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Posts Tagged ‘Scallywag’

** From October 2015**

We walked out of Pie Town full and happy meandering along listening to podcasts. Right at the split between the route for the Black Hills and the Gila River route, we got a facebook message from Patch.
Patch: Where are you guys at? And where will you be in a week or so? I want to mail you guys something!

Me: We are just hitting the Gila alt. Will probably be in Lordsburg in a week. How are you and where are you?

Patch: Jesus, you guys are flying along. I’m doing well! I’m in Ghost Ranch. I took several days off with my Dad. Hoping to catch Das Boots and maybe Scally.

Now we were curious! For the next week, we pondered what it could be. We had several theories of interesting proportions going.

When we were pondering oneoo of the theories, we were all bushwhacking down toward Snow Lake when Wonderer dropped his phone in knee high grass somewhere. We all threw our packs down and fanned out trying to help him cover more ground to find it. Back and forth we went. Wonderer shooed us, taking a map from The Darkness and we started bushwhacking down when we heard a loud cry of joy. We looked up to see Wonderer grinning from ear to ear in a power stance holding his phone high above his head. We cheered from below in relief.


At Snow Lake, the cold started to set in. We wanted to get a few miles further down into the Gila canyon before we found a campsite. When we bailed into the privy south of Grants for that massive round of thunderstorms, this was where Whistle bailed out ahead of us and Scallywag had bailed back to Cuba behind us.

We put on shorts to save the leggings for later and walked past an ominous sign telling us to be prepared for a lack of trail, storm damage, and flooding. We got to the first crossing. The Gila River was a creamy dark color which obscured the bottom. The water rushed fast and the “trail” on the side was hit or miss. We used hiking poles to test the depths before getting in the icy water. The sun had already set out of the canyon and the shade added to the cold sinking into us. We began using the Crosby-o-meter to test for depth further than the banks of the river. Being 6’4” it was easier to tell how deep it was on him than us.

It was icy. It was rushing. Hiking poles necessary. And it was deep.


The shallowest crossing came up to my knees and I still couldn’t see the bottom. Most crossings reached mid thigh deep or more. Before each step, I’d plant a pole in the water to keep three points of contact with the unknown bottom at all times and my poles quivered from the water rushing at them. I started to not feel my feet anymore. Lucky for me, they seemed to know where to step anyway.

We found a great campsite that night. Everyone peeled off the wet layers as fast as possible in order to get into sleeping bags. I had to sit crossed legged for a while with my feet wedged in my knees to warm them up.

In the morning, we packed up and began walking as soon as it was light enough. We had discovered the difficulty of finding shallow crossings at night and decided to keep pushing as much as we could in the daylight. The ground and all the grasses were completely frost covered. The trail sometimes existed, other times it didn’t. At the minimum, we crossed the Gila once per third of a mile. My feet were already numb from the frost before even dipping into the icy water.

The Darkness, Crosby, and I walked without stopping. I ate to keep warm. At least warm enough. We all had several layers on and the cold seeping in from our feet and legs was rough. We paused to talk to some hunters and Wonderer caught up.

Wonderer: E.D. hiked up on the last trail. She said she was too cold and she’d take the higher routes over to Doc Campbell’s and meet us there.

We were grateful that she sent a message so we wouldn’t get caught up waiting and not seeing her. The four of us stuck together taking turns bushwhacking ahead and finding better crossings. The progress was epically slow. My feet were numb still and I was munching though food faster than normal to keep my metabolism going.

We took the shortest lunch break ever, then kept crossing. We knew we had to cross even if there was no trail because if we didn’t we’d run into a tall cliff wall. The canyon was beautiful beyond words, but with the extra waves of thunderstorms the past week, the water had risen significantly and as we got further down, it became harder and harder to find spots to cross below mid-thigh deep.

Wonderer watching The Darkness cross.

Eventually, toward dusk, we came to a crossing that none of us could agree on the best way to cross, so we went in slightly different places and watched each other. The Darkness chose a spot which looked awesome until the middle where it got expectantly deeper. Wonderer, Crosby, and I watched as her face change drastically as she went up higher than her waist getting the lady bits wet. But her feet held and she crossed to the bank.

