CDT: Bannock Pass

8/5: 15.8 miles (2217.1 – 2232.9)

When I awoke it was still raining. The sun had yet to rise and I felt like a new person. Throughout the night I had sipped on electrolyte infused water without expulsion. Things were looking hopeful. Still a bit concerned that I might have giardia, I decided to “provoke” it with a cup of Starbuck’s Peppermint Mocha. The dairy in the mocha should react with the giardia violently. If that is the case, I can just take my Flagyl (giardia specific medication) and all will be “right” with the world…in a few days. But first we need to get to Leadore.

The rain stopped just as the sun began to rise. Paul scampered out to capture the morning’s sunrise with his phone.

30 minutes later, I was still feeling fairly good…compared to the previous day. My delightful peppermint mocha stayed put, so Hmm, not giardia. Most likely food poisoning, I guess.

Today was going to be measured miles. Our only goal was to get to the next water source. A piped spring, some 10 miles away.

As with yesterday, the trail would meander back and forth across the Idaho/Montana border. Cows greeted us from time to time and blocked our path…because they could.

The trail climbed steadily along a forested hillside. Cows moo’d below us in the narrow draws, playing what we could imagine was a bovine form of “Marco Polo”. Paul was anxious about getting to the spring, as he was out of water, so with 2 miles left he went on ahead. I was feeling much better and had a steady pace, so I was comfortable with him surging ahead.

As luck would have it, no sooner did Paul stride out of sight, but I got the distinct feeling of being watched. Simultaneously, I heard the distinctive and hair raising “growl” of a mountain lion. Not sure if the “growl” was for me, I reoriented myself to my knife and pepper spray, and began to talk loudly to myself. 

I made it the spring without incident to find out that the spring had run dry. WTF?! It appears that wooden lid to the cistern that feeds the gravity fed pipe to the trough we were to collect our water had been left off. No lid enabled the cows to lick the ground level cistern dry. With a little polish engineering, Paul was able to remedy the situation, and half an hour later water was flowing from the cistern to the pipe. The cows were highly annoyed with his fix.

With plenty of water, daylight, and now energy (compared to the last few days) we decided to make a “run” for Leadore. From the spring we continued our climb, where it peaked at Elk Mountain, where I expected to see elk.

No such deal, but the view was amazing. From here we began a slow descent atop an expansive ridgeline.

Eventually we descended into a previously burned and then current regrowth forest.

It was here that my trekking poles decided to break for no particular reason. I initially thought a latch had become loose, causing the tip of the pole to retract. Nope. It severed two thirds up the shaft. A clean break. No obvious signs of stress. We did a field fix and continued on our way.

The last 4 miles to Bannock Pass followed a shadeless and rugged jeep road filled with sharp, unforgiving, awkward sized rocks. For the most part, Idaho was to our left and Montana, to our right.

With intermittent cell service we tried to call Sam at the Leadore Inn, and see if he could pick us up at Bannock Pass. We quickly discovered that the use of our cell phones was not a viable option. Luckily we have an InReach and were able to contact/message Sam’s cell via our device.

And just like clockwork, Sam pulled into the Bannock Pass parking lot, just as we arrived. As he drove us to Leadore, and his Inn, he recounted the history of the area. The pass is named for the Bannock Native American people’s who lived in this area. Bored under the pass, is a now partially collapsed tunnel that was used to mitigate the grade ascent/descent of the now defunct Gilmore and Pittsburgh Railroad, that used to service the small communities and mines in the area. He pointed out the location of a previous Pony Express and stagecoach stop, where he has found historic relics. Sam was quite the jovial fella, who professed to NOT understand what it is that drives or “inspires” one to do a thru-hike. Even so, he is a major lifeline for CDT hikers in the area. You call, he’ll rescue you from the trail and make room for you at his four room Inn…even if there is only lawn space.

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CDT: The Day the Took Forever

8/4: 6.6 miles (2210.5 – 2217.1)

Morning found the moon still high in the sky. We had a leisurely breakfast with ERL and then departed in opposite directions, wishing each other well.

Today’s path was pretty straight forward, and required no route finding, or even attention to ones footing, for the most part. Follow the ribbon of dirt road over hill and dale, under a clear blue sky, with absolutely NO shade was the plan. A slight breeze cooled our sweat as we walked. Paul was motivated to put the “pedal to the metal”. I, on the other hand was devoid of any energy, much less motivation. Try as I might, I just couldn’t shift out of first gear. It was as if my “e-brake” was still engaged.

This morning found my stomach extremely rumbly. Last night, I could barely choke down dinner. For the past two weeks I have suffered bouts of nausea and extreme, unexplained fatigue. My chest palpitations have become more frequent. Something feels just “off”. While we are religious in the filtering of our water, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I may have giardia…again. (See PCT 2014 post here.) However, all the tell tale symptoms had not fully reared their head. And, considering how focused Paul is with making sure I am properly hydrated, I don’t think dehydration or heat exhaustion is the case. My body is definitely having an internal battle with something, of what, I haven’t a clue.

