Archive for August, 2016

Wednesday, August 31 A Cloudy Day In the Forest

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

SUMMARY:  We met a couple of hunters today (out on a pre-season expedition). They said the forecast for today was 90 degrees — yikes! But clouds moved in, and it was overcast all day, which made hiking much more pleasant. Basically we were in forest all day, with an occasional meadow, one rather swampy lake, and a couple of glimpses of valleys below.

Sometimes the forest was so thick and the trees crowded so close together that it was almost like walking through a giant corn maze. Some of the undergrowth is beginning to show fall color. We were “lost” for awhile today, even with the Garmin, and at the end of the day, we were disappointed to find we’d only done 21 miles. Thought we did better than that—oh well.

DETAILS:  It never got cold last night, and I didn’t even need to put my jacket on to eat breakfast.  I was thinking, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be a hot one today!”  The smell of smoke is still very strong and the sunrise was very “smoky” too–so smoky that it was hard to see the fact that there were clouds in the sky.

In the morning, we had our first time of going over some “new style” cattle guards–no pit needed.  Nice!  It was a very warm morning, but tempered by the overcast skies.  The trail was pretty much in thick forest all day, with hardly any views.  But the few views we had showed us that we are WAY up high!

One nice thing today was that somebody had been through and logged out all the blowdowns.  It would have been really awful getting through here, otherwise.  One of the worst was where several trees all went down together in a giant pile.  But no problem–“Paul Bunyan” had cut a way through it.   Sometimes we did get to go through some pretty meadows.  There are still wildflowers, including a lot of what looks like a small yellow snapdragon.

To our great surprise, we were leapfrogging all day with Shepherd.  Normally he would be way faster than us, but he says for some reason he’s really tired, and he has a very heavy pack with enough food to get him all the way to Lincoln.  Part of what’s slowing him down (and us, too) is that getting water has become a tedious business.  The springs are all barely trickling, and the only way to get water is to collect it in a cup before pouring it into our platypuses.  Sloooow.

We also missed a turn in the trail near Cottonwood “Lake”.  (Swamp would be a better term–it’s not really a lake.)  We finally realized our mistake and went back, but even with the Garmin, we still could not find the trail.  Grrrr.  So we ended up just bushwhacking straight up the mountain until voila!  The trail!  After that came a big climb around Thunderbolt Mountain.  It was still overcast, hooray–otherwise it would have been really tough to do all that climbing in sun and heat.

Along the way we met two guys who were out on a pre-hunting season survey trip.  They told us that the weather forecast had been for 90 degree heat, but the clouds were taking care of that.  When they found out that we’d walked all the way here from Mexico, they were very impressed and insisted on shaking hands “with 2 tough people.”

In the afternoon, the trail was often confusing and we had to stop and look at maps and Garmin several times.  At 7:00 we found a nice campsite in the forest, and I was bummed that we only made 21 miles.  But I guess with all the time spent getting water and being “lost”, that’s what happened.  And we are just plain tired.  It’s been a long trail!


Tuesday, August 30 Sure Looks Like California

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We keep remarking on how much this part of the Montana CDT looks like Northern California—rolling golden grassy hills with forested parks. We had a long, long climb back up to the Divide this morning. The higher we went, the more trees there were.

We had to consult the Garmin GPS at a couple of junctions in order to be sure of the right way. We were carrying heavy loads of water—it was quite dry and Cottonwood Creek was very tromped up by cows. At the top, hooray, the CDT!

We were so tired that we simply collapsed for a bit, and unknown to Bill, when he set down the Garmin, it rolled under a bush. So when we got ready to go on, oh no! It had disappeared. We thought maybe it was left by where we stopped for a snack break, so Bill went back to look.

Almost an hour later he had not returned, but a kind lady from an ATV group that came along volunteered to go get him. When they returned, Bill had not found the Garmin–oh no!  But then he looked more closely at the spot where he had been lying down, and there it was, under the bush. Whew! Now we could go on. Tonight we are camped on mountainside.

DETAILS:  Camped on the lawn at the ranch, we could still hear the freeway noise from I-90 nearby, but we were so tired from hiking in the heat that we zonked out anyway.  This morning when we headed up, the lights were on in the ranch house, and we could see that the 3 young guys were up ‘n at ’em, too.  The ranch roosters gave us a great sendoff–a rousing fanfare of crowing!  Our packs are so heavy–a full load of water (thanks to the ranch guys!) and 4 very generous days’ worth of food.

We headed up the Cottonwood Creek road, talking about how this whole area looks so much like Northern California–the golden, rolling, grassy hills and forested mountains.  We were glad we’d brought our own water, though–as we got higher, Cottonwood Creek was running, but it was all tromped up by cows. Yuck.  We passed a ranch that seems to have a business making posts and poles–there were logs and poles and posts stacked everywhere.  The higher we went, the bigger the trees were, and sadly, the smokier the air was.  I guess there is a fire somewhere.  Hope it is south of us, not north!

