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CDT MT Section 7

Day 58: Some Unnamed Meadows with Springs Feeding Johnson Creek

I woke up at the 6:30 alarm and decided to start the day with stitching up holes in the Frankengloves. After one repair on each glove, it was already a little after 7, so I decided the other 97 new holes and tears can wait. Buff sun gloves have high initial quality, but succumb to attrition quite rapidly. Soon they will contain more thread from my repairs than in the fabric they are made from.

I got started hiking about a quarter to 9, but I only went less than a mile to Gibbons Pass where the road re-intersected the trail before I stopped. Why? Because there was a privy, and I was running low on doggie bags as I had been unable to find any in the Salmon stores. Nothing need be packed out from a privy though, so it was best to go even if it wasn’t a desperate need. And I could use the time to make some progress on yesterday’s long post.

After that, I sat down in the shade of the privy for a candy snack and tasty drink. A truck pulled in while I was sitting there, and no sooner had the engine turned off than the privy door was opening. I started to load up to hike out again and saw the guy returning to his truck a minute later.

“Desperate situation?”

“It was getting that way.”

There was also a sign at the pass explaining some of the historical events that happened there. Here’s one. (Students in Florida that happen to read this should feel free to scratch this one in the margins of their new Revisionist History textbooks before returning them.) In 1877 (145 years ago this year), fleeing from their ancestral homelands and a war waged to force them onto a reservation in Idaho, the Nim√≠ipuu tribe (called Nez Perce) crossed the pass into the lands of the Bitterroot Salish. But those 800 men, women, and children did not know they were being pursued by the army of Colonel Gibbon who intended to manifest some surprise destiny right in their faces wherever they retreated to. So he came over the pass behind them. And for this he gets both this geographic feature and the nearby town of Gibbonsville named for him. A true American hero.

I thought about that a lot as I climbed out of the pass. It didn’t take long to leave the shade of the forest and head out into the open hillside. There were some pine trees, but they averaged only 8 feet tall and none exceeded 15. This area had been logged much more recently. Most importantly, it was a bright clear day, probably mid-nineties in the sun, and there was no shade to be found on this climb.

Indeed, it was so nice to find a small pocket of shade on the edge of a small area that hadn’t been so recently logged, I sat down in that one shady spot for another break. Just as I was getting ready to head on, a pair came walking up together. Some thoughts were exchanged about the trail ahead and behind, but the most interesting takeaway was that the grasses with tall stalks of clustered white flowers were beargrass, and there is an old wives’ tale that mosquitos die off the same time as those flowers wilt, and that since this is a record-setting year for bear-grass bloom, it’s also a particularly nasty year for mosquitos. I am curious if the conditions that promote the flowering of beargrass are the same that help the mosquitos to flourish.

A mile or so later, back in the sun, I encountered Space Goat, and passed on a message to her from the couple ahead. I don’t recall learning any further news from her, but I gave her some potentially useful information. Then we both walked on.

I stopped a few miles later at the edge of a wet meadow. It was the hottest part of the day and, though I had eaten enough snacks at that lay stop to not feel hungry yet, it was, in fact, lunchtime. There was a wooden bench left right there beside the meadow, so I moved it into the shade and sat on it to make and eat lunch. This was the only short window in the day that some big clouds came in to cool things off, but it didn’t rain even a little. I went with a lighter lunch than usual: I had packed out one packet of the Maruchan Gold Spicy Miso Ramen as a special treat, so I cooked that, drank the rest of my water, and by that time the sun had shifted enough that I was baking in it again, so I ate my lime as I was hiking away.

There was a bit more climbing to do over the next three miles. Still in the sun, but the lack of water was a blessing–less weight to carry up the hill. About 3 miles later, I passed a nice campsite with a fire pit and a bear hang, crossed a road, and found myself on a trail I had hiked a year and two weeks before–the section from Schultz Saddle to Schultz Creek. I hiked it with both recognition and anticipation.

