CDT WY Section 1

Day 102: Dubois

I woke up at 4:30 and it was raining. Since I had no real reason to be in a hurry, I decided to wait it out by going back to sleep. I woke up again at 5:30 and the rain had stopped, so I started packing up. It turned out almost everything had stayed dry, except that my front vestibule had come loose from the stake and fallen down letting a lot of water under the left side of the tent… where I had moved my socks thinking they’d be more likely to stay dry.

Full story: I switched to MSR mini groundhog stakes at the REI in Bozeman because I was tired of straightening the cheap Coghlan stakes I bought on the PCT last year every time I bent them while trying to drive them into the ground. But the new stakes don’t have full hooks at the top. They have divots just wide enough to catch one rope. But I need to hook both my vestibule ropes and stabilizing ropes on the same stakes. I really need to figure out a system to get them both secured so this vestibule collapse thing stops happening.

I had just gotten my boots on and was halfway through rolling up and drying off my mattress when it started raining again. I had already committed to getting up at this point, and even if I hadn’t, I would have done so soon enough because it rained all morning. Spoilers: the forecast predicted rain for the following four days as well. Time to get used to never getting dry again.

I tried to do as much packing as I could with my backpack inside the bearbox while I stood in the rain wearing the Packa. I carried the tent and Tyvek down to the privy to dry and get them ready to pack under the roof of its porch. Eventually, I brought everything else I hadn’t packed down there as well to finish packing in such a way that everything stayed as dry as possible until I had put my Packa around it all. Finally, I hiked up the road around 7:10.

Officially, I was no longer on the CDT. In 2019, I would be, but as of 2020, the official route had taken a hard right above Upper Brooks Lake. Supposedly, that route is not quite all there yet, requiring quite a bit of bushwhacking between finished sections. Yet, there were still plenty of CDT markers along the way from when it was the official route just two years ago. It was a fairly direct route from the campground to the highway near Togwotee Pass.

First, I climbed out of the lake along an increasingly rustic dirt road that eventually turned into a slip-and-slide as I climbed to the highest point I would reach on it. I’m not sure it would not have been exactly as much of a slog in fresh boots. Clods of mud flew off with every step, bouncing off the backs of my thighs.

I left the road at the side of a random hill and descended into the grassy hillside meadows. The wet grass instantly soaked the sides of my boots and therefore my socks and my feet. I would have to get used to constantly wet feet. The trail was a mud path that crossed a number of small streams. But there was enough grass toward the bottom that most of the mud was wiped off my boots by the time I reached the road around 8:20.

There was a decent amount of traffic on the highway, but not particularly interested in giving rides. The rain was coming off and on with a fairly consistent wind at my back. I stood beside the road for 1.5 hours, blowing on my hands whenever I got a chance. I never quite reached the point of shivering, but I was definitely reminded of the long hitch I had at Mt. Hood last year. When Florence finally stopped to give me a lift, I couldn’t undo the only on my Packa with the Jenga blocks I had where my fingers used to be. I ended up riding the first few miles with my hands directly on the heater vents.

Florence was giving up on a Yellowstone glamping trip, canceling her campsite reservations because of the rain, so the car was filled to the brim with fancy equipment. She dropped me at the Village Cafe in Dubois where I ate breakfast.

From there I walked down to the St. Thomas Episcopal Church office and met Connie, who showed me to the meeting room where hikers could sleep for free on provided cots. It was already occupied by two sleeping hikers, Prince and Beanie Weenie, who were taking a zero in Dubois before hitching up to meet a friend in Yellowstone.

After I set my stuff down and packed a day pack, we all three set out together to pick up packages at the post office and some few items at the Family Dollar. Prince got a care package from his sister, I got the package Ben forwarded me from Leadore, and Beanie Weenie just came for the grocery store part of the trip, as he wanted to buy a bunch of microwaveable food and junk food for dinner. Sure, part of it was being money-conscious, but part was he genuinely loved TV dinners. He got some sandwiches Prince derided as “cat food.”

On the way back to the church, we stopped at the Cutthroat Fly Shop, where I got a new pair of sun gloves which seemed like they would be far more durable than the hole-filled pair they were replacing. They were fresh out of waterproof stuff sacks.

I left my box and Prince and Beanie Weenie at the church and went back out. My first stop was the camping aisle at Ace Hardware, where I found a zip-up wet/dry sack which seemed intended for suitcases, but would fit my clothes and keep them dry just fine. Then to the shower/laundromat to turn an entire Jackson into quarters to feed the machines. It was the smallest bill I had large enough to cover the cost of a load.

I took the rest of those quarters down to the Rustic Pine, a bar with a fast casual style window for barbecue in the back. I took my rack of ribs and coleslaw and potato chips up to the bar and sat until and through happy hour trying various beers while uploading pictures, videos, and blog posts. There was no Verizon service in town, and this bar had the best wifi I had yet seen. They also sold microwaveable pork rinds but they didn’t come out right. I paid as I went entirely in quarters, including tip. They were as happy to get them as I was to get rid of them. Eventually, there was a pretty sizeable collection of people, and I quit working to chat with the local cowboy next to me for a good hour about everything.

