Thunder Sky Country—Chief Joseph Pass to Miner Lake

7/14 16.5 miles

Forced myself out of the Darby, MT motel when the rain stopped. I crossed the street and stuck out my thumb. Within minutes a woman stopped. Kim Maynard, former Smokejumper, went out of her way to give me a lift right up to Chief Joseph Pass. She worked with my sister’s partner, smokejumper Bert Mitman, in Fairbanks.

Started on dirt roads, saw an elk! Then too many straight ups, straight downs for a weighty 6 day food carry. I mean seriously you never know what the route is put together from–forest service roads, abandoned mining, ranching or logging road alignments, eroded scrambles, modern graded switchbacks, who knows?

So having a bit of a late start, 9:45, I decided to camp at a spot marked Parking. There was another hiker, Japanese, there already so I settled in. He helped look for the trail to the water. An hour later I heard German chatter and Ninja and Snapper walked up the road. Talking through my camouflage tent, I asked if they wanted to camp with me. They did and gathered by my tent to eat and chat. Turns out when I passed them on a pass a few days ago, Ninja didn’t feel well so they found a side trail, hiked out and got her to a clinic. Tonight marks 24 hours on an anti-Lyme med while they wait for test results.

An hour later a crew of teenage ICC rolled in and set up camp and quieted down in good order. After dark their gear trucks came in lights blazing, Diesel engines rumbling. 2 hours later lightening lit up my tent, and thunder blasted like cannons overhead. All was silent at 4. I got up at 6:30 and Snapper whispered through his screen that Ninja was not well. Bummer! They are so funny, so sweet, so direct, so German. I hope it’s not Lyme.

7/15 17.4 miles

So much uphill, so slow. Finally at 3:30 I got over the other side to spectacular views of rock, snow, mountains. Just starting to pick up some miles when a few raindrops fell. Sigh. I stopped to put on my rain jacket as hail shellacked me, turning to fierce rain. Sigh. I pitched my tent at 6:30. Dammit. Now instead of 3 more nights to Leadore, I’m looking at 4. I poured my food sack on my sleeping bag to recalculate my rations.

7/16 21.1 miles

Bailed!! I satellite texted Dan to call Rick at Bunkhouse Hotel in Jackson, MT about 17 miles off trail to see if he would pick me up and had a room. I walked downhill fast 5 trail miles then 3 extra dirt road miles off trail to get picked up at 7:15pm. Of course got rained on at 6:30 again.

The day was good though, the ups at 9000′ are still hard but better carrying less weight. 4 ups but #4 had the most snow of any so far this year but not a problem. The last 2 ups were gorgeous rock cirques like I’ve seen in the Sierra.

I stopped and talked with the Japanese hiker where he was camped at the beginning of the extra 3 miles. I still can’t pronounce his name. I need to get him to write it down for me.

Now at this super cool old hotel. Clean hostel for hikers and bikers, laundry, beer, frozen food, perfect! Also, Pot and Lid, whom I met in 2015 in the desert of the PCT are here. Got a ride back to the trail arranged with neighbor Bob after a second night escape from the thunderstorms. “No, this is not normal for Montana. Never seen anything like it.” Sigh.

Anaconda to Chief Joseph Pass

Decaying cabin near Twin Lakes, MT
And it’s outhouse
Campsite at Twin Lakes

7/8 20 miles

Road walk out of town uphill. Rather than stay on the 2-lane Highway 1, there are several little dirt roads that parallel it so that helps to get away from the noise. Beautiful countryside and finally you turn off on USFS roads to trail. Whew. It was easy walking and I got an early start so could have gone for more hours but I rewarded myself with an early camp by the upper Twin Lake. The bugs are out!

7/9 20.8 miles

Tough day of climbs but I leap frogged with Sunshine, Sugar Rush, Rain Skirt, Snapper and Ninja. 3 passes, up and over, down down then climb back up. Camped by a creek in warm and quiet 2 miles below Warren Lake where the others were heading. Wore my rain pants all day as the weather never warmed up. There was one scary traverse with a sheer drop on a rotting patch of snow. My inside foot punched through about 3′ and I had to carefully, shakily, yard myself up without over balancing and falling off the mountain. Fortunately it was near the top of the pass so I used the fear adrenaline to power up the last 1/2 mile. The Anaconda Cutoff here joins the official CDT which is where Sugar Rush and Rain Skirt we’re hiking.