By 11:30 am, we had reached the junction called “Four Corners” and we were back up top at the CDT!  Hooray!   We did have to get the Garmin out a couple of times on the way up the mountain, when we got to some unclear intersections.  We were still on the Ley route, but the Garmin was a help even so.  We were both so tired when we got to Four Corners that we just plain ol’ collapsed for a bit in the shade.

But when it was time to go on, Fixit suddenly looked worried and started frantically rummaging through his stuff.  “I can’t find the Garmin!” he said.  We carefully searched his entire pack and his pockets–no luck.  The last time we knew for sure he had it was back around 10:00 am when we had stopped for a snack.  “I must have left it there,” Fixit said.  “I must have set it down and forgotten to pick it up.”  Megabummer!  So he left his pack with me and headed back down the Cottonwood Creek Road to try and find it.

I sat with the packs and prayed like crazy.  This is so frustrating!   Another loss of precious hiking time!  A little while later, along came a whole jolly group of 4-wheeler people.  They stopped at Four Corners and got out their lunches.  Another CDT hiker–Shortcut–came by.  He told me he had seen Fixit, but that Fixit was still looking for the Garmin.  Oh no!  Shortcut suggested that maybe one of the 4-wheeler people could go back and find Fixit and give him a ride.  I had been thinking that, too, and decided to go for it.

So I went over and talked to the 4-wheeler people, and one of the ladies very kindly volunteered to go find Fixit.  I felt obligated to hang out with the rest of them, so even though all I really wanted to do was go lie down (I was so tired), I stood around talking to them.  It was interesting, though–they were all retired folks, and two of the guys had once worked at the smelter when it was still operating.

Finally the lady returned, with Fixit, but no Garmin.  I was very much in despair over this, but Fixit did not hesitate.  He had been thinking…and he hurried over to the spot where we had collapsed in the shade and started poking around in the plants and bushes till with a cry of triumph, he produced the Garmin!  Somehow it had rolled under a bush.  Wow, what a relief!  And we were both kicking ourselves for not thinking of that sooner.

Now that Fixit and I and the Garmin were reunited, I cooked us a very late lunch and we finally were ready to go on.  The trail was varied–sometimes in forest, sometimes on grassy hilltops, and eventually we reached Cold Spring–very well-named!  Wow, that water was good, and it really was COLD!  We drank a lot right then and there–felt much better!

Late in the afternoon, we were sitting by the trail eating dinner when along came the Aussie guy, Shepherd.  Like us, he was very tired, but he had the additional anxiety that a bunch of people will be meeting him in East Glacier, to hike the last part of the CDT with him, and at the rate he is going he is not sure he will make it there in time.  To add to his “fun”, it looks like when he does get to his next resupply in Lincoln, the PO will not be open, and he will have to wait a day, which will delay him even more.  Whew.  Fixit and I are glad that we have no such complications.

We hiked on, along open hillsides with glorious views despite the smoke.  Wow!  At 7:00 we managed to find a reasonably flat spot to camp, but first had to clear out all the cow pies.  Obviously the cows like it here, too!


Monday, August 29 One Hot Day!

Monday, August 29th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We overheard some Anaconda locals grumping this morning about how “It’s gonna be a hot one today.” No kidding. But it was time to go, after getting our box from the post office and doing errands we couldn’t do yesterday because everything was closed. By 11:30am we were all done and had walked to the McD’s on the far end of Anaconda. By noon we were on our way, in unrelenting sun and heat.

We passed the famous Anaconda smelter tower and walked along Hwy 58 through what basically looked a lot like the Central Valley of California. Whew it was hot! We wasted a mile of walking because our map was not clear, but tonight we are camped at a ranch and tomorrow we’ll be back on the CDT.

DETAILS: We got to sleep in a bit before going to the Coffee Corral for breakfast.  Turns out they make really good breakfast sandwiches, but the size…for a thruhiker…is kinda small.  So we got pumpkin bread and smoothies (mine was mango) to supplement everthing.  Then I headed for the PO to get our box, while Fixit went on another errand.  Our box was there, hooray!

Then it was time go back to the motel and sort through the food and load food bags and make a list of what to buy on the way out of town.  We are behind our original schedule, so I’m almost out of melatonin (helps me get a good night’s sleep) and Fixit is having “plumbing problems” so I need to find some Imodium someplace.

By 10:30 am, our packs were ready and so were we.  It was already very warm outside, and as we walked along, we could hear even the locals complaining, “It’s gonna be a hot one today.”  We stopped at the quilting store so I could buy some batting to pad my pack hip belt.  I had this same problem late in the PCT–I get so thin that the pack belt hurts my hip bone and won’t tighten properly.  The batting really helps!

At the far end of town there’s a CVS and an Albertsons–I had to hunt through both of them to find what I needed to get.  That’s the bummer of trying to shop in a strange store–it takes forever to find anything.  But by 11:30 I was finally done (Fixit just sits outside and waits) and we headed for McD’s for lunch.  Inside, we found Shepherd (we call him “Strine” because he’s an Aussie) and we all had lunch together.  He is planning to hike straight through to Lincoln!  Wow.  We are going off at Elliston.  He’s planning to leave later today once the heat dies down a bit.