From there, I went straight back to the church to find Prince and BW right where I left them. Another hiker named Andrew was there, but I didn’t get a good look. He slipped out the door while I was in the bathroom. I knew there would be another as he had slipped in, set up a cot, and left again while the rest of us went to the post office.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out in that room, packing up my food, and then lying down on my cot to upload more pictures and posts. Andrew did not until right after we turned off the lights, so I still didn’t see him. But I ended up working on the blog until after midnight before sleeping.

Trail miles: 3

CDT WY Section 1

Day 101: Brooks Lake

Here’s a game I’ve been playing lately. It’s an entirely mental game that hardly affects the hiking. It’s called Race the Clock and it works like this: any time I stop, I check if I have yet hiked more miles than there have been hours since midnight. If so, I win. The earlier it happens the more I win. If I win and then take an hour break to let the clock get ahead, then I can win twice in the same day. This latter basically never happens because, although I usually win, it happens late in the afternoon or evening when there is not enough time to win again.

But one thing that helps with the winning earlier is getting up earlier. Getting up later is hard mode: the clock gets a big head start. If I were to start hiking at, say, 8 or 9, there’s no way I would win.

I woke up with the 5am alarm feeling fully awake and rested. I slept right through the first alarm. I fetched my full bag of water and spilled a little as I put it in my pack. A little turned into a great deal more by the time I had finished packing and saw that the entire back of the pack and the straps were soaked through because I hadn’t tightened the cap hard enough, or the hose had torqued it loose when I flipped the inner bag containing over to pack my bear can. Whatever the reason for the slow leak, I still had enough water for my next water break and the next section was fairly wet, so I didn’t worry about it. I just had to put up with wet shorts and constant dripping on the backs of my legs for the next several miles.

I hiked out just past 6 and immediately started climbing. It was two miles, less than an hour, to the crossing of Soda Fork on a slippery half-submerged log and subsequently the tiny log cabin where two other hikers who had spent the night there were just about packed up. (It’s an attractive campsite because it has bear boxes.)

Beyond that was an even steeper hill. In fact, it was the beginning of a long 2.5 mile climb, the first of two I would have to do this day. Halfway up, I passed a large boggy lake with a moose having breakfast in it.

I took my first morning break near the top of the climb. I sat on a log just close enough to the steep hill next to the trail to remain in its shadow just about as long as I breaked for. The sun was finally up and at ’em when I started down the other side of the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, about 4 miles later, I traded shoes for sockwas to cross the South Buffalo Fork, a much deeper swifter river than the North Buffalo Fork I crossed the previous evening. While I was changing into my shoes again in a little meadow above the south bank, a nobo arrived: Fastball from Montreal. I had planned to take my second morning break here and he decided to take lunch before crossing, so we chatted for quite a while. I got some info not only on the Winds but also on Montreal and Quebec City and a significant portion of Colorado as well. I tried to return the same in kind, but it was nearly lunchtime for me as well and I needed to earn it with some more hiking. I interrupted the water filtration I had started (on the water I had carried down from a creek up the hill) and hiked on south.

While we had been chatting, dark clouds had rolled in. I was a mile into my second big climb of the day (3 miles long) when it started sprinkling. It lasted long enough I thought I might should get out my Packa. And then I figured I might as well go ahead and have lunch while I was stopped even though it hadn’t even been an hour since my last break. But it was lunchtime.

Some fellow sobo passed me just as I was leaving, but I passed him back fetching water out of a creek a half mile later. I never saw him further down the trail.

After I came down the other side of my second big hill climb, I had to cross Cub Creek. Rather than take off my boots, I did a dry foot crossing in three parts further upstream.

The first tributary was an easy crossing, a log across the stream just below the trail. It put me on a sort of island, and I waded through tall bushes out to the point of it where the stream I had crossed met the main creek.

Here there were several boulders in the stream, and it was easy to step between them to the third, biggest one nearly to the other side. But between the last one and the far bank was a four foot gap with the deepest, swiftest water. I planted one trekking pole firmly on the far bank, one in the rocks at the bottom of the stream where it could hinge freely, and my forward foot on the top edge of the boulder. Then, after checking everything was ready to go three times because I only got one chance to stay dry… je me lance a la gloire okayyyyyy…

The third stream was mostly overgrown in the neck-high bushes, but once I found the one spot close to where it entered the main creek that it wasn’t completely overgrown, it was an easy step across. Another minute wading through the bush maze brought me back to the trail with my boots still on my feet and dry.

To celebrate this success, I stopped for dinner. While I cooked and ate, packed up and left, the same group of three riders passed me four times, twice in each direction. I don’t know if they were lost or just wanted to confuse their horses.

From there it was a short, easy climb to the pass that marked the wilderness boundary just above the head of Upper Brooks Lake. I had to stop in the next stretch to get out my Packa again and this time actually put it on. The rain decided to keep going this time. It continued for the next hour as I crossed the meadow separating Upper Brooks Lake from regular Brooks Lake. I think it was only at this late stage that I finally Beat the Clock for the day. It stopped just as I was coming around the lake into Brooks Lake campground. The kayakers fly fishing in the lake seemed unfazed whether it was raining or not.

