SOBO From Glacier NP

This photo is my answer to the question, “Why?”

8/10-16 135 miles

We took a zero in East Glacier, despite the lack of beer. Whistling Swan Cafe has the best stuffed French Toast I’ve ever had, so we had breakfast there again on our hike out of town. I really like this little town, great folks at our motel, the outfitters, the little cafes and so on, although we mostly rested. Interesting photos in the Amtrak Depot showed Blackfeet in full regalia hanging with the tourists in the 30’s, and the making of Clark Gable an honorary member of the Blackfeet Nation. And apparently this was another stop on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. For the first and only time on their journey the Corps killed 2 locals, Blackfeet, sadly.

We hiked out, a short day, to Highway 2 at Marias Pass, where Poppy’s car was waiting for her. A very green tunnel, gloomy, gray, overgrowth kind of day, so I tried to focus on the little things and took pictures of assorted berries. Since we had a car, Natasha asked folks in the parking lot where to get real food. Snow Slip Cafe, west of us, was a friendly, log place with an attached motel. Their tee shirts say, “Slide in, slip out” yuck. But nice people, staff and customers. Seeing as how I’d much rather sleep inside than out (I know, I know, why do I spend so much time hiking then?) we got a room.

Split and Two Step

I really hated heading out SOBO on my own the next morning—out of the National Park, without Poppy and into forest. This trail has been so much solo and I have accepted that I really would rather hike with friends. Now that I’m going the wrong direction and am well behind any other SOBO hikers, I hope to at least cross paths with hikers I know heading NOBO.

I took a short cut, or “alternate” that cuts out a PUD and 4 miles, the NOBOs I saw today did it, and the next one, the Spotted Bear Pass alternate. It was not too exciting of a day, but better than yesterday. Burn areas are all cleared of deadfall and there are views.

I saw the super tall German who I gave a ride to near Dubois. He said he’d just hiked a 47 and a 45, was out of food and had only eaten 1200 calories and 700 calories those 2 days. Holy shit. I told him there was a Lodge just a short way down the highway he’d reach. Then I saw Two Step and Split, the couple I met last year just after the Eclipse! So cool.

Not so cool, I took a full fall to knees and head. No big damage, bruises and knee scabs.

More green tunnel

30 miles with this view

The second day without Poppy was easy walking, flat, through burn areas of several vintages, including last year’s. Trail crews have done an impressive job cutting out all the blowdown and deadfall. I camped by myself near the Strawberry Guard Station after seeing 12 NOBOs, 2 horseriders, 4 horses and 1 very fit Saint Bernard.

Day 3 was weird. I didn’t sleep well last night and was almost sleepwalking, somewhat in a dream state. Hopefully I don’t have dementia or a concussion from the fall 2 days ago. Managed over 20 miles, even after stopping to dry out my wet tent and sleeping bag.

Day 4 the waking dream state was gone, thank goodness. The trail this morning was all uphill in the green tunnel, like being on the treadmill set to 2% with an unchanging view. Not Embrace the Brutality but Embrace the Boredom. About 3 pm I was passed by Legend, nice guy. He is on quite a journey, since April he has hiked the PCT NOBO, then the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) east to the CDT which is now on SOBO. A hiker celebrity! Too quick for me to get his photo.

I made it off the Spotted Bear onto the CDT and saw lots of horses going to “The Wall” a beautiful cliff formation. I camped near a creek and about 8 pm, NOBO Flower-Man (“Flower Man,” he always says, turning slightly to show the bouquet of fake flowers stuck in his pack’s back pocket) stopped to chat. I met him near Togwotee Pass in Wyoming.

Last day before Benchmark

August 16 I walked into Benchmark TH where Dan was camped. I grabbed a beer and we headed down the 30 mile gravel road to Augusta. And gave a hiker a ride and a beer too, good deed opportunity. We’ve got a wedding to go to! Megan and Jaime, see you in Deer Park, WA! I’ll see all 3 of my kids, Glen flying down from AK, Sarah from Seattle and Chris, on crutches, from Bellingham. At this point I intend to come back to the trail at Benchmark after the wedding for the 58 miles to Hwy 200 (near Lincoln), then drive all the way to Seattle with Dan where I will fly to Yosemite for a week of volunteering and then some southbound hiking on the PCT.

Glacier National Park

Birthday Boy Sliderule

8/5-9: 95 or 100 miles

Dan and I drove Skeeter to Missoula and stayed a couple nights so the E350 Ford van ’97 vintage could get a checkup at the mechanic’s. Verdict: healthy. Then we spent the next week camping, fishing, eating and visiting historic stuff. It was a very relaxing vacation from the trail. Dan’s birthday was in Salmon, Idaho, we found some underutilized campgrounds and secret fishing holes.

