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Posts Tagged ‘Water’

**From November 2015**

Silver City treated us well. We did not want to leave. To make matters worse, it was hot out and we were hungover. We decided that we should get lunch at a gas station partly out of town to eliminate the ability to further distract ourselves. At the gas station, however, we got another message. This time, it was from Karma.

Karma: When are you all getting into Lordsburg?

Me: We’re just leaving Silver City now. Should be there in three days.

Karma: Should I send something for you all to the post office or the store?

Me: Whoa! We’ll be at the PO anyway, so there?

Our hangovers suddenly seemed better with a combination of that and a small collection of locals trying to buy us food. We kept going, finding the trail again and stayed together as group that night. Wonderer picked our campsite and we all camped close enough together that we could discuss our shit show while laying comfortably in sleeping bags.

We weaved in and out of small forested sections, open fields, and found some interesting water sources. There was one in which we had to crawl under a fence, move the slime off, and then filter. The cows nearby eyed us suspiciously as we shared their water.

As the days grew increasingly shorter, so did our breaks. We had to night hike to get in the miles we wanted, it was usually just a question of morning night hiking or hiking into the night. We managed to keep lunch to under 30 minutes.

Water.

We had some skeptical water sources coming up and I carried a bit more just in case. The trail wound around some hills and went on and off old dirt roads past a few windmills and cow troughs.

We wanted to get into Lordsburg early so we could actually go in and out of the town. Figuring that we’d spend more time there at the end as we figured out bus tickets, we didn’t want to stay too long. To do so, we had to night hike. We had a spectacular sunset which gave way to New Mexico’s specialty: brilliant stars. We hiked well into the evening with headlamps looking for a windmill.

At the GPS location we had for it, it was no where in our headlamp beams. We searched and searched. At that point, we have up, camped in some low trees to avoid the wind. The morning came fast and the stars were still out when we left. I set out first.

The unidentified dead thing in the water source.

About a quarter mile later, I found the missing windmill. Something smelled weird. I went to check it. The closer I got, the worse it smelled. I peered in. There was a very dead and very bloated unidentifiable small animal that was most likely a rat or opossum. Reluctantly, I fished it out with a hiking pole and set it near. I decided I could make it the fourteen miles to Lordsburg on the half liter I had left, slightly dehydrate myself, then rehydrate in town. Before I left, I wrote a note on Guthook.

We kept meandering down a mix of old dirt roads and “trail” which really just included signs in the general direction we needed to find a way between.

Going into Lordsburg.


Of course, it tried to rain on us again and we had some rain gear on, rain gear off moments. The sunrise in the morning made it worth it though.

ED and I got to town first and went to pick up boxes. Crosby, The Darkness, and Wonderer were not far behind however. We were looking to see what we’d been sent from my Mom, Karma, and Patch.

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As soon as I reached the top of the mesa, I found myself amazed at how suddenly flat the terrain became. Luckily, more of the climb than not had trees to shade us as we climbed during the heat of the day.

At the top of the mesa, we took a break in some shade leaning against our packs in different ways contemplating potential campsites location areas for later. We kept walking toward a water source which we knew would be half a mile off trail.

Me: E.D., do you remember this water source called “ojo de los indios”? It’s off trail quite a bit.

E.D.: Oooooooooh. And down. Very down.

Me: Good?

E.D.: Good, but down.

We headed in the direction of the water source, knowing that with the heat, none of us could skip it for the next source on trail. E.D. and I arrived at the side trail within a minute or two of each other and set our packs down to determine how much water we needed while we waited for The Darkness. Since the sun was setting, we grabbed headlamps while we stashed our packs so we only had to take water bottles down. After close to twenty minutes, we still didn’t see her, so we went down to grab some water.

E.D. was right. The trail was, in fact, half a mile off trail and down. We could see the cow troughs from above as we descended down to them. We had to go around one fence, then hop another, then hold bottles under a piece of PVC pipe feeding the cow troughs from the underground spring. It was dark as we had all of our bottles almost full. Then, we saw a headlamp and we “cooed” to find The Darkness coming down.