She looked at all of us on the bank.

Me: Sooooo, next available campsite?

The Darkness: Yes.

None of us talked much as we had to cross a few more times before I found something that would work. Not ideal, but functional if we cleared a few dead branches and flood debris from the big flood in 2013. We made it work and made a campfire to boost morale as we ate dinner.

The morning brought a repeat of cold, frost, and icy water crossings still increasingly difficult to find suitable crossings. We had seen another trail heading steeply out of the canyon in a few miles to the higher routes that E.D. had hopped up to. We contemplated it until it started raining on us while thigh high deep in icy water with numb lower extremities. As we pulled out umbrellas and crossed again, we all looked at each other and knew we were bailing up and out. Once we found the trail, it was easy to follow. The link between the bottom of the Gila canyon and it was obviously not used much and very obscured.

Despite the rain, hiking up out of the canyon got our blood flowing and warmed up more than we had been in almost three days. We cruised along the top toward the west fork of the Gila River which we’d have to cross a few times before getting spit out at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. That was also cold. But there were only four crossings bringing our crossing total to 81 times on the middle fork and 4 on the west fork. Burrr.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

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**From October 2015**

Around dusk, we stumbled up to a campfire “cooey-ing” and receiving excited “cooey” responses. We knew we had found The Darkness. Dropping our packs haphazardly we each gave her a big hug and all spoke at the same time with different stories from the past 1,000 miles that she had gotten slightly behind us.

We set up tents and swapped story after story until the weather tried to snow and rain on us. We were glad to have her back, joking that the harem was reunited. Since Scallywag had taken the San Juan’s loop, he was about five to six days behind us and we needed a new bull elk. We decided Crosby was up to that task.

The weather decided not to improve in the morning, so while The Darkness stoked the fire back up, we poked around on maps and Memphis mentioned a tiny “town” called Platoro was where he had gotten off trail going nobo to flip. Taking some dirt roads over that way avoided quite a bit of above treeline in the sleet that started trying to dampen the fire. Plus, then we could catch up more since we had not exhausted our stories the previous night.

Meandering around on the dirt roads, we heard all new tales of hikers a few days behind us like the whereabouts of Lighthouse and Fun Size, Das Boots, and the Swiss Couple. The precipitation shifted switched between rain, sleet, and wisps of potential snow faster than most politicians can change positions. However, with good conversation, we stumbled into the “town” of Platoro, Colorado.

It looked creepy. Everything seemed closed. The weather added to the creepiness. Memphis started to meander away from the group looking for something.

The Darkness: Where’s Memphis going?

E.D.: Not sure.

Me: This is the point in the horror movie where we start getting picked off one by one…

Crosby: Follow?

We followed Memphis though someone’s lawn, whose windows had plywood covering them and we walked past a business of some sort, also with plywood in the windows and went toward an “open” business. It appeared to be a store, restaurant, cabin rental, and RV spot all in one. We looked longingly. We lingered. Memphis returned saying it would open in about half an hour. We wondered if we could linger on the porch out of the rain when a man approached us seemingly out of thin air, who we later learned was Michael.

Michael: You all look cold! Why don’t you come inside and warm up by the fire with tea and coffee until we open.

We gladly took him up on the offer, placed our packs on the porch, and went inside to hover as close as possible to a wood stove. Michael was incredibly hospitable and gracious opening early, putting an extra log on the fire, and letting us do a jigsaw puzzle until the kitchen could be ready again.

All of us scarfed down food as fast as they could crank it out of the kitchen. At that point in the hike, all of us needed to put on weight or at the very minimum, not lose more. The cold had been depleting our calories faster that we were able to replace them with trail food—food that we were all getting tired of.

Memphis disappeared for a bit and came back saying he got the “CDT” cabin for us all for the night because the weather tonight looked bleak. The single room cabin had three beds, an old TV, and a VCR. Naturally, all five of us fit perfectly and watched a George Clooney movie that night while the rain refused to let up. Right as we were trying to fall asleep, huge thunder claps kept us up just long enough to be thankful for the shelter.