The campground was a national forest fee campground but the sites were all full and there were no envelopes for the fee. I set up next to a picnic table, fire ring, and bear box on top of a hill with no walkway up to it associating it with a particular campsite. It may have belonged to the parking spot occupied by a trailer down the hill, but they clearly needed neither a bear box nor a picnic table.

Except for what I needed with me to sleep, I put everything, including my backpack and all its usual contents, inside the bear box before I went to bed.

This turned out to be a good decision. Around 11pm, a thunderstorm blew in, preceded by a few minutes of gale force winds. They woke me up in a heartbeat when they tore the stake at the foot of my tent right out of the ground so that my feet were the only thing keeping it erect. I fought my way out of my mummy bag and crawled out the back vestibule and grabbing a nearby rock to pound the stake back into the dirt. It was good hard dirt, not easy to put a stake into or pull it out of. It was just a really powerful gust of wind.

I dove back into the tent and resecured the vestibule rope just before the rain came. The wind had also blown my Tyvek porch up under the other vestibule and over my boot, so I pulled the other end in and over the other boot to match. I moved my socks from the foot of my tent to the side in case I hadn’t staked it out as well as I had before and hoped I would mostly stay dry through the night. I think the lightning passed in fifteen minutes or so, but I fell back to sleep within a few minutes.

Trail miles: 20.6

Distance to Dubois: 3 miles

If you did not see the videos the last two days, go back and look. They are there now.

CDT WY Section 1

Day 100: Soda Fork

I woke up around 1am, wide awake for no apparent reason. It took me a while to get back to sleep, so written the 4am alarm went off, I decided to sleep until 5 to make up for the lost sleep. I hit the trail at 10 after 6.

It started pretty easy. All gradual downhill into the Mink Creek canyon, which was flat-bottomed and bushy like all the other creeks in the area. But I went as quickly up the canyon as I could as I had the day’s biggest challenge ahead.

The CDT turned off the Mink Creek trail before the end of the canyon, becoming a much less worn trail. It crossed the creek and immediately started climbing the hill on the other side. I met a nobo coming down this first steep climb. I told him I wanted to finish the climb before it got hot out (and with the sun starting to peek over the hill and with the chill of the creek area falling behind, it was getting hot fast), and he told me I was almost there. But I knew he was wrong. I wasn’t even halfway to the halfway plateau. It was another half mile until the steep climb leveled out and I traversed a nice flat meadow for a half mile to reach the second half of the climb. The sequel was just as steep and just as long but much less shady. When I reached the top, I had climbed 1309 feet in 2.5 miles. It was time for a break.

I found the one shady spot downhill of a small clump of trees overlooking a nearly dry pond. I sat there for almost a half an hour while the water I had carried up from Mink Creek filtered. I walked over to check out what was left of the water in the pond and found a list net cinch sack to pack out, and when I came back the filtering still wasn’t done. The filter is still a lot slower than it was before I filtered that really muddy water just west of Yellowstone despite all the backflushing I’ve been doing. Realizing I had already wasted far too much time here, I dumped the rest of the dirty water and began the hike down the other side of the hill.

The descent was steeper, longer, and more dangerous than the climb up. The trail was soft, dry dirt strewn with loose pebbles in a variety of sizes, sometimes like a naturally occurring arrangement of Kevin McAllister’s marbles on wood. I was slipping a little with very step and had to go slowly and carefully.

I only fell once. It was a slow motion involuntary hurdler’s stretch. My front foot just slid smoothly down the hill for several feet while my back foot stayed planted, slowly lowering me until my butt was on the ground. If a video had been made of the incident, I would be getting scouted by the Ministry of Silly Walks.

I met a large group of hikers coming up this same hill. Interestingly, rather than carry ropes to hang their food out of reach of bears, one of them carried an electrified bear fence. Seems like a convenient solution for a group this large.

One of them said “Nice bag!” as I passed, and my actual response was “Really?”

Anyone who has worn my go for any considerable amount of time would not think it particularly nice. I’m not the only one who has experienced catastrophic irreparable structural failure with it. I’m only still carrying one because I’m stupid. I was about to start complaining, but opened my eyes and stopped myself instead.

“Oh, you have the same one…” He’ll get to experience the joy of the Gregory Baltoro himself in due time. No need to belabor the point or dredge up the glory days of 2013 when Gregory made backpacks you could fix when they broke.

Just downhill from that meeting, I came to the first incredible waterfall of the day. The trail crossed Trail Creek just above it, but I sure liked the look of the pool at the base. A great place for a shower, maybe, if you don’t mind the frigid water temperature.

And then, a few minutes later, the highlight of the day. The trail crossed Two Ocean Creek at the exact point it split, sending half of its waters to each side of the Continental Divide. A single tree stood in the crotch of that bifurcation point, standing guard over the waters, casting judgment on the molecules, sending some to the left to join Atlantic Creek (and eventually the ocean of the same name) and the rest to the right to join Pacific Creek (and eventually that ocean).

The trail descended on the Pacific Creek side but soon turned off to climb up the Trail Creek canyon. When the trail finally came closely alongside said creek, it was lunchtime. I pulled over and found a rock in the shade overlooking the creek and ate lunch. I believe I also filtered some water from that creek while I ate.

