Continental Divide Trail, the next Odyssey
The amazing thing about the Continental Divide Trail is that it is so uncharted, wild and incomplete that no one can hike its entirety exactly the same. Rugged terrain, weather conditions, wildfires, water scarcity and town resupplys all factor into decisions on length and route.
July 12th, 2004, Rainmaker and I resumed our Continental Divide Trail hike at the International Border, in Glacier National Park. His CDT 2004 page is very informative, with a humorous male perspective. We used the Continental Divide Trail Guide, Volumes 1 and 2, plus its supplement, written by James Wolf.
Rainmaker always comes up with these nifty quotes to start off his journals. I guess I have two in mind for this year's hike:
Ya don’t know whatcha got til its gone, and
When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
On July 6th, Rainmaker and I closed up our home in Northeast Georgia, and began driving to Montana. Our black lab, Stonewall, was in the back seat, perched atop a 50-pound bag of dog food. A dear friend of mine, who lives in Tennessee, would keep Stoney for us until we returned, sometime in August. He would be dropped off at her home, along the way.
Our backpacks were in the trunk, our personal effects stuffed in every corner of David's Escort. A 2,100 mile road trip faced us (we rented a storage unit in Helena to park Rainmaker's car), then a Greyhound bus ride to Shelby, Montana, an Amtrak train ride to East Glacier, and lastly, car shuttle to the Canadian Border, before we would place one step on the Continental Divide Trail. All told, it took 6 days and a ton of money, to set foot on the trail at Chief Mountain.
Glacier National Park
We arrived by Amtrak around 7 p.m in East Glacier. Then, securing our private cabin with private bathroom ($30) at the Backpackers Inn (406-226-9392…ask for Pat and Renee Schur, owners) we went for supper at the Two Medicine Grill, a fantastic little restaurant on the main drag, that would play a major roll in our nutritional needs the next 10 days. The town grocery received a once over as well. Yup, we could resupply here on our way back through, before heading south into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. After having spent 7 hours hanging out in Shelby today, waiting for the connecting train ride up to East Glacier, we were happy to have a place to settle in for the night.
Rainmaker went to Two Medicine Campground to get our paper work for the permits he'd arranged by mail in April. He paid our $4 each, per night, for every day we would camp here. Also he turned over a $10 fee to the Blackfoot Nation to allow us to walk through their land for one day. He worked hard getting this itinerary together. I hung out around East Glacier, taking strolls, and reading outdated magazines. Hiking Glacier National Park requires more logistical planning than one might imagine and I am so happy for Rainmaker's expertise here.
We rented bunks ($10 each) in the Backpacker's Inn for tonight, instead of camping here. The private cabin we had last night was reserved by another couple for tonight weeks ago. Pat is allowing us to stash our Garcia bear canisters in their storeroom while we hike through the park. This way, we can use the park's food protection system, and save ourselves major pack weight.
July 12, Monday
A young woman, Anish, who is spending the summer working in GNP, will drive us to Chief Mountain Trailhead today. We gave her money for gas and her time; it’s a long drive. She drops us off, we hike the one-tenth mile up to the Canadian Border, and get our photos taken. The border patrol was very understanding. Gingerbread Man is with us; he helped arrange this shuttle. After photo sessions, Gingerbread Man, who says he has 16 pounds of food in his pack, sits down to eat some of it, gives us a few power bars, and rest. We head out on the trail. Its only 2.5 days to Many Glacier campground, with the Swiftcurrent restaurant/store complex near by, so we have 3 days of food with us. Our packs are light, snow has melted into refreshing cold streams, and hiking is sweet. The path is well graded, the skies are a perfect blue, and wild flowers of every color abound. This is grizzly country, so Rainmaker and I sing songs. We do not intend to surprise any bears. We have surprised enough black bears in our day, which is thrill enough for a lifetime.
We reach our campsite early, after only 9.8 miles, at Elisabeth Lake, but the permit system says we must stay here. This is very agreeable, with bear boxes, a lovely lake, and a group of boy scouts from Alabama with two scoutmasters, for company. A perfect first day on the CDT.
We hiked just 10.3 miles today, gaining 2,600 feet of elevation and dropping back down 1600 feet. This is so like the Cascades in Northern Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail, and brought back fond memories. We camped at Pioa Lake Campground. On our way, we saw a male mountain goat that elected to bushwhack uphill rather than face the fearsome Rainmaker and Brawny duo, both armed with disposable cameras. I've managed in one day to give myself a respectable sunburn on both arms, shoulders and neck. Yesterday I didn’t use a sun block, but you better believe I will now.
An incredible headache bothered me from early afternoon on, while climbing in the heat. I experienced this same type of heat exhaustion on the Hat Creek Rim, and the Colorado Trail. When we arrived at camp, I took two Ibroprophen, lay down in the tent, not wanting to move, talk or hear anything. I quickly fell asleep. Rainmaker, however, stayed busy, getting the camp water, and taking the food to the food-cook-designated area. After I awoke, I found the cooking area, and Rainmaker sipping coffee while writing in his journal. I felt tons better. Rainmaker tells me a good nap is like turning off the engine of a car, and putting it up on the rack for repairs. The body has to rest.
Hiked only 8.2 miles to camp at the special campsite reserved for through hikers at the Many Glacier Campground Complex, way back in the weeds behind the regular White Folks. Bear boxes, a campfire ring, and picnic table have been installed here for our use. Although the smell of grilled steaks, fried onions and watermelons waif through the air, a sign posted on our back site picnic table states we will be fined if so much as a water bottle is left out and not properly locked up in the bear box when we are not present
We resupplied at the store. I spent just $13 for the next few days food. They have a great restaurant as well, with especially wonderful pizza. The mosquitoes are desperate in their short lifespan, surviving in July, even though it often dips below freezing at night. 100% Deet is a necessity; you can't buy the stuff in the camp stores, but we brought plenty from home. My silk hiking shirt is soaked with coatings of 100% Deet, but I will wear it anyways, tonight, when we go out to eat, because I can't have pizza smells on my sleeping clothing.
Hiked a rough 15 miles up over Piegan Pass Trail, a 3,000- foot elevation gain, then descended to Reynolds Creek Campsite. We are sharing it with 2 women hikers. Today we finally developed noise makers. At first, I tried tying my pot lid to the metal frame of my backpack, so that while I hiked, it would swing and hit the metal frame. It remained suspiciously silent. I tried tying it with a longer cord to my shoulder strap, giving it more leash, more freedom to bang at will. Still, nothing. Then I noticed my hiking pole. I cut and stripped off the soft black foam glued on by the manufactures from the section below the handle, then bungied the pot lid onto the handle strap of my hiking pole. Every step I take, my pot lid gives a decent Clank clank-clank sound against the newly exposed metal shaft. This process supports the theory that Inanimate Objects will display the annoying habit of doing exactly the opposite of what we wish them to do, unless forced to do otherwise. And, given half a chance, they will run away. We lean our poles against a tree, and they will immediately try to run off, down hill. The Downhill is worse because it's also in horse muck. It seems as though all horses are able to conjure up enough moisture to turn a trail into pure sludge. When it becomes too deeply trenched, 3 feet deep or so, a new trail next to it is formed by horses walking on the bank of said trench. We hikers, of course, are taught to Leave No Trace, so we hike in the muck. I believe the first Interstates must have been formed by horses. A busy horse trail, used for years, and properly trenched, eventually became widened to form 4 lanes. Then the horse trail was then simply smoothed, and paved over. All this musing while looking for our CDT path, which is seldom marked.
Hiked 12.5 miles to the foot of Red Eagle Lake. This was supposed to be an easy day, which turned into a harder day as the early morning sun eventually warmed and heated the surrounding rocks. Mosquitoes desperate for blood, and overgrown trail sapped our energy. St Mary's Falls, and cascading Virginia Falls were fantastic.
