Categories
CDT MT Section 4

Day 71: Green Mountain

The plan to get up earlier worked perfectly. In fact, I was awake before my 4am alarm even went off, and I was back on the trail by 5:20.

And five minutes later, I resumed my climb. 3.6 miles to climb 1422 feet to the ridgeline to Caribou Peak. Rather than watching the sun rise, the sun rose behind a mountain and then I rose until I could see it.

All along here, I had cell service, so when I stopped just before the ridge for my morning break, I decided to go to work getting some more pictures and videos and posts uploaded. After an hour of this, the cell service suddenly dropped, so I relocated. Then I relocated again and put in another hour sitting on the ridge and getting 3 posts ready to go while dealing with a lot of storage management issues. It cost me a solid third of my phone’s battery. And it got hot out while I was sitting up there.

After the third post, I said enough is enough; I need the rest of my battery life for hiking. And so I hiked on.

The only other hiker I saw all day was a northbounder who arrived at the “lake” (read: evaporating puddle full of red bugs and the only water source on trail for the next 12.5 miles) in the valley under Caribou Peak at the range same time as me but headed north. He told me he only saw two blowdowns in the trail in the last ten miles (that I was about to hike). So when I left to climb yet another annoyingly steep hill out onto the ridge (700 feet in about a mile), I started counting. I counted at least four in the next two miles and then none after that. The forest service does a great job.

Also, while I was at the lake, I discovered that the other half of my hip belt had become completely unbound from my pack, so that the whole thing was riding up and allowing the pack to sink until all its weight was on my shoulders and tailbone. After a mile or two of trying to hike with it in this failed state, I had an idea. I stopped and rearranged some of the straps on the bottom of the pack to loop around the framework of the belt and prevent it from riding up. I wouldn’t say it was completely comfortable after that, but it was at least wearable without immense pain.

If I had to describe the next 10 miles, I would say “Appalachian Trail-like.” In particular, it wanted to keep me as close to the center of the ridgeline as it could, no matter how much it meant I had to pointlessly go up and down hills. And it only employed switchbacks where it would actually be impossible to go straight up or down the slope…and it set a high bar for impossible.

On the bright side, most of the hilltops and ridgeline were exposed, which meant I had excellent panoramic views of the smoky haze from the wildfires all day. Which is to say, it reminded me a lot of my day on Franconia Ridge in 2013, but with fog swapped for smoke.

By lunch I had barely hiked eight miles if that, but I had come over the highest point of the day. The rest of the day was more down than up…for what that was worth, as there was still plenty of up. And since I knew there was a lot of heat, swarms of flies, and seemingly limitless legwork ahead and I was already fading, I took a Stacker-2 B-12 10000%. And it helped at first.

I took an afternoon break in the shade of a tree down from the last short climb before Lewis and Clark Pass (I guess this is where they crossed the Divide?). From there, I could face down my last foe of the day, the final boss: Green Mountain.

And I did procrastinate just a wee bit on heading off to tackle it. I could tell by looking at it and its elevation profile on Guthook that it was going to be a monster. But I needed to go 3.9 miles over the very peak of that mountain to get to a spring on its south face where I could stop for dinner.

So I packed up my stuff, psyched myself up, and… delayed. I was worried about my battery power, and I was thinking about heading into Lincoln the next day just for a couple of hours to recharge my devices. So I wanted to look at the restaurant options for a place to sit while that happened. And then I noticed a waypoint for something people had been mentioning: the High Divide Gear Store was right next to the trail just a day’s hike further on. So I turned off airplane mode; I had service. I called them up and asked if they had electricity. Sure enough, I could avoid the tricky hitches both into and out of Lincoln with a stop there instead.

At the same time, I also received a text that Sam in Leadore, the man I had left a package with and got the cell number of in order to get a ride into Leadore when I got there, had died. No word on the cause or how this will effect my plans as yet. But I do feel lucky I got to meet the man before the end.

Okay, enough delay. I hiked down to face my foe. The 1.8 mile descent to Lewis and Clark Pass was rocky and a bit painful on my feet, but it went by in a heartbeat. The climb up Green Mountain, on the other hand, took a solid hour. It was about 1000 feet of ascent in about 1.2 miles. That’s Mahoosuc Arm steep. I tried to capture it in the pictures, but there were sections that were 45 degrees or steeper. It should have had stairs cut into it. In fact, the only reason it could be climbed at all was a thick bed of gravel and, further up, ankle roller sized rocks. Previous hikers steps had shaped the rockslide into a series of stair-like indentations. And this steep section started halfway up an already steep climb. It continued being nearly as steep all the way up, always in direct sunlight, but at least there was sometimes a breeze.

Finally, after taking an entire hour to go one mile, I could look around from the peak and see all of… nothing. The looming shapes of nearby ridges emerging from the haze.

Fortunately, the spring was now only 0.6 miles away, all downhill! I flew down a couple of switchbacks (hey, they should do more of those!) and arrived at the spring within two hours of leaving my last break, thereby maintaining my 2mph average for the section. I threw out my stuff and myself onto a nice trampled down spot under a tree and got busy on dinner. While that was cooking, I drank all the rest of the water I was carrying and filtered some more from the spring. I go through at least 6 liters a day lately with all this heat.

It was already 7 by the time I finished dinner and got packed up, but there were no good campsites in sight. If my new schedule was to work, I needed to get to bed ASAP. Fortunately, there was a blocked-off road meeting the trail just a little ways down the hill. It was level and campable. I got set up and inside by a bit after eight and was ready to sleep by a bit after 9.