Eventually she wandered up with a smile on her face that screamed she had something interesting and potentially devious to tell us.

The Darkness: Guess what?!

E.D.: …what?

The Darkness: I talked to some Navajo ladies collecting piñon and they told me how to find them!

She held out a handful for us to see. Cue the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” as we contemplated how to find more the next day.

Sunrise.

We showed her how to get to the good water spot, then hiked back up to start cooking dinner. She finished getting water quickly and was back up to the top cooking with us in no time.

I convinced them to hike just a bit more at night because we were loosing daylight fast and needed to get some miles in so we didn’t run out of food. We got a few more miles in before finding a nice forested campsite for the evening.

In the morning, we awoke to a drastic change of weather. Instead of sweating buckets in tank tops, we now had on most of our layers, including puffys most of the morning. The CDT at this point mostly followed dirt four wheel drive roads and occasionally had bits of trail built in. We were coming up on the split in the trail where we could follow the official CDT around Mt. Taylor, or we could take the purple route over it.

While we thought about this, we noticed we sat on a large amount of piñon. Some hunters pulled up. Not only were they completely clad head to toe in camo, their ATV was clad in camo as well. We chatted and mentioned the piñon. The hunters showed us how to eat it by cracking it with your teeth. They also showed us the difference between old, rotten piñon and good piñon.

The Mt Taylor summit.

Despite the weather being cold, at least it wasn’t raining. We decided to hike up Mt. Taylor anyway because it would be the last time we’d hit 11,000 feet. We found a campsite near the top and summited in the morning in a cloud.

As soon as we dropped down about five hundred feet, we could see again. We cruised over to another mesa where we met back up with the official CDT and entered the world of piñon.

There was piñon everywhere. We set our packs down, collected, ate, and shared piñon for far too much time. We filled the Melanzana skirt pockets full. The piñon tasted deliciously fresh and we got fully distracted.

Piñon!

Whenever we tried to move further, we found richer, tastier piñon. It distracted us all morning until we realized that we had passed lunch just eating as much piñon as we possibly could.

Eventually we made it into Grants where we found a Crosby again!!

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**From October 2015**

We lingered at Ghost Ranch while Crosby and Memphis planned to hitch over to Santa Fe for the balloon festival. Memphis, having finished his flip and went a little extra, would head out after the festival, while Crosby found a way back to the trail.

Extra fiber…?

The Darkness, E.D., and I set out meandering through the desert, attempting not to run into the increasingly numerous plants sporting large spike devises. Eventually we followed the Rio Chama over to one of the more entertaining water sources we’d seen yet. It boasted a cow trough hidden slightly off trail amongst high grasses and a dead coiled snake near the easiest spot to grab water after we scraped the green slime to the side.

After grabbing some water from the trough, which tasted surprisingly good despite its outward appearance, we hiked on into canyons and on mesas. I found myself surprised at the amount of trees in northern New Mexico. I somewhat expected a desert more like the first 700 miles of the PCT, but I am quickly learning that the different areas of desert have significantly different characters.

For example, this desert boasted quite a few tarantulas. So many, in fact, that I purposely set up my tent each night simply for the peace of mind that I would not wake up with one on my face. Fascinating to watch, I found that the tarantulas photographed quite well and did not seem to mind my phone hovering near them.

I had heard through the thru-hiking grapevine (mostly from nobos) that to be free of the big snow potential, we needed to get south of Ghost Ranch. However, we still had to climb up and over the San Pedro Peaks to get into Cuba which reached 10,500 feet. We climbed up towards the end of a day looking for a flat campsite. Right as the sun had set and dusk began getting dark, we narrowly missed a turn in the CDT. One of those where the obvious trail goes one way and the CDT breaks off to the side. Just down in some trees off the trail, we found an excellent campsite.

San Pedro peaks, which we camped on that night, resembled more of a large mesa instead of mountains. When we woke up, the large grassy, swampy, fieldy areas were covered in frost. Cue: frosty feet. Meaning: very cold feet.