Of course there were two more passes to go all the way up and all the way down. I couldn’t face any more up at 7pm which is why I stopped at the creek. No bugs, weird.

Fresh snow today
Patchy snow easily crossed
Kinda sketchy traverses today
Rain Skirt from Spain
Sunshine from Germany

7/10 21.1 miles in 12 hours

More passes, went by Snapper and Ninja, camped in a flat clear spot near the trail with no view at all. But it’s flat. First day I had to use stinky bug dope, dang the mosquitoes drove me crazy.

7/11 21.6 miles

Today was the first sunny morning the whole of Montana. Looked like an easy profile but then I hit the dead zone in an old burn, sunshine, uphill through tons of deadfall in the broiling sun. But that was the only bad section and nobody was around to hear me yell about a hundred times when I came to the next gigantic skin shredding blowdown, “Are you f*ing kidding me?” The ups and downs flattened out finally to follow the ridges on the Divide. This I love, views, gentle ups and downs and maybe I’m actually hiking the Divide. I only made it 22 not the 25 I wanted. Camped by Vortex who’d blazed by me earlier shortly after another in short shorts did the same.

Bug dope plus head net. No bites! Washed up so I’d stink less for hitching. My pack reeks, my shoes reek, I reek. The days blend of Arborvitae oil and Bens bug dope is barely better than stinky feet fumes.

7/12 Quick 19 miles and hitched a ride to Darby with Samson the Bear, stopping at Sula to get my box. Our ride Chuck said they’re filming Kevin Costner’s TV show “Yellowstone” in Darby but not right now. The little motel I’m in has no laundry and there’s no laundromat in town–bummer! Hand washing with dish soap is not that effective. Met my neighbor, sitting out front, he is a retired GP from Holland who has just finished a 1000 mile bicycle trip, bought a car and is on his way across the US to find himself. In one of those fabulous traveler conjunctions, he protested the Viet Nam war in Europe as I was doing the same in the US. How does that even come up in a conversation over Coors Banquet on a porch in Darby, Montana?

Are there Continental Divide Trail numbers 1-8 somewhere?

Hopper thingie
Just a ladder on a random tree
Hitching spot at border of MT and ID

MacDonald Pass to Anaconda

7/2 15.8 miles

Dan dropped me off and I was on the trail by 8:30, sad that he had to leave and sad he also left the trail angel job and I’d be once again dependent on the kindness of strangers–hitching rides to and from resupply points. But I guess after he caught the biggest steelhead of his life at Benchmark, why stick around? And there are some cats in Anchorage missing their human being.

Sami in the winter maze

Treadmill’s summer suit

Finding campsites on the CDT can be tough to find. There is a lot of road walking with private land or barbed wire fences for cows and maybe no flat places without dense trees, rocks, or wet bumpy meadow. So when comments on Guthook call them out, I’m inclined to listen. Then the weather report this morning predicted 4 days of thunderstorms with a clear day between another week of thunderstorms. In Colorado they call this monsoon season. I pitched my tent next to the road but well past several miles of McMansions each set on their large parcels of forest. Ten minutes later the rain and thunderstorm hit. A real hiker would pack up and go when it passed. Think I’ll just start early instead, or not. I’ve allowed plenty of time for this stretch.

7/3 19.3 miles

Slept well in the quiet and stillness with straight down rain off and on. It was warm enough that I used my bag as a quilt. Still cloudy in the morning as I continued on the broad gravel road I’d been on for a bunch of miles the previous day. The route took me to trail as the skies darkened that by 10:30 I wondered if I should get out my headlamp. I felt a couple drops and stopped under a cluster of trees to get out my rain gear just as giant hail pellets bombarded the trail, filling it up in 10″ as I laughed from my cozy little shelter. It got lighter and I crept out like a ground squirrel and continued on. A bit later, it rained for an hour, and my biggest concern was if my hands were getting too cold to open the bag with my smashed bagel and cheese lunch. Then the sun came out, I ate my food and the rest of the day was a small series of ups and downs on good trails. I camped, having walked a second day without seeing anybody.

