Miraculously we got a hitch outta Steamboat Springs right in front of the Rabbit Ears Motel, where we stayed.
Kris was a local, and avid hiker, an all around outdoors woman. She thought road/hwy walks were dangerous and was happy to take us to Muddy Pass, where we would rejoin the CDT at Hwy 14… and, ironically, road walk the 9 miles to County road 53, which is a dirt road.
As we started out, the air was crisp and traffic was practically non-existent. We walked opposite traffic, on the shoulder. Most cars would steer wide of us, smile and wave, obviously familiar with CDT hiking season. At mile 6 we stopped and talked with two fisherman whose trailer had “smoked” a bearing. They offered us a beer. We graciously accepted, at 9 am. With less than one mile before we were off the CDT highway walk, we nearly got sideswiped by some impatient jackhole with California plates who thought it was a great idea to pass three cars, while going uphill. He came so far into the oncoming traffic lane that he missed us at the fog line by a foot. I nearly turned into him as I turned to see where this odd sound was coming from. This incident furthered our resolve to avoid paved road walks, in the future, at all costs. One would think that if 9miles of the CDT has to be along Hwy 14, the CDT coalition, or at least the Colorado highway division would post a warning sign to alert drivers to CDT hikers.
Once off the 14, we turned onto County rd 53, and breathed a sigh of relief. We parked ourselves, and lunched at a newly erected CDT interpretive panel (SOBO mile 1548.6), sans the panel information.
The dirt road/CDT weaved it’s way over rolling hills and thickets of Aspen and pine. A ferocious, but “quick” storm rolled in that had us diving for cover amongst the trees as thunder roared above us. Once in the trees, the spigot turned on full blast. We quickly dug out our rain jackets that had been securely stuffed at the bottom of our packs. A flash of lightning directly in front of us, and an immediate crack of thunder had us more than a little concerned. 20 minutes later, and still fairly dry, we emerged from our cover and continued down the trail.
Eventually the trail entered Arapahoe National Forest and began it’s gradual ascent as it wove through groves of Aspen whose leaves chattered in the wind. We completed the day at our intended stopping point, just short of a 20 mile day. Luckily, Jim, who is a regular camper/hunter in the area came upon us on his side by side, and gave us water, after informing us that the supposed water source where we intended to camp and get water was dry. He gave us some good information about the area, and additional reliable water sources.
Shortly after setting up camp, who should appear, but Thomas. He too thought water would be available at this site. We informed him of his water choices, to either go back 2miles, or go forward 3. He chose to continue forward. We told him that we’d see him for breakfast. He smiled and laughed, and continued on his way.
8/22: 18.4 mi (1558.5 – 1576.8)
When we got to the spring to collect our water and have breakfast, Thomas was just packing up. Seems that he lost his charge cord for his iPhone along the way. Sadly we were of no help to him as we are Android people. He was in a quandary as to whether to walk back to hwy 14 and hitch to a town and buy a cord, or continue on to where the CDT crossed hwy 123 and hitch to town then. His phone was completely dead. He looked at our maps on Paul’s phone and took a mental note of where the trail goes…forward. He told us that he’d sit awhile and decide what to do, as we continued on.
In a few places along the way, we made sure to leave arrows to mark the way, in the event he decided to move forward. Along the way I discovered more ripe and wild strawberries, enough to treat myself to a handful. Paul couldn’t be bothered. Everytime we stopped for a short break, I also picked the grouse berries whose short bushes practically covered every inch of the ground. When we stopped for lunch and water, Thomas reappeared. He told us he would continue on and duck out at hwy 123 for his phone cord.
Most of the day was spent climbing to 11530ft in chilling winds that blew like they were from Wyoming!
Once past Troublesome Pass we found a decent campsite and 4G cell reception. We called our kids.
Water for the last two days has been a deciding issue as to where to end up, mainly so we are set up for the next day’s lengthy carry…usually uphill. Tomorrow would be paramount to be watered up. A 2,200 ft climb to over 12,000 ft was on the menu with no water for the next 10 miles. This should be fun.
8/18: 20.9 mi (1463.9 – 1482.8 + 2mi fire alternate)
We awoke to an awesome sunrise, and then it was downhill…very downhill, to coffee. Steep and rocky with no switchbacks, made for tedious foot work to keep from descending out of control.
Today was the day we would finish our third state of the CDT, Wyoming. Today we cross into Colorado. Breakfast in Wyoming and lunch in Colorado. Pretty cool we thought. There’s something special and invigorating about walking from one state to another.
Even better is coming upon impromptu trail magic. Just as we exited the single track trail, we came upon Mark, who, with his red truck and mountain bike, had “escaped” California, and the smoke from it’s fires.
He was on a lengthy camping/cycling/fishing trip. We talked at length about his, and our travels. He shared fresh fruit, and much needed water with us. He told us about the devastation the fires had near his home. It was when his cousin, around his age, who had completed a portion of the PCT died recently, that he realized life was short and he’d always wanted to do a “drive about” and see other states. We agreed that life is short and that’s why we take on the adventures we do.
Eventually it was time to get moving and make our way down the wide forest road, that was shared with massive logging trucks. Needless to say we have them wide berth when we heard them coming.
Forest road led to single track forest trail, and finally to our much anticipated Wyoming/Colorado border. No fan fare. No one to greet us, except maybe a curious doe, who wanted us to share our lunch with her.
Our foray and excitement into Colorado was somewhat thwarted, as at mile 1482.8 we had to begin an alternate path to skirt a fire closure. This entailed taking two forest roads to Hwy 129, and into Steamboat Springs.
Colorado also “welcomed” us with our first real rain of the hiking season. We donned our rain jackets and hoisted our umbrellas, but the rain became so intense that we had to duck under a stand of trees for nearly an hour, before venturing back on trail.
Because we were on a temporary alternate, we had no water information. We did however discover a spring nearly a mile into the alternate. It was more of a seep, but we were able to improve it, in true “hiker trash” ingenuity, so that collecting water would be infinitely easier.
We knew a storm was brewing, and we were hoping to get into Steamboat Springs before it let loose. In true 2moremiles fashion, we had no such luck.
We had barely set up our tent on an old (unused) spur road off FSR 500 when the skies turned black and the wind began to roar…and then, the deluge began. The rain and wind did it’s best to punch it’s way through my side of our tent’s vestibule. Thunder rumbled for hours as flashes of lightning accented the night…and the interior of our tent.