We waited for the restaurant to open for breakfast and scarfed down even more food, while we attempted to motivate ourselves back out into the weather that had improved, but not greatly. After we reluctantly finished packing up and thoroughly talking Memphis into a cooler hat, Michael brought us back to the trail, while trying to give us jobs for the following summer.

Out into the misty, cold cloud drenched hills we climbed. We had to cross a large creek to jump back onto the CDT itself which Memphis skillfully hid from E.D. until we got to it.

Memphis: WHOA! This was raging when we had to cross it. This was why we bailed into Platoro.

We all looked at it and managed to rock hop across without our feet getting wet. What a difference snow melt could make.

The misty campsite.

Once we had climbed back up, we found a glorious campsite. Unfortunately, it was only lunchtime. As we all sat there, The Darkness scrambled around and got a small fire going while we ate. She was so excited for people after hiking alone for a week.

On top of the ridge.

It was one of those days where we all had to put on rain gear, then take it off twenty minutes later only to put it on twenty more minutes later. We hiked over one of the last 11,000 foot ridges and dropped down to a campsite by a marshy lake where The Darkness decided we needed more campfire time.

Pitching our tents, we set about helping her gather the driest wood we could find in a largely wet area. With the help of some heet, we had a fire going in no time.

The five us of sat around the fire that whole evening, well past dark talking until we hit hiker midnight (around 9pm) and fell asleep just as another rain shower passed through.

In the morning, we had to climb one more lower ridge and meander along it until we got to Cumbres Pass which we could take into Chama. The rain had ceased, but clouds passed through frequently adding a new texture to the hike. When we looked back at the last ridge over 11,000 feet, we saw the snow line. Had we camped higher, we would have woken up in snow. The top of this lower ridge had a thin layer of snow as well that melted quickly as we hurried south.

I hiked toward the road with Crosby and E.D. and the three of us caught The Darkness right before hitching. However, Memphis was nowhere in sight. We all thought he was in front of us, so we thought that he might have gotten lucky and found a ride. We threw our thumbs out while we tried to look for him coming down off the trail when we found him in the oddest way…

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On the way into Yellowstone, there was a strange junction that threw us all for a loop. We had to make a left on a “road” which was blocked by large berms and small lodgepole pines. Jeff and Memphis managed to find it. E.D., and I missed it by .3 and had to walk back. Scallywag and The Darkness missed it by a lot and didn’t catch up to us that day.
E.D. and I found the tricky spring and kept heading toward the Yellowstone border and subsequently, the Wyoming border. When we reached the end of the Macks Inn alternate, we stopped for a break and heard voices. We thought it was The Darkness and Scallywag, but it was Tails and Chaps! They had hauled and managed to catch us! We were very excited to see them and we hiked closely together for both borders.

They went to camp at Summit Lake while we stealth camped right before it. In the morning, we didn’t see them, but found Memphis.

E.D., Memphis and I walked the 14 miles into the zoo that is Old Faithful and went toward the backcountry office for permits. However, when we got there, something we did not expect happened.
Ranger Lady: “Sooooo…we don’t have any permits for you. Everything on the CDT is booked up…”

 

Memphis: “What would you like us to do then?”

Ranger Lady: “Camp in designated areas only and ask people if you can share their campsite…”
We all looked at each other. Ok…

After about an hour of going back and forth, she gave us a permit for a campsite 12 miles out from a no show, then an admin site 13 miles later (because we’re totally going to only do 13 miles…) and then a site somewhere on Heart Lake 10 miles later.

We decided to stick to the permit the first night, then use her suggestion for bumming onto a campsite for the next night, then getting out of the park and it’s regulations the third night. However, we couldn’t just show up empty handed and bum onto a campsite…so we picked up a handle of fireball at the general store and split it into two plastic bottles to carry out as bribery.

