CDT MT Section 4

Day 75: Helena

When I woke at 4am, I briefly considered rolling over and going back to sleep until 5 since I was expected at MacDonald Pass no earlier than 1pm and I could surely get there by then even with some extra sleep. But then I remembered that it was going to be a clear and sunny and HOT day, so I really ought to get some morning hiking done.

A cool breeze was blowing outside and, as I mentioned yesterday, my down puff jacket was wet, so I did as much packing as preparing to hike as I could while snug inside my tent. When I emerged, all that remained was to take down the tent and pack it, put three items in my bag, go. I hit the trail just as my 5am alarm went off. And I had already hiked a mile by the time dawning twilight was bright enough to turn off my headlamp.

Coming over the top of Greenhorn Mountain was easy, but coming down the south side was annoying because it was covered with blowdowns. Soon I came to a spot that the topo map showed as having a stream of some sort even though it did not have a waypoint marker as a water source. Because of the leak the night before, I didn’t think I had enough water to make it the remaining 10 miles to the road. So I took my water bag down the hill about a tenth of mile and found a nice clear running spring running through some thick grass. I have no idea why this source is not marked nor has a trail down to it. Based on a few dried cowpies nearby, the cows were at least aware of it.

The trail went back into a more forested area, through a narrow rock channel that was probably natural but seemed like the kind of thing people would have made on purpose, then up through an easy pass to a hilltop covered with high grasses before the trees fell away. I came out at the top of a wide open meadow on a road headed down toward Priest Pass then up the last hill before the road.

My knees were itching annoyingly and it was about time to take a break. I stopped to sit on a rock where an isolated stand of trees made some shade. I scratched my knees. I saw a spot of blood. At some point, I must have rubbed my eyes. Soon, I was having an all-out allergic reaction. Intensely itchy eyes, swelling, sneezing, rivers of snot. I have no idea what I walked through, but it took about ten minutes for it to start don’t down, I guess because my eyes had washed away much of the allergen. But my knees were still itching, spots on my face were itching, there was a ton of crust around my eyes, and the swelling around my eyes was not going down.

Anyway, the climb up the last hill was pretty rocky but not too difficult. I saw someone running the trail with his dog. I would break an ankle if I tried to run on a trail that rocky.

At the summit of the mountain were four separate cell tower stations. I texted Caroline to say I would be down in an hour. Data signal was excellent, as you might imagine, so I left a comment for the spot on Guthook saying “Decent cell service here.”

The rest of the way down to the road was a gravel roadwalk, presumably only used by those who come to service the cell sites as there was a gate at the bottom. I’m sure the two dayhikers I saw walking up the hill would have driven up if they could have.

At the road, I still had another half mile uphill to MacDonald Pass proper. I arrived only moments before Caroline and we met there for the first time as I got in her car. She had met me with two cold root beers. Best trail angel ever?

She took me straight to her house, and after meeting her dog Gertie, I set right in on showering and laundry. Caroline ordered subs from Jimmy John’s and they had arrived by the time I finished my shower.

Later, she went to pick up her daughter from day care and then came back to pick me and the dog up to all go run errands together. First, we went to Walgreens where I grabbed a few items, including Benadryl because I thought it might help with my swollen eye. It didn’t really. Then, we drove up to where she used to live to meet some friends who gave me a new piece of Tyvek. Then, I checked in at Great Clips (104 minute wait) as we went to the grocery store. I did my resupply while Caroline got some things for dinner and went out to get a couple of growlers of beer.

I had enough time to finish shopping, have a snack in the Great Clips lobby, realize I still had a long wait, carry my food back to the house, and walk back to the Great Clips before my haircut.

When I got back from that, Caroline was back and ready to start getting her daughter ready for bed. She put some chicken on the grill then went to do that, so I turned it and took it off in between doing a little blog work. Soon, Caroline was free to pull some leaves of lettuce from her backyard garden which, combined with an onion, some vinaigrette, some croutons, and other toppings, made for a great salad. We ate outside on the patio with some of the beer she had bought. I had bought half a Dutch Apple Pie to celebrate Pi Approximation Day (22/7) so we finished the meal with pie a la mode.

By the time that was done, I was almost too sleepy to make it through my phone call home before I was ready to turn in. Being up past 9 is late for me now! I’m already back on eastern time?

