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Archive for July, 2015

The trail snaked along the divide which in general means an extremely bumpy experience. When it couldn’t follow the divide directly, the trail sling shot us over a pass, deep into the valley, then rocketed us back up and over another pass on the other side.

Now, normally, this would be fantastic. High passes offered spectacular views and going into the valleys provided a wide array of water sources. However, when you’re gambling with thunderstorms, it gets interesting to say the least.

The same day that we got over Storm Lake Pass, we thought we’d have enough time to get over it and Rainbow Mountain before we dealt with typical afternoon mountain thunderstorms. Nope. One began to crash through around 11:30am when I found myself above treeline on Rainbow Mountain and noticed that the song I was listening to seemed to have extra bass in it…oh shit…thunder. Damn. I pulled the headphones out and shoved them unceremoniously in a Ziploc bag in my convenient, hand crafted, custom fanny pack (thanks Mom!) and examined the situation briefly.

I’m above treeline. The map showed trees higher on the other side than on this side. The trees directly below me are not uniform in the slightest and they are spread out. It would probably take me just as long to hike back down to uniform trees as it would to hike up and over. Great. I move upwards as fast as I could muster. The sky is turning a darker shade of gray. Boom boom boom. Fuck. That was loud and very close. I have two switchbacks to go. I began to run. Now, running with a full pack is awkward, so don’t imagine this is done gracefully. I crest the top and continue running toward the significantly more uniform trees on the other side. More thunder. Once I get to the white bark pines, I began walking swiftly again trying to get down.

About a mile down, I found Scallywag and E.D. chilling under some trees attempting to be dry and eat lunch. I joined them and we wondered if The Darkness had stopped in the trees on the other side.

The storm passed fairly quickly and blue sky began to emerge. Not long after, The Darkness appeared and we all basked in the warmth of the sun for a few moments before realizing we should be walking in the good weather. It gets tough when the weather dictates breaks and rest times instead of the body.

We got up and over another pass getting wet from rain on and off. We wanted to do more miles in this section but the weather and the constant ups and downs tired us out. We decided we needed to get to somewhere between Warren Lake and Rainbow Lake. I began to wonder about how many storms this area got because it had a lot of things named after storms and rainbows.

The stretch up to Warren Lake had switchbacks but some were hardly switchbacks. The trail went up steeply and was covered in rocks that my shoes didn’t want to grip well. By the lake, we were greeted by a large quantity of mosquitoes and Maverick going nobo!

We swapped beta on the next few sections and towns as well as what hikers were ahead and behind. All the while we swatted and murdered as many mosquitoes as possible.

Then having only a few miles left of energy, The Darkness, E.D., Scallywag, and I found a campsite that only thru-hikers would think of as a campsite. It was bumpy, weedy, rooty, and only flatish…but we were tired.

Lupines and Elephant Heads

The next morning, we walked up past Rainbow Lake, covered in lupines and elephant heads, and up toward Rainbow Pass. I stopped on top to dry out my tent and eat. The steep ups and downs had turned my appetite up dramatically. I felt like the Chester Cheetah in the Cheetos commercials where he turns the lever from “cheesy” to “dangerously cheesy” except it was “hungry” to “holy shit I’m starving and can’t eat enough.”

We only managed to get a few miles down to Johnson Lake before we decided lunch was in order. Partly because the lake was pretty and there was a great sitting log. E.D. and I stayed and began lunch while Scallywag went off to dig a cat hole. The Darkness decided she wanted to get up Pintler Pass before lunch, so she headed upward.

Then E.D. and I heard hilarity ensue. The trail made a sharp ninety degree turn away from the lake not far ahead and they had both gone to dig cat holes in similar areas. What we heard was them managing to have a conversation while pooping. That’s when you know you’ve been hiking with people a long time.

The best part about this particular lake was that there, the “North Montana” section ended on Guthook and we had to switch to “South Montana/Idaho.” We’re getting somewhere!

E.D., Scallywag, and I plugged upward and found The Darkness with a pack explosion on top of Pintler Pass complete with her tent tied down to dry out. We took a break there too.

Then Scallywag offered to share some of his jelly beans. He passed the bag to The Darkness and a sly smile grew across her face as she picked out one of each color. Scallywag didn’t notice at first, but when he did notice he gave her a menacing look which suggested that he would get her back for the atrocity of taking too many jelly beans.

After Pintler Pass, we went down into a valley then up and over another nameless but beautiful ridge that reminded me of Alaska Basin in the Tetons. We noticed that the elevation profile shifted after that from masochism to something “easier,” so we managed to push another ten miles to a spring.

However, rolling into the spring, we noticed that it was actually a mud puddle. The spring was also in a saddle which we thought would give some flat camping, but the entire area had burned leaving a mass of dead standing trees. The wind howled through them and we watched them sway dangerously. On Ley’s map, it shows that water can be found on either side of the saddle further down. Having no energy to climb another 1000 feet, we bushwhacked down about a quarter mile on the not as windy side of the saddle, found a stream, and cleared a bit of area to camp. A few of the dead logs took more than one of us to move. This area at least had less snags and less wind. We collapsed into our tents and passed out quickly.

Looking around in the morning made us laugh. Once again, no one but a thru hiker would call this home for the night.

The climb out of our less windy area was entertaining as our still tired bodies did not feel like climbing over extra blowdowns. A few miles up the trail, we took a break at Surprise Lake and wondered about whoever found the lake and was surprised by it.

As we exited the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the terrain became a little more forgiving in terms of steepness. We would have a waterless gap toward the end of the section, however.

We came upon a nobo named Wall who told us some interesting things. One of which was how he had gotten rid of his sleeping bag for awhile, then realized that was a bad idea and had just gotten it back in Darby.

We got to Schultz creek and filled up with enough water to drink for the rest of the evening, dry camp with, and get us to Chief Joesph Pass.