Every morning I have been sleeping in while David carries his sitting stuff to the designated cook-food storage area and fixes himself hot coffee and a hot breakfast. Mornings are cold, sometimes below freezing, so I have just been waiting until he returns, then pack up while eating a Pop tart. In griz country, our routines have changed so that evening and morning meal times are no longer a peaceful cook in the sleeping bag, watch the sunrise affair. All our meals are prepared and eaten in our hiking clothes, away from our tent. It's certainly been worth the effort. I have marveled all my life about people who are brave enough to backpack deep into griz country. Rainmaker is my Special Personal Guide on this journey, a man with experience and forsight.
Hiked 14 miles from Red Eagle Lake, 3000 foot elevation gain, dropping once again 2,000 feet to camp at Morning Star Lake with several others. While on the ascent, Rainmaker looked back over the snowfields and noticed a moose, disoriented, wandering around on the ice. The moose sat down. Then, he got up and resumed his wandering. A lot of big horn sheep were near the pass, two different herds on either side of the Triple Divide. When we reached the pass, we sat down and lunched with a herd composed of several kids and their mothers. They were somewhat wary at first. A few would wander over to a nearby snowfield and munch some snow. Suddenly, a mother started making a fuss while from the left came a huge mountain goat. We marveled at his boldness as he just walked right through that herd. The mother rounded up the kids, and took them off to the opposite side of the trail. The goat continued on, daring any Bighorn to do a damn thing about it.
The drama over, we packed up our things, headed down trail while the heat reflected off narrow trail and cliffs above Grizzly Lake. We showered in small waterfalls to cool off. I glanced into the sky, hoping for some clouds to cover the searing sun. Instead, I saw a Rainbow amidst a few wisps of clouds. It had not rained in days. I showed Rainmaker. It lasted less than 10 minutes, but the trail gods made sure we saw it.
We met a ranger who was quite red, lugging a huge pack. We inquired about the trail into Two Medicine. The lower designated river route had been closed a week ago due to Mother and Cub Griz activity. It was the trail of choice, if it had been reopened. The ranger told us it had just been reopened that afternoon. That would be our trail, then, tomorrow instead of the Dawson Pass alternate.
Hiked 11.9 to camp at the Two Medicine Campground. The route was very beautiful. We didn’t see the mother and cubs that caused its closing just last week. A few other people ventured out into this section, and they reported no bear sightings either. There are a lot of open meadows, young Lodge pole Pine and a massive selection of wildflowers. The camp store at Two Medicine has a nice little snack bar. Rainmaker and I are eating supper here, and writing in our journals before returning to camp. We'll also buy snacks for tomorrow's hike into East Glacier and another night in the private cabin we reserved at the Backpackers Inn. All told, we have hiked 83.4 miles this week, and gained and lost over 16,000 feet. No wonder we are a tad worn, yet not planning any zero days.
Woke up to sprinkles on the tent, packed up and walked a rugged 10.4 miles to East Glacier. We arrived at 2:30, and checked into our cabin. This is beginning to feel like home. I walked down to the Laundromat and watched Dr. Phil on the t-v with the attendant while the clothes were washing. We bought food for 8 days, packed it into our bear canisters. Mine all fit, heavy condensed food. Rainmaker needed his stuff sack as well. These packs were going to be very heavy. Made us tired just thinking about it. Realizing we'd forgotten a few essentials at the store, which opened at 8 a.m, we decided it would be impossible to get an early start in the morning.
We woke early, and went to Two Medicine Grill for breakfast. Our packs weren't quite ready, so were still in the cabin. I looked at Rainmaker's haggard expression, knowing I must look just as weary. We'd been up til 11:00 p.m last night, and planned on a 14-mile hike out of the park, to camp just beyond Marias Pass. One could not camp before that. I suggested we take a zero day. Rainmaker didn't want to waste a day laying around, knowing we'd still have to face that 115-mile stretch to Benchmark the next day. I told him some hikers get a ride up to Marias Pass, then day hike back, spend the night here in town, then get a ride with their packs back to Marias Pass, thereby cutting this stretch into a reasonable 7 days-100 mile journey. If we could rent the cabin another night, we would leave everything as it was (disheveled and in progress) hike back, spend the night, then pick up the trail again, not wasting a day, or missing a step. His eyes brightened. We hate hitch hiking, and I saw our waitress from yesterday had the day off. She was lounging around doing a crossword puzzle. We made a deal. For $20 she takes us up to Marias Pass. It was only 12 miles, sure! Tomorrow morning, same deal. Great, she said. She would make $40, and we wouldn’t lose a day, and could day hike this next section.
By 8:45 we were on trail. By 1:00 p.m we were back at the cabin, took a shower, then a good long nap. When we woke, it seemed like we had never done a thing all day! Like a zero day. We went for ice cream, had a great supper, and slept well.
Bob Marshall Wilderness
I feel like a wild animal out here, like a fawn, using my bear canister as a desk, writing in our "cooking" area. I snack on gorp, write a few words, look all around me. A twig snaps, my eyes seek the source. I look warily before getting water from a noisy brook. Rainmaker is facing me; this gives us a 360 view. We've had bears walk up to our camp before. This time, if it’s a grizzly, we need to see and hear him first. We left Marias Pass this morning at 8:15. Our shuttle took us to the exact place we left yesterday to hike north. Now, heading south, at least 100 miles to our next resupply in Benchmark, we will eat enough to keep us going, yet knowing that it may have to last for over a week. We forded Two Medicine River many times today. After about 6 miles, we noticed a white 8 ½ x 11-inch paper tacked to a tree. It had a drawing of a grizzly bear and the message "Warning! Turn back now or pass through quickly. Bear Lure area." No further details, for instance, like how far this area would extend. And, turn back? To where? So, forging ahead, singing, noisemakers clanging, watchfully we hiked on. A few more miles and a "Reserved Campsite, USFS" had been built. Now, logically, one would suppose the lure area had expired.
Still, we hiked on, coming to a barbwire fence, with a Pacific Crest Trail type gate: a spring-loaded, heat seeking, barbed wire contraption. The hinges are actually loops of wire. One must unloop the top wire on one side, whereby the gate would collapse forward and downward. If you're lucky enough to have a partner, that person holds the pole of the collapsed gate, allowing you to step through, and you return the favor. Then together, you force the pole end of the gate back towards a closing position, and the two of you try to force the loop wire back over the stationary pole. If you are alone (as I learned previously) you generally swear and fight the thing for awhile, take off your pack, fight some more, lean with your whole body, until you finally get the wire loop inched over the top of the stationary gate post. Perhaps the casual observer would ask, "If the thing is so damn hard to close, why bother?" Because we are trained to obey signs that tell us to close the gate. Rainmaker closed a gate, even though there was no fence around it, because the sign said to. I laughed, and he went back and unhooked it. Rebels! Yes, we are, and walked away with a measure of satisfaction.
Anyways, not seeing a single sign of bear, not print, scratch, or hair, we presumed at least for now the lure was not working. We camped after a decent 11 miles to White Rock Creek.
July 22, Thursday
Hiked 14.5 miles to camp by the south end of Beaver Lake. After Muskrat Pass, we ended up bushwhacking when the trail suddenly petered out in a meadow. Several tiny streams threaded their way through this wide-open space. We backtracked, as the sun sank lower in the sky. We reread the guidebook, telling us to stay to the east of the lake. Fine, we're on the east side, there's Beaver Lake, right there. We check out an old horse camp, nice level area in trees. But wait, what's this? A red onion sack with one whole onion left in it, just beginning to rot. "We can't camp here," Rainmaker says. As we turn to leave, we notice a large brown bear running away. We are not sure if it was a grizzly or black bear, but he looked great from behind. We walked nearer the lake, and David finds a trail. An old trail, overgrown, old blow downs, and aged horse droppings littered the place. We head south, up the east side of the lake, just as the map in the guidebook showed. There were many campsites and it was nearly 8 p.m. It's time to stop when you're tired and more likely to make a serious navigational error. We knew where we were. Tomorrow we would find the trail.
Just then a couple north bounders came by, and we chatted with them. The Bob Marshall Forest Service map that they carried was large and beautiful. It plainly showed the CDT winding its way around the west side of the lake, contrary to our guidebook map. That’s what happens when your guidebook hasn’t been updated in 12 years and you end up hiking on someone else's bushwhack, now obscured and lost. A lesson learned. We bid them good journey, and slept on that new data.
