Gallatin Crest Trail – Gallatin Range

Everybody is going green these days. Ask my friends ad family and they’ll tell you I’ve been trying to go green since I was like ten years old. I took a break from it and entered a period of ignorance during college but even then I still tried to recycle my beer bottles and cans.

I gave my car away a couple years ago and biked everywhere I could. I have another car now but since my 1,000 mile move to Montana I’ve only put a few dozen miles on it. These precious miles are devoted to allowing myself the freedom of the hills. In trying to further minimize my impact of even these few dozen miles I concocted a nifty route for my backpacking trip on the weekend of August 15th, 2008.

On Friday I threw my bike into my car and drove the twenty miles into Hyalite Canyon to the Hyalite Creek trailhead. I parked my car and rode my bicycle the twenty miles back to town. I packed up my gear, got the rest of my groceries all trip-ready and went to sleep peacefully in my bed. A 6:30am alarm woke me and I grabbed my pack and walked out the door headed for the Gallatin Valley Mall. A weird place to start a backpacking trip I’m sure you’re thinking. About 7:20am a large bus pulled up and I boarded along with a half dozen others and we set off South down the Gallatin River Valley. Upon reaching the turn off to Big Sky Ski Resort I asked the bus driver for a whistle stop and he obliged. My backpacking trip had begun.

The first leg of my trip was a three mile walk South along the highway to the Porcupine Creek trailhead followed by a grueling ascent of multiple thousands of feet to gain the Gallatin Divide and it’s meandering Gallatin Crest Trail (also commonly referred to as the Devil’s Backbone). By afternoon I was on the Divide and making my way Northward toward Hyalite Canyon where my trusty Subaru was parked. I hiked from 9:00am until 8:20pm covering something along the lines of twenty-five miles and ascending an elevation of 6,500ft.

The Gallatin Divide is out of reach of any creeks or lakes so I was out of water by the end of my hiking day. I had noticed snowbanks along the route and was relying on finding a camping spot where this would be available. This and some other factors were what prompted the spot I did choose. I camped at a lovely spot along the Divide at 9,500 ft above sea level and while melting snow for drinking water was treated to a sunset my photos will have trouble doing justice.

At dawn I awoke to the sound of a family of mountain goats click-clacking their way across the opposite side of the canyon I was sleeping near. The sunrise and moon-set were equally as delightful as the opposite occurrence the evening before. I quickly packed having not set up a tent or tarp the night before and headed off to find more water and ultimately my destination. Hiking in the early hours of the day is always a treat as this is when wildlife is most frequently visible. I had the rare opportunity of witnessing two elk from a distance of only a few dozen meters while I was collecting water from a stream. A handful more mountain goats also made their appearance high up on a canyon wall.

I summited Hyalite Peak that morning and enjoyed the view of the surrounding landscape – a view only barely topping the full-day of delightful views I had enjoyed during the previous days’ hike. I can with all honesty say that the hike along the Gallatin Crest Trail No. 96 ranked second only to the high country in the Pasayten Wilderness I experienced the summer before on my 2007 PNT thru hike. If you are ever in the Bozeman area and in need of a quality trip, consider the Gallatin Divide Trail at the top of your list.

I descended from Hyalite Peak through Hyalite Creek and back to my car at the busy trailhead as just another hiker out in the woods – no different than the scads of cotton-clad families with half-full Nalgene bottles in tow walking up or down the creek. I smiled to myself at the grandeurs I had witnessed and groaned a bit at the toll the twenty-five miles the previous day and the dozen or so miles the current day had taken on my body. Endurance, limits, toughness. All things I like to test – and seem to do so on a regular basis. Stay tuned for next weeks’ grand adventure…

View this trip’s concurrent photo set here