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East Glacier to Canada – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – East Glacier to Canada Hike Overview

east glacier to canada hike on the continental divide trail 2018

With a fair amount of snow already on the ground and much more foretasted, Katie Hopeful and I set off into Glacier National Park. I was reluctant due to the weather, but Katie and Hopeful seemed optimistic. Stopped in the Two Medicine ranger station only minutes before they closed for the season. On the morning of our second day, Katie and I decided to turn back due to the weather conditions, with the idea of road walking to Canada from here. Hopeful continued to hike, alone. Katie and I regrouped in East Glacier and I ultimately set off alone the next day. A 37 mile road walk and another 11 miles in a blizzard, and I reached Port of Piegan at the Canadian border. At last, my journey on the CDT is complete!

Saturday September 29th – CDT Day 162

Woke at 7:45 to gloomy skies. This would be the best it looks all day.

Packed up and got breakfast at the diner. We had many discussions about the route, end points and ride back to east glacier logistics, etc.. Mostly based on the oncoming weather. Maybe 8 inches of snow today at high elevation forecasted, and wind chill in the teens. The next several days won’t be great either, with another storm coming Tuesday.

Walked out of town at noon. Road walked to two medicine, about 12 miles. The rain switched over to snow as the time passed. I had plastic grocery bags over my feet to keep them dry/warm. It seemed to be working so far.

We stopped to eat lunch inside the Ranger station once we arrived. Nice to get out of the snow for a bit. This was the last day this Ranger station was open for the season, and this Ranger was leaving in less than an hour. After this, no more permits from this location. This would make big problems for any CDT hiker behind me. I only know of Mr. Clean behind currently.

After the Ranger station, we start hiking actual trail. The scenery here was incredible, even as it was barely visible through the falling snow. One could only imagine the grandeur of this place in optimal weather!

It somehow seemed fitting, to spend my final days on the CDT in a snowstorm. Kinda like, you’ve been out here a long time and you’re really pushing your luck. If you aren’t ready for the end, here’s a strong sign that it’s over. Beautiful though, no doubt.

We walked another 6+ miles to our campsite at Oldman lake. By the time our tents were up, we were all cold and ready for shelter. It’s going to be a long couple of days like this. Katie and hopeful were too cold to cook outside and opted to eat some no-cook food items for dinner instead. We were all too cold to get water from the lake, or hang food. With Opsaks for food storage, this wasn’t a great concern though.

I was glad to have the grocery bags on my feet, but they certainly weren’t dry. Tomorrow I’ll use turkey bags, since the grocery bags ended up getting holes in them. I didn’t expect them to last. 

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 2839
Rain – yes, and snow
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday September 30th – CDT Day 163

Woke up around 7. I was cold the second half of the night. This was the coldest I felt at night on the CDT. The snow continued to fall lightly as we all dreaded the moment we have to get out of our bags.

Last night, I put my wet shoes in a heavy duty grocery bag and kept them in my tent. This morning, I put them in my bag to warm up. Katie and hopeful, well, their shoes were frozen. However, My socks were frozen. Good thing I had multiple pairs.

I emerged from my tent to a world freshly covered in snow. Three or four inches had fallen. Visibility was low this morning and there was no view of the surrounding mountains to be had. To prepare for the cold and wet weather today, I wore a couple of turkey bags over the warmest pair of socks I had. However, my feet got cold very quickly. My hands were also cold to the point I couldn’t use them to do anything useful. I did jumping jacks, ran up and down the trail and ran in place to try and get the circulation going, but to no avail. It took much longer to pack up this morning than usual.

I tried to scrape off the frost from the outside of my tent, but there was a lot left, including on the inside of the tent. It was also wet underneath my sleeping pad. My Tyvek ground she was frozen to the ground and when I hold it up, and inch of ice came with it. There’s no way this stuff is going dry out.

Reality was setting in for me that hiking the Highline trail to Waterton was a foolish endeavor. I should have listened to my gut instinct on this one and not followed the group mentality. I announced my decision to turn around and go back to East glacier, with the intention of road walking the rest of the way to Canada. It would only be 45 miles. Considering there’s no view of anything, current weather conditions and future forecast, it’s the right call. Katie agreed and joined me. Hopeful still wanted to press on to Waterton on his own. There really wasn’t anything I could say to change his mind.

Katie and I started walking back to two medicine while hopeful headed up pitamakan pass. We hiked less than a mile before Katie started having regrets about turning back. She really wanted to hike to Waterton. Well, so did I, but it’s not a matter of what you want at this point it’s a matter of should you do it. It’s like she just forgot all of the reasons she wanted to turn back. Either way, she continued on to East glacier with me.

It seemed like visibility was even lower than yesterday. Still, a nice hike back. It was pretty with all the freshly fallen snow.

We ended up on a spur trail that dumped us out near the entrance of Glacier National Park. This was actually closer to where we wanted to go anyways, so this worked in our favor. We didn’t have to walk far before we were able to hitch a ride.

Now back in East glacier, we headed to the two medicine grill for lunch. Duffle was sitting outside on a bench. He left yesterday morning at 9am, and bailed going over pitamakan pass. He lost the trail in a complete white out and almost fell off a cliff. Couldn’t tell if it was a 10 foot cliff or a thousand. After that he said no way.

While eating lunch I got a text from Dixie saying that she bailed as well. She made it over triple divide pass which had snow up to mid thigh. Hearing Dixie and Duffle’s stories make me very happy with my choice to bail.

I got a room at the Whistling Swan again. Showered up and started drying out my gear. Spent the evening prepping for tomorrow. Instead of packing 5 days of food I now only needed a little over one. I took my extra food and condensed it into one Opsak. I’ll drop off the extra food with Mark at the general store tomorrow morning to hold for me until I finish.

Miles – 8
Total Miles – 2847
Rain – snow
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

Monday October 1st – CDT Day 164

Katie decided to hitch up to many glacier and continue hiking to Waterton with Magoo. I really couldn’t wrap my head around this decision, considering the fact that tomorrow there will be 18 inches of snow on the way for high elevations. Regardless, she made up her mind.

Since I finish tomorrow and she’ll likely finish Thursday, we might not see each other again. It also dawned on me that I might not see hopeful again either. Saying bye to Katie was hard. All of the sudden there’s been a lot of goodbyes and it’s been tough.

It was a little after 9 when I made my way up to the general store. Mark was happy to hold my food. I then jumped on highway 49 and immediately got a hitch from old scout and his wife. I saw him yesterday at two medicine grill, he finished a few days ago.

I got dropped off along highway 49 right where the road splits off to two Medicine. Highway 49 was closed, assuming for the winter. I started walking it around 9:30.

Great views of two Medicine Lake and the snow capped peaks behind it. All the sudden I was overcome with thoughts and emotions regarding the end of the trail tomorrow. Crazy to think that this is my last full day of hiking. I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time, and I am ready for it. Still, reflecting on all of the things I’ve seen, places I’ve been and people I’ve met along the way made me wish it wasn’t ending.

Even though the road was closed there were many people driving on it. Regardless of the traffic, it was a very scenic Road walk.

 

When I got close to highway 89, I stopped along the side of the road for a quick food break. 10 minutes max. Then I made my way down to the highway.

The first few miles of highway 89 were under construction, just a dirt road. I had 5 cars stop today to ask me where I was waking and if I need a ride. Of course, I said no.

Most of the day was spent hiking hwy 89. I took another short break after 3pm. People were looking at me weird as I sat on the ground and ate food along the highway.

The views outside of Lake Mary were awesome. Snow capped peaks, dark clouds and stray beams of sunlight gave this place a magical touch.

As I walked by a scenic overlook, a woman flagged me down. She said she saw me walking and asked me a few questions about my hike. I told her about the CDT and she gave me a couple of beers.

Black bear

Everything in St Mary had closed for the season, and it was basically a ghost town. I walked right through it and moved on. Just north of St Mary, I saw a black bear walking a small road alone the lakeshore. This was basically just down a small embankment from where I was walking. The bear didn’t know I was there for a minute or two. The bear noticed me and we locked eyes for a few seconds. Not feeling threatened from my position, I kept walking and the bear then ran away.

After I saw the bear, the clouds fell out of the sky and fog over took the landscape. Darkness came shortly after. It was a bit eerie yet pretty cool walking in the dark in the fog. Except when a car went by.

When I got into the town of Babb, I stopped in a restaurant that was open. However, it was a fine dining restaurant with entrées all above 30 bucks each. No thanks. I found my hotel a couple hundred yards north. I had called this morning to reserve a room and I was told to walk in the unlock door and the key would be in the room. It was nice to be able to just walk straight into the hotel and not have to do anything. At 37 miles, today was my second highest mileage day on the CDT.

Miles – 37
Total Miles – 2884
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – black bear

Tuesday October 2nd – CDT Day 165

The weather was looking nasty this morning, with several inches of snow on the ground and lots more still falling. I was pretty tired from yesterday’s big mile day, but motivated by being only hours away from completing my CDT thru hike. Time to get moving and finish this thing.

 

Dressed with all my layers and turkey bags over my feet, I set out into the snow storm for the final 10 miles to Canada. Visibility was low and the snow flakes were huge. Not much traffic on the road, good for road walking but bad for the hitch back from the border.

While walking the road, a park Ranger drove by and said he might be able to give me a ride south from the border if he gets done pulling some motorists out of the snow. I also a had border patrol agent offer up a ride south to Babb. Hopefully one will pan out when I get there.

For months I’ve been waiting for this moment. The last stretch to the finish line. I had wondered what it would feel like to walk the final mile of a thru hike, and that moment is finally here. With the weather being so bad and road waking to Port of Piegan instead of hiking through Glacier to Waterton, it was not the joyous walk I envisioned. Nevertheless, my journey was just mere steps away from ending and that was difficult to come to terms with.

As I battled my emotions, the border crossing finally came into sight. The falling snow obscured it from view until I was right up on it. This is it! I walked through knee deep snow drifts on the side of the road to get to a sign that said “now leaving USA” for a picture. I held back tears with some nervous laughter, in shock of what I had just accomplished.

I continued walking into Canada, stopping at the Canadian customs office. It’s set up for vehicles, not pedestrians, so I stood behind the line of cars in the road and waited a few minutes in the falling snow. When it was my turn, the customs agent asked what I will be doing in Canada. I pointed at the Welcome to Alberta sign a few hundred feet away and said “I’m going to walk up to your sign right there, take a picture and drink this beer if that’s alright with you”. She gave me a weird look and I explained that I’m ending my CDT hike here. She asked another agent about the beer and they said since I’m not driving It’d probably be OK, and they’re just going to look the other way.

Standing in front of the Welcome to Alberta sign, there was nothing left to do except drink that beer. It wasn’t the best tasting beer I’ve ever had, but it was certainly the most meaningful and by far the most well-deserved. I sat in the snow and stared at the sign, and the snowy nothingness behind it. I thought about all I had done and seen over the last 165 days to get to this point. I almost couldn’t believe I was here.

Finished hiking and celebrating, I walked back into the US. I mentioned the border patrol agent who offered a ride to the agent at the window, and he said to come inside while he asks around. The woman who offered the ride had already left, but another agent said he could take me in a half hour. That’ll do, I’m in no hurry now with my hike over. I also asked if there was an obelisk here, the type of monument that’s at Waterton and Chief Joseph. The agents told me they were not aware of one. However, I later found out from Dixie that there was indeed an obelisk right here, positioned somewhere in between the the US and Canadian buildings. I was glad she got to get that iconic thru hike photo in front of it, but really bummed I was not able to. 

The ride to Babb with the border patrol agent worked out. Now, I had my thumb out on the road here trying to hitch back to east glacier. It took about 15 minutes before a guy in an FJ Cruiser stopped. He was a photographer named Lee, here on a 100 day trip from his home state of Hawaii. He was planning on camping at st Mary lake, but with all the snow on the ground he decided against it.

Lee was going to drop me off in st Mary, but since he was no longer staying there he asked “where do you need to go”? I said east glacier, so that’s where we headed. Nice!

In east glacier, I picked up my bounce box from the general store. Lee was thinking of heading to Whitefish, which is right next to Kalispell. He then offered to drive me to Kalispell from east glacier, which I gladly accepted. This saves me a train ride to Whitefish and an Uber from Whitefish to Kalispell.

In Kalispell, I got a hotel room at the country inn next to the airport. Lee and I had been in the car together for a couple hours and were getting along great, so I offered to let Lee use the other bed in my room. He accepted. It’s the least I can do for a guy who dropped who drove me a couple hours across the state. We ordered pizza, my first post hike meal. Of course, I ate the entire large pizza.

I went to bed thinking about my journey, and the end of an Era, really. This had been my dream for the last 6 years and now it’s finally done. It’s a great feeling, but overshadowing that is a greater feeling of “what’s next”? Only time will tell!

Miles – 11
Total Miles – 2895
Rain – snow
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

Like what you see?

Lincoln to East Glacier – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Lincoln to East Glacier Hike Overview

lincoln to east glacier hike on the continental divide trail 2018

I entered the Scapegoat Wilderness just north of Rogers Pass, where I did the most climbing I’d done in a single day on the entire CDT. However, these were the best views I’d seen in a long time. Lots of ridges with distant views. Then the trail drops down into a valley, where it’d mostly stay for the remainder of the hike to East Glacier. I picked up a package of food I had my dad send to Benchmark Ranch along the way before starting the Bob Marshall Wilderness section. Forest fires and high elevation snow forced a lower route through the Bob, so we missed the Chinese Wall and more. Winter is coming soon. 

Friday September 21st – CDT Day 154

Woke at 7:30. Took my last hot shower for the next 8 days. Then we all went out for breakfast at Lambkins.

Gary, the local trail angel, picked us up here and took us to Rogers Pass. Near the pass was a sign for the record cold spot in the Continental US at negative 70 degrees. Wow!

The trail starts climbing right away and does so all day, really. Passed a locked yurt about 3 miles in. It’s used by some guys doing research on eagles and stuff. It used to be open to hikers from what I heard.

Wow, lots of climbing today. However, this time there is a reward of nice views from exposed ridgelines.

So many ups and downs. It was a tough day. Almost no water sources as well.

Hiked to 8:15 and found camp on a flat but exposed section of a ridge. We cowboy camped, figuring no rain tonight. With a 10:15am start, we were hoping to get more than 22 miles today. There was just so much climbing. Today was actually the day with the most elevation gain on the entire CDT for me at 7576′.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 2675
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Saturday September 22nd – CDT Day 155

I slept great until about 1:30 this morning. Then the wind picked up. This was a nuisance until I got up at 6:30.

We continued up the Ridgeline we camped upon last night. Great views for the next several miles. The winds remained strong and tossed us around as we walked.

After a couple miles of hiking the trail drops down into a valley along a Creek. This was a Welcome relief from the maddening winds. The boring forest I cursed for the last several hundred miles was now my sanctuary.

The trail trends uphill for several miles at a decent grade. Yesterday was the first day of fall, and today that is apparent with the colors changing on select trees.

We then hiked up over a pass above welcome Creek. For a couple miles before and several miles after the pass, we hiked through old forest fire burn areas and blow downs.

We found camp at the junction where the CDT splits off from Straight Creek around 7:15pm. The sky was dark and had already let loose a few sprinkles, so it seemed like the right call to make. I nestled my tent among some trees to provide protection from the wind and potential rain. Good day of progress!

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2703
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday September 23rd – CDT Day 156

Nice night… Calm, no rain and not too cold. Woke at 6, hiking at 7.

Patches of dark clouds rolled by as we left camp, but cleared up as the morning went on. The burn area continues down this valley for another mile or two. Finally, we are in living forest again!

We made good time to Benchmark. At the road junction, I headed to the benchmark wilderness ranch and hopeful hiked to a trail junction we agreed upon. He isn’t picking up a box here, so no need for him to walk extra miles.

The benchmark ranch was empty when I arrived. It wasn’t clear where the CDT resupply boxes are stored, so I started poking around. Found it… Front porch of one of the “main” cabins. There was even a trash can for all my garbage. In years past I’ve heard there was no trash can, and so you had to pack out all garbage.

I left benchmark and hiked to a trail junction hopeful and I agreed to meet at. The fall colors were beautiful here. Mainly, the aspens and their golden color. They’ve really come out in the last few days.

Hopeful and I hiked north on the South fork Sun River trail after reconnecting. This was definitely a main thoroughfare, with tons of horse traffic. Nice views of the river.

Reached West Fork South Fork Sun River and crossed our at a large bridge. Yep, super long name and it sounds ridiculous. From here, we’d continue west to say on the CDT. But since we need to reroute around the Juliet fire and Moose creek fire anyways, we decided to continue north on the south fork sun river trail. This will reroute around the fire while shaving off a few miles.

The south fork sun river trail was really beautiful. Lots of big views of the river, fall colors and mountains.

Easy walking along a flat river valley that was dry, not swampy. Really, a rare combo!

Right before we found camp, we bumped into a herd of about 15 elk in a field. There was a big bull a hundred yards away, and others putting on a vocal show further along the tree line.

