Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Between the North Wall and the Chinese Wall is a giant V that the map directs travelers to take, threatening a 'bushwhack with blowdowns from hell' if one selects the more sensible route, the up and over route.
We took the V, out through a trail with blowdowns from hell. A fire wiped out this area and the trees fall faster than they can clear them. At one point I saw a trail sign pointing to where a trail used to be. All that I could see was a tangle of burned fallen forest.
At the top of the dunce cap, we hit water, then started back toward the ear, if you will. We entered green forest with fairly level tread. In all, mile-wise, we had a pretty good day: 20+.
We camped on a ridge above Spotted Bear Pass, which was a wimpy pass. It's strange to me that we could have such a steep climb AFTER a pass. I guess I'm getting used to the Rockies. I'm sleeping out and out of water.
On the day of the unofficial alternate route through the bog, we came up with a name for our group: Epheneigh, which could also be a line of beauty products.
The evolution of the name, including the spelling is too complex and, at times senseless, to relay.
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Slippery Mud, Great Views, and We Still Have Spur
We are in the Bob, which is short for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. They call it a complex because it's really complex to figure out where the exact boundaries of the Bob are. The Bob is an overlay on several jurisdictions, mostly national forests. The Bob is legendary for its wildness and remoteness. It abuts Glacier National Park, which also provides a point of contrast. A backpacker's experience of the wilderness is so tighly controlled in Glacier NP that stepping into the Bob feels like freedom. It's kind of like the difference between Mormon Day at Disneyland and being at an orgy.
We finally got out of the trees. But before we did we walked through Round Park, a lovely meadow full of blue camus lilies in bloom. Deeply green trees surrounded the damp blue and green expanse.
Then we started climbing, but it was a going-upstream kind of climbing so it was easy. An upstream climb is gentle. A hit-the-saddle or hit-the-pass climb is usually more aggressive.
Soon we reached the North Wall trail. The North Wall is very lovely. To the west and our right is a continuous bluff with waterfalls, spires, and trees growing along the edge. Words can't begin to describe what we saw today. The North Wall is a preview of the Chinese Wall. Both are amazingly continuous cliffs that define the Divide and provide protection from the Huns.
Since we are crossing snow again, we lost the trail, but then picked up what turned out to be a use trail. The immediate area has many use trails because of Lake Levale, a lake with the most amazing color.
We bushwacked, which in this case consisted of winding throught the snow between the trees, until we came to an open spot. Spur got a GPS reading, then, from the compas rose on Jonathan's maps, we found out that we were too low. So we bushwacked straight up a steep slope finding the trail in short order. It's nice to hear or shout, "I'm on the trail."
Although the flower-covered hillsides seemed to go on forever, we soon entered a burn area full of blackened tress. We had an exposed dinner, then continued on to our little bedroom for the night.
The mud here is legendary. I've heard that it's deep and the type that creates layers on the bottom on one's shoes. I found a little of both of those qualities, but what I mostly noticed is that it's damn slippery. The feet can fly on any given step. It takes muscles to keep upright.
Saw some great grizzly tracks today, but did not feel compelled to photograph them.
We've been seeing human tracks ever since we got back on the CDT. We've come to think of them as the Ghost of Jesse, because Jesse's the only one we know who is southbounding and possibly this close.
Monday, June 28, 2004
I Got What I Wanted--Part I
I had great energy today. We spent the morning getting back to the CDT. As we hiked along, I developed a vision: A sunny swimming hole with easy in/out water access near lunch time.
I realized my vision.
As lunch time approached, the trail dropped down, down, down, and I could see the river. One spot was close to the vision, but I held out for better, hiking through the hunger that lured me to take lunch.
Then I saw it. It was perfect. A sandy beach led into a blue pool of water fed by a healthy flow, and it had easy trail access. And full sun. I quickly made my way to the beach, dropped pack, and stripped off my shirt.
I washed all my clothes plus an extra pair of socks, then jumped in twice. It felt great to cool down, clean up, and feel the sun warming my wet skin. The wind stayed away as the sun dried me.
Hiker 816 came along, but I couldn't convince him to get in. He and I continued to a shady spot for lunch, which was one of those places that if we'd only walked another 100 feet, we would have had a great place to have lunch: a backwoods NFS cabin with a porch.
Apple Pie and Spur quickly joined us, noting the unspecial nature of our chosen lunch spot. Spur had already taken a short lunch because I had pushed the hour so late.
I was the first to reach the CDT sign. I celebrated alone in an internal sort of way and then took the turn back on to the home path. We soon had a lovely river crossing and on the far bank I found elephant's head blooming. I got a few shots.
I walked on, mostly alone. I stopped at Grizzly Park, a lovely meadowy area, figuring it would be a great place for dinner. It was, but everyone opted for a shady spot over my full-sun choice.
We saw no grizzlies in Grizzly Park.
Our walk took us further up the valley and over a lame pass. Now we are camped in some trees.
This entry is Part I because I know that a Part II is coming, I just don't know how or when.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Through the Eternal Twilight to Where?
It's a good thing we are all experienced hikers because sometimes on a long hike a simple mistake can take a long time to fix. At least on the CDT. I woke up on the bluff above the river and had sunlight before getting out of my bag, the first time on the trip. The chance I took sleeping out paid off. We left camp pretty late, around 9 I think. Our course for the day was pretty well defined. The hiking in the morning brought more lovely sites.
In a meadow, we came across a sign at a junction. It's here as a group that we malfunctioned. In one direction, it said Badger Pass-11 miles and in the other Continental Divide-3 miles. Apple Pie said the trail number doesn't match the map, and headed toward the Continental Divide. I didn't look at my map, and Spur, as he caught up, said, "Oh, I guess that's another way up to Badger Pass." Chris/Hiker 816 just followed.
