While much of Montana was basking in unseasonably warm, February weather, I joined three friends for a winter, 5-day, snow caving expedition in Paradise Valley, along Arrastra Creek on the edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness just behind Emigrant Peak. Although not the often typical freezing February temperatures, it was cold enough to feel like a winter trip. There was plenty of snow for snowshoeing, sledding, and building snow caves. We had a lot of fun and adventure along the way!
Arrastra Creek flows into the west fork of Mill Creek, which subsequently joins the main channel and eventually flows into the Yellowstone River about 15 miles south of Livingston, Montana. The mountains in this area are rugged, and the terrain overall is hostile even in the summer. Arrastra Creek is just outside the wilderness boundary, so it is open to motorized vehicles. Also, there is a road that is popular with snowmobilers that takes you up the ridge behind Emigrant Peak and dumps you into Emigrant Gulch.
Our plan was to begin hiking along the West Fork of Mill Creek until we reached Arrastra Creek. From there, we would follow that drainage until we reached the ridge. From there we would descend into Emigrant Gulch where our car waited.
Details of the Trip:
- The plan was to begin at West Fork Mill Creek, hike to the confluence with Arrastra Creek, hike up and over the ridge, descend into Emigrant Gulch, and make our way to our car. We planned on being out from Monday morning through Friday evening.
- In reality, we reached the ridge and decided to come back the way we came. Half of the group came down early on Thursday afternoon, and the rest came down on Friday. Why? Read on.
- Three friends joined me on this expedition with experience levels ranging from beginner to expert.
- The total mileage was around 9 miles (14.48 km), and the total elevation gain was about 4,000 feet (1219.2 m).
As with many expeditions, there was a good dose of uncertainty and adversity in our plans and our will was constantly tested.