The names of the innocent have been changed to avoid any grief. If the other members of the group wish to chime in, that's up to them, but for this trip we will call them "Bill" and "John".
So, I was contact by "Bill" about three months ago. He said that he wanted to do ERL, but would like to do it with someone who had done it before. He had read one of my trip reports on another site and contacted me via pm. After some back and forth, the dates were set and a pre-meet was agreed upon as the date came closer. Well, during the waiting, I mentioned the trip to a friend "John" and he said that he was interested in going as well. (I love ERL, so I tend to talk it up a bit, but I made it clear that the hills are DIFFICULT) Ok, so time went by and "Bill" and I finally met for the pre-meet on the 20th of Dec (nothing like waiting until the last minute). Plans were discussed on where we would like to camp. I again tried to make it clear that the hill section is difficult. So, "Bill" and I agreed to meet at the Athens Big Fork/Little Missouri TH on Friday morning and do the loop CCW to get the hills out of the way early. "John" and I had agreed to meet at the TH on Thur night and camp close so we could get an early start. (This option was given to "Bill", but he opted for a hotel close by.)
Friday morning, "Bill" shows up right on time. "John" packs up and we hit the trail about 9. The plan was to hike the hills and camp about 1/2 mile after the Viles junction. I like to hike my own hike (and I made this clear through pms and at the pre-meet) so in the first few hundred feet I was out of site from "Bill and John". I got to camp at about 2pm. I made camp, took a nap, ate some food, gathered fire wood, started a fire.... At this point I started to figure that they had decided to go back to the car and I would see them Sunday (or get back to an empty parking lot at the TH). Well, at about 5:15 "John" came dragging in to camp. He was obviously worn out and the only thing I remember him saying is, "I don't think we will see "Bill" tonight". I helped him with his pack (I had already had a nap and some food, so I was feeling ok) and he got set up. We visited for a bit and were recovering from the tough day. When I asked him about the last time he saw "Bill", he said, "about 1/4 way up the first hill "Bill" sat on a rock next the trail and said "I may have bitten off more than I can chew"." We decided that we would hang out at camp until 9 or 10 and figure out what to do if his car was still at the TH when we got back there on Sun. Well...At about 7 or so I see a headlamp coming into camp. It's "BILL". He had made it through the hills and night hiked on to camp. What a trooper. He was wore plumb out. He set up and went to sleep (no food or anything). It was a good night. The hammock never felt so good.
Next day, we packed up and were on the trail by 830. After about an hour, "Bill and John" had decided that they were going to Winding Stairs and getting a shuttle from there back to the car (at all cost!) Not knowing if they would find one or not, I volunteered to hustle it back to the cars and drive around to WS to pick them up and take them back to their vehicles. At this point it was either back over the hills (about 9 miles) or proceed forward (18 miles, but no BIG hills). I opted for option 2. I was off!
I made it almost to WS with dry feet, but that didn't last When I got to Albert Pike I went for the restroom.... DENIED! The rr were closed, so I took about 5 minutes to change into some dry socks, enjoy resting at the picnic tables, and get a few calories in me. I knew at this point I was almost halfway. I was already pretty exhausted, but I was on a mission, so I continued on. When I made it to the Falls I was walking into the parking area and noticed a white car and a silver suv (The same color and type of vehicle that "Bill and John" just happened to be driving). I thought for just a few minutes that they had got a ride to their cars and came to "save" me. I was wrong. It wasn't them. I hiked on. I was down to the last leg now. All the elevation should be behind me. It's going to be smooth sailing from here. At about the 16 mile mark my body was getting pretty upset with me. My legs were begining to charlie horse and were quite fatigued. I was almost there....I can make it. I hiked on. I past another group of 3 guys and asked about how far from the trailhead we were (I knew we had to be close, but it seemed like I should have been there by now). They said it was about a mile... I hiked on. Finally, I ran into a group camping at the top of a hill... When I looked down to my right I could see my car! Needless to say, I didn't chat long with those guys (I don't think I even stopped) I got to the car at about 4:15, put my pack in the back, went to the stream there to refill my water. As I was walking back to my car (to drive around to find the rest of the group) a white pick-up pulled up and "Bill and John" jumped out. I was relieved to see that I didn't have to go hunting for them (and perfect timing too). I had been trying to decide if I was going to camp near the TH, but when I finally got to my car, I was ready to get to a hot shower and warm bed.
What a great adventure. We all survived and no one was injured. It was quite a test of endurance for us all (at least I know it was for me). The only thing I regret about this time around was that I was in such a rush to get back to the cars that I couldn't stop and take pics and enjoy the views as much as I would have liked to. The weather was perfect for hiking and ERL is such a beautiful trail. Looking forward to the next time (after some recovery time of course)