Montana Headwall » Head Trip

Oh, Pioneers!

A newbie backpack trip to Torrey Lake that would make Darwin proud



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"This is the time of year the bears are really out—you'll definitely see them," he warned, after noting that we did not have guns or pepper spray.

"Oh, we'll be fine," I said, cheerfully. Yes, this was an area I'd never hiked in, but I'd been in bear country many times. Sometimes I carried a gun, but mostly I didn't worry about it.

I could practically smell his skepticism as he went to confer with his group. Figuring they'd rather not read in the papers about the young couple who were brutally mauled en route to Torrey Lake, the group stopped their horses at our truck, handed us a can of pepper spray and asked us to please take it.

We did. Jason assured them that he'd bring his pistol, as well—not that it would do any good, as I saw it, but maybe it could be a noise deterrent. This seemed to ease their worries enough for them to wish us well.

Cattle were the only "wildlife" we encountered on the hike, and the vicious man-eaters kept their distance. The broad, well-maintained Jacobson Creek Trail 2 led us through meadows and across creeks (with bridges!) before turning right after 2.5 miles to Trail 56, taking us under craggy cliffs and into forests of fallen trees that reminded me of Bev Doolittle paintings. I kept expecting to see hidden faces appear in the lines of the jumbled timber.

The path climbed gently for six and a half miles. The final two miles were steeper—not calf-burning, since they ascend only 1,000 feet over that distance, but steep enough so that Jason became fully aware of his tonnage. The trip took less than five hours, but we were both thrilled to pop out of the forest at nearly 9,000 feet onto the boggy, flat meadow leading to Torrey. Since we were the only visitors, we had our pick of several campsites at the edge of the forest.

Looming over the lake like protective parents stood Torrey and Tweedy, the two tallest peaks in the Pioneer range. We arrived at the lake too late for a summit climb. Maybe next year.

My first thoughts now were warmth. Temps had plummeted along with the sun, and we were freezing. It didn't take long to get a bonfire roaring, so we thawed our fingers and then decided to cast our lines into the limpid water. I could see a few trout following my lures with interest and got a few test nibbles, but my fingers soon froze again and I could no longer tie anything to the end of my line. I gave up and celebrated with the more determined, less frozen Jason, as he brought in a small rainbow. After the obligatory "I caught a fish" picture, we released it and watched it swim away.

As an Eternallyius freezingus, the temperature rating on my sleeping bag makes no difference. I could be in a -40 degree bag in the summer and still shiver, so my night, like most camping nights in my life, was spent tossing around to try and stay warm. The morning dawned too early and too cold.

And then it really pissed me off.

"What the f---?" I yelled back to Jason once the call of nature had become stronger than my need for warmth. I'd stepped out of the tent to find snow on the ground. It was just a dusting, but it was still snow. In the summer. Any optimistic thoughts of early morning fishing disappeared. We were freezing again. It was time to move.

I'd lie if I said I wasn't happy to see the truck, but only because of the weather. Once I'd defrosted, Jason and I talked about returning next year, when it was hotter and we could stay longer. The allure of good fishing was just too promising.

"And I think I need a different pack," Jason pointed out.

I agreed. Jason was evolving, as did all of us who entered the backpacking world. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives ... It is the one that is most adaptable to change," as Darwin put it. Jason was ready to adapt and start traveling light. I think he'll survive just fine—and maybe even teach me a thing or two.

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