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