After watching Old Faithful and the zoo of humans watching it through their screens instead of their eyeballs, we found Scallywag and The Darkness at another general store. We were on our way out and they said they’d be twenty minutes behind us.

The hiking flew by. The miles were easy with hardly any real climbing. We passed a geyser field that was actually way cooler than the Old Faithful area and with NO people. Amazing!

We were making good time, when we hit a marsh a mile before the campsite. It was a field of ankle deep water with no good way around. Again came a major theme of the CDT…wet feet.

Plunging in, the cold water infiltrated our socks with no hope of drying because the sun had just set. Occasionally, in the middle of this marshy stuff, an actual creek would flow through and a board would appear to cross it. Not that a board was necessary when one has to step up out of ankle deep water to step onto it.

After the marsh, we threw our poles down and took a shot of fireball. The warm whiskey went down so well and made us both feel better.

When we found the campsite, we also found Memphis and we cooked a late dinner.

The next day, the weather turned to shit. According to our permit, we only had to do 13 miles. Easy miles. Right.

The storms and rain seemed to come in waves. There was no point in putting on dry socks to walk in the rain, so we all put the wet socks back on. If you’ve ever had to put on cold, wet socks, you’ll understand the frustration.

We started running into a slew of nobos. Despite the fairly constant waves of rain, we always stood there with our packs on and swapped beta for about 200 miles in either direction. One of the major points immediately south of us was a ford that the Ley map said could potentially be chest deep. It was ankle deep. Maybe Ley just went for a swim in the lake instead of crossing the outlet stream.

In hardly any time, we got to the “admin” site assigned on our permit near the road. The road that went to Grant Village…which has food…and beer…it was lunch time…

We went toward the road and decided to try hitching there for fifteen minutes and see if we could get a ride. If not, we’d hike on. Memphis spotted the parking lot nearby and suddenly yelled over that he’d yogi’ed a ride.

After a good lunch, we got a ready hitch back from a couple hard of hearing from Missouri. We had about half an hour of dry hiking when the rain came back.

Later in the evening, after getting soaked for hours, we found a ranger cabin without the ranger (conveniently) and we cooked on the porch.

The three of us moved on to try and find a campsite that we could share with someone else.
We took a right down a side trail toward a campsite and the damn side trail was about a half mile off. When we saw the people there, who looked utterly confused, we explained ourselves. Then we offered fireball.

Dude: “Oh shit! Christina forgot hers! She’ll be so happy!”

Other dude: “Cool, we’ve got some Maker’s too!”

A mutual stand around and drink whiskey from assorted containers happened with friendly conversation and we shared the campsite. Note: diffuse situations in the woods by sharing whiskey.

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We decided in the end to take the Macks Inn alternate although Scallywag was not happy about it. It included a bunch of road walking but did pass right by a hot tub.

The first mile of the alternate split off on a nice trail around Lillian Lake, but quickly dissolved into what Guthook called the “trail-bushwhack transition” for four miles going up Hell Roaring Creek.

First of all, Hell Roaring Creek looked like chocolate milk. Second of all, we had to cross a giant marsh to get to better ground…wet feet again.

Scallywag had gotten ahead of us and we didn’t see him until the end of the day. Jeff, E.D., The Darkness, and I plodded our way through the creek and found boots and pieces of a trail or herd paths and we slipped and slided around in thick mud and leftover marble sized hail.

It took forever. We found bits of trail, then lost them over and over again. The sides of the creek were covered in burs which ripped at socks and knee braces. Occasionally, I’d stop and pick them off when they covered the majority of my knee braces only to find them recovered minutes later.
On the plus side, we did find a clear stream which fed into the chocolate milk water and the valley was actually quite beautiful.

There was actually less bushwhacking here than there was on many other parts of “trail.”

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Lima Montana has a motel, a restaurant, a bar, and a gas station. That’s it. And it was such a great zero.
It started when The Darkness, Easily Distracted, and I were walking along the trail, which happened to be a Frontage Road next to I-15, and a truck pulls over on the interstate, honks, and a guy shouts:
“Wanna ride to Lima? Hop that fence and jump in!”