8/19: FSR 500-550 to Hwy 129
The alarm went off at it’s usual ungodly hour. No audible signs of rain, even though a good portion of my sleeping bag and gear stowed inside was damp. (Paul’s side was nearly dry) I was thankful that I had decided before the deluge began to pull my pack inside the tent and stow it at my feet. Otherwise, everything would have been a sopping muddy mess.
Reluctantly we packed in a hurry and began our march to Hwy 129 via FSR 550. Gray skies threatened as we walked, and then fulfilled upon their “promise”. It rained. The wind blew fiercely. We kept walking, not only to keep ourselves “warm”, but also because we knew it was only going to get worse. We stopped twice. Once to make coffee, in a tired attempt to warm up, and the second time, when we came upon a Forest Service bathroom, that was warm and dry…to put on an additional layer of dry clothing.
Fully drenched and now road walking down Hwy 129 several miles past Columbine, a couple from Salida Colorado, picked us up and gave us a ride in the back of their pick-up truck, we were so pathetic. They took us a few miles down the road to where they were headed out for a hike, and where it was NOT raining.
From there, Katie picked us up and brought us all the way into Steamboat Springs, where we had packages to pick up at the post office.
She recommended Loco Taco Mexican Grill for quality Mexican food (of which we were craving), and The Rabbit Ears Motel. It was centrally located to where we needed to be.
8/19-20 Zero Miles!
We lounged and ate our way through Steamboat Springs and even caught the last weekend of the Steamboat Rodeo for an evening of entertainment. We even went to the Big Agnes outlet store in hopes of finding a bigger version of our tent (Tiger Wall UL2). No three person version available, but we did find out that if we contact BA, they often do trade-in, or trade ups of their products. We send them our TWUL2 and they will evaluate it’s condition, and allow us to apply that to, let’s say a Tiger Wall UL3. Pretty cool!
Resupply completed. Packages forwarded, and some articles sent home, we were ready to get back on trail, and see what Colorado has to offer.
On Friday August 13th we arrived in Rawlins after hitting the REI in Utah to get new long johns (for me), gloves and shoes (for Paul), a new air mattress (for me), as mine had gone flat over a week ago, and a new Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter. Somehow our filter developed a crack and we weren’t confident crazy glue would work… completely. We also stopped at Costco for some resupply food and new trekking poles (for me).
When we rolled into Rawlins, we mailed packages to Steamboat Springs and had a few hours to find a place to store our truck for the next three months. All but one place was available, but it fit our needs and the owner gave us a ride back to our hotel.
8/14 (1373-1406.4: 35 miles) The following morning we set off through the vacant streets of Rawlins, and onto the CDT. Mexico here we come!
We had a decision to make. Continue to road walk the 36 miles on (paved) Hwy 71 till it intersects with the CDT, or walk as far as Bridger Pass road, access a water cache and then follow the “redline”.
We did even better. We road walked for 5miles AND got a hitch from Rawlins’ CDT Ambassador, Jake, to Bridger Pass road. He was in his way to hike Bridger Peak at Battle Pass. We didn’t need to access the cache as Jake provided us with freshly iced Gatorades. This shaved off 10 miles of a brutal road hike on an ever warming asphalt. The day’s temperature was supposed to reach the 90’s, and with the Wyoming wind, we figured our umbrellas may not be useful. However, this particular day, the wind was almost non existent.
We marched on a well used dirt road for 20 miles in the searing heat, taking breaks every 3-4 miles, and getting water where we could.
We watered up at a particularly nasty pond (clearer than the others) who’s water was “rated” as “bitter” (highly alkaline) but “drinkable”, as a last resort before the Muddy Creek spot where we hoped to get water. Luckily we found a spring/pond off trail (not listed on Guthook) and were able to switch out the bitter pond water for a more palatable liquid. We topped off all our water bottles, just in case Muddy Creek was, well muddier than the last notes left on Guthook’s water report for that site.
When we arrived at the creek, we found it less than desirable. This required that we “dry camp”, which means that we did not heat/use any water, but resorted to eating our snacks for dinner. This allowed us to save our last liter of water for the following morning’s trek to a more reliable water source, some 5 miles away.
We were however, treated to one of the most lengthy and spectacular sun sets either of us had ever seen.
We may have used entirely too much of our phone’s storage capturing the brilliance of this sunset. Once the sun and set, the “light show” began. Giant flashes of lightning lit up the sky to our north. As it was so far away, no rumbling of thunder followed. Eventually fatigue overcame our evening’s entertainment on the “CDT TV”, and we drifted off to sleep.
8/15: 22.8 miles (1406.4 – 1429.2)
It appears that as the morning light exposed our tent’s placement, the area’s chief Bull had a problem with it. Luckily we had decided to rise early and pack quickly, in order to get to water…and morning coffee. Had we not not, I’d dare say that the Bull would have done more than just dust up the ground, “moo” , shake his weiner at us and stomp toward us. As I finished packing up, Paul was looking for rocks, to hurl at the Bull, just in case the clanking of the trekking poles didn’t work to ward him off enough, so we could skedaddle without being trampled.
We got away without any further incident, even though the Bull did try and follow after us. As such, we made excellent time to the next water…5 miles away. It was a stream that had been rehabilitated, which was short for they figured out a way to keep the cows from fouling the water. Here we watered up and had breakfast. This might turn into a “thing” – hiking a couple miles in the morning, and then having breakfast. Our next water was some 6 miles further, and was fabled to be a piped spring.
Glory of glories, it was true! It was delicious and icy cold. Here we “cameled up” and drank 2 liters each, as well as filling our water bottles. This section of the Great Basin (Red Basin actually) has very few good and reliable water sources this time of year.
The day’s walk was through wide open spaces and vast stretches of sage brush. We spied a few pronghorn, who saw us and ran…like the wind, as well as a few rust colored mule deer.
Most of the day was overcast, which made for a pleasant trek. The first half of the day was mostly walking a dirt road. The second half of the day morphed into “two-track” (ATV). As we slowly climbed in altitude, trees became available for a shaded lunch stop, and nap.
We concluded our day, camped aside a clear flowing creek, nestled in a narrow valley with short green grass and wandering deer. If we didn’t know any better, one would have thought we were in a county park.