Trail miles: 17.6

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 75.0 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 4

Day 70: Dearborn River and Parts Up

I woke up at 5 and turned on my phone to finish the blog post…and realized I would fall asleep again if I tried to do that. I was too sleepy and needed to get moving. So I decided to write the rest of the post little by little during each break throughout the day so that by the time I encamped that night I would only have one post to write. This plan worked out just fine.

I was hiking out by 6:30, the cool air filling me with energy as I climbed to the top of Straight Creek’s canyon and over the small pass into Welcome Creek’s canyon. I bet there would have been an interesting view from the pass if the Dry Cabin fire weren’t just a few miles away.

By 8, I had finished the first four miles into Welcome Creek Cabin, which I found already gift wrapped in fire protection foil. A crew of 4 was working on protecting the structures in the area with the wrap and setting up a sprinkler system. Although the edge of the Dry Cabin fire was only 8 miles away, the commander said it would take it two weeks to reach the cabin at its current rate of growth. They had some time and were just being proactive. The one other cabin in the area was already wrapped and ready to go.

Anyway, they were taking a break on the porch (except for one guy who was getting the piped spring flowing again), so I got them to plug in my phone to the cabin’s solar power system while I filtered some water and took my break and chatted with them. They went back to work maybe half an hour after I arrived, wrapping the hay shed, and I got my phone back 10% more energized. And I was feeling energized too.

After about two hours more walking at a decent pace over mostly level trail, I pulled off down an overgrown side trail and worked my way over to the Dearborn River, which I had been following at a distance since the cabin. I found a nice spot in the shade next to the water to take a break. The water was too far down a steep bank to reach, but the sight and sound of it made the detour worthwhile.

Less than two hours after leaving that spot, I reached the junction where the CDT went down a different trail, leading immediately to the spot where I had to ford the Dearborn. It felt so nice and cool in the river, I walked across it three times. Then, I found a shady spot nearby and had a long, leisurely lunch besieged by flies.

Two minutes’ walk from the river, the CDT began a long, steep five mile climb to the top of the ridge. Despite my lunch energy and presoaked shirt, I climbed it quite slowly. It took a solid two hours and some change just to reach the creek where the trail briefly leveled out to switch mountains, a mere 2.8 miles. Part of it was the heat. My shirt dried way too quickly to keep me cool. Part of it was the seven-days-of-food weight of my pack. But part of it was the vast quantity of ripe strawberries growing along the trail that I had to stop and pick and eat every time I spotted them.

Anyway, as soon as I reached the little creek, I stepped across it, pulled my pack off, threw it to the ground, pulled out my ground cloth, spread it out, and threw myself to the ground too. And I sat there for well over half an hour before I got up the gumption to put another couple of miles down (of course soaking my shirt in the creek first).

Right around the corner, I came upon a guy camped in a huge teepee with a dog that went crazy as soon as it saw me. It was a very fancy and heavy tent that could only be brought this far up a mountain with the aid of a horse team. The horses in question were tied to a high line just up the hill, explaining all the ground stomping I’d been hearing while collapsed next to the creek.

The next section of trail was a series of steep switchbacks straight up the edge of the ridge, climbing some 500 feet in just half a mile. The trail leveled out only slightly at the ridgeline, continuing to climb across a breezy burned out section with an excellent view of smoky haze until it reached the top of the mountain and a less burnt area. Which is to say there were still plenty of living trees. Just down the hill on the back side, I found a shaded log to sit on and make dinner. It was less than a mile total from the creek I had left last, but it took me an entire hour to get there.

After dinner, I was not energized and raring to go. I wanted to go to bed early, in fact. The idea I had was to get to sleep an hour earlier than usual, wake up an hour earlier, and thereby get an extra hour of walking in the cool morning air as opposed to the boiling afternoon air. If it worked and got me where I wanted to be feeling less tired at the end of the day, I would just keep my schedule shifted one hour earlier like that.

And I’ll be honest, I was plum beat by the time I walked the half mile down the hill to the meadow where I camped. Heck, I was beat by the time I sat down to dinner, but an hour later? I was about to fall asleep just from sitting down. And I had to set up camp like that? It took me far longer than it should have to get to bed just from how slow I was moving. But I was in bed, teeth brushed, everything squared away early enough that I finished writing my post before nine. And I may have even been fast asleep by nine. Maybe.

Trail miles: 17.5

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 92.7 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3 CDT MT Section 4

Day 69: Augusta

I woke up at 5 and started packing immediately. I packed up in a much more efficient way than usual, except for that moment where I spilled half my water I was about to make breakfast with and ended up draining my water bag to make 3/4 as much breakfast drink as I usually do.

I was out of camp just after six and back to the CDT 5 minutes later. I hiked as fast as I could the 3 or so miles down to Benchmark, and yet I passed a man (with dog) hiking in that told me I was the 5th person he’d seen hiking out…and this was within half a mile of the trailhead. Clearly, I was hot on the heels of some early risers.

It’s worth noting why I was in such a hurry. I realized that, even though I had my food package waiting at Benchmark Guest Ranch, just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, there probably would be no one there and hence no way to get a shower, no way to charge my phone. And and an unenergized means no pictures or videos for you guys. (Yes, I carry a mobile battery. I completely drained getting my phone battery up to a mere 69% the previous morning. By not listening to any podcasts all day the previous day, I still had 29% when I turned it on this morning. That’s not enough last another day, much less an entire week.)

So, it looked like I was going to need a ride into Augusta. But I had no intention of spending the night there. I wanted to get in, get clean, get some energy, get back to the trail. So I was hurrying to pick up my package so I could start working on getting a hitch as soon as possible.