Two miles into our morning, I found myself plopped down on the edge of the trail unable to take another step. I had already nearly shit myself and was belching continually with waves of nausea doubling me over into the “ready position”. Paul was highly annoyed and doubled back to see what was keeping me. I rallied for another mile until I became overcome with an unrelenting bout of vomiting that rendered me completely spent. It was if I had run a marathon AND done a million crunches, while pulling a wagon full of rocks…uphill. I was that exhausted. Sipping water to rehydrate resulted in its immediate expulsion. Eventually I shed my pack and curled up in the dirt, in the fetal position. Paul, not sure of what to do to help, opened his umbrella, spread out our ground cover and unfurled my sit pad. I expected, after having expelled the contents of my stomach and bowels, that I would very soon begin to feel better. I racked my brain as to how/why I was sick. I recalled that last night’s meal had lost its vacuum seal and didn’t taste as good as I last remembered. Maybe it was food poisoning. That would be way better than giardia. An hour passed. I still could not move. Paul erected our tent, to at least get me/us out of the searing sun. Another hour passed. Still no signs of improvement. By the forth hour, I was able to begin to sip and keep down water. My head did not feel like it was going to explode and the muscles in my stomach and back began to release.

I knew that at some point we had to get moving. We were nearly out of water. If I couldn’t rally and make it to the spring less than 4 miles away, Paul was going to have to head off on his own and return with water. We still had several hours of daylight left, and I was beginning to feel somewhat human again. Another hour later, I decided that I had to move forward somehow, or some way. Besides, we barely had two days of food left, and come hell or highwater, I was NOT going to push the SOS button because I was sick. I, We, could go without food for a few days, but not water, in my current state.

With all the energy I could muster, we packed up and I began my trudge to the spring. I found myself moving about as fast as I had in the morning, but without the waves of nausea. This was a good sign. Maybe the “innards invaders” had been excised.

I told Paul to continue to the spring, and that I would catch up…eventually. He, however, did not let me out of his sight. We made it to the spring with at least three more good hours of daylight remaining. At this point I was feeling “okay” enough to continue another few more miles. In order to do that, Paul insisted that I eat something…and keep it down. While Paul went to fetch water, a tenth of a mile or so off trail, I waited by the post, that marked the turn off to the spring and did my best to choke down the blandest thing in my food bag. A high calorie, chalky, protein bar.

When Paul returned with the water, we had one of two choices. 1. Continue on for another 4-5 miles, so that tomorrow would be a 10 mile hike to Bannock Pass and a ride into Leadore, or 2. Make camp here and see how far we could get tomorrow. At least to the next reliable water source (per ERL), 10 miles away. Menacing skies with thunderous intent and the unexpected expulsion of my protein bar, sealed the deal. We would make camp here.

The fact that I couldn’t keep anything down, gave Paul at least an additional days worth of food. So we had that going for us, if no miles could be made the following day.

No sooner had we (Paul) erected our tent, but the skies opened up and it began to rain ferociously.

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CDT: A Most Brutiful Day

8/3: 15.4 miles (2195.1 – 2210.5)

Last night we were serenaded by bugling elk and the crunching of hoof/footsteps near where we slept. In the morning, we awoke to rain pounding against our tent’s fly. Either way, we had two days of walking till Leadore, so it didn’t matter whether we got started a bit late or not. Once the rain abated, we packed up and began the day’s jaunt. Often times without a topo map it is difficult to assess the terrain the CDT will traverse, and more importantly, the route’s “logic”.

To best prepare our minds for the day, we gaze upon the horizon and look for the most challenging and ridiculous climb or route that we would most NOT want to do. We then resign ourselves to the fact that the route we would least favor is most likely the route we will be taking. Such is the CDT and its “brutality”. Even so, today did NOT suck!

With the exception of the Winds and the Green River Lake valley, this day’s stretch has to be one of our most memorable. The morning’s drizzle kept the trail “soft” and the air clear and crisp. The forested area we trod, before our great climb to a wonderland of views and weather, screamed of elk and bear. Bearish claw marks in trees, elk rubs and fresh poop everywhere kept our senses on high alert.

As we continued, we were richly rewarded when we caught an eyeful of elk moving across the face of a hill we were to climb.

We watched, counting the bull elk and marveling at the size of the cow elk as they moved with ease across the steep and rocky terrain.

Once atop the saddle we were blasted with a cold and fierce wind that threatened our footing and made our eyes water.

It was here that we witnessed the enormity of the herd of elk. The elk practically filled the hillside as they swiftly moved across, and then up and over another ridgeline, reaching upwards of 10,000 ft.

As we walked the spine of the 9,600 -9,800 ft high ridgeline, we spied a herd of pronghorn nestled in the fold of the descending hillside, sheltered from the wind. Even with the wind briskly in our face, the pronghorn spied us from a distance, as we continued in their direction. Then, as a tightly knit unit, they stood up and quickly made their way up and over the ridge and out of sight.

As best we could tell, we were on the top of the world. The wind was relentless and several times nearly knocked us off our feet. The dark skies above us added a wrinkle of hesitancy, and urgency, at the same time. Do we wait for the storm to pass, or “charge it” and hope for the best? “Charge it”, was the option. But first, rain gear. This time if we got caught in the rain and wind, we would NOT freeze. Of course at the moment we reached the highest elevation, devoid of any vegetation above 6 inches, the storm hit. It didn’t even bother to rain. It just hailed. Sideways! We couldn’t help but laugh at our luck, and resigned ourselves to our “fate”. If one of us got struck by lightning, at least it was ridiculously beautiful, and we had cell coverage. Atop the ridgeline, from carin to carin we scampered without incident. Cold and wet, but not fried.

With the sun out, and after covering a wide expanse of terrain, we then descended through rocky talas and into a wooded area, where we met an ATV trail that led us to water.

Beside two icy cold creeks that converge into one, called Tex Creek, we ate our lunch and soaked our dusty tattered feet.

The remainder of the day was spent following ATV/Jeep trails over rolling hills, and beside a growing number of cattle. Our route crisscrossed the Idaho/Montana border.

