March 9th, 2016
Montana has a good number of Forest Service cabins available for rent by the public. These cabins can be found all over the nation, in fact, but I’ve only ever stayed in Montana cabins. The first time was at Mystic Lake up the Sourdough canyon on the south side of Bozeman with my friend Emma, but it’s been two years since that trip. So when I told Claire that I wanted to do some backpacking while visiting, she booked the Forest Service cabin on top of Garnet Peak in Gallatin canyon.
It’s straightforward enough to get to the trail head, simply follow the signs to Gallatin Gateway, enter the canyon, and look for Squaw Creek Road on the left. It’s not too far up the canyon, which makes it a pretty quick, easy drive.
We had invited our friends Dane and Kevin to come up with us. They didn’t want to start until about 2:00 or 3:00 but we said, “OHHH, NO WAY, GUYS, THAT’S WAYYY TO LATE, WE’RE GONNA LEAVE BY 11:00 AT THE LATEST.” OF COURSE we actually left at 1:00 pm and started hiking at 1:30. So, you know, we were holding REAL TIGHT to our schedule.
Squaw Creek Rd. (changed to Storm Castle Road, I’m just now remembering due to the rather unfortunate meaning of the word “Squaw”) is mostly closed in the wintertime, so we parked at the lot by the gate, strapped our ancient and borrowed snow shoes to our packs, and started up the road. It’s about 1.5 miles to the beginning of the Garnet Mtn. trail, off the the right and across a little bridge.
From the beginning of the trail it’s another four miles to the peak. Claire led the way with her slow and steady pace made slower and steadier by the layer of ice under our feet. I, like a complete idiot, suggested we not bring our micro spikes because we were hauling snowshoes up, and wouldn’t that be redundant anyway? A mistake, my friends. Such a mistake. ALWAYS BRING YOUR MICRO SPIKES IS AS CONSTANT A RULE AS “THE MONGOLS ARE THE EXCEPTION.”
In truth, the trail was very manageable, nicely graded, and lacking the rocks and roots that always come out to bite while hiking in New Hampshire.
As you can see, the trail meanders up one the peak’s Northwest ridges. I’d say we were about two miles in when we hit a meadow that had become a snowfield and started post-holing HARRD.
That Gallatin Valley, though.
We strapped on our snowshoes to traverse the snowy meadow, though we vaguely lost the trail. No worries, we found it again on the other side of the meadow. There were footprints in the snow the ran straight up the peak to the left of the meadow. We knew that the trail was supposed to wrap around the back side of the peak, so we forged ahead the way we thought we should go. The trail ran perpendicular the a pretty extreme slope right at these snow fields, and the snow had become extremely soft in the afternoon sun. After a rather harrowing time crossing one snow field only to be immediately hit with another one, we decided to head back to the meadow and try following the tracks we had seen before.
This way proved to not necessarily be any better, and ended up looking like this:
There was a lot of exhausting slipping and fighting our way up the slope. Then I discovered this handy thing called, “crawling on your hands and feet,” and that managed to get me up the first slope to where the snow was considerably less.
We turned our noses up the slope, and just went straight. Eventually, the fire tower appeared in the distance.
It was an hallelujah moment, to be sure, but as I was still not quite used the altitude, nor 100% recovered from my cold, it was a long, slow, last stretch to our goal. Good thing the sun was so damn beautiful during the toil. We got into the cabin just as the sun was setting, and I was ecstatic:
The cabin has two bunk beds, an awesome wood stove, a Coleman stove, a lantern, games, pots, pans, wood, and more wind than anyone could ever hope for.
Claire promptly got a fire going while I very helpfully took sunset photos.
Once I was done squealing over the sunset, I set to work on our dinner of Annie’s mac while Claire broke out the boxed wine and Bridge board. Heavy stuff I’m talking about here guys.
It was then that I finally got a text from Dane saying that he and Kevin had just started hiking. My brain went immediately to, “WHY THE CRAP ARE YOU GETTING STARTED NOW? IN THE DARK?” It must have something to do with them being from Alaska and being used to doing things in the dark all winter, but as Claire and I sat cozied up in the cabin with the wind HOWLING around us, I could help but feel a little worried.
The guys showed up about two hours later toting salmon and spinach with them, of course, and we had a great time playing cards and drinking wine. It’s a good thing we had the wine, too, because the wind was determined to disallow ANY sleeping to occur that night.
Still, sleep we did, and wake we did to a cloudy morning that was just as windy as the night before. We headed out around 11:00, and the sun burst forth for our descent, warming us as we went, satisfied with another adventure.