Still having miles to do, we kept on walking. The miles didn’t look hard until we got to some blowdowns. Then more blowdowns. Then, the blowdowns got so thick that I couldn’t see the trail, even after climbing six vertical feet to stand on the highest one. A dirt road somewhat paralleled the trail for a few miles and the two crisscrossed. I had just crossed it about a tenth of a mile back. The blowdowns were so thick, I actually turned around and went back to follow the dirt road for a mile around the massive pile of blowdowns. Right before the road, I forced Scallywag to turn around and take the dirt road.

We intersected back with the trail a mile later and jumped back on. We saw we could jump on a mile and a half later too, but this section of trail didn’t look as bad…and it wasn’t. There were minor blowdowns, but ones easy to step over and not enough to be annoying.

Then we heard voices later and saw that the next road crossing didn’t actually cross… It just came close. E.D. and The Darkness were looking at the map and GPS.  The four of us continued onward.

Blowdowns… the trail’s there somewhere…

We came to another section rife with blowdowns. Most of these, we could just throw one leg over at a time and it wasn’t super taxing. A few, we had to go under which is definitely easier as a short person. I was grateful for my flexibility in this area.

Camping about ten miles from the pass, we stopped because we found live trees and dirt to camp on. Amazing…a campsite that non thru hikers might even deem a campsite!

The next day, we had an easy ten miles to Chief Joesph Pass where we could hitch to Darby on Loggers Day.

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We took the Anaconda cutoff to save time later; saving about 80 miles meant that we will have four days of extra wiggle room later on for weather. The first fifteen miles or so of the road walk went along nice dirt forest service roads. We entertained ourselves with some 90s music and whatever we could find on the side of the road. Easily Distracted lived up to her trail name and found all sorts of things including a large antennae.

When we hit the paved road and crossed under interstate 90, we found Uncle Buck’s. As a bar on the road walk, seemed like an excellent place to stop and rest, but unfortunately it was out of business. Hearing that an outdoor faucet still worked, we walked around and found it with a bit if shade. As true hiker trash, that was good enough and we plopped down in the shade, stretched, got water, and laughed at our situation.

Heading down the paved road, we had about ten miles to go into Anaconda and the motel we wanted to stay at was, for once, at the close end of town. Right beforehand, there was a gas station. 

The Darkness: “How good do you think those are?” Pointing at the wrinkled hot dogs in the gas station.

Scallywag: “Between 3 and 9 days old.”

The Darkness: “3 days old isn’t that bad…” Buys.

We headed into Anaconda, got a room and found Tortoise trying to quit because of a blister. A bad blister, but a blister. We tried to convince him out of it or to rest and skip a section and meet up with us later.

The next day, we stalled on hiking out, not looking forward to more paved road walking. Instead, we managed to get lunch, then hang out in Tails and Chaps’ room for awhile. At the grocery store resupplying, we ran into S.O.L., Andrew, and Wagon Wheel.

When we finally did leave town, we had to continue walking through another mile of houses and other establishments like Dairy Queen. Naturally, that stopped us a bit. Weather was beginning to move in and we were looking for excuses not to be in the rain.

After we used up all our excuses to stay in town, we walked past the last buildings and down the road. The Darkness and Scallywag got a little ahead of E.D. and I.

We looked up later to see them standing without their packs looking curiously back at us. Confused, we looked at them, then over their shoulders to a sign that said, “Ranch Bar.”

The big distraction.

Wanting to get out of the weather, we all ducked into the bar and immediately ordered a shot and a beer. The bar had only a handful of local old men, but included some slot machines, a jukebox, and a pool table. Convenient.

What was supposed to be just having a beer out of the rain turned into pool and jukebox playing and at 11pm, we stumbled out planning on finding a stealth ish spot on the side of the highway. Luckily, we had a designated hiker, Scallywag.

Scallywag herded us along as we encountered a cat and then a skunk.

E.D.: “A meow again?”

Scallywag: “No…no no no…skunk…back away slowly. Its tail is pointing at us!”

Thanks to Scallywag, we all still smell normal…or at least only like dirty hikers.

Around midnight, we gave up on stealth camping and camped in a ditch on the side of the road. It seemed like it had more tree protection than it actually did the next morning.

Scallywag made sure we were all up the next morning cheerfully and he was met with some stares and glares.

Headphones in, we stumbled down the road toward a campsite we knew had water and took a break there to dry out our tents. Soon after, we turned off the paved road and onto a pleasant dirt road that snaked upward toward Twin Lakes.

There were several splits and turns in the road to which we tried to pay attention. When this sort of thing occurs, it almost always unfailingly goes up. So, at one junction, we go up. Not long after, we see a sign that directs us up to Twin Lakes, where we needed to go. About a mile up that trail, we stopped for lunch. We checked Guthook. We are “off trail.” We check Gaia, we are “off trail.” We check Ley’s map, we are “off trail.” Shit. But we were very clearly on trail. All three sources said we should still be on a dirt road, not a trail. The maps showed a pack trail near where we were which did not go to Twin Lakes, but to the other side of the ridge, not in the direction we needed to head.

In this confusion, as we debated about bushwhacking about a quarter mile down to the dirty road which we seemed to be paralleling, a young bro walked by with a half liter water bottle, cotton T shirt and a flat brim hat. We asked him the stupid question if the trail went to Twin Lakes. He gave us the best answer…”yeah, it splits up ahead…I don’t think you need GPS for this…”

Great. Thanks…bro.

We continued up toward the lakes as storm clouds began to form. Right as the the cold wind began, I ducked off trail to dig a cat hole quickly before the storm.

Jumping back onto the trail, I threw my rain gear on fast and was greeted with hail. I trudged upward and found the other three snuggled together under some trees wrapped in Tyvek. I joined in wrapped in my trash bag rain skirt. We waited out the rest of the storm huddled together. I dozed off a bit, still tired.