8/16: 20.1 miles (1429.2-1449.3)
Up early to beat the heat, we rolled up camp sans breakfast and were hiking uphill with headlamps before sunrise. In no time our trail intersected with Hwy 71, that now once more became the official CDT.
After a 1.5 mile road walk down the middle of a perfect asphalt road, the CDT made a left onto a dirt road and headed toward the hills, and trees. At the turn off we stopped for breakfast. We had 12 more miles till good/reliable water, that of course involved a 1500 ft climb, but over the 12 miles.
From breakfast we carried two full liters, just to be safe. In all we would be gaining significant elevation (2877 ft), as our intended end point, making it a 20 mile day, would be at 10,620 ft. Tomorrow morning we will crest 11100 ft, our highest on the CDT so far.
8/17: 14.6 mi (1449.3 – 1463.9)
Up early again. This time no coffee. It’s a town day! The idea was to get going, and hopefully have a full breakfast in the town of Encampment and/or Riverside. This did not mean that we didn’t stop some three miles in (1451.5) on an amazing hillside to eat what little breakfast food we had left and sip coffee, and gaze at the hazy ripple of mountains before us, as the sun rose. For us, it’s the best part of the day. The youngsters seem to like sunsets better. I think we’re more drawn to sunrise as it’s a promise of a new day, full of potential.
As usual for the past few mornings, Thomas sauntered by us and smiled as we sipped steaming Via coffee from our plastic cups.
When we got to Battle Pass, Thomas was still trying to get a hitch. Paul got out our sign, “CDT Hikers to Town”, and in no time we had a ride. They dropped us at Riverside, as it had the best Country Store. We did a quick (and expensive) resupply and then wandered over to the Mangy Moose for a beer, while waiting for the restaurant next door to open. No breakfast meal for us…darn.
After fueling up with “fresh” vittles, we wandered over to the Carbon County Visitor’s Center. Here we charged our electronics and met the most interesting man…in the world. “Cowboy Wadsworth”. He is a WWII veteran, who was full of stories, that oddly were very close to home. He was quite familiar with Newport Beach, Mammoth, had surfed Doheny and Trestles. Skied and built the Yoddler in Mammoth. We talked about the 395 and how lush the orchards used to be along that stretch before LA used up all the water. He was full of stories, laughter and vigor. Time passed quickly. He thanked us for stopping in. He even finagled a ride for us back to Battle Pass. When we go to pick up our truck from Rawlins when we finish the trail, we are going to make a point to stop in again. He says he’s there every day.
Once back at Battle Pass, we were treated to an easy trail with wide open green grassy meadows and easy rolling climbs. For awhile we also played the “can we walk out of a brooding storm?”, and “where’s the next carin?”
Eventually we ran out of steam and found a semi flat piece of ground, near water and called it a day…still in Wyoming.
We lucked out and got a hitch out of Anaconda to the Twin Lakes trailhead, from a local trail angel (Free Spirit). As it turns out she had already planned to head up to the Twin Lakes trailhead to hike with a friend. She had just ducked into the Hostel to give Destiny her card to let CDT hikers know she was available for rides. She offered to give us a ride rather than have to walk the highway to the trail head. We seized upon the Godsend opportunity.
Up and early, we cram into Free Spirits car. The highway was an easy drive, but the road up to the Twin Lakes trailhead was more adventurous than I would ever drive my car…and I have 4wd. She said she loves these kind of drives.
Once at the trailhead, we parted ways and literally skipped up the trail. We had two big climbs for the day. Both had to beat a predicted thunder storm.
The trail to Twin Lakes was gorgeous, and opened up at times to “Disney-esque” meadows.
A quick snack break at Twin Lakes and then onto the first big climb. We of course somehow lost the actual trail, and found ourselves on a well worn game trail. This led to a scramble, jungle type bushwhack uphill, through a tangle of trees, in order to rejoin the “redline”.
Up and over the first pass (Twin Lakes), we could now see clouds gathering into menacing shapes and colors. As we made our way down to Storm Lake (appropriately named) the wind picked up and the sun became muted. As we crossed the dam, we spoke with a couple. One of which was a retired backcountry forest ranger, who had actually worked this particular range. We asked her about the pass up ahead and what she would do with the current brewing storm above. She said she would wait it out, as there was no cover after the pass. We took her advice and made our way around the lake to a stand of trees that blocked the fierce wind, and now cold rain. Here we had lunch and took a nap.
It was amazing how quickly and ferociously this storm passed through. In an hour and a half it went from the sun shining brightly, to dark moist skies with a blustery fog sweeping across the lake, to placid calm, and piercing blue skies.
Up and over the Storm Lake pass we climbed to reveal an open bowl of wonderment, and another pass…Goat Flat.
It was stark and treeless, but stunning all the same. It is here that the Anaconda Cut-off meets the CDT redline (mile 544).
We continued down the trail and set up camp at Flower Lake, just as it started to rain.
8/9: 18.4 mi (546.4 – 564.8)
We awoke to a brutally cold morning. My REI thermometer read 34° and didn’t get much over 42° all day! On top of that, we had two hard climbs. Rainbow Pass (9250 ft) and Cutaway Pass (8736 ft). Both passes opened up into beautiful views with wide open bowls. Both climbs however left me totally wrecked, to include the lower third of one of my trekking poles. Luckily we had a rubber tip to place on the end to keep it from splitting further up the shaft.
8/10: 17.2 mi (564.8 – 582)
Two climbs for the morning. Rainbow Mountain at 9264 ft, and then Pintlers Pass at 8736 ft. Both were hearty climbs, but “gentler” than the previous day’s climbs.
As the day progressed, we weaved our way through a dry and heavily burned area with a plethora of tangled blowdowns. As it was tremendously windy, the trees still left standing became suspect and worrisome.
We came across a saddle (not the horse kind) where the wind was absent, but the sound was like that of a roaring waterfall. As we walked along the trail we braced for the moment that the wind would match it’s sound. When we reached that vortex, it was like momentarily being in a wind tunnel. Strangest thing ever.
Collecting water and finding a safe campsite became our marching orders, as the gusting wind was non-stop, and the hazardous trees were a-plenty.
8/11: mile 852 – Mussingbrod Lake Campground. (Creek Fire alternate)
Turns out that where we decided to camp (another saddle devoid of wind, but NOT it’s roar) was the safest place for miles. The wind howled but not a flicker of movement from our tent or nearby trees.