Trail miles: 13.7

CDT MT Section 4

Day 74: Greenhorn Mountain

Because I stayed up later the night before, I slept in until 5. And I was a bit groggy and cold, so I didn’t really start hiking until 6:30. The sun was up but I rarely saw it, as the first bit of trail was on the wrong side of the mountain and tree-lined, and also there were clouds early on.

The hardest hill of the day was the first one, about 3 miles in. At its steepest near the top, it was registering an average of nearly 900 feet per mile for a quarter mile. It took nearly as long to climb as it took to get to it from starting.

On the other side, there was a long, slow descent along the ridge to Black Mountain. I stopped along here and had a long snack break, though the only water I had was in my breakfast drink. I had another 4 miles to go before the next water source.

I met a northbounder right at the bottom of the Black Mountain climb. He told me it wasn’t as bad as it looked on Guthook and it was graded nicely. He was absolutely right. Compared to the first hill, this one took no time at all. From the top, it was a relatively easy (if rock-strewn) 3 mile descent to Dana Spring, a cattle trough near the trail. The nobo told me he’d pulled a dead prairie dog from the spring that morning, so I filtered what I gathered. I took a solid 4 liters plus some more because the next on-trail water was 19 miles away, almost at MacDonald Pass, and there was no way I was making it that far on this day, given the 9 miles I had already done.

The next several miles were just roadwalk through private lands. I stopped for lunch on the side of the road in a stand of skinny, scrubby pines. It was a quick lunch, but still it was surprising that no vehicles passed on such a well-maintained road.

A mile and a half later I took a detour off the CDT. It seemed like there would be water in a creek that followed this side road. And there was. I filled my water bag completely again from this ditch right where it entered a culvert under the road and made a bottle of Gatorade to climb back out of the gulch with. I soaked my shirt before I started, but the climb turned out to be pretty easy.

I passed through a herd of cows in the road, a familiar experience by now. The now nearly full grown calves were all terrified of me, unlike their mothers, who seemed wary but not particularly put out. One calf started running away from the herd as I walked by, eventually cornering himself at a barbed wire fence, then sprinting away back the way he came. It was pretty cute, if a bit stupid.

Back on the road that was the official CDT, I left the public lands (controlled by the BLM) to enter the public lands (controlled by the USDA). I think the difference is the latter is trying harder to keep cattle out of the Greenhorn Mountain area to protect the meadows.

Right at the base of the climb, I stopped and crawled under a tree to make dinner, hoping it would offer some protection from the rain that seemed to be approaching. Soon, there was thunder happening right above me, so I quickly through up my tent in that tiny little space and mostly got everything underneath it before the rain made it through the trees. I had some issues with the hardness and tilt of the ground and had to restake several times, but this mostly just meant I got my back wet.

So I cooked and ate dinner inside my tent out of the rain, managing to keep everything except the rainfly of my tent almost entirely dry. (To be clear, I was sitting in the tent, the stove was in the vestibule carefully arranged to be far from any tent fabric. This is not advisable behavior with anything but a JetBoil, which completely contains the flame.) Then, I packed up my tent in such a way that the wet parts only touched themselves and hiked out completely dry. The extra time spent managing the tent meant my usual hour-long dinner took an hour and a half, but that meant I still had a half hour to get to an actual comfortable campsite.

So I started climbing the mountain through all these beautiful meadows with amazing views. But the sun disappeared almost as soon as it came out. Another storm cloud was headed in. Luckily, the meadow in the saddle near the top was perfectly level and I arrived at it just before 7 when I intended to stop anyway.

Strangely, it was at this moment I noticed my lower back was wet. I figured it was just where part of my pack had got rained on while I was setting up my tent earlier, but when I opened it, everything inside was wet. My water bag must have come unscrewed slightly and leaked because the bag it sits in was soaked through and everything below it was wet in spite of all that effort I had gone through to keep it dry. Who would have thought? It figures.

It wasn’t so bad. Everything below it was in its own waterproof bag. The only causalty besides my lower back was my down puff, which had some wet spots since my clothes bag was not sealed up and has a hole besides. And even that wasn’t so bad since it wasn’t cold enough to need to wear it.

So I made camp in the levelest part of the saddle and got everything under the fly and inside just as the next storm cloud came by. Only the edge of this one rained on me, but I was all set up by the time it did, snug as a bug. It was gone in a minute and it took the heavy wind with it. Sleepy time came right on time.

