Tag Archives: montana

The last days of Northern Montana

Thunderstorms have been rolling in afternoons, hot & muggy – but watching the rain on the horizon from the ridge is magical.
Things u find on trail – live ammo. Ground score?
Sharing the trail with the bovines. Near Dana spring after a 20 mike dry stretch…
I dunno why they call them butterflies… all I ever see them eat are thistle and turds ūüí©
Met a nice young fella named Gator – he‚Äôs already 1500 miles in having hiked the Idaho Centennial Trail & connected to the CDT southbound via the Pacific Northwest Trail. Iz pleasant to have some company for a few days. Ridge walking into Helena…

Harpo’s CDT Journal #6

July 28

22 miles

Today’s scenery reminds me of the Sierra. Super tall granite rock faces and lakes and ALOT of climbing. Almost 6000 feet ascent. 
The day is pleasant though we have an unrealistic goal of making it to town for a free music show. Once we start climbing, and after some early morning bush whacking, we give up and take long food breaks to help the miles along. 
At a bridge before our last big climb of the day I reveal my secret to Groucho. I want to be having fun but I feel super bummed. I don’t know if this is a phase or what but I don’t care about being a thru hiker. Always pushing to the next town or trying to do 25-30 miles or whatever… It’s feeling like a job. 
Am I done thru hiking? 
I cry and Groucho waxes extremely supportive. Helping me the last few hours of the day with jokes and encouragement. Tho I’m still very whiny. My PERIOD is coming in soon … I just know it. 
At 7pm “we still haven’t seen any humans”, remarks Groucho. Cursing us, because at the lake in one mile we see at least 15… More than any other wilderness location our trip. We breeze past the crowd and camp by a charming alpine creek amidst wildflowers. 

July 29

20 hiked +4 on a bus 
We finish the climb around dawn and a prairie dog type animal chirps at us over breakfast at the pass. 
We make it into Big Sky by noon for resupply. It’s boasts a suburban-feeling town center with an excellent outfitter, and a good grocery store where we can eat and do wifi at picnic tables in the shade outside. 
We relax until 4:00 when we take the free hourly bus to the trailhead. And then we set off on the next 8 miles of mosquito-ridden trail before sleep. Tomorrow we enter Yellowstone!!

July 30

31 miles
Today the tread on my shoes fails. Either that or my PMS bloat has disrupted my inner ear balance. I fall no fewer than 4 times, always skidding out, landing on my back with one leg splayed in front and the other leg bent to back. It is not comfortable and nor does it hurt… Unlike my uterus which feels like it is turning itself inside out. I must be dehydrated. I have never experienced this intensity of cramps on trail. I feel like throwing up and pooping and crawling into a cat hole and dying. I request 4 breaks between 10-11am. Most of them to cry. I think the endorphins help a little. I also take a prescription strength dose of Naproxin. This doesn’t work so I take a little more. 
Sometime around 1pm my problems ease and we approach the boundary of Yellowstone on the sky rim trail. We are blown away by the sights on this 8 mile ridge walk along the NW boundary of the park. 
Around 4pm we descend and good thing because we encounter another afternoon thunder shower but are safely in the trees. Then around 7pm a burn area and sun thru rain and the coolest rainbow. I am exhausted by my morning ordeal but we see a herd of wild elk and I feel hyped to be in this beautiful place. 

Night falls and we hike hard to make it to our ranger-permitted campsite. We get there by 10pm – our first night hike of the CDT. 
It’s eeire. There is no one here (we can tell by lack of bear bags on the pole) but this campsite is supposed to support 12 humans and as many horses and the ranger made it sound like the park was pretty packed. Where is everyone?

July 31

16 miles
We get up at first light and immediately start a rigorous ascent toward electric pass. It is very difficult after yesterday’s 30+ miles and I listen to music to help me along. The first time I’ve employed music on the CDT. A couple miles in we officially cross into Wyoming!!! one state done! At the pass we see a small Elk posse on the ridge across the valley also climb 1000 feet. They are better at it. 
In a few miles we begin eagerly anticipating Mammoth Hot Springs. Our next resupply town. On our Map it looks like they have town food, a grocery, a ranger station and camp ground. 
As we get close we smell sulphuric fumes. At first I think it’s Groucho’s butt but then we see hot bubbling crevices in the powdery rocks and we realize this smell is the springs! The structures that evolve from these springs become more architectural, strange, smelly, artful and outrageous as we approach civilization. Finally, in town is a monumental hot spring structure with hundreds of tourists climbing up wooden ramps in polite and milling lines, in the heat of day, to get close to the natural wonder. It’s weirdly like Disneyland. Welcome to America!

