Lower Kersey Lake, about a mile in.


Looking back at Kersey. I believe that is Henderson Mountain in the distance:


Russell Creek:




Ouzel Lake:


Bald Knob Lake:


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Day 2 continued of FS Trail 3, past Skull and Fossil Lake and descended into the East Rosebud Creek Drainage. We departed the trail (now FS 15) above Dewey Lake and began a lot of miles of bushwhacking-maybe better termed boulderwhacking in this place. After leaving the trail, we proceeded up the Cairn Lake drainage to Oly Lake and set up camp above the lake.

Looking back at Bald Knob Lake:


Skull Lake:


Fizzle Lake:


Fossil Lake, right at the top of the divide between East Rosebud Creek and the Broadwater River, just short of 10,000' elevation:


Looking north into the E. Rosebud Creek drainage:


East Rosebud Creek:



Cascades and plunge pool below Oly Lake. At this point we were about a half mile off the trail:


Oly Lake with Summit Mountain in the background. This is where we spent the second and third nights.


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Day 3 consisted of a day hike to Cairn Lake and return. Cairn is probably my most favorite place in the Beartooth's and also home to some 8lb brookies although we didn't do any fishing there on this trip.

Puddle above Oly Lake:


Cairn Lake "afterbay"-actually a separate small lake:


Cairn Lake with the Spires and Mount Villard in background:


Another shot of Cairn:


Another puddle with Summit Mountain in background:


Mount Dewey and more water:



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Day four was only about 4 miles. That said, it was a very rough four miles and a lot of "hey, we can't get there from here moments" along with a few adrenalin shots. This leg of the adventure started at Oly Lake and ended at Lone Elk Lake on Sky Top Creek.

Can't have a thread without the kids-at Oly Lake:



The easy part of the drainage above Oly Lake:


It quickly became not so easy. After chipping enough of the snow away here so I was pretty sure I wouldn't fall in this, it was 4 trips in crotch deep water across this with 2 dogs and 2 packs. Still almost lost a dog under the snow bank and it was a steep 150' before she would have came out the other side.


We were able to walk across the next one:


Just more trail:



Once we managed to get through the "slot", the drainage opened into a large bowl with several no-name lakes:




We broke over the top at about 10,300' at Lower Sky Top Lake. The Spires and Mount Villard in background and we were really hoping the boomers would refraine from from dumping on us in this spot.


Sky Top Creek with Rough Lake in Background:



Rough Lake and some more wonderful bouldering:


Lone Elk Lake and the Spires:


Camp at Lone Elk:


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Day 5 was from Lone Elk down Sky Top Creek a little over a mile and then cut uphill to the south past Pneumonia, Splinter, and Finger Lakes to a camp at Moccasin Lake. It was another pretty invigorating 4 miles of boulder bashing.

Sky Top Creek below Lone Elk. We could have saved some boulder bashing by crossing this thing but it was a lot more water moving way faster than we wanted to get into:


Looking back at Lone Elk:


Yours truly and the camp kitchen (breakfast) at Lone Elk:


More Sky Top Creek below Lone Elk:




Climbing out of Sky Top Creek. The flat top peak in the background is Granite Peak, the highest point in Montana at 12,802'.


Pneumonia Lake-camped here once about 2 decades past:


Upper end of Splinter Lake:



Finger Lake:


Outlet of Finger Lake with Mount Zimmer in the background:


Moccasin Lake:


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Eternal hope dashed again, the last day was another rough one. My wife and I had been down this same route in 92 and I was hoping (in vain) that 22 years would have made it a bit easier. The area around Curl and Broadwater Lakes was another victum of the 1988 Yellowstone fires and when we went through there in 92 we spent a lot of time crawling under and over burnt trees and acquired rather dark complexions in the process. This time there was a lot less charcoal and most everything was on the ground but it still took better than 2.5 hours to make it the 1.5 miles around those lakes. The cleared FS trail at the outlet of Curl was a very welcome site.

Camp at Moccasin Lake:



Pilot and Index Peaks from Moccasin Lake:


More quality trail-actually had to revive some of the old rock climbing skills to get off some of this. We lost a 1000' elevation in half a mile. Curl (left) and Broadwater Lakes in background:





Curl Lake, Pilot and Index in background:


Almost back to the trailhead. Wet meadow on Sedge Creek below Kersey Lake. I believe that is Sheep Mountain in the background.


Epilogue: I had some serious doubts as to how well various parts of the anatomy were going to take this trip but other than the usual attributes of being a geriatric club member (69 years young), it came off really well. Already thinking of another for next summer.

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grizzled - congrats on a great trip and thanks for the report! That's some rugged terrain. Y'know, I think I spotted Sasquatch in your 3rd picture!

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Awesome, thanks for sharing. Another possible destination added to my bucket.

It's a truly unbelievable place and there isn't any other area in the lower 48 that I know of that even comes close to the alpine experience found here-a million acres of it. The portion covered with this trip is in the low single digit percentage of the total area. I'm admittedly biased, but I think it's a better experience than Glacier Park, Yellowstone Park, or the Bob.

And it really doesn't see much use-a mixed blessing-few people but it doesn't get much public support from the limited exposure. Once you are off the official trails, you are usually the only people there. Out of 6 days on this trip, after leaving the trail the second day, we saw a total of 4 people-2 climbers and 2 backpackers.

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