My breath, rushing water, rustling tree branches, and periodic, tiny rain drops are the sounds of our 1st of 4 nights camping in the wilderness. The tent is pitched near Lost Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, we’ve filled up our water jugs, collected firewood and now it’s time to rest after the days climb.

This backpack trail was along Lake Fork Rock Creek trail, over the Sundance Pass, and down the West Fork trail for a total of 21.52 miles. The plan was to lake hop, not rush and enjoy the journey. It has been 3 years since we last backpacked and neither of us were up to doing 10 miler days.

The route

The All Trails web app allowed me to map out the specific days route and mileage. The website made it simple to snap to a trail. No manual tracing was needed!

Day 1 | Starting off along Rock Creek

We hiked next to the creek for 2/3rds of the days hike.

After lunch at Broadwater Lake, the trail turns away from the creek and our hike was more rocky and ascended towards the Lost Lake trail turnoff. Lunch was simple crackers and canned ham. I can now say, I’m not a fan of canned ham.

Broadwater Lake – our lunch stop

Lost Lake suffered from a harsh wind storm several years ago and the ground is blanketed by uprooted, dead trees. After navigating around and over the fallen soldiers, we located a good area with shade, and a somewhat level patch of ground, to pitch the tent.

Dinner was meatloaf from home with cheddar instant rice. A meal I can say that was both delicious and very welcomed.

Our only equipment glitch: the fuel pump leaked, rendering our camp stove useless. Steve built a wood cooking fire and cooked our rice then topped it with chunks of thawed meatloaf. Once the meatloaf warmed up it was time to dig in. It was yummy. The stove and fuel was pre checked beforehand we left home in June, but alas shit happens and now he’ll have to carefully carry the leaking canister the rest of the trip.

The night was cool making for a quiet nights rest. Unfortunately, I slept in blocks of 3ish hours and fits of shuffling to get comfortable. All told, the body moved and felt good after my eyes finally decided to flutter open to a bright warm morning. No lingering hike soreness for either of us. Not too bad for a couple of graying hikers.

Steve was already rolling out to warm up the fire embers and get water boiling. Coffee!!!!

Day 2 | Short hop to Keyser Brown Lake

Day 2 landed us at Keyser Brown Lake. It was a short morning hike in and we settled into a spot quickly.

This area was much prettier but also buggier. We choose a nice area in the meadow to pitch the tent. A fire pit was nearby for our dinner and breakfast cooking. The tent was in the sun, so we also plopped our chairs under the trees adjacent to the meadow; we enjoyed a shaded, picture framed view of the meadow and lake.

View from trees to the meadow and Keyser Brown Lake
Tent pitched in the meadow

Lunch was much better than yesterday; Tuna salad wraps using pre-made tuna salad packs and a package of sandwich wraps. We both decided it was definitely a keeper as a hiking / backpacking lunch. The meadow was blooming in color and I spent time exploring and snapping pictures.

The drizzle started mid afternoon and didn’t let up until morning. Initially the rain was light and sporadic but it picked up and drove us inside the tent all through dinner. We already had some fire wood collected and Steve braved the rain to cook us dinner. We hunkered down in the tent, staying dry to enjoy dinner. Just happy to be “inside” and sheltered versus still hiking into camp when the clouds decided to open up.

Day 3 | Going up!

From Keyser Brown we headed up to camp at September Morn Lake. Tackling over 1000′ elevation gain before going further up to Sundance Pass was a nice way to break up this portion of the trip. The ascent provided us with great views back to Keyser Brown lake.

As we continued to climb, we could also see 2 additional lakes that were beyond Keyser Brown back in the valley and not easily accessible.

The Rock Lakes

The trail had a combination of shade and sun and a couple nice creek crossings.

After setting up camp we took some time to explore around the lake.

Lunch was another round of the lovely tuna wraps. Backpacking food usually gets tastier and tastier as days go by. We finally had another dry night and got well rested for the big day #4 coming up. I did finally get comfortable sleeping on the ground!

Day 4 | Up and over the Sundance Pass

The day started with both of us well rested. We finally had a night that wasn’t windy, rainy, or too cold.

We still had the lake all to ourselves and slept in a bit; but too soon it was time for breakfast and breaking camp. At 10:40 we set off to get over Sundance Pass.

With the trek all uphill from camp to the pass and approx 1300′ elevation gain, it was slow going. Definitely not the type of climb I do easily.

Not far from the top we could see both Lost Lake (night 1) and September Morn Lake (night 3) down in the valley.

September Morn and Lost Lake viewed from switchbacks up to the pass
Overlooking snow drift back down the valley we just climbed

From the top of the pass it was a longer climb down to our last night’s planned camp area.  We counted 56 switchbacks and it’s an estimated 3 miles.  The downhill trail was steep in places. Between the switchbacks and numerous rock slide sections it was slower going down than it was climbing up. My feet were more pooped than the rest of me.

Sundance Lake viewed from the switchbacks coming down
View of the lower switchbacks of our downhill trek

Our camp site sat was situated above the lake and creek. The bugs were annoying (again). Unluckily, we had more rain also. For our final campfire dinner, it was a chili mix plus packaged rosarita beef bits. This was the worst meal. Worse than the canned ham lunch.

Day 5 | The longest 7 miles

Camp last night and this morning was full of mosquitos so we made a quicker exit than usual. Cloudy skies and a slight breeze provided us with a cool morning walk across the bridge and through miles of trees and colorful, blooming meadows.

The forest trees and meadow eventually gave way to a fire ridden landscape. This valley was hit with a fire earlier in the 2000s; Now, it does have a green, flowering carpet through the barren and charred trees.

West Fork trail – 1st 1 – 2 miles

A blister on my left toe had surfaced following the previous days 56 switchbacks downhill. Now, my right big toe decided to complain and blister up. We were about 2 miles from the trail head and our Jeep. It was a painful walk down.

Finally the trailhead parking lot appeared and I happily pull my boots off for the ride home! The following days bodily inventory concluded that other than my blisters, we were unscathed and no real soreness to deal with.

West Fork trailhead

Video post of the five days

I detailed the hike details from my photos and video capturing the scenery and our progress over the 5 days. We took it slow and that fit my endurance level making it a success. There’s not one word to sum up this trip as it was different, beautiful, colorful, challenging, and gratifying every day. Enjoy the video clip:

Where to next?

This was the final adventure before we head into Wyoming. Family project time is calling. Calling Steve mostly, but Mr. Cooper and I will do what we can to contribute. I’ll work in a side trip to Colorado for my own extra sister time. After that? We have no idea. Somewhere not heating up would be ideal.

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