I got dropped off back in Missoula where Natasha met me August 2. We drove through Glacier NP the next day to St Mary’s Ranger Station to get our backcountry permits organized. Hoping to start 8/4, we needed to wait till 8/5 to get the campsites we wanted. It’s weird to me that just outside the Park are bunches of motels and restaurants, where it was very easy to find a couple of different affordable places to stay. Saturday we day hiked to Grinnell Glacier, a very popular destination for day hikers since it’s only about 11 miles round trip, the tread is good, and the views are unique. Some of the oldest fossils on the planet are here, stromatolites.

Catwater and Poppy at Grinnell Glacier

Natasha aka Poppy

Natasha’s friend and car shuffler, Brian, took us to the Canada/US border and we started hiking SOBO. Our first day was just under 20 miles to Poia Lake, a crowded campground with 4 sites and the most disgusting pit toilet ever. You have to hang your food bags in the cooking area before setting up your tent in the tiny space allotted. I hope the next 3 nights will be better assigned, permitted, regulated, and designated spots. The hike in was great though, the best walking surface of the whole CDT, and included suspension bridges rather than wet foot fords and actual trail crews cutting away brush and blowdown away from the trail.

Chocolate Moose

Monday was a big day, 23.9 miles according to our permit paperwork and we were stoked to get to Reynolds Creek camp to find dispersed sites and an open air pit toilet. Oh the simple joys of the hiking life. Along the way we saw a huge bull moose, the darkest one I’ve ever seen with full chocolate velvet on his rack. Since we’d stopped to make dinner after descending beautiful Piegan Pass, and it doesn’t get dark till 9:30, we had time to relax before passing out.

Our third day was a short recovery day of less than 16 miles but it was really hot and exposed, running through an old burn area, but the camp at Red Eagle Lake was great. I didn’t get in the muddy lake but Natasha waded out a ways with the ducks. I nearly made her gag though when I cooked my special dinner of Heather’s Choice Smoked Sockeye Chowder from my Anchorage hometown. I felt sluggish all day despite the short miles but the fish helped!

When we discussed and strategized getting our campsite permits, Natasha described an optional route that didn’t add miles but did take us on a traverse that she’d absolutely loved a few years before. So off we went with a not-too-bad 8 mile ascent to Triple Divide Pass. I saw moose # 2, not as large and chocolatey as moose #1 on the north side of Piegan, but handsome nonetheless. It took me longer than it should to get to the top and the marmot family at the top couldn’t believe we didn’t want their help lightening our packs of snacks. Dirty buggers. It looked to be a mama and 2 kids, Hoary Marmots. Descending the Pass, who’s coming up but Private Squares from PCT 2015! What a coincidence that Jackrabbit, who I camped with in Yellowstone, told me the story of how he gave her the trail name. She works at East Glacier Lodge now, we hope to stop in and see her.

Down for a few hours, then more uphill, steep, to Pitimakin Pass at 5 pm with 7 miles to camp after one last pass, Dawson. As promised, it was worth the effort and quite an easy traverse through rock formations I hadn’t seen in Glacier. Too bad about the smoky views. A long, perilous descent to No Name Lake where I stumbled in exhausted and starving after 14 hours. Of course, after setting up my tent, and going back to the eating/hanging area, life was good. We did it! 3 passes in a single day and my longest day on the CDT.

We beat feet to get to East Glacier our fifth day. Beer! Milkshakes! But oh no, there’s an alcohol ban during pow wow season. I was grumpy, super grumpy when I brought my can of beer to the counter and told I couldn’t buy it. I sulked in the porch until a hiker there turned to us and pulled out two cans of IPA and gave them to us. Magic! Thank you Hooks!

So Long, Wyoming, Love You

Yellowstone to Lima via Mack’s Inn Alternate CDT

7/19-24 110 miles

After breakfast I hiked out of Old Faithful with the tourists past amazing thermic areas and up back into scrub forest on old logging road alignments. I’ve never been to Yellowstone and was quite glad to have spent the night here, watching Old Faithful, and chatting with 2 women on a long tour at dinner last night. I like sitting at the bar when I’m solo and found a good spot next to these women about my age. The hotel staff and servers have a tough job with the crowds of day trippers but they were friendly and kind to me, I felt comfortable being here. Yesterday I charged my Anker, washed my clothes, picked up my box from the crabby guy at the post office, had a beer and burger, watched Old Faithful, talked to Dan about celebrating his #70 birthday and didn’t have to hike backwards or forwards to my permitted campsite. WIN!

The permitted campsite 10 miles out was next to a stagnant brown lake. I just needed to go a few more miles to get out of Yellowstone and it’s camping restrictions so I got enough water to last till the next day and kept going until I was out of the Park for a total of 20 miles. Between 8 and 9 pm at least a dozen hikers went by, the most I’ve seen in a single day on the CDT. I’m not sure how so many hikers could vortex in Old Faithful. Is there some secret stealth campsite hikers slip to when nobody’s watching?