We made camp in the tree line not far from the elk. They were perfectly happy being super vocal all night with us here. They were doing their thing, we were doing ours. Man and beast, living in harmony.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 2732
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, bald eagle, elk (around 15)

Monday September 24th – CDT Day 157

Slept great. The elk were bugling all night, heard them every time I woke up. Sounds like a cross between a horse and a dinosaur that’s being murdered.

Started hiking just after 7. The clouds look menacing today, very dark and low.

Saw lots of fresh grizzly scat this morning, even some prints.

Low clouds rolled into the valley and gave us some sprinkles. Higher elevations were getting snow. With the fall colors and snow capped peaks, it looked like an iconic western art scene.

Reached gates cabin early afternoon. This looked to be a Ranger outpost. There were a few horses in the corral, but the place was locked up. Probably out for patrol. Either way, the porch was a great spot to eat lunch and get out of the rain.

Gates cabin was near the junction with the CDT, where would rejoin after the fire reroute. However, it looked as if we could take another shortcut by continuing north along the north fork sun river trail. This would keep us at low elevation and out of the bad weather up high. It would cut off a few miles as well. Only problem is, we don’t have a map showing the trails north of a certain point. Despite this, we were confident there would be a trail here that would eventually take us back to the CDT.

Our alternate route was definitely not as straight as we hoped. There were many zig zags and a few trail junctions that we basically guessed at. There were also a couple river Fords. Man, that water is cold!

Early evening we heard several wolves howling not too far away. That was cool to hear. We then stumbled upon a horse camp with a ton of wooden “improvements”, mostly to corral and otherwise support the housing of horses. There was also a lot of wood cut and ready to go for a fire. This is the obviously place to camp, since we were thinking a bushwhack might be necessary to rejoin the CDT at this point. That’s best left for the morning.

We had a nice fire, I think my 5th on trail. Got in my tent second before the sprinkles came back. Perfect timing.

Miles – 23
Total Miles – 2755
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, elk (around 15)

Tuesday September 25th – CDT Day 158

It rained fairly heavily last night. Woke at 7am and it still looked crappy out when I poked my head out of the tent. Since we’ll be bushwhacking through wet vegetation in the cold, we decided to wait a while to see if the sun comes out. Would be much nicer if it were warmer and drier.

Hopeful had a fire going when I woke up at 8:45. Three was patches of blue but clouds still dominated the sky. We didn’t start hiking until 10:15ish.

We back tracked a couple hundred feet until we reached a trail going down to a campsite along the river which we passed on last night due to it being a magnet for condensation. The trail led to a campsite, indeed, but it also crossed the river, which we could not see from the trail above. On the other side was a trail junction with signs. This led us to the North Fork Sun River trail, number 110. We were on this Trail initially after leaving gates cabin yesterday, but it seemed to branch off into trail 109. It would have been nice to have maps showing where these trails went, but we didn’t have that luxury. We went fairly far out of the way following trail 109 compared to where 110 would have run. Either way, back on trail and no horrendous bushwhack! Best case scenario.

 

Hiked several miles through burned areas and downed trees before rejoining the CDT. I was having a rough morning, just really wanting this hike to be over. Still another week or so and about 175 miles.

Took lunch by a stream. Laid my tent in the sun to dry, filtered water and washed my socks. It’s so great to not be moving. The entire day is spent hiking, from sun up to sun down, and this just wears on you mentally after a while.

Most of the rest of the day was spent hiking through burned areas, with occasional patches of forest that was spared. Had to ford strawberry creek, which was cold but shallow. Weather was gradually clearing but still lots of puffy white clouds.

Stopped to eat a quick dinner around 6. Then we pushed on for another 4.5 miles to a guthook waypoint with comments about a good campsite. Arrived at 7:40, just as it was getting dark. 22 miles today, not bad for a late start. It was a clear night now and the stars are out.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 2777
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Wednesday September 26th – CDT Day 159

Got up at 6:45, and it was cold. There was condensation on the inside of my tent, which turned to frost as soon as I opened it. There was a full moon still illuminating the sky, making it much brighter than daylight alone would have.

Hiked through burned out forest for a while. Some of the wooden trail signs had burned, but were still readable. Sort of.

The trail then made its way around a few small lakes. We stopped at one of them for first lunch. Found a spot in the sunlight on a open grassy slope high above the water. Here we could dry our tents out while eating. When I opened mine to lay it out, there was so much frost that it collected into about half a snowball which I then threw at hopeful. While sitting here, a guy named Goldilocks stopped to chat with us. I believe hopeful and I have both met him at separate times further down the trail. At Old Faithful he flipped up to Glacier and hiked the GDT(Great Divide Trail), and just now heading south back to Old Faithful.

After lunch, the trail continued through some healthy forest. Finally something that’s not burned. In fact, lots of the vegetation along the trail was overgrown. Easy walking though.

It was actually pretty warm today, and the skies were mostly blue. A nice change from the last couple days. I hope the weather can hold out another week like this.

Stopped at a stream for a second lunch. We were almost at a junction where the CDT climbs 1500′ and jogs sharply west. There’s an alternate route that continues straight and cuts off about 4 miles, as well as the climbing. That’s what I wanted to do. Hopeful wanted to climb it. Additionally, Hopeful was shooting to get into East glacier Friday morning whereas I prefer to get in tomorrow, Thursday night. We decided to split up at this junction and do our own separate thing, meeting up Friday morning in East Glacier.

After second lunch the trail became much wider, akin into the south Fork sun Trail just north of benchmark a few days ago. You could drive a car down it. I passed a ranger outpost cabin which looked like no one was home. Other than that, just a walk in the woods.

I stopped at a really nice campsite around 6:45. I’d planned on hiking a few more miles, but the trail will drop down into a river valley and I thought staying higher and drier would be the way to go.

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 2803
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Thursday September 27th – CDT Day 160

Woke at 6:30. Slightly warmer this morning, but cloudy. Looks like rain.

The trail crossed the south fork two medicine river several times. No bridges, no obvious crossing points… Had to really hunt for a spot to hop rocks and logs. Even then, it wasn’t easy. In the end, my feet got wet when they slipped off rocks. Then I just walked through the water for subsequent Crossings.

It was raining lightly as I made my way down the river. As the trail nears hwy 2, it becomes more of an old road than trail. There were gates and barbed wires fences to climb over. All the vegetation was wet and significantly colder than the river fords earlier.

Road walk along hwy 2

Made it to hwy 2 and began the road walk into east glacier. This took a couple hours. It was raining consistently now, and it was cold… Low 40s, 30s with the wind chill. Cold hands and feet. Narrow shoulders along sections of road with a guard rail too. Not a fun road walk but the fastest way into town. Important in this weather. I had lte along the road and talked to Katie for a bit. I thought she was further along the trail but apparently was in east glacier still.

Went to brownies hostel upon entering east glacier around 1pm. I picked up my bounce box and finish box here, then I paid for a bed in the bunkhouse. After I paid she said come back at 3pm. If I can’t check in now, shouldn’t you tell someone that before taking their money? I asked for a refund and went outside to figure out my next move.

I called Katie and she was with a guy named bugagoo, a friend of mold and mildew. They had a minivan that bugagoo rented, so they picked me up. We got a 2 bedroom motel room for the 3 of us at the whistling swan for a few bucks more than a room in the bunkhouse.

Last bubble of CDT hikers in East Glacier. Most had already finished!

Got my hot shower which felt amazing! They all do but this one was a bit more necessary, providing essential warmth. Just like when I reached Lincoln. Ate dinner later at Serrano’s with a whole slew of other CDT hikers who came out of the woodworks. Sprinkler was here too, having just finished his hike a few days ago. I hadn’t seen him since Grand Lake. Very cool for the last Town.

Around dinner time, hopeful rolled into town. He got settled in at the swan and met up with him upon our return from dinner.

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 2821
Rain – yes
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

Friday September 28th – CDT Day 161 (zero day)

Bugaboo caught a train out of East glacier this morning, back home to Minnesota. Hopeful, Katie and I then grabbed Breakfast at the two medicine Cafe.

View from Two Medicine Ranger Station

Got a ride over to the two medicine Ranger station from a local named Lou. Awesome guy doing some very inspiring work with conservation and public lands. We had to go to the Ranger station to get permits and this basically needs to be done in person.

Did town chores remainder of the day. We got food from the general store for dinner since the motel had a kitchenette. Wild Mike’s pizza… Looks legit. Hung out here prepping for our last leg on the CDT, which is shaking up to be an adventure with the weather forecast. It’s already snowed and calling for several more inches at high elevation in the coming days. At those elevations, temps will be in the teens and 20s. But don’t worry, I’m full prepared with turkey bags to wrap around my socks to keep my feet warmer in my trail runners. Ha.

Like what you see?

Anaconda to Lincoln – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Anaconda to Lincoln Hike Overview

anaconda to lincoln hike on the continental divide trail 2018

North of Anaconda, the CDT changes from paved roads to dirt roads and finally trail. This section was not one of the most scenic on the CDT, with mundane low hills and forest dominating the views. I found the best views to be between Dana Spring and Granite Butte. Lots of hunters out in the woods at this time of year. North of Dana Spring, I ran into Hopeful. This was a great surprise and we hiked hundreds more miles together, almost to Canada. Our last day before reaching Rogers Pass, we hiked through a cloud in near zero visibility. 

Friday September 14th – CDT Day 147

Hiker food

Slept in to 8:30. Ate the continental breakfast which was actually pretty good, although very carb heavy. I asked the front desk if I could check out like an hour after 11 and they were cool with it. I ran up to the post office to mail my Salomon Odyssey Pro shoes back home and stopped at Albertson’s to do grocery shopping for the next 6 days.

I ate at McDonald’s for lunch before leaving town. It was about 1pm when I actually started hiking. My goal for today is 22 miles.

The entire day was a road walk. The first couple hours were on larger highways with a very narrow shoulder. There was a good amount of traffic and as always, there are people that don’t get over at all. Jerks!

I followed road that passes under interstate 90 and heads towards the foothills. Some pretty country right here. Talked with a farmer on his dirt bike for a bit. He said nobody has passed through here in a while, implying I’m running behind. Yup, a little.

Took a quick dinner break after reaching dry cottonwood road. Then pushed on another 10 miles. This had me hiking to 9pm, well into the darkness. I found a flat and level spot alongside a road that split off dry Cottonwood Road. Good enough for me… 24 miles hiked since 1pm, yeah I’m ready to stop!

About 20 minutes after I laid my head down in my tent, a group of rednecks on ATVs showed up and parked a few yards away. I don’t know how they missed my tent as their headlights shined right through it, but they made no mention of it nor did they seem to care. They proceeded to drink beer and spew some drunken gibberish. This went on for about 15 minutes before they moved down the road. Just glad it didn’t turn into a night of shooting street signs.

Miles – 24
Total Miles – 2556
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Saturday September 15th – CDT Day 148

A hunter driving a truck down the road last night as it just got dark had told me I was a mile and a half from the top and there was a campsite up there. Look for a cattle guard and then backtrack a little bit and it’s on your left. I hiked about 2 more miles last night and never saw the cattle guard or the campsite. I walked another 2 miles or so to the actual top this morning and still never saw a cattle guard. I swear, you can never trust people and their mileage estimates on things out here… Especially people driving vehicles.

 

At the top I joined the official CDT again. The trail goes up and down many hills and ridges and is mostly forest. The trail is mostly in good condition and the walking is fairly easy as far as the CDT goes. Ran into one bow hunter on trail.

By noon I had hiked 11 miles. I was running low on water so I stopped at a spring to filter some. It seems I’m missing a gasket from one of the hoses that connect to my water filter. It does not have an air tight seal and water leaks out now. I can still use it without that hose to get me into Lincoln. They’re not going to have an outfitter in that town, best I can hope for is a hardware store. It took a long time to filter water with this setup so I ate some food in the meantime.

After lunch I kept up a good pace. 9 miles in the next 3 hours.

Took a break at Cottonwood Lake which was more like a marsh. Ate another lunch here. Weather forecast was calling for rain around 7. Eating now will set me up to hike until it rains.

I did stop to filter water one more time since the next stretch looked pretty dry. Then it was the final push to camp, another 3 miles or so to the spot I was scoping on the map. The skies were cloudy but not super dark. Looks like rain will hold off for a little bit.

By the last mile, I could just feel the rain coming. My experience in Idaho and Montana with rain is that the clouds build later and the evening and it will rain around sunset. And that’s what it did today. In anticipation of this, I was jogging down the down sections. Not only is it faster but it seems to alleviate some of the impact on the knees when done correctly.

I reached the a junction, where the ground started leveling out a bit. I found a flat spot right next to the trail as it started sprinkling lightly. I setup my tent and as soon as it was up, the rain came down harder. I threw my backpack in the vestibule and did all my chores from the inside. This is one of maybe 5 times I had to do this on the CDT.

Today was a good day in the sense that I met my mileage goal, the weather was warmer and the rain held out until I got my tent up, and the trail was not too hard today despite a fair amount of climbing. I’m hoping for more Trail like this in the coming days, but with better views.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2584
Rain – yes
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – elk

Sunday September 16th – CDT Day 149

Last night was a solid rainstorm. It rained consistently for a couple hours. As result, everything was pretty wet this morning, including my tent. I was cold too, so I was slow to get going. 8am start time today.

After a couple miles I reached an area called the Bison Mountain loop. In guthook, there’s a marker for trail junction here. Several people commented that the mileage listed in guthook is wrong in this area. Instead of being something like 3.9 miles it was probably around 10. That means I’m now several miles behind schedule, since I hadn’t accounted for these additional miles when planning for this section.

Today was another mix of forested trail and dirt roads. Some occasional distant views but mostly just forest. I saw two hunters and a woman walking her dog today. The woman asked if I was going to McDonald pass this evening, I said yes, approximately. She then offered to let me stay at her place, as she had hosted several CDT hikers in the past as well. I politely declined and stated my intentions were to stay on trail and try to cover miles. As much as I would love to, I know that I will just end up staying up late and or getting to the trailhead late tomorrow, and that’s not going to help my cause of getting to Lincoln any faster.

Filtered water from a small stream before heading back up to the divide where it looks dry. I was hoping to get to McDonald pass but I end up stopping a mile before the highway. Otherwise, I had a mile road walk along the highway and then probably at least a mile to get away from the highway before I could find camp on the other side. It was already 8pm and pretty much dark, not to mention I had a decent place to Camp right here.

Cowboy camped tonight under a pretty bright moon, a blinking red radio tower thing, and the sound of highway traffic.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2612
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Monday September 17th – CDT Day 150

Good night of sleep. The ball of my right foot hurt when I went to sleep last night, and still did this morning. Bummer. I took an ibuprofen, only my second or third on trail at most. Many hikers eat them like candy, referring to them as “Vitamin I”.

 

Walked the mile to McDonald pass and continued on the other side. Cell towers and such at the top of the hill on my first climb.

Walked a few miles until I reached a junction with a road. If I make a left here, I can follow the road and cut off a few miles from the official CDT route. It’s not like I’m missing anything. OK, sold!

Much of the road walk passes through private property, with permission to use the road only. Lots of cows everywhere. Filtered water from a stream that I later found out was filled with cow shit all the way to its source, which I walked to eventually. But I’ve filtered from similar in New Mexico and was fine, so I wasn’t too worried.

The road eventually led up to Meyers hill where I rejoined the CDT again. The ley alternate I was hiking was 8 miles, a savings of 6 from the 14 miles of official trail.

I took a break near Dana spring which was dry. Fortunately I had 2.5L still.

After my break, I started the climb up black mountain. I was walking with my head down when I heard a voice… “hey! hey!!” The, coming out of the trees was Hopeful! This was such a pleasant surprise as we could both use the company. We sat down and caught up on things for about 15 minutes before hitting the trail together.

The climb up black mountain seemed to go by much faster than it would have alone. Then another climb up to Nevada mountain. On the descent, we found camp just as it got dark.

It was great having someone to hike with again! Cowboy camping under the stars again tonight.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 2641
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – elk

Tuesday September 18th – CDT Day 151

It was another cold morning. Frost on everything including my sleeping bag.

This mornings hike was nice, with some distant views and ridge walking. There hasn’t been much of either lately.

We took a dirt road that skirts the mountainside below Granite Butte, saving a bunch of elevation gain. We did miss out on the view from the lookout tower, but this road was the way to the only water around for miles, so that made it an easy choice.

The road led us to Stemple pass. Here we dumped our trash in a trash can inside the outhouse and topped off water from a water cache.

Walked at a good pace the rest of the day. Covered 14 more miles and put us within 11 miles of Roger’s pass for tomorrow. However, the weather is calling for rain in the morning, so hopefully it holds off long enough to get packed up and moving. Or just doesn’t rain at all.

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 2641
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Wednesday September 19th – CDT Day 152

Woke up in a cloud this morning. Cold, misty, low visibility. Immediately climbed 600ft. Feet soaking wet. Stopping meant being cold, so we just kept moving.