At Morrison lake we took the opportunity to bathe. Cattle lined the hilltop, watching us with curiosity, as if we were ridiculous for swimming in their perfectly good drinking water.

Fully refreshed and loaded up with water, it was time for the day’s end ritual. A climb of another 2 miles. While we could have camped at the lake, we decided that the we would rather make the climb in the early evening with plenty of daylight, then have to do it the following morning. Our plan was to make the climb, and then camp at the first flat spot we could find. Once we crested the top, finding a perfectly flat spot was not that easy. Even so, we had plenty of daylight, so why not push more miles. As we searched for a spot to camp, a familiar figure appeared in the near distance, walking toward us. There was no mistaking the hat, red shirt/jacket and gait. It was ERL! Last we saw him was in the Great Basin and at Atlantic City. ERL had more miles still in him, but decided to camp with us and “catch up”. We shared stories and what each of us has to look forward to as we travel north and ERL travels south, on the CDT. It was nice to spend some time with another CDT hiker. They are so few and far between.

Once the sun had set, it was time to retire to our respective tents. Morning would come soon enough.

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CDT: Land of Elk, and well…Elk

8/2 – 16.1 miles (2179.0 – 2195.1)

Due to the previous night’s “block party”, we ended up sleeping in just a bit. We originally wanted to get an early start, due to the necessary climb up out of Deadman Lake, and the fact that the day was supposed to be ridiculously hot. Often times while thru-hiking, best laid plans aren’t always realized, but you make the best of things as you go. I’ve got to say though, once the elk finally bedded down, the night was as quiet as I have ever heard it…even quieter than a during a gentle snowfall. It was by far, our best night’s sleep since we started this trail. When we emerged from our tent, we were pleasantly surprised that our food bags were unmolested, and were equally surprised at how quiet the morning still was. All I can say if that it must have been a rough night for ALL the “locals”.

It was a relatively “easy” climb on a “gentle” sloped trail out of Deadman Lake. A good part the morning would be spent traversing atop rolling hills accented with scattered tufts of sage and bitter brush. We were alone in this wide expanse.

The air was dry, as was the trail. Fine particles of dust billowed beneath our feet as we marched along. At one point, while looking at the trail, as defined in our Guthook app and my Garmin Earthmate mapping, we briefly considered an overland bushwhack to cut off 3 miles. The route looked fairly straightforward, but then it WAS a “short cut”, and we all know how those seem to turn out for us. Paul was somewhat insistent and applying the “short cut”. I studied the proposed route, and considered giving it a try, but I was in no mood for added “adventure” for the day, and told Paul I’d meet him on the other side. Good Luck.

We both stuck to the recommended and signed CDT. This was a good thing, as there would have been a “slide” down a steep embankment, a water crossing, and a scramble up another embankment to reunite with the CDT, in the “alternate” route we had considered.

For the most part, today we were making good time. While it was stifling hot, and the flies were obnoxious, water was plentiful…when needed. Fishing would have been a fun distraction, in the event I had a license, and we weren’t pressed for time and mileage.

Seemingly, as with most days, there is a “balance” to a days’ “challenges”. Today was no exception. We knew at some point, there would be grumbling and/or exasperation to our day. It couldn’t be that simple. Well, it came, of course, in our last 2 miles of the day. For some reason, the trail inexplicably disappears and you are faced with an “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt, for the trail. Numerous comments in Guthooks talked about “look for a skull”, “follow the carins”, “pretty easy to stay on trail”, “head east”, “head west”, and assorted other “clues”, that for some reason would appear and then disappear from each of our phone’s Guthook app. This made it difficult to figure out how to proceed, so as not to get lost. In the end, we couldn’t find the carins, so we bushwhacked up a steep embankment via several heavily tread game (Elk) trails ,till we zeroed in on the CDT. Nothing about this was fun or adventurous. In fact, it was down right miserable to the point of a meltdown, having over-turned an ankle stepping through a tangle of brush.

Once on top of the hill we had to ascend before we could begin our descent to the creek we would be camping by, we saw the most glorious sight. In an instant, it made up for the bushwhack. In front of us was a mountainside littered with elk. We crept to the edge of our hill to get a better look. We counted over 40+ elk. (We took photos with our phones, but the lighting was such that none of them turned out, so we deleted them…sorry) They saw us, but for the most part, were not concerned with our presence. We could have watched them for hours, but as luck would have it, menacing clouds were beginning to form to our left. Thunderous rain was on the way…again.

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CDT: Up Sheep Creek

8/01: 17 miles (Lima – 2179)

Rather than have a 7 day food carry with a 15 mile water carry to start out with from Lima, we took Mike’s advice (Mountain View Motel) and began our section to Leadore via Little Sheep Creek Rd. This would mean only a 5 day carry, and water at Buffalo Springs after a 3 mile uphill.  As always, “short cuts” and alternates are not always easier.

The climb started on a faint trail and then became an all out bushwhack to a sparsely used ATV trail. The ATV trail devolved into a single track that rounded several hillsides and then descended sharply to Buffalo Spring.

Buffalo Spring

Once we watered up, we began a “connect the carins” walk over low brush, atop ridgelines with incredible views.

Today we received our first trail magic on the CDT, in the most unexpected way.