But Fixit and I did not want to wait anymore, so we headed out into the heat and sun, walking along busy Hwy. 1.  I got a couple of good pictures of the Anaconda smelter tower up on its hill.  We had thought we’d be able to go right up and look at it, but no, the whole area around it is considered to be so polluted that nobody is allowed anywhere near.  They are working on replacing the dirt, and once that’s done, they will let people come right up to it again.

It was a long, long walk in the heat, eventually turning off on Hwy. 48, but we were consoling ourselves with thoughts of cold drinks at Uncle Bucks, up ahead.  We spent a bit of time being “lost” along the way and had to do a bit of backtracking, but finally we got there, and discovered to our bitter disappointment that Uncle Bucks was closed.  Permanently.  The parking lot was weedy and inside was messy (what we could see through the windows).  We had also been counting on getting water there, and I could not find even an outside water faucet.  There were a few trailers nearby, but nobody was home.  So all we could do was sit on the shady side of the building with our backs against the wall and rest a bit.  Now I was worried about water.  All the creeks around here are considered to be polluted with smelter residue.  But I resolved to stop at a house as soon as we could, to ask for water.

We headed out again, doing our best to follow the Ley map route, but it was not very clear.  We reached a junction where we thought we were supposed to go right, but should have gone left, and it was awhile before we realized our mistake and went back.  More lost time!  And on a very hot afternoon, which was not fun, with our water almost totally gone.

There were houses along the way, but no one was home…until finally I spotted an old guy in the yard of a house below the road.  “Look!” I said to Fixit.  “I’ll ask him for water.”  Fixit does not like to to any yogi-ing, but I don’t mind at all, so I headed right on down and discovered the old guy was very sweet and he was happy to give us water.  He said many times he’s had hikers show up late in the day, and he lets them camp on his lawn.  It was still too early to stop and camp, though.

We continued on in the heat for another 5 miles.  Dramatic clouds were building over the Divide, which was off to our right, and the clouds were trying to rain.  We passed a SuperFund cleanup site (lots of heavy equipment sitting around) and we passed freshly mowed alfalfa fields (which smelled really good!)  We stopped for some supper in a small tree grove near a ranch, and then put in some more miles till we reached Cottonwood Creek Road, our turnoff that would take us back to the CDT.  We stood there looking at the situation.  We knew the road followed the creek, and had figured we’d get water there…but the creek was totally dry.  We had been really sucking up the water we got at the house, since it was so hot and we knew we were getting dehydrated, so now our water was low again.  Also, it was time to camp, and there was no flat place in sight.

So I said to Fixit, “Let’s go back just a bit to that last ranch we passed.  We could get water there and maybe they will let us camp.”  Fixit was very dubious!  But back we went and it turned out great!  There were 3 guys staying at the ranch (they were actually there to work on the SuperFund site) and not only did we get all the water we needed, and a place to camp on the lawn, but they even gave us a cold beer.  It really hit the spot after such a long hot day.  They were very interested in our hike, and we sat on the porch for awhile to talk.  They said the problem from the Anaconda smelter is the arsenic–it has permeated much of the land.  Some places are OK, but others are so bad that they are literally taking the dirt away and replacing it.

So we set up our tent and were glad of the cool evening breeze.  The sunset was spectacular–it looked like the sky was on fire.  Tomorrow we will be back on the CDT again!

Sunday, August 28 A Day of Rest in Anaconda

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Seems that in Anaconda, everything shuts down on Sunday. The “Coffee Corral” across the street, which we planned on for breakfast, was closed. We were standing in front of it, quite dismayed, when along came 3 CDT hikers, walking briskly.

“Hey!” we yelled. “Anyplace in this town where we can get breakfast?”

“Yeah, the Early Bird Special—down the street, $3.95.”

So off we went for a few more blocks, and yahoo, the “Classic Cafe” was open and we all ordered the Early Bird. Lots to talk about with the trail ahead and Canada closer. But when we mentioned we were headed for church, up came the excellent question. “Why? What’s the deal with all the different churches?”

Very good discussion with 3 of the hikers—but one guy pretty much blew it off. We did go to church at an Assemblies of God—really enjoyed it. So good to be with believers.

DETAILS:  Wow, a sleep-in day!  And my feet have finally stopped hurting.  We didn’t get up till 7:30 am, and we feel like we are just turning into jello.  But breakfast was calling, and we NEED it!  Both Fixit and I are horribly thin.  Even on the PCT toward the end of the hike, I was never this thin.

But when we went to the Coffee Corral just down the street, planning on eating everything in sight, oh no!  It was closed.  And so was everything else.  The whole main street was deserted.  Looks like Anaconda just plain shuts down on Sundays.  We were standing there in dismay when we spotted a cheerful group of CDT hikers walking along the other side of the street.  “Hey!” we shouted.  “Where can we get breakfast around here?”  They all grinned and pointed down the street.  “The Early Bird Breakfast, only $3.95, at the cafe!”