There were a couple of climbs today, but none that were too big. However, there were no views of anything as the cloud cover remained pretty consistent with visibility of around 100′ or less.

After about 4 hours and 12 miles, we reached Roger’s pass. There was a tarp and a tent set up in the field just before hwy 200. I just walked right by and towards the road, ready to hitch. Hopeful was more observant, and noticed a whiteboard near a couple lawn chairs with both our names on it, literally. It was a trail angel named River Wulf, camped Under the tarp. He was hanging out here supporting CDT hikers… Whiskey, beer, solar charging etc. We chatted for a few minutes before heading up to the road to hitch.

Rogers Pass

Hitching sucked today. It was freezing cold and we were wet, shivering uncontrollably. The traffic was there but nobody would stop. I had my thumb out and one driver gave me a thumbs up. Very frustrating! Finally a guy named Tom picked us up on his way home from a traveling sales trip.

Ate lunch at Lambkins, then got a room at Three Bears Motel. A hot shower felt amazing! I was not fully warm until now.

In the hiker box at the motel, I snagged a sawyer filter for its gasket. This fixed my missing gasket issue on my filter. This was one of maybe two items where I pulled something useful out of a hiker box while on trail. It surprised me how many hikers relied on or used the hiker boxes extensively, as I thought most of the stuff in there was usually junk or food I didn’t want.

Ate dinner at The Wheel Inn, and had a couple beers. Long day!

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 2653
Rain – yes
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

Thursday September 20th – CDT Day 153 (zero day)

Ate breakfast at Lambkins. Did chores all day… Ranger station, hardware store, atm, groceries, post office etc. Ate lunch at the Bootlegger Inn. Another great burger.

Met River Wulf for dinner at the Scapegoat Eatery. He was going to hitch back to the pass tonight but decided to stay in town. Only problem is, all his gear is back up at the pass. He was going to just sit under a tree at Hooper Park all night with all his layers on, and that sounded damn cold. I offered to let him stay with us at the motel, and just sleep on the ground. Obviously he accepted!

Like what you see?

Darby to Anaconda – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Darby to Anaconda Hike Overview

darby to anaconda hike on the continental divide trail 2018

The first 30+ miles north of Chief Joseph Pass were pretty awful. Partially my fault due to a crazy thick bushwhack, but mostly due to never-ending forests of dead trees and burned trees while doing lots of elevation gain and no view of anything. Soon after, the Anaconda Pintler wilderness starts and offers some redeeming views, mostly in the northern section. Bear activity was high, with lots of fresh scat. Temperatures are getting noticeably cooler now and days are getting shorter. 

Monday September 10th – CDT Day 143

Slept in till about 8 this morning. Headed over to Park Place Cafe for breakfast, being the only place open. Another place that serves big portions. I could only eat half of a three stack pancake order!

Next I took care of my grocery shopping. The people’s market was amazing compared to Lima and Leadore, where I resupplied from gas stations. Then I worked on getting a list of items together for my dad to send me at East Glacier. This way, when I’m done with the hike I can pick up a box full of non-hiking items like blue jeans and a dedicated GPS unit to use in the rental car that I will use to drive back home in.

Back at Travellers Rest, I was packing up my stuff when Jim, Mary’s husband and the other owner of Travellers Rest, approached me and asked if I needed a ride back up to Chief Joseph pass. They were going to do a little biking up there in an hour or so. Perfect!

With an hour to kill, I headed up to the post office to send some things back home and send my bounce box ahead to Lincoln. I stopped in a fly shop along the way back and picked up a t-shirt for 8 bucks. Of course, right after I sent my bounce box back. Every time!

Trying out these new Salomon Odyssey Pro shoes

I reached Chief Joseph pass around 1pm. Today I’m trying out a pair of Salomon Odyssey Pro shoes. The Salomon rep I met in Yellowstone had sent these to me to test out. Initial impression are great, the shoe feels comfortable and has felt great walking around town. Let’s see how they hold up to the conditions a thru hiker faces on the CDT.

Not far from the pass, a ley alternate splits off from the official CDT. It looks like it cuts off a few miles, taking a nice flat dirt road instead of ups and downs through likely nondescript forest and ridges. Yeah, I’m into that.

I missed a few turns today and had to backtrack about 2 miles total. Guthook doesn’t show this alternate, but I have it loaded in Gaia on my phone. The free version of Gaia sucks though. Even when I’ve downloaded the detailed maps surrounding my track, they don’t show. Or the maps show up in patches. I was basically following a blue arrow on a grey screen.

When it was time to leave road for trail, ley suggests taking an old cross country ski trail. This might be OK in the winter, and for skiers, but it was soggy and overgrown here and now. Didn’t want to bushwhack uphill through this so I walked down to the next road leading uphill. Then I follow some old railroad grade.

The farther I walked along that railroad grade, the worse it became. Lots of deadfall. Like, no way to step around it because there was so much. Lots of small pine trees taking up the rest of the available ground space. This stopped me in my tracks.

I decided to bushwhack straight up hill towards a road on my map. Crawling over the piles of downed trees and wading through thick pines, I fought my way to the top. This was one of the nastiest bushwhacks I’ve done.

On the road now, I took a side trail leading up to the Divide. Here I reconnected with the CDT again. Shortly after I took a break for dinner.

Knocked out a few more miles after dinner in pursuit of Schultz saddle. I was disappointed to see a truck and camper here using the site. I put on by headlamp and got ready to do some night hiking. Luckily, I didn’t have to go far. Found a a small flat spot a few hundred yards away and cowboy camped here.

Miles – 19
Total Miles – 2449
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Tuesday September 11th – CDT Day 144

Last night was cold. 25° when I woke up. Frost on my sleeping bag and clothes. I shivered throughout my morning routine and skipped breakfast in lieu of getting moving to get the blood pumping.

After an hour, I stopped in the first patch of sun I came across to eat breakfast. I could also remove layers now.

I gotta say, today was one of the more boring days I’ve done on the CDT. Every since I left chief Joseph pass, it’s just been downed trees and burn areas. Really bleak looking. This continued all day long. It also included many ups and downs. I did see about 5 elk in the forest this evening, but didn’t have a clear view.

It had gotten progressively cloudier throughout the day, and was now cold and windy as well. Tomorrow morning it might rain according to the last forecast I saw.

I made camp at a trail junction below pintler pass. I was surprised to see a tent and hammock set up here already. I chose a spot nearby but far enough away. I wonder if they’re CDT hikers?

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2477
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – elk

Wednesday September 12th – CDT Day 145

I thought there was two people in the campsite next to me, but I think it was only one. I saw one person return by headlamp right before I jumped in bed last night, and heard one person leave this morning before I left my tent. I think it was a hunter.

Today is the day of climbing. Non-stop climbing, all day. If I were to hit my mileage goal, it would encompass at least 8500′ elevation gain. Not looking forward to today at all.

Right after leaving camp I climbed up pintler pass, and descended to Johnson Lake. This is where I would have liked to have made it to last night, ideally. This Lake marks the end of the southern Montana/Idaho map in my Guthook App, and the beginning of the northern Montana map, the final map.

After Johnson Lake the trail drops some more before going up another pass. Rainbow pass, Rainbow Lake. In this area, I crossed paths with 2 older guys out for a 30 mile hike. First actual hikers I’ve seen out here. A little further up, I stopped for a break.

The trail drops down another Valley to go around a steep Ridgeline and then heads uphill again. After cresting the pass, the trail swing by Warren lake. Nice mountain backdrop, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one like this.

I took another break below Warren Lake. I’ve been sweating going uphill, but going downhill or stopped I was freezing. Light snowflakes were falling, very light. As I descended downhill after the break, it turned into more of a rain than snow. It rained for about 2 hours and then within a matter of minutes, the Sun was out and the skies were completely blue.

Went over yet another pass, cutaway pass I believe. Then dropped down into Queener Basin and found camp around 7:30. I would have liked to have pressed on for another 30 or 45 minutes but there was another pass to climb and I didn’t feel like hiking in the dark. My shoes are wet and it’s going to be a cold night. Plus, I needed water which was next to camp. However, only 24 miles on the day. This was one of my lowest full days of hiking in a very long time.

It felt so good to get in my sleeping bag. I was really cold, especially my shriveled feet.

Miles – 24
Total Miles – 2501
Rain – yes, snowflakes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Thursday September 13th – CDT Day 146

Last night was cold but I stayed warm in my bag. There were a few sprinkles overnight but overall my tent was dry this morning. I threw on all of my available layers other than sleeping clothes to stay warm. My shoes were still soaked from yesterday, but that’s where having that second pair comes in handy!

As much as I’d planned for an early start this morning, I was just slow to get going into the cold and what I thought was going to be immediately rainy weather. I didn’t start hiking until around 8am.

No more than a quarter mile from Camp I encountered two fresh piles of bear scat. Definitely from this morning. Look like grizzly scat to me. Add that with the one last night, and Queener Basin is one place I’m glad I don’t have to spend another night.

As usual I had a hard time getting going with the climbing this morning. I’m just so burnt out with it. It wears me out and I dread any sign of uphill hiking these days. Just another sign I am so ready to be done with this thru hike. The last part is the hardest for sure.

I went over two passes this morning and both of them had the most beautiful scenery I’ve come across in the anaconda pintler wilderness. It’s a shame the trail spends so much time in the woods and forest and not up on the ridge lines. However, from what I can tell the beautiful part of this wilderness is not very widespread. Maybe a 15 mile segment of the about 100 miles from Chief Joseph pass to Anaconda.

On top of the second pass, the anaconda alternate route splits off from the CDT. The trail goes up hill a little bit, passes through goat flats, then skirts the mountainside over to another pass. From this pass the trail drops down to storm Lake.

On my way down to Storm Lake I was looking at my guthook map. It had the trail dropping down around the lake and then going way back up this Valley. I was looking at Bushwhacking across the valley to cut off a mile or two around the lake when I noticed a trail leading downhill from the lake. This trail became a road and goes all the way to highway 1, where I need to go anyway. This would save me a couple of miles total, and several miles of Trail walking. The new route would put me on a road the whole way into Anaconda, and so I can cover miles easier and faster. Realistically, it was going to be quite a push to get into town tonight anyway since I was looking at around 34 miles. So at least this gives me a shot, and a shot by dark no less.

About a mile before reaching Highway 1, it started raining. There was nowhere to take cover and if there was, it was private property. It rained for at least an hour. After the rain let up, I came across a campground. I headed over to the outhouse, as these usually have a little covered area outside for shelter. This one was no different, so I stopped here for a lunch break.

The rain had cleared by the time I was done eating lunch. The road walk went through some pretty country for being a highway. Started getting warm and I shed off all my layers. Of course after doing so, storms started building again. Super dark and nasty looking clouds behind me, with some crazy wind gusts. But I got lucky and this one passed to the side of the highway.

My Salomon Odyssey Pro shoes were starting to bother the calluses on the outside of my heels, so I switched back to my Cascadia 13s. It felt much better but the damage was already done. Nothing too crazy I can’t deal with, but if I had waited till I got into anaconda things would have been much worse.

I got into anaconda a little after 7. I stopped at the Dairy Queen but they were closed. Bummer! From here I called tradewinds motel to reserve a room and then headed out to find dinner. I stopped at a place called wings and things and got some great Wings. Not many places do a dry rub and I liked this one.

It was almost 9 by the time I got to my motel. I started charging things, washing socks underwear and shirt in the sink and then took a nice hot shower. Time for bed, and this was a very comfy bed!

Miles – 31
Total Miles – 2532
Rain – yes
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Leadore to Darby – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Leadore to Darby Hike Overview

leadore to darby hike on the continental divide trail 2018

The hike north out of Leadore continued to offer some good ridgeline views, although not as frequent or quite as impressive as the Lima to Leadore section. However, it was forest fires dominated the theme of this stretch. Small and large plumes of forest fire smoke could be seen in many directions, and I was often quite close. I even walked over some active flames. I later found out the forest service closed the trail I was on again only hours after they gave me the go-ahead. I also encountered a momma bear and her two cubs. There was a lot of climbing in this section, with no day under 4200′.

Tuesday September 4th – CDT Day 137

 

I was going to eat at the silver dollar restaurant again for breakfast but they were closed at 8:30am. I headed to the stage stop instead and picked up some sausage egg and cheese biscuits, cinnamon roll and a monster… A 2200 calorie breakfast for this hungry hiker!

While browsing the CDT hiker registry/log maintained by the Stage Stop, I came across Cookie and Paul’s entry from 2008. This was cool to me because I must have watched Cookie and Paul’s video of their CDT hike a hundred times over the past 6 years. It’s very detailed in showing what a hiker can expect to see and encounter on the Continental Divide Trail, and might be my biggest inspiration for choosing to hike the CDT. This definitely made me pause for a moment as I realized the significance of this. Also, we were both here September 4th which makes me feel better about my pace. Still, I’m basically last the caboose on this CDT train. I’m not aware of any other NOBOs behind me.

After breakfast I went to the ranger station to get some info on the fires. As it turns out, all of the closures for the goldstone fire have been lifted. That means no super long reroute for me! Now I could go back to the stage Stop & buy my groceries knowing how many miles I need to hike over how many days. Then I went to the post office to mail back some things.

I checked out around 11:30am and had Sam drive me back up to Bannock pass. It was closer to 12:30 by the time I started hiking today.

First few miles where nothing special. The trail heads up hill through Forest along the Idaho/Montana border. Occasional cow activity.

Nice views of a rolling Valley below. Then more uphill climbing. Then down, then Uphill, then down again and repeat.

Hiked through this pine forest that was filled with trees where the lower branches had a very bright green moss. It looked like a whole forest of moss, pretty neat.

Later the trail goes up on a ridge with a good open view of the mountains in the distance across the valley below. The valley that leadore and salmon and other cities are in, running parallel to the Divide. Early evening time it was beautiful with the setting Sun.

I saw some smoke from a fire that was not all that far away. At the closest it looked like it was only over one or two more ridges, but my view was obstructed by trees.

I made camp in a gully about 6 miles south of Lemhi pass. It was about 8:45, and pretty close to dark. I Cowboy camped again under some really bright stars.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 2321
Rain – no
Sleep -Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – elk, bald eagle

Wednesday September 5th – CDT Day 138

Last night wasn’t too cold. Started hiking at 7:20.

Not much to see on this mornings hike. Made it to Lemhi pass around 10am. From here, it’s a quarter mile walk to Sacagawea Memorial. There is a spring here that feeds Trail Creek. Trail Creek is essentially the headwaters of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark passed through here on their expedition. And this is where I will fill my water to last me the rest of the day. So glad I have a 3L water capacity again as well!

Leaving the spring I bumped into a local. I told him about the fire I saw last night and he wasn’t aware of it. He said he was going to call it in.

Leaving Lemhi pass the trail climbs up hill steeply for a while. When it flattened out for a bit, I could cover some ground. It was not scenic either, so I ended up covering 9 miles in 3 hours. A pretty solid pace for me in this terrain.

The trail is on fire…

Later in the afternoon I began to come across burn areas. Some random spotty burns and some widespread areas. Only a week ago this was on fire. Most everything was out, but some areas were smoldering and some were even on fire still. I stepped over a couple of burning logs along the trail, isolated pockets of fire from rogue embers.

There were few good views today. Almost the whole day was spent in the forest with no distant view. The forested open up at one point and there was a large amount of smoke coming off the closest Ridgeline to me, just downhill. Not that far at all. Fortunately the smoke is blowing the other way. Otherwise, I might not have been able to pass through here. It was that thick.

The final climb before Goldstone pass did offer some good mountain views. However, the weather was turning. Dark clouds building to the west and moving my way. Rain could be seen across the valley, in front of a beautiful orange sunset as the backdrop.

Made it down to Goldstone pass. Not even 8pm yet, I set up camp here due to impending rain. Sure enough, sprinkles as I set my tent up. I got it all together just in time, jumped in the tent as heavier rain began to fall. Looks like I’ll get water tomorrow morning instead, not doing that tonight.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2349
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Thursday September 6th – CDT Day 139

I walked about a quarter mile down the road to a spring on the map. It was pretty shallow but I made it work. Filled my dirty water bag and headed up hill. Filtered this water while I broke down camp and hit the trail around 8:15.

Trail goes uphill then drops down into a new basin briefly before climbing a pass. Not really super scenic today overall, mostly just walking in the woods with no view of anything. The next several hours will be like the above, as the trail detours around some really steep terrain on the divide.

After first lunch I tried to pick up the pace on the now flat and easy trail. I made a conscious effort to keep up a 4mph pace and really knocked out some miles.

One section of trail south of miners Lake trailhead had some new switch backs that weren’t on the map. The old route pretty much goes straight down. This one zigzags wildly across the mountainside adding one to two more miles that I wasn’t planning on doing today.

Next up is a 2000′ climb. I was hoping to get it all done today but realistically, setting up at one of the top lakes just below the divide is a good way to go as well. I still have to filter water, been running all day on only three liters and almost out.

