January Mountain Biking at Pipestone

Could be skiing…
The snowpack in Southwest Montana has been treacherous most of the winter which has kept me out of the backcountry and therefore out of backpacking or touring. I’m an active individual and I’ve been able to keep myself occupied snowboarding at the resort and doing a lot of cycling.
Nope, going biking…
A group of friends and I decided to take the cycling thing off the roads and onto the trails due to some unseasonably warm weather the area has been experiencing. This group of cyclists has been heading to this location for years for winter riding as there exists an interesting micro-climate in area that keeps the trails relatively snow-free most of the winter.
We went riding on Sunday, January 18th, 2009 near Whitehall, Montana at a place referred to as Pipestone. It is known for it’s bike trails, ORV trails, as well as it’s rock climbing and bouldering. While riding we saw ATVs, dirt bikes, and even a couple climbers – all out to drink in the near tropical heat we’ve been having.
Joyous winter biking…
We rode for a couple hours stopping often to fix various mechanical issues – a common problem on the first ride of the year I suppose. I have no idea how many miles we put on but I’d venture to guess ten or more miles. The trails we were riding (and wrenching) on were a combination of frozen sand, ice, snow, and mud. We all ended up nice and dirty which is a sign of a quality off road ride.
The Bozeman crew…
Riders present were Casey, John, Katie, Sam, Seth, and Steve representing a varied cross section of abilities. I do not remember the last time I went off road cycling so I was very excited to be on the trail going fast (and very, very slow at times) through single track, dirt roads, and icy and snowy treads of all varieties.
Audio visual…
To better memorialize the trip I put together a video montage of the day’s riding. My photo are also available from the day at my Flickr page, Pipestone Mountain Biking as well as via the thumbnails below.

Photos of a great day…

Seth fixing his ride Katie Steve and Casey Casey Casey post-crash Katie, Casey, and Steve
Casey and Katie Seth John Steve Casey Schmidt and Specialized
Seth, John, Steve, Casey, and Katie Steve midair Steve midair Sam pissing Steve on take-off Casey photographing
Steve midair Casey Steve Steve on take-off Steve landing Steve dropping in
IMG_4607.JPG Sunset Katie, Steve, and Casey

Crazy Mountains – DIAD

I’ve been doing some reading about DIAD activities lately.  DIAD stands for done-in-a-day.  The idea behind the type of DIAD hiking activities I’ve been researching is to pick a hike that might take two or even three days for typical completion and finish it in one day.

During the waning part of August, 2008 I had my sights on the Crazy Mountains, a small range in Southwest Montana better known for it’s grazing cattle and timber land than for backpacking.  Using a combination of Google Earth, digital 7.5 min. quadrangle maps and National Geographics TOPO! program I determined the route I was too take through the Crazies.  My plan was to head up the Trespass Creek trail, over a pass, down into the Sweet Grass drainage, then up a different fork of the same creek, over another pass (one without a trail), and finishing by walking down and out the Cottonwood Creek trail back to my car.  This trip was twenty plus miles and I was hoping to summit Conical Peak in the middle of it so I knew it was going to be a stout set of miles.

I usually hike solo and because of this I prefer to be prepared, having no one to rely on in the event of an emergency or stranding.  I decided I would attempt the hike in a one-day push but would carry a limited backpacking kit (shelter, insulation, cooking gear, et al) in the event the weather turned poor or I the terrain dished out more than my endurance could handle. 

I had a commitment on Friday night which I attended but left immediately afterward and headed to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead arriving about midnight.  The weather folks were warning about possible nastiness so I had opted to bring my Golite Shangri-La 2 shelter which fairs well in the event of snow.  I set it up in the parking lot at the trailhead and sat on the hood of my Subaru downing the pint of Old Milwaukee I’d brought along for the occassion.  The stars came out and the night was beautiful for a sleep out.

I awoke at dawn, packed my bag and headed up the trail.  I encountered a man and his son readying themselves for six days of mountain goat hunting, two groups of two backpackers, and a man as his four daughters outr backpacking.  I didn’t expect much traffic but this was Labor Day weekend so then again it didn’t surprise me all that much.  I made excellent time, hitting all the marks I was hoping to and as I approached Conical Peak I saw no reason I couldn’t summit it and still be back to my car before dark.