Trail miles: 19.1

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 13.7 miles

CDT MT Section 4

Day 73: High Divide Outfitter

I got up at 4 and… out by 5:20 again. I did have to clean up a little bit of water in the corner under my mattress but everything else was dry. I still don’t understand why waking up an hour earlier only gets me twenty extra minutes of hiking time.

Actually, not everything was dry, the inside of my right boot was wet even though only the toe had stuck out into the rain. I guess the waterproofing had failed on that shoe. (Take a look at the bit of ground where my tent was in the first photo. The diamond is the shape of my rainfly, and the toes of my boots are the two bumps sticking out on the upper left side.)

A few miles in, I passed the camp of Rocket and the gang. They were still in bed asleep. And yet, despite input taking twenty minutes for my morning snack break, they still got to High Divide Outfitter before me. They passed me while I was dumping my trash in the Stemple Pass privy trash can and yoinking some free toilet paper.

High Divide Outfitter is a fully stocked gear store with everything a hiker, biker, or skier needs located just a hundred yards or so off the CDT at Stemple Pass. It’s entirely run by Dave Libby who also lives there. Importantly for me, he has a great solar and wind power setup, so I hung out for a few hours just charging my devices. The other three were in and out and gone in an hour, so I spent most of the time by myself.

I didn’t not buy anything. I bought some Butt Shield, which seems to help with chafing caused by sweaty shorts from fast hiking on humid days. I bought some new calf sleeves, a different brand that seems like it might be more resistant to abrasion. And a few extra snacks and drink mixes to get me to Helena. And a whole box of honey buns and some soda to consume while waiting.

I filled my water bag up all the way before hiking out. I knew I wouldn’t be reaching the next water source south that day. And then I weighed my pack before leaving. 50 pounds. That’s the reason I can’t keep up with these kids, folks. I’m surely coming out of town with 60 or 70 pounds in my now hopelessly broken pack. But hey, who needs speed when you can bring all the luxuries?

A few miles later, coming up a hill, I realized my knife wasn’t in my pocket. I either left it in front of the Outfitter when making lunch or it fell out of the worsening hole in my pocket. I think the latter is more likely, since I always put my knife in that same pocket instinctively. It’s not a terrible awful thing to happen since it was broken and I already have a replacement I’m picking up when I get a new pack at the end of the month, but it will be an annoyance for the next little while. Maybe I can get a little cheap one in Helena that’ll last me a week.

At the top of previously mentioned hill was a lookout tower. There was a gate across the stairs, so I didn’t go up, but I did have a snack break under it with a nice breeze and good cell service. I uploaded some more pictures while I drank a quart of Gatorade.

The next bit of trail was really quite easy. A lot of road walk. Only one steep hill. It was 5pm before I knew it, and the promised scattered thunderstorms were moving across the distant hill. I sat down to make supper, but when it started drippy-dropping, I relocated to under a tree. I got finished as quickly as I could, put on my Packa and hiked out into the rain.

I intended to stop at 7, but there weren’t any good spots, and I didn’t really want to take the raingear off and pull all my things out in the rain, so I kept hiking until it stopped raining at 7:30 and made camp. I came out a little bit damp and the cool breeze on the hilltop where I stopped meant I wanted to be in my sleeping bag ASAP, but I knew my body heat would dry my clothes out overnight.

Trail miles: 20.6

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 32.8 miles

CDT MT Section 4

Day 72: Flesher Pass

I didn’t sleep very well. I woke up uncomfortable throughout the night. I think it was because my site was out of level in exactly the wrong way. So when the 4am alarm went off, I rolled over and got the what might be the best sleep of the night. Then, I woke to the sound of birds at 5 til 5.

I figured that sleeping in didn’t have to complete ruin my schedule, so I started packing as quickly and efficiently as I could. I was ready to go before 6am despite thinking I didn’t have enough water to make it the six miles to the next source and running back up the hill to fetch a bag of water.

Normally, I would walk two hours without stopping after first starting out, but as I came around the next mountain, I could see some strange buildings in Cadotte Pass below. Closer inspection and study of the Guthook comments revealed it to be a yurt owned by the Wildlife Research Institute for the purpose of studying golden eagles, which fly right over the pass on their usual migrations.