My feet did not warm up until we hit a dirt road at the bottom of San Pedro peaks which would take us into Cuba. We went from lots of layers straight into tank tops. With a several mile meander into town, we made some of our necessary town phone calls, then went straight into El Bruno, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Stuffed full of Mexican food and margaritas, we stumbled into a motel room where we proceeded to have a TLC binge for “My Strange Addiction.” Coming from the mesas and frosty feet straight into five hours of reality television was a shock. However, it gave us fodder to quote incessantly for the rest of the trail. Our favorite included a couple and their very strange addiction to coffee enemas.

Man: I thought coffee enemas were disgusting. Then I tried a coffee enema. Now I’m addicted to coffee enemas.

You can imagine how the rest of that show went.

We continued watching TLC the next morning until we had to leave with several hours of 90 Day Fiancé. Not as entertaining.

The Darkness’s new leggings.

Of course, leaving town took forever. But The Darkness had bought a Melanzana skirt to match the ones E.D. and I picked up in Leadville as well as some French Fry leggings. We had a several mile road walk out of town, which went right past the Cuba Café. By that time, it was noon and we decided lunch should happen.

Finally, we stumbled out of town in absurd heat. Once we got off the official road walk and onto a trail, we found patches of shade to take a break under. The trail between Cuba and Grants had very diverse landscapes to go through. Some looked like Mars. Some had amazing petrified wood. Others had thick piñon pine forests.

On some BLM land, The Darkness found a piece of petrified wood that she became rather attached to and decided to carry. E.D. and I took turns guessing how much it weighed.

Me: Five pounds.

E.D.: Six pounds.

The Darkness: No, it’s not that much. Maybe four pounds.

Me: At least four and a half.

E.D.: At least five.

The Darkness: Maybe I shouldn’t carry it.

Me: No, you should definitely carry that, it’s super cool.

E.D.: Yeah, I agree.

That evening, we found a spikey-plant free location. We set up our tents without rain flies to see the stars without having unexpected tarantula visits.  This location also had just enough cell service to get a text from Crosby that he was doing his best to keep up.  Due to our lingering and his not lingering, he was closing in.  We texted him our location and our plan for Grants, the next town.

In the morning, we had another extremely hot day. Despite starting early, we hit one of the main water sources for the day right at lunch, before a large climb. We sat at a questionable tank.

E.D.: Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Darkness: I feel like an arm is going to come out of it and pull one of us in.

Me: It’d be another good horror movie set.

The color of the water discouraged us from drinking it, however, we did anyway. We decided to update the source for sobos because all of the water sources had notes from and for the nobos. We gave it a Halloween twist because that was coming up in about two weeks.

From the water source, we plugged up one of the big climbs in this stretch. At the top, The Darkness did some talking that ended up extending this section by about half a day at least…

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Getting to the hostel in Grand Lake, we had to sign the most peculiar waiver which all of us found most amusing.

The waiver made sure we understood that the hostel sat at 8,500ft above sea level and potential health risks exist such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc. We had not been below 10,000ft in quite some time…at least 100 miles, so 8,500ft felt like a break where we could all breathe better!

We found Heartbreaker, Hiker Box, Flip, and Wide Angle at the hostel as well and it was nice to see a few other faces. Stereotypically, we all checked out of the hostel, but lounged in their reception area on the couches for another hour using the wifi and chatting about shoes, the Silverthorne vs. Breckenridge routes, and what we planned on eating next.

Meandering downtown, which conveniently, was also the trail, we went straight for the Fat Cat Café and their AYCE buffet. Since we came into town late the night before, we decided that we required beer before leaving town. Surprisingly, downtown Grand Lake does not have a large selection of bars like other small Colorado towns. Finally, we found an establishment called, “Grumpies,” which all of us deduced could not be anything except a bar. One beer, of course, turned into three before we decided that we needed to get at least seven miles out of town to get out of the National Park.

Following some roads out of town, we reached the trailhead where a large sign informed us that we could follow the Continental Divide Trail by following trail markers. I found that so hilarious that I took a picture of the sign. Trail markers! The thought! Maybe eventually.

 

Some slightly blurry bull moose.

