CDT MT Section 9 Off-trail

Day 47: Leadore

As far as the hiking went, it was an even less interesting day than the previous.

I woke at 6, but didn’t see any need to be in a hurry, so I laid there until the 6:30 alarm. While I packed up, it lightly rained several times making me thing I might have to wait or pack up in the rain, but it always stopped within a minute. I left camp around 8:15 and the sky cleared up quickly.

In fact, it was straight sunny the whole time I was climbing the long two mile hill that started the day, sunny enough to be too hot at times. In fact, when I got up on the ridge and saw a snow bank, I grabbed some snow for the back of my neck.

But before that, there was the spring right at the top of the first ridge I reached. Just the part that was piped into a trough was putting out a solid 10L/min. There didn’t look too be any water sources along the trail for the rest of the day, so I grabbed a couple of liters for my dirty reservoir.

Next, I came over the top of Elk Mountain and stopped next to Horse Prairie Mountain for a break on the edge of the cliff.

Soon, the trail met up with yet another 4×4 road along center of the ridge marking the border. This one had a fence along it, but it did pretty much the same boring thing it did the day before. I stopped for lunch (and water filtration) in a stand of trees down the side of the trail for some shade. When I had nearly finished, thunder boomed from not too far away. Expecting to get caught in the rain soon, I packed up as fast as possible and put my Packa on my pack to hike out.

But the rain never happened. I was hiking in shade half the time and sun the other half. I was surrounded by brooding storm clouds, but none passed overhead.

Coming down to Deadman Pass, I saw a truck parked by the ridge and what I would eventually learn was the new owners of the ranch land below cutting a new road at a pretty decent pace.

By 4pm, I had completed the full 13 miles to Bannock Pass. I honestly had not expected to get there so early. I thought I would be coming in late enough to warrant just making camp. But there was plenty of time to try to hitch into town.

It’s not a heavily trafficked road. Based on comments and what I saw, I’d guess a vehicle coming through every half hour. But it was time for a snack break anyway.

There was a young girl waiting there with her dirt bike. Her brother Chance was coming behind with the old wood truck to lead her up to where her uncle and cousin had been cutting firewood. And because she “might have gone 70 up that road” we chatted for quite a while before he arrived. Long enough for a truck to come by heading the right direction but not the right distance. She seemed like an action hero with the bike and helmet, but declined a photo.

When he did arrive, she fired up the dirt bike and they headed up the trail. But moments later, they came back with a 4×4 and Chance picked me up. Turns out they had driven all the way up there to get the wood just to meet the others coming back with procrastination on their minds. And so I was headed into town after only half an hour.

Chance, by the way, is a buffalo ranchhand, moving 3000 head of buffalo around every day. Turns out managing buffalo is a lot harder than managing cattle. A lot more dangerous. A charging buffalo will happily lift the front of your Jeep off the ground if it feels like it. But then, 2 two-year-old bulls have enough meat on them to keep a busy restaurant supplied for a whole month, so all that powerful muscle they have is worth dealing with in the end.

Chance dropped me at the city park. They offer camping and showers for $12 a night. I only had $10 cash on me, but the host said he wasn’t going to put up a fight over 2 bucks. He even threw in a bar of soap for the shower.

I went in for the shower right away. I have to say, I was in there a while. I first emptied my pockets and got in fully dressed. Then I took each item of clothing off and scrubbed it with soap on fold-down accessibility bench. Lots of dirt came out. Then I gave myself a good scrub as well. Only then did I dress in my secondary clothes, wring out the wets, and go out to hang them on the fence. (It’s always windy in Leadore, and this day was no exception.)

I set up my tent and walked back into town for dinner. Everything was closed at 7 except, apparently, the Silver Dollar. It had all the open signs on outside and the door was unlocked… but the place was empty and the lights were out. After I walked through to the backyard and back again, a lady came out of the house next door carrying a baby and offered to make me a hamburger with fries. Steak was off the menu since they weren’t thawed out–I was literally the first customer of the day. So I said I’d take a bacon cheeseburger in the backyard and I took a can of root beer from the freezer case with me.

Half an hour later, I got an incredible deconstructed cheeseburger with some so-so fries (what do you expect with the kitchen being out of operation? you can’t just instantly jump into deep frying). Based on the sign on the door, I assumed I could pay with card–had to, in fact, since, you’ll recall, I spent the last of my cash at the city park–but she didn’t have the machine working nor did she know how to work it. She left my check on the counter to pay in the morning when she would hopefully have it working.

I walked back to the park to get to bed and was accosted by a child doing zoomies across the middle of the highway on a mountain bike his dad had unknowingly lent him. He kept asking random questions and then cutting the bike around to nearly hit me because he had nothing better to do in a small town of 110 people. Thankfully, when we arrived at the park, he struck up a conversation with the other campers, some cyclists eating dinner. They kept him entertained while I got ready for bed. Sorry I wasn’t in the mood, kid.

Sleeping in the park is an assault of sounds: fireworks at dusk, traffic, the periodic whirring of the motor on the orbiting sprinkler irrigation system across the highway, howling coyotes, an owl. The smell of smoke from the campfire the cyclists set became no smell at all when it stuffed me up. I got to sleep pretty late, but it wasn’t due to a lack of tiredness.

Trail miles: 13.1

CDT MT Section 9

Day 46: Base of Elk Mountain

I can’t say this was a particularly interesting day. The weather was mostly fine. The trail was mostly fine. Plenty of views, sure. But it didn’t feel too different geography-wise other parts of this section. And it certainly didn’t change much throughout the day.

