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CDT MT Section 7

Day 61: Goat Flat

I think I’m developing a bit of a morning routine. I woke up around six and heard the sounds of packing, but managed to doze until 7. Then right away, I set to repairs. A better patch job on my pump sack and another emergency glove repair from where I had ripped a finger open getting a loose seam caught in my tent zipper the night before.

I heard some packing from my neighbor as I was packing the inside of my tent. When I came out at 8, I saw he was the only one of the many people who had camped there who was left. And he was nearly packed. And so was I. In fact, I kept packing while we chatted and we left at nearly the same time.

It was a bit of a strain chatting because his English was very limited. I eventually got across the idea I wanted to know the water situation to the north, which confused him until he figured out I’m nobo. Eventually, I just asked what his native tongue was. He looked Chinese to me, but he said Japanese.

So I looked up, gathered my thoughts, and gave him my best 「ぼくの名はブラストです。」 He laughed and said “Perfect!”

While I basked in the glow of successful communication in a foreign language, before I could even refocus from the packing I was still doing, he quietly and with the blinding speed of a native speaker shot back 「ぼくの名はしゅうです。」 Then, seeing I hadn’t understood, immediately translated.

“My name is Shuu.”

I thought it was a trail name. Lifting a foot and pointing: “Shoe?”

“No. S-H-U-U.”

“That’s not a trail name?”

“No. My trail name is Hoppy. When I hurt my ankle…” He pantomimed an awkward limp, hovering his right foot above the ground. He had already mentioned this injury sustained while dealing with all the blowdowns in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. “but I don’t use it… my friends call me Shuu.”

I asked Shuu-san if his ankle was okay. He didn’t seem to be favoring it at the moment. He indicated it wasn’t perfect. The pain comes and goes. But he was ready to hike on. He came over to give me a fist bump.

“Have a good trip.”

「頑張って」

「ありがとう」”Thank you.”

He took off, and so did I moments later. That last time he seemed to answer in Japanese instinctively! Anyway, that’s now two people coming all the way from Japan to hike our remotest trails just this year! Seems like I need to find a way to return the favor…

The next little section of trail was down the lake outlet creek into what can only be described as a rainforest. I mean, not academically because it doesn’t rain enough, but it was overgrown with undergrowth. It was the thickest greenest area I’ve seen this year.

I came to the creek at the bottom of the descent and stopped for finishing breakfast, collecting water, bathing, etc. and while I was there, Still Phil came down and stopped to get water himself. We chatted for a little while. Before I left someone he knew came up behind him, crossed the creek, waved at me, and kept hiking. To be fair, there was no need to stop there for water, as there was water the whole way up to Warren Lake.

For my part, I also had a climb ahead. At the other end of the same valley, 3+ miles away, I had to get over Cutaway Pass. The trail wasn’t ever too steep, and there were several switchbacks. I came over the top just a little after lunchtime, so I took lunch there on the rocks overlooking the hill I was about to descend.

It was a three mile descent with several water crossings before the trail started to climb again. I didn’t really get out my phone to look how far I had gone because I wanted to conserve battery. I stopped to get a picture of a nice creek where the trail crossed just below the convergence of two streams. The trail seemed to start going up on the other side, so I wondered if that was the inflection point creek, but it started going down again, and it was easy so I zoned out.

A mile later, I was really wondering why I hadn’t started climbing yet, and looked at my phone. I was a mile downhill from the trail. So I turned around and climbed back up the trail I was on as fast as I could. I lost a good two miles of progress up the next hill with the diversion, and I was exceedingly disappointed. There had been no junction marked on Guthook and the USGS map didn’t show any trail where I had gone down. I hadn’t been expecting any possibility of diversion.