We took the route that followed the lake closely at a fork and headed toward a dam near a campground filled with glampers (glamor campers). At the dam, we saw the glampers in their jeans with bikes and strollers and large amounts of stuff all gathering with cameras raised. Wildlife. Poking our way through the crowd, parting people with our wonderful smell, we saw two bull moose munching on some nearby willows.

Of course, the moose were slowly moving and munching in the direction that the trail went, so we hiked on, trying to get around them before they inevitably planted themselves in the middle of the trail.

Continuing along the lake, we saw all kinds of people illegally camping, so as we got tired, we decided to stealth camp as well. Right before finding a spot, we ran into a group of people who had put very large tents directly in the middle of the trail. They had a large fire and plenty of lanterns.

Camper: “Hey there!”

E.D.: “Hi”

Camper: “Do you guys need a flashlight…you don’t have one?”

Me: “It’s on my head…it’s just not on yet.”

Camper: “Why?”

E.D. and I exchange glances.

Me: “Because we can still see ok…”

Camper: “So, do you need a flashlight?”

IMG_1708We kept hiking and saw a few river otters splashing in the water at dusk, being able to see plenty with the light from their fire even half a mile later.

The trail then proceeded to go up on Knight’s Ridge the next morning which our map warned could be impassable due to blowdowns. We found another tid-bit of information online that the blowdowns had mostly been cleared. They were indeed and we only had to go over about a dozen or so before dropping down to a popular camping and day hiking area.

Supposedly, there was a tiny general store somewhere in the car mess, but I couldn’t find it. Memphis and E.D. were slightly behind me. I asked a few glampers where it was and discovered that it had closed, but sometimes the ranch down the way had sodas.

The ranch was closed for a private party. I gazed at the sign for a long moment before hiking on looking dejected. I didn’t *need* anything. I just wanted a non-crystal-light-energy caffeine boost.

As I passed a long fence covered in private property signs, I heard someone yell, “Hey hiker!” from the other side.

I turned and saw an old man walking up to the fence. We chatted for a bit and I learned of his grandkids, the campground, and the reasons why the general store closed. He saw that I was bummed it had closed and asked if I needed anything. I said no, I had just wanted a soda to give me some energy and he miraculously produced a coke from a nearby car trunk and handed it to me.

Delighted, I got to walk the dirt road stretch with a soda in hand which made the morning much better. I thought I would wait by Monarch Lake for E.D. and Memphis, so I tossed the can in the dumpster and went to walk past a man sitting on a beach chair near the lake entrance area.

Man: “Do you have your parking pass visible?”

Me: “I don’t have a car…”

Man: “You need a parking pass for anywhere you park around here.”

Me: “I walked here.”

Man: “There’s no place to walk from with free parking.”

Me: “Dude. My car is in Seattle at my Mom’s house.”

Man: “So you got dropped off somewhere?”

Me: “In Canada.”

Dumbfounded, I decided to ignore further questioning and simply walk past him to take a break. I found out from another person asking me to sign into the wilderness area that they were part of the wilderness society and were volunteering. They said that I had to get a permit to camp in the wilderness area and did not seem to understand that I could walk into the wilderness area and out the other side in the span of an afternoon.

Lady: Steps in front of my path, “You’ll need a permit to camp.”

Me: “I’m going past the wilderness area tonight.”

Lady: “That’s at least eight more miles and a lot of elevation gain.”

Me: “It’s about 2,000 feet of gain…and I’ve only hiked nine miles today…”

Lady: “They’re hard miles.”

I hiked half-way up the climb to a stream, laid my tent out to dry, and ate lunch wondering where E.D. and Memphis were.

The climb was well graded and had a trail the whole way, so I didn’t understand what the lady was talking about exactly.

With still no sign of E.D. or Memphis, I continued on, trying to get near Devil’s Thumb pass to camp. I got to within a mile before treeline and camped around 11,000ft in a spot just flat enough to fit my tent. The terrain had become increasingly rocky and I thought if I did not take what I could find then, I found I have to settle for a shittier spot later.