When it stopped, we reluctantly got up and hiked up five more miles toward Storm Lake. On the way up, we encountered Hawkeye heading north. I told him about Hot Lips.

Sock drying

There was quite a steep little section on the way up there, but the lake was beautiful. We found a good campsite, made a small fire, and used it to dry out our wet socks. It strongly reminded me of the AT.

The morning was cold and we slowly got our stuff together and headed up Storm Lake Pass to Goat Flats where the Anaconda route met back up with the Butte route. The pass was nicely switchbacked. Beautiful views spilled from all sides.

And thus began the era of large PUDs; however, they could almost not be called PUDs because all had glorious views.

 

From Goat Flats

 

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After we found a room for six people and a dog, the route debate began. Do we want to take the newly rebuilt trail Butte route or do we take the Anaconda cutoff? The Darkness and I threw our cards saying we wanted to take the cutoff which would give us four days of wiggle room for bad weather later in the trail. Scallywag held tough on Butte because it was newly built trail and therefore avoided a bit of road walking. He, however, had to go against me, The Darkness, and Easily Distracted.
Scallywag: “Is this what marriage feels like?! All of you are giving me puppy dog eyes!”

Me: ” No, this is what polygamy feels like…”

Scallywag: “I’ve been practicing the wrong religion the whole time!”

Tails: “If it makes you feel better, we can flip to a random page in the bible and see what it says…where is it? These motels always have one…”

Scallywag: “The atheists used it to prop open the window…”

Tails: * grabs bible and puts in something else to hold the window * ” Ommmmmmmmmm”

Scallywag: “Wrong religion Tails….”

Tails: “Oops!” * Throws bible so it flips to a random page upside down and reads * “…feet will be beaten…”

E.D: “So…the Anaconda route…”
The debate lasted that night and into the next morning when the Anaconda route won, in part because of the Sir Mix-a-lot song. 
After the debate came to a conclusion, we went to resupply. I had called the Helena post office and despite the 3 day delivery on priority mail, the package had not come. Therefore, I went to resupply at the grocery store. This took me awhile because I’m more accustomed to the amazing, awesome, wonderful, complete packages my resupply logistician mother sends, including home baked vegan cookies.
The Darkness and I managed to leave town early-ish by getting a ride with Alejandro in a BMW…first time I’ve been picked up in one of those!

At the trailhead, The Darkness and I stayed for a moment putting on sunscreen, braiding hair, and wondering how we got a ride within five minutes.
We headed down the trail and about a mile in, we meet Tom. This conversation was so intriguing that The Darkness and I threw down our packs, sat on them, and listened.
Tom had a thick Brooklyn accent.
Tom: “I just brought Hatchet and Hot Lips to the trail and hiked a few miles out with them; they were heading to Butte next.”

Me: “So, she’s embracing her name finally…”

Tom: “Well…she was in the post office and I asked Sarah what their trail names were and Sarah told me she was going by Hatchet now, then she giggled and said Jo was going by Hot Lips. But when she came out of the post office, I said, ‘Get everything sent off, Hot Lips?’ And she turned to Sarah and yelled a lot saying she was trying to go by Yukon, but that didn’t make any sense. Then I tried to delicately explain the MASH reference because she’s…well…sensitive…that there were doctors and nurses in the Korean War and they, uhh, got together. She didn’t like it any better, but I kept calling her it anyway.”
The conversation continued in several directions. Don’t forget the Brooklyn accent. One was:
Tom: “Let me tell you girls a short bio. I grew up in Brooklyn, went to college at Carot College in Helena and never left.”

The Darkness: “Wow, that was short.”
The conversation proceeded and as we sat there, the stories got more entertaining. We had to slow ourselves down to allow the others to get out of town and catch up anyway, so we kept listening and prompting more stories. The Brooklyn accent is important for this one…
The Darkness: “Have you ever been to Loggers Days in Darby? We think we’ll be there then by a fluke.”

Tom: “Loggers Days! Let me tell you about Loggers Days! I had this girlfriend at the time, Claudia. We were at a bar and she was playing this machine that she really liked. Then the bartender tells me one of the loggers was looking at my girlfriend. He was a big, mean guy. Claudia was a gymnast and had these little short shorts. I said, ‘Claudia, we gotta get outta here!’ But she didn’t wanna leave! I had to practically drag her out by her hair! That’s Loggers Days!”
After half an hour and hearing about Monica, too, we went our separate ways and The Darkness and I reenacted bits and pieces of the conservation with our attempts at the Brooklyn accent. We went about nine miles to the second water source, and the first one with a flat spot and set up camp.
We knew the others would have to be in town for chores longer, but the spread out town had taken them awhile to traverse. This allowed us to sleep in, which was pleasant.
The Darkness: “I heard you get up and I was worried you weren’t sleeping in, then I realized that you weren’t taking down your tent. That meant that you were pooping and I had ten more minutes to doze.”
Tails, Chaps, and Skeeter caught us right as we were finishing packing up. The four of us headed down the trail wondering how far out E.D and Scallywag got.
When we were lagging at a water source around 11am, up they came! Within the first few minutes, we had updated each other on all the bowel movements we’d missed being separated for 24 hours. They had gotten up at 5am and powered through to try and catch us.
Most of the day went through the woods of Montana, small ups and downs, lots of lodgepole pines, meadows and small streams. Then the sky got darker and darker. Wait…it’s only five pm…it’s supposed to get dark in four hours…
All six of us sat by a water source which was marked as a spring, but it looked gross. Seeing a stream in two miles, most us just planned to keep going with a half liter or so and fill up at a better source, but Chaos and Tails were out. Chaps scooped up four liters of it into the dirty bag for the gravity filter and hung it in a tree.
Scallywag: “Now that’s done discolored water!”

