6 1/2 brutal uphill hours on trail but since I got a ride from Dan I skipped 9.2 miles of road walking. I could get used to this personal driver thing. There was a spring about 5 miles up so I got enough water to camp and pitched my tent at the third campsite mentioned in Guthooks. About 10 pm, voices and headlamps. Gasket and Backtrack showed up, awesome to have company! They got up at 5:30, so me too.
The Selkirk Mountains are beautiful, granite and alpine, just a few snow patches left on the ridge and fantastic cirque views, oh the rock!
So this “trail” has a bunch of bushwhack sections. The 2 options coming up midday said I should start first thing in the morning since it could take a lot of time. I looked at the maps and saw I could hike to a road at Pyramid Lake, get picked up, drive a few hours, skip the bushwhack and rejoin on a road. So Dan drove me about 72 miles to Priest Lakes to avoid a 5 mile bushwhack, brilliant! I camped next to the van.
And slept fine despite the car stopping by to warn us about a huge cinnamon black bear nearby, never saw her. The tread was actual trail today along the Priest Lakes, then into huge, ancient cedars, 2000 years old the guide says. Then gravel roads for a few miles up of course to a brushy trail. No huckleberries so no bear. That turned into more awesome cedar, shaded and cooler with soft tread. I kind of had to jury rig a tent site but it seems fine. I had a really good day and no bushwhack.
Campsite was fine. After walking an hour or two I heard One Gallon’s bear yodel, “Go away bear!” He caught up and we walked and talked the rest of the day—which really helped because it was a brutal day. I took one bad fall in endless blowdown, raising a lovely hematoma on my shin with blood running into my sock. You’re working so hard and your heart is pumping so it takes awhile for even minor cuts to clot. I got low on water because there wasn’t any where the map predicted and it was another hot day. But we made it to cleared trail and camped by Noisy Creek at last after 12 hours.
One Gallon was up early and out but I left at 6:45 on perfect trail (mountain bike tracks) to the Sullivan Lake campground trail to gravel road. Sometime after hitting the gravel I took a shade break and heard the bear yodel. One Gallon had stopped to swim in the lake. We walked and talked for a few miles down the road until the 3 Sterley boys rolled up in Dave’s pickup and whisked me off to the Metaline Falls grocery store while One Gallon turned down a ride of course. Then off we went to a campground by Boundary Dam about 10 miles beyond. Since the hotel in Metaline Falls was full I took a shower in Dave’s trailer—perfect! Doug, Dan and Dave are here camping and fishing from kayaks, it’s a beautiful place.
7/9 Walked up from 1972’s “most beautiful bridge” on a lovely day, but yeah, up. After awhile from below me on the trail I heard a “Go away bear!” yodeled periodically through the brush until finally One Gallon appeared, about 60, walking strong, lightweight backpack with no waist or sternum strap, no sticks. I caught up at the lookout and we had lunch and good conversation. Much later I saw him again when I walked in to camp and he was cooking dinner and then moving on. I had a crap camp spot, but oh well, no bears.
Biggest day so far, over 18 miles, because I couldn’t find a place to pitch my tent. 4 good climbs but I didn’t go up Mt Henry because I couldn’t tell from Guthook’s app, the PNTA maps or the guide whether it was an out and back. Not, as it turns out. It rained today for maybe 30” which is how long I wore my rain gear despite it not being cold. I could tell from the topo map that the top of the last climb would be flat, but there wasn’t any place to put a tent on the jagged rocks and burnt trees. Finally I found an abandoned road on the downside with even a little trickle of water and camped at 7, perfect!
I got to the road to Yaak at 8:30 am, not the planned road where Dan would meet me, but there he was constructing an “x” with sticks and flagging on the non-trail across the road, but listed as the red line, the primary PNT, that made Petra and Retune (and later Click) crazy trying to find it. I grabbed my resupply from the van and he drove me 2 miles where I trudged yet another gravel road for 13 miles, not steep, just relentless. 3 out of 4 cars stopped to talk to me—a guy getting wood, a USFS guy, and a hiker woman who didn’t stop on the way up but gave me Oreos on her way down. The 4th car was a family who parked and walked the short way to the lookout and back and talked to me where I sat before pitching my tent. They said 2 hikers were camping in the lookout (Petra and Retune must have got a ride past me on the road walk, the other 3 cars had only seen a single male ahead of me—One Gallon). So at 8 pm a car drove through the locked gate to their reserved night at the lookout. Uh oh. At 9, pistol poppings, at 10, Petra and Retune looking for another place to camp, bummer!
