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CDT MT Section 7

Day 59: Ridge Above Beaver Creek and East Fork Bitterroot Headwaters

I woke up around 6, decided that wasn’t a full night’s sleep, and slept in another hour. Or tried to. The attempt was interrupted by both an early morning shower that was brief but intense (and not at all reflective of the day’s weather) and my 6:30 alarm. And of course the dozing was uneasy with that constant nagging feeling there’s a mosquito inside–there were certainly dozens buzzing around under the rainfly. Around 7, I called it and started packing. I hiked out before 8:30, the sun still having not yet reached my tent right up to the moment I took it down and stowed it–a row of tall shaded the whole area.

By 9, I had not only found my way back to the trail, but had already passed my first hiker of the day. I don’t think I got his name, but I met so many people this day, I probably would have forgotten it regardless. He told me the next couple of miles didn’t have too many blowdowns, but there was a section with a lot just after that.

So that’s one. Try to keep count of the hikers I mention as I go. I must have arrived in the 2022 sobo bubble because I haven’t ever before seen so many long distance backpackers on the CDT in one day.

Just a mile in, I arrived at Surprise Lake. It was a very pretty spot, and I spent an hour in the area filtering water, snacking, drinking, etc.

Within a half-mile after I get, I spotted another guy on the trail. He immediately turned around upon seeing me, walked back, turned around again, and came back asking about a creek. I told him there was water crossing the trail nearby and he was almost to the lake. By then, the two guys on his tail had caught up and all passed me. I didn’t get another ten steps before the fourth showed up and I stepped aside again.

The climb out of the lake area continued with not too much difficulty until I reached the top of the next hill and the trail began to be crossed by blowdowns. First one and then another guy stopped just to warn me about the potential for the intense wind gusts to push a dead tree over on me in the next section. I jokingly told the second I wanted a tree to fall on me because it would be exciting, partly because I didn’t want to reflect the level of panic he was displaying as I entered the Black Mountain Fire burn zone. Both of them were in a hurry and didn’t give or ask for names.

It was slow going picking my way around and over all the blowdowns on the descent into the saddle at the center of the fire’s path. There were so many switchbacks, it was sometimes hard to figure out where the trail emerged from a tree pile. And it got slowly worse as I went. Never as bad as the Mt. Hood fiasco, but enough to take a number of percentage points off my speed. When I reached the bottom of the switchbacks, I was passed by a guy going up who didn’t have anything to say beyond a basic greeting.

By the time I reached the bottom of the descent in the saddle, it was well past lunch time. There wasn’t much shade to be had in the burn zone, so I left the trail and scrambled over and around the deadfall until I spotted a log jutting into the shadow a small lone living fir. So that is where I sat and made lunch. And yes, I did drink the other root beer as promised.

The whole time I sat there, a bird somewhere above me keep emitting a short electronic beep like a digital metronome at a fairly consistent 48bpm. I think the government drone was signaling it was low on battery and had lost the bearing to its charging station.

After lunch, I followed some directions in the FarOut comments to a nice cold spring and filtered it before leaving. It wasn’t an easy to find spring. No side trail and not really visible or audible from the CDT. But the comments nailed it. Before filtering, I found my water bag patches weren’t holding, so I tried a different kind of patch and, while it didn’t really want to go on, I finally got a good seal. So I finally left about 3pm.

The mess of deadfall on the climb out required even more work to get around and over. It was what you would call “the thick of it.” As soon as I reached the top of the next hill, I met Kraken and Mark, a British couple who let me know that the blowdowns weren’t all that bad ahead, which meant I had made it through the worst part. They also were the first to point out the smoke roiling off the horizon in the direction I had come from and blowing low along the horizon for 100 degrees of view, probably crossing my path ahead some 20-50 miles up the trail.

Around the corner from them, I ran into All In, who informed me that the fire was northwest of Salmon, that is, I inferred, somewhere in the Sawtooth range on the wrong side of the highway, so I gave him my best Optimist Prime assurance he would squeak through before it came near the trail. While we chatted, up behind him came 10 Gallon (in a cowboy hat) and then Snack Block (her very fair skin caked in sunblock) and Cropduster (you can guess how he got that one). Several of them seemed concerned about water, so I directed them to the spring in the saddle. Cropduster also informed me that I had missed Mowgli hiking somewhere ahead, that he has broken up with Sunny Side Up since 2020, and, I infer, she took the cat. So there’s your hot trail goss for the year.

Less than half a mile later, Piper came slowly trudging down the trail. She claimed to be a pretty slow hiker, and although I suspect she attributed it to her age, I could clearly see she didn’t go all in on ultralight gear either. She also mentioned water, so I gave her the same directions, though it was possible she would make it to the saddle before the last group had left.

Soon, I found a nice spot for dinner. There was enough breeze and too little water around for mosquitos to be an issue. With the energy from dinner, I put on a burst of speed and went sailing up the ridge.

And that wasn’t the end of the bubble. Another mile or so up the ridge I passed Phil. We didn’t talk much, probably about the fire. Then I stopped for dinner, and I got it done really fast. NoAnd not too long after that, I chatted with Tim, who seemed in a good mood but did not at all seem to recognize the Monty Python reference when I suggested he use “Some Call Me… Tim” as a trail name.

I was still putting as much energy as I could into getting as far as possible before dark. Just ahead, the trail dropped off the ridge and went across a valley with many creeks and ponds and much mud. I’m not talking about a verdant green meadow this time–this was still very much a part of the burn zone–but there were more living trees than before, especially close to the creeks. There was also one dead tree among them leaning out over the trail at exactly my height, which meant there was no way to see it coming while also dodging rocks in the trail to move at that pace. Which is to say, I was mildly concussed and had to pause to furiously rub the top of my head.

After a couple of miles, I crossed a bridge over the last creek in the area, and dropped my pack in a patch of dirt denuded from countless people having done exactly the same before me. Why? There was a steep falls just beside the bridge that was easy to catch water from. I filled up my dirty reservoir, tossed it in my pack, and kept going.

The trail regained the ridge soon after and left the living trees behind. I was in the middle of a wasteland of downed trees at 9pm, wishing there were anything like a tentsite to be found. But there was no way I was parking under any of those standing dead trees even if it were perfectly flat and free of rocks (and it wasn’t). So I went on another ten or fifteen minutes until I reached a little patch of living trees. I left the trail and found a flattish spot of dirt just wide enough for my tent, as long as I was okay with my vestibule being full of tall beargrass.

At that point, I was okay with anything. I hung my dirty water reservoir from a tree but didn’t hook it up to filter. I had to deal with the head stake popping out of the dirt as I set my tent up again, but this time it at least got it done before I climbed inside and took off my shoes.

At least there wasn’t much wind protection up there, and the breeze kept the vast majority of mosquitos away. Lights out at 11.

So did you manage to keep track? Of how many people were in the bubble I walked through? In the moment, I think I came up with 18. I don’t really feel like recounting to be sure. I expected to see quite a few the next day too… when you’re in a bubble, the hits just keep coming.

Trail miles: 17.4

Distance to Butte: 84.1 miles

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