The trail was the steepest yet, which I took note of, but did not voice any concern. Soon we were on the Divide, a spot famous because the previous locals used to use to cross to the plains to hunt. Apple Pie and I continued, and at about the same time questioned our location. I'd recalled that we were supposed to be hiking along a river all day, until we climbed. She had something else warning her: she was looking out for a lake. We soon confirmed that we had taken the wrong trail and that we were already off of Jonathan's maps. The DeLorme maps came out, changing our reference from a scale where one inch equaled one mile to one inch equals four miles. It makes a BIG difference in the amount of detail.
We could backtrack down the 3-mile hill we'd just come up, or patch together a series of trails to hook up with the official CDT further along. We chose the latter option and headed out.
We had a GREAT ridge walk through mature forest with flowered grassy hillsides. The walk led to a river and a junction. The junction was the trail we wanted, but it forked. The compass and map would have us go one direction, but we chose the other. To relieve any tension, it turned out to be the right trail, even though it had a Trail Not Maintained sign sitting at the base of the tree. The sign didn't concern me too much, but I had an idea of what we might be in for.
We got it all and more.
We faced a lot of questions, like Where does the trail pick up again after this bog? And Can I jump on that fallen tree then that one without slipping?
I fell twice, once I attributed it to wet loose bark on a blow down, and the other is one of those baffling falls that just happens with no explanation. How one leg ended up akimbo on top of one pole, the other extended in the opposite direction, one arm behind me with the attached pole pushing my arm at an uncomfortable complimentary angle to my bent leg, and the other arm struggling to catch the remains of the fall is a mystery. Everybody following said it looked like quite a fall. Luckily I was intact.
The tread on the unmaintained trail came and went. Mostly went. We struggled through impossibly tangled blowdowns, followed animal paths through forest limbs, crossed open areas ten feet apart looking for the scent of the tread and walked down the center of the river because it was the easiest path. At times I was reminded of cheap TV and movies, most notably strange planets on Star Trek where the forest was alive and a (was it Raquel Welch?) movie where a scantily-clad 'cave woman' is almost consumed by a wrap-around carnivorous tree. Apple Pie was struggling through a dense forest when she bumped a dead tree that proceeded to wrap its bark around her as it fell away. We ended up in the place that Gollum took Frodo and Sam. You know the place, with the dead in the water. The green surface looked like it could hold weight, but its depths were boundless. The mud was the beginning of an inhuman void. We could only walk on logs and stumps, but the logs were slippery and one stump collapsed in as Apple Pie relied on it as a foothold.
We eventually made it out of the mess, now hoping to find the trail that the former trail was supposed to intersect. We needed to get a perspective on our location after just trying to stay above the sludge line in the swamp. Spur spied a rise to the left, and we all converged, eventually making our way to the top of the rise. It's here that we would regroup and develop our next plan. Only Spur's GPS wasn't working for a battery-related reason. I had to get my GPS out, but it was at the bottom of my pack, and we were getting attacked by mosquitoes who seemed to never have had any mammals to feed on. When I say we, it means mostly me. Mosquitoes love me, so I was getting about 80% of them, while the other three got about 20%. I struggled to unpack, work my GPS, compare it to the maps, and be part of the decision-making process while getting eaten alive.
The others left as I packed up my pack, leaving 100% of the mosquitoes to concentrate on my exposed flesh. Spur began the next short section of bushwhacking, then Apple Pie took over. We were not on a good trajectory according to the maps transferred to my head. I finally spoke up and lead a path at about 90 degrees from our current course and promptly landed us on the intended new trail. The fact that we got right to it was a little shocking to me, but I acted cool, like I knew it all along.
At some point during the day, before the swamp, Hiker 816 asked if he could use my diaper rash cream. He'd heard me speaking about asking strangers for it and how Ready (Spur's wife) had sent me some. I said sure. When he returned it, he said that he'd done no double dipping. How considerate I thought.
During a break on the new trail, I mentioned to Apple Pie and Hiker 816 that I was thinking of starting a new blog called "What the Fuck is Going on with my asshole?" because I have been having such problems down there. The untimid discussion quickly lead to the fact that I was using the diaper rash cream on my ass. Hiker 816 seemed shocked and grossed out. He said he'd used it on his inner thigh. I said that I had Bag Balm for that. Writing this, it's not that funny, but boy was it funny then. I mean, what is diaper rash cream for?
We are camped just short of the true CDT. Our 23-mile reroute was matched by about the same number of miles on the CDT.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Rain, Mud, and a Daring Move
Last night I had barely closed my eyes when I heard raindrops falling on my spinnaker cloth ground sheet. I thought to myself, "It's not really raining until I feel a drop on my face." When I felt one on my eyebrow, I convinced myself that it wasn't really a drop, even as the staccato on my groundsheet increased. What it finally took was Spur saying, "Cupcake, you are getting wet."
I put up my tent around all my stuff. It's great having a floorless structure that allows that flexibility.
It rained softly most of the night.
We got a late start because of the late in-camp time last night and the rain. It was not too cold though.
We soon made it to Highway 2 and Marias Pass, a place famous for all kinds of things. An Amtrak passenger train was passing just as I neared the tracks at the pass. I can only imagine what the people inside thought about the sight of a seemingly lone hiker wandering near the tracks on a rainy morning.
At Marias Pass, there's even a Teddy Roosevelt memorial obelisk.
We gathered under the covering for the doorway of the pit toilets, our only option to get out of the rain.
Marias Pass does have a phone, so Apple Pie, Spur and I all got in a round of PocketMail. Leaving the rest area, we set out into 7 days in the Montana Rockies. Benchmark Ranch is an outpost at the end of a long road, and, at 8 days from E. Glacier, it's our longest resupply stretch.
The maps offered a variety of routes through the first few miles of this section. We chose the middle route, dispite its many pointless ups and downs.
We missed the trail for the middle route, and ended up on the low route, which involved walking along a river and numerous river crossings. And mud. I enjoyed the day of hiking.