Now, this is hard to explain, but the official CDT has north bounders heading back south (contrary to the objective) around Beaver's Lake, which means also that south bounders are heading back north (the direction we came from) around Beavers Lake. Because of the contradictions in our maps, Rainmaker and I needed 4 crossings of the wrong trail southbound stream, and 2 ascents of the rise before us. We had basically two well worn trails to chose from, neither one living up to the description in the book, so we would hike one for awhile, decide to retrace our steps, discuss our theories, check the compass, and try the other one. Finally, back on course after half an hour, we managed 13 miles. Camped by Bowl Creek Crossing, in a beautiful meadow of colorful wildflowers. The trail has been good, but I must certainly fight any efforts of advance planning. Looking forward to Benchmark--69 miles to go.
This morning Rainmaker's thermometer registered 26 degrees in our tent. I am wearing two layers of warm clothes (which includes fleece) sleeping in a 30 degree down bag, and have padding under me. Last night, I pulled my sleeping pad inside my bag, and it helped a lot. Still, by early morning, I'm cold and cannot eat until the food canisters are retrieved from their stealth locations about 100 feet away. By afternoon we'll be sweating in the sun, under clear blue skies. This is Montana! Hiked about 13 miles and camped in a sweet spot near a river, on the Sun River Route, trail number 110, to Gates Park. This Alternate route avoids the westward-ho! yonder trail, and gives one a beautiful river route. However, the trail gods had their fun. At first, the route was lovely, green trees, flowing river, hawks and chipmunks. Enough to lure us in. Then we entered the burn area. Now, out west a burn area and a trail do not mix. A strong wind will come through and blow down every burned pine like so many matchsticks. This afternoon, we managed a nice break in a scrap of shade under a surviving tree. Around 5 p.m we came to the confluence of rivers and saw a lovely campsite, used by large groups of horse packers. Apparently it had been protected in the burn, for it had the only large living trees for miles. Thankfully we had the good sense to stop for the night, and not press on.
Today marks the day we have been on trail for two weeks. After fording a swift branch of the Sun River, we continued our hike through the burn area. Noticing large bear prints on trail, Rainmaker teaches me how to tell that these are indeed grizzly tracks, but about 4 days old. After 5 more miles of blow downs, we neared Gates Park, seriously scratched and bruised. I have never seen such devastation, nor climbed so many blow downs, stacked one on top the other, like so many playing cards, tossed to the wind. Surely no horse parties have been through lately. We heard the distant howling of wolves, and saw many hawks. After reaching Gates Park, and resuming the official route, we have a late lunch by Slade Creek, with a slender tree offering shade. Two men on horses come by, with their three dogs. After friendly greetings, they continue. All but one white wolf looking dog. He stands in the creek. He does not want to leave the cool bliss and head back out on the burning trail. His master calls, then whistles. The white dog looks at Rainmaker. He looks at me, we offer a smile, and encourage him to follow his master. Finally, dripping wet, the dog reluctantly leaves, heading back to the shadeless burned over trail. Camped after a weary 15 miles, on a side trail to Moose Ridge Trail.
A 14-mile day brought us to Burnt Creek with its lovely waterfall, after hiking along the famous Chinese Wall all day. I was surprised to see so many people out here, most hiking up from Benchmark, and doing a loop back along another connecting trail. It was not as hot as yesterday, and there was plenty of water, and elevation changes. Wild onions were bountiful, and delicious; we picked a handful to enjoy with our supper tonight.
The trail has really been trashed by horses. They tramp through the small streams until the footpath becomes 15 feet wide, muddy and potholed. This is somewhat irritating to Leave No Trace hikers, because signs are posted here saying "No Camping Area. Preserve the Pristine Nature of Our Wilderness with Your Help." I notice the remains of a second wooden sign, burned in the middle of the trail, its ashes left alongside the small portion of sign with the words "Your help" still visible. Hikers don't do much damage. But, the horse parties come through with tons of gear on spare horses. This kind of traffic trashes the trails and makes multiple paths all through the upper slopes; there is no way to preserve anything pristine.
July 27, Tuesday
We hiked until we were within 2.3 miles of the Benchmark trailhead. Again, today we saw many people, backpackers doing the loop to see the Chinese Wall, fishermen out on a Fish Quest, horse people leading pack mules laden with weed free certified hay. One man had a couple mules, one without any gear or rope. Rainmaker stood on one side of the trail, I on the other, to let them pass. The unburdened mule turned aside to stand near me. We looked at each other, and I pointed to his master, commanding "Go! Wrong way!" The mule remained near me, the man looked back and called. "Go!" I repeated. Reluctantly the mule obeyed. I guess he wanted to belong to someone who hauled their own stuff.
We hiked on, and then were met by a woman ranger on horseback, leading two other horses, with a CB radio turned on and two dogs. She looked at my noisemaker, laughed and sneered, saying "Are you so afraid of bears you have to make that noise?" I coldly told her we had hiked through Glacier, from Canada, and didn’t plan to surprise any grizzlies. Anger began burning inside me at her insult, when suddenly her last horse bolted, and began fighting its lead. Fearing a kick, or worse, being trampled, Rainmaker and I backed farther into the trees. "What set her off?" the ranger asked us. Rainmaker realized that the horse had just now seen him, perhaps mistaking him for a bear and told the ranger this. "Well, she's just a baby, she's still learning" the ranger said, making excuses. Rainmaker knew this ranger was not knowledgeable, and did not merit our attention, while I fumed inside at her rudeness. Deep breath. The trail teachs you patience, and a measure of tolerance.
July 28, Wednesday
We rose early, and reached the trailhead. There were plenty of parked cars and horse trailers further up, but not a sign of life. We hiked two miles down the gravel road, not a single car passing us on the road, and reached the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch.
Beverly greeted us with a smile and handshake. Within 10 minutes, our food box was on the picnic table and I began burning our paper garbage, as she requested, in the nearby fire ring. She brought out slices of watermelon and two forks. As we enjoyed the wonderful treat, and packed up, a ranch guest came by to chat. He offered us cold sodas, two each. Then he offered us a beer to take with us up the trail. David doesn’t drink alcohol, but I do a little. Normally, being an ultralighter, I would not have packed it out. But, the young man was so pleased with his offer of this trail magic that I could not refuse. Finally finished, just two hours after arriving, we said farewell, and hiked back down the road to resume the trail. Only two cars passed us in this interval. Thankfully we had mailed a resupply box here on our way out west and not tried to reach the nearest town, Augusta, 30 miles down that gravel road, a nearly impossible hitch.
We hiked another 8 miles after leaving the trailhead, and camped in a large grassy area near Straight Creek, away from the trail, and past the narrow canyon that funneled all wild life to the same footpath.
We finally found out what the Barb-Wire-Stapled-to-the-Trees, along with Little-Yellow-Squares were all about. We had noticed them ever since leaving the border. Apparently they were not trail markers, for they appeared randomly, and in odd places, on posts, as well as living trees, in sets of threes, in canyons where no other trails could exist. A large poster at the trailhead information board instructed everyone to leave the wires alone because a bear study was going on. The wires were designed to collect the hair of any bear that would decide the chosen tree was a good scratching post. Rainmaker had a perverse moment, thinking of all sorts of hair we might put on their wires. I thought about my comb, and strands of my hair. Humm, maybe they would trace my DNA and lock me up. Guess I would pass on this caper. Apparently no bears liked the wires. We had not seen hide nor hair on them.
The Scapegoat Wilderness
Saw a bald eagle soaring this morning. We hiked 16 miles and camped in a valley, near Dearborn or Blacktail Creek. Tomorrow's section of guidebook looks sketchy, and describes a "cross country". Much of this was unmarked when the book was written, but now, after 12 years of travel, we have learned it will either be well trod, or have ceased to exist.
Rainmaker and I realized we were hauling plenty of food, and have just a couple days until Roger's Pass, where we had planned to hitch 20 miles into Lincoln. Neither one of us like to hitch hike, and realizing that we were making good trail miles, we decided to press on to Helena. This is a difficult decision, however, because it depends so much on staying on trail (not lost) and maintaining 14-15 miles each day.