As we traversed a rolling ridgeline upon an ATV trail that the CDT travels, out of the blue a truck appeared behind us. They stopped to talk, and offered us water and beer. In all honesty, we really weren’t in the mood to talk. We were focused on trying to descend to a valley and climb over a ridgeline before the thunder/lightning showers began for the day. But then, who are we to turn down impromptu trail magic. They had “heard” that the CDT travels through here, but had never seen or gotten the opportunity to talk to CDT hikers.  We couldn’t help but oblige them. We talked about the trail, what we carry, and how we resupply. They were a father/son duo. The father was showing his son his old stomping grounds of when he used to run cattle for a ranch he worked for.  He asked us if the trail goes by a Buffalo Jump. Buffalo Jump? We went by Buffalo Spring, but nothing on our route showed Buffalo Jump. In fact, what’s a Buffalo Jump, we asked. He pointed to the nearby limestone cliffs, and explained that the First Nation Peoples’, would often herd the buffalo over cliffs as a way to kill a large number of them in order to feed their people.  (This particular area we were traversing was inhabited by the Shoshone and Bannock …who had formed an alliance.) He took his son to view the Buffalo Jump in this area and to show him the piles of boney remains that still lie at the bottom of this particular limestone cliff. I wish we would have known about this earlier, as we surely would have taken a detour to see this. (If you’re interested in learning about Buffalo Jumps, click here.)

We could have talked with these guys for hours (and drank all their beer), but miles needed to be made and the skies were starting to get angry. 

As we headed down to a valley, in which a string of power poles stretched, it began to rain. Thunder rumbled, and streaks of lightning fractured the dark grey skies in the near distance.  We were gonna have to beat feet to get down the fully exposed valley draw, and up the equally exposed climb, to the cover and “safety” of tree line.

Rain pummeled us as we quickly passed under the power poles. Up we scampered, as best we could, on the increasingly slick trail, as lightning and thunder almost occurred simultaneously. Uncomfortable with the distinct possibility of being struck by lightning, Paul acquiesced to my uneasiness and we headed off trail and into a small basin. We ditched our packs and trekking poles, and laid down in the sage brush to observe the “fireworks”. Paul opened his umbrella and decided to nap through the storm.

Lightning struck there on the trail

No sooner did we “take cover”, but I watched as a thick and jagged bolt of lightning struck the trail we had walked upon, near the power poles. My uneasiness fully realized.  Nearly an hour of uneasiness followed as we lay in the dampening dirt, surrounded by the sweet smell of sage. By the time the storm cell passed, our rain gear (with the exception of my Columbia OutDry jacket), and our Tyvek ground cloth I used to “hide” under, were fully wetted out.  (Luckily, it was early enough in the day that we were be able to dry out our gear during a lunch time “yard sale”.)

Once the rain passed, we walked ourselves dry while “skating” uphill in a odoriferous slime of mud and cow paddies, to tree line.

From here, we wove through a pine forest, sporting recent rubs from either elk or deer, trying to shed their itchy velvet.

From a forest trek, to a grassland traverse, and back into a forest we trod, until we finally descended to the practically hidden Deadman Lake. By the time we arrived, we found the lake’s name more than appropriate.

The color of this lake was a rich tourquoise blue. Fish jumped periodically to scarf up the insects hovering close to the lake’s windless surface. Meanwhile, scattered soft rings of bubbles from its spring fed bottom surfaced like a pot simmering on a low flame. It was quite enchanting.

We camped lakeside towards the “left” end of the lake. As we ate our rehydrated meals, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. It was then that I spied a small black bear, across the lake, watching us intently as we ate. Hanging our food properly would be a must. Sleep came early, but was rudely interrupted by cavorting elk just outside our tent. Why we didn’t bother to record this lengthy “conversation”, or even bother to step outside our brightly lit tent (due to the rising Full Sturgeon moon) and video our “neighbors” block party, we will never know. Maybe it was because we were highly annoyed, finally having a completely flat and comfortable place in which to sleep.

When did the presence of wildlife become so “pedestrian” for us?

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CDT: Lima

It’s not hard to tell if someone is out of place or not from a particular area. Often mispronunciations of a town’s name or “slang” references not used by locals, and/or abhorred by them, is a dead giveaway. For instance, we find it particularly telling, and annoying when someone refers to California as “Cali”. Oddly we are not offended when our state is referred to as the “Left Coast”, or the “Land of Fruit and Nuts”. But, here in Montana, not only does our attire (to include wandering about in rain gear, while food shopping) scream outsiders, but when we mispronounce Lima as Lee-ma. Since we began our research for the CDT, we have been calling Lima (pronounced LIE-MA, as in lima bean), Lee-ma. How we didn’t figure out the proper pronunciation, or have someone correct us, we’ll never know. Maybe the “locals” figured that it didn’t matter, as we were mostly just passing through. I think it does a disservice to an area/town/location to perpetuate a mispronunciation, and we apologize for being ignorant.

In the relatively short period of time we’ve been on the CDT, we have discovered that each town that the CDT intersects with is a gem of Americana. I believe it’s where the “heart” of this country lives. Many were once booming towns, vital to the expansion of the West, and filled with significant history. While Lima is a mere shadow of itself, it’s condition and existence is just as important today, as it was in its “heyday” as Montana’s first railway town, and an early 20th century Welcome Center for motorists entering Montana.

Photo credit: Montanahistoricallandscape.com

Hwy 91, in the early 1930’s ran parallel to the railroad tracks, and was once the major route through Montana, but has since been supplanted by the construction of the I-15 beginning in 1958. Much like how the I-15 in Southern California supplanted the infamous Route 66. In order to promote travel into Montana, a “welcome center” log cabin, that originally sat on the old Hwy 91, which is “main street”, was moved to the new “Welcome Center / Rest Stop” in Lima, just off the I-15. (We saw it as Deke was taking the off-ramp to drop us off at the Mountain View Motel, but neglected to walk over to during our stay in Lima.) Today Lima is a hub for hunters, and a vital stop and resupply for not only CDT hikers, but cyclists traversing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Originally Lima was established as Allerdice, with its first post office opening in 1881. I even found a postcard online, post marked with “Allerdice” as the territory it was from. The Utah & Northern Railroad, making Lima the first railroad town in Montana, then changed the name to “Spring Hill”, but it was December 6, 1889, that this town of 200 settled on Lima, after an early settler (Henry Thompson) hometown name of Lima, Wisconsin. For those “thirsty” for a more detailed history of Lima, a book, “Welcome to Lima” was released in 2018, by the Red Rock Valley History Keepers.