Chaps: “It looks like something you’d take out of the toilet at Oktoberfest…”

The Darkness: “You could not have said anything more German…”
Right as the sprinkles were getting to the point that rain gear needed to get thrown on, we ran into Momma Bear and Monkey going nobo for a big section: all of Montana. We chatted while we waterproofed everything. Luckily, I only had to waterproof myself because my pack consists of just a dry bag. Worked fantastically and all my stuff was dry.
This storm was not just a passing shower, it was rain that was settling in for the long haul. My rain skirt trash bag worked great. I cut the bottom open and used the draw strings around the waist.
We hiked for several hours in the rain. It wasn’t quite as drenching as east coast rain, but it was enough that everything was wet.
Then, we looked at the map. We could go toward the Little Blackfoot Creek or go almost to the top of Thunderbolt Mountain. While hiking in the rain with the occasional thunder rumble, going to the top of something called Thunderbolt just did not seem smart.
We hiked toward the Little Blackfoot and ended up finding a flat-ish spot to camp near a side stream. We had to clear a few blowdowns and place our tents right next to each other, but we found enough space. Tails and Chaps ended up putting their tent in the middle of the trail.
It rained most of the night. I woke up around five…still raining. Rolled over. I woke up a little after six…still raining. Rolled over. I woke up just before seven…still raining. Damn…I have to pee! Reluctantly, I got up and went, then dove straight back into my sleeping bag. The whole world was wet. My sleeping bag was nice and dry and warm. We all began reluctantly getting ready, eating breakfast and trying to find excuses to stay in our tents.
Finally, the time came when we had nothing else to do in our tents and we had to get out, pack them up, then hike on brushing up against all the wet grasses bending over into the trail. Luckily, it was mostly just dripping off the trees and not actually raining. That helped.

That day, we went past some dilapidated cabins in a place called “Leadville” on the map. Disappointed that there was no porch to sit on, we sat on some ruins and took advantage of the sun break to dry our tents.
The sun break was unfortunately short lived and succumbed to a rain shower, forcing us to hike on. We passed some interesting trail signs pointing to “trails” that didn’t exist.
Easily Distracted: “It’s like they just put up a sign and said, oh we’ll build the trail later.”
That evening, we camped at the four corners where the Anaconda and Butte routes split. We made a nice little campfire.

 

At the four corners.

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E.D (Easily Distracted): “Can you just walk around Lincoln with open containers? Like Montana had open carry?”Local lady with a tall boy in her hand: “On the fourth of July you can in Lincoln!”

Me: “Maybe it’s the same as sticking a lawn chair in the back of your pick up and calling it extra seating…”
Spending the fourth of July in Lincoln, Montana was an experience indeed. We found other hikers at the breakfast spot: S.O.L, Andrew, Wagon Wheel, Raven, Grits, and Bird Dog. Every room in Lincoln was booked and people from all over seemed to converge on this tiny thousand person town.
We found a singular shower at an RV park and camping there for about $8. Deal. Then we found a laundromat at the trailer park which had a broken coin machine that said “not working yet.”
After having some beer, we hung out in our little tent city in the RV park. We found Tails, Chaps, and their dog Skeeter. Hot Springs hitched up from Helena to join the festivities and take advantage of cheap camping.
Our big crew did go to enjoy the fireworks show that seemed to be the talk of the town. They started around 9:15 or so and we found a comfortable spot on some grass. When it seemed to end, we mentioned how good it was and a local said, “That was just the amateur show, the real one’s going to start in a few minutes at 11pm!”
Then bam! Way larger and grander fireworks burst into the sky. Holy shit, she was right!!
When we migrated back to the RV park well after hiker midnight, we realized the owners had turned on their sprinklers to water their lawn…and some of our tents…and Patch’s sleeping bag which he had set up to cowboy camp. Luckily, the bag didn’t soak completely through and he had time to dry it out fully the next day. Damn lawns.
After lounging all morning and repacking food bags, The Darkness and her boyfriend Mikhail showed up and gave us a ride back up to Rogers Pass. Of course, on the way up, it began to rain and visibility decreased consistently.
We popped out of the car and threw on rain gear, debating our decision to leave town in the rain.
With a two thousand foot climb out of the pass, we entered the rain and migrated up. We all went our separate ways with our heads down. I had to take off my rain gear because it was too hot to climb in it and it was only misting. Right before I left the trees, I threw the rain gear back on and suddenly realized I was on a ridge. That was it? The climb’s over? I checked Guthook. I was indeed on top of the ridge. Cool.
I proceeded at the pace in which I could keep the rain gear on and not sweat. Sometimes this meant pausing more, sometimes it meant speeding up. The visibility ranged from about 20-50 feet and the trail bounced up and down along what looked like a cool ridge. Once or twice I realized I was close to a cliff to the east, but couldn’t see how far down it went. The wind was gusty, but I could still walk straight, so it couldn’t have been over 30mph gusts.
I caught up to The Darkness and she made multiple references to The Exorcism in relation to the current weather. We ran into a nobo section hiker named Rambler who told us that an Israeli guy named Ronnie was ahead of us. Then The Darkness got ahead of me when I had to pee.
Later on, I ran into a dude with a large pack and poncho facing north, mumbling to himself, and examining an iPad. Hmmmm.
Me: “Are you Ronnie?”

Ronnie: “Yes, how do I know you?”

Me: “The section hiker said you were ahead.”

Ronnie: “Ah yes, well this is supposed to be all downhill to Fletcher’s Pass and yet we are going up.”

Me: “It’s never all downhill.”
I passed Ronnie who seemed like he was in a bad mood from the weather and the terrain, but he kept trying to talk as I got further and further away.
Eventually, I got down to the pass and was evaluating where I had to go off trail for water when Ronnie started yelling from the other side of the pass. I decline to answer until he reaches a point where he doesn’t have to scream and he said he’d go get both of us water if I’d  watch the packs. Deal.
Then Patch came down and Ronnie started mumbling again about how getting water for three people was too hard and we should get Patch to get us all water because he was tall. I didn’t quite see the logic in that, and Ronnie bolted down the road with his water containers and mine, leaving Patch.
A beat up old car pulls up and a guy named Rick leans out the window.
Rick: “Y’all want some water?”