It was also open. It was the coolest building for hikers since the Toaster House in Pie Town. There was so much stuff inside. Of interest to me was the shower stall full of water cans, some filled with water…guess I could have saved that fifteen minute trip. It also had solar shower bags hanging from the rafters above the stall, so I grabbed some soap from what could be called the kitchen area and took a demi-shower. I at least got my hair and pits clean. I didn’t really want to wash my legs because then I’d have to reapply sunscreen and insect repellent immediately, which seemed wasteful.

There were also atlases of Montana. The newer, better one had the page with my current location torn out, but the older one was at least detailed enough that I could compare the track of the CDT to the Continental Divide. It was never all that far from it, even when it was down in a valley. The section I was currently on pretty much stayed right on top of it.

I finally mustered the gumption to go climb that steep hill I’d been putting off. 761 feet in just 0.4 miles is not a climb to sneeze at. It could very well be a climb to wheeze at. But it was short, so fresh legs and a good mood made quick work of it. A couple of miles later, I was in Rogers Pass.

Here there was a privy with a trash can, so I lightened my load slightly. Then I climbed up the hill until the trail crossed a creek and took another snack break while I filtered water. I filled my water bag completely because it was nearly 13 miles to the next potential water source, and it was hot and humid and, frankly, a drinky sort of day.

Just as I was finishing up, those kids I had seen at Benchmark and coming out of Augusta showed up (all except Wildcard). I knew they had gone into Lincoln because they had signed the log in the yurt with the previous day’s date, so I wasn’t surprised to see them just getting back on trail after a big, late breakfast.

Heaven and Punisher, the two guys I’d seen fetching boxes from Benchmark Wilderness Ranch and hiking on that one morning, passed me on the way up the hill. They were climbing like I normally walk on level ground. Another pair who knew me was coming up behind me. I was inspired. I would let the guys in front of me pull me and the ones behind me push me, motivation wise. I vowed to keep Heaven and Punisher in sight until I stopped for lunch at 1pm.

It didn’t work out that way. I put on so much speed and leg pumping that I was actually gaining on them. In about an hour, I completely ate up their minute lead. Now, they didn’t seem like they were working hard, so it may be that they actually just slowed down. When I was about to catch them, they stopped outright to wait for one of the guys behind, so I passed on, trying to keep that pace they set for me all the way until 1pm like I promised myself. I climbed and descended the ridge as fast, I think, as I had been going chasing them.

Promptly at 1, I threw out my ground cloth in the middle of a field on a saddle. During lunch, I checked my mileage, and found that even with the massive climbs and the extra water weight, I had managed six miles in the last two hours. Sure, I knew it wasn’t a sustainable pace for me. I could tell by how stiff and worn out my legs felt. But it was nice to know what it’s like for all these young kids who keep passing me.

All these young kids passed me during the 45 minutes I was eating lunch. The last three were the Hat Trick, Snot Rocket, etc. group. Although they easily outpaced me on the next section, I caught them taking a break a few miles later. They were just finishing up. I followed them down to the start of a long, steep climb, then stopped to take a break of my own. It hadn’t quite been two hours since lunch, but it was close, and I needed more energy for that climb.

I should mention here that it had been cloudy–truly cloudy, not just the usual smoke haze–all day, and about this time, there started to be a few scattered raindrops. Those three told me it was supposed to rain proper that night, even though it didn’t seem all that serious at the moment.

After a 20 minute break, I started over the next hill and was down into Flesher Pass. Hat Trick, Little Skittle, and Rocket were already there, having already completed the 0.6 mile round trip to the water. I dropped my pack and took my water bag and filter system down there. I filtered two liters while I was there and brought two more back unfiltered. The others were gone by the time I got back, as expected.

I sat down right there on the old road bed underneath the highway and made and ate supper with the traffic passing above me just so that I didn’t have to carry that water any further than necessary.

It was about 6 by the time I set out to do my last hour of hiking. After I passed the nice Flesher Pass campground and trailhead with its fancy picnic table and bear box, I started climbing out of the pass with the rain getting slowly but surely more intense.

It slowed down again right around seven when I finally found a good campsite, right in the middle of the ridge, medium-soft rocky-sandy dirt, no dead trees around (all had been cut to manage the Horsefly fire a couple of years before), and generally great for weathering rain.

I got the tent up as quickly as possible and then did the rest of my preparations from comfortably inside. I used up the last of the charge on my mobile battery and got to sleep comfortably by nine with the rain picking up and coming steady for the next few hours. By I was high and dry all night long.