Today proved very trying. After fording two rivers twice, and realizing the guidebook actually starts this section's description with a bushwhack that no longer exists, the author admitting the first 1.6 miles are confusing, we are back on trail, ascending to some wonderful views above treeline. Blow downs in the burn area also mar our path, and we must carry water up the divide. Storm clouds are pulling in; we're reminded of Colorado's thunderstorms and the struggles of last year. At least it is cool, but the miles don't seem to add up. Finally, we camp by a small pond, in a valley between cliffs, the only water for the next several miles. According to the guidebook, we have hiked just 9 miles. It is late, we are exhausted, disheartened. The pond has many campsites around it. We fill the water bottles, and then notice tiny orange creatures swimming merrily inside. Rainmaker frowns, and begins straining all his water through his cotton bandana. I only have a fleece bandana, ultralighter that I am, so return to the pond, walk around to the opposite side, and hop onto rocks further out. Yes, the water is filled with them. Everywhere, all around. There is no escaping these tiny creatures. I fill my water bottles, return, and Rainmaker lends me his bandana. The mosquitoes come out in force, several bees manage to enter the tent. Sheesh! Every tiny living thing is waiting for us, the hosts, we the food supply have arrived.
We eat supper, and I read the guidebooks. I have looked over this section, and the next sections south of Rogers Pass four times now. I keep trying to find the key, the plan that will allow my food to last until Helena. At today's rate, we will find ourselves without enough food, hauling water, doing meager days. I hate to break this news to Rainmaker, who has his heart set on bypassing Lincoln, the hitch, and the time it takes away from our hike. He is longing for Georgia and home in the Appalachian Mountains.
Finally I begin reading portions of the guidebook to him. I tell him about my concerns, the terrain, the fact the next guide book is actually 25 years old. There are a few notes in the updated supplement, which is 5 years old, stating that the trail has probably been rerouted to the crest, and there is no data on it. It says we will leave the trail on the crest to descend for water where ever we can find it. In this heat and cloudless skies, we would need to carry a lot of it.
Rainmaker pulls out the Dolorme Atlas page with our trail on it. He finds an alternate that would bring us down off the crest, to the river trail that at one time was the CDT. He shows me a route that would take us through the Helena National Forest, along back roads, thus allowing us to reach Helena in 3 days. Yes, the Escape Route, I call it. I am all in favor of exercising our right to freely deviate from the Designated Official, 40 % Unbuilt Continental Divide Trail, as all our predecessors have done before us, and our followers shall do after us.
July 31, Saturday
Today, before lunch we finished the Scapegoat Wilderness. As far as the eye could see, 360 degrees, all was burned over. Miles upon miles and no sign of human existence. We reached Alice Creek Turnoff, and headed down the gravel road. We camped near a pond and stream where the beavers played freely. Many deer crossed the fields and road. Rainmaker and I were both very happy with our decision to drop down to this campsite, with at least some shade from the sun in a cloudless sky.
Hiked a long hard day, under totally blue skies, at times on pavement, and making good time. Taking our lunch break under a large spruce tree, we removed shoes and socks, and cooled off. Back on the road, the heat built as we counted down the miles. Rainmaker came dangerously close to heat exhaustion, just before we stopped at our last water source. Finally, we camped at Flesher Pass, on the CDT just above the trailhead. Taking several ibroprophen, and a couple antihistamines to insure sound sleep, I prepared myself for bed. Rainmaker raised his face to the sky and called out to the Trail gods, "How about some Rain? How about some clouds tomorrow??" he demanded. "Naw," he told me, "it'll probably rain tonight, then be hot and steaming again tomorrow."
We woke to a warm morning, which has always indicated rain on the way. Packing up, we chatted about reaching Helena, getting a motel, and showering again. Clean clothes, leaving the bear canisters in Rainmaker's car parked there, and continuing onward. Things were looking good.
The skies were blue, a few clouds on the horizon when we lunched beneath a few scrubby pine trees. A shadow passed over the land, then another. We stood up to leave and the skies had darkened. "Well, here's your Rain, David, thanks a lot!" Rainmaker laughed. I guess the trail gods were going to have fun with us again today. We began hiking listening for the first claps of thunder. We couldn’t just hike through it, being the tallest things out here. When the lightning flashed, it got serious. Up ahead, some small bushes lined a culvert. I was thinking it would be one of those Lay In The Ditch days, but Rainmaker had an idea. Sure enough, that culvert was actually a decent bridge. We stepped underneath, stream flowing sweetly right through the middle of some embankments. We waded across, set down our packs, got out the sleeping pads and made ourselves comfortable. Between the cars passing overhead, the thunder rolling, rain coming in bursts, things got pretty lively.
After the skies cleared, we continued our walk, heading through the tiny settlement of Canyon Creek. They have a great little store, with some fantastic Moose Tracks ice cream. The lady there told us of "camping" just around the corner. You go down the dirt road, then turn on another dirt road, with streams and everything. So, heading off for a few last miles, we realized driving is a whole lot different than walking. That little round the corner to her was a 5-mile jaunt, making a 21-mile day for us. A rancher drove up to ask if we were ok, and we assured him, yes, we were backpacking, but, Was there actually a stream along this old road, Anywheres? Yes, about 2 miles more. So, finally approaching the tiny stream, green with algae, cow skeleton 50 feet away, we searched for a suitable campsite amongst the sagebrush. There was real cactus, with 2-inch needles,just waiting for some unlikely customer to transport it to another part of the earth.
Watching a lovely sunset, we ate well, knowing Helena was on tomorrows agenda, about 14 miles down the road. Rainmaker and I were totally exposed, anyone driving down that dirt road, kicking up dust, could watch us, cooking over our little alcohol stoves, sitting on sleeping pads, leaning against backpacks propped up with hiking poles, and nearby, a gray ultralight tent. They could see us together, making memories that last a lifetime.
August 3, Tuesday
I awoke to watch a beautiful sunrise, beautiful because the sun could reflect its rays off the thick clouds still lingering. Would it rain, David? He thought perhaps. I looked at him. "You know these storms are your fault, you called them up at Flesher Pass."
"Of course they're my fault," he replied," I'm the only man around."
I thought about getting another quart of water, but changed my mind when I saw the carcass of a coyote not 40 feet from our tent, and the stream. His whole head, legs and paws remained. His whole torso had been eaten out by scavengers.
We hiked through Silver City. No wonder people laughed when we had asked them what amenities might be found there. Then, heading down Birdseye Rd, we were challenged by 3 Saint Bernards. Luckily, they were well fenced. Rainmaker and I were not in the mood for harassment by some local dog thugs. We passed Ft. Harrison, a military establishment outside Helena. Hot, thirsty, without water, sucking on peppermints, we finally reached a state park, climbed the wooden fence, found a picnic table under a shade tree, and sat down. We each drank two Mountain Dews, full strength, and ate a few peanuts. I got out the city map, and figured we'd already hiked 15 miles. Whew, all we needed was a motel, and then we'd crash.
After a long break, we headed to the main drag, HWY 12 and saw one motel for sale, another one closed up with a No Vacancy sign, and then a bar and grill with a sign "Karaoke every Tuesday and Thursday, 9 p.m until closing" I began laughing, telling Rainmaker. He thought I was kidding. I showed him. His eyes lit up.
"We'll get a motel and go tonight!"
"This is Tuesday, right?" I asked. He looked at his watch. Sure enough! Now our pace quickened, the skies thickened, but we had a mission. We stopped at the next motel, a series of run down yellow cabins. They wanted $68 bucks Plus Bed Tax. No way, Rainmaker said, the Motel 6 is less than 50 bucks, and way nicer.
"Ok, here's the plan: we walk to the Motel 6, get a room, drop the packs, walk to the car in East Helena, get the car, and all our traveling clothes, clean up, and Drive to Karaoke, all by 9 p.m" I don’t remember who said the words, but we were both on that same page of this same chapter in our lives. We'd begun doing Karaoke, having a blast, and finding out we were actually good at it back home, about 5 months ago.