What is the daring move? Once again I am attempting to sleep out. I has not rained since 3PM and we even got some sun during dinner at 7PM. Camp tonight is on a modest bluff of sorts above a creek. I am tucked under the limbs of a large tree in a flat area wrecked by horses.
Spur continues to talk about moving on. We are looking for a solution.
Friday, June 25, 2004
Walking Through the Eternal Twilight
Finding a cadence with the landscape in the long evening, my motion through the space creates a rhythm like no other.
Nature began the rhythm which defines the beat of my step long before I walked through to play my part and listen, so I'll begin in the with the beat of crossing a stream. The rainy day has made the steep path approaching the loud, insistent water slick and dark. I move down the muddy trail cut, visually plotting the plan for steps through the bank that will give me a dry crossing while still making sure that the mud under my feet holds my motion.
A trekking pole there helps. Making sure my shoe grabs that rock edge provides assurance. There we go.
I cross and move up the bank and against gravity, which gives the saturated mud a better chance to give way. Stepping quickly before I slide keeps me moving forward. The noise of the water fades as I climb higher and away from the constant flow. I am on the level again and moving forward I can feel the darkening created by the trees. Steps take me through the deep stillness created by countless trees layered back into the night.
Steps down my path take me to a place where the forest begins to lighten. Trees fall away and lush plants open outward to smile at the sun. Only the sun has been down for at least an hour now, keeping the memory of its visit by throwing dusk over northern Montana, over this section of trail, over me, allowing me to continue my journey.
The open space of grasses and wildflowers has an eeriness in this light. The edges of the space are not well defined, and the depth between the visual surface and the ground is indeterminate. The trail provides safer passage through these voids. I am passing between the world of day and the world of night as my steps bring me closer to my companions.
The quietness of the void of the open space is eventually filled, usually quickly with a turn, with the return of the sound of active water. I've returned to the chorus of the cycle that has defined my evening of walking the last 8 miles of the southern end of Glacier National Park.
Ahead, I see the wild swinging of headlamps on heads of hikers setting up tents. I find I am home and, like all things eternal, the eternity of the dusk of this long summer transition has ended.
I begin to look for a place on the wet grass for my tent. I wonder how close I should set up to Hiker816, since I don't know if he snores or not. Like all nights, I wish I could sleep out. Like all nights following hiking, I am tired.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Apple Pie, Spur and I hiked 10 miles today with Anish and without Gottago, who was up and about, but not venturing too far from plumbing. We left Gottago in East Glacier, drove back to Two Medicine.
Backpacking our way from Two Medicine to East Glacier, we enjoyed the lovely scenery. The climb brought us to places with great vistas, but the rainclouds kept us from seeing them. Along the way, something caught my eye: across a small drainage I saw a black patch on a snow field. I asked if anyone else saw it moving.
It was a grizzly with two cubs. We stood and watched as mom settled down in to a warm-looking pile and the kids enjoyed a noon-time romp on the snow slope. The kids were playing, sliding down the snow for a ways, then bounding back up to do it again. It was great to watch. It got even better when Spur pulled out his monocular. The improved view tugged my heart changing my experience from being great to making the cubs cute. Those cubs were having a blast, and I could relate.
Dropping down the other side of the mountain, we walked through a low aspen forest with a floor of incredibly green grasses and wildflowers.
We had some deep mud too. This area has lots of regular horse use. Before too long we were transitioning to town, East Glacier.
Apple Pie and Spur wanted milk shakes when we got into town and saw a sign, so I got on the Internet for 15 minutes. Anish had hiked on.
Back at the Whistling Swan, we regrouped. Gottago had moved to a comfortable room there, and the three of us each got our own room for a night of hiker-free privacy.
But before we retired for the night, we had a lot to discuss.
Gottago was not going to be hiking tomorrow, plus she hadn't done the 10 miles we'd done today. Hiker 816 wanted to join our group, so did Jesse, but he might not be ready tomorrow. Plus Spur was wanting a little more freedom than a group of four allowed.
Apple Pie, Spur and I returned to Serrano's to have dinner and negotiate a partnership. I was pretty sure that Apple Pie and I could keep Spur. Soon it was clear to me that Hiker 816 could fit in. Jesse was another story. He seemed completely unprepared gear-wise and logistic-wise. He may have been able to handle the physical aspects of hiking, but the CDT is more than than just hiking.
As a friend of Gottago, I knew she wanted a partner and Apple Pie had committed to partnering with Gottago, so both of us were concerned about leaving her behind.
Our dinner discussions were long and complex. During the scope of our discussions, which extended before and after dinner, Spur was in, then out, then in. He really wanted his independence.
We returned to the hotel, and I visited with Gottago. She was doing better, which I was glad to see. She also understood the complexity and implications of what was going on. She said she didn't know when she would be better and that I should do what I needed to do. I also mentioned Apple Pie's concerns. She said she'd talk to Apple Pie, but she was free to go too. I felt sad because that felt like she was quitting the trail. I also knew that anything is possible.
We chilled tonight by watching Cheaper by the Dozen, which was OK, but not great.
It rained off and on today.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Mt. Morgan Split
OK, it was the first time I used my bivy. But you would think that the dark fabric would be the bottom and the light fabric would be the top, but no. So I slept with the sil-nylon side up. Sil-nylon doesn't let any moisture through, so it all ended up on top of my down bag. However, my new down bag has some amazing fabric that keeps water out. The fabric's not perfect, but I'm perfectly happy with it.
Today, the trail took us up to a place with a choice of routes into Two Medicine. The traditional route is Pitamaken Pass. Jonathan's maps also pointed out another route which wrapped around Mt. Morgan and would take us to Dawson Pass, then down another valley into Two Medicine.