Coming off the trailhead into the campground, I made a brief stop at the water pump to fill my bottle, then climbed out of the campground along a trail next to a bunch of folks taking down tents and loading things into horses. It spit me out onto the road. Then I was walking on a dirt road for miles. Two trucks passed me going out, one pulling a horse trailer, one an excited old couple pulling a fifth wheel camper, honking like mad and then waving as they passed. Then, as you can see in the video, I was accosted by a herd of horses before a man chatted me up from his truck going the wrong direction.

Turned out this was Frank the shuttle driver. He was going up to the trailhead to find out who had texted him, and would be happy to give me a ride in on his way back for $15.

I passed two other hikers (Heaven and Punisher) who were just coming off picking up their own packages, and they hitched a ride with yet another truck back to the trailhead, deciding to skip town entirely and go into Lincoln instead. My plan was to be only half a day behind them and then skip Lincoln, so it was possible I would see them again.

No sooner had I arrived at the guest ranch, found my box, and signed the log, than I heard Frank’s truck waiting there at the front gate of the ranch. So it was that I was headed into town. He had a lot to talk about on the way, including an in depth explanation of why he wasn’t mad that there had been no other hikers at the trailhead waiting for him but also how he would really prefer larger groups and less speculative trips since it was a 45 minute trip each way for a paltry 15 bucks. I didn’t really care because he was willing to pull over and let me get my snacks and water and such out of my pack since I was thirsting to death having not had a spare moment to drink the water I’d grabbed or take my usual morning snack break. I got a decent amount of the water on my shirt from the bumpy dirt road.

He left me at the happening hiker spot in town, the Wagons West motel and RV park, which also happened to be where he lived. I went to the front desk to purchase a shower and laundry, then went to the building for said amenities and began right away. My phone and battery were charging while I put my dirties in the wash. My clothes were washing while I showered. I started unpacking my box at the end of the wash cycle, then as soon as my clothes were drying I walked to the general store for some limes, a root beer, some more DEET, and some new headphones since I had just run the old ones through the wash in my hurry.

There was a group who had planned to ride back to the trail with Frank and they agreed to wait until after 11 when my laundry would be done, and I didn’t want to keep them waiting. Nor did I want to spend more time in town than I absolutely had to. So I didn’t go to the cafe for breakfast. Instead, I ate Twix and Mike and Ike and Pip Pop Movie Theater Popcorn out of the hiker box. And I didn’t upload any blog posts. (For a comparison, I also did an in and out in Winston, NM, and I did upload posts and eat lunch. I was in town for a solid five or six hours. So I got at least 3 extra hiking hours by rushing.) I was shaving and finishing packing my resupply as my clothes were finishing drying.

By 11, the dry cycle was done and all I had to do was change into my hiking clothes and get in the truck. Everyone else was already in there and ready to go. My mobile battery wasn’t quite finished charging yet, but I could give it every last minute of energy possible by plugging it in in the truck for the 45 minute ride back. (In retrospect, why didn’t I charge on the ride in too? I guess I thought I would have enough time.)

We had five people plus driver in the extended cab already, but we swung by the general store to add a couple more to the bed. Frank would be getting his money worth on the trip back.

The last thing I did while leaving town was call home and get information on the Dry Cabin Fire burning somewhere west of the trail in the direction I was headed.

Now, I guess I should name the other people in the cab. Little Skittle, Ben (now Hat Trick), and Rocket were in the back. I’ve mentioned them before (five days ago), but the other two members of their group were staying behind at the motel. In the front seat with me was Wild Card (Ravi). She’s a pre-med student at Tulane just trying to get to Idaho (if the fires don’t prevent her) before fall classes start. She is more like me in terms of hiking speed and the number of resupply boxes she sent out. (Kind of a necessity for her because she’s vegetarian and it’s hard to get TVP in these little trail towns.) She says NOLA isn’t that fun for a vegetarian who isn’t into drinking.

At the Straight Creek trailhead we all poured out, unloaded, paid. We took me pictures with Frank. I was the first one down the trail.

While I was on the phone with Mama discussing the fire, she said I should stay with the rest of the group. But that just wasn’t going to happen. These kids had spent the night in town. Big dinner, big breakfast. I had just grazed from the hiker cache. They came out with all their water and all their town energy. I hadn’t the time to fill my bag and had already hiked five miles that morning. On top of that, they all seemed considerably younger and more energetic than me.

A few hundred yards down the trail, they caught up and passed me. I left the trail to establish a shady spot on a sort of peninsula on the creek. I made a big lunch and collected some water. By the time I finished, everyone else surely had at least two miles of lead on me and the energy to lengthen it.

I got a good stretch of hiking done from there to where the CDT joined the trail near a ford of Straight Creek. It was a nice place to stop, a tree on the other side casting a small shadow on the sandy shore. But I was still hot, so after my snack, I took a very quick dip in the creek. Then I scooped some water and it filtered while I put my boots back on.

It was still supremely hot all the rest of the evening. Even though I wet my shirt every chance I got. My back was aching from the way I was wearing my broken pack by the time I stopped for dinner. I popped an Aleve before I even started cooking. An hour later, when I hiked out again, it still hurt as soon as I got my pack back on, though somewhat more dully.

It was all uphill from that random spot I stopped for dinner, and even though I had planned to hike until eight, I just didn’t have it in me. The heat, the climbing, the heavy pack, the aching back, the dry mouth that could not be sated no matter how much I drank: it all came together that I decided to stop at the first campsite I could find. And I found one at a quarter to eight. A little after eight, I was lying on my mattress, shirt off, evaporating a small pool of water with my chest to cool off.