We split up and I go to the campground to secure a spot at their site reserved for backpackers and cyclists -a “hike&bike”. Groucho goes to the ranger station to plan our itinerary thru Yellowstone. He success in locking down 3 sites for us. One in 10 miles, then 22 miles, then 8 miles and then a 17 out to the next ranger station/hike&bike. This is perfect because we want some easier “rest” days.
At dusk a knowledgable ranger gives an excellent talk about the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and the soap opera story of wolf “21”. We are hyped because our itinerary will take us thru some of the territories she mentions. 

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…


Harpo’s CDT Journal #4

July 19


We weren’t planning on taking a full day off so soon but I Feel ok about it because “half mile”, the famous PCT data collector, is in the hotel and HE’S Taking a double zero. 
We focus on our Big Sky routing today. First at the Fire Tower Coffee shop where we upload online maps. Gaia is an awesome $20 phone app. it comes with a global topo map with common paved roads, dirt roads and trails. The map is viewable online and you can download any sections you want for offline use. There’s another app called PDF MAPS which is free, but you have to search their database for maps you want and sometimes pay for them if they are proprietary (i.e. National geographic Etc). Like Guthook, the apps can use the gps in our phone to show us within a few meters where we are on these maps. We decide to use Gaia for help on our side trip. 
At the Base Camp Outfitter with Tim’s help  we spread maps everywhere and choose the three pictured above.

Then we eat amazing pizza at Bridge Pizza. 

Finally at the Library we print more detailed maps that other hikers (the Onion and Brian) have published of their routes thru this area. Prints are 10 cents at the library and an hour of Internet is free.

We run into Eric and Olivia, bike packers who are on the Great Divide cycle route, which is very popular but mostly follows fire and jeep roads so we only see folks at resupply stops. Eric did the documentary “Do more with less” about the PCT. the next 2 years, he and Olivia will travel 18000 miles by bicycle! They leave for India in a few weeks and are documenting their trip at ridingwild.org

We head to Real Food which lives up to its promise with fruit, vegan snacks and a killer bulk section including powdered hummus (which I will literally start adding to every meal until I run out). 
Back at the hotel, we lay out our maps comparing routes, choose a trajectory that works best for us (highlighting it in pink) and trimming off the unnecessary sections.

As we are booze free (for now!), we enjoy a nightcap of sparkling water and coconut milk Ice cream. 
July 20

15 miles
Ron, who we met on trail a few days ago, arrives in Helena and offers us a ride to the trail head before he heads home to Portland. He’s paying back all all the hitches he’s got over the years. What a swell fellow. We hope to see him in Portland!

At the trailhead we eat some fresh food we packed out then hit the trail. it’s impeccably well maintained and we easily hike 15 miles before dark. However a longish section up a forest road sports “private property” signs on every turn. We look/walk for an hour, and finally find a flat patch at the crest of a hill. Obviously not within a private property boundary but maybe next to their driveway?! Not our finest moment but dusk is upon us and we must needs sleep. 

July 21 

27 miles
Today is tough. The trail, still impeccably maintained, continues but is slightly dull. Mostly tree tunnel and a lot of half dead forest due to pine beetle. My mood mimics the melancholy of the forest. Now that we’ve chosen to do the alternate I feel anxious to get there. Get somewhere. GET ANYWHERE. 
The afternoon sun blazes thru our dusty path. We meet hikers who tell of a lake but the marshy reality thwarts our dreams of a cool swim. 
Again, it takes us a half hour to find a campsite but when we do – we find a little cozy “hole” (as Huck calls them) nestled between trees with a breathtaking Montana sunset. 

July 22

24 miles
I’m bummed. Groucho is bummed. We’re all bummed. It’s another blazing, meh day with an 18 mile waterless stretch. 
Finding camomile in a dusty patch of trail brings a sweet relief to my nerves and hiker stench. I stash a sprig in my shirt pocket to dry out.

Around 6 we track down a campground on the map – they offer well water and PICNIC TABLES. we sit. Then I really want to stay. Groucho pushes me onward. Not harder than I want to be pushed -today- but I do often feel he wants to always go just a little further… a little faster… Than I. 
We find a high forestry knoll to bed down beside a country road. We can hear the occasional boozy drivers and a random gunshot (it’s Friday night in Montana!) but they can’t see us up on the hill. 