The sky had been having trouble making up its mind as to what the clouds wanted to do.  Big, ugly, black, menacing looking things had been rolling in and out all day and as I began the couple thousand foot climb to the summit of Conical it became very cold and began to rain.  As I progressed another hundred feet the rain was turning to snow and a white, blinding fog was enveloping all around me.  I realized very quickly that a summit of a mountain doesn’t mean a lot to me without a view so I turned around and headed back to lower ground.  If it did start snowing seriously I knew I was going to either have to make a dash over the trail-less pass I needed to cross to get back to my car, or camp below Conical Peak and hope the next day was warm enough to melt the snow which would have made the off-trail crossing difficult.

As I lost elevation the weather decided to be silly again and the sun came back out and warmed everything up.  I made my way toward the steep, loose, rocky pass that from my vantage appeared to have some class 3 and 4 sections required for crossing.  The group of backpackers consisting of the man and his daughters had told me they had made their way over this pass the day before (only in the opposite direction) and considering that these were kids aged in their pre to teens I figured I could probably do it successfully as well.  I headed up the pass and made a couple poor route decisions which put me into about ten minutes of climbing that was a bit over the edge of safety.  It wasn’t anything I’m incapable of, but it was certainly stuff that could lead to danger had I made a wrong move.

The wind was howling atop the pass but the view was gorgeous and I knew I still had ample hours of daylight and only a few miles of trail hiking in front of me.  I descended to Cottonwood Lake and found the trail down along creek.  This trail was in great shape and the second half consisted of a well-graded road (used to access some land-locked private property).  I arrived at my car before dark, relaxed with the other pint of Swill I’d brought before jumping into my rig for the drive back to Bozeman.

Driving along the fifteen mile gravel road back to the highway the weather really decided to kick it up a notch.  A heavy rain began to fall complete with thunder and lighting.  I drove slowly home thinking how nice it was I’d finished the loop in a day and not having to deal with the weather.  But all the while a parallel thought was coursing my synapses, and that was that I just knew the next morning would have provided me a brilliant covering of snow and I would’ve awoke to the glistening beauty of a snow-covered alpine lakeshore.  Alas, the time will come soon enough for lots, and lots, and looooots of snow.  I’m curious, what would you have done? 

Bridger Ridge Traverse

*Note – this was originally posted as a trip report on Summit Post. Also, View Trip Photos

Jeff and Sam started at Fairy Lake USFS campground at 07:30 on 2008-08-24 with light packs, lots of food, water, maps and legs ready to be destroyed. We finished, eleven and a half hours later having ascended 5,170ft, descended 7460ft and traveled nineteen miles.

Preparation – Jeff has lived in Bozeman for two years and has had his eye on the route followed during the Bridger Ridge Run just about ever since. Sam has lived in Bozeman for about a month and a half but has had his eye on a Bridger Traverse since the first time he skiied Bridger Bowl in 2005.

In a passing conversation the week prior to the trip Jeff mentioned his 30th birthday was coming up and that he had a desire to do something meaningful, worthwhile and challenging before his twenties passed. Knowing that Sam was someone who thoroughly enjoyed backpacking, hiking and alpine scrambling he put forth the idea to him as well as some other Bozeman locals. Sam responded with a whole-hearted, hell yes I’d like to join you and the response from others was a bit milder.

Sam and Jeff both did some independent research of the traverse using such tools as the excellent Bozeman Area topographic map, Google Earth and the Ridge Run maps located at the Big Sky Wind Drinkers Web site.

The Hike – Waking at 05:30 on Sunday morning a quick breakfast was consumed and the packs finally loaded. Sam brought Clif bars, salami, cheese, baguette, chocolate and four liters of water. Jeff brought sandwiches, M and Ms and nine and a half liters of water (having miscalculated thinking he was only bringing seven and a half). Driving Sam’s Subaru to the Fairy Lake trailhead they quickly hit the trail opting to change the Bridger Run route to their own liking by tacking on a summit of Hardscrabble Peak to the already big day of travel planned.

Descending from Hardscrabble the meat of the journey began with a climb of Sacagawea Peak, the high point of the trip at 9,665ft of elevation. A use trail exists along the entirety of the Bridge Range as described in this report but side-steps some of the summits in the range. Opting to bag most of these Sam and Jeff next climbed the few dozen extra feet to the summit of Naya Nuki wherein author Kenneth Thomasma has left a few copies of his novel, Naya Nuki, Shoshone Girl Who Ran, the story of the peak’s namesake.