Trail miles: 21.6

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 53.5 miles

CDT MT Section 4

Day 71: Green Mountain

The plan to get up earlier worked perfectly. In fact, I was awake before my 4am alarm even went off, and I was back on the trail by 5:20.

And five minutes later, I resumed my climb. 3.6 miles to climb 1422 feet to the ridgeline to Caribou Peak. Rather than watching the sun rise, the sun rose behind a mountain and then I rose until I could see it.

All along here, I had cell service, so when I stopped just before the ridge for my morning break, I decided to go to work getting some more pictures and videos and posts uploaded. After an hour of this, the cell service suddenly dropped, so I relocated. Then I relocated again and put in another hour sitting on the ridge and getting 3 posts ready to go while dealing with a lot of storage management issues. It cost me a solid third of my phone’s battery. And it got hot out while I was sitting up there.

After the third post, I said enough is enough; I need the rest of my battery life for hiking. And so I hiked on.

The only other hiker I saw all day was a northbounder who arrived at the “lake” (read: evaporating puddle full of red bugs and the only water source on trail for the next 12.5 miles) in the valley under Caribou Peak at the range same time as me but headed north. He told me he only saw two blowdowns in the trail in the last ten miles (that I was about to hike). So when I left to climb yet another annoyingly steep hill out onto the ridge (700 feet in about a mile), I started counting. I counted at least four in the next two miles and then none after that. The forest service does a great job.

Also, while I was at the lake, I discovered that the other half of my hip belt had become completely unbound from my pack, so that the whole thing was riding up and allowing the pack to sink until all its weight was on my shoulders and tailbone. After a mile or two of trying to hike with it in this failed state, I had an idea. I stopped and rearranged some of the straps on the bottom of the pack to loop around the framework of the belt and prevent it from riding up. I wouldn’t say it was completely comfortable after that, but it was at least wearable without immense pain.

If I had to describe the next 10 miles, I would say “Appalachian Trail-like.” In particular, it wanted to keep me as close to the center of the ridgeline as it could, no matter how much it meant I had to pointlessly go up and down hills. And it only employed switchbacks where it would actually be impossible to go straight up or down the slope…and it set a high bar for impossible.

On the bright side, most of the hilltops and ridgeline were exposed, which meant I had excellent panoramic views of the smoky haze from the wildfires all day. Which is to say, it reminded me a lot of my day on Franconia Ridge in 2013, but with fog swapped for smoke.

By lunch I had barely hiked eight miles if that, but I had come over the highest point of the day. The rest of the day was more down than up…for what that was worth, as there was still plenty of up. And since I knew there was a lot of heat, swarms of flies, and seemingly limitless legwork ahead and I was already fading, I took a Stacker-2 B-12 10000%. And it helped at first.

I took an afternoon break in the shade of a tree down from the last short climb before Lewis and Clark Pass (I guess this is where they crossed the Divide?). From there, I could face down my last foe of the day, the final boss: Green Mountain.

And I did procrastinate just a wee bit on heading off to tackle it. I could tell by looking at it and its elevation profile on Guthook that it was going to be a monster. But I needed to go 3.9 miles over the very peak of that mountain to get to a spring on its south face where I could stop for dinner.

So I packed up my stuff, psyched myself up, and… delayed. I was worried about my battery power, and I was thinking about heading into Lincoln the next day just for a couple of hours to recharge my devices. So I wanted to look at the restaurant options for a place to sit while that happened. And then I noticed a waypoint for something people had been mentioning: the High Divide Gear Store was right next to the trail just a day’s hike further on. So I turned off airplane mode; I had service. I called them up and asked if they had electricity. Sure enough, I could avoid the tricky hitches both into and out of Lincoln with a stop there instead.

At the same time, I also received a text that Sam in Leadore, the man I had left a package with and got the cell number of in order to get a ride into Leadore when I got there, had died. No word on the cause or how this will effect my plans as yet. But I do feel lucky I got to meet the man before the end.

Okay, enough delay. I hiked down to face my foe. The 1.8 mile descent to Lewis and Clark Pass was rocky and a bit painful on my feet, but it went by in a heartbeat. The climb up Green Mountain, on the other hand, took a solid hour. It was about 1000 feet of ascent in about 1.2 miles. That’s Mahoosuc Arm steep. I tried to capture it in the pictures, but there were sections that were 45 degrees or steeper. It should have had stairs cut into it. In fact, the only reason it could be climbed at all was a thick bed of gravel and, further up, ankle roller sized rocks. Previous hikers steps had shaped the rockslide into a series of stair-like indentations. And this steep section started halfway up an already steep climb. It continued being nearly as steep all the way up, always in direct sunlight, but at least there was sometimes a breeze.