7/4 18.4

I kind of messed up calculating the mileage for this section, it’s shorter than I thought so I’ve been taking it easy since I’ve got tons of food and should stick with the 4 nights out I’d planned. It’s a little nerve wracking to walk into a small town on a weekend in the summer hoping for a motel room, so I made a reservation from Helena for Anaconda already.

It didn’t rain last night. I went back to sleep after a squirrel, infuriated in the predawn hours, shrieked and screeched like some pop diva at the intruder in her green room. No hurry to get the miles in.

It’s too varied for me to put in the earbuds and listen to an audiobook, but that means I obsessed all day over a couple of issues in the real world.

Arctic Winter Games is a circumpolar sports event every 2 years for youth in about 20 different disciplines. Fairbanks hosted in 2014 and I was recruited to be a Snowboard Official although Alaska did not form a team. Several Canadian provinces and Greenland sent snowboarders. In 2016 I was recruited to direct the snowboard competitions in Greenland, a challenge with immense job satisfaction. I love Greenland and Greenlanders. Because the co-Director of Team Alaska had an eligible snowboarder daughter who wanted to go to Greenland, a team was formed. Sadly the girl was injured and couldn’t make the trip. She aged out and was not eligible for the 2018 games. In 2018, Team Alaska said they didn’t have the budget or coaches for snowboarders but would give me a complimentary spot on their charter to Fort Smith, NWT, Canada so I could volunteer as a snowboard official. I discovered another solid community in NWT and had a blast. The dark spot was the 2 guys who run Team AK who wouldn’t answer my queries about which of the two charter flights coming and going I’d be on. Like I finally found out the day before. Terrible planners or?? “We’ll let you know. The kids come first.” Sounds reasonable unless you know the kids and coaches are housed on cots in classrooms and are seated in coach, while the 2 guys and “mission staff” are in First Class and hotel rooms. Last winter I began asking whether snowboarding would be included in Whitehorse, Yukon 2020. No reply for months. Then a no. Anti-snowboarding is still a thing? Sexism is still a thing? These 2 guys using State of Alaska funds get to lie “no coaches applied”, “no funding available,” without oversight? Happy 4th.

The cool thing is that snowboarding, like hiking, is a community. My Yukon snowboard friend stepped up to make it possible for me to volunteer in 2020 despite the jerks at Team Alaska. I am stoked by the respect and camaraderie! I pay my own transportation, stay with locals, and volunteer officiate on the snowboard courses for kids from other nations since there will be no Alaska kids afforded the opportunity for this unique cultural experience.

The above is the shortened, kinder version of an all day obsession. True trail tale.

What else took over my brain as I hiked through the beautiful forest and cow fields? Last year I celebrated the 4th with Nuthatch and Burning Calves in Frisco, Colorado. BC is German so my thoughts turned to how the German people and government recovered their soul after WWII, recovered the ability to recognize and resist propaganda and represent “Never Again.” Happy 4th.

So anyway….

At one point I came out of the woods and into a bunch of cows. Startled the crap out of us all (literally out of several cows). Cows in fields don’t even glance at vehicles. But at humans walking? I always apologize out loud to them and explain I’m a harmless human without armor. They run. Except the second bunch of 5 individuals looked at me, I moved away, they followed. And again. With the lack of seeing anybody for 3 days, and getting stuck in my thoughts, I wondered: have I accidentally entered…the Twilight Zone?

I turned down on the broad gravel road to the Anaconda Cutoff at Four Corners, got some water at a creek with another decaying log structure (love these testaments to human endeavors) and found myself a perfect flat kind of hidden campsite on an abandoned approach above the road. About 24-26 miles to town and 2 days to get there. Rumor has it that there’s a farm about 14 miles away that welcomes hikers to camp. Since it’s all road walk, I doubt if there are any other reasonable camping opportunities although I’d rather stop, say, 5 miles from town.

