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Posts Tagged ‘Rainbow Pass’

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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