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