Day 11: July 19
I got to bed late last night due to negotiations with the mountain goats that were not entirely successful. Only one guyline got nicked and fortunately didn’t result in any more damage than a dislodged tent stake which I found this morning.
Last night was our warmest night, with the temperature not dropping below 40 degrees F. This morning’s clear skies came with a blazing sun and only a slight breeze, promising a hot day of trekking, for the mountains at least.
We left camp mid-morning and started walking up a steep talus slope towards a col that divided the Sky Top Lakes and Aero Lakes Basins. Upon reaching the col, which sits right below The Spires, we enjoyed expansive views of the south faces of Glacier Peak and Mount Villard.
We scouted a few different routes down and decided to head south through a gentle draw filled with snow and easy talus. From the bottom of the draw at the Rough Lake-Upper Aero Lake col, we dropped down to Upper Aero Lake and skirted its southeast shore on granite ledges and tundra benches.
The Aero Lakes (Upper and Lower) have to be seen to be believed. They are alpine oceans compared to what most people know to be “alpine lakes”. Each of them a mile long and nearly as wide, it takes several hours to circumnavigate their rugged shorelines.
Upper Aero Lake sits at an elevation of 10,140 feet above sea level and has a surface area of 292 acres. It receives a plant of nearly 30,000 Yellowstone Cutthroat every six years and they grow to fat, healthy proportions. Lower Aero Lake sits just below 10,000 feet, is a little smaller at 190 acres, and is populated by trout that drift down the creek from Upper Aero. Since Upper Aero was last planted in 2012, I was banking on the probability that by now the fish would be big, and still plentiful.
We moseyed down to the rocky tundra between the two lakes and set up camp on the softest bench we’ve seen since we left the meadows below Whitetail Peak a week ago.
We got the shelters set up just in time before a thunderstorm moved in and dumped rain and hail on us. Once the storm subsided, I treated and drank a liter and a half of water to get caught up from a hot, dehydrating hike, and tried to soothe the severe sunburn on my right hand – I forgot my Glacier Gloves – a mistake I regret. For the past several days, we have been trekking at high altitudes in intense sun, over lots of snow. It’s been tough to manage the UV exposure.
This evening, I strung up the tenkara rod and managed to bring three fat trout back to camp. By the time I had poached and deboned the fish, we had a fry bake filled to the brim with three pounds of meat for dinner.
After dinner and the moonrise I presented a case study that stimulated a lively discussion about legality, ethics, and morals – a mental exercise that allows for the exchange of different ideas and perspectives in a way that challenged us all.
I also wrote a celebratory Haiku about our trip, and shared it with the group tonight, with feeling:
Ye Rock of my soul
Let your love overwhelm me
My sweet sweet talus.
Upon retreating back to my tent, and writing this journal entry from my chair with my down quilt draped over me, I notice the grunting of what has now become a regular visitor: a mountain goat is rustling around somebody’s pee spot about 20 feet from my tent.
Tomorrow we exit.
Follow this live expedition blog as Backpacking Light’s Ryan Jordan, Eric Vann, and five others weave their way through glacial cirques, tundra meadows, and talus fields in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness July 9-20. Dispatches will be posted to the Backpacking Light Facebook page, Instagram feed, and the backpackinglight.com home page.