Halfway through the 0.8 mile stretch, I encountered GoPro now in the 16th of 28 miles in his day. He was planning to camp somewhere around Gibbons Pass. And I had only gotten 12 miles so far. We had a nice exchange about bear sightings and his plans, but I should have invited him to take a gamble and return to the creek with me. It would have paid off.

You see, if you reread that epic long post from this time last July regarding my trip from Weed to Glacier with my mom, you will find a brief mention of our drive from Sula up a long dirt road to Schultz Saddle, at which point I hiked several boxes of soda into the woods and dumped them all in Schultz Creek right beside the trail crossing with a sign to take one. All of those sodas were gone along with the sign–he tree it had been taped to had even been broken. In short, last year’s hikers had followed my directions to a tee.

Except not every can was left visible to the crossing. Two cans of root beer were held in reserve in a secret spot further upstream. Not hard to find if you knew to look for it, but I just really wanted to make sure I didn’t have to miss out on my own magic, you know? And guess what, I didn’t! There the two cans were, right where I left them. A bit dirty after a year in the stream, and not as cold as I would have liked because the water itself wasn’t very cold. But dammit if I didn’t get to drink a root beer while my water was filtering! The other went in my pack next to the water bag to keep it as cool as possible.

And then it was time to climb again. A couple of miles of climbing and I was up high and out on the open, clear-cut hilltop. And it was now time for dinner. Just off trail was a huge fir tree with a nice sitting log in its shadow. There was a continuous wind coming up the hill, which not only kept me cool but also kept away all the mosquitos and most of the flies. All I had to do was arrange my pack to cut down some of the wind before it could get to my stove. It didn’t light easy or cook evenly with the airflow it did get, but I was on a fresh can of fuel and the extra pressure got the job done anyway. It was a very pleasant meal. I saved the other root beer for the next day’s lunch, though, now stashing it deep in my bear can. I also noticed over dinner that my clean water bag, after having served me without any problems for 11 years, had finally developed a pinpoint leak. At least it was slow enough to cause a catastrophe in my bag. I thought it might be reparable.

It was largely downhill from there. After a mile or two, I noticed the feeling of my knees being assaulted by a swarm of tiny midges. The trail ahead was a big climb, so I couldn’t really outrun them. But it was also a pointless climb which a lot of hikers skip. The climb and the descent of the hill make two sides of a triangle of trail shaped like a witch’s hat, and between the corners was a much less steep series of art meadows. So I went for the shortcut too. Which meant I could move my legs fast enough to keep the midges off. It also meant passing through mosquito territory and adding them to the swarm. You know, just after the 12 hours of protection the repellent gives me had ended.

Anyway, I fortunately come across a perfect little tentsite, already flat and clear, with a tiny stream burbling down the hill nearby. I drop my pack, grab a packet of picaridin lotion, and start slathering it on my legs while slapping every other exposed surface. I yank out my coat and throw it on, then pitch a tent while constantly brushing off the bugs. My mattress pump sack pops a seam while I’m trying to pump it, so I drop it to blow up manually once I’m inside. I pull the same mosquito-jouking trick where I carry my bear can away then dash back and dive into the tent. But this time the process of fighting my rainfly zipper shut (a nightly ritual) pulls up the head stake, so I have to climb out, replant it, and repeat the whole mosquito chase from scratch.

Finally, I get in, zip up, get my shoes off, zip up, inflate my mattress, crush the mosquitos and midges that managed to slip inside, and I’ve got enough light left in the day to start on the repair work. Glue up my pumpsack. Stick patches over the hole in my water bag. Then, get ready for bed. It’s a very comfortable site, and the only thing spoiling it is the constant nagging sensation that there’s still one mosquito inside with me and I need to minimize my attack surface by not even letting my nose stick out of my sleeping bag.

Trail miles: 17.1

Distance to Butte: 101.5 miles

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