Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness: Lake Fork to Sundance Pass

September 14, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Fall means it's time to explore the Beartooths! During last year's trip on "The Beaten Path," the forest ranger we met at Rainbow Lake recommended that we check out Sundance Pass. Our initial plan was to do a through hike starting at Lake Fork and coming out the West Fork, but after the floods in June, we decided to go in and out Lake Fork to avoid the extra 8 miles of road hiking. 

The road in Lamar Valley was also washed out, so we drove through Billings to get to the Trailhead. We spent the night in Red Lodge to get an early start, but also to financially support the town in our small way. On this trip it was myself, Corrie, Toklat, our friend Chris, and his girlfriend Brielle. This trip was her first backpacking experience! The first section of the trail was mostly nondescript, until we got closer to Broadwater Lake. We stopped for lunch and to take in the views.

20220902-jwf-356820220902-jwf-3568NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220902-jwf-358220220902-jwf-3582NPS / Jacob W. Frank

As we continued up the trail we crossed the Lake Fork before we started our ascent to September Morn Lake, where we planned to camp for the evening.

20220902-jwf-358820220902-jwf-3588NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220902-jwf-359720220902-jwf-3597NPS / Jacob W. Frank

After the steep climb we made it to the lake and found a nice spot on the east shore of the lake to pitch our tents. Once we were settled we grabbed our food and headed to the lake to watch the sunset, make dinner, and have some cocktails.

20220902-jwf-363920220902-jwf-3639NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220902-jwf-365720220902-jwf-3657NPS / Jacob W. Frank

That night I woke up to use the facilitrees, and noticed that the stars were out. I didn't think to bring my tripod on this trip, so I made do with a stack of rocks.

20220903-jwf-3663-Edit20220903-jwf-3663-EditNPS / Jacob W. Frank

The following morning we woke up with the sun to check out the views and make breakfast. The plan for the day was to hike to the pass and then see where to go from there. 

20220903-jwf-369120220903-jwf-3691NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-373720220903-jwf-3737NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-376120220903-jwf-3761NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Once we climbed out of the trees it was spectacular alpine scenery on a perfect bluebird day. Eventually the tundra was replaced with bare rock as the trail switchbacked its way to the pass.

20220903-jwf-379920220903-jwf-3799NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-383520220903-jwf-3835NPS / Jacob W. Frank

At the pass we stopped for snacks, looked at the map, and decided to hike north along the ridge towards Silver Run Peak.

20220903-jwf-386020220903-jwf-3860NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-388920220903-jwf-3889NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-390720220903-jwf-3907NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-391720220903-jwf-3917NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-391820220903-jwf-3918NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Occasionally we would walk to the edge to look into West Fork drainage. If it weren't for the flood and impacts to the trail, this would have been the route we would have taken. 

20220903-jwf-392720220903-jwf-3927NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-394320220903-jwf-3943NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-394820220903-jwf-3948NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-395020220903-jwf-3950NPS / Jacob W. Frank

As we got higher, we started to see familiar mountains, including features like the Bears Tooth. It's always fun exploring a new area but still recognizing features even though you're seeing them from a new vantage point.

20220903-jwf-395520220903-jwf-3955NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-396420220903-jwf-3964NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-398020220903-jwf-3980NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-398520220903-jwf-3985NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-401020220903-jwf-4010NPS / Jacob W. Frank

After boulder hopping our way up the ridge we found a great place to relax, crack our beers, and take in the views. We pulled out the map again and decided that instead of backtracking, we could probably make our way down the draining directly north of September Morn Lake to get back to our campsite. On the climb up we got a good look at the drainage and noticed that it was mostly tundra and "green means it goes."

20220903-jwf-402920220903-jwf-4029NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-403920220903-jwf-4039NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-405820220903-jwf-4058NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-406520220903-jwf-4065NPS / Jacob W. Frank

After some route finding and slow going we made it back to camp after a full day of exploring. And since most of the day was off trail, we were all ready to grab our camp chairs, jump in the lake, and relax for another sunset.

20220903-jwf-411720220903-jwf-4117NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20220903-jwf-414420220903-jwf-4144NPS / Jacob W. Frank

The next day we packed up and hiked back out to the car. On our way out we did a little scouting of the next drainage over, with First and Second Rock lakes.

20220904-jwf-416020220904-jwf-4160NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Trip totals: We did about 24 miles with just under 6,000' of elevation in three days. It was definitely one of those trips that allows you to check one thing off your to-do list, but then you add three more. Highly recommended!

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