Let the fun begin.
A few months ago, I reserved the Garnet Mountain Lookout 26 miles south of Belgrade (Montana) for the night of December 28th. For several days before the stay I watched the weather forecast, hoping I wouldn’t have a repeat of last year when I forfeited my reservation due bitter cold and wind. This year the forecast called for perfect conditions on Friday, and the weather on Saturday looked good enough, so all systems were “go” for the last adventure of 2018.

A perfect Friday afternoon.
My friend Mark, our dogs, and I made the 115-mile drive to the Storm Castle Trailhead and started hiking at 1:45 pm, hoping to reach the tower before sunset. We enjoyed great conditions for the steep 4-mile hike to the tower – temperature in the 20’s, ideal snow depth for snowshoeing, absolutely no wind, lots of sunshine, and spectacular scenery! We completed the hike in 2.5 hours, arriving at the tower with just enough time to get settled before nightfall. My daughter Amy, who left Helena after work, hiked up in darkness, reaching the lookout at 6:30 pm.

Room with a view.
After I unpacked, drank some water, and ate a snack, I snowshoed back down the trail to meet Amy. The conditions were still great as we hiked the last mile together. At one point we stopped, turned off our headlamps and gazed up in amazement at the stars. By the time we reached the tower, the fire Mark built in the wood stove had warmed the space and eaten the frost away from the windows. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying our hiker’s high and appreciating our incredibly unique surroundings. We sat around the stove, eating our backpacker meals and sharing distraction-free conversation with occasional trips to the window to look up at the stars or down at civilization. We could see the lights of Three Forks and Manhattan (I think), and two glowing patches of sky marked the location of Butte and the Belgrade-Bozeman area. It was also interesting to watch the steady stream of tail-lights along Highway 191 below as folks made their way back to the Gallatin Valley after a day of skiing at Big Sky.

It’s not about the sleep.
I didn’t expect to sleep very well . . . and I didn’t. The temperature was comfortable as long as the stove was going strong, but the room cooled quickly as the wood burned down – Windows lose heat rapidly! So, Mark and I took turns getting up every hour or so to add wood. Although I wouldn’t want this duty every night, it was kind of pleasant to watch the flames build, sit for a spell, and then look out to check the weather and see if the lights were still on in Three Forks.

The rest of the story.
For more about the trip, including what it was like to hike down to the trailhead in more wintery conditions on Saturday morning, check out the photo tour (see link below).

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.