I had two days worth of blogging to get done, but after two hours (with a break in the middle to brush my teeth), I had only gotten 1.5 days worth done. And it was long enough after sunset that it had finally cooled off enough for me to get sleepy. So I called it quits for the night in hopes a full night’s sleep would improve my back and give me the strength to walk at more than the snail’s pace I had rolled into camp at.

Trail miles: 20.0 (though the actual distance hiked was more like 17.2 miles since the Straight Creek Trail is shorter than the official CDT on the same section)

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 110.1 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 68: Chinese Wall

I woke at 5am and got started on my chores. Aside from finishing a blog post, I also sewed up the rip in my shorts. As I was packing up, I could hear a lot of talking down the hill in the pass.

I climbed down to the pass just before 8am to begin the one mile climb. At the top, I passed Bob, whom I had camped with and spoken to many times coming through Glacier.

Just past the top of the hill was My Lake and Creek. There was a good campsite there, though buggy. I had completely emptied my water bag to make my breakfast, so I stopped here to fill up, as well as to apply insect repellent and sunscreen. While I breaked, Bob passed me, soon followed by Al, whom I would not actually meet until later. At this moment, he spoke of enjoying company and loving to have someone to talk to even as he hardly slowed down.

After passing over the next ridge, I finally came in view of the Chinese Wall, a much bigger wall than the one I camped below two nights prior. The next 7 miles or so were along the base of the wall. As it was hot and exposed, every time I came within range of a snowfield, I left the trail to collect a wad of ice to apply to the back of my neck. This trick gave me enough extra stamina to pass Bob just before I stopped for elevensies. I passed him again sprawled on the grass at the top of the next hill, moaning “Siestaaaaa.”

There was only the Moose Creek headwaters to traverse before climbing up to the highest pass. I was up there by noon. Al and another extremely affable grandfatherly type were there chatting, but what was not there was a view of the wall. I was told that the one man’s hiking partner had climbed up to the wall to see the view, and there was indeed a steep trail going right up to the wall, so I gave it a visit. On the way down, I passed another snowfield and made my biggest ice collar yet. Bob was already sprawled at the top of the pass, so I told him about the snow in case he wanted to cool off.

I fled down the hill then, hoping to have finished 10 miles by lunchtime. I stopped a little bit later than planned having already put down 11 miles. I needed water for lunch, and the first good place to get some, the creek known as West Fork South Fork Sun River, happened to be at a campsite already occupied by three strapping middle-aged men taking their time in getting ready to climb up to the wall. There was much stretching and rearranging of gear and even just sitting. They didn’t leave until I was nearly ready to go myself. Worth noting that in that period I was passed by Al, Bob, the other pair, and what seemed to be a father daughter duo on horseback with a dog going down as well as a Forest Service Trail Crew mule team going up. It was a very popular trail for a Thursday.

Very soon after leaving the site, I caught up to Bob and the other pair chatting. One was changing into his water socks to ford a stream that had an easy-to-walk log across it. I stopped to talk for half a minute and assess how many more stream crossings were ahead. There seemed to be major crossings in 1.1, 2.2, and 4.4 miles. One of the pair of weekenders insisted that one of those was a mandatory shoes-off-feet-wet ford.

Fortunately or not, they were wrong. The first crossing was easily rock-hoppable. The second had a footbridge. The third was just a spot where water was running down the trail, only a few inches deep and walkable. I passed the father-daughter horse team just before reaching the latter, receiving the comment “You’re fast.” “Well, the trail is pretty easy,” I said, meaning, “You must be absolutely crawling that I was able to leave 15 minutes after you passed on horseback and still catch up to you.” Upon reaching the trail stream, I found Al sitting there finishing up dinner. The horses passed us both a moment later, then Al left.

I continued taking my snack break until Bob arrived. I was already packing when he passed, so I was chasing him just a couple of minutes later. I passed him half a mile on just before he stopped to camp, or so it seemed. He always did like to make camp early, I think.

I hiked on as fast as I could, hoping to get in a good five miles before dinner. I was hiking fast enough that I caught up to Al and passed him about an hour later. I had told him already I would stop for dinner in two hours and keep hiking on. I did exactly that, stopping at a cute little stream across the trail with some nice sitting logs. He came up behind me and grabbed some water. He chatted a minute or two, then said he was going to hike down to the big bridge and camp there.

An hour or less later, I started hiking again. I intended to continue until sunset. I found Al still in the process of making camp as I reached the hill above the bridge. There were a dozen tents there already, people down on the riverbank, and even someone cowboy camped on the beach right above the water (which is super against the forest service ban on camping within 500ft of the bridge). I had no interest in sleeping among that crowd, so I crossed the bridge and continued another mile.

I didn’t think I would be able to find a nice campsite on the trail I was walking, so I turned off at the next trail junction and walked a quarter mile through a stand of lanky, scruffy pines, half of which were fallen, the other half of which distinguished themselves from all the other trees in the valley by being alive. On the other side of the stand, I made camp surrounded by trees on one side with a nice 180 view of the Sun River valley stretching out unimpeded below me.

Trail miles: 25.2

Distance to Benchmark: 5.3 miles (corrected)

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 67: Spotted Bear Pass

Up by 5, out into the mosquitos before 6, hiked out before 6:45.