The use trail is excellent for 95% of the route and is the majority of what is traveled in the traverse. The route called for in the Bridger Ridge Run skips a beefy section near Ross Peak which would call for a higher class of scrambling that most are prepared for in a running race. At this point the suggested route is to drop a thousand some odd feet to the National Scenic hiking trail which parallels the Bridger Ridge on the West side. A beautiful trail with excellent tread takes traversers to Ross Pass and then at a well-marked junction (large cairn and two blazes, one paint and one cut) hikers should turn left, head straight uphill on a well-worn use trail back to the summit of the ridge.

The rest of the day was spent hopping rocks, photographing amazing views and calculating mileages and hours. Along the way are great views of many mountain ranges, including the Crazy Mountains, Madison Range, Absaroka Range, Beartooth Range, Gallatin Range, and the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Other named peaks that are ticked off while hiking this traverse are Saddle Peak, Bridger Peak and Baldy Mountain .

Descending from Baldy Mountain to the Bozeman area “M” trail is a knee-pounding affair nearly straight down a few thousand some odd feet. After a grueling day in the sun, hiking on scree and rock it took it’s toll on Jeff and Sam’s knees. We met Jeff’s wife Shannon at the “M” and finshed at the “M” trailhead to shuttle back to Fairy Lake to fetch Sam’s vehicle.

Conclusions – Having hiked this partial section of the Bridger Range Traverse both Sam and Jeff would like to complete the remaining section from Flathead Pass southward to Hardscrabble.

Worthy of mention is the common thread on various Internet resources that the route is hard to follow and both Sam and Jeff agree that these statements are false. With minimal route-finding skills and keeping one’s eyes open anyone with the physical capabilities for big miles and big elevations should have little to no difficulty in completing this traverse.

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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


Pine Creek Lake – Absaroka Wilderness

When I lived in Northwest Montana in and around Glacier National Park I became interested in attaining the summits of mountains. The idea of bagging a peak was as new to me as the mountains around me. During my childhood in Minnesota my brother and I certainly did our share of exploring but no hills were high enough to be called summits. I claimed a half or full dozen of peaks within the boundary of Glacier and then in a somewhat anticlimactic move, found myself in a day job in Duluth, MN. Duluth is like a mountain town – – just without the mountains. There are lots of hardcore outdoor enthusiasts there including some local hardmen even now in the 21st century putting up FAs on some tough, but small rock.

A new career called and I headed back out to the mountains, this time in Southwest Montana where the list of peaks to climb is nearly endless. The Bridger, Crazy, Tobacco Root, Madison, Gallatin, Abaroka, Beartooth ranges are all within one hundred miles, and the list goes on. Having set my sights on Ross Peak in the Bridger Range before even arriving in Bozeman I quickly set out to attain that in my second week here. Next my perusing of the pages at Summit Post put me in a mindset of the Absaroka Range and particularly Black Mountain.

Thursday Night – For those weekend warriors it is important to spend the week previous to your trips planning routes, attaining maps, checking off gear lists and preparing food. I had all taken preparations made by Thursday evening and my pack and trekking poles were readied by the door of my room.

Friday Afternoon – Out of work, back home and into the Subaru for the fifty mile drive to the Pine Creek Lake trailhead. I arrived by 18:30 and made the thousands-of-feet-over-five-miles-climb along a nice Forest Circus trail to Pine Creek Lake wherein to find the place to myself. Downing a canned-pint of a local Montana-brewed scotch-style ale I nestled into my quilt by about 22:00.

Saturday Morning – I awoke to my alarm at 05:45 for a semi-alpine start at Black. The weather was to be hot so I wanted to make the climb before too much sun was shining over the peaks to the East. I climbed and made the summit by 08:30 (read trip log at Summit Post). My plan was to follow the peaks ridge around the Pine Creek valley, summit McKnight Mountain and drop Eastward to McKnight Lakes and then a trail-less descent Northwest-ward the next day to the trailed South Fork Deep Creek trailhead. I was quickly thwarted by fear and rationale by some nasty exposure on the knife edge ridge off the East flank of Black Mountain.

