Day 147: Waterton Town Site to the Monument, ~8 miles, total miles-gotta add that up
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end. – Ursula K. LeGuin
Most days, hiking a long distance trail is not about the monuments on either end of the border. But this morning, upon reaching shore of Upper Waterton Lake and seeing the four foot stone pillar noting the 49th parallel, reaching the monument has bearing. We’ve completed the physical part of our journey along the Continental Divide Trail, having linked our steps from Mexico to Canada. Mostly on trail, always on route.
A few pictures for now. Stories to come, soon. (I promise.)
Today encompassed so much of why we love walking long distances.
Day 140: Two Medicine Ranger Station to East Glacier, MT, ~12 miles, ~2,612+ miles total
In 2011, we hiked some 900 miles of the PCT as “SOBOing NOBOs”. That is, we hiked a good chunk of the trail traveling southbound, but overall hiked most of the trail walking north. We had a couple of reasons for flip flopping on the PCT and the hike turned out beautifully. So now a little southbound travel feels like an important ritual to include in a long distance hike. We’d wondered if we’d get the chance to conveniently “flip a section” of the CDT.
Today, we SOBOed about 12 miles of the CDT for the sake of efficient access to huckleberry pie. We realized that it was logistically easier to take a shuttle up to the ranger station and then hike back to town. The CDT is conveniently routed close to several East Glacier restaurants. So why not walk back to town for a hot lunch and huckleberry pies instead of waiting for a shuttle or trying to hitch?
We had a few hours of beautiful hiking through clouds and frost. The trail south of Two Medicine Lake winds up to Scenic Point and showcases so much of what makes Glacier NP spectacular. Mountains changing color as bands of light broke through clouds to highlight the reds, purples, greens, and grays of steep eroding walls. Hanging valleys partially hidden by cloud and snow flurries. Rime on the bunch grasses, buckwheats, and flowers frosting the late summer vegetation in white crystals of ice and snow. Fantastic hiking. There is so much to look forward to in the coming miles.
The brisk day with a cold wind and snow accumulation also affirmed our plan to get back to town. A couple more miles walked have us content. We now realize we have less than 100 official trail miles to go.
Back in town. Hot tea and coffee. Bowls of warm, comforting soup. Six slices of pie. Good visits with beloved hikers, Birdie, Stumbling Beef, Pepper Flake, Soulshine, Ben, and Not So Bad. A day representing so much of what is fantistic about life on trail. A fine one and one of the last handful we have along the CDT.
Also a special thanks to our kind shuttle driver from Louisiana with a soothing story telling voice. We’ll remember our ride for a long time to come. We admired Rising Wolf all the way up to Scenic Point. Thank you.
Day 139: East Glacier Park, MT, 0 miles, ~2,600+ miles total
We are so darn close. But still 110 miles or so from Waterton Lakes and the northern terminus of the CDT.
When we look at the trail on our GPS apps, we can see the rest of our route as a single screen shot. We have less than eight paper maps to go. We get to hike in Glacier National Park. All this has us chomping at the bit.
We also know the forecast for the next week. And that’s what has us trying to be patient.
The next three days call for rain and snow. Highs in the 30s (Fahrenheit) around 3,700 feet; while the trail ranges from 4,200-7,500 feet. Brrrr. As the ranger we talked to this morning said, “terrible and atrocious”. Ugh. Time to hunker down for a few days. Practice our patience.
More confirmation, in case the forecast and the talk of locals isn’t enough encouragement to remain in town: All day long we’ve watched the front of this low pressure system move in. Observing it when we walk the 200 feet or so needed to travel between food, the general store, other hikers and our room.
This morning the mountains-Squaw, Bearhead, Henry and Bison-visible from our motel along Hwy 2 were crystal clear. By mid-morning a few wisps moved in, giving the peaks scarves of cloud. At noon, I no longer needed sunglasses to walk through town. In late afternoon, a cloak of white clouds covered the summits. By evening, the blanket of dark gray clouds lowered to the foothillls. We are aware that tonight we cannot see the moon and it is nearly full.
Confirmation that now is a good time to practice patience. To remember we can’t always hike harder to avoid bad weather. But we have hiked hard to be ready for good weather.
After this little flirt with late fall rain and snow, temps jump to the 60s and 70s! Full sunny days! Chilly nights. Ideal for enjoying the last few days on trail. And an assuring nod from Mother Nature that we’ve had our time to enjoy the Continental Divide this season. It’s nearly time to take a break from hiking.
