Ramshorn Lake

By the dawning of the sickly morning light

Day 125, Specimen Creek Trailhead to Ramshorn Lake

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Our makeshift campsite at a trailhead and parking area last night worked well for what we needed. It was quiet without much road noise, though a small group of campers arrived in a car late in the evening. I initially wondered if they came there to party, but they remained quiet.

Weather Partly cloudy and smokey; temperatures from the mid-30s to mid-80s
Trail Conditions Road walk, followed by a long and sometimes steep climb, then a roller coaster of ups and downs
Today's Miles 13.1 miles
Trip Miles 1,818.6 miles

The only problem the site caused overnight was a massive infusion of condensation inside my tent. The temperature dropped into the 30s, and with no breeze, this was a prescription for condensation.

Caveman wasn't going to hike with us because he had already hiked the part of the road we still needed to finish. He told us he planned to continue walking on the road the entire distance to Big Sky, which was 11 miles away.

We wanted to take a more scenic route instead of the road. We will also wind up in Big Sky but won't arrive there until tomorrow.

Specimen Creek Trailhead

Polecat dropped us off at the Specimen Creek Trailhead at 7:25 a.m. This was where he picked us up yesterday after we walked through a thunderstorm on U.S. Highway 191.

It would have been nice if we could have camped here instead, but this trailhead and the next two to the north were inside the national park. The second of those two was Dailey Creek Trailhead, where we would end our road walk.

Walking on U.S. Highway 191

That trailhead was 3.8 miles away. This early in the morning, there wasn't much traffic on the highway.

The air was still cold when we started, and the sky had a foggy/smokey gloom.

Sunrise over fog

When I looked to my right toward the rising sun, the view was oddly reminiscent of moments from my childhood. My family lived in Northern Indiana, and we frequently drove to Chicago to visit my grandmother. The drive would take us past three of the dirtiest steel mills in the country, which were in Burns Harbor and Gary, Indiana.

In those days, the air pollution was so putrid we had to roll up our car windows as we drove through that area. The sky I saw then was a similar color to what I saw this morning, only it wasn't from a rising sun. It was tinted by flames of waste gases being burned off by the mills. This was a time before expanded provisions of the Clean Air Act forced the steel mills to cut back on the toxins they spewed into the air.

Maybe my description of what I saw this morning seems out of place, but that's what came to mind. The sickly orange sky looked the same as I remembered. We used a word back in the 1960s and 1970s that described this but isn't heard much today: smog. The air this morning was also a mix of smoke and fog, but now, the source of the smoke was forest fires.

Gallatin River meanders through a flat valley

The Gallatin River flowed to our left as we walked along the highway. Frost covered a field on the other side of the river, and a wispy cloud clung to a nearby ridge.

The air remained chilly for the first hour of walking and was still a little cool as we approached the Dailey Creek Trailhead.

Polecat walks on Dailey Creek Trail

We met Polecat again at the trailhead. He joined us when we started hiking on a single-track trail from there. The first five miles were inside Yellowstone National Park, and the first three of those were easy.

Llamas walk on a hiking trail

We passed two groups on the trail. One was backpacking, and the other used llamas to carry most of their gear.

Top O' climbs a ridge to the Sky Rim Trail

The temperature had warmed to be more comfortable by now, but it wouldn't take long before it became too warm. After the trail turned away from Dailey Creek, the last two miles inside the park were a steep climb up an exposed ridge.

We were climbing to the Sky Rim Trail. It is about 23.5 miles long and is considered one of the most challenging trails in the national park. We were only going to walk a short distance on that trail, a section that marked the boundary of the park.

A view of distant mountains through smoke

The fog was long gone as we made the climb, but the smoke remained. The rain that fell yesterday failed to make a difference in the visibility. The smoke was just as bad today as it was before the storm.

Polecat and Top O' stop to talk at Daly Pass

We arrived at Daly Pass at 12:45 p.m. (I don't know why Dailey Creek and Daly Pass are spelled differently, but that's the way they're identified on the map.)

The top of a ridge was a knife's edge. In windy conditions, this might have been a sketchy section to walk because both sides of the narrow footpath sloped steeply down the ridge. The sandy soil on the trail felt unstable. We didn't have difficulty, however.

After stopping to talk to a family that had climbed up to the pass on a day hike, we followed the ridge. It continued to climb another 500 feet in the next seven-tenths of a mile.

Polecat and Top O' spread their gear to dry in the sun

We didn't have to go the whole distance before the sandy ridge top became more solid and covered in grass. The slope wasn't as severe here either, so we stopped to eat lunch and spread out our gear to dry in the sun.

Polecat descends from the ridge

We turned from the Sky Rim Trail when we reached the Upper Ramshorn Lake Trail. This would take us down to the lake, a distance of 3.7 miles. The trail started as a steep drop, but overall, it wasn't as difficult as the climb.

Polecat continues down the trail

The route was sparsely wooded at first, passing across a large meadow and then in and out of small clumps of trees. One of the meadows was at Buffalo Horn Pass.

Farther down the descent, the forest became denser, which provided more shade. The trail crossed a creek, and we stopped there for much-needed water on this hot day.

Soon after we started hiking again, we ran into a backpacker Top O' and I recognized. She was one of the employees we met at the gas station at Tower Junction on Day 121.

Polecat climbs an eroded section of the trail

Late in the day, the trail became difficult again, with ups and downs over a badly-eroded terrain. I'm unsure if the trail was used by dirt bikes or horses, but it was in rough shape.

The last mile was a moderate climb of about 300 feet.

Ramshorn Peak stands behind Ramshorn Lake

The climb ended at Ramshorn Lake. Ramshorn Peak rose about 1,800 feet above the lake's surface. Bighorn sheep reportedly live on the mountain, but we didn't see any.

We had set the lake as our destination for the day without knowing for sure if we could camp there. We were only guessing after looking at the topographic map in the Gaia app.

We were still following the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate, which didn't appear on the Guthook app. Without that, we didn't have information about campsites and water sources except what we could get from our map-reading skills.

Polecat follows the trail around Ramshorn Lake

We arrived at the lake at 5:30 p.m., then followed the trail around to where we saw a couple of grassy openings next to the lake. We figured these were likely to be good spots for camping.

We met a family there. They were riding dirt bikes and just passing through, but stopped to talk to Top O'. He likes to ride dirt bikes at his home in Texas, so he had much to talk about.

Polecat, Top O', Butters, and Hollywood

After setting up our tents away from the lake, we found some logs to sit on and prepare dinner. Hollywood arrived while we were eating, and a short time later, Butters and Beer Goddess showed up.

When we walk to Big Sky tomorrow, it will be the first real town Top O' and I have been in since we left Pinedale on Day 108. Fortunately, we have had opportunities to take a couple of showers since then, but it's been eight days since we were last able to do that.

After today's hot and dusty hike, I'm probably violating a provision or two of the Clean Air Act.

My sign is the fire line, uncontrolled
My bitter ruthlessness is a beacon to behold
Like cancer growing, someday to die
Where the water's flowing 
I'm gonna drain the river dry

'Cause it's a poison dream
Keeps me running through the night
I'll take it all and then some more
By the dawning of the sickly morning light

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