Patch: “Yes, please!”
We began chatting with Rick and he had a mouthful to say about Ronnie.
Rick: “If he woulda just talked to me, I woulda gave him water, but he don’t wanna talk.”
When Ronnie got back, he saw Patch getting water from him, passed me my water and mumbled a lot. The Darkness came up for water and made a nice exit from the strangeness. Tails, Chaps, and Skeeter came down to join the road party as well.
Finally, we migrated to a trailhead with a privy and hastily set up tents, ate dinner, and promptly feel asleep. 13 miles of cold and wet tired us all out. It didn’t help that we hit the trail at 2:30pm either.
The next morning was overcast with glimpses of sun. Our tents, jackets, and pants were all soaked, so we took a lazy morning to mostly dry them out.
While we used the sun as a dryer, out popped S.O.L and Andrew who wanted to dry out while they waited for Wagon Wheel to hitch back.

We knew there was a privy with a trash can we could hit around lunch, so we aimed for that.

Tails: “People are going to work right now and excited about TV and things…and we’re excited about a privy…”

Me: “And a trash can!”

The day went slowly as we proceeded through the low water area switching between trail and dirt forest service roads. We did find a good spring about 15 miles in and we knew we’d dry camp later that night, so we packed out more water than usual after cameling up.
We made it another few miles before finding a sweet little meadow before a big climb to camp in which would hold all of our tents. We had a small tent city going already, then Wagon Wheel joined us, which meant we had dinner music as he played his backpacking guitar.

 

The meadow campsite

Deciding that we couldn’t be lazy three days in a row, we got up at 5am and were on trail by 6am. The first climb went quickly and I ran into Andrew up on the ridge trying to order new shoes from Zappos and attempting to explain wool toe socks to the customer service lady.

The vertebrae Christmas tree

The first 11 or so miles were up and down along a beautiful ridge. I did find a dead tree full of vertebrate in one of the meadows that swallowed the trail. Often the trail disappears into meadows and reappears on the other side somewhere.
The climbs on the ridge after we were already on top were to get around really neat cliff bands. On the last downhill, descending off the ridge, we found Dana Spring aka dead squirrel water. We had to drink some though. We treated it. It had a slightly funky smell.
We had two options: follow dirt forest service roads for 14 miles or for 10 miles. We opted for 10 miles. It did have one funky intersection which Ley identified and had a helpful note about. The water there was all contaminated with cow shit. Dead squirrel water or cow shit water.
Scallywag and I waited at Priest’s Pass for The Darkness, E.D, Tails, and Chaps. When they didn’t come after we cooked and ate for an hour, we pushed on another few miles and camped with S.O.L, Andrew, and Wagon Wheel five-ish miles from town.
We got up at 5am again to get to town early. At 6am we were off. At 6:30, we were bushwhacking. It was a little too early to be bushwhacking, but it was only about 20 miles of getting scraped and poked.
When we emerged back to the trail, we saw Sarah doing yoga and she excitedly bounced toward us. She got the trail name Hatchet somewhere.
Hot Lips was still rustling in her tent, so as we passed I said loudly, “Morning Hot Lips!!!”
She stopped rustling and didn’t say a word.
By 7:45 we were at McDonald Pass to find a very frustrated Patch who had been unsuccessfully trying to hitch for an hour. With everyone converging on the road, it was difficult with eight of us trying to get rides. Scallywag and I took a two person ride into Helena and began finding a room for all us.

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The group left Bob’s cabin at varying times, Scallywag, E.D., and I were the last to trickle out a little after five pm. We followed Straight Creek instead of hiking a mile back to the trail, then over Elbow Pass. Straight Creek was pretty, although very burned and didn’t go over the steep pass.
Chatting along the way, we stopped to eat dinner around 7, then looked for the next “campsite,” or really just a flatish spot. Not too long after, we crossed a creek and were in a burned meadow. We were tired, our buzz had worn off, and it was almost 9pm…hiker midnight.
We found a campsite in what seemed like the only living trees for miles, but it had flooded and squishy moss had grown. We instead found a spot where most of the snags had already fallen and camped there hoping a tree wouldn’t fall on us.
Waking up, no dead trees had fallen on us, so we left thankfully. We followed the river for awhile, then another creek when about 10-12 miles in and me taking about fireweed for awhile, we found another cabin with a privy whose seat moved if you shifted your weight wrong.
There we found The Darkness who had gone about 12 miles out of Benchmark when we had only done about 6. She was beat from pushing herself to reach Rogers Pass where her boyfriend Mikhail planned to meet her. It was hot again. The horse flies were out. Apparently they hurt so bad because they don’t bite, but rather suck the blood up through your skin. Nasty buggers. We’ve been trying to kill every one we can. Luckily, they are not the fastest of creatures.
We continued down the Dearborn River to where Ley makes three routes with a note that just basically calls the area confusing. It wasn’t hard following Guthook. Plus, someone had pulled an AT move of throwing some sticks across the trail you should not take. Classic.
Patch caught back up to us and told us another crazy tale of going on sketchy parts of the Divide. Crossing our deepest ford yet, the water rose to just above my knee braces, but the current wasn’t strong. It was just cold and wet. Then the doozy came. We had to climb about 2,500ft up and now water would become more scarce. We really haven’t had to carry more than a liter the whole time until now.
 I saved the tunes for the crazy shit we were about to do. I put on some electronic music and was going uphill at a steady pace. E.D. was right ahead of me when she stopped about half way up the first part of the climb. I paused to see what she was looking at…a spine lay to the side off the trail with no other bones around and the trail was covered in dark brown and white hair. It looked as through maybe a cat had jumped down and killed a moose or elk. No skull to tell.
The second part of the climb looked steeper. It still had switchbacks, but the gradient of them was getting more drastic. It was past dinner time. I ate a bar and kept plugging. Of course, when we got to the “top” it kept going up doing a ridge for another half mile, but at least it became less steep. We passed Amy and Jerry and Amy was limping badly from blisters.
We started to descend into a small basin with a tiny spring, a tiny creek, and a big meadow. Flatish. Awesome. Meadow will be dewy, but at least flatish. A Swiss couple named Jeanine and Patrick were already camped there and graciously shared space.
Eating dinner away from our tents at 9pm, it seemed like all our brains had fried from the heat and exhaustion. With nowhere to hang our food, we all decided just to sleep with it that night.
The next morning from within our tents, we began the morning conversation topics: the upcoming day, food, poop etc.
E.D.: “How many miles do we have to Rogers Pass?”