Finally, after taking an entire hour to go one mile, I could look around from the peak and see all of… nothing. The looming shapes of nearby ridges emerging from the haze.

Fortunately, the spring was now only 0.6 miles away, all downhill! I flew down a couple of switchbacks (hey, they should do more of those!) and arrived at the spring within two hours of leaving my last break, thereby maintaining my 2mph average for the section. I threw out my stuff and myself onto a nice trampled down spot under a tree and got busy on dinner. While that was cooking, I drank all the rest of the water I was carrying and filtered some more from the spring. I go through at least 6 liters a day lately with all this heat.

It was already 7 by the time I finished dinner and got packed up, but there were no good campsites in sight. If my new schedule was to work, I needed to get to bed ASAP. Fortunately, there was a blocked-off road meeting the trail just a little ways down the hill. It was level and campable. I got set up and inside by a bit after eight and was ready to sleep by a bit after 9.

Trail miles: 17.6

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 75.0 miles

CDT MT Section 4

Day 70: Dearborn River and Parts Up

I woke up at 5 and turned on my phone to finish the blog post…and realized I would fall asleep again if I tried to do that. I was too sleepy and needed to get moving. So I decided to write the rest of the post little by little during each break throughout the day so that by the time I encamped that night I would only have one post to write. This plan worked out just fine.

I was hiking out by 6:30, the cool air filling me with energy as I climbed to the top of Straight Creek’s canyon and over the small pass into Welcome Creek’s canyon. I bet there would have been an interesting view from the pass if the Dry Cabin fire weren’t just a few miles away.

By 8, I had finished the first four miles into Welcome Creek Cabin, which I found already gift wrapped in fire protection foil. A crew of 4 was working on protecting the structures in the area with the wrap and setting up a sprinkler system. Although the edge of the Dry Cabin fire was only 8 miles away, the commander said it would take it two weeks to reach the cabin at its current rate of growth. They had some time and were just being proactive. The one other cabin in the area was already wrapped and ready to go.

Anyway, they were taking a break on the porch (except for one guy who was getting the piped spring flowing again), so I got them to plug in my phone to the cabin’s solar power system while I filtered some water and took my break and chatted with them. They went back to work maybe half an hour after I arrived, wrapping the hay shed, and I got my phone back 10% more energized. And I was feeling energized too.

After about two hours more walking at a decent pace over mostly level trail, I pulled off down an overgrown side trail and worked my way over to the Dearborn River, which I had been following at a distance since the cabin. I found a nice spot in the shade next to the water to take a break. The water was too far down a steep bank to reach, but the sight and sound of it made the detour worthwhile.

Less than two hours after leaving that spot, I reached the junction where the CDT went down a different trail, leading immediately to the spot where I had to ford the Dearborn. It felt so nice and cool in the river, I walked across it three times. Then, I found a shady spot nearby and had a long, leisurely lunch besieged by flies.

Two minutes’ walk from the river, the CDT began a long, steep five mile climb to the top of the ridge. Despite my lunch energy and presoaked shirt, I climbed it quite slowly. It took a solid two hours and some change just to reach the creek where the trail briefly leveled out to switch mountains, a mere 2.8 miles. Part of it was the heat. My shirt dried way too quickly to keep me cool. Part of it was the seven-days-of-food weight of my pack. But part of it was the vast quantity of ripe strawberries growing along the trail that I had to stop and pick and eat every time I spotted them.

Anyway, as soon as I reached the little creek, I stepped across it, pulled my pack off, threw it to the ground, pulled out my ground cloth, spread it out, and threw myself to the ground too. And I sat there for well over half an hour before I got up the gumption to put another couple of miles down (of course soaking my shirt in the creek first).

Right around the corner, I came upon a guy camped in a huge teepee with a dog that went crazy as soon as it saw me. It was a very fancy and heavy tent that could only be brought this far up a mountain with the aid of a horse team. The horses in question were tied to a high line just up the hill, explaining all the ground stomping I’d been hearing while collapsed next to the creek.

