Two Gals Get Trifecta--Summit All Three Sweet Grass Hill Buttes; One Gal's Heart Issues Scare Hikers; Belly Crawl for Devil's Chimney Cave
It was a day of delays and emotions, and not one we would want to relive but also not one we would like to erase either.
It started at 9:10 from Chester, where we met Ann, the Canadians and Joanne, with a 35-minute delay due to a work train blocking the crossing. We got out of our cars to watch the crane lift ties from the railcars onto the tracks. A few did some stretches.
Then we made our way to the Meisener Ranch to check in and get further directions. Deb, the manager, was so kind and friendly as we signed the book and told her we were a group of 19. She hoped we didnt have too many vehicles. She was pleased we were in only four.
Then we went through a series of gates to arrive at the cairn, marking the place to go through the fence to start the hike.
We broke into two groups, with a mix of Americans and Canadians in each. Tom, Katie's husband who was our guide, and Gordon, Tom's friend, led the first group while Katie and Josy took the second. Tom and Katie had walkie talkies for communication between the two groups.
Linda, one of the Canadians, was the main reason Katie and Tom wanted to do this hike--plus some of the gals wanted to conquer all three main buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills: Gold Butte, West Butte and East Butte. We had already done all but East. And East had two peaks: one named Mount Royal, an open peak with many cellphone and TV towers on it, and one Mount Brown, the tallest. We were headed to Mount Brown. But for Linda, this butte had special meaning. For many years, she had wanted to climb the mountains she would see just over the border. We wanted to make this happen for her.
The first part is on an old jeep road, which started out fine until a mile in. Ina Jean started to lag, so Katie's group couldn't keep the pace.Katie kept radioing to Tom to stop and wait. We didn't know it at the time, but this would be a precursor to serious trouble later.
By the time we had covered the two miles to the entrance to the cave called Devil's Chimney, Ina Jean wan't feeling well. But we all made it into Devil's Chimney and enjoyed the 15-20 feet of belly crawl into the tight space to come out into a large open cavern with a skylight.
After the cave, it was apparent that Ina Jean could not continue: she was really sweating, she had leg and foot cramps and was wearing the thin toe shoes, that Katie told her wouldn't work on the volcanic talus that we faced on the steep slopes of East Butte.Susan C stepped in with her nutritional knowledge to help re-hydrate her and give her some Gatorade after she took on some water. We all thought she must be dehydrated from the long drive.
As a group, we decided she should stay and rest by the creek and the shady cottonwood trees, while the rest of us went on. Laura, the Canadians' leader, said she would stay with Ina Jean, despite Katie and Ann volunteering since it would be easy for them to return but not for Laura. It was now going on 1:30, so it was very late for a mountain climb, where wisdom says to be off the top by 2, due to electric storms.
It took the rest of us over two hours to reach the summit, with Gordon pointing out a key directional error we almost made. While on top, we celebrated Linda and LaVern, who both completed summiting all three buttes and at the age of 75. For Linda, it completed her bucket list, which was bittersweet since her cancer has returned.
And at the top, Tom put Linda in front, so she could reach the top first.She also was first to sign the registry, which was inside an old army ammo box. Also inside, was a silver chalice. We had fun taking pictures of Linda pretending to drink from it.
Another hour and a half took us back down; it was almost 6p.m. when we reached Laura and Ina, who both seemed rested and in good spirits.
However, the minute we started the uphill to climb out of the creek bottom, Ina Jean felt sick again, with sweats, shallow breaths. She was very afraid of the downhill section and was dreading it. Not to go into too much detail, but it took three hours to go two miles back to the cars. Ina was really suffering. A special thanks to Josy, Loural, Susan C and Gordon who took charge and stayed with her. She didn't like so many people around her so the rest of us would go ahead and wait.
Later, we found out that Ina Jean had had four prior heart attacks. We were all shocked at this and now thought it wasn't dehydration but heart problems causing her issues. And we were right.
We were all tired and thirsty by the time we arrived at the cars; it was now going on 9 p.m. Americans left first with the Canadians following. The Canadians didn't get too far down the road, and unbeknownst to the Americans, Ina Jean ended up with a full blown heart attack. She didn't want to go to Shelby, the closest hospital due to the Canadian insurance not working in American, so the Canadians called ahead to Milk River; an ambulance met them at the border--which is another story. Since it was so late, the normal crossing for the Canadians was closed. They had to go to Couts instead.
Milk River determined that Ina Jean needed more care than they could give so they sent her to Lethbridge, where she was in ICU all night and into the next day. Even Lethbridge determined she needed to go to Calgary. She had water in her lungs, possibly pneumonia, water on her heart and other heart abnormalities. We were all shocked and kept up the prayers.
She is still in the hospital as this is written; we hope she recovers quickly. But this incident was a good wake-up call about what very strenuous and very steep mean as far as health issues and what can be attempted if a hiker does have health problems.
We arrived home around 11:30 p.m., dodging deer the whole way. We even saw a whole herd of bucks in the velvet. Plus, the bugs were so thick, they coated our windshield, making it very hard to drive.And we were starving. No restaurants or even convenience stores were open in the small towns before we hit Great Falls. But the Canadians had an even longer ordeal and longer drive than we didn't even know about until the next day.
So the day had an almost tragedy, which hasn't ended yet; but it also had the high of Linda and LaVern climbing all three of the main buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills: Gold, West and East.
Who went: Americans: Josy, Susan C, Amber, June, Katie, Beth, Ann, Jo Ann, Tom, Gordon; Canadians: Laura, LaVern, Lorna, Loural, Linda, Ina Jean, Dina, Sharon, Merrilee