Scallywag: “24”

The Darkness: “No…21!”

Me: “It’s 24…”

The Darkness: “I counted the numbers on Ley’s maps and it says 21.”

Scallywag: “Guthook says 24.”

The Darkness: “Damn.”
The Swiss couple began laughing at us.
I let the air out of my neoair. Hissss.
E.D.: “Noooo.”

Scallywag: “The sound of motivation.”

The Darkness: “Whyyyyy?”
We did manage to get hiking by 8am, which had been late for us. We immediately had to climb another 1,000 feet. Steeply. No switchbacks. It was like the AT climbs, but going up to around 8,000 ft. And it was hot. Well shit. Absolutely beautiful and totally worth it.
The entire day was spent going up and down and over ridges. The tread on my sandals took a beating and I ski/skid down some stuff but didn’t fall. At least not yet. I made a mental note to order new sandals in town.
We met a Canadian named Canacker. He sat at a small lake with us when we loaded up on water. The water had lots of little red macroinvertibrates in it. The Sawyer squeeze took care of them.
The day was hot and the miles went slowly due to steep terrain with epic views. At about 6pm, we hit Lewis and Clark Pass where one could go .4 miles down to water. The Darkness and E.D went down.
We debated about just staying there. It was a “road” but it was definitely a 4×4 road. The Darkness still wanted to meet Mikhail at the pass in 8.3 miles. We decided that we wanted to get at least the next 1,000 foot climb out of the way and camp by a spring or a saddle after the spring in 3 miles. That climb just went straight up. Part way through, a female moose ran across our path. That was cool.

 

On the top, we waited for The Darkness whose feet had blistered horribly. When she got there, she asked if any of us had accidentally grabbed her map. None of us had. Her GPS batteries had died and none of us had AA batteries. Damn. We headed down to the spring scheming about getting her a map.
However, as we ate dinner near the spring at 8 something pm, we realized even with only six miles to go, she probably wouldn’t make it to the pass before 11. The trail had started playing this disappearing act where it would lead into a meadow then disappear and reappear on the other side or disappear in a sea of blowdowns. During the day, a map would be ok, but at night,GPS or Guthook would be significantly easier.
The five of us decided to suck it up and night hike with her to the pass where Mikhail could bring us a gallon of water so we didn’t need to carry extra. Deal. Since we could conveniently see the cell tower, she could text him. He could also watch her spot device which was moderately creepy.
Getting too and from the spring, we hiked out with Guthook trying to find a trail. Then we’d “cooey” when we found it. All of our feet seemed to rebel at the idea of hiking after dinner into the night after such a long ass kicking day, but they did better after a bit. The trail continued with a few more large bumps.
The sun went down, but we knew it’d still be light enough to see until about 10:30. All of us had our headlamps on, but of course they didn’t get turned on until we stumbled too much. We passed a yurt and had to fan out in the dark twice more with Guthook to find the trail. Then all of a sudden a very well trodden trail appeared. A bright orange, but not blood moon came out and lit the way. The trail took us all the way down to Rogers Pass where one car was waiting.
At about 11:45pm…almost actually midnight, well past hiker midnight, we stumbled into the road. Mikhail rushed into his trunk and handed us not only water, but four powerades, two chocolate bars, and two large bags of potato chips saying, “I don’t do what you gotta do, but I do know you need salt.”

“camp “

All four of us sank down to the ground thanking him and devouring chips. After The Darkness and Mikhail headed away, we looked around for a spot to camp and settled on cowboy camping in the middle of the trail because it was the flatest spot.
At: 1:47am a large truck rumbled up. They idled. Two scruffy men got out of the truck. The hood pops. I shift to appear still asleep on my stomach and can peer above my sleeping bag slightly. I look up and E.D.’s eyes bug out. My eyes bug out. We listen. They’re leaking oil. They’re smoking cigarettes and looking under the hood. They realize people are sleeping on the trail fifteen feet away. They turn off the engine and make less noise. They drive away. E.D and I are relieved. Patch and Scallywag slept through it.
In the morning, E.D and Scallywag get a hitch into town first, then Patch and I got a hitch. A young woman turns around to give us a ride out of her way to Lincoln. I get crammed between a six week old baby and a two year old. My backpack goes on my lap and a box of diapers on top. The two year old hands me a book. I read.

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We did another ten miles or so from the cabin, but lazily, because we were tired, it was blazing hot, and because we spent two and a half hours on the cool porch.

Stopping to eat dinner near a ford, we became swarmed with flies. They weren’t biting, at least not much, but I couldn’t help thinking about how bad we also smelled and if there were more flies on us than the horse shit in the trail.

By the time we finished dinner, it was well after 7 and the heat had drained our energy. I did thoroughly enjoy a hearty dehydrated dinner…thanks Mom! There was also a nice, large campsite on the other side of the willows that could easily accommodate our five tents plus some. We decide to go for it.
At about 9:30pm as I was laying in bed reading Hondo, which The Darkness passed me, in walks three more thru hikers: Sleepwalker, Tortoise, and Hare (who we’re trying to rename Rabid). They camped with us that night, too.

