A Personally Challenging Hike
Stats (Per my AllTrails tracker):
- Distance: 5.3 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 2,011′
- Difficulty: Difficult
From Bozeman, MT take Highway 86 N toward Bridger Canyon. Drive approximately 20 miles and take Fairy Lake Road on the left. The trailhead is approximately 7 miles. Be advised that Fairy Lake Road is rutted out badly. You will need a vehicle with a lot of clearance and 4WD is advised. Some of the ruts are over a foot deep and as wide as the road so there is no getting around them. You have to go through them. The road bed has washed down to exposed rock. It is like driving on a river bed. It took us 40 minutes to drive the 7 miles on Fairy Lake Rd.
September 17, 2018 Hike Description:
The hike begins near Fairy Lake with a walk through the forest and a quick left detour out to see the lake. There is a pit toilet at the trailhead. Take advantage of it because there are very few places for potty privacy on this trail.
Just a few hundred yards from the trailhead is a left detour to Fairy Lake. It is only a few yards from the main trail to a great viewing area of the entire lake. We have not taken the time to circumnavigate this little lake, but plan on doing it in the near future. It is aptly named and minerals cause the water to have an ethereal hue that almost glows. It is truly beautiful.
Then, you begin switchbacks while you are still in the forest. As you near the bottom of the ridge, you can look up and see Pomp’s Peak on your right (North) and the knife edges of the Bridger Range (South) to your left. In the hottest part of the summer, this section of the trail is inundated with horse flies. They bite. It hurts! Wear bug spray and/or protective clothing. On a previous hike in July, I was bitten over 30 times and suffered with nausea and dizziness by the time I got to the summit and had to cut my time on the summit short.
So, after you get out of the trees, you hike up to where the trail begins to switch back and forth up with swag that leads to the gap between Sacajawea and Hardscrabble Peaks. The picture at the right is taken from the summit looking down at where the switchbacks begin down from the gap. 2018 has been a very wet year and parts of the trail in this area has been washed out. I had to get down on my hands and knees to crawl up in a couple of sections. Conversely, coming down, I was on my butt sliding down the scree to get to the next section of the trail. There is no large vegetation going up to the gap but in the right season, it you pay attention, you can find the most beautiful little wild flowers.
Walking up the leeward side, the wind can take you by surprise when you reach Sacajawea Gap. It blows in from the west and is magnified in the gap by being “squeezed” between the peaks. The gap is marked with cairn constructed one rock at a time by previous hikers.
Turn left at the cairn. This will take you up the west side (the windy side) of the Bridgers just behind Sacajawea Peak. From this vantage point, you can see for miles and miles both east and west. If you don’t think you can stand the exposure of the heights to go the rest of the way on this hike, the views from the gap is worth the work. Leaving the gap you begin to feel a bit more “exposed.” The ground is covered in small loose rock and it is like walking on ball bearings. This year, 2018, there was a lot more scree because of the rain.
As you get to the back side of Sacajawea and start up to the summit, the trail gets steep. There was a lot of scree and I felt a bit tentative in my footing. As with the trail below the gap, there were sections that had washed away. It was really hard for me to get over these sections because you are on a very steep incline covered in scree that is totally exposed. I was again on my hands and knees going over these sections and on my butt coming down. I’m surprised I didn’t get a blowout in the seat of my shorts!
The summit, however, is awesome. I’m a bit nervous every time so I just stay seated. To me, it feels like a big accomplishment when I make it. Phil walks back and forth close to the edge without batting an eye. I think he is part mountain goat sometimes. He is also a walking google maps. He sits on the top and names all of the peaks, towns, valleys, rivers and river drainages…in excruciating detail.