We decided to go up to Mt. Morgan and ended up at Cutbank Pass after crossing a long snow field which got a little steep toward the end. Cutbank Pass was below the trail around Mt. Morgan, or so the map told me. I informed everybody that I was going up to find the trail we intened to take.
I found it, but during my descending return, I saw that Gottago and Apple Pie were retreating to Pitamaken Pass. I was a little frustrated at their unilateral decision, so I made one myself: I was going to take the Mt. Morgan trail, warnings be damned. Spur chose to join me. The boys headed off for the 'dangerous' route. We continued on the well-defined, but not too used, trail. It had some steep snow on it, but it wasn't a bit deal. Plus, we got two points with two great views.
|Cupcake at one of the great Mt. Morgan vistas|
As I made my way across more snow banks, I saw someone walking toward us. They stopped at the first snowbank. I said Hi fairly far away, then, as I drew closer, said, "Is that a familar face?" The reply was, "It is if you are Cupcake." It was Anish! She'd made plans with Gottago to meet us up here.
The three of us walked out toward Dawson Pass and had about 100 yards on a nice stretch of the Divide with a great mountain luring us forward. Then we dropped down past the Pillar, a very narrow, tall and long ridge that when viewed head-on looks like a pillar. Anish said it's a mile long and an amazing geological remnant. We continued to Two Medicine Lake, which had a tempting ferry, which we were perfectly timed to catch, but we passed. It was a long out for me. My energy was low.
I found out as I arrived that Apple Pie and Gottago had just arrived. I assumed they would have beaten us by hours. Gottago was stretched out on the ground. She wasn't doing well. Soon it was evident. She was shivering on a warm day which had little or no rain. I made a barrier with our packs to block the wind, but it didn't seem to make a difference. Soon I had another jacket on her and her sleeping bag. I was also trying to get her to drink water. I knew she hadn't eaten enough, but food was out of the question.
We were supposed to stay in the campground, but Anish got a ride to get her car, and she drove us into E. Glacier, where we got two rooms for the night. Gottago collapsed into sleep and the rest of us went to Serrano's for dinner.
One piece of news that Anish had passed on was that Chris Mills, Tony N's, and Jesse's team had fallen apart and backed out into Canada.
Chris had emailed Gottago and Spur, inquiring about the possibility of joining our troop. I got a hand-written note expressing the same desire, and a proposing getting together. I left a note for him, and we met up during dinner. Discussions will continue.
The hotel that had room was not the Whistling Swan, the place we stayed before because it had a great location. We decided that a zero was in order, but a hotel move had to happen. It was a little messy, but it worked out in the end.
To end this report of many details, Spur has decided to move on. He's not happy with the long breaks and the general cadence of his days with Apple Pie, Gottago and I. I want to keep him in our pack, so I'm working him to stay. We'll see.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Beyond the Triple Divide
The Continental Divide is a geographic construction designed to describe which way water will fall, and ultimately which ocean that water will eventually reach. Generally in North America, the choices are the Pacific Ocean (west) and the Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic (east).
Today we came up and over Triple Divide Pass, which is just below Triple Divide Peak, the only place I know of on the Divide that the waters head to three oceans, adding the Arctic Ocean, via Hudson Bay, to the earlier choices.
And so was our day. We set out from Red Eagle Lake at 8:15 AM, our earliest starting time yet. We passed lots of flowers in bloom, especially the yellow glacier lilies. There are SO MANY of these lovely, delicate flowers in bloom all over the place. We first passed through the glacial valley that held the Red Eagle Lake, then began our climb into the giant cirque to the north of Triple Divide Peak.
As is customary and expected, the amount of snow increased as we ascended. The trail astutely negotiated geological/glacial shelves that stepped up into the cirque. When we got into the last one,the trail could have been in one of two places, to our left or up above. The distinctive line of snow to our left looked more promising. Apple Pie and Gottago headed up there while Spur and I consulted the maps. In the end, we were pretty sure the trail was above us, but by then the other two were so far along, we didn't want to call them back. Unnecessary snow travel was not appreciated.
We should have called them back.
Instead, we followed them toward ever-increasingly steep snow field which ended in a near-vertical transition from soft snow to loose rock with snow-broken trees. And no trail. Gottago said, "I can't go back," which I took as that it wasn't possible, and that another solution was necessary. While we were searching for the trail, Gottago said, "What about up there?" So I headed there, never mind that it was a full rock climbing scramble into low, alpine pine trees with tufts mountain goat fur caught in them. I was going to give two even whistle blasts when I found the trail. But I had to find the trail first. I was pushing through dense pine trees, at times crawling on all fours to get through the dense, low forest.
Then I found a place where I could carefully walk on top of the trees. It may SOUND very Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it was not graceful.
At some point I realized that I was just trying to find a way out of this tangle of trees on the mountainside. After I got out, I could find the trail. I made my way with increasing ease as I moved on, eventually emerging where the gnarled mess intersected with a scree field and a snow field. I spied an open spot below me, and targeted it. I made it, then spotted an even larger open space which I worked toward. The goal was to get somewhere other than where I was. When I reached the larger open space, I dropped pack. As I weightlessly staggered around celebrating reaching my goal, I saw the trail in front of me. And it was full of water. Which was good, because I was out of water and the sun was beating down. I tooted my whistle, pumped some water, then began looking for them. I walked over to where I could view the retreat path, but didn't see them. So I ate, whooped, and whistled. Returing to the viewing place, I finally saw them retreating. Soon we were reunited and hiking again toward Triple Divide Pass.
The Pass called for photos. While we were finishing up, we saw a big horn sheep bounding down a snow field, but it was acting really weird. It would stop bounding and turn around, jump around a little, then freeze.