I had gained enough elevation that I could get enough internet to check the weather after hearing some of the day hikers mention something about a storm. Indeed, a large storm system was supposed to hit in the early afternoon and continue until about 8pm the next night. I was about to hit a 14 mile waterless stretch above treeline in the morning and pondered my options as I loaded up on water.

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The border demarcation

Hitting the Wyoming/Colorado border just before sunset, E.D., Memphis, and I ate dinner and celebrated with some Fireball.  We had completed Wyoming in just over three weeks with only one zero in our attempt to speed up and hopefully beat the snow through the San Juans.

The border itself only had a “Wyoming State Line” sign, but other hikers had delineated the border with rocks spelling out “WY” and “CO.”  This also roughly marked our halfway point, which was a scary thought.  We had begun to notice a distinct and steady decrease in daylight already as we headed further south and knew that it would continue the rest of the trip.

We may have hit the Fireball a little hard which decreased our desire to go too much further from the border.  Lucky for us, a great campsite appeared only about 100 ft into Colorado and we dry camped.

In the morning, we happily walked  further into Colorado on the lookout for Frost heading north. We found him not too far into the day and the four of us did the typical stand around and talk number with our packs on. Swapping beta for the next two hundred miles in either direction, we set off toward the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.

 

Before reaching the wilderness though, we had to walk on some ATV trails on the first day of elk hunting season. I thanked myself for having a blaze orange hiker trash hat and bright orange backpack.

 

Most of the hunters were pretty friendly despite their loud, smelly ATVs.

 

Hunter: “Have you seen any elk lately?”

Me: “In Wyoming…”

Hunter: “My permit doesn’t go that far…and neither does this ATV trail…”

 

I wondered if he’d considered that the elk could probably hear his ATV.

 

Finally, we hit the wilderness boundary and magically, the number of hunters decreased drastically to almost none. Apparently, walking and packing out the rack and meat is too hard for most hunters.

 

As we looked at the wilderness boundary sign, we noticed that there was a mountain named “Big Agnes” and another spot called “Seedhouse.” Thus, we discovered the inspiration for the names of our tents!

 

The Mt. Zirkel Wilderness threw us up quickly toward 12,000 ft near Lost Ranger Peak, then had us stay high above 11,000 ft for quite a few miles. We had gotten a glimpse of the weather forecast part way up and the afternoon showed thunderstorms scheduled to roll in.

 

View from atop Lost Ranger Peak

Making it over Lost Ranger Peak with no storms, we had lunch and kept trucking trying to get over all the 11,000+ ft bumps, but alas, the first storm hit as we were popping over an 11,600 ft bump where there was no cover. Quickly throwing on poor rain gear, we kept going hoping for the best because going back wasn’t any better than going forward.

 

Memphis had gotten ahead of E.D. and I, and we had no idea where he was.

 

The first storm cleared relatively quickly, but others loomed on the horizon as threatening dark blobs of impending discomfort. We began to aim for Buffalo Pass, where we would exit the wilderness and we suspected a privy might exist.

 

About three miles from Buffalo Pass, storms began to merge together blocking out the sun. We found Memphis throwing on rain gear and we all looked warily at the sky. The thunder progressively got louder and the lightening flashes began to get brighter.

 

We were pretty accustomed to getting shit on by the sky, but this storm system seemed to be worse than usual. Needing to get lower, we sped up as we plunged down toward Buffalo Pass, fingers crossed for a privy.

 

About a mile away and the gap between the thunder and the lightening had shortened to about five seconds. E.D. had shot ahead and I began jogging, using my trekking poles to both propel myself forward and also prevent myself from face planting on the rocks.

 

Three second gap from flash to boom.

 

Two second gap.

 

PRIVY! E.D. peered out from the side of it, watching for us. I bee-lined for it and jumped under the covered, overhanging area. Some shelter is better than no shelter. Lightening kept lighting up the sky and the rain began to pour sideways. Memphis popped in and the three of us watched the storm from the privy while cooking dinner.

 

Eventually, the thunder and lightening eased up, but the rain continued in varying amounts and angles.

