Jaymie whispered "Liz!" while nudging me awake. I could hear the fear in her voice even through my ear plugs. As I removed them, sound oozed back into my ears, and I realized everyone was awake through the eerily palpable silence.
Then I heard it too and I froze. It was 5:56am on our final morning of Wild Sage Summit and I had naively thought: Finally we would have an easy day. How could this trip possibly get any harder?
When Alyx and I began dreaming up the first ever Wild Sage Summit, we thought, "Gosh, wouldn't it be awesome to gather a group of women to backpack through the rugged Montana wilderness?" I remember throwing in that word "rugged" because it felt appropriate for the kind of wilderness you find out here. But I didn't really think it would be RUGGED, like "full of hardship and trouble; severe; hard; trying." I guess that's exactly why every time I think of the Wild Sage Summit, a huge smile still forms on my face and I feel seated in contentment. Because overcoming hardship with people (in the flesh) bonds them. It does to our connection what digital double-taps and emojis can't.
So we came together to spend a few days steeped in the Bitterroot Wilderness. We had no idea what would unfold. We were simply journeywomen saying "YES" to an invitation, allowing our curiosity and passion guide us.
Five women connected through our love of the outdoors met together for first time in Missoula, Montana. We knew each other through social media, but we had lacked the experience of meeting face-to-face. That kind of in-person connection really forges something that's impossible to create through screens.
I remember picking Jaymie and Korrin up at the airport, our energy abuzz with excitement and the slightly awkward feeling that comes with meeting someone for the first time. Then Steph arrived, better known as @thedancingwind, fresh off her six hour drive from Idaho. Then Alyx. We were complete and the packing could begin!
We packed our new ultralight Gossamer Gear packs with our sleeping bags, pads and tents and shared what we'd be taking or not (like how many pairs of underwear we need for a 3-day trip). I shared that I only take two and trade off between the two and how eager I was to try a new pair of Dear Kates. Then there are all of our cameras. I latched on my new backpacking camera clip and hoped it would keep my camera secure. And of course, the food. We split up our Good To-Go meals, salami/cheese/pitas lunches, made our oatmeal selections and threw in a variety of Epic and Rise bars. Around midnight, we finally went to bed to get some rest before our journey the next morning.
Our first day was spent climbing, and then climbing some more. We stopped to take an snack break underneath some aspen and pee in the woods. For some of the ladies, it was first pee-rag experience. (Yes! It's a game-changer ladies.) The rest of day felt particularly long as we hiked along an exposed mountainside, the sun beating on our bodies. And when it felt like "we should be there already"...we realized we finally were. All we had left was to crest the dam and find a campsite.
After seeing Bass Lake with first eyes, I sighed in relief. It always feels so good to arrive, doesn't it? Every time, it's the same feeling of a day well spent, of a weary body ready to rest. It's that feeling of coming home.
We washed up at the lake, devoured our mushroom risotto, marinara pasta, and thai curry and made camp. Not before sitting around a fire and sipping hot chocolate. Of course. (It's a small luxury no group of women should go without on a cold night if they can help it!) Our site was fairly small so we decided to cowgirl camp and let the star-filled sky blanket us.
In the morning, we realized the millions of stars evolved into a million drops of dew. My cold soggy sleeping bag woke me up earlier than I would've liked, but between my long blinks, I caught a glimpse of this early morning light. Thankfully sunshine dries wet things and all things are forgiven when you get to wake up to exquisite natural glory! We were looking forward to getting to our next destination (Kootenai Lakes) to swim and relax lakeside. The plan was to arrive while it was still nice and warm so that a jump into the alpine lake would be welcome. Ahhh....I was SO looking forward to our chillaxin time. With that hope in mind, we ate, made sure to pick up all of our trash (and micro-trash!) and started the trek. The views looking back at Bass Lake were fantastic and my heart kept yelping, "Wow!" I was feeling so grateful to be on this journey with these women.
Our route was to be a short climb up to the pass, long hike down the valley and another short climb up to the lake. I knew this trail wasn't going to be as clear as the one we took up to Bass Lake, but the book I read made it seem straight-forward enough. We made it to the pass and took a moment to soak in the view. I remember saying, "If you had any doubt we were in the wilderness, we most certainly are" as I looked out into the expanse.
In that moment, I felt so grateful to be in the company of new friends standing thick in the wilderness.
And when it wasn't all "oohs and awws," Jaymie stood on her head, on a rock! (That girl!)
(PS. If you like her shorts, use WildSageSummit30 for 30% off at Dear Kate!)
On our way down the valley, the trail became more narrow, steep, and challenging to follow. Our trust grounded in the next cairn, well, until there were no more cairns. "Uh oh." I remember this exact moment looking south and knowing that was the direction we needed to go, but all I could see was a 7-foot wall of brush we'd have to get through. Could we really be in this predicament?