The creek came down from a pass that was not steep on either side, so before I knew it, I was walking alongside North Buffalo Fork. Right where I first reached it was a long serpentine beaver dam forming a deep, calm pool. I was tempted to stop for a swim, but that would have cut into the miles. I did stop where the trail came close to the river a couple of miles later to have a snack under a shade tree. It was easy access to get some more water to filter.

As soon as I started again, I came by a cute little river-fed pond filled with ducks. Too shallow to swim, I think, but very picturesque.

Just past here, I met Green Tortuga having a break beside the trail. His Yellowstone permit didn’t have him entering the park until two days later, so he was doing his best to not hike too much. If he hiked another 5 miles, he would leave himself with only 11 to do the following day. I suggested he take the swim I had skipped.

A couple of miles later, I was at the North Buffalo Fork crossing, which involved taking an unmarked turn down a smaller trail. I took it on instinct, but it looks like a lot of sobos miss it. Some miss it on purpose to get to the road to visit the store for soda and road walk around the river crossing. But I’m not about that life. I put on my sockwas and walked right across that river. I thought it would be ankle deep, but there were two shin deep steps, so I got my calf sleeves wet.

The rest of the hike was just an easy flat walk up the Soda Fork canyon, which was equal parts open meadow and burned-out forest. I stopped just before 7:30 when I reached a stand of trees that were still alive along a creek. No sooner had I erected my tent than a flock of grouse came to visit. I got some water from the creek to start it filtering while I slept and went to bed.

Trail miles: 21.4

Distance to Dubois: 24 miles

CDT WY Section 1

Day 99: Snake River

I actually started packing at the 4am alarm for once. I didn’t have the excuse of getting in late this time, so I packed up and got out around a quarter after five. One side of my tent had condensation, so that cost me a couple of minutes drying it, but everything else went smoothly.

And the first couple of miles of trail were really easy. Both objectively easy and my-legs-are-fresh-and-ready-to-go easy. I arrived at the turnoff for campsite 8J6 (East Shore) about an hour later, my headlamp long since turned off. I wanted to see the beautiful view of the lake reflecting Mt. Sheridan on the opposite end and all the morning motion and coffee wanted me to find the toilet.

I paused on the shore to say hi to a rapidly evacuating porcupine and take some lake pics. I paused in the campsite to say hi to the campers who had spent the night there and were just leaving. I paused to say hi to the toilet even though I know toilets don’t have ears. Then, instead of going back out the way I came in, I followed a clear and frequented but unmarked back trail out of the campsite.

It led me to the bank of Heart River where it was slowly draining the lake. If I continued along it, it would connect me back to the CDT at the Heart River campsite, where I would need to remove my shoes to ford the river. So I took a little time to find a way to cross the river here where it was shallow with easy rock hops for 90% of its width. I found a dead tree I could break a section off of to build a ramp across the last little deep section on the far side and tossed in some large rocks next to it for stability and backup. Then, in an anticlimactic instant, I was on the other side with dry shoes.

But I was way upstream of the trail and separating me from it was a very steep bank that ran down to the water’s edge. I may have lost twenty minutes of time climbing that bank and working my way through a thick stand of very young pines at the top until I reached the trail. But I got through it with only one minor scrape on my knee and a ton of dead pine needles all over my hat (which had protected my face from the trees) and every crevice of my pack. I stopped for my first snack break of the day as soon as I reached the trail, and picked off all the pine needles while I was there.

The ironic thing was that I had to cross the same river again just two miles further south, and there was no way to do it without getting my feet wet there. (You know I gave it a shot though!)

This put me into the main Snake River canyon leading up to its highest headwaters. I knew I would have to ford the river in 8.3 miles, and which was a distance I expected to be able to cover by lunch time. So I turned the expectation into a promise and decided not to eat lunch until I reached the next ford. Honestly, I was looking forward to it, for reasons which shall be clear.

But the trail didn’t want to make it easy for me. Sure, because I was following the Snake River upstream, I had to be going uphill the whole way, but the trail was cut into a hillside set back from the river, and kept going steeply up, steeply down, alternating between climbing and descending (but always more of the former).

By 11, I had reached Sickle Creek, a good source of water, but not shade. I sat in the shadiest half-shadowed spot I could find and started some water filtering while I filled up on snacks enough to get me to lunch.

Right after that was the longest steepest climb of the section.

It took another 2.5 hours to reach the crossing only 4.1 miles ahead because the trail just stayed as steep as it could at every moment the whole way. I was never so happy to reach a river ford when the end of the 1 o’clock hour arrived.

I was starving from the long strenuous stretch without food, so my priority was to find a shady spot to eat lunch. I found a nice sturdy log lying under some shade trees between a small meadow and the river and set up shop. I grabbed some water and started it filtering. I finished lunch, changed into my sockwas, emptied my pockets, and waded into the river.