So six of us walked into the cafe and got a table together, and we all ordered basically the same thing.  Two of the hikers (Popeye and his girlfriend Olive Oyl) are headed out today, but the rest of us are staying on.  There was a lot of fun talk, but eventually Fixit and I mentioned that we were headed for church this morning and that naturally led to the questions of “Why?” and “How come there are so many different churches–why can’t they agree?”  We had a great time answering the questions.  Three of the hikers were very interested, but one guy totally blew us off.

We headed for the Assembly of God church, and along the way we met a guy carrying a rifle.  Not sure why he was doing that, but one thing we have noticed in Montana is that a lot of people are openly “packin’ heat.”  They are very proud of it, too.  “There’s no crime here!” they say.  “No crook would dare try anything.  And those mass shooter guys wouldn’t last 2 seconds.”   Very true!

We found the church and joined in with the adult Sunday School class (Good for them that they have one!  A lot of churches don’t do SS for adults anymore!)  Turned out that they were going through an intriguing book called “Believe” where the writer interviewed a lot of different pastors and Christian leaders with the question, “What are the basics that all Christians agree on?”  (Hmm, an interesting corollary to the CDT hikers’ question about “Why can’t the churches agree on anything?”)

The church service was great, the sermon on Psalm 60, with the point of “How do you respond when you lose/everything goes wrong?”  But an amusing highlight for Fixit and I was the announcements.  The pastor said, “Next Saturday is the Men’s Breakfast, and ladies, by popular request, we’ve booked time for you at the shooting range while the men are having their meeting.”  Then he looked at Fixit and I and said, “I bet you don’t get announcements like that in your church in California!”  We just laughed and said, “Yeah, no way!”  The folks in the church were very friendly and asked us to let them know when we make it to Canada.

For “lunch” we went and got ice cream, then finished up the pasta we had left over from dinner yesterday.  Then we just lay down.  We tried to call a friend, but the cell phone didn’t connect.  Oh well.  After awhile we went for a walk to see the Art Deco theatre and to just look around a bit, before going to Dairy Queen for dinner.  Along the way we saw deer grazing in people’s front yards.  Smart deer!  No hunters here in town…or maybe not so smart?  It would be really easy to quietly “bag” one of those “town deer.”

Then it was early to bed.  I had been sort of frustrated by the fact that we were “trapped” into having to take an unplanned zero here, but now I realize that we desperately needed the rest.  Now that I am not hiking, I realize how tired I really am.  So we are grateful to the Lord for stopping us here in Anaconda!  Back to the trail tomorrow!

Saturday, August 27 Into ANACONDA

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

SUMMARY:  It didn’t take too long to finish our walk down Storm Lake Road to reach Hwy 1. Wow, are we glad we went that way—there was a trail alternate that some hikers took—the trail disappeared and they had to bushwhack.

It was a cool morning with very spectacular clouds, and as we walked along the highway, there were plenty of interesting things to look at. The best one to me was at a fancy “horse place” where a whole lot of riders looked like they were practicing for something.

We reached Anaconda a little after 1:00pm and headed for the post office, assuming their hours were the usual 10:00am-2:00pm. Nope. It was 9:00am to 1:00pm. So now we have to wait till Monday. We need the zero, so it’s for the best.

DETAILS:  Last night was pretty cold–that seems to be a trend now that we are in late August–but our ZPacks sleeping bags did a great job of keeping us warm.  We figured we would have no problem making it to Anaconda today.

So we continued the walk down Storm Lake Road (a pretty nice dirt road) out to Highway 1.  Wow, are we glad we went this way.  Later on, in Anaconda, the other hikers told us they went the “Ley way”, which soon disappeared and they had to bushwhack down a creek to reach the highway.  Yuck.

When we reached Highway 1, it was still pretty early, which meant that the traffic was minimal.  But practically every car or pickup that came along was towing some kind of “toy”.  Well, it’s Saturday, so that’s to be expected!  As we walked along, we kept looking at the mountains.  To the south were the Pintlers–big, pointy, rocky and impressive.  To the north were some other mountains with amazing banded color layers of different colors of rock and many cliffs.  Here and there were a few lone houses.

Eventually we passed a large, very fancy “horse place” where a bunch of riders appeared to be practicing for a competition, where 2 riders at a time would race in an arena, doing figure-8’s around poles.  I would love to have just hung out for awhile there to watch!

As the miles went by, the traffic increased, and the high, gray peaks of the Pintlers were replaced by high, very steep, but forested hills.  Just before noon we reached the outskirts of Anaconda and stopped at The Hofbrau for a great lunch (and to rest our very tired feet–walking by a highway is really tough on feet).  We thought we had plenty of time to get to the post office, since usual standard Saturday hours are 10-2.

Not in Anaconda.  We reached the PO at 1:15ish, and it was closed already.  Bummer!  We were really disappointed.  But I guess it’s for the best–we really are very tired.  The Pintlers really wore us out.  As soon as we got a motel room, Fixit took a shower and went to bed and just stayed there.  Since there was no laundry available anywhere, I first washed all our socks and hung them up to dry, then lay down with a phone book to find us a church for tomorrow.