But when I got back to the place where I lost the trail, the aforementioned creek crossing, the disappointment turned to anger. The turnoff was very difficult to see when climbing out of the creek. The signs were hidden behind a wall of trees and the start of the track up the hill was hidden behind a mound of dirt topping the climb out of the creek. So unless you know it is there, all you’ll see is the wrong trail straight ahead. (See picture below.) A particularly observant hiker might look up and notice another sign beside the trail that said Continental Divide Trail No. 9 with an arrow pointing straight down that wrong trail and still go the wrong way. They would have to get inches away from the sign to see where someone had corrected the arrow with a Sharpie which had since faded. In short, all the odds were stacked against me making that turn first try.

But it’s still on me. I should have noticed sooner than a mile. The lost time did mean I would have to give up on making it to my intended destination at my intended mileage. And the speedy climb back up to the creek used up a lot of the climbing energy I could have used on the required climb ahead. I stopped by the creek and had a snack and a drink. And then I fixed the sign again by tracing over the correction with my own Sharpie before hiking out the correct way.

What followed was a three mile steady climb up toward the Rainbow Mountain shoulder skirting the edge of the Queener Basin. Above a certain point, I left the shade of the trees, and the hours pushed on to suppertime and beyond as I climbed the thin trail cut across the side of the hill. There were occasional clumps of trees below the trail and the sun was low enough to put some shade on the trail, but I was also starting to notice the return of that diaper rash sensation from all the sweaty fast climbing. Especially the one quick climb up the wrong trail. I was desperate for a place to stop and eat, but it was all steep hillside.

Eventually, two miles in, I found a log just below the trail that had a tiny bit of level ground below it that could support a stove without spilling and a bear can without it rolling down the hill. So I finally got some dinner in me and could get moving at a reasonable pace without feeling like I was dragging again.

I should note as the day wore on, the air smelled more and more like someone was having a barbecue. The color of the sky made it clear I was passing through the smoke trail of a distant wildfire.

Soon I was over the shoulder and descending into the next basin. It was the same thing again but shorter and later in the day. The descent was only two miles this time, lots of switchbacks at first, a few small stream crossings, and ending with a half-lap around Page Lake, a tiny bit picturesque lake with one camper already ensconced in their tent and probably asleep because who would climb up to Goat Flat starting at 8 pm? No one is that driven.

A little after 8 pm, I started rising out of the forest on the hillside climb to Goat Flat. I was kind of caught by surprise. I had expected a bit more preamble before the climb, the map indicated some stream crossings and I had thought to refill my water bag that was getting low, maybe find a campsite near them. But the streams were dry or weak and easy to neglect, and the trail transformed from a reasonably level stroll in the woods into an intense series of tight switchbacks up a near vertical rocky cliff with zero warning.

The reason for this became clear once I completed the switchbacks. A little out from here, the trail made a sharp turn over the end of a ridge, and below this point, the hill was extremely steep all the way around the valley. Above this point, it was no steeper than a gentle rustic knoll. There were some very nice views of the valley from this height as well with the sun setting in a red smoky haze.

I had my hopes pinned on a blue line on the top map Guthook did not have marked with a waypoint for my water refilling needs. And half a mile later, there it was, water spilling from the rocks just below the trail. I didn’t see anywhere to camp nearby, but I stopped long enough to filter the water anyway. It had been some 3 hours since supper, and after another mile of climbing, I really needed a good long drink.

Just beyond here was the junction at Goat Flat. It was wide open, kind of a slightly tilted tundra filling the saddle between Mt. Tiny and Kurt Peak. Just up the hill was a smattering of small furs that indicated an area that received less of the winds that blew over the saddle. After wandering through the trees from one end to the other in the waning twilight, I found a narrow strip of flat turf behind a row of trees just barely wide and long enough for my tent and set up.

I was right about the wind. From inside my tent, I could hear a lot of wind whooshing about above and past in several directions, but very little of it disturbed my tent. Sure, it was a little cooler than previous campsites, but it made the sleeping very comfortable. I didn’t leave myself even an hour between brushing my teeth and lights out at 11. But when you’re on a tight timetable and you waste two miles on a useless side trail, you have to push the day to its limit.

Trail miles: 15.1

Distance to Butte: 52.4 miles

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