The first few miles were still under that rocky cliff, climbing over shoulders before dipping down across creeks and back up again. It was mostly burnt out and exposed, so the views were great but there was little sun protection. Very soon after leaving camp, I walked up a streambed to find a good place to collect water. After my midmorning snack, I had only a couple more big climbs and then it was all down and into thicker forest.

For a mile in this thicket, there was a tangled mess of blowdowns constantly sending me off-trail or making me climb or tightrope walk. At one point a branch caught the side of my shorts as I stepped down and tore a seam open six inches long. It wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable or embarrassing location for a giant hole. Many women’s dresses are intentionally cut in exactly the same place. So I hiked the rest of the day with it open.

Continuing down the hill following the creek (Red Shale Creek), I soon reentered a burn zone. I couldn’t find a lick of shade anywhere out here. And I was flagging because it was lunch time. Eventually, I climbed down into the creek and had lunch in an uncomfortable spot on the water’s edge. It still wasn’t shady, but at least it was a bit cooler next to the creek.

A few miles more meant crossing the creek where it had carved a much deeper ravine. I kept my socks dry by walking across on an unsteady fallen tree. It was not easy to avoid falling off it into the creek with it wobbling and trying to block my way with branches. Real highline walkers have all my respect.

The trail got much easier after it reentered the thicket here. It was completely clear, just a slow steady climb occasionally awash with mud. I stopped in a nice campsite for a break and to collect water from the nearby creek and was swarmed by flies. I surely killed a dozen in the few minutes I sat there.

From there it was nearly 5 miles to Rock Creek Guard Station, and the trail looked about the same the whole way. Nothing to mention. I pushed the whole distance in a single stretch, right past my usual dinner time, in hopes there would be a picnic table at the cabin.

No such luck, although there was a deer stalking around me the whole time I sat on the log in front of the cabin eating supper. It must have smelled me peeing on the ground as soon as I arrived and was just waiting for me to move.

I’m no ultralighter, and, in fact, I carry a buttload of stuff while hiking. And I had been holding out all day for the guard station because I knew it had the amenities needed for a hiker to lighten his buttload. However, I needed to pack up and carry all my stuff up to the brand new privy with me and leave it propped against the open door because I knew the deer would want lick every drop of sweat off of every square inch of everything I had sweated on. Indeed, only a few minutes after I had relocated, I could see not one but two deer going after the salt I had left on the ground.

Even though it was well after 8pm, I decided to leave and go another 3 miles up to Spotted Bear Pass. I didn’t have the daylight for the whole way, but I did have the twilight. Even though it was the end of a long hiking day, it was on the easier end of trail I’ve had in Montana.

At the pass, I climbed up a nearby hill into the woods. I found a relatively flat spot and finally put my headlamp on to make camp. I was in bed before 11 and skipped my nightly writing session to get to sleep sooner. Why do today what can be put off until after a good night’s sleep?

Trail miles: 24.6

Distance to Benchmark: 28.9 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 66: Open Creek

I vaguely remember hearing my 5am alarm and then falling asleep. Just before my 6am alarm went off, I was awoken by the sound of thunder, loud and close.

I sprang into action, going out into the pleasantly cool and stormcloud-darkened morning to fetch my pack et al. in under the protection of my rainfly. It started raining. I rearranged things underneath the rainfly to keep everything dry, then crawled back into my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. At the time, my thoughts were along the lines of “I would happily take a trail zero right here if it meant not hiking all day on the rain.” But I fetched the weather report on my Garmin, and it said the rain would be gone in an hour and the rest of the day would be fine.

I woke up again well into the 9 o’clock hour. It was starting to get uncomfortably warm. I had only intended to wait out the storm, but it seems my body wanted a lot more sleep. Fair enough. I could hike a short day and put in some big miles tomorrow.

I hiked out by 11am in my slightly drier socks. The damper ones were strapped to the outside of my pack to dry as I hiked. I crossed Bowl Creek and then lost the trail immediately. There was no sign whatsoever of the turnoff. I had to backtrack along trails I hadn’t even seen.

The trail to Sun River Pass was at least a mile of blowdowns across the trail. All expected, which is why I had decided not to try to camp at the top of the pass. Better to jungle gym navigation on fresh legs.

I met two trail crew guys two taking lunch just beyond the pass where the burned out forest began again. They informed me that they had just finished clearing the trail ahead, welcome news since I was expecting two more miles of navigating blowdowns.

I stopped after a bit over two hours, my breakfast drink not even finished, for lunch. I found a nice shady campsite on the edge of a meadow on the bank of Fool Creek. I also took the opportunity to lighten my load, fill a hole, and bathe a bit in the creek. I added the contents of my magic avocado to my normal lunch wraps. All told, I was stopped there for nearly two hours. Yep, short day.

Almost immediately upon leaving, a stray branch on the trail got caught between my legs and sent me face first toward the trail. The real Montana CDT was clearly going to have me falling far more often than anything in New Mexico. There were half a dozen near-falls on just this short day alone, and at least two actual falls. Bipedal motion is stupid.

From here, the trail soon entered a lush, densely overgrown, and not at all burnt forest above Open Creek, the kind that also harbors dense clouds of flies. Generally speaking, I was fine as long as I kept moving. But eventually I did remove my hat and swap it for a net. The latter was far more efficacious in the jungle.

At one point, the trail crossed the creek at a place where I would have to get my socks wet or stop and change into water socks. I took the third option, climbing the hill to stay on the same side of the creek until it recrossed less than half a mile down. At first this seemed like the easy obvious choice, but I erred too close to the creek and the vegetation got dense enough to slow me down. Plus there were many side streams to avoid and little puddles too. And then at one point I stopped in a meadow to check how far it was to the trail on the map and my legs were immediately covered with extremely fast-moving biting ants. I couldn’t brush them off faster than they could climb, so I had to run into the trail grass in hopes that would brush them all off my shoes. Anyway, I can’t say whether it ended up saving me the time I would have spent taking off my boots and putting them back on, but it did certainly keep my socks dry in the end.