None of us had cell service, but Scallywag apparently did when he decided to take some sort of farm road that could potentially be a short cut if it didn’t disappear before it intersected the road again.

As we jumped over the fence, two hikers jump out of the truck and offered to help throw our packs in the back. They were two crazy nobos, Karma and Maniac.

We all pulled in, drove down the interstate, found Scallywag, threw him in the back, and drove to Lima.
When we got into town, we were informed that there was a town wide power outage. Hungry, we went to the restaurant, Jan’s, and they still fed us despite the power outage.

The power did come back on and we went to camp by the motel. It had a neat fire pit with some swing benches. The owner said to feel free to make a fire later.

A massive amount of hikers were in town. Some had been in town and we’re heading back out like Hiker Box, Heartbreaker, Lint, Patches, and Grapenut. Others had come in around the same time we did like the Swiss Couple, Memphis, Shortstack, Action, Leah, and Andy.

We did the usual laundry and shower routine, then found some beer.

That progressed over to the one bar in town which also let you grill your own 16oz. steak. Conveniently, and maybe not so conveniently for the locals, it also had a jukebox which we found very entertaining.

Planning to leave mid morning, we slowly got our stuff together, but kept finding stuff to do. Then the shuttle came back bringing in Tails, Chaps, Jeff, and Blue Jay.

Since we hadn’t seen Tails and Chaps for a long time, we sat and talked to them and then magically an 18 rack of beer appeared. After one beer, we still thought we were leaving. After the second beer, we began wavering. Then around the time beer number three got cracked, we found out that the elementary school had a pool open to the community for free between one and four pm.

Once in the pool, after several very entertaining chicken matches, we decided we weren’t going anywhere till the next day. We also found great old metal playground equipment.

The pool did indeed tire us out and we needed more food, so we went back to the bar, grilled steaks, I picked the cheese off of the side salads and we terrorized the jukebox some more. We even met the mayor who was quite intoxicated.

In the morning, we needed some water and breakfast at Jan’s before heading back to the trail.

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After Leadore, we awoke to the frequent morning rain shower, which meant that we all rolled over and got some extra sleep, then tried to procrastinate getting out of the tent as long as possible.

I was in the process of procrastinating and tweeting to find more stuff to do in the tent when the rain stopped. On cue, I popped out of my tent and quickly packed it up.

Thinking it would just be another day of on and off again rain and thunderstorms, I began to mentally prepare myself for being generally uncomfortable. We had camped almost at the top of a 9500 ft ridge and had a few miles of bumpy exposed ridge before dropping down to 8000 ft.

Almost at the top, I ran into a nobo, Jon Z, whose pack I couldn’t see because it was so tiny. I asked him where his pack was and he had to turn so I could see it. We did the customary exchange of beta for about 200 miles in either direction, then kept going.

On top of the ridge, I suddenly became aware that the temperature was plummeting drastically as the rain began again. I quickly added a mid layer underneath my rain shell and kept waking to stay warm. Only my feet were wet.

One bump on the ridge complete. The wind picked up and the rain began to pelt me sideways. I tilted my hat to protect the side of my face, tightened my shell and kept walking.

The Darkness came up behind me. She had asked Jon Z if he was trail running because she hadn’t seen his pack either. Her hands were pulled up into her shell and she said she had to walk faster to keep warm, so I let her pass me.

Two bumps on the ridge down. Scallywag comes up, hands jammed into his pockets and poles strapped to his chest because the metal poles were too cold to touch. I was suddenly extremely thankful for my laziness in not bouncing my felted wool mittens and awesome over-mitts made by my crafty mother.
Scallywag and I talked to try to not focus on the bad weather which consumed our thoughts. The sideways rain turned to sideways sleet. Awesome.

Then it started snowing. Happy July 27th Birthday to Scallywag…snow!

Three bumps on the ridge down.

“Cooooey!”

Scallywag looks at me, but I hadn’t cooied. We look around. We saw The Darkness shivering under her tyvek against a lone downed tree. We went over and sat on either side to warm her up.