Saturday Afternoon – Rather than risk life and limb on the alpine ridges I re-traced my steps down Black Mountain and headed off cross-country through the wilds of the Pine Creek drainage. I made my way across the mid-elevations and climbed again to the saddle between the ridges I was on previously and McKnight Mountain. I could look downard onto McKnight Lakes but seeing no obvious, safe route downward I opted instead to stay in the Pine Creek drainage. I wandered all over it, climbing and descending some 3,500 feet that day eventually settling on a nice campsite on the East side of the lake.

Saturday Evening – The lake was anything but mine that night as six other sets of backpackers showed up to camp. I joined one group, a father and his two sons at their campfire that evening for good conversation and a gorgeous sunset before heading back to my tarp for a cold slumber. Temperatures were hovering around 40 deg. F by 04:00. I was pushing my superultralight setup that night and awoke to do warming sit-ups a number of times before the sun shone.

Sunday Morning – Awake at 06:30, packed and down to the car in time to catch biscuits and gravy at a little joint with good, fresh, organic coffee. Home before the afternoon for relaxing, reading and enjoying my new home in Bozeman.

Spanish Peaks Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness

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I recently made a career change which has taken me away from the beautiful Arrowhead of Minnesota and placed me into the grandiose peaks and valleys of the approximately 4,000,000 acres of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Upon arriving into my new hometown of Bozeman, MT and unpacking my Subaru of my belongings I immediately dove into my new roomates map drawer to find a couple day backpacking loop to satisfy my lust to enjoy the freedom of the hills.

I contemplated heading back up to my old haunt at Glacier National Park but decided that can wait until I’ve explored my new area a bit. Next I considered heading down to Yellowstone National Park but decided against it because of how busy it would be as well as the hassle of the permit system. I had read about the Lee Metcalf Wilderness briefly in some outdoor blogs and it looked to be perfect for my needs – close to Bozeman and high in elevation.

I opted to start hiking along the South Fork of Spanish Creek, head about ten miles up to Jerome Rock Lakes, spend the night, travel a short distance over a 9,000 ft. pass and down to Upper Big Brother Lake to spend the second night and then awake on the third day to descend a different drainage back to the trailhead and my waiting Subaru.

Montana welcomed me back with open arms. Although I’ve been a flatlander living in Minnesota for the past two years I was still able to climb the 2,400 ft to Jerome Rock Lakes and it’s 8,000+ ft elevation without too much light-headedness. Two bears along the trail reminded me I was back in very wild country again. I arrived at the lake just as a thunderstorm was moving in fast. I peered over the lake to see a Bald Eagle swooping low along the lake heading for cover. I had read the upper lakes were nicer than the lower so I quickly began bushwhacking upstream but reaching two plateaus and no lake I decided to head back down to attempt to set up camp before the rains came. I had my shelter laid out when it started pouring. All was well however as I got everything situated and myself under the tarp to hear the thunder rumbling overhead and the lighting crashing around me. The rain didn’t let up until much later so I spent the better part of twelve hours under the tarp that night.

The next day was short on miles but I awoke early and headed out hoping to arrive and do some exploring. This also offered me the opportunity to hike slow at these high elevations to be sure my un-aclimatized body could handle it all. I had my ice axe with me as the Forest Service reps couldn’t give me solid beta on what the snow situation would be at 9,000 ft. There was patchy snow but nothing with dangerous exposure so I never used the axe. The high alpine country of this area is stunning. Rugged peaks, broken scree slopes, raggedy old-growth conifers. Being that this is a wilderness area the trail maintenance is at a minimum. The trail disappeared and hikers are forced to follow rock cairns through the pass. Route-finding was moderate to difficult between finding the cairns and moving through the snow.

I followed the cairns down to what I thought was Big Brother Lake, set up camp, had a snack and took a nap as it was still only 9:30 a.m. and I had plenty of time to explore later. Awaking from a wonderful slumber I headed out around the lake to climb the prominent knob in the cirque. Upon reaching the top I noticed there were three lakes in the drainage and not one as denoted on the map I was carrying. I determined that I was actually at an upper lake and that Big Brother was another .25 or .5 miles downstream. I lazied around the rest of the day and waded all over the freezing cold lake until anotehr thunderstorm came speeding in. I had to push my tarp walls out to keep them from blowing in for about ten minutes while the storm raged. When it let up a bit I went out, re-set all my tarp stakes and reinforced them with big rocks. This provided a bomber set up and the rest of the storm had nothing on my shelter.