Then we saw why. There was another male sheep up on the ridge which divided two of the three basins. Here's what I saw: The older sheep had enough experience to know not to be afraid of us in the context of bounding mindlessly into the wrong basin. The younger sheep came back up and joined the older sheep, and they made their way toward their intended destination, the basin to our right. Very interesting.
|Mountain sheep on Triple Divide Pass|
|Gottago hiking past some falls.|
So Apple Pie and I hiked together and ahead of the other two, happy for the opportunity to be loud and obnoxious. It's during this stretch of trail that the East Indian couple bickering really began. I took the role of a traditional, sexist, know-it-all, husband. Apple Pie was the wife who knew her role, but still had a wicked tongue. When ever we get into this setup, we always have to stop because we are laughing too much to hike.
We arrived into the Morningstar Campground, which we were told was in winter conditions, to find it in semi-winter conditions. We could hang our food at a safe height, and we could easily camp on the ground, not snow. Yes there were still piles a snow about, but it was not bad.
And the sow and her cubs were not to be found. I slept out.
Monday, June 21, 2004
No Ice Axe Day Coincides with the Solstice
I don't know how late the rain continued last night. I fell asleep with my clothes on and no pillow under my head.. I don't recall waking or stirring until I heard Spur stuffing gear next door. I conked out.
The morning brought sun and a trail with lots of waterfalls. And other people. Until today, we'd not seen anyone on the trail after the first day or as we were approaching a hotel area. Today, we saw lots of day hikers, and even some backpackers.
|Apple Pie taking in St. Mary Falls|
Instead we had an easy, frequent access to water, lots of lush plant life, sunny skies, and gentle trail kind of day.
At one point, I came across a lovely field of blue camus lilies. Later it was larkspur.
It's always amazing to me that the beauty of flowers exists, thrives even, without regard to what humans do. That field was there and lovely whether I saw it or not.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Bonus Miles Because of a Moose
We set out from Many Glacier later than we had planned because of our discussions last night. I grabbed a quick breakfast in the restaurant, and, in dry shoes and with two trekking poles in hand, made my way around the lakes and into the mountains. A couple of hours later, I finally remembered to take a break. Gottago caught up, then Apple Pie. I continued on, leaving the two of them, but I soon saw Gottago moving through the trees behind me.
I came to a river crossing with a snow bridge. The snow started consistently covering the ground across the river. I looked around a bit, eventually doing some backtracking to find the corridor through the trees most likely to be the trail. Gottago caught up, and we continued. Finding the trail as it moved away from the river and the falls was much more difficult with the snow obscuring the tread. Apple Pie had caught up by this point, with reports of seeing a moose, which was exciting for her until it got too close. Fear of being moosed caused her to give up on her polite waiting for Spur.
We were sure of where the trail was on the map, but unsure in the territory itself. A snow chute provided an easy way up. It was easy only in that there were no trees or rocks. The steep part was not easy. It was do-able, but not easy. Since we had no way of knowing how far up we had to go, I can't say that it was a third of the way up that we decided to stop to wait for Spur, but you get the idea.
Standing on a steep snowy slope in hiking clothes on a stormy day turned out to not be a riotous good time, so I moved into the trees to get out of the easy wind. The wait continued until we agreed that action should be taken.
|Gottago's image of Cupcake in the trees, waiting|
I dropped my pack, grabbed some snacks and my poles, and headed out to look for Spur, leaving Gottago and Apple Pie tucked under a tree for rain protection. They were on the trail and could see the chute. We agreed that I would go as far back as what we were calling the moose meadow.
My problem was that I could miss Spur, since the snow made many routes possible. I decided to take the trail itself, which was difficult to discern from below, but easy to follow from above. Down, down, no Spur. To the snow bridge, no Spur. But there was a day hiker who'd been with Spur when he was trying to pick up the trail at the snow bridge. He said Spur decided to go back to the lake to look for us more than an hour before.
Ug and yeah. At least I had information. Packless, I hiked with ease and speed. I passed the moose meadow, down, down, down.
Finally, I ran into Spur, who had given up on finding us, written notes and left word about his plans, and continuing his hike. He was glad to see me. We flew back up, up, up.
We ran into Gottago and Apple Pie on their way back down to find us. Apple Pie was wearing my pack on her front, and her pack on her back. They'd left the bear canisters under the waiting tree. They were concerned that we'd both been eaten.
After all parties and their gear were reunited, we continued up a steep bushwack, with Spur leading the way. We climbed through and around, like the animals do, so that we could avoid the steep snow that was everywhere else.
Then, like a switch was flipped, we entered snow-free tundra. This spectacular landscape offered low wildflowers, amazing rocks, and smooth open mountainsides. We made our way through the surreal landscape in awe.
|Apple Pie and Spur checking out a wild cirque, just below Peagan Pass.|
The other three got ahead when I stopped to filter some water at the bottom. I soon caught up with Gottago. Ambling together through the forest and snow-covered ground, we followed our partners' tracks toward the Going to the Sun highway, our next landmark.
We'd just come up over a small rise when I spotted a large ground bird. I call them all grouse, but I'm not sure what it was. It's most distinctive feature was its red eyebrows. The same type of bird guards a section of trail near the end of the PCT. I was interested in getting a picture, so I tried to lure it closer, and surprisingly, it worked. It came right up to me as I crouched down. As I snapped my last shot, I stood up and proclaimed, "Now, it's going to attack me." Which it did.
|The Glacier Attack Bird|
We promptly ran into an elk walking up the trail. We tried stepping aside to let it pass, but it could not be fooled into taking the easy way and giving us good photo opportunities. Instead, it disappeared into the woods like only a wild animal can do.
We continued our descent and soon reached the road. The culvert under the road was slippery and creepy the way all damp, forgotten places are.
Our destination was pre-determined by our permit. We reached the campground around 10 PM. We ended our long day by setting up camp in the rain. Luckily, it's not that cold. Good night.
Saturday, June 19, 2004
Zero Number One
What a great idea to take an early zero. My feet appreciate it. I'm not too sore, but I'm sure my body appreciates it too.