Our 8 mile walk into Mussingbrod Lake was cluttered with countless blowdowns, and even more creeking with failing intentions.
Due to the still burning fires of the Trail Creek and Black Mountain fires, the portion of the CDT that continues to Lemhi Pass and ultimately to Leadore, was closed. This resulted in our reroute to Mussingbrod Lake. Once there, we had to either finagle a ride or walk the 20 miles from there into the town of Wisdom.
We walked into one of the nicest, but vacant campgrounds we’ve ever seen. This campground was laid out beautifully, with an equally pristine lake in which to recreate, sans motor craft. While searching for water, in preparation for our 20 mile shadeless road walk, we located one camper. Jason and Shanon (from Missoula) had an awesome set-up. Great rig, truck, bikes, ATV. They must have been overjoyed to have the entire campground to themselves…then we arrived. We asked them about the road to Wisdom, and they described it as dry and desolate. No cover what so ever. Awesome! But then they offered to give us ride into Wisdom, in “exchange” for tips on backpacking and thru-hiking. Shanon has her sights on doing a long trail.
We gladly accepted the “terms”, and piled into their truck. They were right, the road to Wisdom was dry and desolate.
They dropped us at Wisdom and we immediately went to the Antler which Jason and Shanon said had the best Pizza and Salads…as well as cold beer. They were not, incorrect.
Once fully satiated, it was time to hitch to the Lost Trail Pass. We had NO intention of walking along the shoulder of Highway 43, that from what we could see was fairly busy. Nor did we plan on walking the shoulder of Highway 93 to Salmon Idaho, and then onto Leadore. We have been nearly hit so many times during road walks, that having a “continuous footpath” during closures and/or reroutes is not worth the danger it presents.
Now Hobbit, who ate entire pizza by himself, was not convinced that we could successfully hitch from Wisdom to Hwy 93, let alone to Salmon and/or Leadore. Paul, the eternal optimist countered with,”watch, 10 minutes tops”. In less than 5 minutes, Diane (who owns the Crossing Bar & Grill) came racing toward us in her car. “Get in” she said, “I don’t work for another hour. I’ll take you as far as the Pass”. Wala. Hobbit was more than impressed. We all clamoured in, thankful for our Providence. As we got to the Pass, we saw a red Dodge truck with it’s hood up. “Maybe if you can fix his car, he’ll give you a ride to Salmon”, Diane said with a chuckle.
With that, we unloaded, and thanked her for the ride. Paul then struck up a conversation with the Dodge truck owner, John. They talked trucks and it just so happened that John was on his way to Salmon. John offered to give us a ride once his truck cooled down. Providence once again.
John dropped us at the Saveway in Salmon. The plan was for Hobbit to buy his resupply for the Leadore to Lima leg. Once we got to Leadore, we would retrieve our truck and drive him to the Bannock Pass trailhead. First we had to get to Leadore. As luck would have it, while seated at the food service/deli tables, a man sat beside us and asked us about our packs. We explained that we were hiking the CDT, but because of the fire closures, we were now trying to get to our truck in Leadore, to drop off Hobbit. Guess what? The guy lives in Leadore, and would gladly give us a ride, but sadly he only had room for one. Divide and conquer became the plan. Paul would ride with Bill, and Hobbit and I would wait till Paul returned with the truck. We would eat ice cream in the meantime.
Staying at the Pintlers Portal Hostel was amazing. They have bunk rooms with triple bunks to each room. They plan to have double bed bunks, but the parts hadn’t arrived yet. Seems that most of what they ordered was sitting on a boat outside of the LA Harbor.
Destiny, the newly hired manager of the Hostel was magnificent. Because their hiker washer/dryers had not arrived yet, she allowed us to wash our clothes in their industrial washer/dryer.
The Hostel is a converted Elks or Lions Club type building. The downstairs included a large area to “lounge” about (on leather recliners), large dining tables and a complete kitchen to cook meals if you want.
In the evening we caught up on our Alone episodes, and I did my best to also catch up on this blog.
The following day (our zero), included shopping for our resupply and attending the Smeltermen’s Brewfest. Problem was, that when we finally got there (3pm-ish), they had actually run out of beer! This meant we had to saunter over to the Smelter City Brewery.
Anaconda was once a town of over 40,000 people. There’s about 9,000 now. In 1891, it lost out to Helena in its bid to become Montana’s capitol. It was one of the largest copper smelting towns in the country. In 1980, the Atlantic Richfield Co., who owned the Washoe Smelter closed the plant. Its 585 ft smoke stack, known as the “tallest surviving free standing masonry structure in the world”, is what remains of the once bustling factory. That, and a huge pile slag (byproduct of copper smelting).
We wandered the downtown and nearby neighborhood areas. It’s a town under a slow renovation. But it holds promise.
The town of Anaconda has been trying to reinvent itself into more of a tourist destination. It holds plenty of history, and loads of recreational opportunities. It is worth a visit.
Rather than take two zeros and pay for a third night in Helena, we opted to “Nero” on the third.
We got a ride from Tom of “Helena Wheels” to MacDonald Pass. Leaving out of Helena was also supposed to be a heavy, mostly waterless carry, to start with. Tom however, said he cached a gallon of water for us, so we didn’t have such a heavy carry. Great guy.
Tom picked us up (per our request) around 3:30pm. Skies were smokier than when we had arrived two days prior. It had rained fairly hard the day before. Complete with thunder and lightning. We hoped it wouldn’t lead to more fires.
The rain was welcome though, because it had been stifling hot in town, and sitting outside the laundry mat in rain gear was like being in a sauna…until it rained…and then, at least, we didn’t look so silly.
Our plan was to hike a few miles in and call it a day. First we had to get by the mile of blowdowns, and then it was a matter of finding a flat place to camp.
Before that Paul realized that we had reached a collective of 1000 miles on the CDT. Awesome. One third done. Much of the area we were walking through/towards had been logged. Large piles of twisted timber (slash piles) were stacked like hives along the landscape.
At mile 366.4, we came across a red cooler full of trail magic. It appears that a gal who is currently hiking the PCT, suggested to her parents that leave “trail magic” for the CDT hikers. Her parents took that suggestion and now it appears that they regularly stock a cooler full of water, sodas, and oranges. Fresh fruit! Yeah! What a treat!