Just before reaching the highest Lake in the chain, I drew some water from the outlet. Carried this with me as I searched the area for a campsite. Filtered water as I set up camp along a small Lake. I got a few sprinkles after setting up my tent but nothing major.

Miles – 31
Total Miles – 2380
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Ptarmigan?

Friday September 7th – CDT Day 140

The reflection this morning on the Lake was incredible. Very reminiscent of Colorado. 

Finished the 2000′ climb I was unable to complete last night. I crested the pass and laid eyes on another new valley. This one was filled with lots of green pine trees, which would later obscure my view. Some big boulders and nice scenery in the upper basin. 

Went over another pass with a nice view. Wow, this is a pretty big valley.

The trail manages to stay slightly higher than treeline offering better views. The trail then follows a scenic ridgeline with some of the best views of the day.

I took a break to filter water and eat food near a stream around 4:30pm. When I was packing up and getting ready to leave, I heard a weird noise behind me. I turned around and saw two black bear Cubs climbing a tree only 50 feet away. I grabbed my bear spray and started looking for the mother bear. I yelled “yo bear” and the mama bears head popped up from behind a fallen tree. I yelled again causing the mama bear to turn around and run up the hill. The Cubs were still in the tree, mama bear abandoned them. After short while the Cubs climbed down the tree and ran uphill to their mama. That was really cool to see so close.

After the bear encounter it was a 3000′ descent into a valley. I mostly zoned out and zombied along the trail. At one point a squirrel fell out of a tree a couple feet in front of me. He landed in the dirt, but bounced up and ran away quickly. I got a little chuckle out of this, as I nearly had a squirrel fall on my head. Later I saw a couple of big Elk off in the forest. 

Male Spruce Grouse putting on a show

When I reached the area I had planned on camping at, I didn’t see any good campsites so I kept moving along the trail. Problem is, next two miles are a 1500′ climb through a narrow Gulch. There’s not going to be anywhere to camp here. It was also dark now, so I was hiking by headlamp. I made great time going uphill but was really pushing myself now.

Made it to the top of the climb around 9pm and found some good camp spots. Cowboy camped under the stars. Really tired, and really looking forward to town tomorrow! 

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 2409
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – deer, spruce grouse, elk, 3 black bear

Saturday September 8th – CDT Day 141

Intermittent clouds and stars last night had me a little worried about the possibility of rain, but there was none. Warm night, warm morning. Nice for once.

Hiked a few miles to big hole pass. I saw some elk hunters on the way. At the pass, I walked a hundred yards downhill to a piped to spring to get my days water.

More of the same terrain… Hiking up and down Ridgelines with little or no view. When there was a view, the smoke and haze prevented distant views with any clarity. However, the haze created a pleasant scene with layers and layers of mountains on the horizon. 

The last several miles of hiking follows a dirt road. There were many people cutting firewood here.

At Chief Joseph pass, I stuck out my thumb and began the process of hitching into town. There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic going the direction I needed, but after about 30 minutes the 5th or so vehicle that passed by stopped. It was a small RV driven buy a nice guy named Pete. He was kinda enough to take me to the Travellers Rest RV park where I had planned on staying.

All of the motel rooms in Darby where booked this weekend, including the cabins at Travellers Rest. This is due to the filming of the Kevin Costner series Yellowstone here in Darby. The only available option for me was a tent site. Not ideal, but at least it’s cheap.

I had five boxes waiting for me in the office at Travellers Rest… Bounce box, box of Resupply items from dad, new Salomon shoes sent from the rep I met in Yellowstone, new Brooks insoles for my Cascadia shoes, and new Patagonia boxers.

Like most days I get into town knowing I will zero the next day, I didn’t do much. I setup my tent and headed up to the little blue joint restaurant for dinner. I got chicken strips, fries and a small pizza. Both were amazing, really really good food that seemed out of place for a town like this.

With a full belly it was time to get some sleep. It certainly wasn’t a comfy bed, but rest is rest. At the Travellers Rest.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 2430
Rain – no
Sleep – rv park, tent
Animals – none

Sunday September 9th – CDT Day 142 (zero day)

Breakfast this morning was the other half of last night’s dinner. Portions were huge at the little blue joint.

I got started on all my town chores by late morning. I had a little table set up in the shade with an extension cord running out to it to power my laptop and portable hard drive, and began backing up all my photos and video. Opened all my packages, Resupplied my bounce box, Resupplied things in my backpack from my bounce box, etc.

Mary, one of the owners of Travellers Rest, said that the bunkhouse was now open tonight if I wanted to get a bed. Yes, absolutely! I broke down my tent and moved all my gear indoors. Once I got inside, I realized how tired I was. I laid down and took a half a half-assed nap for about an hour.

I headed up to the little blue joint again for dinner. Got a burger and it was delicious! Headed back to Travellers Rest to knockout a few more chores before bed. Mostly, dealing with my bounce box and figuring out where to send it next and plans for the rest of the trail.

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Lima to Leadore – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Lima to Leadore Hike Overview

lima to leadore hike on the continental divide trail 2018

The hike from Lima to Leadore was probably my favorite section of the CDT in Montana/Idaho. This is how I envisioned more of the state would be. The trail is often up on a ridge with a fence separating Idaho from Montana, and there’s big views all around. The vast seas of golden colored rolling hills convey a subtle yet powerful message of beauty. Other times, seemingly endless mountain ranges dominate distant views across a massive valley. Walking on the divide in the dwindling alpenglow proved to be some of the most memorable moments for me. 

Friday August 31st – CDT Day 133

Got a ride back to the trail at 9am. Mike had his friend Bob give me a ride. Bob is from Canada and was passing through the area, and ended up staying several weeks at the motel. Great guy. He mentioned that most hikers get dropped off 3 miles past where I got picked up at to avoid a dirt road walk along the highway. He said I was only the second person he dropped off that requested to be dropped off at the same place they were picked up from. Everyone else had no problem skipping the 3 Mile Road walk. That’s just crazy to me how many people out here are skipping sections of Trail because they find it boring or whatever. I guess I’m one of the few, one of the proud… continuous footsteps the whole way.

Did that 3 road walk in my sleep. Actually, I made use of the LTE signal and ordered some new boxers. Mine are falling apart.

After the 3 mile road walk along I-15, the road turns into the mountains. It’s another 5 or so miles to the trailhead, which was guarded by cows. Damn, it’s new Mexico all over again.

Off the dirt road and now on trail, it climbs and climbs. It follows the divide which is once again the Idaho/Montana border. I already like these views better than the last section.

There was an amazing amount of annoying gnats and mosquitoes up on the ridge in spots. It looks like the land here is used for sheep grazing in spots. 

Although the trail stays high most of the day now, it still includes a lot of PUDs, or pointless ups and downs. It’s also really dry and no water. I did see two southbounders named turtle and willow as well as a couple of elk hunters.

Eventually the trail drops down into a valley. I lost the trail here and ended up on a cow path. It led me to a stream where I filtered water. Perfect, because I’d been going all day on 1.5L. I was also really hungry, only stopped once for a snack today. Didn’t want to eat much without the water. Had a quick snack with my water and moved on out was 6:30pm now and only a few miles to a trailhead with good camping, so I pushed on.

I arrived at the trailhead around 8:30pm. There were several car campers here. I set up by the creek under some evergreens, and promptly chowed down dinner. I was pretty tired and went to bed immediately after.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 2224
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Saturday September 1st – CDT Day 134

Woke at 7. Cold morning. Took a while to get going. Left camp at 8:30.

Like always, it’s a big climb first thing in the morning. 1500′ for this one.

Over the pass, life gets a little easier with a down hill trending path for a few miles. Nice views. Passed a couple of elk hunters on horseback. Today is season opener, lots of hunters out.

I lost the trail a couple times today. The trail is so faint, or literally non-existent at times, and it just it happens. Typical for the CDT, really.

 

Reached a dirt road that I followed for about 5 miles. A guy in a van drove by and stopped to talk to me. Super nice guy, his name was John. He asked if I needed anything, and I replied a Gatorade if you have it. Not only for the the Gatorade but I could use the extra container. I’m only carrying 2 liters of water and it’s been dry enough at times to warrant a third liter. Anyways, John had a cold Powerade in the cooler for me which was greatly appreciated! I used this bottle the rest of the trail.

A few miles up the road, I bumped into another guy sitting in his truck. His son is out Elk hunting and he was just waiting there for him to finish for the day. His name was Fred, an illustrator for several outdoor magazines. His son writes articles for the same magazines, fly fishing and hunting. I really envy people that get to do what they love for work.

Eventually I jumped off road and back onto a trail. I follow this couple more miles before reaching deadman lake. This was a pretty spot! Great campsite here, but I wanted to put in a couple more miles. Story of my life on the CDT.

Leaving deadman Lake, I had a choice. I could take a longer route on trail that zigzags around, or cut off a few miles by taking a dirt road. Being in the situation I am, in a hurry to reach Canada in 30 days. Obviously I took the dirt road. 

Bumped into a few more hunters just as the Sun went down. We walked together a little ways on the dirt road as I searched for a campsite. They offered to let me stay with them, another two miles down the road, but it was already dark and to be honest I didn’t want to be up late bullshitting with them. I snagged the first flat spot I saw.

Stars are bright and milky way is super visible. Wow!

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 2251
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Sunday September 2nd – CDT Day 135

Woke up to the sound of a truck driving by around 6:45. Last night was pretty cold. It was even colder because I hadn’t fluffed up my quilt. Usually I shake it in such a way that the down settles where it will be on top of me and very little underneath me, where I am already warm from my sleeping pad. I won’t forget tonight!

I followed the dirt road I was on yesterday down into a valley below, and headed across it. There were tons of hunting camps here.

It was a couple miles of dirt road walking before it transitions into trail. The trail had been trending uphill for much of the morning and early afternoon. Lots of elevation gain today, very tiring.

After lunch it became very scenic. Lots of Ridge walking with huge views in all directions. Really nice walking. I saw a pronghorn running through the golden grass on one of these ridges as well. Haven’t seen one since Wyoming. The great Divide Basin desert come to think of it.

Interesting red rock and red lichen on a black rock backdrop caught the eye. 

Eventually the trail drops down from the divide and follows a drainage downhill. Descending this Valley was beautiful.

It’s a couple more miles of walking over ridges and long the base of the hills before reaching Morrison Lake. I stopped here to filter water and eat dinner. Really pretty Lake.

I had about 4 and a half miles left to hike at this point in order to leave myself with a 20 mile day tomorrow. This way I can get into town late afternoon or early evening. Most of this will be uphill. The climb was steepest just above Morrison lake. After that, it was more manageable and about 2 miles to the top of the Divide.

Really nice walking this evening up on the divide. The Sun was setting and provided beautiful skies in all directions. There needs to be more of this!

Set up camp on one of the saddles along the ridge. Just downhill and near a couple trees. Minimal cover, but very calm night. Perfect to cowboy camp under the stars again.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 2278
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – pronghorn

Monday September 3rd – CDT Day 136

Another nice night sleeping out under the stars. But chattering of the squirrels and birds woke me up around 6:30 today. No problem, I want to get to Bannock pass as early as possible to increase my chances of getting a hitch. That is, if I don’t get cell phone signal. If I do, I will call Sam at the leadore inn and get a ride that way.

This morning’s hike was a nice one along the divide. Exposed, good views and Pleasant. Ups and downs, but smaller ones.

Break time on the summit of Elk Mountain

The big climb for today that I was dreading was up Elk Mountain. However, it wasn’t too bad. Other hikers have said you could call Sam at the leadore Inn from here with decent signal. I was not that lucky. Nothing. I did stop and eat lunch up here though, great view.

More enjoyable walking coming down from Elk Mountain. The trail follows Ridgelines and skirts the hillside of others. Most of the big climbs are now out of the way.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking Ridgelines downhill towards Bannock pass. The Idaho/Montana section of trail is almost always on a ridge. Good stuff, But hard work.

Forest fire in the distance. I’ll be hiking right by it soon…

Made it to Bannock pass at 4:15. As I was hiking down to the pass, I saw several cars drive by. This gave me hope. I also noticed a fire burning a couple miles away from the pass that I hadn’t noticed while hiking the trail. Yikes.

There was very little traffic on Bannock pass. It took 2 hours, but I did get a hitch. Super nice woman named Laura, a local out cutting firewood in the forest. She dropped me off at the leadore Inn.

I spoke with Sam, the owner, as I checked in. Nice guy. The motel itself is four rooms in the backyard of Sam’s house. Took a shower and then headed out to the silver dollar restaurant for dinner. Of course I ordered something like ” whatever you’re biggest burger is, double it”. The waitress usually gets a kick out of it, especially when I put it down no problem. And this was no exception.

I was going to check out the stage stops food selection, but apparently they close at 6. It’ll have to wait till morning. Nothing to do but go back to my room. I spent the rest of the evening doing internet things on my phone and relaxing on a nice comfy bed. It feels incredible to be off my feet.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 2299
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – none

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Macks Inn to Lima – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Macks Inn to Lima Hike Overview

macks inn to lima hike on the continental divide trail 2018
After leaving Macks Inn, the route follows roads nearly to the summit of Sawtelle Peak. It snowed up here yesterday, so it’s wet and muddy. It’s a bushwhack down a quiet little valley to rejoin with the official CDT. After this, the trail is often high on a ridgeline. The views are good but not terribly photogenic. There’s a massive valley here to the south, which was carved by past eruptions of the hotspot/super volcano presently located under Yellowstone. From here, The Tetons can be seen 60+ miles away! Lots of bear activity in this area as well. Near Lima, the fence line that represents the Idaho/Montana border becomes a frequent sight.

Tuesday August 28th – CDT Day 130

Walked down to the macks inn post office this morning to mail my bounce box and a few items back home. The post office didn’t open until 10, and it was a two-mile walk each way. By the time I got back to the hotel, packed up, made some last-minute phone calls and checked out it was almost noon.

The first 10 miles were on a road leading to Sawtelle Peak. The peak had some snow from yesterday’s storm. First snow of the season. I need to hurry my ass to Canada.

Eventually a trail splits off from the road just below the summit of Sawtelle Peak. The trail here was covered in snow and mud. Everything was soggy and slippery. It was a little slow going. I believe this is the first time I actually walked on a trail while hiking the Mack’s Inn alternate. I was beginning to think it was 100% road walk.

After a while the trail drops in elevation below the snow line. This is also roughly where I crossed into Montana for the first time. The trail becomes much more faint here and difficult to follow.

I followed the trail for a few miles along the north side of a small Creek. Pretty little canyon.

After a few miles the trail reconnects with the CDT again. The trail is much better now and is actually blazed. It also starts climbing uphill to the United States sheep experiment Station. Gotta love it.

The temperature dropped quickly this evening. I stopped to filter some water just before 8pm and walked on looking for a campsite. I found a nice spot with a circle of trees around 8:15.

Cowboy camped Under the Stars tonight. Cold night but warm in my sleeping bag.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 2146
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, Cowboy camp
Animals – deer

Wednesday August 29th – CDT Day 131

Last night was nice. Calm, bright stars and then a nearly full moon. Got up at 7 and started hiking around 7:45.

The trail starts climbing immediately. It reaches a high point of 9600 ft. Up here, there’s a little snow left. Mostly on the trail it seemed. Anywhere it wasn’t snowy was really muddy and slippery. The kind that cakes up on your shoes.

Landscape is nice but not spectacular. It consists of rolling ridges, occasional mountain peaks and patches of forest. The grass is mostly brown, which dominates distant views.

Saw some really huge grizzly bear prints in the mud. I’m glad it had already gone the other way. I saw these tracks on and off for a couple of miles.

I finally felt the temperature warm up a bit late morning. I had also dropped down in elevation.

This afternoons hike passed through the targhee national Forest and was uneventful overall.

Found a spot to camp under a tree just before 8pm with 30 miles on the day.

Miles – 30
Total Miles – 2176
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, Cowboy camp
Animals – deer

Thursday August 30th – CDT Day 132

Woke at 7 and Hit the trail around 7:45.

Another climb this morning right away. I reached the top of a ridge with a decent view. However, the views just don’t compare to Wyoming or Colorado.

Filtered water at rock spring, the only decent water source on my route today.

The trail crossed at road at the Idaho/Montana border. Here there were a couple of cows chilling. Great, back to the cows.

Now the trail goes uphill steeply along a fence line representing the state border. This climb was a bitch! At the top, the fence line follows a breezy ridge. I filled this to a tree on the high point she I stopped for lunch. I also had lte here. Called the mountain view motel to arrange a ride into town but no answer. Left a message and moved on.

The trail continues to stay high on a ridge for a while. Decent views. Desolate looking brown mountains in the distance beyond a large open valley. Nice, but didn’t blow you away. Ugh, nothing will ever compare to the winds.

Walked some dirt roads for a few miles with on and off cell service. And cows, don’t forget the cows. Dark skies in one direction, but consistent sunny skies above me. Called the motel a few more times but no answer.