We spent 3 nights at the Mountain View Motel. We had initially planned for only two nights, but I needed another full day off my feet to mitigate the tendon problem I was having now with my left foot and I did not have enough KT Tape to stabilize my knee, right ankle and now left foot. So, another day of “RICE” (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) was required. I swear I am falling apart at the seams. All the years of “playing outside” are starting to catch up with me…piece by piece. The additional day, allowed us to “graze” another day and try out the “famous” steak at the historic Peat Hotel and Steakhouse. Unfortunately due to Covid-19, we did not get that chance to cook our own Montana steak, as previously advertised. While the service was slow as molasses, due to the owner having only two other people working. The steak, however, was cooked to perfection. When we went to pay for our meal (and drinks) the young and obviously frazzled and stressed owner, apologized for the less than stellar service. He went onto explain that he could not get people to return to work, as they were making practically the same amount of money being on “unemployment”, with the Covid-19 unemployment “enhancement”. We thanked him for fighting the fight to stay open and wished him our best.

Our “extra” day off proved to be timely as it rained, and I got somewhat caught up on my blog.

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CDT: Into Lima

July 29: 16.8 miles (2113.5 – 2130.3)

When we awoke, it was still raining. The thought of putting on sopping wet clothes was less than encouraging, but today was to be a town day. We had to get going…eventually. First, it needed to stop raining. By the time we had finished breakfast and had packed everything up inside the tent, the rain had stopped.

Trough at Rock Spring

Once fully packed up, we filled our water bottles from the spring and turned toward the trail.

Walking across the trail was a lone doe. She was not bothered by our presence in the least. As we continued on the trail, the sound of braying sheep could be heard.

Soon an entire herd was before us, mowing its way across a wide meadow urged on by a lone cowboy and his dogs.

We wound up, over, down and across soft wooded tread. It was obvious that whoever maintained this section of trail took great pride in its upkeep. Fallen trees had been cleared, and anti erosion measures had been taken for runoff in the steeper areas of the trail.

Boundary markers led us like iron bread sticks along the trail. In and out of Idaho and Montana like a distinctive melody.

We walked mostly in half our rain gear, just in case, as the skies still held some moisture. We couldn’t afford to get cold and wet, as we really had nothing dry to change into.

Naked posts, once holding wire to define a border and property lines, stood to our left as the sky above us cleared and became blue.

Once we made it atop a vast hilltop, we stopped to lunch and spread out all our gear to dry.

“Yard Sale”

In the midst of our “yard sale”, who should appear heading SOBO, but Bo. The last time we saw him, we were by the Green River, doing the same thing…drying our gear. Bo has been section hiking the portions of the CDT near his home. This was one of them.

Once our gear was dried, and we had eaten nearly all of the remaining food we had, we set off for the remainder of our days miles. The last portion of the day, we were told, involved a “dreaded” , mostly “downhill”, 8 mile Jeep road walk. No one really elaborated as to what the condition of the Jeep road was. We imagined the worst, just in case.

As it turned out, it was not that bad, with the exception of two, parts. The first being the fact that in order to get to the “mostly downhill” portion of the Jeep road, you had to climb a grand loose rock littered “up”, that we would not have wanted to take our 4WD up or even down. The second being, walking on hard packed dirt feels like pavement, after a while. It makes for unhappy feet.

At the top of the unmentioned uphill, we discovered a trail register, of which we signed. We looked to see who had signed the register. As we were doing this, we noticed that window of blue sky was beginning to narrow.

Ribbons of rain in the near distance

Menacing dark and treacherous skies flanked us on both sides. We reattached our pack covers and moved our rain gear to the ready. Thunder boomed all around us. Ribbons of rain could be seen in the near distance falling in patches, before moving on briskly. Scratches of lightning scarred the sky to our right. We continued down the road with blue sky narrowing ever more above us. Soon the two storm’s dark clouds, heavy with moisture, would be upon us. All of the sudden a bolt of lightning and a clash of thunder, near simultaneous hit the hill crest to our right. That was enough. Time to duck out and wait for this storm to pass.

Waiting out the storm(s)

Under a short trio of trees we sat out a torrential downpour, and watched as lightning streaked across the sky, mindful of the following thunder’s time delay. An hour passed and so did the storm, for the most part. If we were going to make it into Lima, we needed to beat feet.

We walked as it rained lightly. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Soon the trail left tree line and entered open pasture where we and the cows were the tallest living things. At the point of “no return”, and with nowhere to hide the skies opened upon us again. Sheets of heavy rain, followed by stinging hail, followed by heavy rain, with a near horizontal trajectory pelted us relentlessly for over 20 minutes, as we took cover next to an errant CDT interpretive panel. Any attempt at trying to stay dry, and warm was futile.

Then as quickly as it was upon us, it stopped, and the blue sky began to reclaim the horizon.

The road was slick as snot

With the combination of yesterday and today’s deluge, the once hard packed Jeep road “loosened”, and we found ourselves having to “skate” through slick patches, in a fight to stay upright. I failed, at least once.