Due to the fact that most of the land was posted private, and we didn’t want to venture any further, we found a flat spot amongst the slash piles and set up. The sunset was a bonus.
8/04: 21.5 mi (366.4 – 387.9)
The first part of the day was pretty cruzy. We made 10 miles by 11:30 am. Prior to that, while collecting our water from the cache Tom had left us, we met “Tartan”. He was hiking NOBO and was on his Triple Crown. His son was supporting him so he could slack pack as much as possible (He’s in his 70’s). We remembered having met him in 2014, on the PCT near Kennedy Meadows.
Generally when one part of the day is “easy”, the next part of the day is NOT. The later part of the day was spent climbing Thunderbolt mountain…in the heat. Sadly the views were too hazy to appreciate. We completed our day fully exhausted by what was called a “lake”, but in all reality was a giant meadow with an icy cold (and deep) creek running through it.
We had hoped to see moose or elk at least on the edges of the meadow, but no such luck. It must of been their day off. At 2am however, we were awaken to the most unusual sounds. It was a cross between the howl of a wolf, the cry of an elk calf, and the scream of a mountain lion. We couldn’t quite place the “Marco polo” cadence of calls as it moved from the far end of the lake towards us. Maybe it was Sasquatch, we chuckled and went back to sleep. This went on periodically for nearly two hours.
8/05: 20.6mi (387.9 – 2mi of Anaconda Cut-off)
We were told there was trail magic at the road. We got two roads, one of which included Champion Pass. No such luck. Clouds overhead were moving fast. A storm was coming in and we also were out of water. We knew that there was water 2 miles into the 52 mile Anaconda Cut-off CDT alternate. We beat feet as fast as we could. With our feet on fire, it began to sprinkle. No worries. We have umbrellas. Now we were looking for water AND a place to set up our tents. We found both just as the skies opened up. This being our first real rain event, we panicked and threw up our tent in the driving rain which resulted with every inch of the interior wet as can be, even though we were pretty quick about it . Rookie mistake. We should have ducked into the thicket of trees, and waited out the storminess. As it stood, it only lasted about 20-30 minutes. Then we could have set up at our leisure, and had a dry interior. We’ll not make that same mistake.
The following morning (8/6) we completed the road walk into Anaconda. It was mostly dirt road that weaved through forested areas and then rolling plains of private property. Once we got to Hwy 48, where there was no shoulder upon which to walk safely, we decided to hitch the rest of the way into Anaconda.
We initially tried to hitch by the Montana State Mental Hospital sign, but that didn’t go so well. A man named Norm, actually turned around from where he was going to give us a ride into town. What a blessing. We were practically out of water and it was blazing hot. At our request, he dropped us on the doorstep of the Printler Hostel.
Turns out we were their first customers. They had just opened that day! Perfect timing.
Now for a much needed zero. And better yet, it looks like we arrived in Anaconda just in time for the Smeltermen’s Brewfest weekend.
Rather than stay at the Benchmark Ranch another night, we decided to do a “Nero” (“minimal mileage”) on trail. We hiked out of Benchmark via a 1.5 mile road walk past the 6000 ft long, Forest Service air strip, and made a left onto Straight Creek Trail. This would take us directly back to the CDT at mile 242.8. Here is where we would spend our “Nero”…after crossing the Straight River.
As we were leaving Benchmark and fired up our InReach, we got this message from Sheepgoat.
What? The Bob was closed? These things happen when you have zero cell service.
As we approached the Straight River TH, we noticed that once again we would be entering The Bob in order to get to our “Nero” destination. Obviously we were overjoyed.
The trail was easy and straight, with the equally Straight River to our right. The trail was also lined with ripe huckle berries that we feasted upon as we meandered down the trail.
The 12 miles went by quickly, and in no time we crossed the river, and set up camp.
We were so glad we camped where we did. After we had set up camp the afternoon, the wind gusted violently the remainder of the day.
We knew that forward of our campsite lie the skeletal remains of a forest fire some 30 years ago. “Widowmakers” everywhere! We were glad we didn’t have to walk or make camp anywhere near these brittle trees. Oddly enough, while eating our rehydrated dinner, and after the wind had ceased to blow, a tree suddenly collapsed, mid trunk and fell some 50yds from where we were. Tent placement is ever so important in dead fall areas.
July 27: 18.3 mi (242.8-260.5)
Up early…as usual, and a calf deep river crossing. This time we crossed in our Crocs and put on dry socks and shoes. For some reason we had no GPS service on our phones, which meant that our Guthook app did not work. Luckily I had studied the day’s profile and knew we were in for a steady climb for 7miles to approximately 6,800 ft. Not to fear, my Garmin InReach was working just fine, so I Bluetoothed it to my phone and we followed the “red line” via Earthmate, as there were a few trail junctions we did NOT want to miss.
The first 10 miles of the day ran through a stark burn area, that was slowly “recovering”. A good portion of the trail was rocky and tedious. Oh, and did I mention that it was stifling HOT! No cover what so ever! So a heavy water carry was necessary.
Just as we were beginning the final climb, at near 7 miles, one of my shoulder straps decided to break. I knew that my pack was nearing it’s “term”, but had hoped to replace it after completing the CDT.
A quick field fix, that included fashioning a knot to hold the strap to the pack was successful, so we continued on. As long as the other strap doesn’t fail, I may be able to nurse the pack all the way to Mexico.
As hot as the trail was, we were blessed with fairly regular and icy cold streams and springs to quench our thirst and rehydrate appropriately.
By the time we finally reached the Dearborn River, and our intended camp spot, we were trashed. The heat took a lot out of us, and the biting flies were relentless. This however, did not stop or dissuade us from plopping our sweaty hot bodies, fully clothed mind you, in the Dearborn River to cool off. I’m surprised that steam didn’t rise from the river, we were that hot.
Once cooled off, we had to retreat to the confines of our tent till 7pm, in order to escape the ravages of the biting flies before we could prep and eat our dinner.
The beauty though, of this camp spot, is that the Forest Service provided a great shovel in which to dig (pre-dig, in this case) the perfect cat hole (personal latrine hole).
We did our best to “camel up” for the evening, as we knew that the next day would include not one, but two massive climbs, with water 10 miles between them.
We finished dinner, just in time for it to start raining on us. I was not looking forward to having to pee.