There's a frighteningly decorated Italian restaurant here at the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge in Glacier National Park that has food that's much better than the decor would otherwise indicate. We've spent a lot of time in the restaurant, mostly because it has lots of journaling surface.
All four of us have PocketMail, and one or another of us is usually running off to the phone once during an extended meal. I'm really enjoying the company of Gottago, Spur, and Apple Pie. The people I meet on the trail always surprise me, but that should be no surprise.
There's no Internet here in Many Glacier, so we are somewhat limited in what we can accomplish.
There are four of us in a small hotel room and the biggest issue is the smell of my feet. All the shoes are in the closet, and that seems to be keeping noses happy.
I'm actually writing this many days later, and on reflecting on the time in Many Glacier, that day and that time seems from a part of my hike when things were simpler.
Friday, June 18, 2004
Hard Day on the Snow
What an awkward night of sleep. Since I was on snow again, there were several contributing factors to my clumsy slumber. Snow is cold, so uninsulated contact is bad. My ground sheet is slippery, so everything wanted to move, yes, you guessed it, to the uninsulated places. Plus, I did a lousy job of leveling the floor, so my head was lower than my shoulders and the sleeping area was tilted.
Amazingly though I slept reasonably well. We got out of camp on time, which on this cold morning we had agreed would be 8:15. The first 100 yards of trail was...trail. Then a snowbank. An icy snowbank. Gottago and I could make it. She has 8-point crampons (Kahtoolas), and I have 6-pointers (Thanks Matt!!). Spur has crampons suitable for level sidewalks, and Apple Pie has paste-on crampons.
So Gottago and I stayed on the Highline Trail while Apple Pie and Spur dropped down into a burned area to bushwack around the steep snow. To condense the day, Gottago and I stayed high all day, and Spur and Apple Pie stayed low (and beat us).
It was a hard day. But it wasn't much hiking. We had crampons on and ice axes in hand for 5 hours, and we only covered a few miles. We were doing light-duty mountaineering. It took the two of us 5 hours to go 2 miles. Most every step had to be considered, kicked, placed, and evaluated before repeating the process. Corresponding to each step or two was placement of our ice axes on the uphill side and trecking pole on the downhill side. Sometimes steps slipped. It's full body walking requiring complete attention.
When we got to the first junction, we saw a note from Apple Pie and Spur with a time of 1.5 hours earlier. We were reunited a short time later. We hiked through more snow, over Swiftcurrent Pass, and down, down, down to Many Glacier, a spot in the park with hotels and shiny people. And restaurant food.
|Coming down Swiftcurrent Pass toward Many Glacier|
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Hiking in Snow
Today was a really hard day. We hiked a lot on snow spending time to find our way through trees, across avalanche zones, and across slopes. Most of it was across snow, and I soon noticed that animals who wanted to go the same direction as we did would follow the trail, and since they live there a good portion of the year, they knew the path without seeing the trail. I followed bear tracks as I lead us through the forests and mountainsides.
Our day was headed toward Ahern Drift, a noted difficult spot on the Glacier NP section of the trail.
Ahern Drift. Ahern Drift. The words and vague threat echoed through my mind. Should I be worried? How hard was it? Have I been on a 60 degree snow slope before?
The guide book features a poor-quality black and white photo, like a wanted poster, showing a steep rocky face with some snow on it. From the photos, it looked like a generic snow field.
We could see across to Ahern Drift as we approached it. It was on the other side of a huge elongated bowl. Moving closer, I got to see what the real challenge would be. At the end was a very difficult looking vertical snow surface that required climbing while traversing it. Well, either we were going to make it, or we were not. I look at most challenges that simply.
The approach was difficult with lots of snow and steep slopes.
Keep in mind that we are the first people through this section of trail this season, or so we've been told. Also, we are coming through fairly early in relationship to the amount of snow.
|Looking south toward Ahern Drift|
Since we were early in the season, we were crossing a lot of snow that most hikers don't encounter. Ahern Drift is on a north-facing slope, so the snow is always around, and a big challenge for most hikers later in the season. The Park actually cuts steps in the drift later each year to make it more accessible for hikers.
As we reached the bank that ended the trail tensions were high. Earlier in the day, I'd done some scouting that was perceived as dangerous to me and the rest of the group. We cleaned up that tension and focused on getting our crampons on. I double-checked my bindings to make sure they were tight, and went second in line after Spur, who was cutting steps. Behind me was Gottago, and Apple Pie was bringing up the rear.
Although I did not realize it at the time, it was around 7:30 PM. The sun was shining ahead of us on the narrow snow-lined 'sidewalk,' our next challenge.
But I stayed focus on the challenge at hand.
Plant ice axe on uphill side.
Plant hiking pole on downhill side.
Repeat with opposite foot.
I felt comfortable and focused. I even felt comfortable enough to, gulp, look down.
Part of the consideration in mountaineering is what they call exposure: the risk to body and soul should something go wrong. Exposure includes what's below you and how far should you slip and fall. It also includes things like risk of avalanche, consequences of delays, places to camp, and other factors.
As I looked down considering that aspect of our exposure, I rated it as a 4 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is incredibly dangerous. Sure it was steep. Sure it was a long way down But there were not a lot of rocks on the way down and the run out was easy. The landscape flattened which would automatically slow down the fall.
I was literally looking at one of the advantages of an early traverse of the Ahern Drift: all the extra snow would make a fall much less dangerous. Later in the season, it would mean a smashing up on indifferent rocks. For us, it would mean a long hard climb back up. Time to move.
OK Plant ice axe. Plant hiking pole. Plant foot. Check footing. Transfer weight. Repeat with opposite foot.
We were making our way toward the light. It wasn't so bad. I could see that our path would get steeper as we continued and approached the end, so I wasn't sighing relief yet. Everybody seemed to be doing fine though. Ahead, the sidewalk looked wide enough two walk on. There was enough room between the remaining snow on the left side and the dropoff on the right.
|The sidewalk after Ahern Drift|
Spur was off. I stepped onto the trail. Gottago made it. Apple Pie was off. We'd done it.
