Over the Labor Day weekend of August 31, 2007, Tracy and I headed to Roosevelt National Park in north west North Dakota. Of course, everyone warned us that this trip would rank up there with our Arkansas trip a few years ago, but Tracy had never been to North Dakota, so we were set on marking one more state off her list. We decided to drive highways instead of interstates all the way there. Well, that didn’t work. After driving through Yellowstone and through the Beartooths, it had taken us nearly 6 hours to drive from Idaho Falls, ID, to Billings, MT…that was not a good thing. So in Billings we got back on the interstate. We then drove the rest of the way to the north unit of Roosevelt National Park, arriving around 10 pm. We found a camp site in the nearly deserted park campground (remember, this was Labor Day weekend), and tried to settle down for the night. I say “tried,” because at 11 pm it was almost 80 degrees outside. It was really hot, humid, and muggy…this was not what I expected out of North Dakota. But I eventually got to sleep, and we got up in the morning, and got ready to backpack the Achenbach Trail.
This was a 17 mile loop I had read about in Backpacker Magazine, and figured it was as good a way as any to spend the weekend. Of course, the day was shaping up to be really hot. We got to the ranger station before they opened, so we spread our gear out in the parking lot to repack our packs while we waited on the rangers. Then a ranger pulled over, rolled down his window and said, “You’re not planning on backpacking, are you?” The wording of the question was discomforting. We told him we were, and he pulled over and talked to us about the trail. He said we wouldn’t see anybody else, because no one else ever came out there. He even asked how in the world we heard about the park! He also said we would have a hard time keeping up with the trail because the bison trails were better traveled than the hiking trail. But we were undaunted and we headed out after getting our permit.
The first order of business was crossing the Little Missouri. We didn’t have much trouble with that because the water was only about a foot deep. Then we found the trail and hiked on. The trail was really pretty. It cut up into the grasslands, and that was really cool. But, man, it was hot. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but Tracy was getting hit really hard by the heat and humidity. We climbed up the badlands above the river, and that really got Tracy, but we kept going. She told me she was drinking water, but she was getting visibly overheated. After about 4 miles, she couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t look good, and she was obviously suffering some level of heat exhaustion. So we decided to turn around and head back. We started taking it really slowly and resting in the shade frequently, but Tracy was still having a hard time. Then we made it back up onto the grasslands plateau, and the wind was blowing pretty hard, and she started to feel better. So we decided we would try to stay out for the night, so we hunkered down under some shade, and read for about an hour. During that time, Tracy felt a lot better, but it was only 5 pm…we had almost 4 more hours of daylight, and the wind was blowing really hard. I knew we would be bored under our one shade tree in about another 30 minutes, and I was worried the tent wouldn’t hold up in the open grasslands with such strong wind, so we decided to just head out.
So we hiked back to the river, where I had a much harder time crossing the river about 20 yards from where I crossed it the first time (note: don’t cross the river right where the trail hits the river…it was much deeper, and I think it was covered at that point with about a foot of bison crap…seriously). We didn’t see a single person all day long, and the trail was pretty. I still can’t believe it was so hot (we saw cacti…in North Dakota!), but you couldn’t beat having a national park to yourself on Labor Day weekend. After getting back to the car, we headed towards Montana. The next day we made it to the Beartooths and hiked some around Kersey Lake and Lillis Lake. We actually didn’t run into many people on the trail, and we had Lillis Lake all to ourselves. We stayed in Cooke City that night (we have decided that we have stayed in Cooke City more than any other single place out here, and I like it a lot). I wanted to camp out, but it got too late, and we didn’t have anywhere to camp away from town…and after reading Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance I’m afraid to camp too close to a town in grizzly country. The next day we hiked a little in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone, and then we headed back home. It was actually a really nice trip. We had a good time, and Tracy got to mark North Dakota off her list. Now she only needs Hawaii and Vermont…but I only need Hawaii, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to beat her this spring.