Just shy of the I-15, we signed another CDT register and then made our way to what we understood to be the “pick up” location for the Mountain View Motel and RV Park shuttle, that we had called for when we had signal 5 miles away. While at the “pick up” location, below the I-15 there was no cell service, even for the vehicles we flagged down in attempt to check for service…and confirm a ride was coming. 30 minutes had passed the time we had said we’d be at the “pick up” location. The skies were darkening AGAIN, and looked worse than before. We had finally fished out our Lima pages from Yogi’s CDT guidebook, and discovered that there were two pick up times for our location. We had missed both. The phone call was waisted. Not wanting to ride out another storm, up the I-15 embankment we clamored, and stuck our thumbs out with traffic roaring past us at 85mph. The chances of us getting a ride were slim to nun.

10 minutes or so had passed, and so had many vehicles, when a tricked out Ford Mustang roared past us and then came to an abrupt stop nearly 50 yds away. Next thing we know, it is driving in reverse and comes to a stop 25 yds away. Excited, Paul starts running toward the vehicle. “Looks like we have a ride”, he exclaims, “Hurry Up!”. Now, I think we are about to be “punked”, and expect the vehicle to drive off just as we reach it, so I take my time. Nope. It’s a ride for sure. Deke from Libby Montana rescued us. He was on his way home from a work road trip, and decided he would help us out. We talked about family, cars, and traveling. This guy truly had a heart of gold.

We arrived at the Mountain View Motel and checked in. No sooner did we check in, but the skies opened up and it began to rain in sheets, immediately flooding the blacktop outside. Forever grateful for the timely ride, we unpack and prepare to run over to Jan’s across the street for some fresh food. It is then that we realize that we had left our trekking poles in Deke’s car. Luckily he had given us his cell phone number, to call him, if we needed a ride when we got to the Canadian border or Glacier National Park. Turns out we left more than trekking poles in his car. Even though he was quite a ways up the road, he turned around and delivered not only our trekking poles, but a Z-pad, our Tyvek ground cloth, and water bottle or two. Once again we were overwhelmed by Providence and the kindness of “strangers”.

Jan’s Cafe

The rain relented just in time for us to head over to Jan’s for a plate of perfectly cooked pork chops. Turns out, Jan’s also has cabins for rent, which would have been good to know in the event the Mountain View Motel had been full. And before we hit the hay for the evening, the once angry sky erupted into a rainbow of colors.

Sunset over Mountain View Motel

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CDT: Rock Spring

July 28: 16.8 miles (2096.7 – 2113.5)

Having just finished our coffee and beginning to pack up, we spied Damien from Australia approaching our location on the trail. Paul called out to him as I continued packing. He had caught up to us from our first meeting during our Mack’s Inn Cut-Off, “short-cut”. It seems that 30 miles a day “agrees” with him. He was obviously still crushing it. This morning’s trail was comfortable and wooded.

We felt like we were on the PCT in Oregon.

Under cool grey skies, the trail wound its way through a once fire ravaged area. In the near distance we watched as a moose headed down toward the bench we were headed up to. As we walked, a cascade of miniature crickets jumped out of our way directly ahead of us like synchronize swimmers entering a pool.

Once over a narrow saddle, we passed small lakes and ponds fed by seeping springs. Parts of the trail degraded into boggy messes that we tried to tiptoe around and through. However, lush vegetation and colorful live bouquets of flowers surrounded us and the trail.

We weaved through forests “manicured” by herds of grazing sheep, supervised by large independent dogs. At one point on the trail, we had to pause to let a herd of sheep pass.

Sheep on the move, mowing vegetation as they go.

We watched in amazement as they swiftly mowed down the vegetation in their path, with the dogs shepherding them along.

Throughout the day we walked the spine of the Idaho/Montana border, trying to see, if any, what defined either state. Behind us, the skies began to darken. Rain was coming…again. We however, felt confident that based upon our pace and the relative ease of the trail that we would make it to Rock Spring (8,957 ft) well before the rain, if at all, began to fall.

So confident were we in this, with a significant climb ahead of us, we took an hour break with 3 miles to go. Besides, it was 3:30 and we had completed nearly 14 miles. Maybe our “trail legs” had finally arrived!

Sometimes when you look up, you see unusual things

As we began our climb, it was much steeper than we anticipated. Switchbacks were practically non-existent. Rain began to fall lightly as we climbed. Luckily, we had already put on our pack covers…just in case. This section of the trail was reminiscent of the uphill “goat trails” on our Trans Catalina Trail thru-hike. More specifically, the uphill version of Fenceline Road’s downhill into Parson’s Landing. Loose, square “marbles”, now becoming wet, made the ascent especially challenging.

The last part of the uphill climb ascended along, and over, an exposed volcanic rock area. With a little over 2 miles left till the spring, and as we reached the exposed portion of the trail, the wind whipped up, the temperature dropped dramatically, and then the skies opened up.