I arrived at interstate 15 at 4pm. I stopped for a quick snack and as I got up to walk onto the highway, Mike from the motel called back. He said he’d come get me right now. Perfect timing!

I got a room at the mountain view motel and took a shower. Then I headed up to the peat steak house for some grub.

On the way back to the motel, I stopped at the Mobil station to buy food. This gas station is the only place in town for “groceries”. I made due with the selection and headed back to the motel to pack up. Heading back on trail at 9am tomorrow.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 2197
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer

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Old Faithful to Macks Inn – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Old Faithful to Macks Inn Hike Overview

yellowstone pools hike on the continental divide trail 2018
Back on the official CDT, the trail leaves Old Faithful via a boardwalk through some really cool geothermal features. Mostly, colorful pools and hot springs. Not the kind you soak in though, the melt your skin off kind. After leaving the boardwalk and hitting trail, we left the hoards of tourists behind for good. The trail passes by a lake and some undeveloped geothermal features just before we cross into Idaho. From here to Macks Inn, the trail is rather unremarkable. I did, however, see a bear for the first time since the Gila here. 

Saturday August 25th – CDT Day 127

Got the all you can eat breakfast buffet at old Faithful Inn. Katie and hopeful joined. We talked about our routes going forward and it looks like we’ll be going 3 separate ways after crossing into Idaho. I will be following the Idaho/Montana border, the official CDT. Katie and Hopeful will each be doing some variant of the Big Sky cutoff route. This will save time and allow them some extra days to reach Canada before winter.

The trail leaving old Faithful passes by many geysers, colorful pools, springs and other geothermal features. Touristy, but really neat. This area is called upper geyser basin.

My favorite pool here was Morning Glory. I somehow missed it on my last visit to Yellowstone and it was nice to finally see it. 

The CDT then passes through biscuit basin. More geysers and colorful pools. Past the boardwalk, the CDT continues on into the woods. Now the day’s hiking really begins.

After an uphill climb, the trail levels out. Easy hiking for a while. Ran into two women clearing trees from the trail who worked for the nps. They were kind enough to let us borrow their saw to use as a prop in a picture we asked them to take of the 3 of us.

Reached summit lake and saw old scout here taking a break. We did the same to filter water for the upcoming dry stretch.

The next section was a mix of burned trees and healthy forest. Passed by a couple more hot springs and geothermal features just off the trail. The sulpher smell gave them away and pushed us in the right direction.

Crossed into Idaho around 7:15pm. The border was just a couple of rocks lined up across the trail with a metal Blaze sign reading “welcome to Idaho”.

Hiked a couple more miles to get out of the Yellowstone National Park boundary. Camped a few tenths of a mile past the boundary and had a small fire. This will be my last night together with Katie and hopeful.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 2103
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Sunday August 26th – CDT Day 128

Had some rain from about 4am on. Fortunately, it cleared up as we were waking up at 7am.

We hiked together for another 4 miles before our routes split off. It was a sad moment to leave my friends behind. We had a good run, almost a month together and around 450+ miles. The last month has been the greatest adventure of my life and I was very fortunate to have been able to share that time with Katie and Hopeful.

I pressed on, alone. The Trail followed some degree of dirt road for the rest of the day. In the beginning, the roads were pretty rough and had large berms and pits built into them to prevent Motor Vehicles from using them. However, they were a real annoyance to walk around too.

It was late morning and I needed water. One of the only water sources in the area was Latham spring. It had a side Trail leading down to it from the dirt road I was following. I got about 30 feet away from the spring and scared off a black bear. Medium size, alone. He scampered up the hill and I proceeded to draw my water from the same Source he was drinking from.

The rest of the day was a boring road walk. The roads eventually got wider, flatter and more trafficked. A couple of ATVs went by, then a few cars. Passed by some summer homes, then reached a paved Road. I followed this to hwy 20 where macks inn and island park is located.

Arrived at the Sawtelle Mountain Resort around 3pm. The room was pricey, but I have my bounce box here I need to deal with and with the forecasted cold weather and rain tomorrow, I really don’t want to have to do that in my tent in their Campground.

When I checked in and ask for my boxes, they had not gone up to the post office recently, so they were not there. The woman at the front desk said she’d pick them up in the morning on her way into work. Bummer, I wanted my box tonight. Oh well, tomorrow is a good day to take a zero and avoid some nasty weather. I just don’t have too many Zeros left I can take to reach Canada by October 1st, my goal.

I ate at Connie’s next door. Great Burgers here! It’d be tough to beat that burger at Flagg Ranch but this was up there.

Plotted out the rest of my towns, mileage and days for the rest of the hike on a piece of paper. 840 miles left, 34 days to October 1st. I plan on two more zeros in the towns of Darby and Lincoln. These will be my last two bounce box stops as well. The Revenant was on TV and made for a great background movie to all the planning.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 2125
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – black bear

Monday August 27th – CDT Day 129 (zero day)

The skies were cloudy and it rained on and off this morning. Much colder outside.

Resupplied at the Robin’s Roost grocery store across the street.

Spent the afternoon backing up photo and video, and going through my bounce box. It rained much of the afternoon and evening. This is really great news for all the wildfires burning in the area. Specifically, the Goldestone Fire that has closed a section of the CDT between Leadore and Darby. Hopefully this isn’t an issue when I get there.

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Flagg Ranch to Old Faithful – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Flagg Ranch to Old Faithful Hike Overview

yellowstone hike on the continental divide trail 2018
After leaving Flagg Ranch, we enter Yellowstone through the south entrance. The only wildlife I saw was a fox, very disappointing for a place known for it’s animals. Much of our route through Yellowstone was wet, swampy and not particularly scenic. The highlight of this section was the Bechler River and the Mr. Bubbles area. Here, we were blown away by majestic waterfalls and soaked in a natural hot spring.

Wednesday August 22nd – CDT Day 124

Woke at 7am. Packed up camp, just in time to beat the rain. Headed over to the lodge to grab breakfast and ate by the fireplace. Didn’t start hiking till after 10.

Walked hwy 191 north about 3 miles to the Yellowstone south entrance. Got our Backcountry permits at the snake River ranger Station.

My GPS showed the South boundary trail starting from a road that was signed “employees only”, but we followed anyways. Sure enough, the was trail was there. Hmmm.

The south boundary trail was pretty boring. Kinda like walking power lines or a pipeline, just a staight line through the trees. There were a couple of creek fords. Bridges are pretty much non-existent in Yellowstone.

Filtered water from the outlet below grassy lake dam. Shortly after, we crossed a river. This one looked bigger than it was. Crossed with no issues.

Shortly after, the skies darkened. It was thundering and lightning in the distance. The wind picked up and eventually it started pouring. There was some hail involved as well.

We hiked a few more miles in the cold and rain. The rain let up but the damage was done, being soaked. When we reached our campsite, we were greeted by a sign warning of a bear frequenting the area. Oh boy.

I ate dinner in my wet clothes as the temperature dropped. Hit the tent as soon as possible, around 9:30pm.

Miles – 20
Total Miles – 2047
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Thursday August 23rd – CDT Day 125

Everything was soaking wet in the morning, and it was cold. Cold and wet shoes, socks, boxers and shirt. The skies were still dark and looked like rain. We were all slow to leave our tents and get going.

Most of the morning was spent fording small creeks and sloshing through swampy fields. It was not very scenic either, so our spirits were low.

Reached the bechler river. It flows through a large meadow here. Hopeful and I were in front and Katie was behind. When she caught up, she had seen a black bear momma and cub, only minutes behind us. Pretty cool.

Now the trail follows the bechler River. This was the most scenic thing we’d seen in Yellowstone thus far.

As we hiked up stream, we encountered several waterfalls. Some were huge, really huge! You could feel the mist really far away. Very impressive.

Father upstream, there were many cascades. This river is wild. We really enjoyed this section.

We forded the river a couple times. Water was mid-thigh deep and swift, but manageable. Ran into trail crews working in this area, they have to Ford the river twice a day.

There were some geothermal features in the meadows now. Hot pools of Sulphur smelling water.

 

We reached the junction for a hot spring named Mr. Bubbles. It was a half mile walk to get to the spring, and we could see large plumes of steam rising in the distance.

Approaching the spring, there were several geothermal features nearby, mainly on the opposite side of the creek. One large one resembled mammoth hot springs, for reference. We thought this was Mr. Bubbles at first until we followed the trail to something more obvious.

Mr. Bubbles hot spring

Mr Bubbles itself was not as impressive visually, but makes up for it by being a great soak. There were a couple guys in the spring when we arrived, who later left us alone. We soaked for a while and really enjoyed this spot. What a wild place to be. Natures hot tub!

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 2065
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Friday August 24th – CDT Day 126

Stated hiking around 7:45. Along the bechler was a couple more interesting spots like twister falls, but nothing like yesterday.

Must of the hike into old Faithful was pretty boring to be honest. Just woods and not much to see. I covered great ground though. There were a couple of geothermal features near firehole River.

Reached old Faithful at 1pm. Ate at the geyser grill. Food here is subpar at best. Got a shower at the old Faithful inn. Showers are free for CDT hikers. Nice!

Didn’t need much from the general store for resupply, since I carried extra food from Flagg ranch. Just some almonds to add to my m&ms.

Hopeful, Katie and I agreed to meet up by the front entrance to the general store. Let’s go and Reed were here as well, who are southbounders. Later, we all ate dinner together at the bear pit restaurant in old Faithful inn. Another northbounder named old scout joined too.

Katie met a guy who worked here at the park who offered to let us camp at the RV park site. After dinner, we headed there and set up for the evening. Sat by the fire for a while and in bed around 11.

Miles – 17
Total Miles – 2082
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – fox

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Jackson to Flagg Ranch – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Jackson to Flagg Ranch Hike Overview

jackson to falgg ranch, teton crest trail hike on the continental divide trail 2018

After walking 2 miles into Jackson, resupplying and walking across the valley to Wilson in one day, we entered the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and Grand Teton National Park. We hiked our own version of the Teton Crest Trail winds in and out of both of these land administrations.  The Tetons are pretty damn grand to say the least! North of Lake Solitude, we took a steep cross country route out of the basin and over to the west side of the divide. Lots of wildflowers, delicious berries to eat, and bushwhacking!

Thursday August 16th – CDT Day 118

Started hiking at 7. It was less than 2 miles to the trailhead. From there, we walked into Jackson.

When we reached the downtown area, the search for a breakfast restaurant was on. We landed at The Bunnery. Good food, but pricey.

Everything in Jackson is expensive and the people are yuppity. Lots of tourists and tons of traffic. Jackson was not my favorite town stop. Fortunately, we were just getting what we need and walking out later.

We hit up an outfitter, the ranger station and a couple stores. Then we headed over to the rec center to take a shower. They had a pool, hot tub and sauna, so we spent about an hour here taking advantage of the amenities.

Lunch at DQ, then headed to the other side of town. Here, we hit the library for a few hours. Hopeful and I spent some time researching the big sky alternate. Feeling the crunch for time, in terms of reaching Canada by Oct 1st, it was a good idea to have this as a backup.

I called Patagonia to arrange for a new capiline lightweight baselayer shirt to be sent father up trail. Mine has a forearm sized hole in the back.

We then went to the grocery store for food and picked up dinner. Katie found a ride to Wilson, so hopeful and I will do the road walk and meet her there. This will set us up well for entry into the Tetons tomorrow.

I didn’t find Jackson to be very scenic. However, the views were much nicer heading west out of town. The road had a bike path next to it that we followed much of the way. We didn’t leave Jackson till after 8, so it was going to be a bit of a night hike.

There was road construction on hwy 22, next to the bike path. Lots of traffic backed up and honking horns. Kinda hard to deal with after spending so much time in the wilderness.

Katie texted us and said we could camp in the backyard of the guy who gave her a lift. She gave us an address and we headed that way.

We took what liked like a short cut, and it dead ended at a gate with a keypad. No private property signs though. We could walk around the gate. As we were contemplating what to, in the darkness, a truck came flying the corner from the opposite side of the gate. Illuminated by the headlights, all I could do was wave and see who they where and their intentions.

As it turns out, the 5 guys in the truck were trying to take a short cut themselves and avoid some of that traffic. They had just spent last week in the wind river range themselves. When we said we had been walking since April, they have us each a cold beer.

Moments later, another truck pulled up behind the first truck. This was the landowner, and she asked what we were doing. Truck guys said looking for a short cut to pass through, the woman said OK and opened the gate. We said the same thing and she wouldn’t let us walk through. We were only about .3 miles from fish creek road, half mile total from our destination. I mentioned it would be an hour or more detour for us, but she didn’t care. That really sucks!

It was 10:30pm now and we started the long walk around. Back to the road construction, then another pitch dark bike track and country roads with no street lights. I had a terrible headache, and was finding the walk difficult near the end.

We finally reached the house Katie was camping at sometime after 11:30pm. The house backed up to a river, and were told to camp there near it. Fine. I know there’ll be condensation in the morning, but I’m so tired I don’t care. Cowboy camped under the stars. Fell asleep around 12:30am.

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 1939
Rain – no
Sleep – backyard, tent
Animals – deer

Friday August 17th – CDT Day 119

Sure enough, everything was wet this morning. Got up at 7 since hopeful and Katie were already awake. Packed up and went to a bagel shop down the road for 2nd breakfast. Already ate leftover chicken strips and croissants earlier.

Stated hiking hwy 22 up to Phillips trailhead sometime around 9:30. It was already hot out. The road walk kinda sucked with all the traffic and vehicles that don’t get over a little when they pass by. Some came awfully close.

Lots of cars at the trailhead. The people faded out when the trail split off for ski lake. The views also began to open up.

Lots of wildflowers high towards the pass. Good view at the top. Now we enter the jedidiah Smith wilderness and begin the teton crest trail.

The farther we hiked, the better the views became. The trail winds into a new valley. On the other side, rock formations that look like they’re part of a castle. Beautiful.

On the next pass, we entered grand teton National park. The trail winds back and fourth between the national park and wilderness throughout the teton crest trail.

The trail passes by Marion Lake, a really nice spot. The kind of place you only dream of camping on the CDT. But as always, there’s more miles to cover before I can feel good about the day’s progress. 

Great views continue. Good trail, helps to keep a good pace. There was a lot of climbing today and with heavy packs, it was tiring. I listened to some music today for the first time in a while. This helped keep me going.

A few more scenic miles and we were approaching the final pass leading up to death shelf. I’ve seen some great pictures from this area and so I was looking forward to it.

Death shelf did not disappoint. However, it was overcast and it killed the sunlight, so it was not as photogenic at I hoped for. There’s always tomorrow.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1960
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot

Saturday August 18th – CDT Day 120

Nice hike this morning coming out of death shelf.

The Tetons have been looming on the horizon for many miles now, growing bigger with every step. Amazing views in an otherworldly landscape!

Alaska basin was nice. Mainly, the northern section. Tons of wildflowers.

Grand Tetons and Schoolroom Glacier

At the top of hurricane pass was our first unobstructed view of the three tetons; grand, middle and south. Incredible! Oh and fun fact, tetons is French for “tits”. French fur trappers who discovered the area named it as such because the pointy peaks reminded them of boobs. Grand Tetons literally means “big tits”.

Below hurricane pass lies schoolroom glacier. It has a large moraine that was now acting as a berm to hold back a small lake. Icebergs in the lake, beautiful water.

The upper cascade creek area was just incredible. On par with the wind river range. Our pace reflected this too.

Rain clouds building on and off. Hiked down to the junction with solitude lake, and took this trail uphill. Saw a Moose on the way up.

Lake Solitude and The Grand Tetons

Awesome views from Lake Solitude. Tons of people here too. Pretty ironic name if you ask me.

Now it’s time to climb out of the basin. Around the lake and up hill. Some steep rock climbing with limited holds involved.

Now up on the highest shelf, we could see no easy way to the top anywhere. The skies were also pitch dark and looked like rain at any moment. We made the call to head back down to the lake.

May try another way out of the basin tomorrow or head up paintbrush ridge in order to drop down to mink lake to try another way over the crest.

Miles – 20
Total Miles – 1980
Rain – yes, light
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot, moose

Sunday August 19th – CDT Day 121

Started hiking at 6:30am. I spotted another potential exit from the lake solitude basin. It was a grassy chute that looked increasingly more appealing the closer we got. It was steep, but not as bad as last night’s failed route.

Made it to the top of the chute. It was hazy today due to forest fire smoke, coming from who knows where. Nothing close by to my knowledge. Grand Teton was a prominent feature looking through the haze. Really incredible views from here.

After the chute, we walked over some talus fields and pools of melt water on relatively flat ground. Not what you think of when you imagine mountain ridgelines. More impressive views on the other side of lake solitude.

Next we followed a ridge over to Littles peak. It was a bit of a knife edge for a hundred yards or so. Pretty cool! 

We traversed around Littles peak instead of going up and over. This was mostly a great choice, avoiding elevation gain and boulders. First half was grassy and somewhat flat. Then it became steeper and took some work to find a way down.