It wasn’t working and the temperature continued to drop. We had to either get up and hike the four miles down to the lake at 8000 ft or set up a tent because she was quickly progressing from mild hypothermia to moderate hypothermia.

She decided a tent would be better, but hers was at the bottom of her pack and her hands were too cold to set it up. I had a one person tent so that wouldn’t fit all three of us. Scallywag grabbed his and the two of us quickly set it up and threw The Darkness inside it. We got our two sleeping pads and our sleeping bags, dove inside and set up. The Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 is technically a two person tent, but in reality, it’s a one and a half person tent. All three of us were inside.

Since only my feet were wet under my rain gear, all I had to do was change socks, but the other two were wet straight through and had to put on their sleep clothes and any dry layers they had. Then we wrapped ourselves up in a blanket of down.

It took about two hours for The Darkness to stop shivering sandwiched in the middle. In that time, I found it too hot and had to take my puffy off which I then used as a pillow to take a nap. Might as well rest as the snow piled on top of the tent. We all thought E.D. was the smart one who stayed in her tent in the morning through the storm.

Several hours later in a break in the storm, we heard voices and called out. E.D., Hiker Box, and Heartbreaker walked up. They had all hunkered down.

Heartbreaker: “When things get rough, I just tell myself, at least I’m not pregnant!”

Then the storm started anew and Hiker Box and Heartbreaker went toward the lake while E.D. dove into the tent with us, making four people in the two person tent. We listened to some podcasts, took naps, and all had to roll over at the same time.


Finally, around 4:30pm, the storm seemed to subside enough to dash down to the lake. I was so ready to be out of a tent, I took the opportunity and E.D. jumped out too. The Darkness and Scallywag feared getting their only dry clothes wet or putting on their soaking wet layers and getting too cold again, so they stayed.

The snow had stopped and we made it down to the lake just fine to find Action, Shortstack, Andy, and Leah there. We camped with them and took our time getting up in the morning to give The Darkness and Scallywag more of a chance to catch up to us.
The next day was cold, but sunny and we navigated over some great alpine terrain. Scallywag and The Darkness managed to catch us by dinner.

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Leaving Darby with five days of food, we headed back up to Chief Joesph Pass in the back of a pickup truck. The trail followed a dirt four wheel drive track for about five miles of pleasant grades before turning into a trail which The Darkness and I swore was designed by an east coaster. It picked the highest point around, went straight up it, then shot us back down and repeated the process. However, unlike the east coast, most of it was burned and the sun shone bright and hot that day.

On one of those bumps, I met a character named Swanson. He said that he had run into eight or nine other thru hikers that day and regaled me with information on each. I asked him to let Scallywag and E.D know that we were going to try and camp at Big Hole Pass. Scallywag and E.D had to pick up boxes quickly in Sula, so they were a bit behind and we didn’t see them until camp. Swanson mentioned a that there was a guy parked there camping who would talk my ear off.  However, when I got there, it was just after nine and it appeared he was already in bed so my ear did not get talked off.

The Darkness: “Did you talk to that weird dude?”

Me: “Yeah, he told me about the location of the spring and who’s ahead of us, did you?”

The Darkness: “No. I knew you would, so I didn’t bother.”

The spring was beautiful, piped, and not far. The beginning of the side trail to it though was hidden.

In the morning, I left first and headed up the dirt road looking for a tricky trail turn to the left where the side was supposedly hidden. I found it very quickly and began down the trail only to immediately be impaled in the face with a massive cob web. I took a step back and peeled it off, checking to make sure I didn’t have the spider on me. There were about two miles of woods trail before popping out on a closed (and therefore badly maintained) four wheel track. The entire time I pulled an old AT trick of waving one hiking pole up and down in front of me to knock down the cob webs. That only works so well though and I continually found myself peeling them off of my arms and face.

Later on, E.D came trotting down the trail.

E.D.: “Are The Darkness and Scallywag ahead?”

Me: “No…you’re the first person I’ve seen since leaving this morning and I’ve been on trail the whole time.”

