The whole reason for coming into Butte at all was to get to Lima, as I said in the last post. Why? Because of the Black Mountain and Trail Creek Fire closure, blocking access to some 130 miles of the 350 miles I’m skipping. I’ll come back and do the skipped section when most of it isn’t closed.
Yes, the closed section includes the spot where I left trail magic, which means that very few people get to partake. Perhaps the magic will stay there until next year, but it seems likely it would be removed by trail crews in the intervening time if it even survives the winter freeze. It didn’t go completely to waste though. There were at least three comments mentioning it posted on Guthook before the closure.
Anyway, the easiest way to skip that section would have been to take the Big Sky alternate directly from the Butte East Ridge to West Yellowstone via Big Sky. I wasn’t aware of that possibility because it isn’t listed on Guthook, but even if I had been, I probably wouldn’t take it. Firstly, I came to walk the Continental Divide, and that would be a major detour off it. Secondly, I already have two resupply boxes to deal with by phone in Sula and Leadore, so it’s a lot easier to just go to Lima to get the box I left there in person and then get on the trail from there.
And the easiest way to make the trip from the northern I-15 crossing to the southern I-15 crossing is Salt Lake Express bus B10A from Butte to Lima, which leaves once a day at 5:30am. All of which is to say I woke to an alarm I set for 3:32am. I wasn’t the only person awake in the campground at that hour, but I was certainly the only one in the primitive tent camping area.
I was mostly packed by 4:30, except I needed to eat the strawberries and cream oatmeal I had bought for breakfast, two bowl-packages worth. I boiled some water and poured it into each of the bowls, then, considering making tea with the remaining hot water, I went to open that pocket on my pack and spilled one of the bowls. Luckily, the table was pretty clean, so I scooped it back into the bowl and ate it anyway.
I also collapsed and packed my trekking poles into my pack for the bus trip. Then I loaded up and set off up the Blacktail Creek bike path toward the bus station.
None of this packing operation or walk required the use of my headlamp. There was just so much artificial light around. The bike path was a little darker, but there were distant building lights and street lights, a sliver of moon, and Our Lady of the Rockies floating blurrily and eerily in the sky behind it all.
When the path came to a major road, I took a pedestrian underpass below it and emerged next to an elderly steam engine next to a convenience store that was open. I went inside and bought a breakfast burrito, a hot coffee, and a new bottle of sunscreen since I hadn’t been able to find any at the campground store.
The bus station was right down the street and I rolled up at 5:25 with the boarding process already begun. I was immediately confronted by a driver asking if I knew where I was supposed to be and then reveling in the fact that I guessed wrong. I had thought it would be the bus that said Salt Lake Express clearly on the side, but it was the van pulling a trailer that looked like it could have just been a random vehicle parked there until I got close enough to make out that it also said Salt Lake Express on it. Luckily, the rude driver was not my driver. Mine was actually super nice.
I ended up riding two hours next to a girl who was clearly in severe emotional distress, falling apart in tears even as she studied Ecce Homo via a confusing abstract idea web drawn in marker on her notebook, waving her hands over the connections distractingly. One of the men in front of me was clearly not all there either, though I didn’t notice until the driver told me about bizarre things he had been doing. I was just watching Netflix the whole ride on my phone (except during the one 15 minute potty break at a Safeway in Dillon) and didn’t pay much attention.
Anyway, I arrived in Lima around 7:30, pulled my pack out of the trailer, and headed over to the motel. I found the proprietor right away and he let me into the room where all the packages were stored. My box was at the very bottom of the pile in the very back corner.
At first, I just left the box there and went to find a power outlet for my phone and a bathroom. Then, I came back and opened it to see what it had. It didn’t quite have everything I needed, so I went to the convenience store next door. In addition to the apple cider I was missing, I grabbed a sandwich, some Beecher’s Flagship cheddar sticks, and a root beer (why not?). They didn’t have any protein powder for my breakfast shake, but they did have some instant coffee, so I figured I could just make do with thinner shakes for a few days.
I met the shuttle driver at his truck at 9. It looked like I was the only one headed out to the trail this morning despite it being a beautiful day with little smoke haze to be seen. It was about a half-hour drive to the Continental Divide which also happens to be the Montana-Idaho border (and, for the most part, the converse of that is true as well). He stopped so I could get a picture of the sign, then continued south to where the trail passed under the interstate. Here, he crossed the median on a gravel path and dropped me on the side of the interstate.
“How do I get to the trail?”
“Just hop the fence. Then go over to that road there that goes up that hill over there.”
I donated him a twenty for the lift. Can’t let a good service like that go out of business. Then he drove off, leaving me to figure out how to get over the wire fence without breaking anything (especially my brand new pack).
I stopped a half-mile down the road on a survey marker to put on sunscreen and bug stuff and lube. Then it was time for a long climb on a dirt road.
I really felt like I was back in northern New Mexico. Nothing but dry prairie grass and shrubs on the hills around me. When there were trees, it was clear that cattle hung out under them. And there were not very many of those. Mostly there was no shade.
There was finally a patch of trees a few miles in, and since it was 11am, I stopped under one for a snack break. I took a nice full half hour, then went back to climbing that hill.
By 1, I had already entered the Targhee National Forest and found a nice sitting rock in the shade for lunch. It wasn’t quite a footpath yet, though, as I was passed by a family of ATVs as I finished up. But soon I reached the top of a hill, crossed a cattle guard, and joined a more traditional footpath just as a light rainshowers passed by, sending me to the side of the trail to fish out my Packa as quickly as possible. It had already passed by the time I was halfway up the next steep hill.
That climb finally put me on the divide proper, right next to the fallen barbed wire fence that runs along the state border. I followed this for quite a while, still out in the open with occasional scattered trees. I found a large sitting rock in the shadow of one such tree and took my 3pm break.
Not long after this, the trail dived steeply down into a gap and climbed out again, but just before the climb got steep, it passed a pond. Since I was low on water by now (having last filled up at the motel), I stopped here for dinner. It wasn’t a very attractive spot to collect water: scummy, muddy, crisscrossed by deadfall, full of frogs, red bugs, and other insects dead and alive. But it was the only water I’d see on the ground for the rest of the day, and I didn’t even have enough to cook dinner, so I filtered some and then cooked and ate.
As mentioned, the climb out of this area got quite steep and, other than a brief little respite, continued for a full mile. On the steepest part, averaging well over a thousand feet per mile (over 12 degrees angle of elevation!), I first met a couple of guys going down and then another rainshower. This time, there was a tree I could stand under while I put my Packa on.
The next bit of trail after that rain died down enough to not require me to keep the rain gear zipped climbed less steeply through an actual forest. I kept walking well past my normal stopping time of 7pm, looking for the perfect campsite that was basically level and wasn’t surrounded by dead trees, of which there were so many on this hill. Eventually, I came to where a huge wide open meadow was visible from the trail, and left to go pitch my tent in the middle of it. I couldn’t resist the view. And the way there was no chance of getting killed by a falling widowmaker in a storm.
And it was clear there was a storm coming. Clouds everywhere, even as the sun set below them. I was cozy in my tent and ready for bed before the rain started, but it did rain and rain hard and heavy. There were some chilly wind gusts and some good, loud lightning strikes. It continued for well over an hour.
I don’t mind the rain so much when it happens after I’m in bed. It sounds nice. And hopefully, it means no smoke the next day.
Trail miles: 14.4
Distance to West Yellowstone: 79.7 miles