Lunch break by a steam, then moved on. Nice walking for a while. Passed some scenic little lakes which reminded me of a scene in the Sierras for a bit. 

The trail then goes up and down for a while. Nice little basins and ridges.

We took a break at a stream above bitch creek. Yep, bitch creek, that’s the name. Descended to the creek then ascended dead horse pass. Something like 1800′ in 1.1 miles. No wonder why they call it dead horse pass… The horse is dead by the time it reaches the top. Just like I felt. Great view and break spot at the top though.

We made quick work of the descent. Covered good ground through the valley and took another break before the ascent to camp lake.

The first part of the climb to camp lake was the steepest. Pretty steep for about a mile. The terrain flattens out some before the lake but I was already whooped at this point. Hopeful and Katie were ahead waiting for me at the lake. It was 7:30pm now, and we decided to stop here for the night.

I went to bed around 8:15 tonight since I was so tired. Katie and Hopeful stayed up and had a campfire. Today involved a ton of climbing, at least 5-6k feet.

Miles – 19
Total Miles – 1999
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Monday August 20th – CDT Day 122

Left camp lake at 8am. We’re hoping to make it to flagg ranch today, or at least very close.

We followed good trail up to a junction for nord pass. From here we needed to take a trail that was on the map but didn’t seem to exist on the ground. More bushwhacking, Yay!

We eventually picked up a faint trail that looked like it hadn’t been used or maintained in many years. Made it to the pass that will drop us down into Webb canyon and enjoyed a hazy view. I hit my 2000 mile mark here which was a nice milestone.

The route down was off trail but an easy grassy slope. We hit trail and followed it down to Moose creek. However, this is where the trail ended.

We crossed moose creek over some downed trees, the last time we’d keep our feet dry. From here on out, it was a nasty bushwhack. Steep slopes, thorn bushes, downed trees and tall vegetation hiding holes, rocks and sharp downfall. This forced is into the river a few times, just walking downstream. The water was cold though, and progress was limited to how long you could stand the pain. This was one of the most difficult sections of bushwhacking I’d face along the entire CDT.

After a couple miles of the above, we hit a poorly maintained trail that faded in and out for a mile or two. More bushwhacking, but not as nasty. After passing through a meadow, the trail seemed to be maintained like normal. Great, because we still have a lot of ground to cover now.

Took a break and was surprised to see 4 hikers coming up the trail. They were seasonal NPS workers heading up to a cabin for a week. Here, they’ll be on the lookout for big horn sheep and mountain goats, studying their numbers and location, etc. We told them, “good luck” with the trail above the meadow. We figure, once they see how shitty it is, maybe they’ll put in a work request for trail maintenance there. But if it goes by how much traffic the area gets, forget it, it’s never getting done.

The next section had some nice waterfalls, lined with vibrant wildflowers. Also, lots of blueberries and raspberries growing along the trail. We stopped to pick some along the way. Delicious!

As we entered a burn area mid afternoon, it started raining. It rained for an hour or so, but we hiked through it. We could now see Jackson lake in the distance.

As we neared the lake, the weather cleared. We reached the berry creek ranger station around 4:30pm and took a break. From here it was 8 miles to grassy lake Rd, then a couple miles of road walking to flagg ranch.

After our break, we decided to go for flagg ranch. It was now sunny and we were in good spirits. The trail was not the most scenic which helped us cover good ground without many stops for pictures.

We reached grassy lake Rd a little before sundown. We walked into the darkness and made it to the ranch around 9:45pm. We checked in and got a tent site. The general store was still open so I bought a couple of hot pockets to stave off the hunger. On a side note, every time I would blow a snot rocket on trail, I get the Hot Pockets jingle stuck in my head, but using the words “Snot Rockets” instead. That’s not gonna leave ya now is it?

After setting up camp in the dark I took a nice hot shower. Almost as good as a hot tub. Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 2027
Rain – yes
Sleep – campground, tent
Animals – deer,

Tuesday August 21st – CDT Day 123 (zero day)

Slept in til 9am. Headed over to the lodge and had the breakfast buffet. It was a bit subpar but nevertheless, I filled up. I then picked up my boxes from the front desk… Food from dad and a new pair of shoes from REI.

Today was spent organizing food and planning out the next town stops and route for Montana. Did laundry as well.

Ate dinner at the lodge. One of the best burgers I’ve had on trail. We then had a fire in camp and drank some whiskey.

Tomorrow we head into Yellowstone.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 2027
Rain – no
Sleep – campground, tent
Animals – none

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Dubois to Jackson – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Dubois to Jackson Hike Overview

dubois to jackson, gros venture wilderness hike on the continental divide trail 2018

Leaving Dubois, we had another 2.5 days of hiking to cross the northern Wind River Range. This proved to be much more difficult than anticipated, exceeding our time estimates. Road walked from Green River Lakes west to the Gros Ventre Wilderness. The Gros Ventre sees few hikers, and has few established trails as a result. Off trail adventures continued here on fields of snow and boulders, and involved some sketchy moments scrambling down steep rock faces. Once again we found ourselves low on food and hungry, only this time with a different outcome. This section was full of adventure and very scenic, among my favorites of the whole trip. 

Friday August 10th – CDT Day 112

Woke at 7. Went to breakfast then finished packing. Liz, the owner of the motel, gave us a ride to glacier trailhead where we left off. Katie didn’t want to do a section of road walking that Hopeful and I were doing, so she had Liz drop her off about 6 miles back down the road we came in on, and we’ll meet Katie there.

The road walk was, well, a road walk. Not much to say about it other than easy walking for once.

Katie was hanging out at this wildlife viewing pavilion thing in the shade. We joined her for a while, happy to get out of the heat.

Resumed hiking around 12:45. After a short road walk, we jumped on a trail that took us over a ridge. On the other side was a scenic little valley with a ranch.

The trail took us right into the ranch. Not sure exactly where the trail continues through the ranch, we stopped at the office to ask. We were on private property, but the owners gave us permission to pass through. They also gave us ice water, cookies and a loaf of coffee cake!

The valley beyond the ranch was nice. Eventually we left the ranch and entered public land, although this boundary was not marked.

Crossed a river and then took a break. After this, the trail was thick and had lots of blow downs. Also lots of boulders and a little scrambling. Tough section. We lost the trail many times.

Came to another stream crossing. The stream had a steep cut bank that was sketchy getting down. I slipped and cut my hand. Used super glue to close the wound.

Continued uphill on an increasingly better trail. Found some raspberry bushes with some tasty berries. Reached a flat spot that had good camping near a stream, and decided to stop to make camp. We packed out two beers that we put in the stream to get cold for later.

Made a small fire, my first on trail, and enjoyed our one beer with dinner.

Miles – 15
Total Miles – 1816
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday August 11th – CDT Day 113

Woke at 6. Lots of stars last night.

The trail climbs uphill immediately after leaving camp. Went over a ridge then dropped down to a small lake. Kept going and made it to Simpson lake a short while after. Took a break at Simpson.

Followed Simpson lake’s Inlet Stream uphill. It was beautiful here with snow capped peaks, blue lakes and green grass. Stopped at pinto lake for a swim.

Next the trail goes uphill to a pass. It’s scenic and mostly gradual, but had a few steep spots. Good views on the other side of the Divide, so we stopped at the top of the pass to eat a snack.

Excellent views coming down the pass. Found our route down despite the steep grade.

Reached a cliff that forced us to hike around. The new route required some down climbing with a little exposure. This took us a while to find a doable route down, and the doing was slow and sketchy.

Down at roaring fork river, we needed to cross. The bank was very steep and loose, but we traversed it to a point where a safe river crossing was possible. This, and the cliff above, took about 3 hours!

The river Bank was thick, thorny and rocky for a ways. We ended up crossing again. Picked up a small trail and followed it downhill.

More obstacles… Boulder fields and thick vegetation. Came across 3 guys camping along the river, wasn’t expecting this here. Very little traffic in this area. They pointed us to a trail a hundred yards away. Back on track.

Walked another few miles before finding camp along the river at a bridge.

Miles – 20
Total Miles – 1836
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday August 12th – CDT Day 114

Last night, We agreed to sleep in to 7am is morning. The extra hour of sleep felt great.

Crossed the meadow with roaring fork running through it. Hiked trail on the other side of the river for a while, before it faded out.

Crossed roaring fork River again, it was cold! Took a short break after.

Trail goes over a ridge and into the valley containing green river lakes. Squaretop mountain can been seen in the distance. Beautiful.

Hiked down to the green river. It was wide but shallow enough to cross. It was a few inches above the knee on me. Fun fact: This is the Colorado river’s largest tributary.

Now it was a long road walk. Katie immediately began planning to hitch down the road to avoid it. We stopped under an awning to figure out the logistics of where to meet up later, etc.

Katie very quickly secured a ride with a guy parked on the side of the road. Hopeful and I continued on our road walk. I guessed 10-12 miles.

The Green River

The scenery was pretty nice overall. The Green river winds along the road for most of the way.

We saw Katie sitting under a tree along the road a few miles before the bridge. After a few minutes of sitting together, a couple atvs pulled up. Really nice people… Gave us cold beers, drinks and were just nice to talk to. Wyoming locals, they’ve been pretty friendly thus far. Then Katie hitched with them to the bridge while Hopeful and I walked. Continuous footsteps to Canada, that’s what it’s all about for Hopeful and I.

A few more miles and we reached the bridge. Took a food break here then moved on.

The three of us were now hiking together again. We’re now following a dirt road towards the Gros Ventre Wilderness. Nice walking.

Hiked a few more hours this evening. Nice calming and relaxing landscape. Rolling hills, sage brush and the sun low in the sky.

Found camp on a small hill along the trail at 8:30pm.

Miles – 25
Total Miles – 1861
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – elk, pronghorn

Monday August 13th – CDT Day 115

Hit the trail at 7am. Meadows and forest as we descended to the creek below. Passed an old mining operation.

Crossed the creek and took a break. Hopeful saw an animal that looked like a cat, and was about the same size. Probably bobcat.

Entered the Gros ventre wilderness. So far, we had trail. Passed an old wagon. Saw bear shit and tracks.

The trail disappeared as we headed up hill to the pass. It was a pain in the ass due to the thick brush, catching each step.

Passed a couple of nice lakes. Looks like very little use here.

The route up the next pass was littered with large pits under he rock towards the bottom. The hole in the ground would look small, but underneath would be a larger than expected pit. Interesting. Gonna have to watch my footing here. 

On the top of the pass, it was a nice but daunting view. Lots and lots of boulders, very barren looking. Found a route down though steep and loose rock. Very sharp too. Climbed many ridges up and down to cross the main valley, and started up hill to a small saddle.

The saddle provided a view of snow and boulders. More hard work ahead.

Now to skirt the mountainside. Steep boulders, and sharp. Truly horrible. However, we did find some really cool rocks. Geode like rocks with crystals. Lots of yellow in the rock. Bagged a few to take with me.

Crossed a couple of snow fields. Micro spikes would have been nice but didn’t feel too bad without. We sent these home in Dubois after the Winds. Hopeful slipped a slid a little. A couple times actually.

Took a break after the snow fields. Lots of huge slabs of razor sharp rock to walk on now.

We headed up to the top of the ridge where we’ll cross and get down into the next valley. Only problem is, it’s all sheer cliffs. Beautiful scenery though!

 

 

Walked to the last saddle on the ridge. At first, it looked like no way down. Then I spotted a steep, but doable, chute to down-climb. Looked to be about a 60ft climb.

Hopefull went first and scouted the route. Katie followed, then myself. The climbing wasn’t as bad as it looked. However, we were now faced with a steep and loose scree field. We slid on our butts and somehow avoided cutting up our hands too badly.

Made camp right below the crazy wall we just descended. It was 8:45pm now and almost dark. Beautiful spot though.

Miles – 19
Total Miles – 1880
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – elk

Tuesday August 14th – CDT Day 116

Last night’s nightmare wall was this morning’s scenic view. Just awesome.

Hiked up a small pass above camp. Now we could see the long ridge we needed to walk around. Looks like lots of ups and downs on Boulder fields.

We took a lower route to Steamboat peak, which we’ll hike around. 

Made it around Steamboat peak and was rewarded with an actual trail to follow. Hiked down to a small pond on a shelf. Lots of wildflowers and a great reflection.

Below the pond we came across shoal lake. Another beautiful lake. The outlet was lined with colorful wildflowers as well.

 

 

This whole drainage is just incredible. No wonder it was its own wilderness… The shoal creek wilderness study area. Great trail and awesome views.

The trail drops downhill and through an old burn area. It then crosses the creek and goes uphill again, over the opposite ridge.

The next section of trail is less scenic. Lots of woods and low brushy, weedy plants. Then a burn area. Super.

Finally, we reached the trailhead and a road. Now it was decision time. We had very little food, basically enough for the rest of the day. Jackson was still about 30 miles away, so another day of food was paramount. We didn’t want a repeat of the winds, hiking a full and difficult day on a handful of m&ms.

We walked into a nearby ranch place, which ended up being a school of some sort. There was a guy riding around on a mule, and we informed him of our food predicament. He told us to sit tight and returned with 3 bags full of food. Ham and swiss sandwiches, nuts, apple, cheese, granola and dried fruit. Perfect! This was a real help.

Still, we could use a little more food. We’re hungry thru hikers after all. We then proceeded to chat with an older woman named Jean camped by the river in a huge rv. She offered to drive us to to the granite hot springs about 2 miles up the road to check what concessions they have.

The hot springs had chips, soda, granola bars and some candy. We picked up a few items and headed back. In the parking lot, couple from Texas gave us some granola bars, cold waters and 2 beers. Jean was then nice enough to give us a huge bag of chips, 6 cokes, and some canned foods back at her rv.

Feeling good about our food supply, we headed out. We decided to hike the granite creek trail instead of the granite highline trail, since it looked like It would have a better trail and was more gradual with its elevation gain. We stopped to eat dinner in the granite campground, eating the heavy and most garbage producing foods first.

Hiked up stream along the granite creek trail about 2 miles past the hot springs and found a nice campsite.

Miles – 19
Total Miles – 1899
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Wednesday August 15th – CDT Day 117

Hiking at 7. Great trail, allowed us to cover good ground. Steep sided mountains and cliffs line the canyon.

Morning was very pleasant but uneventful. Just knocking out miles through beautiful country on a legit trail for once.

Made it to the top of the pass going over to cache creek around noon thirty. Lunchtime. With cokes!

The other side of the pass was beautiful too. Great hiking and very enjoyable afternoon.

Down at the bottom of the valley we hit the cache creek trail. 9 miles to Jackson according to the sign.

Good hiking but nowhere to camp along cache creek. Hiked to about a mile before the trailhead, where we found a decent spot. It was only 6pm, early for thru hikers.

I used the extra time to wash up in the creek, gather sticks for and build a fire, and catch up on some journaling. Clearly I didn’t feel like writing much today. Great evening by the fire. 

Tomorrow, we Jackson!

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 1921
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

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Lander to Dubois – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Lander to Dubois Hike Overview

lander to dubois, wind river range high route hike on the continental divide trail 2018

The first 30 or so miles are a lead up from the lowlands of the great divide basin desert into the high country of the Wind River Range. The next 120 miles were the most challenging, beautiful and outdoor experience of my life. I had more adventure in these 10 days then the rest of the entire CDT combined. Jagged peaks, frozen lakes, glaciers, crevasses, abundant wildflowers, miles of boulders and snowfields, mountain lions, big horn sheep, steep snow traverses, scrambling and climbing, milky glacier fed rivers, and almost NOBODY to share it with. Additionally, the majority of this route is off-trail. In my opinion, the Wind River Range easily offers the best backpacking experience in the continental US. 

In the southern Winds, we left the official CDT and began the 450+ mile alternate route I created. My route, now affectionately known as the “Famous Route”, takes a much higher route through the Winds and into Dubois, then back through the Winds and cross country through the Gros Ventre Wilderness and into Jackson. Next, we’ll hike west across Jackson Hole and hike the Teton Crest Trail north into Flagg Ranch. Finally, we’ll enter Yellowstone through the South Entrance and hike the Bechler area to Old Faithful where we’ll reconnect with the official CDT route. 

Sunday July 29th – CDT Day 100

Slept to about 8am. Spent the morning getting food and gear together, and didn’t leave until after 11am.

Hopeful, Katie and I hiked down the main strip in Lander to hitch. We got a ride after 20 minutes from a guy named Eli. He dropped us off right where I had left off yesterday morning. Another guy was there at this gate on his way out, having just dropped off a couple of CDT hikers himself. Tim Green from South pass city. Nice guy.

We set off into the wind river range around 1pm today. It was a great feeling to finally be here again but I wasn’t feeling the best. Still worn out from the basin, and the egg casserole I had for breakfast wasn’t agreeing with me.

Today’s hike was an easy one on dirt roads and some trail. Little elevation gain. The landscape is now hills and forest, with Rocky outcroppings dotting the meadows. Looking back to the south, the basin is still clearly visible. Easily identifiable by the lack of trees.

