Wednesday, August 12, 2009
In mid-July, I and three friends went on a four day backpacking trip in Montana's Crazy Mountains. Originally, we'd wanted to head to Glacier Park, but bailed on that idea when we realized what a hassle getting the back country camping permits was. Instead, I went googling and found this guy who proposed a loop in the Crazies. It looked fantastic.
Sadly, Beartooth Publishing hasn't released a map of the Crazies yet, so we ordered a custom topo from mytopo.com, which was high quality and beautiful and huge for about $30. If you buy from them, remember to click through a discount link, such as the ones at Primal Quest.
We left work about noon and began the two hour drive to the Cottonwood Creek trail head. You might not expect that the drive from Bozeman would take two hours, but the last few miles of the road are in pretty rough shape and are best taken around 10 MPH. The parking lot was empty when we arrived. As we were unloading our packs, a car from Utah pulled up, two folks got out, and headed up the trail, which of course disappointed us as we expected to be alone.
In the parking lot, we weighed our packs. The lightest was just under 40 pounds; the heaviest, mine, was just over 50 pounds, including 3 liters of water.
As we headed out of the parking lot, we met the the folks from Utah who were headed back to their car. About three miles later we ran into this waterfall on Cottonwood Creek. Just before the waterfall, the trail becomes poorly defined and follows an old stream bed. We found that while the water was relatively high, it's best to stay on the downhill side of the creek and follow it upstream to a big log jam just downstream of the waterfall, which seems to be the easiest place to cross.
From the waterfall, the terrain ramps up and the trail hopscotches upward through an odd combination of exposed rocks and thick trees. There was still a fair amount of snow at places in the trees. As we neared the elevation of Cottonwood Lake, we came to a wide spot in the creek that I call Fake Cottonwood Lake since it had fooled me on a previous trip to Cottonwood Lake. The snow was still many feet thick in places there and where there wasn't snow, there was standing water or really spongy, soggy soil. Getting through there wasn't much fun. We got to Cottonwood Lake proper about 5:30. Originally, we'd hoped to make it over the ridge between Cottonwood and Glacier on the first day, but decided it was too late and set up camp at Cottonwood.