There are many times during our life that it's easier just to give up and concede. If you witnessed the last 1/2 mile or so of what I had to endure to reach Pioneer Falls, you may have called me crazy. I never felt in danger, so I just kept pushing pass the limits of what my mind was telling me to do. What rewarded me at the end was a frozen waterfall and spiritually, that much more.
Riding high from my last excursion 24 Hours in North Yellowstone, I was in the mood to do a long and strenuous hike. A search of the best hikes in Bozeman brings up a variety of trails, but for this specific one I was looking for a waterfall which would hopefully be frozen over. I ventured out the day prior on a reconnaissance mission to see if the gate had been closed on Spanish Creek road which led to the Spanish Creek Trailhead. If it was, this would add an additional 8 miles onto this hiking trail in Montana that was estimated to be around 6.5 to begin with. Since it's mid January I wasn't surprised to see it locked when I pulled up, so I began to mentally prepare myself for the following day.
I awoke early to temperatures in the mid 20's, and wanted to be at the gate by sunrise. I had travelled Spanish Creek road at various times through-out the summer and always passed an abandoned cabin that I thought would someday make for a great photography print. Well on this particular morning everything aligned and I was greeted to an explosion of colors in the sky. This Montana landscape photography print is for purchase in a variety of sizes and products. Click on it to learn more.
Seeing such a beautiful sunrise, I had a feeling it was going to be an epic day in many regards. The hike began with an hour and forty five minute walk from the closed gate to the Spanish Creek Trailhead which was four miles on the mark. The road in had some exposed pavement, as well as snow drifts that easily totaled at least 4 feet. Lucky for me the drifts were packed down and I was able to gracefully walk across them. I took a short break at the actual trail head, peed and proceeded to make my way into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
At the beginning of the post I mentioned about giving up and conceding, and there were two times where mentally I wanted to give up. The first being after I had just finished taking a break, I proceeded down the trail and heard a huffing/moaning call from behind a group of trees. My intuition didn't scream bear, but it did say Moose/Elk. I couldn't see anything so I made my way back to where I had taken my break and began to yell in the hopes that whatever was hiding would spook itself out and leave. Minutes passed by and nothing showed, so after weighing the thought of turning around or proceeding I decided to proceed. Turns out the noise I had heard were just the trees rubbing up against each other due to the slight breeze that had begun to blow. When you're deep in the woods by yourself hiking in Montana, nature has a way of playing mind games with you.
I continued to follow the cross country ski tracks that had been laid previously before me on the trail, and eventually made it to the junction of Pioneer Falls/Spanish Lake. Here I began to question once again whether or not I should turn around or proceed. I knew I was just under a mile from the falls, but the ski tracks turned to the left and I was heading to the right. The trail to Pioneer Falls disappeared under a thick blanket of snow. By now I had thrown my snowshoes on and decided to try and find my way. I had two things going for me: 1. elk hoof prints that seemed to be heading in the direction of the trail, and 2. a swell up ahead which normally indicates a depression in the trail. I would begin my ascent and what was a breeze up to that point had turned into a full scale uphill march. Every few steps my mind was telling my to turn around and give up, but the higher I climbed the closer I got to the falls. There were times while I was standing knee deep in snow, that I begin screaming at the top of my lungs. No one was around, so I let it rip! What was I screaming at? Nothing and everything at all (frustration, anger, and unexpressed feelings just to name a few.) I highly recommend going out into the woods and yelling, it's a very cathartic experience.
Socks wet, lower back beginning to tighten, quads burning, I finally made it to Pioneer Falls at about seven and half miles. I sat and screamed, but this time in excitement. Pure joy filled me up, as I snapped a few pictures and then realized I had another seven and half miles to go to reach my truck. At least it was down hill from the falls back to the junction. At the junction, I swapped my soaked socks for dry ones which eventually would turn back into soaked ones, and began the arduous grind back.
At 14.8 miles, I finally made it back to my truck. Exhausted and hurting with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for what I had just endured. Would I do this again? Ask me next week after my body recovers. For the time being, you can find me at Bozeman Hot Springs in the early morning hours before screaming kids overtake the pools, soaking in the energy of a day that I soon won't forget.
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