At dinnertime, we wandered off down the street to a pizza place and discovered a whole crowd of CDT hikers were there.  They had arrived very late yesterday, took a zero today and plan to do another zero tomorrow.  Everybody is really tired.  Several were planning to go to the movies tonight in the historic Anaconda Art Deco movie theater.  We went back to the motel and just lay down (well, Fixit did, but I washed our hiking shirts first, and hung them up to dry).

If you like historic old buildings (and I DO!) Anaconda is a fascinating place.  Business-wise, though, it looks like it’s losing ground.  I was told that the “real” town around here is Butte.  If I were not so tired, I would love to just walk around and look at all the old buildings.  But for now, it is good to just lie down.  The motel is really nice–they provided us with fruit and yogurt, which we are very happy to get.  Tomorrow, hooray, we get to go to church!  From my searches in the phone book, we decided to go to the Assembly of God.  Looking forward to it!

Friday, August 26 Done With the Pintler Challenge

Friday, August 26th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We were about to eat our hot lunch (I was “cooking in the trail” since we were sitting on a steep mountainside) when along came 3 college student guys. So we ate and we all talked. They told us “The Pintlers are beautiful, but they are tough—all big ups and downs one right after the other. (Yeah—that’s for sure!) Then in the Bobs (Bob Marshall Wilderness) there are some big passes, but they’re spaced a ways apart, so you get a break. And Glacier is bit ups and downs again.”

OK—we had our last “big up” today around 4:00pm, when we reached Goat Flats and turned off the CDT to start the Anaconda Cut-Off route, which goes over another pass, down to Storm Lake, and out to the highway. The Cut-Off route is very pretty.  Down by Storm Lake we opted to walk out on a dirt road rather than a trail route suggested by Ley.  We’ve camped about 6 miles from the highway, then it’s 14 miles of roadwalk to Anaconda. And it sure is nice to walk on a basically FLAT road.

DETAILS:  Well, we had no bear critters come by last night, even though we were camped by a lake and in a spot where obviously someone had camped before.  Wow, was it cold, though, as we expected.  We hit the trail along LaMarche Creek canyon, still heading for Cutaway Pass.

Down in the creek canyon there were lots of springs and side creeks running across the trail, and lots of undergrowth.  It actually felt sort of like being in a jungle, and there were swampy areas, too–BUT somebody had done a lot of work putting in “boardwalks” to get through the swampy stuff.  Nice!  We didn’t have to pick our way through the mud.  We finally reached the big climb to Cutaway Pass and had our morning snack break at the top. The only bummer was that there were so many trees up top, you could not see any views, which I’m sure would have been awesome.

But it turned out to be OK–on the descent from the Pass, we did get views, and we talked about the mountains.  “Looks like at least some of this is volcanic,” I said.  “Look at those peaks with craters.”  The trail did a big long traverse below the mountainsides, and finally began to climb up to Rainbow Pass.  Partway up, we stopped for lunch.  There was no place to set up my tiny stove, except for right in the trail itself.  We haven’t seen anybody for days, so we figured that would be no problem.

But I’d just finished cooking, and we were starting to eat, when along came THREE hikers, southbound.  They were just college guys out backpacking for a few days, and they stopped to talk a bit.  So while we ate, they told us some good info: 1) In the Pintlers, hikers have to do big ups and big downs, one right after another  2) In “The Bobs” (Bob Marshall Wilderness) you have big ups and big downs, but lots of easy stuff in between.  3) In Glacier NP, it’s back to big ups and big downs one after another.

Well, no kidding about the unrelenting big ups and downs in the Pintlers–my knees are not very happy about it.  But on the other hand, the Pintlers really are gorgeous, and there has been a lot of really great trail engineering, some of it obviously recent.  Way to go, trail crew!

The three guys told us that the climb up to Goat Flats was “pretty tough” and they were right, but the scenery was amazing.  Again, this is a place worth coming back to when we don’t need to worry about making miles.  Up at the top, I hoped maybe we would see some mountain goats, but no luck.  Now we were really looking hard for the turnoff to Storm Lake.  The CDT trail had become very faint and hard to follow.  We got to the point where (by the maps) it sure looked like we ought to turn off, but there was no sign, no trail, no nothing.  BUT, hooray!  Off to the side in the distance, I spotted 2 hikers heading out on what might possibly be the cutoff route.  Fixit is WAY faster than I am, so I said, “Quick!  You could catch up with those guys and find out if this is the cutoff.  I’ll follow you as best I can.”

So Fixit took off and I followed.  He soon caught up with the two hikers and confirmed that yes, this was the way down to Storm Lake.  Whew.  I was so glad to know that for sure!  Soon the route became a trail and down we went toward the lake.  The views were beautiful, and also showed us that if we took Ley’s suggested trail route from the lake down to the highway, we would have to climb over another ridge.  “Forget that!” we said.  “Let’s walk the road out.  It’s all downhill.”  (We found out later from other hikers that Ley’s route was awful.  It basically disappeared, and they had to do a lot of bushwhacking.  Wow, are we glad we chose the road!)