A lovely 4 miles of trail to another dirt road. Many easy miles later, the only vehicle I saw all day (seriously the locals are so nice here!) stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I said no and then the back seat window rolled down and Retune and Petra were there, getting a ride to an alternative route. “We hate road walking,” she said.
The wind, I’m sick of it! All day and as I climbed I got cold. I totally lucked out and found a campsite in a little saddle at 6000’, protected and soft, absorbing 4 hours of rain and hail no problem. I’m actually kind of giddy that I found this spot. P & R came by again tonight, they had to abandon the NW Alt because of the wind and will camp a few more miles at a “trail camp.”
In the trail register today I saw that 2 days ahead of me are Backtrack, Gasket, Chance and Cougar. 1 day ahead is One Gallon. Seems like there were more miles today than what the maps show. I did not stop at Fiest Resort, good thing because I later heard they weren’t serving food today anyway. I did meet a local riding his bike with 3 enormous dogs galloping ahead to say “hi” to me. He said I was the first PNT hiker he’d seen all season and that normally he met and gave mostly European hikers rides to Bonner’s. We talked about the travel ban from Europe and Canada and how different summer felt this year.
P &R camped nearby last night with plans to get up early to get to town early. I slept well and got to the top of the climb on good trail by 10 am and messaged Dan I’d be at Hwy 95 by 3pm after walking many miles of dirt roads. After hours of road and no cars at all, I was trudging uphill in the heat and suddenly a pickup truck was parked. I had one of those funny jolts that happen when you’re locked into trail narcosis. In my mind I heard ominous movie music and the audience saying, “Reach for your bear spray, don’t be an idiot!” And in real life suddenly a friendly voice from the huckleberry bushes, “How’s it going? Look at all these berries we’re picking.” Ha ha, first huckleberry pickers I’ve seen this summer.
Dan got me a few minutes late because he’d just given P & R a ride into town, they beat me by about 45”! We first went up to where Dan and his brothers Doug and Dave were camping and fishing and I got to visit awhile before heading to Bonner’s Ferry.
We got a beautiful room on the river and relaxed enjoying watching an Osprey catch a fish and some jet skiers. Shower, laundry, dinner on the deck, happiness.
Zero day! Natasha came up from Spokane to visit—we met and hiked some of the PCT together in 2015 till she had to go home and she hiked Glacier NP on the CDT with me in 2018. She brought most excellent beer from Whistle Punk Brewery. I really like her, she’s happy, smart, extroverted and it was so great to spend an afternoon catching up. Thanks Natasha!
Slide Rule drove me out the road from Polebridge so I started the PNT at about Mile 60.5. As we were driving, we stopped and met Backtrack. He hiked by again as I was packing up for the first stretch of my 6 weeks stint on the PNT.
It was wet, soggy and cloudy all day. Who cares? I’m hiking! I was all set to fly to Atlanta and start the Appalachian Trail on April 15. Completing the AT would give me the hiking Triple Crown of the 3 big National Scenic Trails, the PCT, CDT and AT. Instead I’ve spent the last few months like everybody else, socially isolated, masked, weirding out, and chubbing up. At last I formulated a plan to hike responsibly in a pandemic. Dan can give me 6 weeks in our ‘97 Ford Sportsmobile carrying my resupply so I don’t have to hitch or otherwise rely on the kindness of strangers. So I won’t be thru hiking this 1200 mile trail but as I texted Tarcey:
I’m going hiking! I want to hate rain, wind, uphills, being freezing, shitty campsites, bushwhacking, and wandering around hoping my GPS points me in the right direction. I want to yell at the wilderness and listen to audiobooks when it’s boring, not read any news, have every piece of me hurt then fall down and have bloody knees too, surprise deer, elk and moose in the morning, drink Starbucks Via with instant oatmeal mixed in and get swarmed by mosquitoes and biting flies. I want to walk dirt roads and uncleared trails and crawl over blowdowns, kick up ash through burn areas, and find wildflowers suddenly yellow and pink in eroding hillsides. I’m going hiking!