Hard to see but it is raining…hard

Thunder boomed and rain began to throttle us, sideways. It was as if someone hit the ball on the bullseye of the dunk tank, at a artillery range. It was that loud and we were that wet, that fast. In fact, we were soaked to the bone well before we were able to get our rain jackets on. Flashes of nearby lightning kept us from adding rain pants. Up the trail we hustled, double-time. We made it up and over the top (9,177 ft), and we breathed a sigh of relief as the trail dipped downward. There was still very little cover to be had, but at least we weren’t at the top, and in a fully exposed area. We continued to be pelted by the rain and its now freezing wind. I tried to pull my now shriveled white hands further into the sleeves of my rain jacket in an effort to retain whatever warmth they still had. I could feel my body temperature begin to drop. We had expected, as with most of the “storms” that happened upon us, for it to pass fairly quickly. This one failed to do so, and was much colder than previous deluges we have been caught in. This particular “summer” storm’s rain cloud had settle in for the long haul, it seemed. My teeth began to chatter and I could feel what little coordination I have, slipping away. Shit. We were within striking distance (less than a mile) of Rock Spring, and decided to continue, rather than to set up camp and get “warm”. We needed water, and this storm had the potential to last well into the night and next day. As long as we kept moving, we would stay “warm” enough, we thought. When we got to Rock Spring, we looked in earnest for a flat place and cover in which to set up our tent. The sheepherder’s nearby canvas tent looked like an inviting place to seek temporary shelter, but we decided against it. We considered waiting out the rain under the partial cover of branches from a good sized pine tree, but we were, and had gotten too cold to do so without the threat of full blown hypothermia becoming a deadly reality. Inside our packs, we knew we had dry clothes, and warm dry sleeping bags. We just needed get out of the wind and rain, and our sopping wet clothes, pronto!

With icy cold fumble fingers, under the partial cover of the pine branches, as the rain assaulted us sideways from the wind, we “built” our tent (rainfly and all). Then, as if in a team calf roping event, we threw down our Tyvek ground cloth, tossed the tent upon it and as one held the tent in place, the other affixed the stakes. It wasn’t pretty, but the tent was up. As Paul went to collect water, I tossed our backpacks under the respective vestibules, and then set about re-securing the tent stakes and guying out the rainfly lines to be as taut as possible. The fact we had set up on a slant amidst once dried piles of horse and cow shit was not lost on this endeavor. Sometimes you do what you gotta do-do. Once satisfied the tent would hold long enough for me to get into it. I quickly as I could, unzipped the vestibule door, but not without the zipper snagging on the fly. Another reason, we are NOT endeared by this tent. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised that the interior was dry…but not for long. Paul quickly joined me inside with both of our 3 liter CNOC water bags filled. “I don’t think we need to filter. It was coming out of a pipe”, he announced.

Wet clothes (and other stuff) outside…dry clothes inside

By the time Paul entered the tent, I had already fished out our clothes bags from our packs and was in the process of stripping down, and putting on my thermals. Even without Paul now in the tent, putting on anything dry is incredibly hard to do, in a cramped space, with sticky wet skin and fumble fingers.

Many uses of a Gossamer umbrella

To enhance and retain what little heat we were producing on our own, we added our still dry rain pants, actually thankful that we hadn’t had the time to put them on. Soon the JetBoil was fired up and we were scarfing down scalding hot mashed potatoes…out of the bag. They warmed our insides and our hands as we ate.

We had thought by the time we set up and ate, the rain would have abated. Nope. From what we could tell, it rained all night. I was thankful I didn’t have to pee.

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CDT: The Eyes Have It

July 27: 17.2 miles (2079.5 – 2096.7)

As we were finishing our breakfast just after sunrise, we noticed two CDT hikers traveling south bound. They did not see us. We assume it was because they were looking at Guthook (for the spring most likely), and were also probably watching the trail tread in front of them.

We have never been on a trail where so much time is devoted to watching the ground while walking. Not even on the Klondike Goldrush, Chilkoot Trail, deemed the “meanest 33 miles in history”, did we watch our feet as much as we have thus far.  Unlike the PCT, there is very little “mindless” walking here. There is no real groove or rhythm to be had.  We have come to accept this. It is better to resign yourself to the mantra of, ‘The trail is what the trail is going to be’. ‘Embrace the suck’, we were warned. Frankly you have no choice.

Time to climb and bushwack on a faint suggestion of a trail

For us though, we have coined the term, “Embrace the Brutifulness”.

I would think that at a little over a month in, that these climbs would get easier, that my lungs and legs would have finally “surrendered” to their daily regiment. Apparently my lungs and legs have a mind of their own. They somehow trick my brain to trigger thirst, hunger, pain and even a meltdown or two. They are conniving and ruthless, and often stop at nothing until they get their way.  Thankfully, the eyes however, have been able to temper this rebellious pair.  In fact, the eyes have even been able to “motivate” the pair, not only to keep going when they’d rather not, but also to override the brain when it tells them something is “classified” as dangerous, or outside its (the brain’s) comfort zone.

Upper Red Rock Lake (Montana) behind me as I sit in Idaho

Today, the eyes prevailed.

Flowers. Ridgelines. Clear skies. Being in two states at the same time (Idaho/Montana). A relatively “flat” stretch of trail with expansive views. Yup. The eyes had the legs and lungs doing its bidding, for a change. We spent a good portion of the morning and early afternoon at over 9,000 feet. Once we got to 9,000 feet, the trail followed what appeared to be a once used, and obviously hearty, graded road. 

Pretty good “road”

It was wide and based on its current condition, built to last. We passed by the “short” trail to Taylor Mountain.

Trail to summit of Taylor Mountain

Had we taken that, we would have discovered remnants of an abandoned ski lift, that was obscured from our view.  It appears that Taylor Mountain sported a ski lift as early as the 1940’s, and from what I could find, operated from 1959-72, then 1975-79. It was promoted, along with other “small” Idaho ski areas in a 1970’s Idaho tourism promotion, “Ski the Great Potato”. Taylor Mountain was vandalized in the 70’s (I assume 73/74). Combine that with a few years of less than optimal snowfall, it obviously never recovered. Based on this knowledge, and looking at satellite imagery of the area and area road maps, I believe the portion of the trail we walked on, that appeared to be a graded road, to include the “drivable” switchbacks, was the Taylor Mountain Resort road. If anyone knows better, please let me know.