 

Near the end of our dinner, a large SUV pulled up into the parking lot and four Texans got out. They looked confused and began setting up their tent right next to their massive vehicle on the gravel. But…they didn’t know how to set it up. And…they did not seem too friendly. After an amusing twenty minutes of watching them fail to set up their tent, one walked over to us and scowled.

 

Texan: “What’re y’all doin’?”

Memphis: “Getting out of the storm…”

Texan: “Well, I drove 1,500 miles to get here”

We all exchanged glances.

Memphis: “I walked 2,000 miles…we’re just in the overhang eating dinner.”

Texan: “Well, ya can’t camp in a public shitter!”

 

Riiiight. The Texan subsequently went and took a very loud, twenty minute shit. We stood in the overhang and cleaned out our dinner pots and discussed options for dealing with the rest of the storm that seemed to be subsiding a bit. I took every opportunity to burp while the Texan occupied the privy. Memphis just fumed about.

 

We could all agree that we didn’t want to camp close to those idiots, so we waited for the rain to stop, then went toward the lake and found a spot to camp in the trees.

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Leaving Rawlins, we had the option to hike a long, roundabout trail that didn’t have much drinkable water, or a road that was shorter and didn’t have much drinkable water. Since we wanted to skip Encampment, we choose the road. Jeff had also told us that he did the trail without much drinkable water and there was nothing to see; we wouldn’t miss anything.

We made ten miles out in the evening and camped between the road and a fence that denoted private property, but we still had over twenty miles to drinkable, non alkaline water..and it was hot.  Memphis began to get a little low about 8-9 miles before possible water and so he explored other options.  The first alternate option was the field testing trailer in the middle of nowhere. E.D. and I hovered outside wondering what it was for a moment, then meandered forward. When Memphis caught up, he told us he knocked on the door.

Memphis: “There were two dweeby guys and they had just run out of water.  Who runs out of water in the desert?”
We walked on, listening to podcasts to pass the time.  Little did we know what Memphis was up to behind us. Then a truck drove up and out popped Memphis.  E.D. and I gave him a look to tell him not to cheat.
Memphis: “It was only half a mile…this is Mike.”
Mike: “I’m going to go back to my place and bring back some cold water for you all.”
An hour later, Mike rolls back up with a cooler full of water and Bud Light.
Mike: “I’ve an offer for you three.  Why don’t you camp at my place tonight and I’ll give you a ride back here in the morning.  I have to be in Rawlins tomorrow anyway.”
We took him up on his offer and got in the truck.  Since it was still Wyoming and the middle of nowhere, Mike suggested that we have a beer for the drive.  Setting up camp, we admired his giant fire pit.  We sat around and had a few more Bud Lights when Mike decided that we should go to Saratoga for dinner.  In the truck we went, with the cooler, and headed to the Wolf Hotel, which actually had a veggie burger!

Mike ordered beers a bit faster than I could drink, so I had to play catch up a few times. From there, we went across the street to Dukes where Mike discussed the difference between real cowboys and fake cowboys, examples of which were present in both bars.  He also had some great quotes in general. The one that I managed to write down was:

Mike: “One thing I have learned in life is that the women control all the money and therefore all the world…and the quicker the men learn that, the easier life gets.”

When we got back, we were thankful we had already set up our tents, because it had rained and was still raining on and off. Mike jumped into the yard, threw some wood into the fire pit, doused it in gasoline, lit a match, and poof! Fire in the rain in less than a minute.

The whole next day it rained on again off again. It was the first super rainy day we’d had in awhile, so it didn’t seem too bad. Annoying, but not absolutely horrible.  That is, until we got to the top of the 11,000 foot ridge.  A massive thunderstorm hit. We were all about a quarter mile apart from one another and all found some uniform trees to hide in for the storm. I chose to layer up, sit on my pack, and sip fireball.  I watched the lightening and listened to the thunder roll across the sky. The storm was close and loud.  When the storm seemed to have rolled through, I threw the pack on and walked back out of the trees a little to get a better glimpse. The storm was heading the same direction as the trail.  I hiked forward and a quarter mile later found E.D. reading in her tent. She said she’d pack up and keep hiking. Between her tent and where I found Memphis set up, I saw an awesomely huge rainbow. Memphis had completely set up and didn’t feel like moving, so he said he’d catch us the next day.

