Saturday, Danni and I decided to repeat the adventure, but this time round trip. Leanne wanted to do one way, so we all left at 7am to drive up to Blacktail in order to leave her car (and aid station) at our turn around point. We drove back down and left Herron Park not entirely certain of the exact trail or mileage.
The first 7 miles were familiar, but after that, it was a bit confusing to figure out which trails and logging roads to take. Leanne was nice enough to leave markers for her husband, who was going to follow us up by bike. Around mile 8, we ran into some women on horseback, who attempted to help us with directions. These were not the only people to warn us about the potential for snow higher up. We continued to follow a logging road until it completely dead-ended. Blacktail was on the other side of the ridge, so we decided to head straight up to "see what we could see." At this point, (see picture below) Leanne's phone rang with a clear - I am so lost - message from her husband (His actual message used more powerful words and captured the frustration much better than I can write here). He had also reached the dead end, but turned around to head back the same way.
At this point, I think Leanne and I were a bit concerned about a) being lost, b) running out of water, c) ending up in Lakeside rather than Blacktail and needing to hitch a ride back to town, but also really wanting to reach our goal. Danni, as usual, was optimistic that we would figure it out, so we kept trying. That's when we saw a trail buried under a logging mess. We climbed over trees, lost the trail, went back down to the logging road, followed that awhile again, realized it wasn't taking us anywhere closer to Blacktail, and reconvened to discuss the options which were now, turn around and go back another 10 miles or try again to find the darn trail. The next picture shows Blacktail teasing us in the distance. Again, we attempted to follow sporadic trails, more determined and this time successful. Eventually, we hit a familiar sight - a yellow property boundary sign for national forest service land. As you can tell from the picture, we were very excited. We continued on, carefully maneuvering over the winter's many fallen trees (another picture below), finally ending up on logging roads heading straight for the radio towers at Blacktail. It kept going and going and going. By this point, we had already gone 15 miles, and I had to break it to Danni that I would not be able to do a return trip. I wasn't prepared physically or mentally to do a full thirty some miles. She was still determined to make a solo return trip. Danni and I knew from last year, that the last mile or two would be singletrack trail straight up to Blacktail. And that's where we hit the snow. In all fairness, we had been warned. Naively or hopefully, we expected a little snow, but not the deep field of snow.It was tough at times to see any trail, so I tried to envision where one would probably go, looking ahead for clearing in the trees that might indicate a trail. Honestly, if I hadn't been on the trail before, I would have been really discouraged and possibly fearful. Not only was it steep, but the snow was so deep in places that I'd posthole to my hips. By this time, my shoes and socks were soaked, my legs were starting to hurt from being scraped by hard snow, and we were all out of water. I kept watching my Garmin, moving forward, knowing that at 6700 feet we should reach the top. I was so happy to see the flags and gravel road when it appeared out of nowhere. I let out a series of WooHoo's to alert Danni and Leanne, and got to take a rest and pictures as they too reached the top. The first picture is of my cold, dirty and bruised legs after the snow. The next ones are of Leanne and Danni reaching the top. I think I can speak for all of us that we were excited about the ups and downs of our day and proud to have continued on despite the series of setbacks. The entire trip one way ended up being 18.3 miles, a whole lot of elevation gain, and took us over 6 hours. Danni too, decided that it was enough of an adventure, choosing to ride back with us. My hope is that we'll figure out where we got off track, and be able to complete the full out and back at another point this summer. Thanks Leanne and Danni - it really was a great adventure!