The trail took us along the lake shore, and at the other end there was a campground, with 3 guys there.  I always like to know for sure which way to go, and it was a bit unclear at that point which dirt road was the right one.  So I went to the campsite to ask.  Not only did they point out which road was the right one, but they even gave us a cold drink and we hung out with them for a little bit to talk. They are all from Anaconda, and it was fun to hear from them.  We are really liking these Montana folks!  And, they also said they’d seen several other CDT hikers today, so it looks like we are not the only ones headed for Anaconda.

We had time to walk another 3 miles down the road before we needed to call it a day.  We had not eaten any dinner yet, so we set up the tent, ate some dinner and went to bed.  I think we have about 6 more miles on this road, then 14 to Anaconda.  We are done with the Pintler Challenge.  But I will join the chorus and say, “The Pintlers are amazing!”

Thursday, August 25 Rambling Around In the Pintlers

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

SUMMARY:  When we were in Sula, several local people were very excited about where the CDT would take us next. “You’ll be going into the Pintlers! Awesome!” they said, and rhapsodized about how beautiful the Pintler Mountains were and how great the backpacking is.

Well, once you get past the burn zone and into the heart of the Pintlers, yes! Awesome, rugged country with lots of lakes, rock climbing, etc. The CDT trail here literally rambles all over the place—South, North, East, West, and like the mountains, the trail is very rocky / rooty / rough.

That’s no problem to a recreational backpacker who’s not in a hurry, but it’s frustrating to thru-hikers trying to make miles. Oh well—it is amazing, rugged country here. Tomorrow we turn off the official CDT and start the Anaconda Cutoff.

DETAILS:  I think I pushed myself a bit too hard yesterday (or maybe it was the Xtreme blowdown zone??) and today I’m still tired.  Our camp last night was way down in a valley, and now we have at least two BIG passes to climb (both over 9,000′ at the top) with deep valleys in between.

For the second time, we did the “eat breakfast in bed” routine.  The only downside of doing that is…I have nothing to lean on, and I’m worried a bit about spilling something on my sleeping bag.  Other than that, it’s fine.

As usual, we were running low on water, and looking forward to the next source listed on our Ley map.  But when we got there, yuck!  It was stagnant nasty stuff in a meadow.  We decided to keep going–a good choice!  The next water was from a very nice spring.

By lunchtime we had reached the top of our first big climb–Pintler Pass.  Beautiful!  We were surrounded by wildflowers, with insects buzzing everywhere.  On one side of the Pass, the view up ahead is of deep forested valleys and mountains.  On the other side (where we had come from)  it’s dramatic rocky peaks and a lake.  What a great lunch spot!   Gray clouds were starting to build up that looked like a rain possibility, but in the end they never even dripped.

After lunch we tackled the long trail down into the forested valley, and up the other side to Rainbow Pass, where at the top we had great views of more lakes!  Along the way, we passed a very pretty cascade-type waterfall.  On the way down from Rainbow Pass, we stopped for an afternoon snack break, lying on soft, long grass.  Man, it felt good! We did not want to get up!  So comfortable!   But get up we did, and by dinnertime we had reached the turn to Cutaway Pass.  By now we were both really tired, and my poor scraped shins were really whining, but too bad–there were no flat places to camp, and we really wanted to get in some more miles.

So we went on for another almost 3 miles (which included a tough uphill & downhill) and camped near Warren Lake–the only place we could find where there was flat ground.  When we were at the top of the hill above the lake and were just starting down, we could feel a chilly breeze blowing up to us from the valley.  “It’s going to be cold tonight for sure,” we said to each other. Normally we don’t camp by lakes (don’t want any critters coming by in the night) but in this case, everywhere else is steep hillside.  Right now it sure feels good to be in a warm sleeping bag!  What a trail today–it wandered all over the place, in every direction.  But it was so beautiful–those folks in Sula were right about the Pintlers!

Wednesday, August 24 Getting Through the Burn Zone

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

SUMMARY:  There must have been a huge forest fire here a few years ago—we spent most of today in burn zones. Some were messy, with lots of rocks and broken branch bits on the trail. Some were growing a crop of baby trees. And some had turned into “the blowdown obstacle course.”

It was pretty bad in several places—like trying to find your way through a giant game of Pick-Up-Stix. We collected some new scratches and bruises on our legs and joked about “Good thing we got lots of practice with this stuff in Wyoming!”

Finally the trail got better and we were able to make good miles. It was cold all day, and partly cloudy including some dark gray ones that dropped on us a little bit.

DETAILS:  Since the days are getting so much shorter, we tried an experiment this morning, and it seemed to work well.  We “got up” at 5:40, meaning, we sat up and dressed our “top half” (which meant down jacket, too–it’s cold!).  We left our “bottom half” in the sleeping bags.  Then we ate breakfast “in bed.”  Then we finished the get up/pack up routine, and it was light enough to see the trail.  It worked!  I think we will start doing this every morning.