This has us excited. Releaved. Feeling a bit surreal. Realizing anything can still happen. Somewhat like those heady weeks before graduation from high school and college. Or the start and end of summer vacation. Or even the start of a thru-hike. A full circle of emotions. Anticipation of change.
Being optimistic planners and trying to be productively patient, we took care of logistics today: park permit, train reservations, accomodations in Many Glacier (we’ll be there on my birthday) and Waterton, and the shuttle from Canada back to the US. Tasks to occupy ourselves, but still keep things moving.
Three days of storm oddly have us anxious to keep a moving. Seemingly a long time, equivalent to 60-90 miles. Having walked some 2,600 miles this season, our bodies want rest and comfort, but they are also keenly attuned to the state of flow from steadily walking the trail. It’s what they are best conditioned to do. And in some ways, I don’t think we mentally can let our bodies relax longer than a day, until we reach Canada.
And so tomorrow morning we’ll hike the trail to Two Medicine Ranger Station and pick up our permit. Some 12 miles to keep our feet quelled and make our next full day on trail easier. Then we’ll get out of the wet and take a shuttle back to the comforts of town. Good practice for our non-trail life, in which we mostly hike less than 20-mile days and go home at night.
We chomp on the bit a little. But we are mindful to be patient. It’s our last week on the CDT.
Day 128: Point 8,350 ~1 mile west of Leadville to 3 miles south of MacDonald Pass, ~29 miles, ~2,350+ miles total
A day of brushy trail, tangled alternates, and meeting good people along the Divide.
When I daydreamed of hiking long distance trails it was for the appreciation of vistas, wildlife, plant communities, wilderness; to test my body and mind; to see places I’d not been before. Never did I think I’d hike the PCT or the CDT to meet people. Now I find some of the most meaningful experiences of hiking are the serendipitous encounters with people we meet along the trail.
Cookie Monsta wrote it best in a trail register on the PCT. I try to recall his words, “Hiking the PCT is restoring my faith in humanity.” His thoughts resonated strongly then and now even more so here on the Continental Divide.
For 2300+ miles we have met many good, kind, people. Sometimes it’s someone who stops to see if we need anything on a remote gravel road. Other times it’s someone who offers a soda, a meal, a blessing, a ride. Business proprietors who are welcoming and helpful to seemingly dirty and homeless strangers. They often know little about the CDT, they just see a person who might be in need and they give what they can.
Travel in general often means one meets new people, experiences life different from the familiar. I haven’t traveled much and so it has only been as a hiker that I’ve put myself out into the travel universe.
As hikers, we sometimes have unique needs and thus our journey involves going beyond the trail in hopes of meeting benevolent strangers. Embrace the mantra, “The trail provides.” The result has been that I take great comfort knowing there are
good people in the world.
Indeed, it is the people we have met along the Divide that are so memorable. Some are kindred spirits whom we chat with along a road, trailhead, or even in a laundry mat, speaking of trails and Norm Maclean or mountaineering adventures. We find we want to keep talking with them and if we lived close by, invite them on our next hike or ski trip. Others might come from a different walk of life, but having reached out to us, are a reminder to appreciate instead of judge.
The people we meet while hitching, or who offer us rides have been the most memorable. In the San Juans in Colorado, Charlie arranged to take time off work to drive us up the steep jeep road to Stony Pass, sharing the area’s history of mining, geology and ultra marathons along the way. On route to Bannock Pass in Idaho, we met Blair, a third generation rancher (in the US, many more generations back in the UK) who was preparing to move his cattle down from the mountains for the season. He offered to come pick us up at the little trafficed pass that evening, be it 5 pm or 9 pm. He showed up a few minutes before the time we’d agreed upon with a bowl of nectarines from his mother’s garden. He shared the history of the pass all the way down to Leadore. Later we realized, he’d driven at least 50 miles out of his way to help three strangers (Soulshine too!) walking the Continental Divide.
We have had conversations with people along the Divide that stick with us for miles and weeks after the 20-40 minutes we physically had in their presence. One ride into the Bitterroot Valley, at dusk as the light faded on the golden hills and the stars started to shine, entailed stories of travel by stars and Melbourne, Australia including plans to relocate his family to such a desirable community. The next person we talked to, had spent the last few years traveling and decided they wanted to move to the region our ride desired to leave.
Other times we are advised, “Don’t go to this place.” And when we enveitably get there, we meet kind people who have lived there all their lives and can tell us so much about why they love their home. We can affirm that we too have found something to appreciate about their part of the Divide.