6:30 came and I awoke as my body seems to do lately. I packed up, ate some granola and began bushwhacking down to the other lake, hoping that upon arriving there I would be able to find the trail again. I was in luck and I was sailing downhill on good trail in no time. Aside from the 250 downed trees I encountered it was good hiking. I arrived back at the Subaru around 11:00 and was back in Bozeman by 12:00.

North Country Trail, Brule River State Forest

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Early June, 2008. My buddies and I decided to do a couple days on the North Country National Scenic Trail in Northwestern Wisconsin. We planned, we mapped, we discussed. All was going well, a car shuttle was arranged and we were amped. Then one guy hurt his back and the other got very ill. This left me to figure out my plan on the afternoon we were set to leave. I quickly laid out my maps, assessed the situation and decided to go backpacking solo. I rearranged my food stash so as to only carry eats for one and changed out some group gear with solo gear. This put me behind schedule by about an hour but alas the long daylight hours are upon us and I have a trusty headlamp.

I arrived in Solon Springs, WI at a trailhead in the Brule River State Forest around 19:30. I was out of the car and moving fast to stay ahead of the mosquitos. I hiked until approximately 21:00 and arrived at the Jesseth Creek Bluffs campsite just as the sun was setting across the Brule River valley – – gorgeous.

I picked off thirty wood ticks upon arriving at camp and decided to pull my socks up over my pants legs, set up the Dancing Light Gear silnylon tarp I had brought along and have some nuts and chocolate for dinner. After that I strung up my bear bag, built a smokey anti-mosquito fire using my firesteel and relaxed before turning in at 22:00.

Morning came and I awoke around 5:00. Without my buddies there I just wasn’t feeling the need to continue on to another campsite. I opted to hike the three miles to the next trailhead and then wandered logging roads and ATV trails that paralleled the NCT back to my car which ended up being another eight or nine miles. It was kind of fun just using my compass and following random trails not really knowing exactly where I was on the map. I spotted lots of deer, moose, bear and turkey tracks and only saw two cars.

Superior Hiking Trail – Dayhike to Bean and Bear Lakes

Having put in my forty hours of I was able to leave work at 11:30 on a beautiful, sunny Friday. I went home, put together my pack with the ten essentials, jumped in my Subaru, stopped at my girlfriend’s house to pick up Maya dog and headed up the North Shore to Silver Bay, MN and the Superior Hiking Trail. Below you can watch a video blog I produced of the hike. Also feel free to peruse a photo gallery of some of the sights Maya and I saw.

While hiking I kept my camera handy and put together a short video blog for your enjoyment.

Winter Backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail

Chad, Jim, Kat, Sam and Todd on an overnighter at the Gooseberry Multi-group Campsite along the Superior Hiking Trail, February 23rd and 24th, 2008.

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Chad and Sam headed up to the Split Rock Wayside, Sam with his pack and Chad with his pulk sled and hiked the six miles to the Gooseberry State Park headquarters. They arrived around 14:30 with plans to meet Jim, Kat and Todd at 15:00. Food was consumed outside the headquarters in the sun and the rest of the group arrived in a timely fashion. Everyone quickly gathered their gear and hit the trail for the 2.7 mile jaunt to the campsite.

The trail was packed powder having seen dozen of pairs of snowshoes previously in the season and made for easy walking. Chad vocalized he wished he hadn’t added the fins to his pulk sled but seemed to maneuver it well regardless. Snowshoes weren’t necessary but the crampons on them were handy for the ups and downs.

Arrival in camp was around 16:30-ish and everyone immediately set up their camps. Kat and Todd put up their respective tents, Jim rigged up his tarp and Sam and Chad laid down their bivies. All was set before dark and next, out came the cooksets. Food was warmed and snow melted for the evening and next day’s water. Chad and Todd masterfully created a fire around which everyone sat, warmed and conversed for a couple of hours.

Winter camping is synonymous with early bed times and most hit the hay around 20:30. The stars were brilliant and the moon was very, very bright. No headlamp was necessary for potty breaks in the night. But the lack of clouds brought tempertures into the teens.

Eleven hours later the sun was peeking through the trees to the East and bodies climbed from their cocoons into the crisp morning air. Oatmeal, granola and coffee was warmed up, warm clothes were donned and the warmth of the sun put smiles on the campers faces. Everyone had eaten and packed for the trail by around 9:45. A little over an hour later we arrived back at Gooseberry headquarters, did some car shuttling, took a final group photo and were on our way home.

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