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24: Nine Months 'til Summer

Episode 3: The first big snowfall of the season (in September!) had us traversing the Hyalite-Cottonwood divide for snow hiking and camping.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2009-11-17 00:00:00-07


Snow comes to the mountains of Montana intermittently throughout the summer. I usually see more serious snow arrive in September, but even those storms are usually pretty short and kept to the higher elevations. October is where it's at if you're a snow junkie, but in some years, even October in Montana can make you feel like you've been erroneously displaced. In other words, until the snow really comes to the Rockies (usually in December!), all bets are off and any reliability in snow forecasting is sketchy at best.

That's why I was pretty excited to watch our first big snow of the year come across the radar in late September.

By September 28, with snowflakes falling and piling up, I contracted a cold. After a few days in bed, I couldn't stand it anymore: I was itching to get outside and film another episode of "24." I may have not quite been healed, as I felt awful on this hike. I was exhausted, I froze, my head hurt, my body ached, and I couldn't stomach any food.

But it was Montana's first big snow of the season, and I wanted to see it!

I have no regrets. My friend Ryan Connelly and I enjoyed each other's company in one of the most beautiful locales close to my home, on one of my favorite routes: a traverse of the Hyalite-Cottonwood divide.

Twenty minutes of driving, a few hours of hiking, an overnight camp on the ridge, and another half-day of hiking brought us right into the back door of our friend Seth's home on upper Cottonwood Creek. Snow, wind, and cold temperatures in the first part of the hike gave way to warm sunshine as we hiked out. It all added up to the perfect recipe for an overnight getaway.

Most of that snow has melted, Indian Summer has come again, but I'm not depressed that it's only nine more months until summer. I love snow hiking... ultralight style, of course.



I knew it would be cold, so I considered that in my camp/sleep clothes.

Sleeping Pad: I slept on snow. In addition to a TorsoLite and the pack for my feet, I augmented my ground insulation with a few downed fir boughs placed underneath the tent. This made a world of difference and negated the need for a foam pad. I'm not sure I'd want to rely on this strategy for all of my winter trips (it takes time and doesn't work above the treeline...), but for this type of trip where I was keeping the packed kit simple, it was perfect.

Sleeping Bag and Clothes: I hadn't swapped out my summer quilt for something warmer yet (my winter bag was in my crawl space, and I was too lazy to go get it) so I simply added some puffy clothes (a Cocoon Hoody, Pants, and Balaclava) and kept the quilt in my kit. I normally carry the quilt and hoody, so the pants and balaclava were a luxury, but I was glad I had them. Temperatures in the teens and a stiff breeze kept the camp cold. I skipped the rain gear (it would be too cold to rain), so the only other clothing I had was what I normally wear while hiking: a wool hoody, a baseball cap, a windshirt, Powerstretch gloves, a pair of synthetic tights, wool socks, and my shoes. The only glitch in the system was that I didn't have gaiters or an extra pair of socks. I had cold feet most of the night, and it was terribly uncomfortable.

Shelter: I brought a tent (gasp!), as I sometimes do when I see the forecast for wind or blizzard conditions. My tent was designed and built for me by Roger Caffin and is a single-wall shelter with carbon fiber poles. I've found it to be the most blizzard-resistant shelter I've ever used that still weighs two pounds or less.

Cooking: I brought a small pot, a mug, a spoon, and a firestarting kit. Any excuse to hang out by a fire on a long winter night is good enough for me. The warmth and cheer were welcome.

Pack: I brought the Arctic Dry Pack on this trip, primarily for its simplicity. I'm drawn to the idea of having a packbag that's completely waterproof without additional protection. I knew I'd be wallowing through snow-covered tree limbs on the trail, and I like the security of knowing my gear will stay dry.

Photo/Video Gear: Most of the video and photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1, a small waterproof HD camera. I also had along an Olympus E-P1, but after falling on the trail with it around my neck on the first night, snow melted into the lens housing, and the lens stopped autofocusing. I kept it in my pack the rest of the trip, dried it out when I got home, and it appears to work perfectly again.

Photo Essay

These photos were captured with the Panasonic TS1.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 1
Snow fell intermittently in response to a storm exiting the area. Evening skies offered drama and beautiful color. This photo was processed in PhotoShop to deemphasize the detail of the scene and show off the incredible colors of the sky.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 2
A sliver of alpenglow finds its way through heavy storm clouds on the eastern slopes of the Hyalite drainage.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 3
I wound my way along benches to the ridge on the horizon, the Hyalite-Cottonwood divide. Fresh snow casts an eerie glow as sunset wanes.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 4
Upon my arrival in camp, my highest priority was fire, followed by soup. I was wet from falling in the snow while hiking in the dark, and cold from the wind blowing across the ridge at my camp.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 5
My shelter of choice for this trip was a beautiful, two-pound masterpiece of engineering created by Roger Caffin. I've weathered some ferocious storms in this single-wall tent, and it's my go-to shelter when I just don't want to fiddle with a shelter in blizzard conditions.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 6
Ryan Connelly hiked into my camp and greeted me around midnight, then joined me on the hike out. The morning dawn clear and cold, with fresh snow covering everything.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 7
Cold temperatures kept the snow dry and smoky, and my shoes stayed surprisingly dry - until I had to cross a creek later down the canyon.

24: Nine Months til Summer - 8
We saw the temperature swing from about 15 degrees (overnight low) to nearly 55 degrees as we dropped in elevation and the next day warmed up. Here, Ryan successfully avoided trail bombs awaiting on the fir branches. I was not so lucky.


"24: Nine Months 'til Summer," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-11-17 00:00:00-07.


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24: Nine Months 'til Summer
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WV Hiker

Locale: West Virginia
Great video on 11/19/2009 19:28:45 MST Print View


Great video and the music was cool to boot. I love the 24 hour concept and will be doing a slight modification starting this coming spring with a 36 hour getaway to boost my bag nights. Keep the 24'ers coming.

Robin McKay
(rlmckay) - M

Locale: Auckland NZ
9 month 2 summer on 11/20/2009 02:02:29 MST Print View

Ryan - You could skip all this by coming down to NZ - 6 weeks to summer here!!! And we can offer you an unbelievable outdoor experience. Any BackpackingLight members are welcome to contact me for advice and ideas (

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: 24 Videos on 11/20/2009 11:21:56 MST Print View

Can't wait to see what you hiked here in the SNP. A few weeks ago, I just threw my gear into my pack, drove to the southern portion of the SNP and hiked along the AT until I found an area I liked. Followed a deer path and found the best spot ever. Came out the next morning and drove home. All within 24 hrs, with a stop at Rockfish Gap Outfitters for some gaiters. You're right. It's the best way to clear one's head and be with nature.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
24: Nine Months 'til Summer on 11/23/2009 13:45:22 MST Print View


That was awesome. I really like this series.



Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
how about using the Cocoon hood on your feet? on 03/09/2012 21:38:27 MST Print View


you mentioned having cold feet at night and wishing for your booties. I noticed in the list and the movie that you had a hooded base and parka yet you wore a separate Cocoon balaclava.

How about putting your feet in the loose hood inside your quilt and wearing the hoods from your base and parka on your head?