The hole next to the crossing was deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom with my head above water. It was quite cold, but slightly warmer on the side with new water moving into it. When I finished up and climbed out, I noticed much more sharply that the wind had picked up. My wet shirt wasn’t letting me hold onto my heat. I was shivering within the minute. Thinking it would be awfully embarrassing to die of hypothermia on an 80+ degree afternoon, I took off my shirt and hung it over a tree to warm up. It was a bit better without it, but it took a solid minute before my nipples softened enough that it didn’t hurt to touch them.

Anyway, I got back to my stuff packed up, hung my boots from my neck and waded out into the river again. On a log up the hill on the opposite side, I finally got to put my boots back on.

The next bit of trail was much easier than what I had been doing for the last few hours, so I moved more quickly. And I warmed up so quickly I was missing the ice cold shirt on a heartbeat. There were some nobos just coming into the park here, hoping to do those 9 miles to Snake River in the next 4 hours. I’m sure they had no trouble with it, being hikers who aren’t me.

In a bit over an hour, I was rock-hopping across the Snake again and keeping my feet dry. The trail followed the boundary of the park from this point to the ranger cabin that sits opposite where the CDT enters the park. Just shy of said cabin, I stopped on a rock to eat dinner. Sure, it had only been a few hours since lunch, but it had been a very late lunch, and it was actually already dinner time.

And then I left Yellowstone for good. Although it turned out to be a much more ceremonious exit than entrance. Does anyone know why the Forest Service signs are so much nicer than the Park Service signs? The big wooden Teton Wilderness sign both dwarfed and outclassed the Yellowstone Boundary sign.

Leaving the park meant leaving the relative flatness of the terrain there. Not immediately, no. I got a nice, easy 2.5 mile stretch still following the Snake upstream at just enough distance to stay out of its bogs. But then I came to my final Snake crossing, at this point, a mere three miles or so from its source, nothing more than a creek maybe ten feet wide and an easy rock hop. On the other side of the river began a steep half-mile climb the likes of which I hadn’t tackled in nigh on a week. At the end of an already grueling day, it felt a bit like torture. But I told myself I would stop at 7:30 regardless of where I was.

Where I was at just before 7:30 was a perfect little flat site in a lovely flat section of forest on top of the hill I just climbed. I liked the look of it so much I couldn’t pass it up. I managed to get set up and in bed by 8 and turned off by 9.

Trail miles: 20.8

Distance to Dubois: 44.1 miles

CDT WY Section 1

Day 98: Heart Lake

I woke up at 4am, put my socks and calf sleeves on, then took a quick nap until 5am when I started packing. I had a long day ahead and, though it might be harder on only 6 hours of sleep, it would be harder still if I couldn’t get it done before dark again.

I was ready to go shortly after six, which is about the time Windy was emerging from his tent. I started hiking not a minute after he came out.

I immediately arrived on the shore of Lake Shoshone, which looked like a rainbow reflecting the pre-dawn sky. I only got to spend a minute there before the trail went into the woods.

At 8am, I pulled off the trail to take a snack break and saw Windy come right up and pass me, sniffing and snorting but saying not a word. So apparently he hikes so much faster than me that it only takes him two hours to catch up from packing up after I had left, even when there’s a lot of hills to climb.

And yet somewhere I passed him again. A northbound hiker told me he had mentioned me, so he was ahead of me there. A mile later, I came to the ankle-deep Moose Creek crossing and spent maybe 20 minutes trying to turn it into a dry crossing, but couldn’t find a tree strong and supple enough to support me. So I gave up, took off my boots, put my sockwas on.

Ten steps later, I changed back into my boots because it would be 2.7 miles to the next wet crossing.

Coming down the hill to the shore of the Shoshone Lake outlet/Lewis River, I saw Windy hiking up behind me. I stopped at the end of the gravel beach to change back into my sockwas, but he just came down and walked straight into the water. I asked how I had passed him. It was the same way I passed him on our first meeting: he had stopped to cook breakfast. Anyway, he was soon in the water up to his hips and away and gone down the trail on the other side.

“My shoes are always wet,” he said.

“Everything is in waterproof containers,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

“See you down there,” he said.

It was only ankle-deep where I crossed. I’ve got some things I don’t want wet.

When I made it to the far side and stopped to put my boots back on, I first grabbed some water from the river and started it filtering. It was the last good water for quite a while, and it was about time for my second morning break anyway. It was 11:11 when I hiked out again.

I passed 3 day hikers coming in on the way out. One told me that she had passed Windy 40 minutes before, so it seemed he was over an hour ahead of me at this point. I kept going without slowing but doubted I’d catch him.

The Dogshead Trail was the direct route out of the woods. It went straight for the road but didn’t really do anything scenic. It was low rolling hills for the first 3.4 miles, then a gently graded half-paved road for the last 1.3. I arrived at the road about 1pm, but, after chatting with some guys about to enter the woods, I decided to take lunch at the Heart Lake Trailhead just down the road.

The best spot for such an undertaking was a log in the trees overlooking the parking lot currently occupied by a couple from Colorado about to begin their own hike to Heart Lake. I chatted with them for a minute, particularly about features of the trail to come, where I expected to see them. Then they left and I spent the next hour roughly making and eating lunch and dumping all my trash in the last conveniently placed trash can I would encounter for a few days.