I heard from my Yosemite friends Noreen and Mark, in the area with their camper, fishing gear and black lab Walker. We are going to meet tomorrow when I hit the highway at Mack’s Inn, about 18 miles away. I met Noreen years ago when I started volunteering with a group in Yosemite for a week every year. That led to a friendship and me helping organize a backcountry work week in Yosemite for a few years, and to volunteering when Mark led trips to the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite. My friend Tarcey and I stayed at their house in Foresta in 2013 when I hiked the John Muir Trail for the first time and they welcomed us to their wonderful Clouds Rest Cabin when we held my Dad’s memorial gathering and scattering in Yosemite on his birthday in November 2015.

An easy uneventful hike down abandoned roads to USFS gravel roads to a paved road to the highway. I saw 2 hikers in chairs on the lawn outside a restaurant, joined them and waited for my friends.

They bought me beer, dinner and a shower. They shared Walker, who greeted me the following morning with a wagging tail and dog slobber, the sweet boy. It was just so good to spend time with people I love.

The next day they gave me a cheater ride up the dirt road to where the trail began. A tough day of hiking even with the late start. A bunch of side hilling bushwhacking where I met Silver Sam pictured below. Back on tread, I picked up enough water to hike 19 miles (into the following day) and camped out of sight near an ATV road.

The second day was a pretty nice route mostly on top of the ridges. The Guthook track was off the GPS, but on another line. The views were great. Picked up water after hauling it most of the day and made 21 miles just past Ching Lake.

So as Triple Crowner Nacho told me the winter of 2015 before my first PCT, there’s good days and bad days. 7/23 was bad. Again, there was no trail and the GPS was off. Slow, slow bushwhack. Tons of Steep Pointless Ups and Downs, SPUDs. Get it? I’m in Idaho. Steep up hurts my right Achilles and hamstring. Steep downs burn my quads. A long day and I only made 17.

The next day though it was an easy 12 to Highway 15 where I waited 4 hours for my scheduled pick up by Mike from Lima, MT. And I crossed trail for the first time with a pair of SOBO thru hikers. I hung out in the cool of the underpass and in the heat of the weeds next to the railroad tracks. How awful it must have been to be a hobo back in the day. At the hotel, Mike said that next to my room was a single injured hiker woman. I left my door open and sure enough, Skeeter walked by and we got to talking. Dan’s due to arrive and with no set plans I think we can give her a ride up the trail or to a town of her choosing. Dan is turning 70 in a few days. That’s kind of a big number so we’re going to celebrate somewhere in Montana or Idaho. Logistics issues again, so I’m going to take a few days vacation and go car camping with Dan until Poppy and I meet to bounce north to the Canadian border. We’re going to hike the CDT south until she has to go back to work. I will probably keep heading south for awhile after that. This not thru hiking stuff is rough.

Stop Start, Wating for My Tent

7/10-18/18 109 miles plus 24 bonus miles

Jackson to Togwotee to Dubois to Togwotee to Yellowstone

After 2 nights in the Jackson Hole area waiting for my Zpacks tent, and not getting it, I hitched towards Togwotee Pass on 287 between Jackson and Dubois after getting a ride to the Moran junction from my German roommate at the hostel I wound up at trying to save money. After 2 hours and 100’s of tourists, I was getting discouraged. When a group of 4 cyclists came by, I jokingly put out my thumb and they stopped. I whined to them a bit and then they were helping. One guy unzipped his jersey to show off his chest to passing traffic (2 young women with no free board stopped), another edged his bike into the road and suddenly all 4 cyclists were waving to cars and pointing to me with my backpack. Within minutes, I got a ride from a climbing couple on their way from California to Lander, Wyoming. The cycling woman of the crew of 4 said goodbye to my thank you and quite sincerely told me, “Remember, think positive!” Good advice.

I got to the Pass and walked in past Brooks Lake under grey skies and thunder rumbles. About 3:30 there was a brief but intense rain, filling the trail ruts with water and slickery mud. The mosquitoes and flies were swarming. Since I jumped ahead from Colorado, it’s kind of a surprise how buggy it is in Wyoming, all the snowfall finally melting I guess, and flowers everywhere! And now I’m supposedly in grizzly country so I found a campsite away from water and with my back to a wall of downed trees and crunchy sticks. And then the zipper on the backup tent I’ve been using while waiting for my primary tent, failed. Ever try to sleep in a headnet? I lay there with the whine of the little bloodsuckers and 10 more nights ahead of me before civilization big enough to find a new tent.

