Notes From the Road: Beating the Summer Heat
Summers might be the best thing about Montana’s Yellowstone Country. After hiking or fishing all day, very few things are more fun than grilling out with friends and reveling in sunlight that lasts until 10 pm.
Then again, I moved here from the South because I prefer snow to sand, and sometimes the summer heat gets to me. There comes a point each year when wading barelegged in a crystal clear river doesn’t quite do enough to cool you off. And hiking back to the trailhead in 90-degree heat negates the refreshing blast achieved by swimming in an alpine lake.
When it reaches that point, you have to take drastic measures to put yourself in a pleasantly cool state of mind. In other words, you have to go skiing.
Luckily, I have friends who have similarly bent logic—one of whom, Tyler Baumberger, had to ski in August to make it 12 consecutive months of skiing. We set our sights on Blaze Mountain, a 10,384-foot peak in the Spanish Peaks of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Its northwest face has a shallow couloir that holds snow just about all year. The only catch is that it’s a roughly 15 or 16 mile round trip hike, mostly on the Spanish Lakes trail with about a mile or so of bushwhacking to get to the top of the couloir.
We set off on the trail at 7 am, determined to finish the trip in time to hit the evening hatch on the Yellowstone River. Along the way we passed two sets of campers with skis outside their tents. (Keep in mind, this was the first weekend in August.) After a brief rest to watch a moose make its way across the meadow below the snowfield, we summited around 11:15 am and took a long break to explore along the ridgeline, eat lunch and wait for the snow to soften up.
I took off first down the sun-cupped slope and skied down until I crossed a pair of skiers on their way up the mountain to share in the summer skiing stoke. Tyler leapfrogged past me and we continued down until the snow turned to a small creek and we had change back into shoes and pack out.
Word to the wise: don’t wear new shoes on a long hike with a heavy pack. By the time we reached the truck around 3:30 pm, one of my blisters was bigger than most of the huckleberries we found along the trail. Despite that, it was a successful Yellowstone Country summer mission. We bagged a peak deep in a wilderness area, kept our respective skiing streaks alive at 12 and 22 months and had plenty of daylight left to soak in.