Category Archives: Continental Divide Trail

Failure Is Success


 So we tried to hike the High Divide route in the northern Winds. See Harpo’s journal for more detail – but it was essentially a failed effort. We took a 20 mile detour including 5000 feet of elevation gain just to get snowed on. However, in practicing adult decision making it was invaluable. 

Camped at 11,000 feet on Union mountain, we woke up to snow and saw black clouds across the valley obscuring Shale mountain, where we were planning to ascend. The rest of the range was shrouded in dark clouds with no hopeful sun breaks on the horizon. We hiked 10 miles up a fire/atv road to get here, and at dawn we had to decide if going forward was possible. Otherwise, it was back down and back to the CDT, minus almost a day of food and time.

It was a difficult decision to backtrack. But the CDT has, more than any other hike, allowed Harpo and I to enter into a decision making dialogue that allows vulnerability, openness and honesty. These are the things we hope to get out of thru hiking – ways to connect to ourselves and each other with sensitivity and integrity. It’s easy in the city to ignore these decisions, or make haste, get distracted, lose interest, get defensive or watch Netflix rather than tackle difficult moments together. 

Out here there’s no other option – it’s live or die, or at least risk uncomfortable days and scary nights. So we waited an hour, drank coffee and assessed our situation. And decided failure was a better option than pushing forward into a potential thunder storm at 12,000 feet, above treeline among the glaciers with nowhere to retreat. Hmmmmm.

The rest of the day in the valley, during and after our retreat from the ridge, was rainy with intermittent snow, thunder & lightning. So we made the right decision, by all adult standards. And tho that led us to ration our food for the next 6 days and alter our town plans, that process brought us into the awesome town of Lander, WY.0 So I guess every cloud does have some silver…


Landscapes of Yellowstone


This guy, after his morning dirtbath


Sunset at Hellroaring, great name for a creek


The one place in Yellowstone where the buffalo roam instead of RVs and car camping dissafected youth


Antler stack sculpture blazes on Specimen Ridge


Sunset in the Lamar River valley, one of the most remote places in Yellowstone near the east park border


Harpo’s crappy wildlife photos

bird at Ennis Lake

cows in Tobacco Roots


Grizzly print in Bob Marshall wilderness

bear buddy

ground squirrel in Glacier

marmot in Glacier

bear buddy in Glacier

bull moose just outside Yellowstone

bison in yellowstone speciman ridge

prong horned antelope speciman ridge

group of pronghorned antelope in Winds

groucho elk on speciman ridge

fish in spanish peaks

bison in yellowstone

dragonfly in lamar valley

bear print

pelican prints Yellowstone/Tetons

hawk near Lava Mountain

bear print

grouse in Winds, Wyoming

pika buddy, winds

Continuing South


Sunrise in the Lee Metcalf wilderness, Spanish Peaks division – like a mini Sierra

Our journey starts to lose coherence. The routes are unraveling as we move south, road walking into Ennis, hitching out, road walking, bridge jumping, running out of food and water – but everything is fine. This is who we are; slightly fractured humans attempting to assemble a meaningful narrative from seemingly disparate parts. Traversing the unknown is always a roll of the dice (thanks Mallarm√© for that), but the payout is great at 1000 to 1. So sitting here in Yellowstone after too man miles and not enough food, surrounded by American car culture, sugar crazed kids, foreign tongues and unexpected thunder storms everything is as it should be…  

The border of Yellowstone national park at the north west intersection with the Skyline trail

Harpo headed thru the cut on the Sportsman Lake trail, Yellowstone


Disnyfied natural attractions in Mammoth, Yellowstone


the view from the top – well worth the 6000 feet vertical gain for the day


Big Sky Horizons



Morning sage & hot coffee ritual at abandoned Nicholson Mine


Greetings from Poop Joke Pass. There’s no name on the map so we christened it…


Coming down the road to Ennis Lake, our first glimpse of the Spanish Peaks


I don’t even know what this means…


Pollen party!


Another sunset! Tobacco Root Mountains…


Where Adventure Begins

Despite the negative feedback we’ve received concerning our route choice – deviating from the ‘actual’ divide trail for another alternate – we’ve also got some real positive messages (thanks!). The reality is sinking in – we’re off trail and relying only on our own abilities to create and survive this new route. No red line, no water or resupply or milage data, no northbounders to ask about tips. Only topo maps and a couple of anecdotal examples guide us. It’s awesome.

Also terrifying. We’ve talked at length about how thru hiking the AT & PCT were essentially urban disciplines. If one is skilled at logistics and willing to withstand some discomfort, the hiking takes care of itself. Ramen, peanut butter and Clif Bars create the illusion of wilderness, but thru hiking is essentially a life facilitated by data sets, technology, and processed food. On the surface it’s  very different from existing in the city (pooping outside!) but underneath it’s strikingly similar. Which is not to say it’s simple either…

It feels good to push beyond these boundaries. Not that we’re building deadfalls for chipmunks & tanning their hides with their own brains to make loincloths. But we’re increasing our map literacy, overcoming fears of asking for help, and trusting our intuition.

I’m a different person than I was when I began walking long trails, and this world is a long, long way from the city I’ve called home for the past 15 years, and even further from the suburbs I grew up in. It’s a world Harpo and I create and navigate together thru shared vision, integrity, honesty and sometimes a few tears. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly not boring either.

Journey Into the Unknown

The beginning of our Big Sky detour from the CDT headed from Helena, then heading southeast away from Butte, ending up with resupply in Whitehall. This is where the fun really starts…


Finally strawberry season! Now that the food’s here, where are the bears at?





Captive Audience


Harpo with the secret Camomile pocket stash


Along some abandoned tracks leading into Whitehall, MT we found a bunch of graffiti from the 40’s thru the 80’s including a hobo grave…



Boneyard, nostalgia for usefulness and hope of resurrection…


Abandoned trestle walking. Harpo sez: “That’s terrifying. Not like a rollercoaster, where you’re like ‘Whee, terror!’ but ACTUALLY TERRIFYING.”









Map Party – Planning the Big Sky detour


Tim & Harpo folding & unfolding…

Harpo and I were looking for a challenge. Tho we have been enjoying the daily route finding and navigational challenges of the CDT, there was still somewhere we hadn’t gone – choosing our own route south, off the beaten path. So we decided, after several days of conversation, to try the Big Sky route.
Diverging from the CDT just after Butte, MT the route will take us south thru the Tobacco Roots and Spanish Peak mountains, the Gallatin National Forest and Metcalf Wilderness. We’ll end up traversing the northern rim of Yellowstone and making a long loop around the eastern side of the park, rejoining the CDT at the southern entrance.

We’re not the first, and I’m sure not the last to attempt this reroute. The Onion originally mapped it during his yo-yo in 2007 and others have documented variations. Tim at the Base Camp outfitter in Helena, MT was integral in helping us get the right maps and understanding the country.

 So using two anecdotal tales and three maps, we’ll head south into the less known!