The next morning, E.D tried to beat the heat and shot off before I was even out of my tent to pee. When I did wake up to the normal rustlings of Ziploc bags and stuff sacks, I got up and noticed either Tortoise or Hare snoring lightly. I could judge the volume of my own rustling if the snoring paused or not.
Not even a mile into the day, E.D and I found a lightweight Under Armor jacket. I checked the pockets. Jo’s credit card. Shit. Those two girls were a day ahead of us! Then I check the other pockets. Sunglasses. She’ll miss those, but she’ll be OK. A small device that neither E.D nor I could figure out. Then the last pocket held not one, but TWO lipsticks. Lipstick….really?!?! Are you trying to impress the bears? What the fuck. I’ll carry gear and a credit card forward, but lipstick?! And two of them…that had to be at least six ounces. Damn. E.D attached the jacket and it’s curious pocket contents to the outside of my pack and we trudged forward. Scallywag later informed us it was a smart phone tripod for selfies.
We followed a creek the whole way again the next day and I lost track of how many times we forded it or side streams. It was still hot. The trail meandered about and horse shit alternated with bear shit and the occasional moose shit.

When we finally caught up with E.D. at the Spotted Bear alternate junction, we felt our faces melt off through a burn area. We continued on the Spotted Bear alternate because we heard it was more scenic when we saw another cabin…with another great porch! We stopped and hung out eating a snack and waiting for The Darkness, Tortoise, Rabid, and Sleepwalker to catch up. Out of nowhere two hikers appeared from the river…it was two flippers, Wide Angle and Flip. We chatted with them, then they hiked north. We decided we needed dinner before we hiked more, so we cooked dinner. Patch showed up and told us about how he side tracked and went high up on the divide, then hiked on another six miles. Theeeeen, we just stayed, camping near the river which our maps warned could be double, waist deep fords. They looked between ankle and knee deep.
 Setting up my tent, I managed to smash my finger between a tent stake and the rock that I was using to pound it in and gave myself a blood blister. I popped and drained it while I watched a small river snake attempt to devour a fish considerably bigger than its mouth. That evening, we thoroughly enjoyed that porch talking and swapping stories until the inevitable “oh shit, it’s ten pm!” and it’s still light out.

The fords the next morning were cold and we all started the day with wet feet. We had to climb up out of the river valley over Switchback Pass and there was not great camping for another few miles, despite what Wide Angle said.

We ate lunch at Dean Lake, where Whistle skipped rocks and clouds began rolling in. Something had to break the heat. It looked like a storm was brewing.

Throwing on rain gear, we continued. Ten minutes later the rain gear was off because it only sprinkled and it was still too hot. We made it up and over the pass OK and plunged down the other side. Switchback Pass lived up to its name…and…at the bottom of the pass was another cabin with a porch. Attached to the door with a rock was a note saying something along the lines of:
“Dear forest men,

Thank you for the extra fuel you gave me. It was so nice to have hot soup last night.

Thanks, Kathleen”

Then underneath in someone else’s handwriting made to look similar was:

“PS: I owe you both BJs”

That seemed unfair, but it was funny.

Alas, we decided that we did actually need to do another five miles or so to set us up better for Benchmark. We knew we’d only find smaller campsites along the river bottom after the large cabin area, so we split into two groups. The Darkness, E.D, Scallywag and I stayed at one and the other for went two or three miles further.

Chinese Wall

They went further, but they got up later and we saw them picking up the next day. It was the day of the Chinese Wall! We hiked up for quite some time and finally saw it. We found a lunch spot in the shade of a tree. It was hot, but not melting hot…the first time in days.

Rabid was talking about needing electrolytes when The Darkness offered him a nuun tablet. Before she could explain it, he popped it into his mouth to a chorus of NO NO NO!!! He spit it back out of his mouth and it started to bubble and stared at us.

The Darkness: “You put that in a liter of water and let it fizz for a minute, then you drink it…”

Oops.

The Chinese Wall extended for miles. We walked underneath it, going up and down for about nine miles. Along the way, we met Melinda, a trail angel in Helena. She told us she saw the two girls about two hours previously. Narrowed the time gap from a day to two hours. Not too bad. I wanted to get rid of the damn lipstick.

We continued down to another river in order to get to within ten miles of Benchmark. Near the junction we wanted to camp at, we saw another cabin, and went up to see it. A few guys were there from the forest service, but they were jerks. We really just wanted to use the privy.

Dude: “it’s locked.”

E.D: “Do you have the key?”

Dude: “Yeah. #1 it #2?

….. We wouldn’t have walked up this extra little hill for #1 dumbass……

Dude: “If we left it unlocked, then we’d have to dig more holes.”

….. Wouldn’t you want to concentrate the use in a heavily used area……

We left. And dug catholes. Because three shits totally would have overflowed your privy. Right.

Zonked, we found a campsite in some trees and shared with a couple and their two large dogs. In the middle of the night, at 12:37 to be exact, there were some crashing sounds and the dogs started barking like crazy. Then more crashing sounds. We rolled over and went back to sleep. Thanks for scaring the bears, dogs!

We crossed a bridge over the river and all commented on it. We hadn’t seen a bridge in about 100 miles. The next morning, we ran into a group of overnight hikers and asked if they’d seen the two girls.

Dude: “Yeah, a looooong time ago.”

Me: “How far ago?”

Dude: “About four miles ago.”

Scallywag: “Oh, and hour and a half ago.”

Dude: *mouth opens… No words*
It was flat…easy to hold 3mph.
We rolled into Benchmark area and began walking toward the ranch which held packages for thru hikers when we heard Tortoise and Rabid yell from a cabin.
Gentleman named Bob: “Want a beer?”

Yes, please!!!

