Bridger Mountains, Bridger Ridge, Outside Bozeman

From Baldy to Broken

by Luke Ebeling

It’s been two weeks since I had surgery on my ankle following a rock climbing accident. I’m sitting on the couch with my left foot elevated with a couple pillows, thinking about my removal from the outdoors, a place that has—since moving to Bozeman a few years ago—become, much like coffee, an integral part of my daily routine.

A definitively broken ankle

A definitively broken ankle

With months before I’ll be back out running up Hyalite or ascending routes at Natural Bridge, I’ve spent a good amount of time recounting outdoor exploits, such as my first time running Baldy Mountain

It was a Sunday morning when I stepped out of my apartment, stretching my quads before setting off on a run. That’s when Baldy caught my eye. I had never run it, but I was looking to run ten miles—nearly the same distance as the round trip from top to bottom. So naturally I grabbed a small running bottle, hopped in the truck, and headed towards the mountains.

Trail running in the Bridger Mountains

Trail running in the Bridger Mountains

Upon arrival at the trailhead, I read the temperature gauge before taking off: 87 degrees. It was going to be a hot one, but I didn’t think much of it. By the time I reached the painted rocks of the M I was sweating as the sun beat down on me, but I was more focused on the view and working to eat up more trail under my shoes.

Trail, M, Baldy, trail running

The view from the trail.

Just over halfway to the summit, after passing only one other runner, I was nearly out of water. I began to feel my muscles tightening and my throat drying in the rising temperature. It was now nearly mid-day.

Soon, my thirst had overcome my self-control, and I had gone through what little  water I had left. I figured I wouldn’t need much water on the way down anyway. At the summit, I thought little of the headache from the dehydration, and instead focused my eyes on the green hills surrounding Bozeman, looking down on the city I had come to call home.

I took a few minutes to look through the letters to old and gone friends, the geocache, and small trinkets at the top of the peak in the blue ammo box. One last look at the view, and I set off back down the trail.

Just off of the summit I passed the same runner from the way up. We exchanged cordial waves, and both lamented our lack of water for such a hot day in the wind and sun before we continued in our respective directions. I was starting to hurt from the lack of water, and thinking of little else.

By the time I passed the M, I had stopped sweating—a sign that I was getting dangerously close to suffering a heatstroke. At this point, the only thing keeping me from stopping and taking a seat was knowing how close the truck was.

After what felt more like thirty miles than ten, I reached the parking lot. At the truck, I dropped the tailgate, desperately reaching for the emergency water jug I keep in the bed. I filled my small bottle—once, twice, then three times—sucking down tepid water. Somewhere around my fifth bottle, I began coming back to life, and just as I did, the runner I passed earlier walked slowly away from the trailhead.

The backup water

The backup water

I jumped up, mustering more energy than I thought I had remaining, and snatched his bottle out of his hand. Soon as I handed it back to him, he downed it as quickly as I had. We repeated the process a few more times before any words were exchanged. Soon, we were sitting on the tailgate, laughing and sipping warm water from our small running bottles.

We laughed about our lack of liquid, how the heat took us by surprise, and how many times we had run Baldy—both admitting it was our first. Once we both felt sufficiently hydrated to drive back into town, I put away the water, shut the tailgate, and we went our separate ways.

Since moving here for school, it seems as though some part of every day is spent outside—running, climbing, skiing, hiking, or biking. Normally, I don’t think much on it, it’s just something I do, an integral part of each day. Lately, sitting on the couch with a broken ankle has forced me to reflect. I’ve realized it isn’t just about me and my goals, or something that I do day after day, but instead it’s about the people who share the same experiences, and taking the time to laugh at yourself and push your limits, although preferably with more water.