Postholing on the Nichols Creek Trail - By Lisa Ballard

July 23, 2020

This spring, the snow wouldn’t stop, putting the kibosh on any hiking in the Beartooth Range near my home in Red Lodge, Montana. There were plenty of other outdoor opportunities, like backcountry skiing, running, and mountain biking, but those weren’t the same as airing it out on a long hike.

Plus, I had a new pair of Lowa Innox Pro’s that I was dying to try.

Finally, on May 31st, I couldn’t take it anymore and called Barb, one of my hiking buddies who was equally ready to get on a hiking trail. “Nichols Creek Trail?” The question was code for “what time at the trailhead?” We were going. It was a bluebird day and 75 degrees (F).

I put on a pair of shorts and my new Lowa’s. Funny, I NEVER wear shorts hiking, even on the hottest day, because long pants keep my legs cleaner and protect them from scratchy shrubs.

I should have known better.

The Nichols Creek Trail is a new trail in Custer National Forest near Red Lodge. An eight-mile hike, out and back, with a vertical gain of 1,000 feet, it starts in a cup-shaped meadow then winds up through tall pines to the base of Red Lodge Mountain, a ski area. The only downside, from a hiking point of view, is that it’s a popular path for mountain bikers, who park at the ski area then roll down the trail.

The route is also dog-friendly, so I brought my English setter, Percy, who was as ecstatic as I was to be back on a hiking trail.

The hike started pleasantly, on a gentle uphill slope. Beautiful pasque flowers, bluebells and other wildflowers bloomed to either of the trail, and there wasn’t a mountain bike in sight.

Shortly after jumping over Nichol’s Creek, we entered the woods.

It was noticeably chillier, but due to the exertion of the climb, not worth putting on a jacket.

Patches of snow held on here and there. Percy, who had romped 20 miles to our two miles, relished the chance to roll in the snow. Barb and I just walked around or through most of it. That is, until it got deeper, up to our knees!

“No wonder there are no mountain bikers on the trail,” I observed, as I carefully put a boot in the same posthole as Barb. The snow was coarse enough to scrape off the skin off my shins with one misstep.

“You go first,” said Barb, turning to me at one particularly deep drift. I did, but not uphill. Instead, I turned back toward the trailhead.

In the end, we put in six miles, not bad for a first hike of the year. It sure felt great to be back on the trail again!