 

Bob’s cabin and hikers

We found out that Bob was 88 years old and a World War Two vet. He gave us a ride to and from the ranch to get our boxes. Whistle and Sleepwalker had managed a ride to and from Augusta (30 miles down a dirt forest service road) and said that they saw the two girls there and they asked if I would leave the jacket in the hiker box at Benchmark Ranch. I don’t think they quite understood the meaning of a hiker box, but I left a note on the back of their note there stating:
“Here’s your coat. Your new trail name is Hot Lips.” I hope she’s heard of Mash.

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The Darkness: “I’ll take the Moose Drool please.”Me: “I’ll take the Pigs Ass Porter please.”

Waitress: “That one’s fun to say! Can I get you two frosted mugs for those?”

Both: “Yes, please!”
Backing up, we had an easy ten miles into East Glacier with a well graded 2,000 foot climb. We had to cross through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation for three miles and the “trail” began what Ley referred to as the real CDT. It split off several times, was 4×4 track, went over several blowdowns, and became massive mud pits at points. Sometimes it was hard to tell the nuff apart from the horse shit.
As soon as we got into town, we went straight to the first restaurant and got burgers/veggie burgers and beer.
We checked out the other hostel and decided it was dark and less inviting. The Darkness resupplied at the store while I got my package from the post office and we spent a chunk of time ripping apart and making larger priority mail boxes to fit our ice axes. The post matter laughed and said he’d been doing it all week and had some good ideas.
Heading back to the other hostel, smartly named after food, Brownies, we saw two guys who looked liked overwhelmingly clean thru hikers. We approached. They were indeed thru hikers, one of which flipped up from New Mexico and the other of which was going sobo, but they had hiked together on the PCT. They were Fun Sized and Lighthouse.
Town chores began to take a long time – like showering 8 days of dirt off, doing laundry, packing the food bag, blogging, posting pictures, and chatting with Fun Sized and Lighthouse as well as two other flippers, Ridge Runner and K2. And hiker midnight is at 9!
Our plan *was* to get up, eat, and leave mid morning, but then Scallywag, E.D., and Patch rolled in and The Darkness and I decided to zero. That meant significantly more time for blogging and other chores. Later, another rolled in, Whistle, and it was quite a fun zero day.
The next morning after breakfast, The Darkness and I made our way out of town getting confused in the golf course exit, but did finally find the 4×4 track eventually. It was HOT and we came to several choices in the track over about three miles and had to pull out the guidebook to pick. We reentered the national park again and contoured the bottom of it for quite a ways. It looked as though for a few sections, the park service took a weed whacker and cut a foot wide path, then ran out of battery for a mile, then another chunk.
Treeboo caught up to us and we walked with him for a little bit. We decided to inquire about an interesting individual who we met previously who seemed to want to find himself in the wilderness.
The Darkness: “Did you meet John?”

Treeboo: “hahaha the guy in five fingers heel planting?”

The Darkness: “Did he have food?”

Treeboo: “Yeah, he got some from day hikers…”
Treeboo was a long distance runner too, so once we stopped for lunch, we never saw him again. Our food bags were massive with six days of food in them and we needed to eat them down a bit.
We continued heading toward Marias Pass and stopped at a pay campground for some water and a map break. Up walked a dirty individual who introduced himself as a section hiker going from Helena, MT to the Canadian border. Naturally, we asked for beta. For starters, he said the official CDT contoured a burned ridge for eight miles and was basically a pile of blowdowns for that amount of time. Translated: eight mile obstacle course of downed trees with no shade. An alternate trail followed a creek the whole way lower down. Great, cod creek…hot day…sounds fantastic…for tomorrow.
I was tired, so I packed about three liters of water and headed up the hill away from the pay campsite toward an area that looked flatish on the map. The Darkness wanted to go camp down by the creek on the alternate two miles later, so she did that and I found a nice, wooded flat spot above the pay campground. Why pay for camping???
In the morning, Scallywag, E.D, and Whistle walked up as I finished breakfast and said they camped immediately outside of the pay area, but walked back for the privy in the morning. Classic. They had also talked to the section hiker and wanted to take the wetter alternate. They headed on and I was about 15 minutes behind.
I found where the CDT split off to contour the ridge, but it wasn’t marked at all and the turn was not obvious for sobos. To have taken it, I would have needed to turn more than 90 degrees to my right.
The alternate was a well kept trail, probably because of equestrians. There was quite a lot of fresh horse shit in the trail. The first ford of the creek was a cold, refreshing easy start to day and almost reached my knees. I found The Darkness after the second ford putting her shoes back on in an attempt to keep her feet and growing blisters dry. I just plunged straight in with the winning combination of Teva sandals and Darn Tough socks each time.
We found the other three in some willows around mid morning snack time and by then I had lost track of the number of fords…I stopped counting at 8.
After the break, we continued in toward a forest service cabin that the section hiker told us about thinking it would be a cool place to eat lunch. Before getting there though, a horse startled me from the trees and I looked over to see an older gentleman with a cowboy hat, his daughter, and five horses.
Guy: “Where are you walking from?”

Me: “Today, or in general?”

Guy: “In general…?”

Me: “Canada.”

Guy: *looks pensive?* “Where are you going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Guy: *Eyes bug out* “uh huh…”
We talk about a few other things and I said we wanted to eat lunch at the cabin and he said they were heading that way too.
Finding the cabin, we noted the brilliant orientation of the porch so that it became shady in the afternoon and the shade increased as the afternoon passed. The cabin was locked, so we enjoyed the porch. Then, the guy in the cowboy hat showed up.
Guy: “So…would y’all like some cold beer?”

Us: *Eyes bug out* “Yes, please!”
Out came cold Miller Lites and on a day when the sun melted us, they never tasted so good. The guy had an entire horse dedicated to coolers in the saddlebags! Now, that is smart traveling. We’ve been doing it wrong the whole time!
We had three route choices from the cabin for the next few miles, so we showed him the map and he instantly told us the middle, red route was the best of the three options which was also what Ley suggested too. Then the guy offered to pack the beer cans out too!!!

 

The well oriented shady porch

 

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