I dozed off for another 18 minutes after the 6:30 alarm and had a nice dream. I didn’t feel particularly peppy or focused and, after grabbing a bag of unfiltered water for the road, started hiking around quarter after 8. I went down a bit, carefully jumped over some wide creeks to keep my feet dry, climbed a hill, and took a break there while the water filtered because my bowels said it was time to.

I should say the trail was a two-track 4×4 road from the time I started and stayed that way nearly all day. As I crossed some low rolling hills toward Lake Morrison, I saw a Jeep leaving the area, the only sign I had that vehicles actually use these roads.

I took a late morning break overlooking the lake. It was mostly classy clear skies, but the wind made it far too cold for swimming. I’m worried it will be a while before I can get clean at all.

Leaving the lake, I saw the first snake I’ve seen since I can’t remember when. It was just a little baby, very fast, and assuredly and rightly terrified of me, so it was gone before I could even start videoing.

A mile past the lake, the road passed just above a spring, the only source of water on trail for the next 10 miles. I grabbed another unfiltered liter or so for safety.

The road went straight up hill for a mile or two. It was so rutted, washed out, and rocky that vehicles had started driving up adjacent to the old tracks, mowing down all the sagebrush in their way. I also walked beside the road.

At the top of the hill, the road joined the border/divide, and I stopped for lunch, having traveled only a bit over five miles in the last five hours. But things would be much easier from there. The water filtered while I ate.

The trail stayed right on or near the divide for more than ten miles, and that whole stretch, the border was being followed by that same pair of 2-track ruts. There weren’t really any trees up there. It was just follow the road up a steep hill, look around to see if the view has changed, follow the road down a steep hill, take a snack break on the grass in the sun. And there go five miles.

I did see a couple of deer headed away over the hill, but other than that, nothing to entertain me but my thoughts. Not even podcasts–I doubt I’ll have enough battery for tomorrow even with the savings from that, but every little bit counts.

Again the second half of the day involved all the thick, dark clouds rolling in. It’s big sky country, sure, but that sky seems to produce regular sunshowers even when there is no big cloud above you to supply the rain. Luckily, the wind was much less potent than previous days, even up on the ridge, so it wasn’t too cold in the shade of the clouds.

Supper was, like the previous break, just sat on the grass in a random spot on the ridge next to the road, a spot that looked like everywhere else. It was a few more miles past that when the trail finally left that road to pass next to a fenced spring in a rare wooded grove. It rejoined a road just around a bend, but this road was blocked by falling trees.

And since the ruts of the road made a nice flat dirt spot there and vehicles nor people can pass through trees, I set up a tent right there in the road in front of that blockage. The mosquitos swarmed heavily throughout the process, but they had been pretty heavy all afternoon. I’d had my headnet on since lunch and reapplied repellent at supper. I took off my shoes and socks before entering the tent to make the move faster, and none followed me inside. It was a warm night with little wind, some light sprinkling of rain, and no particular need to bundle up.

But I learned why my feet hurt all day. I’m not even going to try to describe what the ball of my left foot looks like. I think I’ll tape it in the morning.

Trail miles: 16.0

Distance to Leadore: 13.1 miles

CDT MT Section 9

Day 45: Tex Creek

It rained some in the night. Maybe a lot. It wasn’t as loud as the night beside. Nothing got seriously wet. I slept well. I was still a bit sore and groggy when I woke at 6:30, but I didn’t feel like I needed more sleep. The sun didn’t touch my tent until well after 7, and I started hiking a bit after 8.

CDT MT Section 9

Day 44: Tendoy Creek

I woke up at the 6:30 alarm feeling very groggy, like I hadn’t had enough sleep. Based on my bedtime, you’d guess I had gotten a nice seven hours, but I had been woken up multiple times in the night by sudden light, brief, and intense rain. The first time I had gotten up to double check nothing was peeking out into the rain.

Anyway, I didn’t succumb to the desire for more sleep. The sun would rise soon and make it too warm to sleep anyway. I had let my full water bag fall out into the rain, so it was a bit dirty. I spit some clean water into the aperture before connecting it up and hanging it from the tent pole. I let that happen while I got myself ready and the inside of the tent packed up. I was worried from the rumbling of thunder in the distance just after sunrise that I was going to have to stay hunkered down until a storm passed, but when I peeked under the tent flap, the sky was clear for miles, and the clouds on the horizon looked set to miss me. So I made my breakfast, finished packing up, and started hiking about 8.

CDT MT Section 9

Day 43: Bannack Pass

I woke up at 6:30 and started hiking about 8. The sun never hit my tent, as I had just happened to place it where a few trees shaded it from the sunrise.

The first hour and a half of the walk was just climbing up to a pass. There were some wet bits, some forest bits, and some steep bits, but the trail was mostly clear in both senses of the word.

CDT MT Section 9

Day 42: Sawmill Ridge

The sun didn’t hit my tent for real until almost 7, but I was already awake. I was headed back up to the ridge before 8. The first several miles would be more of the same kind of hiking that ended the previous day, climbing up and down the steep hills along the divide fence. Some climbs I could cut off if the trail turned. Some had trails cut around them, though not often.

CDT MT Section 9

Day 41: Ridge Overlooking West Fork Big Beaver Creek

Since I got to bed so late, I had great reason to sleep a little later. I had my breakfast already ready to go, just my breakfast shake and some bars, but I figured I should get in one last shower too. At a bit before 10, I walked out to the southbound on-ramp to try to get a hitch to the trail.