Oly Lake to Fossil Lake

The Oly Lake outlet stream where we'd cross

Serenaded by the sounds of 2 different streams cascading around us I got my best sleep of the trip so far and was the last one up at 6:15. The weather, which was absolutely perfect the day before, was looking good again.

Breakfast consisted of a few granola bars and juice

We had no real plan for the day other than to take it easy. We still had 3 nights to kill and less than 10 miles to get to our last night’s camp somewhere along Skytop Creek or at Lady of the Lake. The East Rosebud trail, which we’d take to get to Fizzle Lake before traveling off trail again, was maybe a half mile away as the crow flew. It was looking like we’d have our shortest day yet.

Having already chosen a route to get down to the trail the night before, we started off in good spirits under sunny skies.

Our mood was dampened a bit when we realized the route we’d chosen wasn’t going to work for us what with the steep slope boulders and no safe place to cross the outset stream. We picked our way along the stream all the way back to the lake where we finally found some calm, albeit deep, water suitable for crossing. Due to my height and nimble feet I’d be able to avoid getting too wet but I wasn’t sure about the others.

Bob crossing the deceptively deep Oly Lake outlet stream

Once we were all across it was time to find another way down. This was taking a lot longer than any of us had thought but it wasn’t a big deal. Once we made the trail we’d have maybe an hours worth of hiking to Fizzle Lake---excluding our normal hour breaks.

Again, it was Brad that found the best route down from the lake following a few steep grassy benches. I was a little worried about Bob making it down in one piece so I led him down through some small trees he could use as handholds then started getting down whichever way I could.

Near the bottom we only had a small boulder field to navigate and were soon relaxing in a beautiful grassy meadow along the stream. Had there been a place to legally camp I would have been content to spend the night right here but settled for a long “break” munching on snacks and drinking some lemonade.

We had to make another route-finding decision at this point: follow the stream directly down to the trail or cut the corner and hopefully save some climbing.

Because the route following the stream looked a bit rocky we chose to cut the corner instead. I hiked up ahead, climbing about 75’ to another meadow and started off in the direction of the trail. I found it, but it was still at least 1/6 of a mile away and down a cliff. That wasn’t going to work. After hiking through the meadow for another 15 minutes I veered to the east and found the trail 50’ below.

After scurrying down to the “Beaten path” I walked very slowly for a few minutes so the others could catch up. I found it odd that I had absolutely no recollection of this section of trail despite having hiked it 3 years before.

When Brad caught up I commented to him that I couldn’t remember this area at all. He did, though, and said we had a few switchbacks and we’d be above the trees. He was right and it jogged my memory enough to remember the sweet spot we took a break in 2009.

This meadow below Oly Lake was too good not to sit down for a while

After 20 minutes and a short climb up the switchbacks we found ourselves above the tree line and seated along East Rosebud Creek just below Fossil Lake.

The wildflowers were in full bloom, the grass was green and the sun sparkled off the creek. Always on the lookout for good campsites, I ventured away from the trail a bit to scout the area out for future trips. I could see a few places that looked good then started back. A small patch of snow was too much to resist so a fired a couple of snowballs at the Canadian Dude just for fun.

It took us just a few minutes to get our first glimpse of the convoluted Fossil Lake at just below 10,000’. We continued along the shore of the lake until we came upon a nice spot to do lunch and to hash out the plan for the last few days of the hike.

The previous day, Jeff had commented that he didn’t want to hike off trail any longer which meant we’d have to hike out on the East Rosebud Trail. I was pissed. Not only would the trail take us through close to 7 miles of boring forest, but this was THE trail through the Beartooths and we’d likely run into a lot of folks. Other than the group at Oly Lake we’d tolerated for about an hour we hadn’t seen anyone since we left the unofficial trail at Lone Elk Lake. I didn’t relish cutting a day off the trip AND spending the next two days on what the busiest trail in the Beartooths.

Nearing Fossil Lake on the East Rosebud trail

Further pissing me off was the short distance between Fizzle Lake, where we’d leave the “Beaten Path” and Lone Elk Lake. I had it pegged at about 2.5 miles with most of the route hiking on grass--at least on Google Earth---certainly not a chute of jumbled boulders. Once we got to Lone Elk we could hike out the way we came in: on a trail. And I wasn’t enthused about coming out at a different trailhead and having to hike or hitch back to the trusty Rav4.

I really wanted to hike up the drainage to the west above Fizzle Lake but that wasn’t going to happen.

After the tension subsided we noticed that the sky was starting to cloud over and decided we’d best find a place to camp. Fossil Lake has a plethora of camp sites so it didn’t take us long to find a spot. As I predicted would happen we discovered two other parties camped at the lake, each about 200 yards from where we set up our camp.

We’d just gotten set up when the winds started to pick up and the first drops of rain started to pelt us, forcing us into our tents. With gusts of perhaps 30 mph buffeting the tents it was time for some hail, followed by some more rain, then more hail. It was a pretty good squall, lasting about 2 hours.

Since the storm decided to arrive during the dinner hour, I whipped up some tuna and ate it in the tent along with some bbq potato chips, cheesecake pudding and another granola bar. After 5 nights in the wilderness my appetite was finally back

Fossil Lake

By 8:00 the clouds had moved on, the skies were clear and the lake dead calm. It would be a nippy night but a good one to get some video of the lake. I was thinking about how my original camera battery had lasted a long time when it finally conked out on me. Not bad: 6 days, hundreds of photos and close to an hours worth of video on one battery. It almost made up for the $50 price tag, an hour and a half of my time and $10 worth of gas to get the damn thing.

Camp at Fossil Lake T12 595211 4993947 (9911')

Retiring to our tents I checked the map, then got pissed off all over again. We were definitely running out of trail and there didn’t look like there was any way to extend the trip to a full 8 nights without leaving the trail again. The nearest trail junction was down at Russell Lake and led up to Wand and Mariane Lakes. However, I'm not sure any of us felt like doing a steep 600' climb through the trees. No, we'd hike out the day after tomorrow and maybe see some sights before dropping the Canadians off in Billings for their flight home.

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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