I've been doing some reading about DIAD activities lately. DIAD stands for done-in-a-day. The idea behind the type of DIAD hiking activities I've been researching is to pick a hike that might take two or even three days for typical completion and finish it in one day.
During the waning part of August, 2008 I had my sights on the Crazy Mountains, a small range in Southwest Montana better known for it's grazing cattle and timber land than for backpacking. Using a combination of Google Earth, digital 7.5 min. quadrangle maps and National Geographics TOPO! program I determined the route I was too take through the Crazies. My plan was to head up the Trespass Creek trail, over a pass, down into the Sweet Grass drainage, then up a different fork of the same creek, over another pass (one without a trail), and finishing by walking down and out the Cottonwood Creek trail back to my car. This trip was twenty plus miles and I was hoping to summit Conical Peak in the middle of it so I knew it was going to be a stout set of miles.
I usually hike solo and because of this I prefer to be prepared, having no one to rely on in the event of an emergency or stranding. I decided I would attempt the hike in a one-day push but would carry a limited backpacking kit (shelter, insulation, cooking gear, et al) in the event the weather turned poor or I the terrain dished out more than my endurance could handle.
I had a commitment on Friday night which I attended but left immediately afterward and headed to the Cottonwood Creek trailhead arriving about midnight. The weather folks were warning about possible nastiness so I had opted to bring my Golite Shangri-La 2 shelter which fairs well in the event of snow. I set it up in the parking lot at the trailhead and sat on the hood of my Subaru downing the pint of Old Milwaukee I'd brought along for the occassion. The stars came out and the night was beautiful for a sleep out.
I awoke at dawn, packed my bag and headed up the trail. I encountered a man and his son readying themselves for six days of mountain goat hunting, two groups of two backpackers, and a man as his four daughters outr backpacking. I didn't expect much traffic but this was Labor Day weekend so then again it didn't surprise me all that much. I made excellent time, hitting all the marks I was hoping to and as I approached Conical Peak I saw no reason I couldn't summit it and still be back to my car before dark.
The sky had been having trouble making up its mind as to what the clouds wanted to do. Big, ugly, black, menacing looking things had been rolling in and out all day and as I began the couple thousand foot climb to the summit of Conical it became very cold and began to rain. As I progressed another hundred feet the rain was turning to snow and a white, blinding fog was enveloping all around me. I realized very quickly that a summit of a mountain doesn't mean a lot to me without a view so I turned around and headed back to lower ground. If it did start snowing seriously I knew I was going to either have to make a dash over the trail-less pass I needed to cross to get back to my car, or camp below Conical Peak and hope the next day was warm enough to melt the snow which would have made the off-trail crossing difficult.
As I lost elevation the weather decided to be silly again and the sun came back out and warmed everything up. I made my way toward the steep, loose, rocky pass that from my vantage appeared to have some class 3 and 4 sections required for crossing. The group of backpackers consisting of the man and his daughters had told me they had made their way over this pass the day before (only in the opposite direction) and considering that these were kids aged in their pre to teens I figured I could probably do it successfully as well. I headed up the pass and made a couple poor route decisions which put me into about ten minutes of climbing that was a bit over the edge of safety. It wasn't anything I'm incapable of, but it was certainly stuff that could lead to danger had I made a wrong move.
The wind was howling atop the pass but the view was gorgeous and I knew I still had ample hours of daylight and only a few miles of trail hiking in front of me. I descended to Cottonwood Lake and found the trail down along creek. This trail was in great shape and the second half consisted of a well-graded road (used to access some land-locked private property). I arrived at my car before dark, relaxed with the other pint of Swill I'd brought before jumping into my rig for the drive back to Bozeman.
Driving along the fifteen mile gravel road back to the highway the weather really decided to kick it up a notch. A heavy rain began to fall complete with thunder and lighting. I drove slowly home thinking how nice it was I'd finished the loop in a day and not having to deal with the weather. But all the while a parallel thought was coursing my synapses, and that was that I just knew the next morning would have provided me a brilliant covering of snow and I would've awoke to the glistening beauty of a snow-covered alpine lakeshore. Alas, the time will come soon enough for lots, and lots, and looooots of snow. I'm curious, what would you have done?