Late this afternoon we bumped into Alex and Ariel, two CDT hikers from Missouri. We took a break together and chatted for a bit. They mentioned a campsite a little ways up and we decided to go for that tonight.

The 5 of us set off for the evening’s hike. Pretty country with mountains in the distance beyond the meadows.

The campsite was decent. Near a river and flat. Wind died down at sunset and it was a good night.

Miles – 14
Total Miles – 1664
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Monday July 30th – CDT Day 101

Got up at 6:45. Still wishing I could sleep more to recover from the basin.

Started hiking at 7:45. The views kept getting better as the Morning progressed. Passed a couple of nice streams and rivers.

Now we have a 2000′ climb ahead of us. The grade was decent so it wasn’t bad at first.

At the top of the climb, there was a great view of little Sandy lake.

Stopped for lunch along little Sandy creek. This is also where the cirque of the towers alternate begins.

After lunch we started hiking the alternate. Mostly through forest. Some steep sections of trail, mostly short though.

Unnamed lake

We stopped at this unnamed lake this afternoon because it was so damn impressive. Favorite lake on trail so far. Jagged peaks make a great backdrop. Katie and hopeful went for a swim while I relaxed along the shoreline.

The trail was hard to follow after this. We thought it stayed high on a hillside above a valley, but eventually we saw a trail below. A short scramble had us down on flat and open ground, much easier walking.

This area, along little Sandy creek, was absolutely incredible. We were all in awe and took our time stumbling through here staring at the canyon walls. This is only the beginning of the treasures that lie ahead in the winds. I know this, but Katie and Hopeful are oblivious.

We ran into a NOLS group this evening, a fairly common sight here in the winds. We pressed on another mile or so to treeline and found a couple of campsites with a great view.

Tomorrow will be a tough day with 3 passes, and cirque of the towers.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1685
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Tuesday July 31st – CDT Day 102

Started hiking around 8am. Up to the top of a pass, which leads to temple lake. Just below the base of the pass was a beautiful lake, again with no name on my maps. The mountains surrounding the lake were very impressive as well.

Great views going up the pass. Knots was hiking up the pass at the same time, and didn’t stop at the up. We never saw him again today.

Going down the pass towards temple lake was incredible! Temple peak was a massive sheer rock face, which towers over the lake and valley below. We were all in awe.

First bit of hiking around the upper lake was slow. Boulders, snow pack, ups and downs over an occasional use trail. Stunning scenery though!

The trail improved as we headed downhill. Now the cirque of the towers could be seen ahead, especially Pingora. Very enjoyable section.

Big Sandy lake was much nicer this time. When I was here in 2014 on my wind river high route, there was a storm and I couldn’t fully appreciate the area. Lots of people around here too. Big Sandy trailhead is only a few miles away, which is probably the busiest trailhead in the winds.

The trail going up to Jackass pass starts out steep. At least I found the trail… In 2014, I Bushwhacked down the creek since I could not find a path to follow. It was rough!

Again, amazing views hiking up to Jackass pass. Lots of wildflowers and pointy mountains everywhere. Fairytale land, really.

Even though we found the trail from big Sandy lake going up, it eventually turns into a scramble up boulders. It was the heat of the day and really wearing us out.

There’s a legit trail every now and then, but often it was just a matter of hiking uphill. Below the top of Jackass pass were some of the best views of the cirque of the towers area in my opinion. These mountains just blow Colorado away. Unimaginable beauty. The kind of place you imagine in some exotic country.

We stopped for a much needed break at the top of Jackass pass. We sat here for a while looking down at lonesome lake and the whole cirque. Great spot.

Easy hike down to lonesome lake. Took another break here for water and to cook dinner.

 

Next we headed up Texas pass. It was really steep for the first 500ft, a little better in the middle section. More awesome views, but getting cloudy. Looks like potential rain. In 2014, low clouds engulfed all the peaks in the cirque of the towers, so it was really nice to be able to see this place in its entirety. However, we needed to get over this pass in case the weather turns.

Near the top of the pass was a long chute of snow. Same as 2014, and I was here in late August then. Not too bad going up.

Made great time to the top, and it was much easier than anticipated. Jackass pass was much harder. This was the third pass we Climbed today.

More awesome views looking down on Texas lake in the new valley. However, it was really steep going down. There was a path weaving through a Boulder field, but it consisted of fine dirt and pebbles. This made slipping a frequent hazard. We all slipped and fell a few times. Pretty treacherous.

It started sprinkling just before we reached the bottom of the Boulder field. Put on rain gear and continued. The rocks were really slippery now.

The rain quickly subsided as we traversed Texas lake. Stopped here for a break so I could address my rumbling stomach.

The next lake in the chain was Barren Lake. Another beautiful spot. Great views in both directions.

Billy’s lake was next. This lake had a sandy beach which just added to its beauty. 

The sun was setting and creating a pink hue to round out the back drop. Gorgeous. We hiked down to an area just north of shadow lake. We saw a Llama grazing in the field, which was odd. It had a saddle and was probably part of a pack Llama team, but no other Llamas or people could be seen in the area. We ended up camping here in the area though.

What a great day. Easily the most scenic day on the CDT for me, and I believe Hopeful and Katie agree. They were in awe of the winds, and I’m really glad to see how much they’re enjoying it. We only hiked 16 miles though, humbling as a CDT hiker.

Time for bed, gotta recharge for another tough day ahead.

Miles – 16
Total Miles – 1701
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot, Llama, deer

Wednesday August 1st – CDT Day 103

Hiking by 7:45am. Lots of mosquitoes this morning.

A few river Crossings this morning, but able to hop rocks and keep the feet dry. Nice views looking at the back side of the cirque behind us.

Reached the trail junction where the cirque of the towers CDT alternate splits off from our route. Hiked past skull lake, mays lake and then pyramid lakes. Mays and pyramid were beautiful!

The trail ends on the map at pyramid lake. From here it’s cross country hiking for a while. There was a decent use trail in spots but most of the time you just find your own way. There was a very scenic unnamed pond above pyramid lake as well.

We crested the top of the saddle above the east fork River. This was just as impressive as I remembered it. A long wall of imposing peaks. Very cool.

Now we climb up raid peak pass. Snow patches and Boulder fields make up the route, but it wasn’t too difficult or steep. Time consuming on the boulders though.

After a quick break on the top of the pass, we moved on. It looked like rain clouds building so we hurried over to the saddle where we drop down to Bonneville lake.

The route down to Bonneville lake looked a bit scary from the top, but looked doable once we approached it. It was steep and had some butt sliding going on, but we made it down to the Crux. Hopeful went down first, and as Katie headed down she kicked loose a tennis ball sized rock. We yelled “rock!!” down to hopeful who thankfully knew what to do… Tuck into the mountain and cover your head. The rock hit the back of his calf but he was ok. Whew! This was a tense moment. I dislodged a larger rock that just missed Katie later on. Dangerous decent to say the least.

We took a break above Bonneville lake and monitored the rain clouds. The view was incredible! Some of our favorites so far.

The hike around Bonneville lake wasn’t too hard and was beautiful. We really enjoyed this part and took our time. Hopeful and I tried glossing down a slope that ended up being too flat to go the whole way down. Still fun.

Next we hiked the pass leading from Bonneville lake to Lee lake. Booneville pass? Not sure of the name. Great views going up.

At the top of the pass was some of the most beautiful mountains I’d ever seen. As I crested the top of the pass, covered in snow, towering peaks became larger. The sun shined just behind. This was a magical moment that words or even pictures can’t describe. 

Hopeful and I had another shot at glissading with all the snow on the pass. This time we picked up a little speed, and it was quite fun. Safe runoff so no worries.

We headed over to a ridge to check out a potential campsite. Instead of traversing a steep snow field, we chose to glissade down then walk up. Great choice, fun had by all.

Although we decided not to camp here, the views from this ridge were insane. Below the towering Pronghorn Peak lies Donna lake, which was still partially frozen. Huge chunks of ice were floating in the lake. Just so cool! Where the hell am I, Patagonia??

We headed down the ridge to look for camp. Some of the best views so far of the winds, and thus, the entire CDT.

We found camp around 8:45pm. Got all our camp chores done just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in at bedtime. Heavy rain and lots of lightning. Haven’t had one in a while, and at least I’m in bed now.

Miles – 16
Total Miles – 1717
Rain – yes, heavy thunderstorms after 10pm
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot, pica

Thursday August 2nd – CDT Day 104

After retreating to my tent last night, the rain started. Lots of thunder, lightning and heavy downpours. This persisted for a while, maybe two hours.

I was slow to get up this morning with everything wet. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. Storm clouds were building this morning as well, but they quickly dissipated after we started hiking. Hit the trail after 8am.

It was a soggy hike around middle fork lake but a beautiful one. Our feet got wet crossing a river without ample rocks to hop, and our clothes were wet from the willows. The route around the lake basically goes through a cascading waterfall. Lots of wildflowers, putting our FPH numbers off the charts… Since we were covering so few miles, we decided to rate our progress in flowers per hour instead of miles per hour.

Next was some off trail hiking. Over a small saddle, into a scenic little valley and up another hill. Ran into mold and mildew, who joined us for a while. This would have been a pretty confusing area to hike without a GPS, as the land features were small and not so prominent.

The halls lake area was beautiful. It seemed much more impressive than my 2014 visit. The weather was a little better than last time and I am going in the opposite direction, which gives a whole different perspective. Stopped along the lake for lunch with mold and mildew.

After halls lake we were basically off trail. Awesome views, great hiking.

Europe canyon was cool. Steep decent. Lots of wildflowers around the lake. Lots of boulders too.

Next we climbed a small pass to long lake. Really spectacular views here.

Took a break around Long lake. Progress is slow when things are so beautiful. Also, the terrain is really tough. It was wearing us out. Up here, the ground is seldom flat and grassy, but usually super rocky or piles of boulders.

Past long lake, the clouds started to darken. They were the most menacing looking clouds I’d seen in awhile. Rain looked inevitable. Katie and hopeful had their tents set up before I could find a spot, so when the rain started I jumped into hopefuls tent to wait it out.

Waited for about an hour before the storm let up. I then found a spot of my own and watched a beautiful sunset over glacier lake.

Miles – 13
Total Miles – 1730
Rain – yes, heavy thunderstorms 7pm
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Friday August 3rd – CDT Day 105

Woke up at 6, hiking by 7. Everything around glacier lake was wet, not only from last nights rain but it was soggy and swamp like. Just like I remembered from 2014.

Hiked up to Hay pass. Everything here, and all along this route, seems more impressive this time around. Maybe because I’ve already hiked 1700+ miles and this blows everything else away. Maybe I’m in better shape and not in zombie mode like 2014. Either way, it’s just beautiful around every corner.

The view of Dennis lake from Hay pass was incredible. Now we descend to the Golden lakes area. This too was a sight to be seen. A chain of lakes surrounded by green, nestled in a tight little valley.

Down at Golden lake, we took a break. Then we moved on past Louise lake and then upper golden lake. Again, just awesome. Streams, waterfalls, blue lakes and great camping.

Lake 10787

North of Golden Lakes, we hiked past Lake 10787 and an unnamed lake, just south of Douglas Peak. It’s not on the map, but I believe the pass is called Douglas Pass. Again, very scenic. I mean, what isn’t in the Winds? 

Then we dropped down to camp lake. Stopped for another break then moved on. More water Crossings. Many today. In fact, I got my feet wet on probably 8 separate occasions.

Hiked over a hump separating camp lake from another lake. This unnamed lake was crazy beautiful. We crossed the stream at it’s mouth to the lake, and discovered there was basically a stream flowing into the lake and out of it at the same spot. We stopped to filter water here.

Next we climbed a steep rocky slab slope along mini cascading waterfalls. We called this waterfall pass. Quite an interesting place to be, I don’t recall another spot like it on the CDT. This took us up to the Alpine lakes area.

Hopeful realizing what the Alpine Lakes area is all about

Ledge work. This is where we jumped in the lake and walked around the cliffs

The route around the lowest alpine Lake starts out steep. Had to jump in the lake and walk along a cliff in knee deep water to get around one spot. Tough work in the boulder fields to work around this lake. But, this is only the beginning. Having been through here before, I knew how difficult the route around Alpine Lakes is.

Walking around the SW corner of the lower Alpine Lake was again, gorgeous. This is about as easy as the hiking gets around the Alpine Lakes, although still a rocky mess. 

Next was a large snow field to cross. One part was rather steep and if you fell, you could slide right into the icy lake. However, ridiculously beautiful scenery!

Dark clouds overhead and few campsites ahead past the lower Alpine Lake. No way we’d make it over alpine pass tonight, and no where to camp along the upper alpine lake. I know this from prior experience. Just boulders, ledges, snow and ice.  We decided to make camp at 6:45pm on the peninsula that jets out into the lower alpine lake, where i camped on my hike here in 2014. Good call!

Miles – 15
Total Miles – 1745
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday August 4th – CDT Day 106

A little windy last night. Woke at 5am, hiking by 6am.

Worked our way around the middle alpine lake. This one is not too bad compared to the upper and lower lakes. Nowhere to camp though, and the team was happy with the call made last night to camp where we did.

Do not try this at home

Crossed a river running under the snow before reaching the upper alpine lake. Huge icebergs are floating along the western shore. Hopeful hopped two floating icebergs to reach the main one, which had footprints on it. Katie and I were skeptical, so he ran the length of the iceberg/lake to scope the exit. Nothing good, scrap the iceberg idea.

This was a tough spot back in 2014 when I came from the opposite direction through here. With no shortcut across the iceberg, we headed up and over a notch in the rocks. We should have tried the low route, Because this became a long ordeal.

Now we had a large snowfield to cross. So much snow! However, the snow is easier to walk on than a sea of boulders, so that’s preferable if the angle isn’t too steep.

Two couples caught up to us as we put on our micro spikes to tackle the ascent of alpine pass. They were former CDT hikers themselves. The pass was completely covered in snow and steep. Hopeful went first and kicked steps. We angled up to a Rocky outcrop where we took a short break.

View south from Alpine Pass

The final push up alpine pass was wild. Steep and slippery. Everyone else took the Boulder field once near the top, but I just went straight up the snow field. It was awesome! Steep, but fun.

Indian Pass in the center, Knife Point Glacier below

Coming down into a new valley now, finally out of alpine lakes area. Tons of snow here. The entire upper basin was filed with snow and glaciers, specifically, knife point glacier and bull lake glacier. Very impressive. We descended boulders for a while until we reached a snowfield. We glissaded the rest of the way down. This is always fun!

Took a snow filled valley down hill. Then we entered a prehistoric looking Valley filled with a maze of streams. Crossed downstream where the channels of water had converged into one.

Then we hiked over a pass leading into another valley. Lots of wildflowers here, very nice.

The next area we entered was north fork bull lake creek. Super long name, I know. Huge impressive peaks, lots of snow. The river was this milky blue green turquoise color, so beautiful. This was one of my favorite places so far.

Crossing North Fork Bull Lake Creek

Crossed the river and made camp partially up the climb to blaurock pass. It was 6:45pm, not enough time to make it over the pass and down safely the other side to find camp there. So again, we stopped early. Only 12 miles today. Beautiful views from camp though!

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1757
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday August 5th – CDT Day 107

Start hiking at 6am. The sun never came up though, it was obscured by clouds today. These clouds looked like trouble, too.

Almost immediately after leaving camp, we found ourselves in a massive boulder field that leads up to Blaurock Pass. These were some pretty big boulders, with big gaps in between. Tough to work your way through. To make matters worse, it was beginning to snow. This made the boulder field even more treacherous, as the rock was now slippery too.

Whiteout conditions pose a serious threat for us at the top of Blaurock Pass

The snowfall became heavier as we climbed higher. It wasn’t long before the conditions had deteriorated severely, and we found ourselves in a complete whiteout. There were less big boulders to contend with now, and mostly just snowpack. On top of the pass, we could see nothing. On the other side, the topo map appeared to be steeper. Going down in these conditions seemed like a poor idea, but we had no cover either. We considered waiting it out under an emergency blanket. As we discussed our options, the snow began to clear up and visibility improved. Good thing, because this moment was one that had the three of us pretty worried.

Going down the north side of Blaurock pass wasn’t as bad as we anticipated. The grade was steep but the mountainside was littered with scree and not big boulders. Much better to work with, but still not easy. The weather improved as we dropped in elevation.

After losing more elevation, we stepped off the snow and scree fields and onto a grassy hill. Around this time, the clouds cleared momentarily and the sun shined through. The surrounding mountains became visible and knocked our socks off. This place has an otherworldly feel to it. The kind of stuff people dream up, but never see in real life.

The weather changed rapidly throughout the rest of the day. From sunny to storm clouds and back to sunny all within 10 minutes. Get used to it.

We continued downhill, traversing a couple more snow fields along the way.

Once we reached Dinwoody Creek on the map, we followed this uphill again towards Dinwoody Glacier. The small ponds here were an intense turquoise blue color, due to all the minerals in the water. Water like this always had a way of mesmerizing me.