I camped off trail at a campground chock full of people. I could see what looked like a hiker campsite, full, and kept walking around the lake on the road till I found a tent site. It was perfect and quiet. First night on the trail since last September, wahoo!
A hard, slow day but sunny. Lots of consolidated snow covering the trail, but at least there was a single set of tracks ahead of me. A few hours into the day, Backtrack caught me, and we chatted and walked together. He stopped ahead of me to dry his tent out, then caught me again. I was stoked to have him set tracks for me. There was an insane amount of uphill and I camped 4 miles early, exhausted. About 1 1/2 hours later, Petra and Retune walked by, I am so glad there’s other hikers out here. I knew from FB there were, but who knows this year, this trail.
Well that was a good choice, those 4 miles took me 4 hours in the morning. I got lost on Mt Lowe looking for the trail after 2 miles uphill. The next 2 were downhill through blowdown which was OK till I got to the mother of all blowdowns, massive trees stacked over each other, green growing trees with branches and root wads. I knew the trail headed down a creek more or less but there was no way through and no way to know how long I’d have to keep going over, under, through, around. I got lacerated to bits, fell, stepped in holes, yelled at nothingness, and was pretty sure I’d get stuck and have to activate my SOS for help. After an hour, I emerged, about 0.2 miles later. And then the trail became another wonderful old double track road bed, gently graded about 4 miles downhill to a wide, gravel road uphill another 4 miles to trail again. I camped early, a lovely quiet spot after 16 miles, sore, bleeding, exhausted.
A lot of walking in snow on side slopes. Not particularly treacherous, low consequences if I slid, it’s just really, really slow. Uphill, downhill, flat hill, it went on forever. I went up to Mt Kam to an old lookout with a hiker register in it, I saw Backtrack and Mosey had been there the day before!
Finally I made it to Bluebird Lake and thought I saw black bear mama and cub tracks. I went looking for the bear hang and more tracks, freshish. Too tired to walk on so I camped away from the fire ring and pole—paranoid—and ate a cold bagel and cheese, tomorrow’s lunch, rather than cook and send food smells to the bears. 2 hours later, a family of 4 walked in. Yay, do t think they know I’m here and they’re making so much joyous kid noise. Plus they get the good campsite and bears! Then I sprang a leak in my NeoAir because I pitched on a sharp rock in my paranoia. I think I’ve patched it for the night with the repair tape I pack for my dyneema tent, I’ll need to patch the tent floor, but manana. I’ve spent a miserable night before using my pack and spare clothes for insulation from the ground in a similar situation and survived, but yuck. At least I only have to worry about my pad tonight, not bears with the family nearby. I love you guys. Life is weird. 10 miles tomorrow, I can go backwards if the snow ahead is too scary but I’d rather get to the road, Dan and a motel
Did it! Easy 2 miles up from the lake, beautiful alpine flowers and views, then a long easy 10 miles to old road and dirt road. Dinner, shower, motel in Eureka, resting my slightly strained right quad and swollen, ridiculously normal-for-me sprained left ankle, rolled on the easy downhill about 3 miles from the end of my day. Damn.
We decided to zero in Eureka since the weather report looked bad. We drive the 50 miles to Kalispell REI where I got the last Xtherm on the shelf and I thanked the REI employee outside the store passing out face masks and the REI checkout employee for the requirement. The restaurants and motels in Eureka believe Covid is a hoax and do not mask up. After taking the plunge and flying from Alaska on Alaska Air where masks were required, but not enforced, and watching cases explode in my State, I’m sick of morons and find a happy little nod of solidarity with fellow mask wearers in stores or wherever makes my day in civilization.
As we drove into our motel parking lot, we talked with 4 more hikers who just walked in! Then met Petra and Retune who also zeroed here. They say Backtrack took the Alternate and is here too. Life is good. Dan and I intend to slackpack tomorrow, from opposite ends, the Rail to Trail few miles, exchange car key and camp.