We didn’t really stop to think how many miles that would be, whether we could do it or not, whether we would be dead on our feet. We just did it. It was 2:30 when we began this "Stampede". Around 3:30 a bad storm blew up, complete with lightning, thunder and hail. We sat it out under an overhang of a defunct luxury motel, along with a young couple, just kids, on motorcycles, and a street person on a bike. The street person told us about a free supper we could eat that night at a shelter, called "God's Love". "We're not as destitute as we look, but thanks" Rainmaker replied.
Finally, the storm over, we bid farewell and good luck to the young couple and walked quickly to Motel 6. We left the packs and headed out. We walked to the car, and suddenly we felt rich!
We made it to Karaoke, sang our songs, were applauded, and well entertained by the young feisty crowd. It was the best sound system I had ever experienced.
About 1:30 we left the bar, returned to Motel 6, finally falling asleep around 3 a.m. We'd done 25 miles, which is in no way shabby for folks our age.
August 4, Wednesday
Today, we actually had a zero day, thanks to the incredible, insane day we did yesterday. After doing laundry we checked out of the Motel 6, and went to Wal-Mart to develop the film in our disposable cameras using the One Hour service. Also, we bought snacks to eat on the road walk, which would begin tomorrow morning. We checked into the Days Inn, and immediately went to soak our collective aches and pains in the very hot tub. We ate supper at Golden Corral, a buffet fit for visiting dignitaries. Truly luscious meats, vegetables, salads and desserts. Tomorrow we would start the "Ennis Cutoff" we had mapped out for the last leg of this year's journey, heading for West Yellowstone.
After eating a hot continental breakfast, compliments of Days Inn, we packed Rainmaker's car and headed to East Helena to repark the Escort. It was amazingly hard leaving that car, with all our goodies in it, knowing we could just head for home then.
By 9 a.m, we'd pulled down the garage door, and locked the storage unit. We peed behind the travel trailer butted up against the chain link fence. We gave each other that "What the hell" look and Rainmaker lifted his pack. Surprisingly, neither one of us noticed that he was not wearing his back brace, which he has used on every trail since 1999. He had this method of tightening it first, lifting his pack, then loosening the brace so he could breathe easier. I have seen that procedure hundreds of times. Yet, neither one of us even noticed this lack of routine. Four miles down the road, we stopped at the Cononco station, just outside East Helena, to use their bathroom, buy some ice cream, and take off some layers, slather on some more sunscreen. We put up the Sun Umbrellas, an experiment whereby standard, lightweight travel umbrellas are taped to an external frame hoping they will offer some measure of relief against the blistering sun. Still, neither one of us noticed the missing back brace.
We hiked into the wind, down Hwy 279, feeling a backward pull. We actually made good time, taking a break for lunch under rare cotton wood trees. Rainmaker put on his pack, and then reached down to loosen the missing back brace. That was a sobering moment.
The roar of the traffic, lack of shade or solitude made this endeavor much harder than I'd expected. There was no place to pee, no place to rest in the shade. The umbrellas were collapsing, impeding our progress, so we folded them back down. Heaven help us if we needed to dig a hole. Suddenly, Rainmaker pushed me aside, into the grass, and jumped behind me. A truck and trailer has swerved over onto the shoulder, apparently because of the strong winds or oncoming traffic.
We hiked nearly 3 miles an hour, and even better as the thunderstorm threatened us in the early afternoon. By 3:50 we'd done 17 miles, arriving at Winston, camping in Beverly's yard, store owner, post mistress, new friend. We went to supper at the Grill, both of us a little worse for wear. Last night, that sense of Impending Doom had come over me, and strengthened as the night wore on. We slept just across the highway from the train tracks that suddenly, with the darkness, became so busy. Every train, approaching that tiny settlement, would blast its whistle in warning. The semi trucks and traffic never abetted, and although drugged, my head ached by morning.
We hiked only 13 miles today, getting an early start in the morning coolness, anticipating a motel in Townsend. We took one break, on the porch of the closed Bar and Grill. (Every eating establishment in Montana, I swear, is named "Grill" something or other).
We arrived in Townsend around 11:30 a.m, walked over to the motel, and saw the Vacancy sign. Rainmaker and I walked into the lobby and the young bearded man behind the desk said" Holy shit!" We smiled, not wanting to change the subject, and asked for a room. At first, he appeared to be looking for the last one, then realizing it had just been claimed, looked embarrassed, and sorry for us. We called the one remaining motel in town. Booked. Backtracking to the RV-Camping Park, we rented a site, with free showers, for $11.50. Having hiked hard and fast, the remainder of the day would be spent in the hot sun, in the Laundry-Day room, or on the comfy benches of the sweet little diner down the street.
August 7, Saturday
Sometime during the night, in the midst of all the train whistles, trucks and vehicle noises my mind registered the sound of gale force winds. Our tent stood strong against the whipping winds, the two hiking poles shuddering with the opposing forces being exerted against them. We make our own tents, so had confidence in its strength. Yet, if the stakes pulled out, or the poles broke, our shelter would fall.
Rainmaker and I formed our plan quietly, expertly. I would gather all my things and take them around to the laundry room. Then, I would lie back down in the tent, to hold the floor down, while he did the same. Then, with all our gear safely stored in the building, we would take down the tent together so it would not fly away. Once we removed the hiking poles, so that it was lying on the ground, I sat on it, and finished removing the tent stakes. Neither one of us were upset, just filled with a calmness, an assurance. We felt each other's thoughts; the words had not been spoken.
Our packs finally reassembled, and ready for hiking, I asked Rainmaker if he was filling his water bottles. "No", he replied simply. Then I was sure. We walked over to the restaurant, it was only 6 a.m, and had just opened for the day. The waitress seated us. She had no idea. We ordered water, and coffee, and looked into each other's eyes. "I'm done," I told him. "Me too," he said. Another cup later, we began expressing our feelings. We knew we had to both be sure, to both be on the same page. We told the waitress we were in no hurry; we would order breakfast a little later.
We stood on the side of the road at 8 a.m, hitch hiking back to East Helena. Once again, reduced to trailside beggars, the thing I abhor most about long distance hiking. Finally, Rainmaker walked over to some guys chatting at the RV campground, and I see him getting in the car. He has made a deal, and I am overjoyed. For $30, this guy will take us back to David's car, and we can begin the long journey home.
We used the Bartram Trail as a training and relaxation tool this spring, updating the free online Bartram Trail Guide I wrote last year, and testing my various packs to see which one would go to Montana. My 8 ounce silpack worked fine on the Appalachian Trail in 2002, yet was pushed to its limits on the Colorado Trail in 2003. I have the packless system which is excellent because of its ability to haul vast quantities of water and food. I was going to take my Nike Day And a Half pack until we decided to each carry a Garcia Bear Canister. So, I sewed
a silnylon pack for my external frame , large enough for the canister to be placed inside. Last year, Rainmaker used a silnylon pack on his external frame on the Colorado Trail, and it did an excellent job. By replacing the pack on my Camptrails backpack with a silnylon pack, and keeping the original frame with its substancial hipbelt and shoulder straps I saved nearly 2 pounds, bringing the total weight of this pack to 2 pounds 9 ounces.
sleep system is an 800 fill, goose down bag, and closed cell sleeping pad.
cook system includes the same soda can stove which I used the entire AT thru hike, Colorado Trail and Bartram Trail.
I'll have my
silnylon rainsuit, packcover, and vapor barrier socks, and a set of close fitting fleece.
water system consists of two 1.5 liter bottles carried in silnylon pockets on my pack, and one 24-ounce bottle carried on my shoulder stap in a silnylon ditty bag. As always, I will purify my water with cholorine, as I have in all my hikes .
The guidebooks and extra Delorme Atlas Maps are substancial for this section. Rainmaker also brought his GPS unit.