Although the whole Open Creek Trail was a climb, it was after this that it started getting steeper and throwing in switchbacks. At the point where I finally crossed the headwaters of the creek and continued further up the hillside toward Lake Levale, I started to feel a little limp and disconnected from my body, like the end of a long, hard workout. It was unexpected since it had been a very short day both in terms of mileage and time spent hiking. Perhaps it was related to the heat.

I figured I had reached the lake when I saw a man next to an enormous pyramid style tent. He was making dinner while reading his Kindle when I surprised him, but he was happy to let me check out the tent. It had no floor but enough space inside for two people and their packs. He said the whole system weighed three pounds. More than I would want to carry for solo hiking, and less than I would want to carry if sharing a tent with someone else (because there was nothing to keep the bugs out or the dampness of the ground out), but maybe something I would consider as a communal space for a four-person winter camp if we also packed in the portable heating stove he described.

The lake was beautiful, blue, and full of very active mountain whitefish. (That guy told me they can survive being frozen in ice if the lake freezes through in winter. Not something I’ve ever heard of.) It was a perfect spot for dinner.

After dinner, I hiked on another me of miles into increasingly open views and increasingly diverse kinds of wildflowers. I made camp in a meadow under a huge crumbling rock walk. The sound of rocks tumbling into the talus pile as I lay in my tent went on so long it sometimes sounded almost like a herd of mountain goats walking by. But it really was just the natural process of the side of the mountain eroding off.

So, not much hiking done, too much falling done, but good prospects for the trail ahead.

Trail miles: 13.6

Distance to Benchmark: 53.5 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 65: Strawberry Creek

Turbo Jesus was already up by the time my alarm went off. As I packed up the things in my tent and prepared to emerge, I could hear him getting the fire going again.

When I came back from fetching water, Josh was already up, but Kristin (sp? formerly Mittens and soon to be…?) wanted to sleep in until 6:30 since the group was not intending to hike out until 7.

The fire was a blessing because it was quite a cold morning, but by wearing my down puff and warming up by the fire between packing activities, I was able to hike out by 6:25, challenging the rest to “catch me before the split.” More on that later.

I hiked solo and as fast as possible for five miles. I nearly finished my breakfast drink overlooking Blue Lake then sat for a while beside Beaver Lake enjoying the sun on a cool morning while applying sunscreen and bug stuff and eating snacks. When I left there, I ran right into the gang. They had indeed caught me. Turbo Jesus appeared to be leading, as Josh stopped at a creek for water (and I passed him and his girlfriend there) but didn’t pass TJ for another mile, waiting on a rock for the others to catch up.

They caught up to me again at the next major creek crossing. They stopped there for lunch while I packed up and hiked to Strawberry Creek for lunch, another five miles down. Ever since Beaver Lake, except for a short respite, it was nothing but burned forest, stands of recently dead trees. There had been a good number of blowdowns coming down to the creek, and TJ arrived first, commenting on how easy the blowdowns had been to manage and then hiking on. Josh passed a while later, and I never saw his girlfriend.

The trail followed Strawberry Creek for quite a way after this, and at one point I found a handful of instances of its namesake growing right along the trail. One of them was large enough to be worth eating, and was ripe and sweet. Perfect. My usual lime was one fruit. This tiny strawberry was a second. Two fruits in a single day is more than enough, right?

A few miles later I arrived at the “split” I mentioned early. Turbo Jesus had left a message pointing out the direction for the Spotted Bear Alternate, but I intended to go the other way and stay on the red line. Mostly for purity’s sake and because it seemed likely to have somewhat fewer blowdowns, but also because TJ, as affable as he was, just seemed to care a lot about miles, big miles plans for the future. I would not want to try to stick with a group that he was pushing to go faster. I like to make my own plans. I went the other way, and that made all the difference.

The downside was that right off the bat I had to cross Strawberry Creek at a place where it was wide enough and deep enough there was no way to avoid getting my socks wet (except taking them off, which I probably should have done).

It was late in the day and the hiking was starting to wear on me, but the wet socks did even more so. I stopped a few minutes later at the planned time to sit on a tree in the sun and eat snacks, but I also finished my water. So I stopped again less than a mile later to collect water, and while I did that, I took off my shoes and changed into dry socks and did some foot maintenance.

A mile after that, I had some great luck. I saw a small crowd waving at me from the other end of a stock fence with no stock inside. It turned out to be a forest service trail crew simultaneously coming supper and packing up to move camp. The upshot was they had way too much food and the horses would carry out a lot of extra. But the fresh food they had no reason to send back. I was willing to jump on that land mine. I got all of the following:

  • Snickers bar
  • Avocado and entire bag of Cuties (bringing my fruit count for the day to around 8)
  • Truly hard lemonade
  • Broccoli Mac and Cheese (broc mac)
  • Potatoes and onions
  • An avocado to go

In addition to all that, the horses would be packing out their trash, so I got to add all my trash to theirs and free up a bunch of space in my bear can.

After a two hour spree of chatting with those kids, I started hiking again. I had to crawl over ropes stretched across the trail and had no understanding why until I reached the camp of some guys with a team of very friendly mules who seemed ready to follow me right out of their camp. They had another rope across the trail at the other end of camp that dissuaded them. Apparently they do not need actual fences, just signals of where a fence would be.