I am still trying to find the words to explain to myself why meeting people along the Divide has had so much significance. Hiking long distance trails reminds and challenges me to be a better person. To think less about myself, instead to embrace the example of the people we have met on trail. While walking, I ask myself, how I can give more to others? Not just through structured giving and volunteer activities, but unplanned acts of serendipitous kindness.
Day 126: ~1.5 miles north of Pipestone Pass to I-15 North Exit 138, Butte, MT, ~35 miles, ~2,300+ miles total
The CDT is not a trail of precision. With so many route variations and data sources, it’s not a trail to measure by tenths of miles or kilometers. Most of the time knowing the approximate distance between towns works just fine. Sometimes one will hike a few hours more or less than anticipated; mileage variations absorbed by the rhythms of the day.
There are occasions on trail where the variations in miles and routes cause uncertainty. Particularly about food. Having enough food that is. Our sources of info for the section of trail from I-15 South to MacDonald Pass varied by about 15-25 miles. The Ley maps, Beacon’s databook, and our Starman GPS track are in alignment about the route a lot of the time, but this section seems to have above average variances. Or at least it was the first time we really experienced the ramifications.
15-25 miles isn’t much on the scale of a 2,700+ mile hike (less than one percent of the total miles). But on an incremental basis of day-to-day trail life it matters. On our planning spreadsheet back in January, we’d low-balled this section’s mileage.
Which is why we found ourselves sitting on the side of Nez Perce Road, just inside the Forest Service boundaries, assessing our remaining food at 7:20 this evening. Our conclusion: enough for 1.5 days of satisfactory eating. Could stretch it to two days and stumble into Helena ravenous. If only we knew the mileage! One data source said 63 miles. No problem. The other source indicated 82 miles. Not sure we can fake that.
On the PCT, we’d hiked what we called “Sierra’s style” for 100 miles on rationed food for a complex set of logistical goals. It had worked out beautifully, but we knew the mileage we needed to cover. This situation was a little different and as fun as it would be to succeed in doing it (Type II fun); it wasn’t prudent. Not when there was an interstate highway and abundant food 10 miles south.
Decision made. Going into Butte. As soon as we knew our plan we stuffed a 1000 calories in our pockets and began to half hiker hobble half sprint down the asphalt. Inhaling bars, cookie crumbs and the last vestiges of nuts along the way. We’d been holding back on eating all day. Yep, a very good idea to go to town and get more food.
It was a gorgeous late summer evening to walk into a valley with golden fields aglow and the purpling mountains of the Divide rising to the West.
Hitching at 8:00 on an interstate isn’t the best. Especially when you are tired and hungry. We ended up calling a cab for a ride into Butte. Crossing south of the Divide, the valley opened up and we could see the grid of coppery lights aglow. 34,000+ people. Stop lights. The largest city we’ve been to for four months. Gabriel commented that it felt like flying into Las Vegas.
Now we have enough food to keep going north. It feels good to be in Butte.
Day 123: Lower Seymour Lake Campground to a few miles up Hwy 569 and Anaconda, MT, ~10 miles, nearing 2,300 miles total
Today we “celebrated” four months on trail. By getting up and walking. We sponged off the condensation inside our tent. Huddled under the roof of the Forest Service pit toilet to finish packing up; trying to will the tent to dry some some mirw. And partially shielded our bodies from the rain and wind with our umbrellas. Cold hands. Damp jackets starting to saturate. Hard to get warm even after downing a 1000 calories and walking 30 minutes. Sometimes living the thru-hiking dream involves a little physical and mental suffering.
An uncomfortable morning preceded by three wet, cold days. I thought hard about living this dream over the first few miles of the day. What is it that we are doing exactly on this quest to follow the Divide from Mexico to Canada?
Hiking the CDT is a spectacular journey. The sandstone cliffs of the Gila. The towering peaks of the Winds. The racing pronghorn of Great Basin. Meeting great people on trail and in the communities along the Divide. This has all been what I wanted. What Gabriel and I both wanted. We’d worked, saved, and planned for the CDT for several years.
This morning. This cold, wet, miserable morning of road walking four months into our hike. It was right where I wanted to be. Even if it wasn’t. It’s part of the dream. The rare gift of life to have the time, physical ability, life situation, and other resources to be on trail. All of this to be appreciated and not ever to be taken for granted. Living the dream shouldn’t be easy… all the time. The things worth doing in my life, to achieve and fulfill dreams, have almost all involved suffering. Lactic acid build up. Sleepless nights. Sacrifice. Work. Less comfort. Bushwhacking in the dark. Type II fun.