I always carry a
hygiene/murphy kit, which includes:
Comb, mirror, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, disposable razor, tweezers, toe clipper, rubbing alcohol in 2 ounce bottle, all fits into a 5x5 silnylon ditty bag. The comb and mirror have been cut in half; the other items are sample size…5 ounces
Toilet paper, and journaling paper(mailed and resupplied in town)….3 ounces
Free flowing super glue, electrical tape (wound around the water bottles), needle, pin and ring for external frame pack, Imodium, Tylenol, ….2 ounces
Sunscreen…. 2 ounces
Credit card, money, drivers license, in a silnylon wallet…. 1 ounce
Tools on an elastic cord, the same ones that have been with me on the PCT, JMT, AT, Colorado Trail, and Bartram Trail:
a red, and a white LED light, GI can opener, razor cutting tool, watch, whistle…. 1.75 ounces
This watch has had about 90% of the band removed, and is threaded onto the cord as well.
"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative"-Oscar Wilde.
I've never been called consistent. I'm likely to try just about anything.
"I am always doing things I can't do. That's how I get to do them."-Picasso
This trail's northern terminus is at the trailhead in Waterton Canyon, just outside of Denver. For 467.8 miles it traverses some of the highest country in the continental United States. The southern terminus is at Junction Creek Trailhead, just 3.5 miles north of Durango. The Continental Divide Trail runs concurrent with about 75% of this well maintained, multi-use pathway.
Generally speaking, the trail was well marked. Even so, I was glad we had the official, glossy paged guidebook, and the data book for hikers as well. Both can be purchased at the Colorado Trail site.
My journal is divided into sections, defined in terms of resupplys, instead of dated. You can read Rainmakers complete Colorado Trail Journal for a more detailed report. For those anticipating doing this trail, the 28 segments, as defined in the official guidebooks, are noted as well, along with the cumulative miles from Denver.
Waterton Canyon to Jefferson City (Kenosha Pass, Hwy 285)
(segments 1-5, 68.5 miles)
Just before daylight on Wednesday, July 16th, Rainmaker and I caught the Denver City bus, which carries workers to their morning jobs on the south side of the city. We were at the trailhead by 6:00 a.m, and began our 16-mile day with the 6 miles introductory road walk of Waterton Canyon. Within the first mile, we stopped at a picnic table to get a bite of breakfast. There in the early morning heat, Rainmaker had his first back jolt, and one of my hiking poles was deemed irreparably broken, and therefore thrown in the trash barrel. Little did I know, but this incident would be the pervading theme of this entire journey.
We camped at the Platte River, after meeting a black "coyote dog" on trail. He barked his head off as we approached, then whined and whimpered, never letting us near him, as he fled down the trail just far enough to feel safe. Then, he began the process over. This dog barked at us from across the river when we camped. Perhaps the memory of this strange creature is what caused Rainmaker, abruptly awoken from his deep-sleep stage, to lunge at me when I reentered the tent by moonlight after a midnight pee break. From then on, I always made sure David was awake before I left the tent so he would know it was me when I reentered.
The moon is extremely bright, and the sky lit with stars. I seldom used my photon lights, and both are still working great.
The next day, in segment two, we hiked through burned out lands. It was over 100 degrees, with the next water 9.5 miles away at the fire station, just down the highway crossing. When the afternoon clouds appeared to shade us from the burning sun, we were quite happy. Again, the omens of upcoming adventures weren't taken seriously.
By Saturday, we were forming a theory on the weather patterns. Ungodly hot in the mornings, bringing in afternoon thunderstorms, which cooled the mountains for a comfortable sleep. However, today we were iced down properly, with a hailstorm, complete with lightning, for over an hour. When the storm abated, and we could resume our hike, we found a site and pitched the Tacoma for Two on a layer of ice. My short pad no longer worked. My feet froze unless I slept curled up in the fetal position. Shopping List: One full-length pad, as soon as we hit town.
On Sunday, we reached Hwy 285, yoggied a ride to Jefferson City, 4 miles down the road. We resupplied at the small but adequate store, ate some Freezer to Microwave food (including a 1,000 calorie bean and cheese burrito for each of us). My stomach accepted these town treats quite readily. Unfortunately, Rainmakers did not. Rainmaker point blank asked for a ride from a woman whose motor bike had bit the dust. When her husband showed up with his pick-up truck, they installed us in the back, each of us with a covered 16-ounce Styrofoam coffee. We took care not to spill any as the rains drenched us all the way back to the pass.
Jefferson City to Copper Mt (Hwy 91)
(segments 6-7, 113 miles)
So, Sunday afternoon, we got right back on trail after our resupply, and camped on the other side of the fence to save ourselves $12 at a very busy campground with the only water in miles.
I am amazed at the amount of mountain bikers on this trail. Horses, motorbikes, day hikers, and long distance hikers share this well graded pathway. There are a few thru hikers, reportedly ahead of us. The main problem we find with the mountain bikers is they make little noise, and have this maddening way of coming up behind us without saying a word. A small metallic noise finally comes to your attention, and turning around you find this brightly colored peacock waiting for you to move over. Because we hike in stealth colors, twice we were nearly run over.
Apparently, we are hiking in the correct time frame for this trail. The wild flowers abound, we see a lot of elk, deer and small wild life. We have not crossed any snowfields, although some have been above, and below us. It is early enough that the water sources are usually still flowing.
Afternoon storms are expected daily now. This means temperatures will drop about 30 degrees within minutes. I have my poncho, instead of a rain jacket and pack cover. My adventurous nature, and gram weeniness thought it would be a great multi purpose item out here. Sadly, I am seeing that it does not fulfill my expectations. Too small to use as a tarp, too short in the back to cover my pack completely, and allows too much air exchange to keep me warm. I came up with the conclusion that vital pieces of gear should not be multipurpose because at times you need all the purposes to be met simultaneously. I could not leave my pack unprotected by my poncho while walking around to stay warm. I could not ditch my pack, containing stakes and metal cook system during a lightning storm because it would not be protected if I wore the poncho.
Copper Mt. To Twin Lakes (Hwy 82)
(segments 8-11, 170 miles)
Copper Mountain is a resort type place with a lot of restaurants, a post office, shops, and a small but adequate grocery store. There is a shuttle bus, which will take you to all the towns nearby. We however, learned the best way to just resupply is stay on trail, crossing Hwy 91, until you see the American Eagle. There is a little trail that will take you right to the heart of the resort, less than one-tenth mile off trail. We resupplied, and headed right out again.
It is common now to be sleeping above 11,000 feet. Our bodies have adjusted nicely, only a few times breathing more rapidly than normal. At night, the temperatures have been dropping into the upper 30s. I am really happy I brought a full set of fleece, plus my silk long underwear. I wear all my clothes at night inside the 30-degree goose down sleeping bag.
The Colorado trail passes near, around and through many old mining claims. The token artifact is a denuded, rusty box spring. I have never seen so many rusty box springs in my life. Every old site has one.We saw tons of rotting cabins, usually roofless, but with a few ragged logs on three sides. The guide book tells us we can take "refuge" in them in case of storms.
Twin Lakes is accessed by walking 1 mile down Hwy 82, in the middle of segment 11. I had planned to buy a full-length pad there, as well as more fuel. Unfortunately, this tiny resort town had neither, but we were able to resupply for the next stretch of 74 miles. We bought 6 days of food, because 12-13 miles per day is a lot in these elevations. I found some fire sticks, those sawdust and paraffin fuel sticks made by Coglans. Better than nothing, but extremely sooty.
After eating a good meal at the café, Rainmaker and I once again headed out. It was Monday, the 28th of July. The trail felt like home already, and our large, ultralight Tacoma for Two was doing a great job.
Twin Lakes to Salida (U.S. Hwy 50)
(segments 11-14, 244 miles)
Soon after getting back on trail, we had to wait out an incredibly fierce and lengthy thunderstorm under an unoccupied set of buildings. I repaired my silnylon pack, which had ripped just as I jumped over a fence, while seeking refuge in the power plant facility. No luck with refuge, but that rending sound sickened me. Rainmaker lent me his needle and floss, and repairs were made under the deck of a bunk house. After the storm was over, and the dark clouds abated, we hiked around the dam, to camp by the tiny lake that night.
