For the past 2 years I have been thinking of only one trip: getting revenge on Black Tooth Mountain. You see, two years ago I attempted Black Tooth at the end of June and failed miserably. My family and I packed into highland park in the afternoon of the first day. The next day we hiked into the Sawtooth Lakes, and I tried for the summit. Being June, the Bighorn Range was receiving its fair share of rain and crappy weather, and this day was no exception. I reached the base of the Penrose Cirque alone after hiking 4 miles from highland park to the first Sawtooth Lake, and another 3-4 miles to the base of the NE snow ramp on Black Tooth. Sitting at the base all I could see was an occasional glimpse of the top of the Innominate and the cliffs of Mt. Woolsey because of the thick clouds rolling in. I started up the snow ramp by first crossing the snow to get to the rocks and sinking up to my thighs in it. I started up the very steep ramp feeling doubtful and scared because it was my first time alone on some nasty, wet scrambling, and because I was only 17 at the time. I got about half way up the ramp and stopped. I had slipped and caught myself a couple of times and started thinking that it was way too dangerous for me to be doing alone. I decided to turn back. I took the snow down. I got to the bottom and took my boots off to get out the snow. As soon as I took off for the lower lakes, it started to rain and hail on me. I had the pleasant journey of about 3 miles of low visibility and wet lichen covered boulders.
I was pretty sore about that trip for the next couple of years.
The Return Trip
This summer I decided to take another shot at Black Tooth, taking the same route as before, but we'd go a week or two later, and camp at the Sawtooth Lakes to save ourselves about 4 miles of walking and a lot of lost and gained vertical feet when you drop down to the base of the falls and then up the falls that lead to Sawtooth Lakes.
The date was set. My dad and I would take off from North Dakota on July 6.
July 6 came fast, we drove to Sheridan (my old hometown) and golfed with my grandpa. That afternoon we took Red Grade Road to the head of the Highland Park trailhead. Anyone who decides to take the road leading to this trailhead better have a 4-wheeler or a very good pick-up with a great driver because A) You have to cross West Fork Little Goose Creek and it is deep at the crossing, about 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet deep. B) It takes about 25 minutes to crawl the last mile and more than an hour to take the 5-6 mile road. It is full of differential catching rocks and is very rutted out from water running down it. C) There are a few tight spots where you have to squeeze though the trees, we kissed on the way in. There are also a few downed trees taking up part of the road, might be a good idea to bring a chainsaw with.
We camped the first night at the trailhead.
July 7 we started the eleven mile trip to Sawtooth Lakes. We had great weather for hiking on the first day, partly cloudy to keep it from being too hot. We hiked for about 3 miles until the trail splits. The forest service for some reason, probably to keep horses from ripping up the old boggy trail, built a new trail that climbs to about 10,000 ft up the ridge on the west side of Little Goose Creek, then drops 600 ft into the top of the Little Goose drainage, and then climbs back up into Highland Park. Needless to say we took the old trail that is marked by a rock cairn. It drops into the Little Goose drainage and slowly climbs to the bottom of the pass into Highland Park. Then it climbs about 700 ft into Highland Park. Highland Park is a huge open meadow where elk are usually grazing on the SE side of. We walked down Highland Park and dropped into Highland Lake. The trail then drops down into the drainage above Kearny Lakes. Then leads to the waterfall that we went up the west side of. This is by far the worst part of the trip. We climbed beside this waterfall on very steep ground that goes over some smooth rock. We had heavy packs on so it doubled our fun. after about 150 ft you reach a small cliff. The route we took this time was a small gap in the 10 ft cliff that you scramble through and then walk up some more steep smooth granite to the top of the falls. Then we had to find the "trail" that is marked by a series of cairns. The next 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile to the lowest Sawtooth Lake is a living hell, especially with a heavy pack on. The "trail" tooks us over a lot of rocks, through several bogs and countless spider webs, and still is climbing. My dad was getting pretty mad because it seemed to never end. Finally we reached the beautiful Sawtooth Lakes. We reached them at about 1:00 and had the rest of the day to recover, relax, and catch some nice rainbow and golden trout.
July 8- We woke up at about 6:00 and started hiking at around 7:15 (if my watch was correct, it stopped working later.) After going up the beautiful valley with spires and cliffs on each side us, and after going around the 10 Sawtooth Lakes, we reached the base of the Penrose Cirque. We took a break and my dad had a smoke.
Dad told me to go on with out him, and that he was going to take his time and go up his own way (he didn't want to skirt the snow like I was going to.)
I took off alone and followed the small boulder ridge that lead to the base of the NE snow ramp. I put on my water-proof ankle covers to keep my hiking boots dry and proceded to climb up the snowfield. I went about 100 ft and realized the snow wasn't good for climbing in boots. I climbed onto the black iron ore rocks that run up the ramp, took off the gaters, and started climbing again. When I got up the ramp more than half the way up, it started getting really steep and turned into a series of class 4 chutes and chimneys. With the thought of revenge in my head, I proceeded without fear, even though I was alone again in the nastiest climbing I'd ever done. After about 3 or 4 of those class 4 spots the route turns into a scree field about 500 feet from the top.
From there I went up to the notch on the right of what I had thought was the summit.
I reached the notch and had my choice of going up the narrow knife ridge on my left or going up the gentle other top, each was only 20 vertical feet from the notch. I chose the first. I got to the top of it and waved down to my dad, who was about 1000 feet down.
I looked over at the other summit and saw a rock cairn and realized that it was the real top. I went down then up again to the real top then felt that I had my revenge. Revenge is Sweeeeet.
I got back down to the scree slope and saw that I had to go back down one of the chutes before I could get to the snow field for some glissading.
I got to the chute and saw that my dad was waiting for me a couple hundred feet down. As I stood at the top of the chute I looked at my feet and saw a nylon flat rope had been tied around a rock. The though "Oh, crap" passed through my head at about that time. It was an old rappel that had been set up, but I had no rope. I had to grab handholds and lower my legs over the edge and find some footholds blind. I found some and started going down the chute that had some wet spots. I got down, thank God, and got over to the snow field and had a nice easy ride down.
We hiked down to our camp, packed up, and hiked out to highland lake. The next day we took off and reached the truck.
As I took my boots off a deer ran by me and stopped. It started walking towards me. I though there was something wrong with it but my dad said it probably hadn't seen people before. It hung around us for about half an hour stayed about 20 ft away as we fed it a package of club crackers. Then we drove out.