I kept walking and right at dusk, I heard the sound of a large animal.  I turned on my headlight to see a horse looking at me.  A moment later, about six dogs rushed up barking, four of which were obviously sheep dogs.  I started talking to them and they turned out to be extremely friendly sheep dogs.  The shepherd came over and started talking in Spanish.  While I attempted to remember Spanish grammar and hiking words, E.D. rolled up.  It was a good moment to break away, so we continued hiking.
The next day, we ran into more sheep, sheep dogs and shepherds. They’re all friendly enough if you speak Spanish. The key is to leave when they ask you if you’re married.

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After Jetta cooked us a delicious breakfast, we headed out into the Great Divide Basin, which had also been called “the suck,” “tick heaven,” or a “death march” by other hikers.
Lucky for us, we loaded up on podcasts on the brewery’s wifi and had plenty to listen to as well as music.
The first day through the basin went by relatively quickly and we all jammed out while we plugged along on the dirt roads and four wheel drive tracks. Monotonous, yes, but not maddening…yet.

The only shade we found all day was underneath an underpass on the dirt road that only four wheel drive cars could drive on.

That night, we night hiked for a bit until we got to the 30 mile mark, then all three of us cowboy camped and watched the stars.
 The second basin day was, not surprisingly, like the first day. It had a few hills to add into the mix, lots of cows, lots of cow poop water, and it had quite a bit of wind.
By that evening, a little of the madness started to creep in. We did another 30, placing us halfway through the basin. We cowboy camped near a spring and set it alarms for 4am to try and pull a 40.
4am seemed to come really quickly, but I had slept in my hiking clothes, had a pro bar ready for a walking pre-breakfast, and already mixed up some crystal light energy: i.e. crack…caffeine does wonders.
We were moving by 4:30am, mostly just because it was too cold not to move. I even had my puffy on while we started by headlight.

Bocce in the basin

About six or seven miles in, the sun had come up and we hit another spring where we planned to have breakfast. Then…inside the metal tube that turned on the spring…we found bocce balls! A small notebook read, “Bocce in the basin: CDT trail register.”
As we ate, we read through it, signed it, then played a round of bocce. Great start to a forty mile day.
The hills from the previous day were gone and we could see the trail for miles upon miles ahead of us…straight…flat…hot…sandy…straight…straight…
I switched back and forth between podcasts and music most of the day.

Straight…flat…hot…sandy…straight…
By mid afternoon we all looked at each other with eyes that darted around searching for something new to look at…even cows. We mooed at them and they mooed back. Occasionally, I would attempt to converse with them, but all they said was moo. Surprisingly, I could hold a decent one way conversation with them.
 Sometimes we would see pronghorn or wild horses in the distance. They broke up the monotony a bit.
Then, I started staring at my feet because I realized all my entertainment could be found there in the sandy dirt. There were tracks and signs of life galore there! If I paused, I could figure out when a mouse crossed, then a cow, then a hiker with Brooks Cascadia trail runners. The possibilities were endless, they just took a little thought to figure out. That gave my wandering mind a break from staring straight ahead at the next twenty miles of walking.
We ate dinner at Bull Spring and Memphis had an encounter with a bull who did not want to share the spring named after him. The bull, however did not hassle E.D. nor I.
Plugging back into another TED Radio Hour podcast, we kept going on into the night watching the stars get brighter and brighter.

Then the unexpected happened at mile 37.7 for the day. There was a car by the side of the road at a funky three way intersection. As we tried to look at Guthook without ruining our night vision, the back door popped open and Knacker leaned out, “wanna beer?”
“YES, please!”

We sat, chatted, and drank a beer with him. He understood when we thanked him and kept hiking 2.3 more miles. Memphis decided 37.7 miles was enough, so he had another beer, and stayed there.
In the morning, Knacker slack packed us into Rawlins.

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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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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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