The next morning we packed up as usual. Our packs were loaded with much food, and the tent was heavy with wet sand. I asked to carry the tent, at least until we could get it dried out. We started up the trail, climbing easily, Rainmaker in the lead. Suddenly, he gasped, and hurriedly started unbuckling his pack. He flung it off, and his face was a mirror of agony.
"What? What's going on?" I asked, frightened.
"My back!" is all he could say. He started pacing the trail, while I watched. This is what he had warned me of, so many times, expecting that one day his back would totally give out on the trail. He had always hoped he would be able to hike out on his own, and not have to be carried out.
Immediately I started thinking of plans, solutions, how or where to get help. Hike back down to Twin Lakes? Go out to the road and hitch back to town, or to the car? He told me he couldn't carry his pack 30 feet. Then I wondered aloud, Should I leave everything with him, and he waits for me to return with the car? Maybe I watch everything while he hitches? I got out the guidebook and started looking at road access, and nearby towns. I offered suggestions, but nothing was right. It was one of the most helpless times of my life. Watching someone you love in such pain is a heart wrenching experience.
Finally, he swore, picked up his pack, and said, "Let's hike!" This experience brought the daily concerns of thunderstorms, sufficient food and water, and mileages to a new level. Somehow, our inner drives must overcome all these obstacles, and everything just hung in the balance. Everything seemed out of my control, out of my reach.
Now, we took one day at a time, doing miles according to water sources, knowing that to push too hard would push us right off the trail. We planned a rest, at least one night in a motel in Salida. Salida, the word on our lips. If we can make it to Salida, then we can make further plans.
If Rainmaker chose to leave the trail, would I go on alone? Probably. It took too much to get out here, and we would be over half way. My Mileage Madness would set in, and it would be just a couple weeks till I would finish. I lay awake at night, worrying about trail data, body status, and the nimbostratus. But, that is not how one can hike this trail, not now. Rainmaker's brother once told him "Short term planning is breakfast, long term is supper." At the end of the day, all that really mattered is that somehow we had made progress.
We walked right past Mt. Princeton. Was that a convenience store down there, by the hot springs resort? Sure enough, this is the kind of thing long distance hikers dream of: on trail goodies. We stopped in, ate a couple hot dogs, candy bars, and ice cream, and then headed out to the USFS campground, called Bootleg Campsite. This campsite cost $6, and was the only place that reported bear problems. Here I found two pieces of wrapped peppermints, and a leatherman tool on an old picnic table.
I am totally in favor of honoring the Trail gods by accepting all the gifts they give a person, whether on trail, in camp or even in trail towns. This includes both experiences and real objects. Over the years, the trail gods have supplied the most amazing things, even displaying a sense of humor.
This year was no exception. Rainmaker kept finding loose change, which started adding up to the substantial amount of 73 cents. He was so lucky, I started wondering why he was so favored, and the gods were ignoring me. Then, finally, I found a really super pair of sunglasses, a Mickey Mouse watch (if you are reading this, and its yours, please e-mail, and you can have it back), and a perfect, but sun baked, extra large Fuji apple, sitting on a rock. Of course, we shared the apple, and it was delicious, kind of like a baked apple pie.
One day, about 2 days before arriving in Sailda, we seemed to hit the jackpot. First, a really neat long sleeved yellow t-shirt, and Thermos. The stainless steel thermos was nearly brand new, and had potential. I put it in my pack, but the shirt was 100% cotton, so, deferred to others who might pass this way. Amazingly, a small pair of fleece pants was hanging from a tree branch, near the trail. Either they had been abandoned, had been summoned by the gods for me alone, or were just following the traditional Lost and Found cycle.
"Wow, now, I could use these, " I said to Rainmaker as he watched me retrieve them. I checked the label, "Yup, 100% polyester, size small." I nodded, smiling at my good luck while fully stretching the waistband for size, and allowing Rainmaker the opportunity to agree.
"Do you think they'll fit? They look like they will, size small," I reminded him. He said nothing, just stood contemplating the garment. I looked up at him. "What do you think, are they worth carrying?" Its not like I could tuck them in the closet, along with the rest of the stuff I will eventually wear, one day when that prepubescent figure returns, from god knows where.
"Humm," he pondered. He lifted them with his hand, gently hefting them up and down. "About 11 ounces. Well, you could carry them until you can try them on. Then if they don't fit, you can leave them on a branch, like you found them."
I frowned. This was not the reassurance I expected. I tucked them in my pack, and we continued, and came to a trailhead, a privy and parking lot. I looked at Rainmaker. "Hell, these ain't gonna fit me, and you didn’t want to say it," I challenged.
He smiled, his blue eyes showing a lifetime of male education. "Next time don't let me carry this stuff, ok? " I took off my pack, took out the pants and hung them on the trail sign. I left the thermos as well. Fine. Now that the trail gods had their laugh, it was time to get some miles in.
Salida to Lake City (Spring Creek Pass, Co. Hwy 149)
(segments 15-21, 344 miles)
We hitched into Saldia, early August 4th. By 11 a.m, we had retrieved our one mail drop, rented a motel room for two nights with hot tub, and enjoyed a McDonalds Breakfast. After using those fire sticks for 6 days in my alcohol stove (bottom side) my pot was sooty, my fleece bandana had to be thrown away, and my cooking gear scoured. We did laundry for the first time since being on trail. Things were both looking good, and smelling tons better.
By resuppling at the Super Wal-Mart, we bought a lot of oatmeal, and hot cereals for our meals. For 99 miles, our food bags needed to be light, but contain enough calories for the hike. I bought a piece of fabric to make a "bag sleeve". This lightweight polyester bag would fit over my brand new full-length insolite pad, and enclose my sleeping bag as well. Hopefully, I would sleep warmer. Rainmaker bought a new fanny pack, and I used the clasp on his old one to replace the belt buckle on my silnylon pack, one more gear item that failed.
Back on trail Wednesday morning, with loaded packs, and determination to finish this trail together, we knew some water scarcity issues faced us. Hiking through cattle country, and needing to carry water was something we had both done before. Weight was a big factor, with Rainmaker's back, and my knees acting up.
Because of the tainted water, I probably overreacted to the situation by using extra chlorine. After long term use, this has always upset my stomach, so evenings I tried boiling my water as much as possible. The bovine smell and feces is strong in this area, especially segments 16-19. If you use a filter, be sure to bring chemicals as well, as a back up in case of failures. Beaver ponds are second only to the cow pastures in water pollution through these segments.
The weather was changing. No longer could we count on afternoon thunderstorms, then clearing, until a beautiful morning awaited us. Now, it rained in the mornings, or during the night. If it rained, temperatures would drop remarkably, and stay low until the next day. Some days I hiked with my fleece jacket and rain pants over shorts and top. When the wind cut through the fleece, I wore my poncho, cinched tight.
We decided not to take the Creed turn off, refusing to hike 10 miles by a steep side trail down to resupply, then have to return by that same 10 mile trail, which would have cost us 2 extra days. Instead, we focused on hitching into Lake City, 17 miles down Hwy149. We carefully rationed out our food, gauging the food allotments according to the miles accomplished each day.
Lake City to Molas Pass Campground (U.S. Hwy 550)
(segments 22-24, 395miles)
When some section hikers came down the trail, we were able to get a ride into Lake City. We resupplied, rented a room, and enjoyed some good hot restaurant meals. This town apparently has a total of two public phones, in spite of the blatant tourism. I never sleep well in town, with all its noises and lights, so happily returned to the trail next day.
We were in really high country now, over 13, 000 feet at times, hiking nearly all day above, or flirting with tree line. I found a plastic bag, and started using it as a pack cover, so that my poncho could be better fitted to my person, and be warmer.