The next section of trail was a series of steep switchbacks straight up the edge of the ridge, climbing some 500 feet in just half a mile. The trail leveled out only slightly at the ridgeline, continuing to climb across a breezy burned out section with an excellent view of smoky haze until it reached the top of the mountain and a less burnt area. Which is to say there were still plenty of living trees. Just down the hill on the back side, I found a shaded log to sit on and make dinner. It was less than a mile total from the creek I had left last, but it took me an entire hour to get there.

After dinner, I was not energized and raring to go. I wanted to go to bed early, in fact. The idea I had was to get to sleep an hour earlier than usual, wake up an hour earlier, and thereby get an extra hour of walking in the cool morning air as opposed to the boiling afternoon air. If it worked and got me where I wanted to be feeling less tired at the end of the day, I would just keep my schedule shifted one hour earlier like that.

And I’ll be honest, I was plum beat by the time I walked the half mile down the hill to the meadow where I camped. Heck, I was beat by the time I sat down to dinner, but an hour later? I was about to fall asleep just from sitting down. And I had to set up camp like that? It took me far longer than it should have to get to bed just from how slow I was moving. But I was in bed, teeth brushed, everything squared away early enough that I finished writing my post before nine. And I may have even been fast asleep by nine. Maybe.

Trail miles: 17.5

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 92.7 miles

CDT MT Section 3 CDT MT Section 4

Day 69: Augusta

I woke up at 5 and started packing immediately. I packed up in a much more efficient way than usual, except for that moment where I spilled half my water I was about to make breakfast with and ended up draining my water bag to make 3/4 as much breakfast drink as I usually do.

I was out of camp just after six and back to the CDT 5 minutes later. I hiked as fast as I could the 3 or so miles down to Benchmark, and yet I passed a man (with dog) hiking in that told me I was the 5th person he’d seen hiking out…and this was within half a mile of the trailhead. Clearly, I was hot on the heels of some early risers.

It’s worth noting why I was in such a hurry. I realized that, even though I had my food package waiting at Benchmark Guest Ranch, just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, there probably would be no one there and hence no way to get a shower, no way to charge my phone. And and an unenergized means no pictures or videos for you guys. (Yes, I carry a mobile battery. I completely drained getting my phone battery up to a mere 69% the previous morning. By not listening to any podcasts all day the previous day, I still had 29% when I turned it on this morning. That’s not enough last another day, much less an entire week.)

So, it looked like I was going to need a ride into Augusta. But I had no intention of spending the night there. I wanted to get in, get clean, get some energy, get back to the trail. So I was hurrying to pick up my package so I could start working on getting a hitch as soon as possible.

Coming off the trailhead into the campground, I made a brief stop at the water pump to fill my bottle, then climbed out of the campground along a trail next to a bunch of folks taking down tents and loading things into horses. It spit me out onto the road. Then I was walking on a dirt road for miles. Two trucks passed me going out, one pulling a horse trailer, one an excited old couple pulling a fifth wheel camper, honking like mad and then waving as they passed. Then, as you can see in the video, I was accosted by a herd of horses before a man chatted me up from his truck going the wrong direction.

Turned out this was Frank the shuttle driver. He was going up to the trailhead to find out who had texted him, and would be happy to give me a ride in on his way back for $15.

I passed two other hikers (Heaven and Punisher) who were just coming off picking up their own packages, and they hitched a ride with yet another truck back to the trailhead, deciding to skip town entirely and go into Lincoln instead. My plan was to be only half a day behind them and then skip Lincoln, so it was possible I would see them again.

No sooner had I arrived at the guest ranch, found my box, and signed the log, than I heard Frank’s truck waiting there at the front gate of the ranch. So it was that I was headed into town. He had a lot to talk about on the way, including an in depth explanation of why he wasn’t mad that there had been no other hikers at the trailhead waiting for him but also how he would really prefer larger groups and less speculative trips since it was a 45 minute trip each way for a paltry 15 bucks. I didn’t really care because he was willing to pull over and let me get my snacks and water and such out of my pack since I was thirsting to death having not had a spare moment to drink the water I’d grabbed or take my usual morning snack break. I got a decent amount of the water on my shirt from the bumpy dirt road.

He left me at the happening hiker spot in town, the Wagons West motel and RV park, which also happened to be where he lived. I went to the front desk to purchase a shower and laundry, then went to the building for said amenities and began right away. My phone and battery were charging while I put my dirties in the wash. My clothes were washing while I showered. I started unpacking my box at the end of the wash cycle, then as soon as my clothes were drying I walked to the general store for some limes, a root beer, some more DEET, and some new headphones since I had just run the old ones through the wash in my hurry.