Well, most of the time today we were walking through burn zones.  Apparently there was an enormous fire here a few years ago.  Mountainside after mountainside was  covered with dead, burned, falling down trees.  It was so sad.  A few areas were starting to recover and had baby trees growing.  Some had a bit of grass among the burned tree skeletons.

But then we reached the end of the “logged” trail.  No  trail crews with chain saws had gotten here yet, and it was an unbelievable mess.  Actually, it got to the point where it was completely ridiculous–it was like trying to get through a game of GIANT “Pick-up-Stix”.  We couldn’t just stand there and say, “This is impossible.”  We HAD to get through it.  So we just started joking about, “Well, good thing we got lots of practice on this stuff in Wyoming!”  and “Hey, look, it’s the X-treme Blowdown event!”  And we climbed and scrambled (collecting quite a few scratches and bruises).  It took what seemed like forever, but finally we were across the mess and back on regular trail.  And another good thing was–clouds!  It was cloudy and even dripped just a bit.  Much better than going through this under a hot sun!  The clouds ended up hanging around with a few drips, most of the day.

To add to the fun, we were now almost out of water and had a very late lunch so that we could reach the next water source–a creek.  After that, for awhile, we were back in a “green zone” (so nice!) but then it was back into the burn zone again.  This burn zone was mostly just rocky and messy–no blowdowns.

Later in the afternoon, I noticed that the mountains were changing–getting much more rocky and steep and dramatic-looking.  There were also some lakes!  We passed Phlox Lake–very pretty, with beautiful, crystal clear water.  And we finally made it out of the burn zones, which was nice.

At 7:00 we started looking for a place to camp–not easy.  Everything was steep hillsides and not many clear places.  Down below the trail I saw what looked like a potential camping spot and went to have a look.  Near the spot I had in mind, there was a hole in the ground, which I started to step over but suddenly the ground gave way and down I went, doing a bad scrape on both my shins.  It hurt something awful.  For a couple of minutes I could not even stand up.  Finally I dragged myself up and limped back to the trail and a short time later we spotted a reasonably flat place in the forest.  The only drawback to it was…lots of BEAR poop nearby.  Oh well.

Every step I took was hurting, but a check of my shins showed yes, lots of bad scraping and some bleeding, but nothing that looked serious.  Shins don’t like being banged or scraped–they make such a fuss.  And in spite of the blowdown slowdown, we still made almost 25 miles today.  Hopefully tomorrow we will finally reach the “beautiful Pintlers” that everybody talks about.

Tuesday, August 23 Onto the Nez Perce Trail

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  The Sula County Store and Resort has been a great place to stay—very friendly and comfortable. Wish we could have stayed longer! But at 12:30pm we hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck (it’s legal to do that here in Montana!) and we were back to the CDT in the “cross country zone” of the Lost Trail Pass Ski resort.

Wow, what a mish-mash of trails—but whew, the CDT was well-marked. Part of the time we were on the Nez Perce Historic Trail—so sad. It’s the path the Nez Perce followed when they were trying to get to Canada, and it was here (right by the CDT) that the U.S. army troops pulled off a surprise attack. It was sad to be walking a trail with such a grim history.

DETAILS:  We had less than 24 hours at the Sula Resort, but it was a great time anyway.  The people here are very hiker-friendly and very helpful.  The little restaurant there is really good, and we decided we’d stay long enough to get both breakfast AND lunch before hitching back to the trail.

This morning it was COLD.  We were wearing our down jackets, just to walk over to the restaurant.  While we were eating, three “frozen” bike riders arrived.  They are riding across the USA, and had stopped in not just for breakfast, but to thaw out.  What a morning to be out whizzing along on a bike–brrrrr!  And all they were wearing was biker shorts and thin biker jackets.  I don’t know how they do it.

After breakfast I sorted through our food.  We’d figured on 3 1/2 days hiking to Anaconda, but to be on the safe side, I added another half day, so now we have 4 days worth of food, and I hope that will be enough.  We are heading into the Pintler mountains, and have heard they are beautiful but lots of big ups and downs.  I was also trying hard to drink as much water as I can–I realized I’m pretty dehydrated.  While doing that, I was also skimming through a wonderful book I found in the laundry room at the resort.  It’s called “I Tried Till I Almost Died”, and it’s by a lady who was quite a “workaholic for God” till she realized that God is WAY more interested in having a close relationship with us than He is in us running around “doing stuff for Him.”  It was really good.  I also made a bunch more little cards for Fixit to give out, with our website URL.

While we were eating lunch, I mentioned that we would be trying to hitch back to the trail as soon as we were done, and the store lady said it really helps if you make sure to look like a CDT hiker (the key thing is your trek poles!!) and not like a homeless bum.  But as it turned out,  I was able to yogi a ride from a nice young couple in the parking lot in front of the store.  I don’t mind one bit walking up to perfect strangers to ask for a ride!  Their vehicle was a small pickup truck, so Fixit and I rode in the back (perfectly legal in Montana!!).

