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