The Wind River Range, the Teton Crest Trail, Climbing the Grand.  It was all so epic, so beautiful, such a highlight.  Andy and I were on a high after climbing the Grand.  It was our most exciting day on trail, no doubt.  I loved it, felt challenged, felt like I was learning, and doing something that really got me jazzed.  I could tell Andy felt the same way.

“Dude, I don’t know if I can go back to walking in the woods on forest service roads…” I said to him.

“There’s no way.” he responded

And so it was, our time of staying ‘true to the thru’ was done.  We both decided to drop the connected footpath from Mexico to Canada.  There were mixed emotions with this.  I felt liberated, free from doing something that no longer inspired me, and no longer challenged me like it used to (outside of the challenge of doing something you weren’t invested in any longer). On the other hand, I had a feeling that I was quitting something that I initially had set my mind to do.  But, things change and your inspiration changes, and walking true Continental Divide Trail needed to take a back seat while I explored new mountains and areas.  It’s just what I wanted to do.

Now, that’s not to say the CDT in Montana and Idaho are boring and not worth doing.  That is NOT the case by any means. I have never hiked that section of trail, so I have no way of knowing. Many people love that section, find it beautiful, and I’m sure its extremely rewarding.  It also connects a footpath, and shows persistence.  That’s awesome.  However, it did not excite me.  The pictures I saw didn’t excite me, and most of all, the thought of hiking below mountains for another month sounded really, really hard.  Emotionally and mentally, I was done walking beneath them, or walking in a forest with no views. I was done putting my head down to plow through sections that weren’t as pretty as others. I wanted to be up high climbing peaks, doing my own routes, and seeing ‘highlight’ areas that interested me.  Yeah, I dropped the badassery of being a true ‘thru hiker’ to become, as John Z dubbed it, a ‘highlight hiker’.  He’s pretty spot on with that.

“So, where to first?” I asked Handy Andy.

“Yellowstone.  Rafiki said really good things about the Gallatin Mountains as well.” he responded.

So the two of us did some research, and came up with a plan.  We would hike much of the Greater Yellowstone Arc.  We would do the Bechler River Trail, do Lamar Valley, and do much of the northern section of the park.  Now, I’m going to be a complete hiking snob here.  Please don’t get offended, as this is all just my opinion.  Yellowstone was a complete letdown.  Maybe it was the fact that we had just finished the most beautiful hiking of the trip in the Wind River Range and the Tetons.  Maybe it was the expectation that we were going to only get highlights like that the rest of the way. Or maybe it’s the fact that we both love mountains the most, and frankly, Yellowstone is lacking in that regard.  However, there were some really cool highlights, like seeing a large Grizzly Bear approach us and get within 30 feet of us.  That was neat.

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR1613.

Yellowstones Geothermal activity in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Yellowstones Geothermal activity in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Constant Grizzly Tracks in Yellowsone. Constantly letting you know that you're not the top of the food chain out here. I really enjoyed the wild feel of that.

Constant Grizzly Tracks in Yellowsone. Constantly letting you know that you’re not the top of the food chain out here. I really enjoyed the wild feel of that.

A great grey owl. This bird was almost three feet tall. It's the largest owl in the world by length. I spotted it far away and wondered what it was, so I went across the valley and got pretty close before he flew away. This was the highlight, even above seeing a grizzly, for me in Yellowstone. What a beautiful animal!

A great grey owl. This bird was almost three feet tall. It’s the largest owl in the world by length. I spotted it far away and wondered what it was, so I went across the valley and got pretty close before he flew away. This was the highlight, even above seeing a grizzly, for me in Yellowstone. What a beautiful animal!

One of the falls on the Bechler River Trail

One of the falls on the Bechler River Trail

I wanted to stay here all day.

I wanted to stay here all day.

Handy Andy chills in the warm pools where the hot springs water mixes with the icy river. It was a perfect Bath!

Handy Andy chills in the warm pools where the hot springs water mixes with the icy river. It was a perfect Bath!

Extremophile in Yellowstone caused by the geothermal waters.

Extremophile in Yellowstone caused by the geothermal waters.

The rare Hawaiian Buffalo!

The rare Hawaiian Buffalo!

This was a beautiful section of Lamar Valley. Reminded me of the photo's I've seen of Alaska.

This was a beautiful section of Lamar Valley. Reminded me of the photo’s I’ve seen of Alaska.

Whoa there Grizz!

Whoa there Grizz!

