Broadwater River to Lone Elk Lake

Near the Lower Aero Lake outlet stream

I was still feeling a little groggy from the sleeping pill I’d taken last night at 7:30 when I woke up at 7 AM. The skies were mostly cloudy but breaking up nicely so we were pretty confident that we’d have a good weather day. All of us did have some mild condensation in our tents, which was to be expected, but nothing requiring us to wait for them to dry off.

I made some oatmeal for breakfast---a first for me since about 2007---and added a packet of honey for some flavor and energy. I figured we’d have a little more than 1000’ of elevation gain today and needed all the help I could get until the trees started to thin out a little bit.

At 8:45 we started off on our second day. Again, the hiking was very easy so we were forced to take our first break at 9:25 at a nice spot overlooking some meadows near the Lower Aero Lake outlet stream. This was the area I had pegged for our first night’s camp and I was somewhat regretting we didn’t push on for the extra 45 minutes yesterday as the views were much better here.

Like yesterday the trail remained very well defined as it followed Skytop Creek ever upward through a few narrow gorges and open meadows. We stopped a few times along the way and we all agreed that the numerous breaks were making for a very enjoyable way to hike through the Beartooths.

Small gorge along Skytop Creek

What would prove to be typical of this trip, the skies started to cloud over in the early afternoon and we knew we were going to get hit with some rain. I had come into the trip thinking the weather and general conditions might be a lot like we’d had in 2009---a lot of rain and hail, not so many mosquitoes---based solely on the previous winter’s snowpack and how it compared favorably to the winter of 08/’09. Not the most scientific analysis but it was all I had to work with.

We’d managed to hike another 15 minutes when the first drops of rain started to fall. Not wanting to hike in the rain we decided to take some shelter and sit this one out until it passed over. We had a pretty scenic spot to do so, about 50’ above the creek overlooking another meadow. Brad and Jeff took things to a whole new level and decided to put up Brads tent while Bob and I were content to throw on our rain gear and hide behind a spruce.

Just as we were getting settled in we saw our first hikers of the day, a young couple with two dogs coming up from behind us. They asked me how far it was to Lower Aero and I had to tell them that they had easily found the unmarked trail that had given us a little trouble the day before. Though it pained me to do so, I pointed to the west and upward and told them Lower Aero is “that way”. Undaunted by their navigational error they thanked us and started on their way again.

Shortly after they left the first hail of the trip began to pelt us pretty good. Fortunately the hail was pea sized and our spruce tree provided good cover. In 10 minutes it was over and we were soon back on the trail.

One of the many nice meadows along Skytop Creek

The hike up from our sheltered spot to the next meadow had the most elevation gain of the day, maybe 250’-300’, to my favorite elevation in the Beartooths right around 9800’. Here the trees are thinning out, the terrain is fairly grassy and campsites seem to abound. We leapfrogged the young couple after showing them where they were on the map (they didn’t have one with them) and continued up to Lone Elk Lake at just over 10,000’. Finally, after two days of leisurely hiking and many breaks we were at the tree line.

As cold as it was, I didn’t feel like crossing the creek to check out the southern shoreline of Lone Elk that looked so promising on Google Earth. The skies were still cloudy and the threat of rain and/or hail was still present so I decided to take us up the west side of the lake instead. This would entail some rock hopping and a little travel on snow but that’s why I came back.

Bob hiking up Skytop Creek

The route along the outlet stream climbed above a narrow gorge and might be a little sketchy for Bob and Jeff. I’d noticed Jeff was indeed a little gimpy in the knees as Brad had told me in an email, and Bob had just turned 60. I hoped they’d be OK.

I had no problem navigating myself through the snow and boulders and soon found myself on a large snow drift (probably some of it leftover from the winter of 2010/11). The snow sloped all the way down to the lake so with no other option I started to work my way down. I checked back over my shoulder to see how Bob was doing but he was nowhere to be seen. I waited for a few minutes but still no Bob. Thinking he might have taken a fall I started back to check on him when two young boys emerged from behind the small knob near the outlet gorge. They told me Bob was still upright and that he was coming.

The young lads looked to be about 13 and carried helmets on their packs...they were gonna do Granite with their dad’s, who had just appeared. We talked for a few minutes, I told them they were lucky and that this was a trip they’d never forget. One of the dads gave me a nod as if to say “that’s what I’ve been trying to tell my son...thanks for backing me up”.

Bob eventually made it around the knob and told me he couldn’t hoist himself up over a large section of rock. At least he didn’t get stuck.

By the time we worked our way down off the snowfield rain was visible to the south. I’d wanted to go over to the head of the lake to camp but there was some level grassy ground in front of us which would have to do. We quickly found the best spots to put up our tents and started that task when the rain and hail started dumping on us for the second time in less than 2 hours.

Our first glimpse of Lone Elk Lake

By the time Brad and Jeff made it to camp the precipitation had stopped for now but the sky was still dark to the south and west. It might be along night so I buried my cheese in the snow, grabbed a bucket of water, filtered a few liters and drank another before the next wave of hail started falling

We continued to get pounded by thunderstorms, hail and high winds throughout the early evening. I didn’t bother waiting for the weather to clear and made some Mac & cheese in my vestibule just before the worst of he hail started to fall. I have to admit it was so much fun I even made some pudding for desert.

Finally, around 8:30 it stopped pissing on us and the skies to the south were starting to clear. I went outside to brush my teeth and to take a few post-storm photos of a now-calm Lone Elk Lake before retiring for the night. It had been an eventful day.



Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, 2012
The Hikers and Special Invite
The Drive West
Island Lake CG
Trip Map
Skytop Creek
Lone Elk Lake
Skytop Lakes
Skytop Lakes
Oly Lake
Fossil Lake
Fox Lake
The Hike Out
The Drive Home
Final Thoughts
Trip Photos
Back to Backcountry Trips

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