 

The cabin and the wheel

We looked at each other and knew that something was wrong. E.D. had left with them, but paused for a morning bathroom break and hadn’t seen them since. We found a dilapidated old cabin, sat in front of it, and threw serotinous cones through the spikes of a rusty old wheel which reminded us of the old computer game about the Oregon Trail. We looked at the maps to see if they took a short cut and somehow got ahead of us. Nothing.

I placed my bet that they continued up the dirt road and missed the left turn.

We kept going, knowing that we had to make miles or face running low on food. A 3,000 ft climb came next which we broke up with lunch in the middle by a messy stream. We didn’t feel like having wet feet, so we found a log that was both several feet higher than the stream and barely the width of our feet. This was advanced stream crossing. E.D went first, stopped in the middle, chucked her poles across and straddled it across using one or two wiggly rocks underneath. As I watched, I extended my hiking poles and managed to walk across. The climb went steeply up for a long time, then finally began to have a better grade toward the top.

E.D. and I continued along the bumpy divide for quite some time until we stopped for dinner in hopes that the other two would catch up. In fact, they did roll up.

The Darkness: “We took the teal route…” (The maps show the actual CDT in red and the alternates in purple)

Me: “So, where did you get off trail?”

Scallywag: “We kept going all the way up Eagle Mountain instead of taking that hidden left turn…and then instead of going back down like smart people, we decided to bushwhack down and scramble down a talus field instead. It took awhile.”

We ended up going another few miles and camping at a lake with the Swiss Couple, Jeanine and Patrick who we hadn’t seen since the day before Lincoln, or about 200 miles. They had a small fire and were roasting marshmallows.

 

The lake campsite

The next morning, we all plodded down the trail and tried to work around the thunderstorms which kept trying to repeatedly explode above our heads right as we were going above treeline.

I kept noticing the thunder when it would appear as a wrong bass line in whatever music that I was trying to jam out to. The thunderstorm that day hit right before noon and was over quickly, but it was enough to push us into some trees to eat lunch.

We had as long decent down to a “parking lot” of a trail-head, which was really just a dirt road that you could move a car to the side of, out of the way. On the way down, we passed two beautifully blue lakes and it was hot out, so I took the opportunity to skinny dip for a moment to cool off.

From the “parking lot,” we had to climb. But this particular climb had recently been redone with wonderful switchbacks making the climb pleasant and not really a kick in the ass.

We kept going and found the last campsite close to Berry Creek. This campsite was not really a campsite, but it was mostly flat and was just wide enough for our tents. We had somehow gotten on a late schedule of leaving camp between 8-9am and camping at dusk, eating dinner at about 10pm. Oops.

From Berry Creek, we had a long climb upward again with something marked as “overlook” on Guthook, which was really just a pass, but it did have a good view. We roller-coastered around high up before dropping lower.

The next day, we had some high and exposed sections to go through as well. And there were…you guessed it, thunderstorms!

 

Right before one storm hit.

From Gibbon’s pass, which had a “spring” a bit off a side road (which was a puddle in the road itself) we went up a very exposed, but awesome peak. When I got to the top and thunder crashed across the sky, I looked at the dark mass of clouds coming my way and made it down as fast as my knees would let me on the loose rocks. I made it down to some trees, put my rain gear on and watched the storm pass. Scallywag and E.D waited with me in the trees, The Darkness had made it over the next exposed bump on the ridge.

That evening, we found a campsite that definitely only thru hikers would call a campsite and threw up our tents in a gap in the rain.

The next morning, we waited until another gap in the rain to pack up quickly and head toward Lemhi Pass. This part was surprisingly easy and we cruised through it to find the Swiss Couple and Crosby sitting there eating lunch.

Crosby had called Sam at Leadore Inn to pick him up there instead of the next, normal pass to get to town on, Bannock Pass. We all chatted and ate while Crosby waited for Sam.

When Sam came, we conveniently asked him if we could reserve two rooms for the next night and get a ride down from Bannock Pass the next day at 4pm. He said that sounded great and would see us then.

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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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