I started to hike out about the same time as another couple, apparently day hikers judging by their gear, was setting off dish the trail. Given that the first point of interest along the trail was a solid six miles away and it was already 2 in the afternoon, I assumed they must be fast hikers, planning to practically run down the trail to do the 12 or 15 miles in and out before sundown, so I let them go ahead. But when I told them I expected them to be faster, they said they preferred a chill pace. I think they were probably not making a good choice of trails.

Anyway, I did the next six miles as fast as I could without stopping. It was predominantly level and easy to speed along. Finally, I started to come out into the open hillside opposite Factory Hill, the Witch Creek drainage. There were some dry thermal features near the trail near the top of the ridge, but as I descended, the trail came within feet of several hot springs. After a few switchbacks, I came out into the open meadow and there were hot springs everywhere. At the second Witch Creek crossing there were three people waiting: the Colorado couple and Windy. The couple were soaking their feet in the creek and Windy said he had laid in the creek for ten minutes earlier. Upon my arrival, there was some conversation, but as soon as I mentioned the lake being said to be swimming pool temperature, they all started getting ready to leave. They were hiking down to the lake by the time I had my shoes off. I had the creek to myself. You can see in the video what happened next. I only laid in the creek for a few minutes because I was also eager to get to the lake.

1.5 more miles down the hill, I passed the ranger cabin at the lake shore. A volunteer ranger named Richard hailed me before I went any further. He was staying in the cabin with his wife and had been working in this part of the park for around a quarter of a century. But his role here was to talk to people who were staying at the lake campsites. Not necessarily to turn away people without permits, but at least to give them some direction. I know this because Windy had talked to him and admitted his lack of any permit, but he let Windy go on with his plan to hike around the lake and on to Snake River campsite some 6 or 7 more miles away. I, of course, did have a permit and my campsite was only 1.5 miles away. Close enough to get to bed on time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Eventually, I wrapped up my conversation with Richard, who was as eager to go for a swim as I, and headed down the beach to where Windy was just dressing to hike after a nice skinny dipping sesh. He chatted with me until I was ready to go for a swim, then hiked out to another 6 miles as I paddled out into the luxuriously temperate water on my inflated mattress. I did not expect to see him again; he does much bigger miles than me.

I left my mattress on the beach to dry, got dressed, and started making supper right there on the beach. Then, I saw that my mattress had blown into the water again, ran down to the water, took off my shoes etc. as fast as I could, and waded in after it. After I retrieved it and got my shoes on again, I deflated the mattress and hung it on a bush to dry, then went back to finish dinner.

It was around 6:30 or so when I set off around the lake, an easy smooth walk to my campsite. Just before the turn-off, I crossed Beaver Creek. I grabbed a bag of water to filter in my campsite, then set off down the side trail into Beaver Creek Meadows.

It was a sweet campsite. An island of trees in the middle of a meadow with a couple of bear boxes of a design I had never seen before. There was a toilet up the hill that I never visited. I put all my food in one of the boxes, started the water filtering, then started setting up my tent in the meadow away from the island and on the opposite side as the creek. But it was slow going because I was so sleepy and barely moving. Even the sound of thunder and a distant flash of lightning didn’t much hurry me. The storm cloud ended up missing me anyway.

I thought I might feel better with another drink of water I had just filtered, so I stopped making camp to sit in the bar box and drink water and eat candy. I think it worked because ten minutes later I was in my tent. And I was all turned in and off and ready to sleep by 9, just as planned.

Trail miles: 22.7

Distance to Dubois: 66.3 miles

CDT WY Section 1

Day 97: Old Faithful, Shoshone Lake

I started packing up with the 5am alarm, only to find my tent had condensation under it. But strangely, it was almost all on one side. Probably something to do with an asymmetry in how I set it up, but it was barely damp on the left side or where my head was and soaked on the rest.

Anyway, I still managed to get hiking by around 6:20 and the trail was easy, all downhill into the Old Faithful area.

The Summit Lake rejoined a wide path that went out to Mystic Falls, but I went the other direction. The crowds started immediately, even if they weren’t that big yet because it was early. There were some small geysers going off and lots of hot pools (see video). I crossed Firehole River into a parking lot wedged between the river and a small bubbling geyser. No idea how they do that.

Across the road, a dirt trail started that eventually ran past some springs and inactive geysers. I rejoined a boardwalk near a spring, Morning Glory, that a private tour guide was named for Ladybird Johnson or her favorite flower or something. There were more geysers here along the river, none doing anything interesting, but the fish in the river were–they were jumping for bugs two feet above the surface, throwing themselves bodily out of the water.

Just ahead, I turned aside for the Riverside Geyser side track primarily because there was a trash can there to lighten my load into. But I got lucky because the geyser actually erupted while I was there. It is a fairly regular geyser, but the interval between eruptions is 5.5 to 7.5 hours. The eruption usually lasts over 20 minutes. You can hear me talking to the tour guide in the video. You can also see how few other people are there. Old Faithful was erupting about the same time, the Park didn’t have an accurate prediction posted for it, and Riverside is one of the predictable geysers that is farthest from Old Faithful. So it was a cozy venue, so to speak.