As we were walking back up to the CDT from the highway, we met one of the Warrior hikers!!  He’s headed for the Hot Springs resort, which is closer to the trail than Sula.  We talked to him a little bit (I admired his official Warrior Hiker shirt) but I felt very sorry for him–whatever horror he has had to go through, he still seems to be hurting, even after walking all the way here from Crazy Cook.  I hope he finds peace somehow.

Up at Chief Joseph Pass, we met a lady who was waiting to pick up “a CDT hiker in a blue shirt”.   Haven’t seen the guy at all, and it confirmed that we must be still in a “hiker bubble.”  Then we were off into the Lost Trail Pass cross-country ski area.  What a trail maze!!  The signs were up high on trees, and hooray–the CDT route was clearly indicated.  We found it amusing that if a tree with a CDT “sticker” on it fell down or was cut down, they saved the section of trunk with the sticker on it and set it up along the trail like a post.

Eventually we reached the Gibbons Pass area, where the CDT joins with the Nez Perce Historic Trail.  The Nez Perce were fleeing to Canada, in order to avoid a forcible relocation imposed on them by the U.S. government.  You would think that officials would say, “OK, fine, go to Canada then” and let them go, but no, army troops were sent in pursuit.  The Nez Perce were very clever about eluding the troops for a long time, but here is where their escape attempt ended.  The army launched a surprise attack, and it was all over.  So sad.  And here we were, in 2016, walking right over the ground where all that happened.

Lewis and Clark came through here as well, and in their journals they commented on how pathetic the forest was “because of all the fires.”  Well, nothing has changed in that regard!   If L & C came through here now, they would say the same thing again.  We were hiking through miles of forest fire zone and almost despaired of finding a place to camp among the acres of fallen, dead, burned trees.  Finally we found a spot where if we moved a small log, there would be just room enough to set up our tent.

Checking the maps for tomorrow, though, I said, “Oh no!  There isn’t anymore water for a long way.  We should have brought more water from Sula.  We’ll have to ration tomorrow.”  Sigh.  But Anaconda, here we come!

Monday, August 22 Made It to SULA!

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

SUMMARY:  We needed about 2 more miles to get us out of the “CDT closed” zone, so we knocked them out, first thing. Whew! We did not want to get in trouble! But the rest of the day—well, now I know why the SOBOs we met complained about “the terrible PUDs between Darby and Lima.” That’s what we did all day—PUDs on the Divide. Unbelievably steep to the point of ridiculous!

You have to learn to laugh about them or you would go crazy. Nice views though—heavily forested mountains now, not rocky peaks. We got a ride down to Sula with a geologist on his way home from a rock-mapping backpacking trip. Sula Resort is great—we really like it here!

DETAILS:  Yesterday, even though we had a slow start because of the steep rocky trail, when we started “racing the fire” we finished enough miles to total 24 for the day.  That meant today we have only 20 miles till we get to Chief Joseph Pass and the hitch into Sula.

To save time, we ate breakfast in our tent while it was still a bit dark, then we hit the trail, going as fast as we could.  We wanted OUT of the “trail closed” zone!  Wow did we cheer when we passed the sign marking the end of it!  Whew!

The rest of the day we were mostly dealing with borderline unbelievable PUDs.  Back before we reached Lima, every SOBO we met was bitterly complaining about “those awful PUDs between Darby and Lima!!!”  I thought they were being a bit whiney.  Now I know what they meant.  One after another, we did PUD after PUD.  They were horrendously steep and often long.  On the PCT, none of this would happen–the trailbuilders would have contoured or switchbacked on these hills.

So the only thing we could do was to laugh about it!   “Oh look, wheeeeeee!  Another PUD!  Let’s go!”   If we didn’t do that, I think we’d go nuts.  Some of the PUDs were in forest, and some of them had nice views.  Meanwhile, BEHIND us now (hooray!) the airplane was back, circling above the fire.  Some of the PUDs were in a large burned zone from some previous fire–it was so sad to see whole mountainsides with nothing but black skeletons of trees.

But one nice thing today was that the trail was less rocky and more just dirt pathway.  Yesterday my feet got so sore from all the rocks that I almost caved in and took Motrin at bedtime.  But I resisted the temptation–Motrin takes care of sore feet but it’s bad for the rest of you!  The dirt pathway made the PUDs a lot more do-able, and by 4:30 pm we had finished our 20 miles and reached Chief Joseph Pass.  We walked down from there to the highway and started trying to hitch a ride.

But it was a tough hitch.  I could not believe how many spiffy “yuppie-looking” cars/people went roaring by.  “How can this be?” we wondered.  “We’re in Montana now.”   But finally, a slightly scruffy car stopped.  It was a geologist, on his way home from a ROCK-mapping backpack trip.   He drove us on down, down, down and dropped us off at the Sula Country Store/Resort.  It was 5:30 pm and the store was closing at 6:00, so we had to hurry to rent a cabin and find something for dinner at the store.  (The restaurant is only open for breakfast & lunch).

It was a nice warm, somewhat cloudy evening.  We sat at the picnic table by our little cabin and ate a very odd but tasty dinner before heading off to take showers and do laundry.  Then it was time to collapse on a BED.  We are tired!