A third of a mile further on, I came to Bowl Creek, my intended campsite, a very nice spot with the water rushing by just feet away from my tent. I was pretty drained, and I was in bed before the end of twilight, and asleep a few minutes after ten.

Total miles: 22.9

Distance to Benchmark: 67.1 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 64: Elbow Creek

When I finally snapped out of a long and cozy dream, it was already almost 8am. I had slept right through my alarms. And it was 9:40 before I left camp. Since the morning was basically wasted, I didn’t set any destination goals. I just wanted to get to sleep by a more reasonable hour and get a proper early start the next morning.

It was an easy level walk down to the Badger Ranger Station. It was all locked and boarded up and there was no privy, but there was a nice hand pump and a picnic table and a shady porch, so I stopped for a morning break. The flies were a little annoying, but not too bad. Butterflies were desperate for my salt.

A little ways from there, I had to decide whether to stay on the official trail and go up on the ridge and through the pass or take a shortcut staying on the creek. Some commenters said there were a lot of blowdowns on the hill and that it was a pud (pointless up and down). But I went the official route anyway and I was glad I did. There weren’t any blowdowns worth mentioning and the views were incredible. Beautiful wildflowers all along the ridge.

I stopped near the top of the ridge for lunch on a sloped bit of ground in the shade of a tree. There was just enough wind up high to keep the flies down. There were a lot of hoverflies and the like seeking my salt but only a few biting flies, and I wrapped my legs in my towel again to protect my calves.

After lunch I came over the summit of the ridge and went across a lower ridge to start the climb to the pass. I met a couple of men camped right by a creek there that hadn’t seen anyone else out there all day. I told them to modify their expectations–more of us would be coming through soon.

And I was right. After a pit stop at the top of the pass and a proper break on a rock just below it, I was passed by Josh, not-Mittens-anymore, and probably-Turbo-Jesus-from-now-on. (The same trio I passed the day before–their names are still in flux.) They said they would stop at the next campsite for dinner and then maybe press on to the next creek after that to camp. Seemed like a reasonable itinerary to me.

Before I could even pack up and follow them, a man came up from the other direction, probably a friend of the two I had met earlier, but definitely a friend of the wilderness. He worked with an organization specifically trying to protect the wilderness. They had bought out or gotten canceled all but one of the gas leases in the area, and were trying to get legal protections in place with the state, local, and tribal governments to make the place a permanent wilderness protection zone. Very cool work.

A few minutes later, I was down at the river and there was a huge crowd. Wing It, Snot Rocket, Ben, Hot Mess, and one other were there in addition to the three I mentioned above. Everyone was eating dinner together, so I joined them in doing that. Since I was the last to arrive, I was the last to leave. The four new folks were going to hike on one mile and stop. Turbo Jesus wanted to make a fire, so they would check out the next camp and maybe hike on to Elbow Creek if they didn’t like it. I committed to Elbow Creek since I needed to get some miles done.

When I finally left, I was only a few minutes away from the first camp. It was already crowded. Another group had come in with horses and mules, which were corralled in the nearby meadow hungrily cropping grass. One was wearing a bell which seemed likely to continue into the night. Who would want to sleep with such a crowd and noise?

Around 9pm, I came to Elbow Creek, and Turbo Jesus already had the fire going and the other two had their tent up. Josh and TJ were carrying in more firewood and improving the fire ring. Then, while I set up, they dried their socks and shoes. Apparently they had just charged right through all the creeks I had rock-hopped and tree-walked across and had wet feet. TJ suggested the next morning would start with wet feet and I offered to help carry a nearby dead tree to the river. We started to do that, but as soon as I looked at the crossing, it was clear it was actually an easy rock hop and we had been moving the tree unnecessarily. The workout felt nice though.

There was some discussion of the next day’s plans while I finished getting ready for bed, and it seemed those three would be taking an alternate and walking a lot farther than I wanted to, so I probably wouldn’t see them again after the morning. So goes the life of a slowpoke with time to spare.

At least we could all agree that getting up early was the plan.

Total miles: 16.1

Distance to Benchmark: 90.0 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 63: Marias Pass

I really wanted to sleep in, but I also needed to get some miles in for once. And there was always the minute chance of getting caught camping without a permit.

I started packing around 5:40 and hiked out around an hour later. The mosquitos were already horrible. I had my repellent and bug net on before I left camp. A mile down the trail, I met two hikers headed up from False Summit to Firebrand Pass. They did not have bug nets.

“Seems like the bugs must be pretty bad here. Did you come over Firebrand Pass?”

“No, but I can tell you as long as you’re on this trail, they’re this bad or worse.”

“Did you walk here from East Glacier?”

“Yeah.”

“You must have gotten up really early or something.”

*sheepish grin*

“Well, have a nice hike.”

One mile later: fall in a creek slipping on a rock, soaking the right half of my shorts, my right glove, and the right sleeve up to my elbow; and moistening my right sock.

I passed the hiker formerly known as Stache, Josh, and Mittens slackpacking north back to East Glacier a mile from the road. It was already 10:30 and they’d still be back there in time for supper. And I can’t imagine it’s long before they pass me headed south in the next few days. They did not stop to chat.

After passing the Marias Pass monolith, I stopped at a picnic table in the campground for a morning snack break. I also popped into the toilet to yogi some toilet paper since I had forgotten to harvest what was left in the motel room before leaving.

