Back to the Basics

A family hike up Mt. Baldy.

I return to Bozeman every summer led by the promise of mountains and the Montana sun. Due to my low bank-account balance and quickly-approaching graduation date, this summer was filled to the brim interning at Outside Bozeman and working part-time for a local restaurant—both having swiftly evaporated all free time.

One weekend, the trail gods smiled upon me and I had a lucky break. It was the first cloudless Sunday in almost three weeks, having rained most of June and been smoky through August. By some string of fortunate events, the restaurant was slow and I was sent home. Grinning wide, I bolted out of the parking lot brainstorming what I would do with my newfound free evening.  

I thought through my hiking bucket-list, sorting out which would offer me the best sunset above the city. I’d been craving a challenge and something new, which quickly narrowed my options. 

I burst through my front door with a knowing smile, looked right at my family and said, “Let’s sunset-hike Baldy.” With little resistance, I’d gathered myself a mini-crew and in a flurry of water bottles, snacks, and coats we were on the road.

We hit the trail, guns—or rather, quads—blazing. I was buzzing with energy, ready to hike hard and committed to making it to the top. Time was limited so we kept a quick pace, huffing and puffing our way up the mountain.

I was born and raised in Bozeman, and though my family and I are certainly mountain people, this was my first time hiking Baldy. It was mom’s fourth go-round after living here for 21 years, so we came to conquer.

We couldn’t have been hiking for more than 45 minutes when we reached the ridge, but that moment was one of pure elation. Though I may have been raised in this Valley of Flowers, the view still flutters my heart and raises goosebumps. Sometimes we forget how beautiful a good ol’ classic hike can be when such beauty surrounds us everyday. But atop the Bridger ridge that watched over me as I grew, and surrounded by the seven mountain ranges that stand guard above my hometown, I felt like I would always remember this breathtaking view. 

Making our way over the second high point, Baldy was finally in our sights. A coyote howled and I echoed its song, completely immersed in the world I'd climbed into.

Time was ticking and soon we’d lose the sun. We were sweaty and eager to reach the summit, keeping an eye on the horizon as the sun sank and an orange glow settled over Bozeman. 

With a final push we reached the top entirely euphoric from our achievement. We wrote our names in the Baldy book, admiring the pages of hikers who came before us, and watched the sun melt into the Tobacco Roots.  

Our excitement swiftly waned as the temperature dropped and we couldn’t ignore the biting wind. We hastily picked up our packs, shivering as our sweat dried and set the chill into our skin. The euphoria passed as it became abundantly clear that we'd be hiking down in the dark. 

If you’ve ever hiked Baldy, you know how steep the incline is. On the way up, I relished the heat of my leg muscles engaging and catapulting me up the backbone of the Bridgers. On the way down, not so much. I played soccer for 17 years, and though it kept me active, it wasn’t so kind to my knees—nor was Baldy.

We stopped on the saddle just below Baldy for a meal of trail mix, energy bars, and a hot cup o’ joe to boost us on our way down. We donned our down jackets and winced as our achey feet and tired ankles led us down the mountain, guided by headlamps and the moon.

As with any nighttime adventure, uneasiness settled over us at the thought of what might lie beyond the circle of our headlamps. We made conversation trying to stay awake and aware.

Luckily, my fearless mountain mother is a seasoned navigator and never stresses out when she’s bushwhacking along a dark hillside. We only questioned her ability once before she expertly connected us to the well-traveled M trailFinally we stumbled down to the parking lot at 1am, tired and cold, but comforted by the sight of our car, the only one in the lot. As we piled in, our grunts and mumbles were sufficient evidence of the adventure endured.

The drive home used the last of our energy as we reminisced about our feat. We’d joined the Bozeman masses to conquer Baldy. We joked about our nerves coming back in the dark and fear of the animals that might have watched us clamber down the mountain. 

We were all tired smiles and big yawns as we pulled into the driveway, lightly salted, ready for bed, and grateful for the wildness Montana always provides no matter the hour.  

Baldy was easily the highlight of my summer. Though to many it may be ordinary, I never tire of pointing out the mountain to others and relating my adventure. I extend the invitation to you all to do the same. Remind yourself of the extraordinary in every ordinary moment in Bozeman, because it could be gone the next time you blink.

 For more classic Bozeman adventures check out the O/B Trails page here.