July 28: 20.3 mi (260.5 – 280.8)
This was a F-ing HARD day! While we are nearly 300 miles in on the CDT, we still haven’t fully developed our hiking legs, or lungs. So, this for us, was brutal. We had a 3000 ft. climb right out of the chute, but not before we walked a half mile on the wrong trail. The fact that it was flat, made us think that something was wrong. Thank goodness, our Guthook app was finally working, and we could “see” our way back to the “red line”.
Luckily the day was mostly overcast with a stiff breeze. Our route stair-stepped from one false “summit” to the next.
The climbing was relentless, with mostly vague and/or “non-committal” switchbacks.
A highlight was finding a field of wild strawberries along the way. Small, but oh so tasty.
At the 10 mile mark, we had to walk 2/10ths of a mile off trail to find a stream to water up.
The next 10 miles and it’s water source was even more challenging.
If we (mainly me) were not so tired, the views would have been more “inspiring”. One false summit after another was NOT communicated well on our Guthook app. It tends to average the difference in climbs and descents. No matter. It has to done.
The last half mile, for me, was horrific. Tired legs/feet and uneven rocks makes for painstakingly tedious travel, especially if one is to avoid tripping or rolling an ankle.
By the time we (I) made it to the Lewis & Clark Pass, it was 8pm. I set up camp, just behind the sign marking the historic spot, while Paul foraged for the reported spring, which he described as “a pain in the ass” to get to, but absolutely necessary. A glowing sunset rounded out our exhausting day.
July 29: 16.6 mi (280.8 – 297.4)
This morning there was no alarm. We needed to “sleep in”. It was hard to get up and going, we were so worked from the previous day’s miles/terrain.
We knew that today would be no different. This day would include Rogers Pass, and another 5-6 liter water carry. But first we had to get to Rogers Pass.
Under slightly overcast skies we trudged our way up, then down, then back up and down to the Pass.
When we arrived at the Pass parking lot, we were treated to some impromptu “trail magic” (a soda and Reese’s cup) from Morgan who was giving “van support” to her husband and his friend who were section hiking/finishing the CDT.
We had 2 miles to climb over proper switchbacks to collect our 5-6 liters of water, for a probable 25 mile waterless stretch.
By now, the sky was devoid of clouds, and the terrain was equally devoid of cover. When the second shoulder strap to my pack broke, just short of our intended mileage, we called it a day at mile 297.4.
Tonight we would be “dry-camping”. We ate most of our remaining snacks, and drank just enough water to be semi-hydrated. I reattached what was left of the second shoulder strap to my pack, and hoped both would hold till we reached Dave’s outfitters store some 20 miles away.
July 30: 22.9 mi (297.4 – 320.3)
So glad we stopped where we did, even though we didn’t really have a choice. There was no way either of us would have been able to make the final climb to our intended campsite (even Paul was worked). Besides, the site was NOT as good as the site we had camped at.
Our mornings intent was to get to Flesher Pass (6miles), and hopefully “yogi” some water, if anyone was parked there. No such luck at the Pass, but when walked into the Forest Service campground to use it’s restroom and take a break for breakfast, we were greeted with TOTAL TRAIL MAGIC! Turns out that “Golden”, was parked there with his van, waiting out the heat, before he got back on trail to finish the CDT, and his Triple Crown.
He cooked us oatmeal. Not the prepackaged kind, but actual pot cooked oatmeal! He offered us berries and honey to add to the oatmeal, as well as fresh, french-press coffee, and a couple beers…all before 9am! A perfect hiker trash morning if there ever was one.
And as if it couldn’t get any better, who should appear, just as we were fully satiated, and preparing to head out back on the trail (after a hour and a half of food and trail talk), but Hobbit! There was no mistaking the jingle of his bear bell, or his stature. We thought we probably would not see him again. From Dearborne River his intent was to skedaddle 28 miles to Rogers Pass and hitch into Lincoln for a zero day to resupply, eat town food, and sleep in a bed. Somehow he did a one day turn around and got dropped off (unintentionally) at Flesher Pass.
Reunited, we set off at a good clip to the next watering (mud) hole. Fairly easy tread with mild temperatures allowed us to make it to Dave’s on trail outfitter store for water and resupply, upon discovering the spring was in fact, a mud hole.
While at Dave’s, who’s located by Stemple Pass (mile 302.5/SOBO), we were treated to a drink (soda or Gatorade) on the house, and a store so well stocked, that it could rival any REI, save for the floor space. Here we bought our resupply that would get us to Helena Montana, and a much needed zero. I also was able to buy a new Osprey Exos58 pack to replace my “fractured” one. Dave even mailed said tired pack back to my home so that when I get back I can “cash in” on Osprey’s magnificent Lifetime guarantee. I didn’t have a week or more to wait to change out said pack through Osprey.
Because of the heat, and our once again, necessary heavy water carry, we ate dinner outside of Dave’s, and hiked out at 6:30 pm for another 4 miles, carrying 4 liters of water each.
July 31: 21.5 mi (320.3 – 341.8)
Black Mountain would be our nemesis for the day. Switchbacks were practically non-existent. Climb. Climb. Climb. Granted it was beautiful terrain, so it didn’t hurt “that bad”, but it was daunting. Our goal was a fresh piped spring…into a cow trough some 14 miles away.
When we arrived, Paul quickly shooed the disgruntled cows away. It was our trough now! Ice cream headache cold water spewed from the pipe into the algae crusted trough. It was cold enough that I made myself, two peanut butter/chocolate protein shakes. Absolutely glorious. Shortly after we arrived, an ATV pulled up to collect water as well. They explained that they were hiking the CDT with another couple and were supporting each other through sections as they essentially “hop-scotched” each other Northbound. Because they were mobile, they offered to leave us water at the “power poles”, 7 miles away, so we didn’t have to carry so much water. We gladly accepted their offer. And, because we didn’t have to carry so much water, we decided to march out that 7 miles, while the temperature was cooling.
We expected that they would meet us early that next morning. Yeah! I get to “sleep in”.
We arrived at the power poles (mile 341.8…ish) and set up camp. With 2 bars of cell service, I texted Jennifer and let her know that we made it to the power poles. She replied that Kathie and Jim were on their way with water. Special delivery, now that was awesome!