A month from now we won’t be on trail. The accumulation of 100+ days of simplified life and walking the Divide will begin to feel abstract. Off trail life will ebb and then wave, and wash over us. And so I breathe deep of the cold wet air, pull my sleeves over my gloves for little more warmth, and smile.
And then Gabriel and I both think practically. Maybe it was seeing houses crop up along the road. Warm, dry houses where we imagined people enjoying large Saturday morning breakfasts.
The long-range forecast calls for this to be the coldest day. 100% rain. Snow above 8500 feet. This forecast had prompted us to push for the last three days to make sure we’d be below and beyond Goat Flat; the last point along the trail-north bound-above 9,200 feet.
We’d figured we’d tough out the cold, push through the snow. Then nero in Butte tomorrow. Keep up the pace and trek to Canada by 9/15.
Our plans changed after the rains picked up and we left the shelter of dense lodgepole forest. In the open grasslands it was gray, cold, wet, windy, with clouds so thick there was no reason to hope they’d burn off. Just what exactly were those motivations and objectives we’d talked of while sheltered in the pit toilet?
Pragmatic beings, we stratagized. The forecast also called for improved weather starting Sunday or Monday. With four highway crossings that lead to Butte, spread over some 70-90 trail miles, we shifted priorities: dryness and warmth over miles. No significant trail time lost from the original plan.
Not long after reaching MT Hwy 569 we stuck out our soggy thumbs and got a ride into Anaconda.
Hot food and drink. Dry gear. More food. Chance to get a feel for a Divide community. Kind people. All moral boosting.
Tomorrow we hike. The snow should melt. We’ll regain the Divide and continue savoring the last 500 miles. By the time we roll around to month five, we’ll be home.
A special thanks today to Justin, from Butte, Montana. Thank you for the ride into Anaconda! We hope you have a great fall term in school and hunting season. We’ll be sure to stop at Nancy’s for a pasty!
Day 118: Along the Divide above Twin Lakes to Lost Trail Pass, ~36+ miles, ~2140+ miles total
We made it… to Darby, Montana!… around 9:00 pm. After four days and 120+ miles of leg burning hills. The trail stays close to the Divide proper in these parts. Beautiful country with views of the Bitterroots and steep, lush valleys sweet with the scent of ripe huckleberries.
Day 115: Bannock Pass to Lemhi Pass, ~25 miles, ~2,032+ miles
Morning in Leadore, Idaho. Two hours to pack our resupply. Mail things home. Eat gigantic cinnamon rolls. Drink coffee. Hang out with hikers. And enjoy town.
Then it was back to the Divide and a roller coaster of golden hills and ridges to Lemhi Pass. The place where Captain Meriwether Lewis first glimpsed the hills and mountains whose waters drain to the Pacific.
A great day along the Divide. Town. Trail. Connections to events more significant than a few foot steps. More to come…
Day 113: Deadman Lake to half mile before Morrison Lake, ~25 miles, ~1950+ miles total
From Lima to Leadore the trail stays close to the Divide. Following the ridges as they roll. Steeply. Gently. A sinusoidal walk that keeps us up high overlooking the steep valleys to the west and sagebrush and desert to the east. It is beautiful walking. Cloud admiring. Grass admiring. Eyes peered for bighorn sheep on the mountains just west of the Divide.
This morning we had a slow start to make up for sleep lost during last night’s storm. Just as we finished setting up camp and were getting ready to enjoy dinner, a gust of wind blew down valley across Deadman Lake. Sudden and powerful. Soulshine’s tent came down and we hastily dove into ours to brace it for the next gusts.Within seconds, down pouring rain. Wind gusts shook our tent and we’d each hold a pole stable as the wind forced itself on our silnylon roof. In between gusts we’d eat spoonfuls of dinner. A light show outside with lighting flashes followed three to one seconds later by thunder booms. The storm continued on hours after we eventually fell asleep.
In the still and calm of morning, the only evidence of last night’s storm is wet ground and Soulshine’s missing tent stakes. (He found one, then three others later in the day.) The air pungent with the clean scent of sagebrush after a night of rain. Pronghorn run across the golden fields. Elk herds graze in the pale morning sun, but stand alert and bound into spruce at their first glance of us. The moon still high in the sky.
It is a good day to wander the Divide. Not hot. Not cold. Good walking on cattle paths, trail and jeep road. Enough sun to dry out the tent.
Clouds moving across the sky. The wind pushing in storm clouds and moving them out again. We look with keen interest to see if the clouds are on the same course as us. Always the light is changing. We stop and admire the hills and trees. Taking in as much as we can.