Although I wasn't beyond my comfort level, Gottago and Apple Pie were. I was glad to be able to help them through it.
By now, it was clear that the day was coming to a close and we still had miles to go to our reserved camp site. We made our way along the sidewalk and continued on. The snow did not relent. We came to an unexpected flat area and decided to camp. We would be camping on snow again, but the day was so hard and I was exhausted. We set up camp as the sun dropped behind the gigantic snow-capped mountains surrounding us. I fell asleep without changing my clothes having hiked 10 or 11 miles in 12 hours.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
My second day on the CDT was great.
The moose were on the lake when we set out hiking. Saw wolf tracks, grizzly tracks, black bear tracks, elk tracks, and a whole bunch of other tiny ones as we made our way south.
We are camped at Fifty Mountain campground. It's a backcountry site AND in winter conditions, which means we are camped on snow. I'm not really prepared to camp on snow, but we'll see how my efforts go. I used fallen bark from burned trees to create my first layer of insulation.
|50 Mountain Camp in the snow|
Next is my ground cloth, a piece of spinnaker cloth, then various pieces of what I won't need while sleeping, then on top of that is my 3/4 length inflatable pad. Just below my pad, I have my backpack under my torso, my shortie sitting pad under my feet, and my insulated food cozy under my head.
|Me, exhausted but happy|
Outside the rain is turning to snow, but not flakes. It's more frozen balls that are not hail.
The hiking was good today. The photos can only begin to describe what I can not and what the reality of being way up high in this landscape is.
|A tiny glimpse of the scenery and grandeur of today's hiking|
|Gottago's image of Cupcake attempting to self arrest|
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
The first day hiking on the Continental Divide Trail was worth the price of admission.
We started out from Waterton Campground in light rain, which continued thoughout the morning, occasionally becoming slushy with snow. Above us and across the lake, snow was falling enough to coat the trees and rocks.
|Spur, Apple Pie, Cupcake and Gottago just about to head off to the US/Canada border|
Waterton Lake is a long, narrow finger lake, likely created by the same glaciers that created the dramatic peaks which line each side of the N/S lake.
Because of the lack of relationship between natural features and the 49th parallel, a measure in the arbitrary latitude system we have imposed on our planet (and the line that marks the boundary between the US and Canada), Lake Waterton is split between the US and Canada. This feature has had some advantage. Some visionaries created a cross-border Peace Park that recognizes the close relationship between the US and Canada, and that has inspired other Peace Parks around the world. A narrow clear cut from the Atlantic to Pacific marks the boundary regardless of the terrain.
|The clearcut at the US/Canada border|
As we approached the US ranger station at the south end of the lake, which also serves as port of entry into the US, the rain was letting up. We dried out during a conversation with Kelly, who it was a little hard to talk to because she had two roles in the conversation: an immigration official, and a fellow hiker. I finally realized I had nothing to hide from the first capacity, so I stopped worrying about it.
As we were leaving, we saw an elk. The few miles to Kootenai Lakes went quickly and put us in camp at 3, an unheard of early time for thru-hikers, especially since it's light until 10 PM. Glacier NP has a tedious and possibly beneficial permit system that is complex and inefficient. It restricts backpackers to specific campgrounds on specific days, and the permits can only be obtained for 6 days in advance. Hiking for more than 6 days? Leave the backcountry and apply for (and pay for) another permit, which may or may not let you continue on your planned route. I must note that the park officials have been warm, helpful people with our best interest in mind. So: the system sucks and the people are great.
Our first night, here at Kootenai...Lakes, we are about 13 miles from where we started. We moved from a landscape of RVs and human-banked rivers to a lovely lake with spectacular peaks and spires in many directions. For several hours this afternoon we watched a bull and cow moose eating. Moose stick their heads underwater to eat! Can you tell I'm not familiar with moose, bein' from California?
Then I spotted something swimming toward us, creating a V in the water behind it.
What the hell was it? Not a bird. Not an otter. At first I thought it was some sort of pig-sized critter, especially as it got closer. At its closest, we could see ears, eyes, and the top of the head. We followed it down the lake, but it had already spotted us, so it was veering off. Others lost interest, but Apple Pie and I continued watching. I wanted to know what it was. In the distance on our same shore, we saw it crawl out of the water. I was surprised at its hefty torso, but I still couldn't tell what it was. My curiosity drove me further, but Apple Pie dropped off.
I hiked back on the trail and cut across to a stream feeding the lake. As I emerged from the darkness and cover of the forest into the openness and disorder of the stream bed, I felt vulnerable. Although I was in a national park, I really felt I was in the wild. The reality that animals higher up in the food chain were likely in the neighborhood was palatable. A quick glimpse upstream and into the wall of forest across the stream didn't reveal anything with a beating heart, let alone a carnivore, so I headed downstream toward the lake in hopes of getting a better look at the swimming creature. I pushed through branches blocking an abandoned use trail and was walking back toward camp on a trail paralleling the lake. I was quiet and alert. Before too long, I heard a very nearby splash. I'd scared it back into the water.
From on the higher bank, I could look down into the water, and on to the top of the beaver. It was a huge beaver. It swam across the narrowing end of the lake and disappeared from site. At least my curiosity had been satisfied. I was aware that I probably shouldn't be chasing after animals to get a better look: that leaving nature alone is the best policy. Then I felt resentment for all those who had come before me, especially fur hunters, who gave animals fear of humans and reduced numbers.
Satisfied, I continued along the use trail where I ran into an intentionally blocked off part of the trail. It was an old trail leading away from the food prep and storage part of our campground. In Glacier NP, they divide the campgrounds into areas by use in a way that a house is divided up.
