Day 3: July 11

Temperatures plummeted last night as the full force of the storm hit. Sleet, graupel, and snow with the wind howling eerily across the ridges above.

We stayed in our tents well into morning to ride out the worst of it.

During a break in the storm, I got up and moved our fire pit (built atop a hearth of flat stones) and cooking area in a heavily forested hollow behind a large boulder to give us protection.

One by one our crew members showed up as we boiled water for breakfast and coffee. We spent the entire morning here feeding the fire and drying wet clothes as best as we could.

And then we saw something: our shadows!

The sun was not visible by any stretch of the imagination but it was clear that it was now a few degrees warmer and the clouds were a little thinner.

Expecting to ride out the storm here another night, but wanting to be as close to the base of Sundance Pass (tomorrow’s objective) so we can get back on schedule, we had a discussion: should we stay or should we go?

So we packed up hastily, wanting to take full advantage of this possibly brief weather window to at least move up the valley a few miles.

By late afternoon, we reached a campsite and dropped our packs to scout up the valley a little further. After exploring the very breezy area above Sundance Lake, we retreated to our packs and settled in at a wildflower-blanketed meadow, with a fire and cooking area tucked back among large spruces flanking the meadow.

After pitching my shelter, I snuck back into a tree grove to get out of the wind and fetch an appetizer from my snack bag. Except there was nothing left. The cold has amped up my metabolism and I’ve already stolen food from snack bags allocated to future days.

Even after dinner I remained hungry, and I really hope we can fish soon…I made a few freezing casts this morning on the creek to no avail.

Evening brought declining temperatures, more wind, and intermittent views of the 12,000 foot peaks rimming the head of this valley. The most dramatic of all is Whitetail Peak and its iconic north face, triangular summit, and NE Couloir, a 2,500 foot stripe of steep snow rising from the valley floor nearly to its summit. I climbed this couloir with my friend Alan many years ago (2002?) and it remains one of the highlights of my experiences in this range.

By 9 pm, the temperature has dropped too much for me to stay warm, so I went to the tent, zipped up, tightened up my down parka hood, put on my down booties, snuggled deep into my down quilt, and settled in for another cold night.


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 home page.