Four Days, Forty Miles

An old cliche...the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  My feet don't know that one.  Nor do Forest Service trails through the western mountains.  Trails go wherever lumpy terrain dictates.  And, if you're a hiker like me, it's easy to get sidetracked and go cross country in order to investigate some out of the way body of water.  It's only a "few" extra miles.

So I bumped my way up the Boulder River road with the intention of hitting the trail and covering a few miles before dark.   But, I was played out from work. And, it was still warm.  Common sense prevailed.  I camped at Hicks Park instead.  Besides, I prefer to hike in the cool of morning.

Morning, true to form, I was much more chipper.  I broke camp, packed my pack and drove to the Box Canyon trailhead.  I was on the trail by 6:45 a.m.  My itinerary over the next few days would take me through some scenic high country.  Here then are some photos.  Enjoy!

Lake Columbine, Beartooth Mountains, Montana.

Sawyer water filter, alpine spring water, above Columbine Lake, Montana.

Columbine Pass, Beartooth Mountains, Montana.

I made it to Pentad Lake around 1:30 p.m.  And yes, I was glad to slip out of the pack.  I poked around a bit, checked out some possible campsites, found one I liked, and set up for the evening.  A couple of folks with horses were camped nearby.  There was another camp across the lake.  No matter, everyone was quiet.  

Fishing?  Well, of course.  I'll admit, the fish are the impetus for going and hitting the high country in the first place.  But, after I catch a few, I'm usually content to call it good.  Besides, is there any reason that anyone "needs" to catch eighty-seven ten inch cutthroats?  

Another reason for being in the mountains?  I just love sunrises and sunsets.  The first and last hour of the day offer tremendous opportunities for hunting lake reflections.

Evening reflection, Pentad Lake, Beartooth Mountains, Montana

Up early next morning.  I'd hike to a couple of nearby lakes to say hello the the fish.  Frost was just starting to settle on the grass as the sun poked over the horizon.  I could hear the soothing sound of horse bells nearby.  Like I said before, I don't care to ride 'em, but there's something neat about a high country camp where horses are part of the landscape.

Lots of nice reflections on this morning.  Got back to camp by ten.  I decided to move and check some other options.  Jordan, Sunken Rock, Martes.

Sunken Rock and Martes held little of interest, maybe a mistake on my part.  I decided to press on towards Wounded Man Lake.  I briefly entertained bailing off the edge of Martes into the Wounded Man drainage.  Superior intellect, a college education and fear of breaking my neck prevailed.  I retraced my steps to the big Jordan Pass meadow.  Just a "few" more miles.

I got to Wounded Man Lake around five and felt like kissing the ground.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  It's not that far, but the stretch between Jordan Pass and Wounded Man seemed to take forever.  My little "detour" took some of the starch out of my britches.

Nice camp again.  I shared the lake with another party.  No horses this evening.

On towards the rest of the "Lake Plateau".  From Wounded Man to the myriad Rainbow Lakes are many bodies of water situated in alpine country.  This would be a short day hiking wise.  No cross country adventures in the works for this "college grad".

As regards wildlife, I saw little.  All told, four mule deer.  A few chipmunks.  Some ancient piles of bear poop in the Sunken Rock/Martes area.  I did see an osprey snag a fish at Pentad, that was cool.

This last camp was a bit more sheltered.  Translation?  More bugs.  While they didn't really bother me, I never gave them the chance.  I wore long sleeves and long pants on the entire trip.   I have no problem using DEET on the few remaining exposed skin surfaces.  Then too, I built a fire, just to round out my manly aroma of sweat and insect repellant with that of woodsmoke.  Mostly, I wanted to piss off the mosquitos.

I expected a big flower show on this trip.  I was mildly disappointed.  Ok, I was really disappointed.  Sure, the the requisite monkey flower bloomed along streams, but the meadows?  Not so much.  Even Columbine Pass lacked its namesake flower.  I never saw a columbine.  

The last morning,  I was up at five.  This was the first morning with condensation on the tent fly.  I could have waited for the sun to dry things out before knocking down camp, but nah, I rolled it all up and stuffed it into its tent sack.  I wanted to be on the trail before the day warmed.  I was making tracks before the sun had rubbed the sleep from its eyes.

Distance notwithstanding, it's a popular hike.  Along the way, I met some nice folks on the trail.  One couple from Washington had completed the circuit in three days.  Hardy hikers they.  Another party from Arkansas had endured a whiteout when a "summer" storm swept through earlier in the week.  One of the fellas reported wearing his underwear on his head to keep his ears warm.  It pays to be ready and resourceful in the Montana high country, even in summer.

I made it back to the trailhead before noon.  The miles roll by when going downhill.  Back at the car I quickly downed a quart of Gatorade to rehydrate.  Funny, I didn't notice the bumpy ride out near as much as the ride in.  The proverbial carrot was dangling in front of my car as I drove on.  Next stop, Livingston.  Burgers!  Fries!  Chocolate shake!  


  1. Lester
    I've wonder where you have been, now we all know. What a hike, glad you were able to carry along the fly rod and land some mountain trout. What was the weather like during the day, I know it was cool at night. Here the humidity horrible and the heat is even worst. You are one lucky guy to live in such a place and better yet to land fish, where no fly has touched the water. Enjoyed the post!!

    1. Sorry Bill, haven't done all that much since my last post. At least nothing that I thought worth reporting. Was going to do this hike two weeks, but was sidelined with a summer cold.

      Anyway, I hit it just right. Weather was perfect, too warm during the day actually. My sleeping bag is rated to 36 degrees, I was too warm. Humidity is not an issue here, but, having grown up back east, I feel your pain. Glad you liked the post. Hopefully I'll be a little more "regular."

  2. Les: Wow, ambitious hike. My right knee was aching just reading about it....40 in 4, and all that up and down..140 in 4. Nice pics. I like high lakes shots with reflections....and of course native cutthroat pic. Burger, fries and choc shake in town a nice way to end the adventure. Great post.

    1. Hi Bob, yes it was a bit of a haul but I've wanted to do it for a long time and figured that I'd better tackle it while I still thought it possible. I feared for my back but it was my hip flexors that caused the most grief.

      Glad you liked the photos, I sure like taking them. I'm required by state law to stop in Livingston for the burgers, fries and shake.

  3. An awesome alpine beat. Nice hiking! Probably too late for columbines? Could you really catch 87 cutties there?

    1. Walt, it really was a heck of a hike. The alpine scenery is tremendous. I've seen columbines elsewhere much later in the summer, often along the streams with the red gentians. As for the fish, it would be possible to rack up some serious numbers, it definitely would be possible on some of the brook trout lakes elsewhere in the Beartooths. But, I was happy to catch a few and left the rest for you.

    2. Duh, I meant red monkey flower.

  4. Great journey..enjoyed being taken along with you thru your post..

    1. Thanks for stopping by Mike. Hope the rest of your summer goes well.


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