There was a group who had planned to ride back to the trail with Frank and they agreed to wait until after 11 when my laundry would be done, and I didn’t want to keep them waiting. Nor did I want to spend more time in town than I absolutely had to. So I didn’t go to the cafe for breakfast. Instead, I ate Twix and Mike and Ike and Pip Pop Movie Theater Popcorn out of the hiker box. And I didn’t upload any blog posts. (For a comparison, I also did an in and out in Winston, NM, and I did upload posts and eat lunch. I was in town for a solid five or six hours. So I got at least 3 extra hiking hours by rushing.) I was shaving and finishing packing my resupply as my clothes were finishing drying.

By 11, the dry cycle was done and all I had to do was change into my hiking clothes and get in the truck. Everyone else was already in there and ready to go. My mobile battery wasn’t quite finished charging yet, but I could give it every last minute of energy possible by plugging it in in the truck for the 45 minute ride back. (In retrospect, why didn’t I charge on the ride in too? I guess I thought I would have enough time.)

We had five people plus driver in the extended cab already, but we swung by the general store to add a couple more to the bed. Frank would be getting his money worth on the trip back.

The last thing I did while leaving town was call home and get information on the Dry Cabin Fire burning somewhere west of the trail in the direction I was headed.

Now, I guess I should name the other people in the cab. Little Skittle, Ben (now Hat Trick), and Rocket were in the back. I’ve mentioned them before (five days ago), but the other two members of their group were staying behind at the motel. In the front seat with me was Wild Card (Ravi). She’s a pre-med student at Tulane just trying to get to Idaho (if the fires don’t prevent her) before fall classes start. She is more like me in terms of hiking speed and the number of resupply boxes she sent out. (Kind of a necessity for her because she’s vegetarian and it’s hard to get TVP in these little trail towns.) She says NOLA isn’t that fun for a vegetarian who isn’t into drinking.

At the Straight Creek trailhead we all poured out, unloaded, paid. We took me pictures with Frank. I was the first one down the trail.

While I was on the phone with Mama discussing the fire, she said I should stay with the rest of the group. But that just wasn’t going to happen. These kids had spent the night in town. Big dinner, big breakfast. I had just grazed from the hiker cache. They came out with all their water and all their town energy. I hadn’t the time to fill my bag and had already hiked five miles that morning. On top of that, they all seemed considerably younger and more energetic than me.

A few hundred yards down the trail, they caught up and passed me. I left the trail to establish a shady spot on a sort of peninsula on the creek. I made a big lunch and collected some water. By the time I finished, everyone else surely had at least two miles of lead on me and the energy to lengthen it.

I got a good stretch of hiking done from there to where the CDT joined the trail near a ford of Straight Creek. It was a nice place to stop, a tree on the other side casting a small shadow on the sandy shore. But I was still hot, so after my snack, I took a very quick dip in the creek. Then I scooped some water and it filtered while I put my boots back on.

It was still supremely hot all the rest of the evening. Even though I wet my shirt every chance I got. My back was aching from the way I was wearing my broken pack by the time I stopped for dinner. I popped an Aleve before I even started cooking. An hour later, when I hiked out again, it still hurt as soon as I got my pack back on, though somewhat more dully.

It was all uphill from that random spot I stopped for dinner, and even though I had planned to hike until eight, I just didn’t have it in me. The heat, the climbing, the heavy pack, the aching back, the dry mouth that could not be sated no matter how much I drank: it all came together that I decided to stop at the first campsite I could find. And I found one at a quarter to eight. A little after eight, I was lying on my mattress, shirt off, evaporating a small pool of water with my chest to cool off.

I had two days worth of blogging to get done, but after two hours (with a break in the middle to brush my teeth), I had only gotten 1.5 days worth done. And it was long enough after sunset that it had finally cooled off enough for me to get sleepy. So I called it quits for the night in hopes a full night’s sleep would improve my back and give me the strength to walk at more than the snail’s pace I had rolled into camp at.

Trail miles: 20.0 (though the actual distance hiked was more like 17.2 miles since the Straight Creek Trail is shorter than the official CDT on the same section)

Distance to MacDonald Pass: 110.1 miles