Photography and Words by Carson Meyer
Where: Bridger Mountains, Bozeman, Montana
Gavin Hess – Nordic Speed Machine
Carson Meyer – Self Proclaimed Paparazzi
Sam Schwartz – Freeski Monster
Sawyer Thomas – Mountain Ninja
The Plan: Run the Bridger Ridge trail, a beautiful 20-mile trail located outside of Bozeman, Montana.
The Event: Four of us huddled in a circle, hunkering down on top of Sacajawea Peak, the first of several summit objectives along the ridge. An icy wind rips at our backs. We had traveled three miles in just over an hour since reviewing our travel plan in the rain at the trailhead. The current whiteout and entrenching snow was quite a surprise as we discussed our next move off the peak.
Our objective was to run the Bridger Ridge, a beautiful mountain range running North to South along Bozeman, Montana. Jagged peaks, sweeping limestone couloirs, and a vibrant ecosystem in the high alpine shape this little slice of Big Sky Country. Beginning at Fairy Lake Trailhead, the 20 mile traverse ascends nearly 5,000 feet, descends over 7,000 feet and finishes at the local hiking hot spot dubbed, the 'M' trailhead.
Sawyer and I dropped a car at the ‘M’ trailhead and waited for the other half of our shuttle. Sam and Gavin were fresh off the five hour commute from Jackson, WY up to Bozeman. When they arrived we exchanged hugs and high fives, threw our gear in the back of Sam’s pick-up truck and took off.
It was 6:00am as we drove up Bridger Canyon under ominous skies. We had high hopes for the day after reading a forecast that predicted a light morning rain and a sunny afternoon. Bouncing up the Fairy Lake service road the light rain turned into precipitation with vengeance.
The misting that we had seen earlier quickly turned into a cold, drenching downpour. Not wanting to take off from the warmth of the truck in these conditions we opted to nap in the car and wait out the storm. Feelings of doubt crossed my mind as I tried to shrug off a head cold. It felt like the world was trying to deter our plans for the day.
Sam expressed a skepticism about some of the day's signs, but as the group conversed we decided to give ourselves a chance and shoot for the first summit along the ridge, Sacagawea Peak. Depending on group morale, weather and trail conditions along the 2,000 foot ascent we would make a call from there.
The down pour halted to a light drizzle with clouds moving in and out. We rummaged our gear together and began trudging upwards. With my camera in hand, I began firing away as the group came up the first cirque. Sam stumbled on his footing which caused an old injury flare up, but opted to continue toward the top of Sacagawea.
Before long we crested onto the saddle of Sacajawea Peak. We pushed through thick fog and over snow-covered ground. With my heart beat pounding in my ears and the snowy trail getting deeper, I was struggling to keep up with the others. I tried to stay present and maintain a positive outlook, but the world kept showing me signs as I climbed higher.
Reaching the top, we stopped to talk about our options. The others knew I was struggling and Sam's skepticism hadn't changed. On the flip side, Sawyer and Gavin wanted to continue. Both parties stated our cases as snow blew sideways across the group. Reading a 60% chance of rain over the next few hours, Sam and I decided to call it.
Gavin and Sawyer, both in great spirits and unwavered by the cold, grey weather decided to push on. We gave them our remaining food, water, extra layers and encouragement. With a wave they continued along the traverse.
Backing down from your objective is never easy, but for Sam and I turning back was the right thing to do. We cracked jokes on our way down and enjoyed the picturesque background of the Bridger Ridge. No matter the circumstances, it always feels good to spend time outside with your friends.
Six hours later, Gavin and Sawyer, the heroes of the day, descended to the 'M' trailhead. Sam and I greeted them with open arms. It may not have been our day, but we were proud to celebrate what they had accomplished. Plus, with Bridger Ridge right in my backyard, I would certainly be back to complete what we set out to do.