Just after we set up, we saw a truck driving the nearby dirt roads. We joked to each other, ‘there goes the beer truck’. And wouldn’t ya know it, that truck drove right up the hill upon which we we camped, asked us if we were CDT hikers, and offered us a beer!
Our newly knighted trail angels, Brian and Krista from Marysville gave us more than one beer, and explained that the ground under which we were camped and had walked, were miles of tunnels. Gold mining tunnels. Brian explained that gold had been discovered just across from where we were camped. Thomas J. Cruse, who had discovered it became so rich that in 1905, he donated $25,000 for the land upon which the Catholic Cathedral of St. Helena (in Helena) was built. He described the Cathedral, completed and dedicated in 1914, as being amazing and ornate, built in a European Gothic style. (We voted to visit it, if time allowed us, during our Helena zero.)
While Brian and Krista were providing us an area history lesson, Hobbit, who is NOT a drinker, finished his second beer, and took a White Claw (that he thought was a soda) for breakfast the next morning. We tried to explain, but he was sooo happy.
Shortly after Brian and Krista left, Hobbit crawled into his tent, sans dinner. “Best day Ever!”, we heard him exclaim from his tent.
August 1: 16.3 mi (341.8 – Helena)
We awoke to a remarkable sunrise silhouetting a bachelor group of giant mule deer bucks. We also watched as Hobbit unwittingly drank a White Claw for breakfast, and thought, this morning keeps getting better. While we would have been feeling no pain after an adult beverage for breakfast, Hobbit on the other hand felt quite dizzy. He toddled behind us for most of the morning, on the mostly road walk trail tread. Mostly to avoid PUDs and to ensure Hobbit wouldn’t puke we found alternate roads to walk our way towards Helena.
We traveled along and sometimes over beautiful rolling hills. We were never at a loss for water. Springs abounded nearly everywhere, in this cattle country.
We took a gamble and rather than climb Green Mountain, we took another dirt road, that led to the I-15 that goes into Helena.
Our gamble paid off, with us getting a ride into town, with locals who were out hunting for huckleberries. Turns out that the gal’s (sorry I forgot to write down your name) best friend from the Navy, was from San Clemente, and she knew the town well. Small world!
They graciously dropped us off at the Blackfoot Brewery, where we drank, ate pizza from next door, and were merry. Hobbit, settled for a Coke.
The night prior we camped on a bench 4 miles from the start of the climb of Switchback Pass. The morning was crisp and the sunrise was gorgeous! It was going to be a great day. How could it not, with such a start?
As we passed by Dean Lake a lone buck in velvet sauntered by us. I wish we could have made it to this lake to camp. It was everything a backcountry campsite should be.
Switchback Pass was exactly just that…switchbacks. one thing about the CDT is sometimes with these passes, you never really know where it’s going to take you. You think you know, but 90% of the time you’re wrong, so you just walk and take what is given to you.
We rested atop the pass and took a gander at the vastness before us. This was the first time we really saw how dense the smoke from the fires was.
We descended two miles and then the “fun” began. We crawled, climbed, hopped, slid, scampered, scrambled and weaved our way over nearly continuous blowdowns. Luckily most of the work arounds of the blowdowns had been done by early SOBOs. THANK YOU! It was a matter of following their path…sometimes.
We however, were rewarded with, and took our time sampling, a rather dense patch of huckleberries.
Once down to Pentagon Cabin, it stayed mostly clear… for a mile. Gymnastics continued all the way to the last available campsite, where we squeezed two tents into one site with 3 miles left in the alternate.
When we got to camp, we saw that Sheepgoat had sent us a message. We’d been punked. I guess misery loves company. We all had a good laugh.
July 24 (17 miles)
We debated crossing the creek without shoes and then realized we were still essentially in “The Bob” (Bob Marshall Wilderness), but it felt more like “The Robert” (more on that later), so we crossed with our shoes.
OMG! Nothing like frozen wet feet/shoes in the morning to start your day.
Better yet, throw in an additional 3 miles of fresh and pokey, parkour blowdowns, and you have one hell of a workout.
I already had to duct tape the seat of my shorts due to snagging them on blowdowns, and thoroughly expected to have to use more tape by the time we were finished.
Where the Spotted Bear meets up again with the CDT “redline” there was one final blowdown…an easy step over, but a blowdown all the same. A final “f-you”, as it were. We laughed and cursed “The Robert”, and hoped that the fun loving “Bob” would be coming up as we approach the “Chinese Wall” section.
Needless to say, the Spotted Bear Alt, and especially The Bob Marshall Wilderness left a lasting impression on us. We breathed a sigh of relief when from the alternate junction, to and through the “Chinese Wall” section, the trail was clear and easy tread.
Now we were in the “fabled” Bob. The views were spectacular. The giant geological feature, the “Chinese Wall” towered above us to our right. It’s massive rock face stretched for 12 miles! Every inch of it was fascinating.
Fields of flowering wild garlic carpeted the base of the Wall. If we didn’t have to make miles, we would have walked even slower. As it was, our pace was more of a stroll, there was so much to see and absorb.
We “called it” at mile 217 (SOBO), exhausted and fulfilled. Bob Marshall, an American Forester and Wilderness activist (for whom the 1 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, dedicated in 1964, through which we were traversing), believed that wilderness areas should be preserved not only for their aesthetics, but so that the public who “owns” these lands could experience “adventure”.
No doubt about it, we were served up quite an adventure, and rose to and in fact enjoyed the challenge.
July 25 (14.5 miles)
We got up early, as we were at the end of the contents of our food bags, and hoofed it to the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch to pick up our resupply.
Miraculously, we were able to “yogi” a ride to the Ranch, from Lori & Dave who had just returned to their car after a several day backpacking trip. This saved us a hot afternoon dusty, waterless, 3+ mile road walk to the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch.
When we arrived at the gate to the Ranch, a herd of horses and mules “greeted” us.
We retrieved our resupply, and for $20 each were able to camp and get a much needed shower.
Little did we know that we still had a few more miles to “The Bob”.