So, after some unspectacular hiking in the Park, we hitched to Cooke City, Montana, just 4 miles outside of the park in southern Montana.  We planned to hike the ‘beaten path’ trail, per Dirtmongers recommendation.  This trail is 26 miles, so we planned to loop it with a mix of trail and off trail hiking.

Now, I have never heard of the Beartooth Mountains.  Maybe it’s more well known that I lead on.  But for me, it was totally new and unheard of.  I didn’t know what to expect, outside of a few Jackson locals who raved about it, and Rafiki giving it his good word.  So Andy and I set out for a several day jaunt to see what this relatively small mountain range had to offer.

Within the first 10 miles, we realized we made the right decision.  Large granite walls reflected in lake after lake.  There was so much water, everywhere. As we made our way further and up in elevation, we noticed the jagged edges of the mountains.  Granite Peak lies in this range, the tallest mountain in all of Montana at just under 13k feet.  It’s widely considered, along with Gannet Peak, the hardest non-glaciated state high point.  These mountains are no joke!  But, unlike other granite ranges that I’ve visited, many of these wild cliffs sprung up to huge plateaus that cliffed out on both ends.

Reflections up high in the Beartooth Mountains

Reflections up high in the Beartooth Mountains

Pink Indian Paintbrush

Pink Indian Paintbrush

Handy Andy

Handy Andy

Rainbow Lake

Rainbow Lake

Handy Andy walks on the 'beaten path' trail. I highly recommend this trail!

Handy Andy walks on the ‘beaten path’ trail. I highly recommend this trail!

After rising up and over the pass, we were greeted with icy turquois glaciated lakes and a huge granite cliff canyon down to east rosebud lake.  Andy and I were SO impressed with this area.  At every turn we were greeted with a new, even more epic view.

Walking alongside Rainbow Lake

Walking alongside Rainbow Lake

The epic canyon down to Rosebud Lake.

The epic canyon down to Rosebud Lake.

Just one of many stunning areas on the beaten path.

Just one of many stunning areas on the beaten path.

Off trail, making our own way.

Off trail, making our own way.

The beautiful Crow Lake

The beautiful Crow Lake

From Here, Handy Andy and I decided to make our own route, connecting several trail and areas by going off trail and over unnamed passes and peaks.  The highlight was a summit of Silver Run Peak, a nice easy plateau to roam around boulder hopping around to wherever we pleased.  We planned to also hit white tail mountain, but the weather forced us to abandon that one.

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The Beartooth mountains are SO good!

The Beartooth mountains are SO good!

Serious relief right there

Serious relief right there

On a large Plateau over 11k feet in the beartooths

On a large Plateau over 11k feet in the beartooths

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Just another gorgeous pass. You can see the large plateau across the deep valley.

Just another gorgeous pass. You can see the large plateau across the deep valley.

On top of Silver Run Mountain in the Beartooth Mountains of Southern Montana. Go here. Explore. Become a part of the mountains, even if just for a brief moment. It'll stay with you forever.

On top of Silver Run Mountain in the Beartooth Mountains of Southern Montana. Go here. Explore. Become a part of the mountains, even if just for a brief moment. It’ll stay with you forever.

Exploring plateaus. Can you spot me?

Exploring plateaus. Can you spot me?

Off trail in the Beartooths ith Handy Andy.

Off trail in the Beartooths ith Handy Andy.

Ahhh!!!

Ahhh!!!

Getting after it in the Beartooths!

Getting after it in the Beartooths!

After all of our adventuring, we headed into Red Lodge, Montana.  This town had hands down the best gear / outdoor store I’ve seen on all of the long trails.  There were experienced guides, all of the maps you could ever need, and a wealth of knowledge from their employees.  I purchased several high detail maps of the area.  I’m coming back here, soon, and I plan to put together a gnarly route through the mountains so that I can see everything I want to see.  There was just so much here, jam packed in these mountains.  I talked with a local guide who lives in Red Lodge in the summer guiding and working at the gear store, and in Nepal in the winter guiding on the tallest peaks on the planet.  I picked his brain about routes, mountains, and areas to make sure I hit, and he gave me a lot of good info.

“There’s a reason I spend half my time here as opposed to all in Nepal.” He told me.  “It’s the best kept secret in the lower 48.”

I told him of my plan to blog about it, and my plan to make my own route through the area.

“I hope no one reads your blog.” he responded, with a sly grin.

The Beartooth Mountains.  Don’t just take my word, or rely on my pictures of the endless beauty here.  Take a week off and go see it for yourself!