7/5 24 miles

Need I say more? Even though I started late, it was really quick walking on the gravel road downhill to flat. I met Big Sky section hiking, he’d just been dropped off that morning and is heading NOBO. First human! Got to the farm and it was 12:30, I can’t camp at 12:30! Called the motel but they were full, found Hickory B&B in Anaconda had a room and walked on. Even though this day went from gravel road to paved highway, the countryside is beautiful and the route went by the State of Montana’s “mental hospital” in Warm Springs with lovely historic buildings and grounds. I met two groups of patients and aides strolling. Turned on to the highway with some miles to go and a truck stopped to offer me a ride. I said thanks but it was against the hiking rules. We both laughed. I walked to the B&B, showered and went across the street to eat. As I was talking with the hostess, a head popped up from behind a divider and I wound up eating dinner with 2 hikers I’d last seen at Pietown! They had continued to Chama, NM, flipped and hiked Lander to Encampment, WY, then flipped to Chief Mountain in Glacier NP and hiked SOBO. I was hoping this would happen, that I’d get to see hikers I met in New Mexico!!

My stick has a screw loose

Shadow self

After fun with friends and relatives in eastern WA (Teresa, Dave and our son Chris), Trout Lake, WA (Rod and Debbie and all the cool locals they introduced us to) and Grants Pass, OR (Jackie, Nick, Keith and Barbara), 2500 driving miles, none of which I had to do, Dan dropped me off at Hwy 200 east of Lincoln, Montana where I got off the CDT last year.

6/28 13.7 +1 backtracking to a campsite

Started at 11am with a sweaty hike up out of the pass under cloudy, windy skies. Many uphills above treeline along the Divide with downs in notches to the next ridge. Absolutely glorious. I saw a hiker behind me for hours till she finally caught me on about the 10th straight up climb. Sugar Rush from NJ, I like her! We hiked together for awhile, and both failed miserably to find a mysterious water source commented on by last year’s hikers on our Guthook app. Oh well, water finding is an issue when you’re high up, so I have 2L of mud puddle water. As does Sugar Rush. She continued ahead when I camped at 6pm, eating a cold dinner due to all the grizzly crap I’d seen. Yeah it was at least a week old and on the other side of the highway we crossed, but you know, my first night back in Montana.

6/29 20.1+0.75 RT for H2O

Sunny day after raining last night. Stopped after a few hours to dry my tent. Trail to road walking to trail. I followed the route to a Lookout but it was a skinny little traverse on the east side with snow patches and a bunch of blowdown so I bailed uphill to a lovely road walk I saw on the map that paralleled. Based on a comment in Guthook, I decided to look for the Unabomber’s cabin in the area. After seeing a burnt out hulk I was convinced I’d found it. But guess what? The freaking FBI dismantled, transported and reassembled his cabin in their museum. I went off trail to get water after 20 miles and decided on a lovely campsite on the edge of a meadow. I’ll do the 9 miles of climbing tomorrow.

Perfect tent site

CDT this way

6/30 23.5 plus wandering off route accidentally

So it was 10 miles of trail, straight up, straight down, but always on the Divide. So beautiful. The last big climb was the longest but surprisingly graded with switchbacks. Then a long, long descent on abandoned road all eroded, slippery and steep into the woods.

One of my hiking sticks has a screw loose on the clamp that telescopes it. I don’t have a tiny tool to fix it so I’ll probably just wrap tape around it so it quits sliding shorter and shorter. My tent uses a hiking stick to hold it up so I’m using the non screwy one for that.

I got water from a piped spring flowing into a cow tank, no cows yet and the water was clear. Still I treated it. The next hours were on gravel roads, just a few friendly 4-wheelers sharing it with me. After so much steep trail you learn to thoroughly appreciate the road walking. But there was no place to camp, no flat places without the Standing Dead, beetle killed trees, or stump farms. Finally I popped out at a meadow at 8 pm. There I met NOBO Recalculating from CDT 17. He recognized me and asked if I was in touch with Treeman to whom I gave An Application to Marry My Daughter at Ghost Ranch. I need to reach out and see if Treeman married the farmer’s daughter or if he is still in want if a wife…

7/1 11.3

It rained a bit in my cow pasture, with lightning, soundless, lighting up the sky north of me. Knowing Dan would pick me up to go to Helena for a night, I stepped out quickly in the morning. Cow field to lush forest to shoe sucking marsh to 4 miles of uphill trail with hundreds of blowdowns to utterly smooth gravel road down from some kind of communication installation to the highway. Made it by 12:45! After a night in Helena, Dan will return me to MacDonald Pass and head to Spokane to fly back home.

Trestle to nowhere

Detail of the trestle