Friday, August 14, 2015

CDT Montana!

Finally! A computer and time to use it! Sorry for the long wait but the towns we hit in northern Montana all coincided with weekends when the libraries were closed.  A long stretch of towns like Leadore and Lima with fewer than 200 residents followed with no reliable internet or libraries. We met a couple in Yellowstone that offered to host us just outside Jackson in the town of Victor, ID for a few days!  Thank you Brice and Whitney!!

Anyway, enough excuses! Rachel and I hit the trail at Chief Mountain in Glacier National Park on June 14th and almost immediately saw a bull moose 5 miles in. Rewinding a bit, we flipped up to Glacier from Chama, NM in a rental car with former northbounders now flippers Handstand, Machine Gun and Kathleen (not a trail name...) to split the costs, so we all got permits together for the designated campsites in Glacier ($5/night/person).

The rangers were little help with the snow conditions on the high passes in Glacier since they get very few backpackers in the early spring and apparently don't get out much themselves.  However, Laurie, the kindest waitress you will ever meet (she works at the diner in the town of East Glacier) assured us the passes were totally fine and the record low snow would not trouble us.  She has hiked every inch of the park and seems to know more than the rangers!

Glacier requires backcountry permits for every night you stay at designated campsites, which I hate.  Of course you can never get the campsites you want, so we ended up with a 9 mile day, a 15 mile day, a 30 mile and a 20 mile day.  Did I mention I really hate being told where I can camp?!  Anyway, the passes were incredible, sort of shattered mounds of shale with sheer walls looming above.  We had some rain and some hail but mostly the weather was great, the hiking difficult and the snow almost a non-issue.  I did end up teaching Rachel and Kathleen some self arrest on a safe snow slope since we had ice axes and there was a small chance of a fall.  A few hikers just went through with hiking poles and no microspikes or axes but I felt better having them.

The 30 mile day was a challenge but only went over one pass so it was mostly easy walking.  To save two miles we forded a river early, rather than hike a mile downstream to a bridge and a mile back upstream.  The next day we were pooped and didn't quite make our 20 miles, so we camped off-permit with another thru-hiker.  That was a great idea since the next 5 miles were over pitamaken pass which had the most snow of all and took the longest to get over.  Who did we run into on the backside of the pass? Laurie!

Rachel got some kind of ankle strain on the way to Two Medicine, so we hitched back to East Glacier and slack packed the 15 miles inbetween the two areas after a day off.  On the pass named "scenic point" were a dozen bighorn sheep which was cool.  We could have slack packed the next 15 out of the park too to the highway but wanted to keep moving.

The next section of trail corssed the Bob Marshal Wilderness complex, a 1600 square mile area set aside from development.  Most of it was flat along rivers with small climbs up low passes.  Our feet were usually wet from river crossings and there was a 40 mile long burn area to cross, just in time for a heat wave. We took a beautiful shortcut over Spotted Bear Pass and ended up hiking this section with "true southbounders" Andy and Leah and flipper Memphis who we met in Chama. Handstand and Machine Gun and Kathleen were too quick for us, especially with Rachels bum ankle and foot.

We reached our resupply - a maildrop at Benchmark Ranch only to discover we didn't send ourselves enough food!  Fortunately the town of Lincoln would come 70 miles earlier than our planned resupply of Helena so we could just go in earlier than we planned.  The last 40 miles to Lincoln were brutal climbs straight up mountains in the damn heat wave so that didn't help either.  We missed a turn just before they started and added 5 bonus miles to our stretch too, yay!  Lots of the signs in the Bob were confusing, either pointing halfway between two trails or labeled "continental divide" which is not the continental divide trail...

Anyway, the next few hundred miles were very hilly and not especially memorable.  We ran into Colin of who I met on the PCT two years ago and hiked with him a bit, also Treebu passed us on his 37 miles per day average and Rachels injuries eventually healed.  Rachel and I ended up hiking a lot with Andy, Leah, Memphis, and two other SOBO's Action and Shortstack.  We all decided to do the loop around Butte instead of a 40 mile roadwalk that would save 100 miles.  The trail was new and touted as really nice on the facebook forum but mostly it was boring with some incorrect mileage that made for a frustrating day. The Butte folk festival was a lot of fun though, especially since volunteers drove you around on golf carts.  Back on trail, we hitched into Anaconda and resupplied before entering the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, a beautiful set of mountains with peaks over 10,000 feet.

The Pintlers were beautiful and we did a few short cross country alternates off the trail, including one where we met Patch to Sawed Cabin Lake.  These were fun and filled with wildlife, unlike the trail.  The next sections from Darby to Leadore and Lima were unexpectedly spectacular but the hiking was straight up and down along the divide with the Idaho-Montana border.  The towns were tiny, only a gas station convience store and one restaraunt so we didn't linger.  At this point we were both pretty pooped since our last rest day was in Butte, 500 miles back.  We took the Macks Inn route - a shortcut that would save almost 40 miles but started with a bushwack through a waist deep beaver pond up to the most remote source of the Missouri River to the Sawtelle Peak area.  A quebecois couple offered us a ride down to town instead of the 9 mile roadwalk so we took it and had a relaxing day.  We finished the remaining 14 mile roadwalk back to the trail and enjoyed the cruiser 24 mile day into Old Faithful Village except for the giant thunderstorm that struck a mile out of "town".

Rachel and I dried out in the gas station convience store there, got a burger next door and wandered around looking for the bathrooms in the lodge.  While we were wandering, a couple at the bar asked if we were CDT hikers (maybe they could tell by the holes in my shoes or just the stink?) and we chatted with Brice and Whitney of Victor, Idaho for a while.  We told them of our hair-brained alternate to the Tetons and they told us about their restauraunt - the Knotty Pine - next door in Victor and offered to host us! This was huge for two reasons: 1 - we were exhausted and 2 - the town of Jackson is ridiculously expensive with almost no lodging options.

Anyway, here's the pictures from Glacier

Pictures from the rest of Montana/Idaho (still uploading...):