July 23

30 miles
Today Groucho summarizes “the scenery was unremarkable, but the drama was high.”
We start with a 7 mile road walk. A bummer because pavement can bruise/wear out the feet. But miles can go faster as well. 
Then up up up 3.5 miles to our junction. THE JUNCTION. our split from the CDT and on to the Harpo and Groucho edition of the Big Sky Route. 
Okay so if I’m honest I’ll say I am amped up. I’m worried. Worried the trail junction doesn’t show up on Guthook data -so maybe we’ll miss it. Worried the mile calculations will be off and we won’t have enough food to get to Whitehall. Worried the trail will all be Blowdowns and bush whacking. Worried there won’t be water. 
With all these worries, it’s obvious I’m not worried about any of these things but rather, I’m just anxious because we’re attempting something new. And I’m assigning that anxiety to anything I can get my hands on. 
So up up up the hill we go and I ask Groucho a navigation question about if we’re coming to the trail junction, which he doesn’t seem to acknowledge. And with that, my anxiety rushes out like a kettle just come to boil “hey GROUCHO. Are you going to answer my QUESTION OR NOT” 
Super bitch move. 
Then Groucho SHOUTS back (so I can hear him presumably) the answer to my question, explaining he answered before but I didn’t hear. 
So “GREAT,” I fume to myself as he marches away. “We’re already off to a great start with this new route thing where I can’t even ask questions.”
And I stop to pee and Groucho leaves my sight. And then I come upon a junction. No Groucho. Ugh! Not this again. I think this might be THE junction because it’s at the right mileage marker but it’s not matching the map topography. Ugh. So I make my best choice and fly up the hill. Tears in my eyes, intermittently furious and also thinking maybe I just need a snack. 
You see, besides the stress of new routes and maps and tools, we are also burning 3000-4000 calories a day but I stupidly only packed 1800 Cal/day for this leg. Hiker hunger kicks in around day 20 and today – on day 21 – my baby fat reserves are almost gone. This panic might just be legitimate hunger. 
Ok so it turns out there is an error in the data set and the REAL junction is another 1.5 miles up the hill. When I arrive Groucho seems happy enough. But I have FEELINGS. I try to repress them and focus on food but then some bad communication happens and for 30 minutes we stop to discuss impressions, assumptions, blame, communication, hunger, fear, routes, empathy, protocols and defensiveness. We both feel like real adult champions, tho completely emotionally depleted. 

we finally set off the beaten CDT path and onto the Nez Perce route. 
I needn’t have worried. this trail is easy and wide and follows a creek. After 5 miles we intersect with a dusty road populated both with ATVS and REAL COWBOYS!!!
We reach delmoe lake by 5pm and wash, do laundry, eat dinner and rest for a half hour. Then we hike onward, away from the lake. 

As evening approaches more and more ATVS drive by us, blowing dust in my face and hot air up my recently cleaned skirt. 
Here, the desert-like terrain reminds me of So Cal. Cactus and prickly seed pod plants and scrubby pines and sage brush galore. 

Finally, frustrated with the dust kicked up by by weekend warriors, we walk along some adjacent abandoned railroad tracks. The boards are rotting and sage brush is thigh high in places but the romance of it thrills me. We approach a humble railroad trestle over a stream. No problem. We got this. The 12 year olds in Stand By Me handled it and so can I. Though the boards are strong and true, they groan with my first few steps. A few minutes later I begin to notice how train ties are not always evenly spaced and also not spaced for a easy human stride. I adjust. My steps grow short and precise. No problem. But then in the spaces between the wooden ties I spy glimmers of the river below. VERY FAR BELOW . My heart starts to race. My body, I’ve found, is immensely intelligent. Give it a crazy challenge and it figures out what to do, where to step, how to balance, but that tricky MIND is so dumb and gets in the way. Half way across the trestle my mind becomes convinced I will step into one of the gaps between the boards. This is inprobable but even if I DID I would trip but almost certainly not fall thru the cracks to the gully below. I know this, my feelings know this. But my MIND is so dumb. Groucho passes me on the right. I am afraid to lookup and see how many boards are left so I tell him to tell me I’m close. He says Very Close. I repeat: very close. I discover if I look 3 boards ahead I feel safer than looking at the board just below because the vertigo or whatever I’m experiencing is heightened by the light and movement of the water below. I focus three boards ahead and each step say aloud “Very Close.” Very Close. Tears shine in my eye sockets and I hold my hands aloft like a toddler. I am in a middle of a crisis. I know if i stop to look around it will get worse so I just repeat “very close. Very close. very close.” Finally. finally. I make it. 
“I am never doing that again.”
2 hours later we camp next to the tracks away from the ATVS but the glow of I90 in sight. We hiked 30 miles today!! Tomorrow’s a town day and the Tobacco Root Mountains are in sight…