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CDT MT Section 8

Day 55: Chief Joseph Pass

I woke up before 6 feeling surprisingly well-rested for once. Also, there were far fewer mosquitos under my tent than the previous morning. Since my pack was already in the tent with me, I didn’t even have to unzip the tent to do most of my preparations. I got started hiking about 7:30.

And just to ease me into the day, the first section was a nice level walk through the woods to meet up with the road along the divide. I stepped over several small streams here even though I could have used a bit more water since I planned to fetch some at my next stop.

The ridge road went up a little, down a little, and passed through Big Hole Pass. Despite the name, there was no privy here, but there was a spring down a hidden trail into the woods, so here, 3 miles into my day, I took my first break. I wandered into the woods with my reservoir until I stumbled onto the spring trail and followed it down to the pipe. It couldn’t be found by ear because the quiet splashing of the water falling out of the pipe wasn’t audible until you were right near it.

I climbed back out with a full bag, but I only filtered two liters as there would be more water sources ahead. I drank one liter immediately, added another to the liter and a half I already had in my bag, and dumped the last liter on the ground.

The next section was back in the woods, following the center of the divide ridge nearly exactly. After a mile or so, the woods started getting less woodsy. I was entering the burned remains of the Trail Creek Fire that made me skip this section the previous year. Many of the burned trees still stood, dead and blackened and sagging with brown, dead leaves. As many had fallen into the dirty, ashy, charcoal dusted layer over the soil. But many small grassy plants were thriving along the forest floor now that there was so much sunlight reaching them.

Of course, there was also so much sunlight reaching me. It was completely clear all morning, and only partly cloudy through the early afternoon. And right as I was entering the burn zone, I encountered the first big hill of the day and certainly the steepest. It was not clear why the trail needed to climb straight up the side of this little bump in the ridge without any switchbacks only to make a hard left turn and go back down again. The trail didn’t even go over the top of the bump, so there were no views. The trail could just as easily have spiraled clockwise around the hill up to the same height. I was pouring sweat after that long stairmaster struggle.

Anyway, as soon as I finished this bump, I needed to take another break, and dropped off the ridge in search of a good log in the shade. Pickings were slim, but I took a good half hour or more here, only 6 miles into the day’s walk.

But I needed the energy because there was another climb ahead. Not as consistently steep, but long. I was climbing for very nearly three next three miles. At least this time, the trail worked its way up the side of the hill instead of staying right in the middle of the ridge and going straight up. And, although it was completely out of the trees and lacking even a semblance of shade, at least there were some views to see from the open hillside.

On the far side of this climb was my landmark for lunch: a side trail that I could take to get to another spring. It was already 2pm when I reached it and I was tired and very hungry. I reckoned I could make it less than six more miles to the next spring on what water I had, so I didn’t go down to the spring, but I did go dish the side trail a few dozen feet to find a spot of ground with halfway decent shade to eat lunch. The dead, burned trees with their dead needles hanging down didn’t filter all the sunlight, but dappled shadows were better than nothing. Also, there was quite a nice breeze coming up the hill.

After lunch, the trail was largely level or downhill, but I met the first person I saw that day coming south. He appeared to be Japanese (based at least partially on the fact he said he had stopped at Sula but pronounced it cost to Surra) and said he was called Lilian. He seemed surprised by my head net and was not at all prepared for the mosquito swarm that lay 25 miles ahead for him. He said the nearest hiker behind him was a half-day away.

But he was really only a few miles back. I had one more shorter hill to climb and both the climbs and burned forest were behind me. I took a short break and finished off the last half-liter of water I had before tackling that climb. And just as I was coming down the other side, I met the next guy. Very excited fellow, full of smiles, eager to hike. Wore airPods for some reason. Didn’t get his name.

In the 4 o’clock hour, I started getting some light sunshowers. It was still very hot, so it felt quite nice. The single-track ended at a long dirt road that continued along the divide ridge. A Jeep Rubicon was parked there. I made two right turns, went down a switchback, then stopped to drop my pack across from a side road to a spring. It dead-ended into a nice shady glade with a nice pool of cool water. I took a full bag back to my pack.

I used it to cook dinner, drank an entire liter besides, didn’t think that what was left was enough, and went back to fetch another liter just as the Rubicon was leaving. The driver stopped in the road, got out, messed with something, waved, but was probably no more interested in me than I him.

I packed up and continued down the road as the sun got lower in the sky. There were a lot of piles of cut trees along the road. And in the open spaces where they had been, there were numerous tall stalks bearing bunches of tiny white flowers. Where these grew close to the road, I entertained myself by decapitating them with my trekking pole. Instead of bending or swaying, the whole end of the stalk would snap off entirely, and I could take out four or five in a single swing. Better luck next year, plant.

Around the time the sun disappeared behind the hills, the road twisted up and over highway 43 and I crossed to a parking lot I visited the previous year: It looked the same, and one van was parked there as if to camp. The driver waved to me, but I didn’t intend to stay there or stop. I was being chased by a healthy bunch of mosquitos after all. I went out onto the snowmobile trails for another mile. And I didn’t stop until I reached the row of Porta-potties and wall of firewood outside the Gordon Reese Cabin (which I did not approach because I knew it was locked in summer). There were plenty of flat spots to camp, so I set up my tent beside the trail (after applying a coat and repellent against the mosquitos). It was only 9:45 or so when I arrived. I tried to work on this post once I was in the safety of my tent, but was exhausted and turned off at 11:30.

Trail miles: 20.0

Distance to Lost Trail Pass: I can’t get any closer to it on the CDT. I think the side trail down to it is a mile or so.

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