The early morning moo’s of the cows broke through the cold air sounding almost like they were covered in frost. We started going through our routine of getting ready, and we finished up by throwing our packs once again over our shoulders. In order to the combat the cold morning, we still had our down jackets, but as soon as we followed the trail out of the gully, we started to climb. This portion of trail was covered in morning sun unlike where we had camped, so the air was noticeably warmer.
We started our ascent surrounded by herds upon herds of cows, black cows, brown cows, and even the albino ones. As we passed they looked up from their breakfast and watched as we wandered past. We started to heat up quickly being in the sun now in addition to climbing. We each stopped and took a brief few seconds to shed our insulated layer and begin climbing again. Critter took a couple of extra minutes to patch a tear she got when she was taking off her pack to take of her down jacket, but soon enough we began walking once more. If we did not mentioned in April that over the next months we would mention walking a bunch, we will go ahead and apologize.
We had decided to take another alternate pointed out on our Ley Maps. The initial climb was tougher but the overall climbing distance would (technically) be less that the official route. However, this alternate would take us up and over Cottonwood Peak standing tall at 11,029 feet. We stopped to filter at our last water source until the end of the day, and then continued on turning off from trail when we arrived at the alternate’s trail junction.
The trail began to climb immediately. In the mile that we had to the top, we had around 2,000 feet to climb. We left the openness of the the trail and entered into the trees for our trail-less scramble up to the top. There is no feeling quite like the one when you leave tree-line. The dense forest began to fade until there was nothing in between us and the air surrounding us. We could see where we had come from the days before behind us and we could see where we were headed. We could see the wall of exposed rock to our left and the seemingly innocent rolling mountains to our right. Trail, still nonexistent, became a massive talis and scree field. The summit was almost in sight.
We kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. Our trekking poles digging deep into the loose rock for grip as our minds tried to ignore each slide our feet took with each step. As quick as the peak came into view, we took our final steps before the ground leveled out at the top. Still rocky and straddling the Montana-Idaho border, the top was decorated with its very own geographical marker. We sat at the top for a handful of minutes before making our descent. The descent was more gradual than the climb but ironic when we began losing all the elevation we just worked for very quickly. We reached a saddle where we met back up with the official trail and suddenly we were climbing again.
For the rest of the day, the trail took us over the tops of balds as it tucked us into the most beautiful mountains. Intense layers surrounded us. On the ridge we were on, we were not the highest point but we also were not the lowest among the layers. There was no trail to follow so we followed cairns and kept our eyes on the general direction we know we needed to head in. Finally, we popped back into the trees and began to descend down towards a water source, Tex Creek. We stopped sooner than what was marked on our maps to filter and make dinner. A hiker, named Wire-Rims, that we had met after joining back up with trail continued on down trail before stopping for the night. We made dinner and as the sun started to lower we kept heading down trail. Our goal was to make it to Morrison Lake for the day. We had five more miles to go so we picked up speed and hiked on. Cows surrounded the trail and as we came up and over a hill we were face to face with a line of young bulls. We made noise and continued on past trying not to turn our backs to them.
As we arrived at Morrison Lake, the sun had already set and the air was beginning to cool off once more. We found a non-sagebrush spot to set up camp, and as soon as we climbed into our sleeping bags we were out.
Garbelly & Critter