The Bridger is not your typical day hike; in fact, I wouldn’t even call it a day hike. On her best day, the Ridge is a long slog. I have have not been fortunate enough to see the Ridge on her best day. The Ridge I know is a rigorous, exposed, technical, and brutal mountain trek. My parent’s and I attempted to hike the Ridge trail – home to the infamous Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run. According to the race website, it is said to be “one of the most technical trail runs in the United States. In 2012, Runner’s World Magazine named the Ridge Run one of its top 31 trail races in the country, giving it the title of “Most Raw Exposure.” In 2013, Outside Online named the Ridge Run one of its Top 10 Bucket List trail runs in the WORLD.” We took on this unruly mountain four times. We lost four times. This is our story.
First Attempt: July 2012
“The Wrong Trail”
I will humbly admit that we were unprepared the first year…or at least I was. I was in terrible physical and mental condition and had never hiked more than 8 miles in a day. If I am being totally honest, I had NO business taking on this hike in 2012. One of the quirks of the Bridger Ridge is that it’s a mixture of official trails and unofficial routes – meaning there’s no trail map. On top of not being physically fit enough and not being certain on navigation, we grossly underestimated the Ridge.
The day before the hike, we made our rounds in Bozeman looking for trekking poles and a trail map. At that point, we had never hiked with trekking poles and opted to go without – a choice we would regret later. We asked everyone for a trail map or information on the hike, and no one knew of a map or had done the hike. We finally found a US Forest Service map with what appeared to have the Ridge trail on it.
After a sleepless night in a tent and being terrorized by wild animals in the wee hours of the morning (a story for another time), we set out on the trail at sunrise. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with a daunting climb of 1,800 feet in a hair over two miles. Once we got to the top of the saddle between Sacagawea Peak and Hardscrabble Peak, we followed the map and dipped over the saddle and began an immediate descent. This was the first and not the last time that we followed the map instead of the correct “route.”
We dropped into an alpine valley and made another hard pull back up to Ross Pass. If we followed the route instead of the map we would have made our lives easier. Ross pass is a large grassy saddle between Ross Peak and the Ridge. Once we got to Ross Pass we could see two and a half trails. I say two and a half because there were two obvious trails and what looked like a faint game trail. The trail on the left was the motorcycle trail coming up from Brackett Creek. The second trail made its way to the right through the trees just below the Ridge. The ‘half’ trail was a faint footpath up the center straight up to the Ridge. We consulted the map and could see the trail on the map went right at Ross Pass. It was a 2-to-1 vote. My dad and I said let’s go right and follow the map. My mom said no, let’s go up the middle. The majority vote won – they were also incorrect with their navigation. To this day my mom loves to remind us of who has the best sense of direction. Mom, you were right. Dad and I were wrong.
As we made our way on the (wrong) trail to the right, we started to ascend and descend the foothills of the Bridgers. This was brutal for someone who had shitty cardio at best. By the time we (as in my dad and I) realized we were on the wrong trail, we figured it was too late to turn around. We assumed we were closer to our endpoint than our start point. At mile 10 and hour 12 we met some female hikers who had come up from a trailhead in the valley below. They looked at us with pity and apologetically informed us that we were on the wrong trail with 10 more hills to go up and over and barely halfway. We were on the official Forest Service trail and it was now official that we were on the wrong trail. We begrudgingly began to climb up the next hill. We barely began our next pull up and I had a complete meltdown. Uncontrollably sobbing through the sweat and dirt – wiping away gritty tears I told my parents I couldn’t continue.
We decided to call it. We turned around and headed down to the trailhead the women hikers had come from. We were dealt another blow – it was another five miles of steep knee-screaming downhill to the trailhead. And remember, we opted to save a few bucks and didn’t have trekking poles. We finally limped into the trailhead parking lot. Now, all we had to do was get a hold of our shuttle, and have them pick us up at the new trailhead.
Well, this was before the mountains had cell service and before every trailhead was easily found thanks to Google Maps. I finally got a hold of our shuttle to tell them our new pickup spot, and she had no idea where the trailhead was. Defeated by the Ridge and tired of sitting there listening to my mom say “I told you so,” started walking out on the road. By the time our ride found us, we had walked two miles on the road. After hiking countless hours and 17 miles, our shuttle found us sulking on a dusty dirt road with our tails between our legs.
Moral of the story? Always listen to your mom.
Bridger Ridge 1. Haas family 0.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of the four-part saga – Second Attempt: “The Fall”