In short, it was great to knock of highpoint #38 (especially after failing two years ago), and I would definitely rank it as the second most difficult of the state highpoints I've done so far (and I anticipate it remaining so once I'm done), behind Denali.
On the evening of Wednesday the 7th of August, I went from work to the airport and flew to Bozeman, MT. I stayed with my aunt and uncle, who live in town. The three of us went and floated a section of the Madison River in their raft. I spent a bunch of the rest of the day going through the massive quantity of gear I brought with me, deciding what all I would take. I had the great fortune to have run into a guy just coming off of Granite at a gear shop in town, but I must have missed the part where he effectively said I wouldn't need a bunch of the stuff I was planning to take. In order to save weight, I should have left the bear vault (I had no plan to stay in bear habitat); I could have left almost all of the slings and rappel rings (maybe one for a backup) if I had known/processed that the rappel stations on the mountain were good. I could have left the ice axe, I only used it for a few minutes on the snow bridge; I could have used a trekking pole instead. I probably could have gone with two liters of water instead of three, since there was a decent amount of water flowing on the route (though clearly well below peak water flow). Knee and shin guards would have been more useful than a helmet, but I couldn't have left that behind. I still would have had a heavy pack if I had left all that behind (with a rope, tent, stove, etc), but it would have reduced the slog factor for sure. As it was, I was probably carrying somewhere over 65 pounds at the start of the hike.
I woke up about 4:15 on the morning of Friday the 9th, ate some breakfast, packed my gear into my aunt's car, and hit the road around 5. Before I left Bozeman, though, I stocked up on Dr Pepper at a gas station around the corner from their house. From there it was 100 miles of interstate to Columbus. I stopped at a truck stop there for a bio break. I would have gotten a candy bar, but there wasn't a cashier. I continued south through the small town of Absarokee and the tiny town of Fishtail. I knew the turn to go to West Rosebud was near town; I thought I had passed it and turned around. The only road I had passed in Fishtail didn't go anywhere, so I was pretty sure the turn was further, down the way I had been going. Just to be sure, I asked a guy walking his dog, and he confirmed it. I was following a map from the Internet and paying attention to mileages, but we all know these things aren't always entirely reliable. I had been this way to West Rosebud two years prior, but I had been following another car at at that time. When I came to a sign saying West Rosebud, pointing to the left down a dirt road, I took the turn. After a few mikes, however, I was starting to have doubts that I was on the correct road. I eventually came to a Forest Service information board, so I stopped to double check. Pretty much the only landmark I had to go by was a campground I had just passed, and fortunately that was shown on the map as being on the road I wanted, and the trailhead that was my destination was only a few miles further. Reassured, I continued on, arriving at the trailhead at 8am. After some final arranging and deciding to leave the remaining Dr Pepper in the car as a return present to myself, I set out hiking a little after 8.
how good I am at that, ie NOT): there are markers along the way, and it's up to you how closely you come to those markers, as long as you're going the correct direction. After a while, I wasn't quite as sure I was going in the correct direction, so I stopped to consult my map. It indicated that I was headed the right way, but a little lower than its path. As I started to climb, I saw another hiker headed my way. I thought either he knew where he was going or at least I could follow him and think less about finding a route. We wound up chatting as we made our way. His name was Ralph, up from Salt Lake City hiking with his friend In, who was hoping to bag his 48th state highpoint, and be that much closer to being the first Asian 50-state completer (In is originally from Korea). In was a little behind at that point; I had passed him on my way up the switchbacks and we had exchanged four or five words, I also saw the two of them coming up behind me when I stopped for breaks. Ralph and I came to two sturdy-looking tent sites, with a trickle of water very close by. We could see people camped a little higher up toward Granite (which we had just finally gotten a glimpse of), which would have made for a more convenient summit day, but since it was starting to rain again, I was pretty keen on the site we were at. In wasn't that far behind us, but I already had my tent up and was inside trying to keep warm when he arrived in camp. We chatted briefly through the tent. The rain passed before long and once I was warmed up I filtered some water and boiled some to prepare my freeze-dried dinner. We had gotten into camp about 5:30, making for 8 hours of hiking including breaks plus an hour and a half sheltering. I was ready to get to sleep when the sun went down. I had gotten chilled again sitting outside eating my dinner, do I had to warm up before I could get to sleep. Once I was warm, I was plenty warm all night in my 10-degree bag. I had made a rough plan with Ralph and In that they would leave camp a little before me the next morning, I would be moving a little faster, and we would meet up at the snow bridge to do the technical climbing together. Frankly I didn't really intend to keep to that plan, I thought I would blast past them and solo the whole thing.
I was pretty wrecked on Sunday. I didn't sleep particularly well, or nearly as long as I would have liked. After breakfast my aunt and uncle went to the gym. I went back to sleep for an hour until they came back. I wasn't really interested in doing anything that required wearing shoes, let alone anything physically demanding. The main event of the day was a visit to the Montana Raptor Conservation Center, which was having an open house. It was pretty neat getting to see some of their temporary guests getting some rehab as well as their permanent residents, those birds permanently injured such that they can't go back to the wild. The eagles, hawks, and owls were cool to see, but I didn't need to see the vulture, there are tons of those that hang out on my office building while migrating.