After the switchbacks, and a few miles after you pass a Targhee National Forest sign, the trail narrows. At one point the trail forks into two CDT routes. The “new” reroute of the CDT as shown on Guthook, but poorly marked, and the previously marked and “old” route. The “new” route seems to have been purposely rerouted to pass by a spring, that one used to have to bushwhack 2/10th of a mile off trail, to access it. With this reroute, it significantly reduces the mostly shade-less 17 mile water carry. 

The problem is that the “old” route is still marked with US Forest Service CDT trail marker signs, and is, well, “shorter” and well tread upon, as opposed to the new route. Had we not missed the turnoff to the new route, by a mile, we would have taken the new route.  As it was, portions of the “old” route weren’t particularly fun as it was fraught with “Land Mines”. “Land Mines”, for me, are soft portions of soil from recently “filled” holes and/or enormous gopher or badger holes that are obscured from view via tall grass and thick vegetation, that lie directly in the path of the trail. As my luck would have it, I rolled my left ankle in not one, but several of them as we walked “blindly” along, during a hillside traverse. Better that this happened toward the end of the day, rather than its beginning, and that the route’s views were still stunning.

“old” signed route of the CDT

From single track to ATV track, the trail led us across the border from Idaho (once again) into Montana, and across a robust flowing creek, teaming with mosquitos, but icy cold and clear.

Just past the creek, we pulled off the CDT to camp by a lone pine tree in the middle of a lumpy meadow of mules ear plants, surrounded by marauding mosquitos in what felt like super bear territory. Even in the lumpiness, sleep came quickly.

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CDT: Yogi ride

July 26: Mack’s Inn Cut-Off , mile 15-32.1(17.1) – ,2076.2 -2079.5 (3.3) 20.4 miles

Thanks to Issac and Justin at High Mountain Adventures in Island Park (next to the Sawtelle Mountain Resort), who helped us out big time. While the Mack’s Inn Cut-Off is 32.6 miles in total, the next 10 miles for us was to be on the Sawtell Peak Rd, where it the mercifully turns off onto a trail, that supposedly turns into a 3.5 mile bushwhack, that intersects with (NOBO) mile 2076.2 of the CDT. In a text we received from Google the day before, he wrote, “Made it up the road out of town. Hitch it if you can. Extremely busy with idiots on 4 wheelers and the dust is oppressive. Also super long uphill”. We decided to take Google’s advice.

In total, Sawtell Peak Rd is 13 miles and ends at the top of Sawtell Mountain. We originally went into High Mountain Adventure’s, the day before, to ask about Sawtell Peak Rd. We had no idea how far up it went and if/when it became an ATV road. We spoke with Issac who told us that it was gravel road that went up to the top of Sawtell Mountain. “It’s a 3000 ft climb over 12 miles”, he told us, and then asked us if we wanted to rent an ATV to “check out the view”. We told him we would be checking out the view, eventually, but that we were on foot, hiking the CDT. “Doesn’t seem like there are very many of you this year,” was his response. We asked if he thought it would be hard to get a hitch up the road. Issac asked us when we needed a ride. “Tomorrow” was our response. Issac then said that he’s been wanting to “go for a drive”, and offered to take us up the road the following morning.

They morning came, and we met Issac at the appointed time, but their business got slammed, and we had to put it off till after 1pm. 1pm rolled around and we loaded up.

And so begins our Yogied ride

We honestly did NOT expect to be taken the 10 miles all the way to the trailhead.

Trailhead just off Sawtell Road.

Down the trail we trotted, after we had drank the extra liter of water we had put in our pack…just in case it was a short ride.

Thus, our 20.4 mile day entailed only 10.4 miles of actual trail walking. 12 miles, if you count the extended bushwhack, wherein we missed (again) our “turn” to begin the “scheduled” bushwhack. To say we overshot it would be an understatement. Short-cuts aren’t always that short, has been proven once again.

During the height of our “scheduled” bushwhack, we came upon a group of ladies on horseback. They we taking a break in the shade and asked us if we were looking for the trail register. Trail register? Yup, on the bushwhack “trail” there is a Mack’s Inn Cut-Off Trail Register, in an ammo box, by a stream bed. Paul signed the register while I battled horse flies (hence no picture). The ladies were on an annual horse pack trip. This time they chose Idaho. They asked us where we were headed. We told them we were hiking the CDT and were headed to Lilian Lake for water. They told us they had just come from there. What? You mean there is an actual trail? They didn’t know if there was a trail, but that after 10 horses walking single file from there, there should be a trail now. Jack Pot! We had certainly lucked out this day. One of the ladies led us to where they had stopped, and from there we followed a nicely trod “trail” most of the way to Lilian Lake, until we had to bushwhack down to where Guthook had us approaching Lilian Lake.

We knew it had gotten just too “easy”. We watered up at Lilian Lake and soon were back on the CDT, proper, at mile 2076.2.

The trail continued to climb, but with actual switchbacks, over and through amazing terrain, with stellar vistas.

We also cross/enter a portion of the US Sheep Experiment Station. It includes close to 28,000 acres, and per wikipedia its mission is “to develop integrated methods for increasing production efficiency of sheep and to simultaneously improve the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems”

With the sun getting lower in the sky, we called the day just past a small spring (mile 2079.5) that took some effort to find a good place to collect its icy cold elixir. Our view, although a bit hazy on the edges, thanks to fires in Northern California, was amazing.

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