So the next morning I backtracked to the highway crossing I’d started from the day before. Sigh. I waited about 45″ and car #57 gave me a ride to Dubois. My options were (1) buy a tent from the outfitter there, (2) order and express ship a tent, or (3) determine if my repaired tent had made it yet to Jackson and figure out how to get there. FYI, one of the many reasons I like Dubois is that St Thomas Church has a summer mission to serve hikers and bikers with a free place to stay. Very cool.

No tent at the outfitters that weighed less than 12 pounds. I could order and wait 3 days. Behind the third door? Bingo, my tent at last made it to the hotel in Jackson where Zpacks said it would be days ago. Now how to get there, now 75 miles away. Google, google, U-Haul has rental vans in Dubois at Bull’s Mechanics Shop! I reserved what they said they had available, a 15′ moving van.

When I got to Bulls the next morning and said why I needed to get to Jackson, they said they’d just got back a rental car, a Ford Focus (or in my Dad’s parlance a F*ing Ford Focus, “Triple F” in my stepmom’s kinder, gentler terminology). Woohoo! I gave a hiker a ride to the Pass, continued to Jackson, got my tent, drive back to Dubois and turned in the Triple F by 4 pm, $80 well spent.

I tossed my old tent, bought 100% Deet and bug repellent leggings and walked out of town to try a hitch the next morning. Glenn Mason, 81, gave me a ride all the way in to Brooks Lake. “I’m gonna teach you something,” he announced a few minutes into the drive. I was hoping for more history of the area. “See those 2 yellow lines?” In the center of the highway. “That means you can’t pass.” Uh oh. “Now I’m going to show you something,” as he drove to the right on the rumble strip. “That means you’re driving off the road.” Then he told me about rolling his former vehicle several months ago. Fortunately we made it to the trail and I contributed rather more money to his car payment than I’d anticipated. It was worth it, I got a much earlier start on my day than the last time I’d hiked out of here, thanks Glenn!

There was a river crossing about 15 miles in that I was warned about, so I was anxious to get past it. For sure it was a bit challenging, thigh deep with quite a strong current that had knocked several hikers over, but I crossed carefully. Several miles later I camped on a bluff with a view and a breeze that kept the bugs at bay. Pure contentment and quiet.

The next day was similar: warm, full of glorious wildflowers, not so glorious bugs, beautiful views and constant water crossings and wet feet. I found another breezy, viewy campsite.

Day 3 I made it to my first designated, permitted campsite in Yellowstone. Yuck. Hung my food bag from the provided cross bar and wondered if I’d ever see another hiker. I’d see not one human since Brooks Lake 3 days ago. And just weird to have to camp so early, 4 pm.

Yellowstone backcountry so far was unremarkable, the trail runs mostly on a historic logging road hemmed in by scrub trees, second growth, so there are few views and lots of bugs. It’s warm so I don’t mind the marshy meadows and stream crossings that keep my feet wet. Day 4 Jackrabbit(?) and Natural caught up to me, they have decided to camp once in the Park (permit for Heart Lake) then walk the 28 to Old Faithful Village, then the 15 or so out of Park boundaries. It was fun to camp with someone. As we sat cooking dinner, a thunderstorm burst with rain and hail and we scooted under a tree. Half an hour later, the sun burst out and as I lay in my tent escaping the bugs, they were swimming and whooping it up, making me laugh. They were gone by the time I got up at 5:45 am.

My designated campsite that night was disgusting, another dark, damp hole next to a creek hidden by thick, tall bushes where bears lurk. It smelled like pee, whether from the uncovered pit toilet or bear pee, I don’t know. I hiked on to another official campsite, pitching my tent just as another short thunderstorm broke to hatch millions and millions of buzzing baby mosquitoes.

Day 6 and I was at my campsite by 11:30 am, the first one I actually like. It’s open and breezy right next to a thermic area with wafts of sulfur and steam drifting about. Just a few miles from Old Faithful Village, I can walk in, get my box, shower, launder, eat and walk back out. There is no campground in or near Old Faithful Village, a tough situation for hikers. My final permitted, designated site is north of the Village about 10 miles. Or I can camp here all day long, go in in the morning, hike out later in the day. I decide I’d go crazy hanging out here all day, so I’ll take my chances. It’s a more interesting few miles in Yellowstone than the days before. I meet a CDT SOBO section hiker who got encephalitis last year on the trail in Colorado, quite a scary tale. I got a cell signal at about 1pm, called Yellowstone reservations and got the last room available of the 3 hotels/lodges. Unbelievable!!

The culture shock got me pretty bad. The Village is absolutely crammed with cars and people walking around in clean shorts and pastel tank tops. Where are all the mosquitoes and flies that have plagued me the last 6 days? Run off by concrete and fresh scent laundry detergent I guess. My room was lovely, the shower refreshing and once I washed my clothes, I managed to feel I fit in better in this “#1 Destination in the US.” No WIFI anywhere though, outrageous.