Badger Ranger Station – Spotted Bear Alt (mile 19)
July 22 (13 miles)
From the Badger Ranger Station to Beaver Lake was supposed to be 18 miles. This was to include, for lack of a better term, a PUD (Pointless Up and Down). Thing is, we missed our turn, but didn’t realize it till nearly 3 miles of NOT hiking on the “redline”. We knew it was too easy. This is where having our Garmin InReach and the Earthmate app it uses comes in handy. It seems that we had in fact stumbled onto a perfect short cut (that actually worked with no bad consequences). The Lewis and Clark Trail continued straight, when we were supposed to turn right. What we were left with was, no climb and an easy, relatively flat, walk through super grizzly country. At least that’s what the prints and poop seem to convey. But trading 4 miles for 8, I’d say we made out pretty good. We rejoined the “redline” for the first time WITHOUT having to backtrack. A definite plus for us.
About that time we got an InReach message from Sheepgoat that he was continuing on from Beaver Lake, but that Hobbit would be waiting for us there. We arrived there about 2pm, had lunch and deliberated as to whether we should continue another 4-5 miles or just stay put. The winds were supposed to pick up. It was stifling hot, the flies were especially active, and the next several miles were through an exposed burn area. We decided that shade, water and not worrying about a dead tree falling on us in the middle of the night was the better idea. Besides, it would give Sheepgoat a chance to let us know how the Spotted Bear alternate was.
July 23 – Spotted Bear Alt.
Up early to beat the heat, we walked through a burn area reminiscent of a graveyard. Colorful flowers sprouted at the base of many a charred tree. We were glad we stayed at Beaver Lake, even though the bugs were ferocious.
Too many deadfalls and setting up in a BBQ pit of soot would have made us grungier than we already were.
Prior to getting to the Spotted Bear Alt, we got another message from Sheepgoat. He made it to, and stayed at the Gooseberry Ranger Station…which he “highly recommended”. The man is trekking. I believe he clocked some 30 miles for the day.
At the junction of the CDT and the Spotted Bear Alt, we stopped for lunch and a nap…and another update from Sheepgoat.
From where we sat, the alternate looked very inviting. Peaks with views and greenery. The CDT looked like more charred trees and dusty waterless trail. Another message from Sheepgoat. “So far so good. 10 miles on the alternate”. He also told us that we would run into a NOBO “Res Dog” and that he would fill us in.
“Res Dog” told us that the alternate “wasn’t bad”. He’d gone through waay worse in Colorado and the Winds. Most of the blow downs had paths already made for work- arounds and would be “easier” for us going downhill. When asked what the mileage of blowdown we would encounter, he replied, “1.8 miles is bad, but everything else is good”. A crew was working on the trail when he went through.
With that we fully committed to taking the Spotted Bear alternate, even though most of the comments on Guthook and the 2021 CDT Facebook page did NOT recommend it.
The “red line” looked like more burn area and blowdowns to negotiate.
Immediately on the Spotted Bear Alt. we were treated to expansive greenery and soon Goose Berry Ranger Station. Here we talked with the wildlife biologist that studies the grizzly bear and it’s habitat. She filled our water bottles and told us that the grizzly was once down to 200 bears, but the population has grown steadily (almost 1000 now) especially in NW Montana and that the grizzly is soon to be off the endangered list. She sets up trail cams in bear habitat area and was in the process of collecting the footage from the cameras to update her count. We asked her how many grizzlies she has encountered. She replied, “To be honest, I’ve been studying these bears for 12 years and have yet to see one in the wild”. Maybe she should be following us on our hikes. We seem to see them.
We continued on and walked alongside a flowing river/creek. We tried to keep our feet dry, with all the water that ran across the path…to no avail.
At the end of our day, having walked through a few blowdowns and beautiful terrain that often smelled like blueberry pancakes, we made it to a vast bench with a hazy yet striking view, and communicated with Sheepgoat once more.
We settled in for what we expected would be a cold night, as snow lingered in a few spots above us, giving us glacier cold water.
As there were not many places to hang our food bags “properly”, we half expected them to be gone on the morning. 1-3 miles of blowdowns. No problem. Switchback pass in the morning, now that was going to be a lung buster for us.
Marias Pass – Badger Ranger Station (15 miles- July 19)
What does the steeple chase, parkour, Jenga and pick up sticks have in common? It’s the trail out of Marias Pass into the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
We were lulled into pacification with initially soft tread, overgrown shrubbery and freshly cut downed trees that make it a point to fall directly in or across the trail. And then? Well it changed dramatically.
Over two miles of tightly stacked and intertwined blowdowns reduced our pace from almost 3 mph to less than 1mph. It was highly frustrating, exhausting and left our legs looking like we got into a knife fight with a gnome.
Thank goodness we got ourselves into better shape than we were last year, otherwise today would have been even more challenging. We aren’t spring chickens anymore, and gymnastics was never one of mine, let alone Paul’s strong suit.
The degree of difficulty was enhanced by the fact we were dogged relentlessly by rabid flies, AND we were still in grizzly country. We couldn’t help but notice the rather large fresh piles of bear shit that punctuated the trail with unsettling regularity. Seeing “fresh”, and equally massive bear prints atop Speedgoat’s and Hobbit’s shoe prints, who were an hour or so ahead of us, ensured we spent several hours hollering “Hey, Bear!” as we trudged forward.
I kept repeating to myself, “you chose to do this”, while Paul was chanting to himself, “I’m having fun”.
Eventually the required acrobatics ceased to be necessary, and a simple hopscotch game became the norm. As the blood from the assorted deep scratches scattered across our legs congeeled, ever swarming biting flies took advantage of the open flesh wounds. For most, it became their “last meal”.
The trail opened up even more, and allowed for more of a rhythm to our travel. The viciousness of the flies kept us going. No rest for the weary…unless you want to be driven mad. We didn’t even bother to find a “dry” route during stream crossings. We walked right through, often standing mid stream to cool our ever aching feet.
At the first campsite, nearly 7miles into the day’s hike, the boys left us a message. Change of plans. We would be stretching our intended 13 miles to 15 miles. The Badger Ranger Station would be the day’s destination.
Ironically, when we arrived at the Badger Ranger Station, the flies ceased to follow. We were met by our friends, a picnic table, icy fresh water from a hand pump, and two other local hikers on a 9 day backpacking trip.
The rest of the late afternoon and early evening was spent in pleasant conversation and laughter.
“Rhonda” and “Leslie” were friends that had met while doing trail work for Americorps, and had good information on what we had to look forward to for the next few days.
It appears that we’ve experienced the “worst” of what the Lewis and Clark National Forest had to offer…for now, and should expect smoother travel.