Day 10: July 18
Last night’s rowdy thunderstorms created an electric air. Before the lightning came, we heard the humming in our carbon fly rods and felt the static in our hair.
After the worst of the storms plowed through camp late last night, I heard grunting coming from the direction of my Ursack, and my pee spot. Shining my light over, I saw a mountain goat pawing at my food bag, which was tied to a chockstone secured in a boulder crack. I shooed it away with a granite fastball which sent it trotting over towards Eric’s tent. Fine by me. I put in earplugs, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, I listened intently to Eric’s own goat story…
We left Fossil Lake and wandered up the meadowy draw of its inlet until we found talus and snow that took us up a snakey route to a high col dividing the hydrology of Fossil and Cairn Lakes. From there, we climbed up to the Absaroka Crest once again and entered the beautiful Sky Top Lakes basin.
Not satisfied with the 4.5-star views in the lower basin, we proceeded higher over talus, snow, and granite ledges to the Fourth Lake, and are now camped in rocky tundra there at 10,436′.
Our view into the upper cirque is unparalleled, framed by Tge Spires, Mount Villard, the dramatic South Face of the Montana High Point, Granite Peak, and Cairn Mountain. I can see Granite’s summit out the doors of my pyramid tarp, just two miles away.
Two high point parties wandered through en route to establishing their base camps for an attempt at Granite’s summit tomorrow. One fellow was wearing a Backpacking Light cap and turned out to be a customer from California. It always warms my heart to run into BPLers “in the wild”!
In addition to their beauty, Sky Top Lakes are famous for weather, fish stories, and the highest concentration of mountain goats in the range.
This is a hostile spot. The wind blows incessantly here, and through the years I have experienced some of the worst storms the Beartooths have to offer in this drainage. There is no cover – no trees or shrubbery of any sort – only rock and snow. The high peaks concentrated in this area create their own drama when prevailing weather slams into them. The lakes are some of the last to melt in the Beartooths. Once, almost 15 years ago, I visited here in August and Lakes 5, 6, and 7 were still frozen.
And, if I’ve ever seen a fish in these lakes, I won’t be writing anything about it.
A mountain goat ewe and tiny, curious kid have been visiting us all afternoon, licking our pee spots and wandering to and fro through camp. I don’t have the heart to hurl another rock at the ewe or the adorable little kid (those innocent dark eyes…ugh!), so I’ll just keep the Ursack a little closer tonight and maybe head over by Eric’s tent to pee.
Skies are clear as I write this at 10 pm, and the wind is howling and whistling through the ridge tops. But it’s warm enough to sit in my chair with my sleeping bag draped over me, huddled in my down parka, and watch the light of the full moon cast its eerie glow on the Sky Top Glacier as the last light turns the sky from blue to indigo.
Goats are mewing in our camp and I can hear the footprints of the ewe, and what sounds like a few dozen of her closest friends, trotting to and fro. I hope they don’t trip over the myriad guylines that are spun like a spiderweb to secure my tent in the Sky Top Winds.
Tomorrow is our last full day in the Wilderness and we plan to make the most of it by pursuing large trout over the divide to the west.
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.