August 27, 2018.
The wet and cold continued all night - or rather, the wet continued and the cold got colder! We awoke, just after 8:00am to a dusting of snow spread across camp and our trucks, and several inches on the surrounding mountains.
It was extremely beautiful, though the fact that it snowed on our first night with Monte @Blackdawg wasn't lost on any of us. "Welcome to Montana guys!" he said as he climbed out of his tent.
As we all set about our morning activities - breakfast, breaking camp, etc., I headed out to capture what I could - the valley a beautiful green, "spring" in full force just as the new snow was starting to fall. A dilapidated cabin succumbing to time.
Not only were we lucky to be here despite the weather, we were lucky for the weather window we got that morning - if it was raining, it was only just very lightly raining - while we packed everything up. It was all still wet of course, but it's much nicer to pack up wet gear than it is to pack up wet gear while it's raining on you! Soon, we were ready to go - with just one last thing to take care of - Monte had driven out the night before fully aired up, so he took a few minutes to make his ride more comfortable.
And then we were off - back up the way we'd come, to Lulu Pass - the calm weather window not just closing as we reached higher elevations, but making us wonder what was in store for the rest of the day!
Eventually, as we descended the other side of Lulu Pass, we reached the trailhead to Goose Lake - a trail that we'd never gotten to run the year before when we were stopped in our tracks by six inches of snow and the promise of more. Therefore, as you can imagine, discussion ensued - would it be in better shape this year? Would we get stuck at Goose if it continued to snow? Would we get stuck on the way to Goose?
In the end, rain falling, we decided we'd brave the trail and deal with the consequences later. For now, we were going to enjoy ourselves in the muddy mess.
The Goose Lake trail was nothing like the trails Mike @Digiratus, Dan @drr and I had traveled the previous three days - it is rocky and slow-going even in the best of weather. And that meant we were having a blast in the less-than-best of weather. Over the next hour or so, it rained on-and-off, and we took advantage of the "off" to pop out of the trucks and take in our surroundings.
There were of course some shenanigans as well. I mean, we all missed Ben @m3bassman, but that didn't mean we couldn't still feel like he was there with us.
But mostly we continued on, up the rocky trail - excited to see what both the route and destination would bring. Hoping that by the time we made it to Goose Lake, the weather would clear and we'd be in camp very early.
The scenery as we climbed was amazing. I was lucky to be in back (after telling Dan to pass me) so I could soak it all in a bit slower than everyone else. Or perhaps more frantically if one was viewing from a drone above - so in-and-out of the truck I must have been!
But, as usual I caught back up to the group eventually - they too slowed down by their urge to capture the trail on film and we proceeded up past several more lakes as we worked our way deeper into the wild, Mike flexing out his new Cooper STT Pros as he made his way up.
And then, we hit an inflection point in the weather - a point where the rain turned first to snow, and then to heavy snow. And then weather took a turn for the worse.
That was of course no big deal until Monte came over the CB to tell us that "This is the first tough obstacle. I tried doing it in Igor when it was dry, and wasn't able to make it without lockers...so I recommend that Zane @Speedytech7 follows me up the bypass and the guys with lockers decide if they want to try it." (Mike, Dan and I being the guys with lockers.)
Mike was first in line and gave it a shot as Monte spotted from above.
Not wanting to push his already torn CV, Mike didn't make it up the obstacle and eventually backed down to take the bypass. Dan was next in line and with 35" tires, powered up with little fanfare - the big tires making all the difference. Then it was my turn. Rear locker engaged, I headed up, picking my line carefully to reduce the risk of bashing something I really didn't want to bash (my rear diff, etc.) and a couple minutes later I was through! Pretty cool IMO, given my memories of the year before - where on trails less difficult than this one, I took the bypasses.
All together at the top of the hill we continued on, closer and closer to our destination; the snow falling more fiercely as our elevation increased. Now, only the second obstacle - the gatekeeper to Goose Lake - stood in our way. It's an off-camber part of the trail that slick snow would only make more difficult; messing up would mean sliding the driver side of our truck into a rock wall.
Monte went first.
Then, it was Mike's turn. And Mike made it look easy.
Zane followed Mike as I snapped my last photo and headed back to the truck to get ready to follow Dan. We all made it though uneventfully - the obstacle clearly not as sketchy as it'd been in previous years. Perhaps not a good thing, given it's gatekeeper status for what could become an unfortunately crowded location.
Within minutes we'd arrived at our final destination - barely discernible in the heavy snow. As Monte announced our arrival, I can only believe that the rest of us were thinking, "OK, now what?"
There was no sign of the snow letting up, and making camp in these conditions seemed...what's the word? Right, foolish. So I picked up the CB and asked, "So what's the plan? Are we staying here for the night, in which case I'm sitting in my truck and talking on the CB until the weather lets up, or are we heading back out to lower elevations?"
There was general agreement on the stay-in-the-trucks-and-talk-on-the-CB part, but also a desire to actually see Goose Lake - a short hike from where we had to park the trucks. So, we agreed that the best plan was to check out the lake for a few minutes and then head back down the mountain for the time being; coming back at the end of the trip when the weather was (hopefully) better.
So we donned our jackets and headed to Goose. Where, as in the valley the night before, it was "spriwinter."
A brief lull in the storm got our hopes up that the weather might break and we'd be able to camp at the lake, but within minutes the snow started coming down again and we made a beeline back to the trucks to head back down the trail to lower - and hopefully drier - elevations.
This of course meant negotiating the obstacles on the trail again, which we all did successfully despite the slippery stuff on the ground.
And eventually, we found ourselves back outside Cooke City, airing up and having a great time doing it. Weather be damned!
Mike even "showed us" some road rash he'd gotten on the trail - finally breaking in his new SCS Ray 10's. 'bout time Mike! And thanks for being so respectful in your sharing.
Tires full of air, we headed to Red Lodge - lower in elevation, a place where we could fuel up, and a great rendezvous point to meet Devin @miss.Blackdawg who'd be joining us for just one night. Of course, on the way we summited Beartooth Pass - snow covered at 10,947-feet - and closed by the department of transportation about 20 minutes after we passed through.
As we made our way down the northern side, we made a quick pit stop at an overlook - still awesome despite the weather - and a few poser shots of the trucks. A third gen would pull into the lot as we were taking the photos, but headed out without stopping...for the time being - we'd run into the driver again the next morning; but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
In Red Lodge, we fueled up and headed out of town to find camp - something we did relatively quickly and with good success, just after darkness fell. The rain let up during dinner (woohoo!) and we all enjoyed Mike's salsa and guacamole around the fire to boot. And, as most of us wrapped up dinner, Monte ran back into town to text Devin our location and she showed up shortly thereafter to a welcoming crowd.
We all chatted around the campfire until the rain started up again - at which point I headed under Mike's awning to stay dry and everyone else gave me a load of shit. Little did they realize that the chips and salsa were also under the awning; a fact I probably shouldn't have shared even now.
But, we'd all had enough of the rain for a while and so a short time later we called it an evening. As we climbed into our respective beds we were all hoping for the same thing, I'm sure: a good nights sleep and nicer weather for the rest of the trip.
But we wouldn't know until morning what was in store for us the next day...