On September 4, 2008, Jess and I headed to the Beartooths for a four day backpacking loop. We had tried to go the weekend before, but the weather forecast called for some nasty winter weather (yeah, just 3 weeks after the last winter weather stopped…), so we re-scheduled for the following weekend. The weather forecast for this weekend looked pretty good, with only a 20% chance of snow and showers.
We drove all the way to Cooke City on Thursday and then hit the trail to Lady of the Lake by 10 am on Friday. Soon after we started the trail the 20% chance of snow began. It was off and on, though, so we pressed on. We had the trail completely to ourselves, and we only saw one set of boot prints heading out. After a few miles we began the short but very steep climb up to Lower Aero Lake on the plateau. The trail gains about 1,200 feet in 3/4 of a mile, and the higher we got the worse the weather got. By the time we arrived at Lower Aero, the snow was coming down hard, we couldn’t even see 50 yards out into the lake, and the wind was howling. We spent an hour or so looking for a good camp site, but couldn’t find any around the southwest corner of the lake that would afford any protection from the wind. After realizing the temperature was around 38 without the wind chill at 3 pm, we decided we didn’t really want to spend the night in those conditions. So we dropped back down to Zimmer Creek and set up camp. We found what looked like some nice bear scat just a few yards from our tents, so that was nice.
We awoke Saturday morning to almost 3 inches of snow…and it was still coming down. We messed around for a couple of hours waiting to see if the weather would break. It didn’t. So around 10 am we decided that the weather, which was forecast to be worse on Sunday, was already worse than we wanted to deal with. So we grudgingly made the decision to call the trip a bust and head home.
There were a few breaks in the snow on the hike back, but for the most part it snowed non-stop for the entire hike back. We figured we made the right decision. When we got back to Cooke City the weather looked like it had changed to be much colder and snowier over the weekend. So we headed into Yellowstone to head back home. We saw a black wolf in the Lamar Valley, so that was good.
That was the trip. We had hoped to hike through Upper Aero Lake, Sky Top Basin, Fossil Lake, and back down to the Clarks Fork trail head. Unfortunately, winter left way too late this year and arrived way too early. The area was still incredible, so I’m sure I’ll try again next year. The biggest disappointment was that I had planned three long trips for this summer, and weather cut them all short. I don’t think I’m a fair weather backpacker, but the weather just kept sending me back home early. Oh well. Maybe next year will be better.