18 miles plus 6 hitch miles
We wake and continue walking on the railroad tracks. A beautiful morning and the approaching I90 corridor reminds us it’s a town day!
By 7:40 am we have crossed under I90 passing the ruins of pipestone hot springs. We climb thru the barbed wire to photo the buildings and stick out toes in the 118 degree water.
Then back to the road with epic industrialized agricultural views of robotic irrigation systems for a mysterious green crop with purple flowers. Alfalfa? July sun in the valley makes us squint, glisten and flush. I drop my sunglasses in a rushing creek.
At 9:30 we reach an “improved” road 3 miles from Whitehall. Traffic increases as the road shoulder decreases. Eventually we tire of near death experiences and hitch the remaining few miles into Town.
Here the grocery has decent resupply – except no hiker bars. WHAT. the cafe “Legends” lets us use wifi and the convenience store offers a good hiker snacks, plus the biggest ammo selection I have ever seen. They also sell Disney Princess themed Fishing rods. Maybe next time.
Around 3:30pm we jump the gun and hit the paved road walk too soon. It’s a HOT BOY. We hitch 2 miles ahead to the river crossing with Shane and Caroline… Delightfully kind and curious humans towing a horse trailer. They’ve been up in the mountains documenting a cattle carcass killed by Grizzlies for a rancher’s insurance claim.
At the river we swim and cool off before a grueling walk on dusty country roads populated by many melancholy horses. Then we walk. and sweat.
At 5pm we find the river again and dip with all our clothes on. I see little minnows nibbling and exfoliating my feet. People pay for this privilege in the big city! We dip our bottles in the water and it tastes soapy and grassy. Probably polluted by cattle and farm land. Blech.
we begin to ascend into the foothills of the Tobacco Roots. The sun shines sideways as dusk comes and walking grows way more pleasant. At dark we climb a hill. Cattle low on the adjacent hill and coyotes yip in the valley below as we sleep under the stars.
The day goes on and on and on with concerns mostly of water. And elevation gain. Also walking down the wrong trail. Twice.
Last night, the nice shirtless rancher on the ATV told us water would be tough on the “back side of the mountain.” So our commitment today is to drink at almost every source and carry an untouchable emergency half liter of water each.
several climbs, and long breaks, and water fill ups Later – I am hot, tired, too full, and peeing every 20 minutes.
After the steepest climb of the day we choose a slightly longer descent route charmed by the blue dot on the map supposed to be a lake! Alas it is now a marshy, grassy wetland. Not a lake.
Dejected in the late afternoon sweat of a trail, we descend. I check the Gaia app and realize we missed a turn a half mile back. This area will hereforeto be called “disappointment plateau.”
We begin a long ascent to an unnamed pass. Cows wander these fields polluting the creek at every turn. Groucho wonders why we bother digging cat holes when cows are allowed to crap everywhere at will.
At camp, a dozen cows watch as I Mary poppins all my fluffy gear out of my tiny bag. I’m not sure if they are impressed but they have a lot to say about it.
27 miles walk
4 miles hitch on route (a paved road)
6 miles hitch off trail to resupply
We wake with a few miles left of ascent. The last section dives straight thru an old mining site with privys and cabins and cables and equipment decaying around every turn. It’s quite beautiful in its own way but a reminder of how many of these trails were built in the first place – as Americans stripped the land and Left Trace.
I find Groucho at the top, and we have a snack at his newly named “poop joke” pass.
The next section is all easy descent. And we meet day hikers who offer us a ride to Ennis when they are done in a few hours. We decide to hike on but hope they pass us on their way back in the hot part of the afternoon.
Then immediately we start a steep climb. And it’s on a bumpy ATV road. And we realize there’s no way those guys are coming this way in their SUVs. They must be exiting another route. Our promise of an easy ride goes up in smoke.
Okay. Only 14 miles left. Feels like forever. Sweating and huffing up the climb and finally reach a small flat spot where we take a mapped shortcut to the lake. After 20 minutes of climbing up, with Groucho trail blazing ahead, I realize we are on a loop trail which – after we climb 1000 feet – will take us back to where we started this climb an hour ago.
And Groucho is out of shouting range. At this point I begin a private hysteric fit. Which Groucho soon witnesses on his own descent down having realized our mistake too. We are both furious and it’s – as they say – not good.
Rather than lose the elevation we just climbed, we bush whack across the mountain for a half hour, thru pines and then scratchy sage brush.
Then it’s all sunny road walk for 3 hours
Awesome day right!?
Then we start to try to hitch because dirt road turns to paved but there is little traffic. Then the wind picks up and a thunderstorm threatens on the ridge and Finally finally at 4/30pm someone swoops us and drives us to the oasis of Ennis!!
Review of Ennis: charming historic downtown. decent grocery. Camping at RV park “camper corner” is affordable – $15 single or $22 for two in one tent. includes shower, wifi. Super clean facility and cheap laundry. The library offers Bathrooms, free wifi and cheap thrillers for $1. Lots of Restaurants. Outfitter mostly caters to hunting/fishing folks.
We need a little rest and take the morning off in Ennis. Well actually we walk 1.5 miles round trip to the post office along the highway. Then we take the morning off and snack, write postcards, etc.
By 2pm we finish our hummus at a picnic table by the grocery. A Lady leaving store says “you boys having fun?” I am wearing a baseball hat, plaid shirt and men’s watch. But don’t know if it’s my attire or my pack or my willingness to smell like I do that strikes her as boyish.
Back to our route and we immediately encounter Ennis lake’s private property problem. Besides the indignity of a broiling 3 mile road walk, we encounter no fewer than 20 private property signs, mostly situated by the only swimming spots. We finally find a public beach but of course there is no shade, it’s weirdly shallow there and the water is sort of stagnant and gross. We jump in, but leave feeling disappointed. A mile further we befriend locals who show us the good swimming spot a short jump from the low bridge. This restores faith in humanity for one hour, until we see the warning for swimmers itch posted at the trail head.
I feel relieved to leave civilization and capitalism and feudalism and Cercaria behind as we trek up into the wild. Indeed one of the first things we see is a pronghorn antelope. These buddies are the US’s fastest land mammals and evolved alongside a North American cheetah that is now extinct.
A few hours later we crest to a high plateau and see bear prints in the dusty trail. a minute later we spy the owner ambling up the adjacent hillside. we camp here and hang our food high just as lighting fires up in the dusky sky. I fall asleep -cozy and dry – to the sound of thunder and rain beating on our tarp.