Rainmaker developed our plan of "Duck and Cover" to deal with the long miles above tree line. We could not wait out every storm, or dark clouds. The newspapers had reported at least three people that had been struck and killed by lightning while we were on the trail, so this was a real threat. His plan was that when the storm began, and was close enough for concern, we would drop our packs, I would grab the tent off his pack, we would run down the slope to a lower spot, take the tent out and crawl under. This worked very well on August 16th, the first time we actually tried the plan. When a bolt of lightning at 10:30 struck right in front of Rainmaker, followed immediately by a deafening roar of thunder, there was no need for discussion. The silnylon tent kept us marginally warm while being pelted with hail, then rain, then snow, just before Ruby Lake, and Coney Mountain. In the back of our minds was the thought that this Early Season Storm did not have to quit before dumping several feet of snow. It was definitely time to finish this trail and get back home to Georgia.
Molas Pass Campground to Durango
(segments 25-28, 467.8 miles)
The guidebook led us astray here, telling us of the supply of basics this campground store contained. This year, all they had were snack foods, but Rainmaker and I had previously determined to resupply there if at all possible, and save having to hitch into Silverton, and the hitch back.
My resupply for 5.5 days was
--11 packages of Grandmas cookies, 2.5 ounces each (to be used for breakfasts, and afternoon break)
--3 bags each cashews, peanuts and beef jerky (for after dinner and pre breakfast snacking, a total of 8 ounces)
--1 Snickers, 5 Milky Way candy bars (lunch desserts)
--6 packages of hot cocoa (running low on coffee)
--4 small packages of assorted chips (lunches, and soup enhancers, for about 16 ounces total)
--about 6 ounces of dehydrated refried beans and 10 tortillas (donated when I told the clerk I would buy any bread off her, this made 3 meals for Rainmaker and I)
--5 snack crackers and 2 snack cookie packages (for a.m snacks)
--Leftovers from previous resupply was 2 ramen seasoning packages, and 2 tablespoons mashed potatos (to be used for two suppers)
This resupply was the Do-Or-Die type….all I really wanted was to get to Durango without starving to death. Our experience with the difficulty in hitching into and out of Lake City helped in this decision.
Every day we rose by 6:15, packed up, Rainmaker did his back warm up exercises, and we headed out. My feet and knees had reoccurring pains, so I tried to take smaller steps. With just one hiking pole, the trail was taking a greater toll on my joints. Also, last year's AT thru hike had caused some injuries, not totally resolved.
Friday night we camped just 22 miles from the Durango Trail head, near Taylor Lake. It was peaceful, and the site lovely. The evening sun warmed the tent, and then the rains started.
The next morning, the clouds had thinned and we hiked this one last full day thoughtfully. By 2:30 the rains caught up to us once more, in sheets, drenching us as we looked for a camping spot. The rule seemed to be: If there was water, there was no place to put a tent. If there was a tent spot, the water was no where near. By the time we crossed lower Junction Creek, the two tiny nearby camp spots were flooded and muddy. We kept hiking as evening drew near. It was 7 p.m and still the rained poured down. I merely followed David, watching his feet, when suddenly he stopped, and said, "How about here?" I raised my head to see from under my hood, and it was a wide spot in the trail, packed down, and level. " Sure!" But the stakes refused to go in. I bent several, and he straightened them until finally the Tacoma stood up, our shelter, large and strong.
We crawled in, keeping the wet stuff in our vestibules. How glad I was we each had our own doors, and vestibules, because my muddy mess was mine alone, and wouldn’t interfere with his. He had plenty of his own to deal with.
The next morning, we hiked the remaining two miles to the southern terminus, then 3.5 miles into Durango. The Colorado Trail was completed.
My Gear List for CDT/ Colorado Trail Hike 2003
I was really excited about my gear for this hike. Some of it was the same as my AT thru hike , like my cookset, with the same original soda can stove that made the entire AT. My fleece jacket was upgraded to a warmer fleece Patagonia pullover, which I attached mittens to, but the fleece pants are the same .
Some of my gear was even from my PCT hike , having survived the AT as well, like my two photon lights, and watch. My red photon light is still going strong, without a battery change, after 14 months of trail use. (2000-2002, PCT, JMT and AT, and now the Colorado Trail). Now, that's Gear!
Although I dearly love my silnylon rain jacket, I brought a poncho, to test and use as a tarp for shade, as well as top layer rain jacket and packcover. It was a pretty even swap, weight wise, and I had hoped it would give us options while traversing shadeless sections, or taking breaks on high windy mountains, or waiting out afternoon thunderstorms, common on the Colorado Trail in late July . My silnylon rain pants, 2 ounces, are standard equipment. Never leave home without them.
Also new were my black nylon shorts with pockets (76 grams, or 2 5/8 ounces). I learned a lot about shorts on the busy Appalachian Trail: they shouldn't be transparent (no one should know whether or not you are wearing underwear). Elastic waist is better than zippers (which could break or get stuck in the down position).They should not be so short that modesty is compromised when sitting. They gotta have good pockets. Shorts without pockets is like pie without ice cream. Well, sort of.
The Big Three, and their Components:
Sleeping Bag, Hydrogen Marmot 800 fill,
rated at 30 degrees, with stuff sack..... 24 ounces
Sleeping Pad , closed cell, 57 inches long by 19 inches wide, corners trimmed.... 8.8 ounces. I kept the pad longer for warmer sleeping at higher elevations.
This pad has been configured to fold as the z-rest does. Photos and directions are posted in the Alternative Gear section of Trailquest.
We will use our Tacoma For Two shelter, in its stuff sack, with 6 stakes....38 ounces. Rainmaker will carry that, so I will carry the guide book (a glossy book, 21 ounces) to help compensate the weight distribution.
Pack and garbage bag liner.... 9 ounces
Poncho Villa, rain pants....8.5 ounces
My Warm layer is a fleece jacket with mittens attached...16 ounces
homemade fleece pants...7.25 ounces, balaclava 1 ounce, and nylon socks... 2 ounces (26.25 ounces here)
The Mid weight layer is a 3 ounce 100% silk long sleeve top, and silk bottoms... 2.5 ounces, lightweight fleece watch cap 1 ounce, and liner socks which only weigh .5 ounces (7 ounces here)
My Hiking layer is shorts....2.5 ounces,
sports top....3 ounces,
liner socks... 1 ounce
My broad brimmed hat from the PCT 2000...2.5 ounces
A pair of Nike trail runners.... 24 ounces
Stuff sack for clothing.... 1/2 ounce (4 ounces here)
Tooth brush, tooth paste, dental floss:
Comb, ultralight mirror
Rubbing alcohol, cotton balls
Toilet paper, bandana
Vaseline, travelers size
Pain reliever, Imodium
Electrical tape, wound around water bottles
Needle, ultralight tweezers,free flowing super glue
Two ditty bags for all this, which runs about 8 ounces total
Stove,windscreen, pot support
16 ounce pot, cup, spoon
Zip lock bag for trash
Stuff sack for pot and stove ...the above weighs 5.5 ounces
Fuel , matches, lighter....4-6 ounces depending on length of section
Stuff sack for food, 1/2 ounce
Water Treatment and Capacity:
Chlorine chemical treatment, carried in 1 ounce bottle
-- I will have a 4 liter capacity, weighing about 5 ounces, in plastic soda bottles
2-silnylon water bottle carriers, for my shoulder straps, like last year-1 ounce, the other bottles will go in pack pockets
Other Items and Tools:
Paper and Pencil/Pen
Driver's licence, non-debit credit card,emergency telephone numbers...14 grams
A red, and a white, LED photon lights... 6 grams each
Box cutter-knife... 5 grams
GI can opener... 4 grams
watch (90% of band removed) 16 grams
Data book...1.75 ounces
Cash,ditty bag as wallet...10
Zip lock bag for papers...2 grams
10 feet of 1/8 diameter cord, 6 grams
together, this all weighs about 6.5 ounces
Camera...2.75 ounce disposable, in zip lock bag
Afterword and Reflections
If my journal seems negative, I apologize. This year's hike was a beautiful mountain experience, yet filled with frustrations. My greatest frustration was the thunderstorms that frequently pinned us down , and prevented the joy of hiking freely. Rainmaker's back was a constant concern. We lived on some really low nutritional junk food for a long while. During the worst of times I vowed there would be no more trails for me. But now, with the guide books and atlas before us in the comfort of our home, New Mexico's CDT route unfolds for another adventure.