The food prep area is the kitchen. All food is prepped and cooked here. Then there's a food storage area, which in our case was just above the food prep areas: a bar high in the trees where we could hang our food to protect it from the bears and vice versa.
The campground has an outhouse in the part of the facility furthest away from the lake and stream. Then there's a horse hitching area. Next are camping areas. At this lake, there are four sites. Finally, there's the living room, the rest of the National Park. We spend a lot of time in the living room, sitting on the shore of the lake.
|Apple Pie journaling on the shore of Kootenai Lake|
Monday, June 14, 2004
6/14/04 Waterton Lakes, Alberta, Canada
Got our permits today, sort of. Gottago, Spur, Apple Pie and I got our permits together. Yogi, Goof & Dewey showed up last night, we saw them this morning, then not again. So who knows what permit they got. We have one winter site on our itinerary, and winter sites are not available to more than 4 people a night, so we won't be seeing them there.
Part of the Highline trail, which is the part of the CDT I was really looking forward to, is still closed, but our detour is not too bad.
I'm not exited tonight, the night before my hike begins. Oh well. (David-will the absence of feeling be sufficient?)
Waterton Village is a village, complete with a chateau on the hill (the big house) and all the little people's houses and hotels down below. There's even a two-screen theatre here.
It's looking like it may rain tonight, so I won't be able to sleep out. Actually, I am sort-of sleeping out: Gottago and I are sleeping on picnic benches in a covered picnic area. Apple Pie and Spur have their tents up. Anish was kind enough to drive us up here. She hiked the AT and is working at Glacier for the summer.
Time to sleep.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
6/13/04 - East Glacier, Montana
So far it's a great day. Walter drove me from his house in Ben Lomand, near Santa Cruz, to the San Jose Airport where I flew first to Seattle, then to Kalispell, Montana.
The next task was getting to E. Glacier Park, a town on the east side of Glacier National Park. Kalispell is on the west side of the park and was about 100 miles away from my destination. A private car with a driver cost as much as my one-way airfare from San Jose to Kalispell, as did a one-way car rental. A guy offering rides at the airport was about half that.
If I'd found a deal, I would have taken it, but secretly, I wanted to meet the challenge of hitching that distance. The size of the challenge increased because it was raining. But I'm set up to be in the cold and rain for days at a time, so I was reasonably comfortable. I walked out from the airport to Hwy 2, confirming with the ladies at the airport parking payment booth that left was east on my way out.
Chris, who had a flatbed trailer behind his blue pickup, stopped before too long. He lives in the area during the summer, and in southern Texas for the rest of the year. He delivers specialty parts to oil rigs around Texas and Louisiana, which he says is quite lucrative.
He dropped me in a town called Hungry Bear, where I grabbed a burrito, endured more rain before moving up the road and under some trees.
Before too long, Lee came along. Today was moving day for Lee, but his "girl's" mom was over, and he wanted to avoid the mother-in-living-in-sin. He wasn't going to East Glacier, still 80 miles distant, but decided he would drive me for a half an hour. He didn't even know where East Glacier was. Lee was drinking a beer and smoking.
Truth is that he was drunk and it was a rainy day. And he was not driving by staying in between the lines. He claimed that his sloppy driving was on purpose. I believe it was when he cut across the center line on a curve with good visibility. I don't believe it when he was going 80 and INCHES away from the guard rail on the right.
Me, I was serene. Plus something Lee said put me a little at ease. He said, "I didn't live this long to kill myself driving now."
Along the way he told me stories almost too improbable to be true, but I know they were.
So, a half hour was coming up, there was a straight section of highway, and there was a business coming up so Lee decided that it was time to stop. Then he saw that the business was a restaurant and TAVERN. We asked where the next gas station was. When Lee heard that it was only 39 miles to East Glacier, he ordered a Bailey's and coffee and announced that he'd drive me the rest of the way.
On the way, we passed Marias Pass, one of the early passes on the CDT. That was exciting. Then, for a while, the pavement on the road was red. They used red material to make the asphalt. It was a little magic.
Since I'm writing this, you know that I made it. I filled up his tank for $30, he bought more liquor, and I sent him on his way, wishing him safe travels.
Lee is turning 40 soon, works five 10-hour days a week in the timber industry here in Northern Montana, and has two daughters in Seattle.
At the Whistling Swan, I found a note that Gottago left for me, and true to her note, she returned before too long. Plus she had Spur (PCT 2002, who I saw only once, on day 3 at Mt. Laguna) and Apple Pie (PCT 2003) with her.
They'd been busy finding out lots of stuff, the best of which is that we can drive food to Many Glacier, decreasing the amount we have to carry on the first leg from 8 days to 4 days. Yippee!
Yogi, Dewey, and Goof are due in sometime tonight. It's approaching 11:30 PM now, so it's going to be real late.
Saturday, June 12, 2004
Santa Cruz, CA
I'm waiting in Santa Cruz for Walter to pick me up. He'll drive me to the San Jose airport early tomorrow morning.
I'm serene, but exhausted. My food boxes are done, thanks to the direct help of David and Tom. The food got packaged with the help of Jean, Ferne, David, Mark G., and Richard S. Friend and fellow backpacker Robin provided a home while I did all this in San Francisco.
Today I cracked a crown and half of it came out. We'll see where that leads. Earlier in the week I broke the key in the lock in the back of my Subaru. Luckily, I'd already done most of my moving and hauling, so getting around not being able to use the back hatch wasn't a huge problem.
My car is parked in my mother's side yard in Del Rey Oaks, California. The people she bought the house from had an RV, and this is where they stored it. I'm thankful to have an easy place to store my car, and to have my mom involved in some way in my latest adventure. Thanks Mom!
I'm particularly thankful to Matt (Iron Chef, PCT 2002) who's handling my resupply. He lives close to the place where my stuff is stored in San Francisco, so most of my resupply boxes are there. He'll drop by, pick a few up, and send them to me along the way.