I took another hour working my way down the boardwalk past as many thermal features as possible. I found out I had missed an eruption of Beehive by the time I got there, and there was no chance it would perform again. But I finished up the board walk over Geyser Hill just in time for Old Faithful’s 11:35 performance. It’s a pretty spectacular little geyser, but Riverside was just as tall and much closer, so I’m glad I got to see that one.

Even before OF had finished its show, I was walking around the road to start getting through the gathered crowd to the service station down the hill. I figured most of the crowds wouldn’t be trying to get into a convenience store, and it was exactly where I wanted to be. I got some ice cream, some Combos, a beer, and a farm-fresh cinnamon roll. But first I had to get a mask. For the first time this trip, I had to wear a mask in a building that wasn’t an airport, and I had left my mask in Bozeman. (I had recently found a good mask lying in the road, but I hadn’t a chance to launder it yet.)

Anyway, in the shadow of the building next door, I ate the ice cream and the cinnamon roll. Then I carried the rest up to the OF Snow Lodge and just sat down in a narrow hallway that was kind of out of the way of everyone but had power outlets. This would be my base for the next few hours. My phone needed a full recharge and my mobile battery a partial recharge. And I felt a lot better about leaving my pack in a rarely used hall than outside where all the tourists passed.

Rather than recount moment by moment how I spent the next few hours, here’s a list of activities:

  • Two phone calls
  • Attempts to upload videos and photos to free up storage (unsuccessful)
  • Chatting with other thru-hikers (nobos)
  • Getting a chili dog and another beer from the general store
  • Sloppily eating said dog across from a family badmouthing Dr. Fauci to their preteen child
  • Getting a money order and a stamped envelope from the post office
  • Returning to the post office to mail the money order
  • Buying overpriced lip balm
  • Filling my water bag in the bathroom

Regarding the money order, I would like to shout out accidental trail angel Ben Blom in Leadore, Idaho for helping me get back the box I left there by shipping it elsewhere on his own dime. Super helpful and nice guy, though I know it’s got to be a hassle for him dealing with all the fallout of Sam’s death.

Anyway, even after leaving it there in the hotel hallway outlet for three hours, my phone had not even reached 90%, but it was after 3pm and I still had another 11 miles to hike to my next scheduled campsite.

It was a bit of a challenge to find the trail beside the road that connected to the trailhead I needed to enter the woods from, but once I figured that out, I was slowly climbing a hill into the trees. The trail didn’t have much to show me for the first few miles. At some point, I saw a fox in the trail just hanging out. I snatched out my phone, turned on the camera, and selected video. Every extra millisecond it took to respond in each step of this process I was screaming in my head “Come on! The fox is going to run off!” But instead it just came down the trail right toward me and walked right by me like it didn’t have a care in the world. I guess it sees enough of us hikers it doesn’t worry about us anymore.

Soon, I came to another thermal area, home of the Lone Star Geyser. There was plenty of bubbling sound and a bit of steam, but no geyser activity. I took a snack break and walked on.

The next few miles were not so difficult nor interesting. I did see one male grouse with its neck feathers all puffed out but didn’t bother with a picture. Eventually, I came to another thermal area, with tons of boiling springs right next to the trail and signs everywhere warning me not to leave the trail. It was about this time I started feeling an uncomfortable pressure telling me I needed to go. But it was late and I didn’t want to stop until I reached my campsite (which I knew had a toilet). Also, as previously mentioned, I was not permitted to leave the trail. Plus which a hot spring makes a terrible toilet bowl.

I felt pretty awful by the time I reached the Shoshone Creek crossing. In theory, I could have crossed this creek without getting my feet wet, but I knew it was KO use. I stopped and changed into my sockwas.

It was also somewhere around here the mosquitos started getting bad. And some flies too. I thought the days of being swarmed by bugs were behind me as I hadn’t seen any considerable number in a while. I fact, I had tossed out two small bottles of DEET in West Yellowstone, carrying only the lotion forward. At this point, I was wishing I still had the spray.

Shortly after walking across the creek, I entered the bog. It was mostly trampled down grass and watery mud, but there were occasional deep channels crossing it. At the first such channel, the bridge was broken. I did not want to risk slipping and falling in, so I just stepped into the channel and immediately sank up to my thighs, wetting the bottoms of my shorts up to just below where my phone was in my pocket, thank goodness.

I had 0.6 miles of this slop before I made it to Cold Mountain Creek, which I stepped into to wash the mud off my legs. There was nothing to be done for the sockwas though.

My campsite was still 0.2 miles away, which was close enough that I didn’t want to stop and put my boots on for obvious reasons, but far enough that the fact I was walking on rocks and roots again in very thin-soled shoes got very annoying.

When I finally arrived at the camp, it was nearly 9pm, the twilight was nearly gone, and there was a tent already set up right next to the food storage area. A familiar voice greeted me.

“How ya doing?”

“Hi Windy. It’s Blast. How I’m doing is I’m really uncomfortable and I really need to find that toilet.”

“Sure thing. Want to chat about your day for five minutes first?”