In the next few miles, the flies just got worse and worse. Stopping for more than a few seconds guaranteed the formation of a swarm. They totally ignored picaridin and were only slightly deterred by DEET. And they were far more persistent than mosquitos. They must have bitten me through my calf sleeves dozens of times, some of those bites even after I smeared DEET lotion onto them.

Two miles in, I met a trail maintainer who had been clearing the trail by hand saw. He was by himself and the main reason I could keep up a good pace on those first few miles. It was very clear where he left off work. The piles of blowdowns crossing the trail got thick and miserable in that exposed burnt out forest. It really slowed me down. And since I was out of the national park, none of the creek crossings were bridged anymore, which meant picking my way across on rocks and trees, which also slowed me.

I stopped for a relatively late lunch a few miles later, and had to use the trick of covering my legs with a towel to slow down the rate my legs were being bitten. I took a long leisurely lunch in a clearing with the shade running away from me and the swarm rising to attack every time I moved to chase it.

It was the after lunch part of the hike that was the slowest for the reasons mentioned above. And going slow just made it easier for the flies to attack. And it wasn’t like my effort was rewarded with views. There were just a lot of trees, dead or alive, and what views there were were blurred by the haze of distant forest fires.

I was keeping myself sane with podcasts, but my headphones were doing some kind of weird thing to make my volume constantly turn down. I had to lock the volume to counteract it. But the automatic triggering of the volume siren button meant a lot of my attempts to turn the screen off just took a screenshot instead. At one point later in the day, I pulled out my phone to see the camera was on and taking video of the inside of my pocket. And my battery had dropped precipitously. I hope this doesn’t happen again or I’ll have no energy left by Benchmark. How will I take any pictures or videos of non-pocket things?

Of course, there was very little worth picturing on this particular day. There wasn’t even all that much wildlife around. Probably because all the other animals are smart enough to avoid where the bugs are.

I stopped in a campsite for supper. And then right after that, the deadfall scramble got much less intense. There were a couple of places left to try to break or scratch my legs up (luckily only succeeding at the latter, but coming really close once on the former). It was it 10 by the time I reached my final campsite destination, several miles shy of where I could have been if it hadn’t been for all the trees blocking my way. But this campsite had tons of water and very few flies or mosquitos, so it was an ideal stop anyway. Even so, it was such a long time, it was nearly midnight before I got to sleep.

Trail miles: 19.1

Distance to Benchmark: 106.1 miles

Categories
CDT MT Section 3

Day 62: Mostly East Glacier Park Village

There’s not really much to be said here. I got up at 6, put on my camp shoes, and walked to the gas station to get microwaveable breakfast for myself. Jacob had the rest of his burrito. After breakfast, I packed up all my food to hike, but determined the internet in the room was far too lousy to handle uploads and downloads for this blog, so we left the room at 10 to seek better service.

On the way out the door, I realized my pack was completely busted where the right hip belt and strap meet the pack, which makes it very difficult to put on, but luckily doesn’t affect how it wears once put on at all. However, it’s the kind of thing that could further deteriorate into a complete breakdown and can’t be repaired at all.

Anyway, after a brief stop at the convenience store (this time primarily for headphones as I had forgot to remove the last pair before washing my shirt), Jacob and I relocated to the lodge. We found a decent cell signal in the back corner, and I even went out to sit on the deck. I was soon joined by one of the hikers who I’d camped with in the park, and soon Jacob came to say he was hungry. Around this time, the other host revealed that the other members of his party were washing clothes at the laundromat. Jacob wanted to wash some clothes to wear until he got home, and it turned out the laundromat was adjacent to Brownies, the deli, pizza joint, bakery and hostel, which would take care of the hunger problem. So we relocated again.

We had to wait a while for a table to come available at Brownies. Indeed, Jacob’s clothes were nearly washed and our pizza nearly finished baking by the time someone left. But once I sat down at that table, we remained camped there for the rest of the afternoon. My only activity besides eating and drinking was workin#sesg on this blog. And believe me, I was eager to get back on the trail. It was already apparent that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Marias Pass by nightfall long before I had gotten everything posted. And Jacob, bless his heart, stuck it out with me, sitting right there at the table with nothing much to do once his clothes were dry.

I got everything done just before 6, and Jacob was ready to head off too since his train left at 6:45. We parted ways finally in the street across from where we sat. I went back to the trail with locals worriedly (or patronizingly) telling me there were grizzlies out there.

I got back on the dirt road that led out the back side of town. Then it got grassy and muddy as it became Blackfeet conservation land ($100 fine for any use without a permit…definitely a fair price to pay to avoid the effort of getting a permit), then more of a firm if overgrown dirt track with plenty of bridges and water diversion work that you expect of national park trails as soon as it reentered the park.

It was also mosquito hell. Just tons of overgrown vegetation, small streams, creeks, and a surfeit of standing water. Perfect breeding ground for the mozzies. I was hardly into the woods at the very beginning of the section before I had swapped my hat for my headnet.

There wasn’t much to see on the section. Just a couple of spots that had views. Mostly a green tunnel. I took one break two hours in, then hiked on until there was almost no twilight left. I spotted a dirt patch on a closed sidetrack just long enough for my tent, the first such spot I had seen since starting hiking for the day. So of course I took advantage of it.

It was around 10:30 by the time I was in my tent with the mosquitos still buzzing around outside (except for the one that made it in somehow) and I was asleep by 11:30.

Given the hassle of all the uploading and posting I had spent most of the day on, I was happy to have gotten any hiking in at all, even if it meant making an illegal camp in the national park. But this amount was actually pretty good:

Trail miles: 7.9

Distance to Benchmark: 125.1 miles