I woke up at 6, then actually managed to doze off and get that elusive eighth hour of sleep, waking up at 7 to start the day. I noticed a couple of my toe nails needed trimming once I emerged from my sleeping bag and saw my bare feet in the light. I did that, and then went to put on my socks, only to notice they both had small holes at the toe seam–which might just have aligned with those toe nails that had needed trimming. So I took out the thread and darned them right up. Socks are mission critical, and repairs to them never wait, unlike my poor ragged gloves. Of which the right one made a tearing sound as I pulled it on–I’d ripped a stitch, and a whole long repair was going to come unraveled if I didn’t act immediately. So I got the thread back out. Sometimes gloves have emergencies too. By the time I finally got to a point I could leave my tent, my back was sore from sitting up inside it.
Even with all that extra work plus filtering the water I had hung from the tree before I could make breakfast, it’s a wonder I was able to leave camp by a quarter to nine.
I heard one person walk by up on the trail while I was still in my tent just getting up, and I met one person on the trail within the first couple of miles, but we barely spoke. Still, it was clear I was still in the bubble. I wondered how many people I would see in the next couple of hours once I left the trail.
And leave the trail I did. I turned left where the trail turned right and went down a meadowy hill to the shore of Sawed Cabin Lake. I went around the edge of the lake clockwise and started up the the hill on the other side. There, I took a nice break to finish my breakfast in the shadow of a large boulder with a handful of mosquitos for company. Then I started the climb in earnest.
Up the hill along the inlet creek, then a sharp right up the grassy slope adjacent to a scree field and into a narrow treed chute with a patch of snow at the top. No trail, just vibes. It was steep as can be while still calling the activity “walking”. Like a staircase where you have to locate the stairs under slippery grass. But it wasn’t a super long climb. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes worth. And then I was in the notch on the ridge and coming through.
I worked my way along the back of a hillside to skirt a bowl clockwise and reach another ridge. Along this ridge, I found a worn track straight down through soft dirt to the side of the main creek feeding Oreamnos Lake. From this point, it wasn’t really off-trail adventuring anymore. This was a proper trail with switchbacks leading down the hill and everything. It took me right to the outlet of the lake, and I decided to take a long break. It wasn’t even eleven and I had already walked what counted as 5 trail miles considering the nearest point on the CDT.
The lake was wide and deep, but the water was far too frigid for a proper all-in swim. The fish didn’t think so though. I think they were brown trout or speckled trout, and there were loads of them. I inflated my air mattress, swapped my shoes for water socks, and floated out into the sun otherwise fully clothed. When I paddled back in, the trout circled all around and underneath me in the shallows, sometimes almost close enough to touch.
After I got out, I moved all my stuff and myself into the sun to dry, and since it was almost lunchtime, I started making and eating it. I learned at the same time that mosquitos seem to prefer the direct sunlight. I applied more repellent. I filtered some water from the lake outlet. And maybe two hours after I stopped, I started hiking again. I didn’t see any other hikers on the alt.
Once the site side trail down to the CDT met up with it, I was aimed uphill for the long climb over Pintler Pass. I had plenty of lunch energy, but it was still a tough climb. There were switchbacks galore, but every section was a steep climb. It took a solid half an hour to climb that mile.
At the pass, I started down what looked like a real trail but disappeared into the trees. The real trail went the other direction, and I had to work my way across the hillside through the little scrubby pines to get to the actual trail.
So a black guy, a brown guy, and a white guy walk up a hill. Their beards were fabulous. What a fine example of a diverse hiking community.
Jokes aside, they were in kind of a hiking group, and I spoke to the second one about the lake alt. They all seemed in quite the hurry, and I didn’t get any names.
I did get some names of the next two people I passed. Yes, five whole people on the descent–definitely still in the bubble here. They were Einstein and Sauce. I tried to interest them in the lake alt too. Both seemed pretty excited to be done with the northern Montana section… and I was about to be done with the southern Montana section myself.
Namely, the bottom of the descent, the shore of Johnson Lake, was the arbitrary point where FarOut (Guthook) decided to split Montana into two guides. They have to do it somewhere, and there’s no particular reason they chose there. (With the PCT maps, the guides overlap for several miles, which makes a lot of sense from a guidance perspective, but if I were implementing the app, I wouldn’t overlap them either.) Despite the arbitrariness, it still felt sort of like an accomplishment. Of the 5 sections of the CDT guide, I could right then on that shore say I had completely hiked 3 of them.
But it was all uphill from there. The climb up to Rainbow Pass was a long and steep one. I had to take a break halfway up, and it took a solid hour and a half to reach the pass.
And just a few minutes after that, I was passing the shores of Rainbow Lake. I have no idea whether the pass was named for the lake or vice versa, but I do know the lake is a mile from the pass, and both are more than eight miles as the crow flies from Rainbow Mountain, several mountains over. From the pass to the lake is just a bunch of steep switchbacks, but at least I was going downhill.
Somewhere in the lush forests beyond the lake, I found a log with a shadow cast on it beside the trail and decided to stop there for dinner. Before I could even get everything unpacked to cook, Gretzky walked up. He noted the mosquitos getting bad in the forest, so I handed him the repellent wipe I had just been using. We chatted for nearly half an hour before he walked on, so that’s how much dinner got pushed back by.
The sun moved enough to put my cooking spot in a patch of light, and the mosquito swarm got pretty dense. I ended up walking around while I ate to make it harder for them to concentrate around my face.
About the time I finished and started packing up, Speck and Space Jam rolled up, commenting on the cloud of mosquitos surrounding me. From their perspective, it must have seemed like I had them on tied to me on invisible threads like a bunch of balloons to hand out to kids. “Sure kid, you can come pet the mosquitos. They don’t bite… more than once.” But they didn’t stick around. They had enough time to get over Rainbow Pass and catch up to Gretzky if they didn’t waste any.
I was less about a mile from dinner when I came upon a white-bearded gentleman named Wow. If you’re wondering whether that’s more of an Owen Wilson “waow” or a Chris Walken “wow!” it’s neither. He had some sort of mild British accent actually. He informed me that the four or so miles to Warren Lake was mostly a very gentle climb and I could definitely get there that night if I was a reasonably fast hiker (unlike him was the implication). He wanted to know about campsites at Rainbow Lake. I hadn’t seen any, but I wished him luck anyway and started going as fast as possible.
It was a slight descent for a bit, then I crossed a creek and the trail immediately shot steeply upward. I didn’t slow down too much, and eventually Wow was proved right. Most of the trail up the creek/canyon was actually fairly gentle. There was even a moment where it was nearly level. The only steep bits were right at the beginning and right at the end–a sequence of short, steep switchbacks I hit about 9pm, nearly two hours after the last time I drank anything or took a break. But I did my best not to slow down.
As soon as I came over the pass I could see the lake down through the trees. It was only a quarter mile down a gentle slope to the water. I stopped for a picture, and then headed down the trail to the marked campsite. There were a bunch of tents already there, and right in the middle, in the biggest flattest spot, there was a guy just cowboy camping. No shelter, no mosquito net. I set up in the corner not far from him, and hopefully didn’t disturb his sleep with the noise.
Actually, the first thing I did was drink a half liter of water to make up for the previous two hours. A few mosquitos came around, but the area was surprisingly light on them. I didn’t have to do the running and diving thing to get in my tent. It was after 10 by the time I was in bed, but I did get as far as I wanted to.
Trail miles: 16.7
Distance to Butte: 67.5 miles