Eventually, I pulled myself away from that conversation, found the plastic tank with a seat on top just sitting in the woods, and made the pain go away. Luckily, I brought my headlamp with me because it was completely dark by the time I returned.

I wandered around looking for a good campsite, a task much more difficult in the dark, and eventually found a spot to relocate my stuff to. Setting up a tent is not much harder in the dark, and I got it done quickly. It was well past 10 by the time I could go to sleep.

Trail miles: 21.2

Distance to Dubois: 89 miles

CDT MT Section 11 CDT WY Section 1

Day 96: Summit Lake

I went back to sleep after the 4am alarm on purpose, and then, figuring 6 hours of sleep was plenty, especially since my back was miraculously not hurting in the usual spot or between my shoulders, I started packing after the 5am alarm. I hit the trail just after it got bright enough out to put up the headlamp, around 6:15.

Just before 8am, I had to take a break in the woods above the trail, and I heard some footsteps crunching by on the road below. I caught up to the owner of those feet a mile later sitting beside the road with his JetBoil out. Cooking something at 8:30 after walking only 5 miles or so? I think he said his name was Windy. He said he didn’t have a permit for Yellowstone and just intended to stealth the first night, then stay in places like Grant Village that didn’t need permits until he hiked out of the park. Apparently, hiking through with no permit is a common tactic for sobos and rangers are not being too hard on them when caught.

So I hiked on another mile to the pond, the last water source for the next 17.5 miles. It was extremely muddy and it clogged up my filter almost instantly. I ended up spending well over an hour babysitting it, squeezing it, backflushing, clearing air, etc. just to get two liters filtered. I walked out with a dirty liter still in the dirty bag. Knowing i had no choice about doing a 24 mile day, I really felt that lost time.

I also really felt the heat. It was shaping up to be a hot one by usual Yellowstone summer standards, in the mid-80s. It was also bright, sunny, and clear. Cheerful weather, but I was still, as I had been all evening the night before and all morning to this point, just walking down a wide, dry loose dirt and gravel road. There were occasionally trees, but they were small and there was little shade to be found along the road.

Eventually, the trail turned suddenly into the woods from the road for a mile or so, and I found a very nice bit of shade with a good sitting log in this little section of single track, so I stopped to have lunch. Soon after that, the trail joined another dirt road, followed it up onto a higher plateau, and stayed on it for several more miles. Even when it seemed like a single track might return, it was just a way to get to another ATV track that had been eventually blocked to motor traffic but still looked like a dirt road.

It wasn’t until I was approaching the Yellowstone boundary that the single track returned for good. The boundary turned out to be a bit anticlimactic for how much advance planning is required to legally hike through Yellowstone. A tiny little boundary marker sign. And it’s not like this was not an official park trail. It gets plenty of traffic from CDTers. Do better, Park Service.

From the boundary, the next half mile is a steep climb for some reason. You can see me get winded climbing it in the video. It levels out a bit after that and opens up. It’s not a very interesting section. Two miles of that and the trail enters Wyoming, leaving the “Zone of Death.” And here is where I left Idaho for the last time. There’s no official marker for the boundary, but a hiker made an unofficial one.

There were quite a few nobos coming out of the park as I came in, but the last one I saw before I stopped for supper was the biggest surprise. It was Kaleidoscope from the PCT last year! In a brand new pair of tie-dye-colored shorts (and by brand new, I mean he probably hiked the whole CDT thus far in them). He was the same as ever: cheerful, fast, eager to get going, not much for small talk. The encounter started and ended so quickly, I didn’t even think to take a picture until he was already walking away.

Anyway, I stopped right after that, just before 6, on a log in the shadow of a tree. I had enough water for dinner plus enough to get the last 4 miles to camp if I filtered the last of the mud in the bag. With some babysitting, I managed to get all of it filtered in the time it took to treat my entree and use the result to make dessert. I accompanied dinner with the last can of cider packed out of West Yellowstone, or 90% of it anyway, since it did explode on opening and pushed foam out with such force that trying to suck it up just pushed it down my windpipe. Not very effective.

From there it was a relatively flat 3 miles to Summit Lake campground. I started seeing and smelling signs of the volcanic nature of the park. There were white flats where plants weren’t growing that were dry and smelled of sulfur.

But that didn’t stop Summit Lake from being wet and beautiful and full of life when I reached it. The clear, calm water was a lovely contrast to the muddy pond swarmed with yellow jackets I had spent the morning next to. After dropping my food and attractants in the food storage area, I wandered around until I found a nice flat spot not too far from the water. I set up and then went to collect some of that good clear stuff. Then I turned it brown through backflushing my filter into it until it was flowing well enough to fill my clean water bag.

I thought I would see Windy camping nearby since he said he was going to try to stay in official campsites, but it turned out I had the whole lake to myself. Not counting the wild animals of course. From there, it was 8 miles to the Geyser Hill boardwalk, 10 miles to Old Faithful Village, and 21.2 miles to my next campsite. In other words, I could get up early, spend some time hanging out with the geysers and the town food, and still have no trouble getting to camp at a reasonable hour. It was going to be another warm clear day following another warm clear night. Nothing but fun to look forward to.

Trail miles: 23.2

Distance to Dubois: 109.9 miles