Dinwoody Glacier

Above the mesmerizing turquoise ponds lies a massive boulder field, which likely would have been covered by Dinwoody Glacier only decades ago. It probably would have made walking through this area easier had it been glacial ice and not boulders.

 

Next we began the climb up West Sentinel Pass. The best route appeared to be a high one in the snow above a bowl. We began the traverse along a steep snow slope, kicking in steps as we went. The closer we got to the top of the pass, the more steep it became. In an instant, Jay had slipped and slid 150′ down the snow into the bowl. Fortunately, the slide was not a dangerous one with boulders or a cliff below. Moments later, I too slipped and fell down into the bowl. Poor Katie was left alone up there, and decided to glissade down herself. It’s a bit easier when it’s on purpose.

On top of West Sentinel Pass

The three of us took a more direct route up the pass this time, no issues. At the top of West Sentinel Pass, we entered Gannett Glacier. This was the largest glacier we’ve been on yet, covering the entire upper basin we were standing in. Massive.

Hiking across Gannett Glacier

Straddling a crevasse on Gannett Glacier

We worked our way across the glacier until we encountered some melt out. Going down straight down would just mean more water, and the map shows crevasses here. We decided to go up and around the melt out, and then back down. Still, this had us weaving in and out of crevasse territory. We encountered several crevasses, mostly smaller ones. Down in a gully below us, only an unintentional glissade away, we could hear the roar of water flowing under the snow.

Gannett Glacier terminus

After dropping in elevation, we reached the terminus of the glacier. This is quite an interesting place to be. Much of this ice is dirty ice, a mix with mud and debris. The ground below the terminus is freshly exposed for the first time in potentially thousands of years. I wanted to search for interesting rocks, if only I had more time. It started raining around this time, and we continued downhill in search of cover where we could take a break. The clouds had really moved in fast.

 

By the time we reached Gannett Creek, the rain had subsided and it was sunny again. No cover but we stopped here for our break.

We worked our way up Gannett Creek, which was more like a series of ponds and small lakes with an occasional stream in between. Beautiful color.

We continued uphill through a sea of rocks until we reached a snowfield above an icy pond. We thought about traversing the slopes above it, but the team was not up for it without an ice axe after this afternoon’s slip down West Sentinel Pass. Instead, we dropped down to the pond and found a narrow spot to hop boulders across. We followed the other side of the pond until we were clear of the pond, then continued the ascent up an unnamed pass NE of Bastion Peak.

From the top of the pass there was a good view of Bastion Peak behind us, and Grasshopper Glacier to the north. The closer we got to Grasshopper, the more prominent the terminus of the glacier was. A wall of ice at least 50′ tall marked the edge. And that’s where we need to go tomorrow!

We found a place to camp near the temrinus of Grasshopper Glacier. The ground was a fine sand/silt, a little wet and soft. It seemed this area was usually covered in snow and or ice, and only recently exposed. Not the ideal campsite, but a unique one for sure.

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1769
Rain – 2″ snow, complete whiteout. Rain, hail
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – pronghorn sheep?, marmot

Monday August 6th – CDT Day 108

Hiking at 6am. Cold night, Frost inside tent.

Grasshopper Glacier terminus

Walked up to the edge of grasshopper glacier. The terminus of the glacier must be 60+ feet tall. Never seen anything like that up close. Hiked up the glacier to the snowpack, uphill for a while.

Huge snow fields. Just massive. Easy walking too!

Hiked up to the Continental Divide. Followed the ridge for a while, fairly easy walking.

Iceberg and Baker Lakes

Iceberg Lake

Reached baker lake and iceberg lake. The latter was really cool. Another tall glacial terminus. Lots of icebergs too!

 

Next we Climbed uphill and followed the Divide for a while.

Reached a saddle a mile before downs mountain. On the map, We saw what looked like a route down to our end point the glacier trailhead. Skirted the mountainside along the least steep terrain the topo showed. This looked easier than the Ley alternate coming down from the summit of downs mountain.

We spent 5 hours working our way down a series of ledges and steep boulders on the mountainside that ended at a really steep snowfield. This appeared to be steeper than we could safely cross, but I went down for a closer look. I attempted to take the first step off the boulders and onto the snow, but the angle was so steep that step kicking may not cut it. Right then, Katie and Hopeful said they weren’t going to follow me even if I go for it, due to the danger of it. I stopped and assessed the situation and they were right. The runoff below is boulders or a cliff. Without ice axes, it would just be stupid. Reluctantly, we turned around and headed back uphill to find another way.

Back at the saddle we started from, we headed up the ridge to downs mountain. We weren’t going to be able to drop down into the valley we saw this earlier from here though. Instead, we’ll have to continue many miles north and take a completely different route. Awesome views from the climb up Downs mountain though. Lots of boulders, hard work and sometimes sketchy. We were already rationing food for the last several days, and nearly out. We planned on getting to the trailhead tonight, but that’s not gonna happen now.

Tired and hungry, we worked our way around the west side of downs mountain instead of doing the climbing up it. Lots of boulders either way. Mentally exhausting. Saw some big horn sheep on the ridge above us, that was cool. Basically right on top of Downs Mountain.

Continental Glacier

Hiking across Continental Glacier

At the saddle after Downs, we set foot on Continental glacier. It’s all snowpack up here. Absolutely enormous!

Hiked to 8pm. We descended the glacier instead of staying high above it on a ridge to find camp. Cleared rocks in a debris field for campsites. Dinner was 1 granola Bar. Can’t wait for town tomorrow, I hope we finally make it.

Miles – 15
Total Miles – 1784
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – big horn sheep

Tuesday August 7th – CDT Day 109

Another cold night sleeping in a debris field next to a glacier. Woke at 6, didn’t start hiking until almost 8am.

Today is our 10th day in the winds. We ate the last of our food for breakfast, which was basically starvation rations to begin with. We only planned on 7 days of food.

Walked over some boulders and back down to Continental glacier. Hiked on the glacier since it was much easier travel than rocks and boulders.

Walked up shale mountain next. Fairly easy walking, for the winds anyways.

Crossed a large snow field with a collapsed section where a stream runs underneath. Some crevasses as well. 

Made it to the top of the pass that leads down to the ross lakes area. Really steep. Took a break at the top, couldn’t see much of a way down. For the record, I don’t think this is really a pass at all. Just a possible route down for those willing. 

Found a ridge to follow down. Walked down a snowy slope to a patch of boulders. Another snow slope below the boulders, but this one was steep. Hopeful went first, no micro spikes, and slipped. He slid about 40 feet and crashed into a large Boulder. He turned at the last moment and his backpack took the brunt of the impact, but still hit his ankle. Fortunately he was alright.

Although the slide down was scary, it was really the only good looking way to continue downhill. I kicked some super deep steps with my spikes on and made it down safely. Katie went last and also made it safely.

Down on the valley floor, we filtered water from a steam. Just downhill, I saw 2 mountain lions standing in some large boulders. Side profile, tail curled up in the air. Big cats. They saw and heard us, and ran off. These were the first mountain lions I’d ever seen.

Next we went through a section of blown down trees in thick brush. Kinda where the mountain lions were. I tripped a few times and cut my hand. Pain in the ass. Would be nice to have some calories in my stomach.

Ross Lake

Climbed over one last hill before mostly heading downhill. Awesome view of Ross lakes from here.

Picked up a trail at the bottom of the hill. You don’t know how good it felt to reach this trail! Now it’s time to haul ass to the trailhead. We were just empty shells now, running on a couple hundred calories and less than 2 liters of water all day. Hopeful hiked the day on 12 M&Ms. Running serious deficits that cannot be sustained.

Reached the trailhead around 6pm and luckily ran into a guy named Stephen. He was headed back to Dubois and so he had no problem giving us a lift. He also had a couple of ice cold beers for us, which tasted amazing! Keystone Light never tasted so good.

We ate at the noon Rock pizza place in Dubois with our new friend Stephen. Pizza and wings really hit the spot! Got a room at the black bear inn which was very hiker friendly. I think we all went to bed with an enormous sense of satisfaction having just completed the greatest adventure of our lives. I know I did.

Miles – 17
Total Miles – 1801
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – 2 mountain lions, marmots

Wednesday August 8th – CDT Day 110 (zero day)

Slept in today which felt amazing! Ate breakfast and got started on town chores.

Picked up packages at the longhorn ranch, which we intended on staying at. However, the allure of a hotel was much too great. The ranch was kind enough to give us the packages at no charge, even though I offered to pay a reasonable fee for the service.

Did laundry, ate at the cowboy Cafe (2 entrées), and backed up photos and GoPro videos.

Thursday August 9th – CDT Day 111 (zero day)

Hurried to pack up and get ready to hike. However, it was obvious I had too much to do today, and we could all use a little more rest. So the decision was made to stay another day. This gave me all the time I needed to check off items on my to-do list, like sending in a couple pairs of Darn Tough socks for warranty, etc.

The motel we were staying at was the Black Bear Inn. Super hiker friendly. They had a river flowing through the property and there was a sweet patio setup down by the water… BBQ grills, tables, hammocks, christmas lights. Bumped into a few other hikers today in town and invited them over to grill out with us and drink some beers. We made grilled cheese sandwhiches and italian sausages. So naturally, we combined them… yum!

Back on trail tomorrow.

Like what you see?

Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO Aug 2012 (Backpacking Trip Report)

Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO – Four Pass Loop Backpacking Overview

Complete Maroon Bells Wilderness Photo Gallery | Maroon Bells Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO
  • Park – White River National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Four Pass Loop
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 2980 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 38 (includes summit of Snowmass Mountain)
  • Trail Difficulty – 8/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes

 

Download a GPX file of my hike (right click and choose “save as”): Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO

Total distance: 36.71 mi
Max elevation: 14091 ft
Min elevation: 9459 ft
Total climbing: 15371 ft
Total descent: -15581 ft
Download

 

The Maroon Bells Wilderness caught my attention this spring when planning a backpacking trip during the month of May. I had read about the Four Pass Loop and after seeing some incredible pictures of this place, and I knew this was one hike I couldn’t pass up. There was too much snowfall on the ground still in May, and instead I hiked the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. However, I would not have to wait long for my chance to hike here. I decided that the Four Pass Loop would be my destination of choice for my mid summer trip after my plans for Isle Royale fell through yet again. The plan was to hike the Loop, but camp an extra night at Snowmass Lake and summit Snowmass Mountain on the extra day. It would be a step above all my previous hikes in most aspects, especially elevation. Wikipedia has this to say regarding Altitude Sickness: “It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness.”

The area we planned on hiking lies in the Elk Mountain Range in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, just outside of Aspen, CO. This is within the White River National Forest.

Prior to this trip, the highest elevation I’ve hiked t was 10,643ft (Black Mountain, Gila Wilderness, NM). This trip would raise that number by 3,455ft if I can summit Snowmass Mountain, 14,098ft. If not, the Four Pass Loop is comprised of four mountain passes between 12,400 and 12,500ft, so I’ll still surpass my highest elevation by more than 1,850ft anyways. I didn’t have a problem with the elevation in New Mexico this past May, but this was going to be the real test!

My girlfriend was coming with me on this trip.  I was a little concerned with how she will handle the elevation, as well as the rigors of a big hike like this. She had gone with me on my trip to Manistee River last fall, a really easy hike, but that was her only prior backpacking experience. She was short some gear and had to buy rain pants, hiking boots, socks, sleeping bag, and a backpack. There was no way she could use my crappy High Sierra backpack I have as a “spare” for a trip like this. In fact, she used it last year at Manistee with maybe 20 pounds in it, and even that was uncomfortable. The only gear I had to buy for this trip was a few more OPsaks so the critters can’t smell our food. I didn’t even have to make a last minute trip to REI for something… nice.

 

Getting There

I won’t bore you with much details of driving here, it was pretty uneventful. Almost 1500 miles of farmland is enough to put anyone to sleep. We left Detroit on Saturday July 28th and drove about 15 hours before stopping in North Platte, Nebraska. We assumed that there would be plenty of hotel rooms available, but every hotel was pretty much booked. There were a few events going on, such as a soccer tournament. We had to settle for a smoking room at a Days Inn I think it was. It smelled awful, and apparently pets are welcome in the hotel because we heard dogs barking all night. It was pretty ghetto, but it was either this place or nothing since there were no other towns around.

The next day, we only had about 4 hours left to Denver where, where we planned on staying with Lisa’s friend. It was a pretty gradual rise in elevation the rest of the drive. We were relieved to finally see the Rockies about 30 miles outside of Denver. We arrived early in the afternoon, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and check out the Red Rocks area just outside of town. After that, we went to bed early and tried to get as much rest as possible before setting out on the final stretch tomorrow morning.

 

Day 1 – Monday July 30th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 4
Route – Maroon Creek Rd. Trailhead (West Maroon Portal Parking Lot) to camp along West Maroon Creek at 10,800ft

We left The Denver area around 5:45am today after spending the night at a friends apartment, which was about 4 hours from the trailhead in Aspen. After leaving Denver on I-70w, the drive was all mountains. It was a beautiful drive and really built up my anticipation for the hike. We stopped for breakfast at the Golden Burro in Leadville, which was pretty good. Their menus were full of history of the town, which included things like Doc Holiday’s last shootout. I recommend this place if you are passing through… good food, big portions, cool atmosphere.

After leaving Leadville, we passed over the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. We stopped here for a couple of pictures, but didn’t stay long. After this, the road really winds through the mountains, and offered some great views. It was a white knuckle drive though, thanks to the swarms of cyclists on the road. These guys were all over between Independence Pass and the Maroon Creed Rd. Trailhead in Aspen. They don’t move out of the way either, they ride in the middle of the road as if they are a car. I was ready to get out of the car by the time we reached Aspen, where I was picking up my fishing license I had ordered online. I was looking for “King Sooper’s”, which I thought was some type of gas station. There seem to be no visible addresses on buildings in Aspen, but I stopped where my GPS said the address was. We got out and walked around for a while trying to find it before figuring out that King Sooper’s was actually a grocery store called “City Market”. Apparently, it’s called King Sooper’s City Market, but how the hell would anyone know that from the sign outside that says “City Market”?

entrance road to the maroon bells wilderness

After grabbing the license, we dodged about a 1,000 more cyclists before reaching the entrance to the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We paid the $10 entrance fee and were told that the overnight parking lot was full and that we needed to park at the West Portal lot. This lot was packed with cars too, but we found a spot and began to gear up. I always bring a scale with me to the trailhead so I can weigh my pack right before the hike. Mine was 52+ pounds, Lisa’s was 34. Intersecting the parking lot was a trail that headed into the woods in the direction we wanted to go, but it was not clear where it was going. So, we hiked the pavement, following other hikers we saw leaving the parking lot. It was probably another 1/3 mile or so before we reached a bus loading/unloading area where they drop off hoards of day hikers shuttled in from somewhere. We weren’t sure where we needed to obtain the free permit needed to hike here, but after following the cement pathway we came to a small building that had some info on the wildlife and whatnot. There was another hiker in here filling out a permit, but there were none left on the counter and no park employees around. It was already around 11:30 and we couldn’t wait around for anyone to get us a permit, so I rummaged through the drawers on the other side of the counter and found a stack of permits, which I placed on the counter for everyone to use.

Finally, we were on our way. Today, we were going to hike about 4 miles and find camp somewhere near 10,800ft along West Maroon Creek. I had read that there were not many campsites past this mark, unless you plan on going over West Maroon Pass.

Maroon Lake is right there by the place we got the permit, with the Bells visible from the start. It was very beautiful but I was a little discouraged by the massive amounts of people in the area. I know that the trailhead area is always the most crowded, but I was having a hard time believing we were going to have any type of solitude here. However, many of these people had nothing on their backs and were clearly only here for the day, so we figured it would clear up after Crater Lake.

View of the Maroon Bells in between Maroon & Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

After leaving Maroon Lake, we hiked through a short wooded section before hiking a mile or so of rocky ups and downs leading to Crater Lake. The entire way here we encountered people coming or going every minute or two, and often much more frequently that that. Crater Lake was pretty dry, evidence of the drought this area has been experiencing. Only a week prior the fire ban was lifted for the White River National Forest, which was good news for us. Who doesn’t love a good campfire?

The Base Of North Maroon Peak

We should have scoped out the campsites near Crater Lake while we were here, since this was our intended campsite for night 5. However, since we were not making very good time today, we didn’t stay long. After passing the lake, we began to see less and less people, which was a good thing. Although we hadn’t hiked too far, it had been a while now since breakfast so we stopped for lunch at the base of a talus field below North Maroon Peak. Here, we caught our first glimpse of a Marmot. Lisa and I had never seen one, so watching them run around on the rocks was entertaining. We also saw our first Pika in this area, and saw our last person for the day… finally, some solitude!

After finishing up with lunch, we put our packs back on and immediately Lisa noticed a large water leak coming from her backpack. It was obviously the hydration bladder as this was the only item with water in it, but upon inspection we did not see any leaks or even a wet spot on the bladder itself. We were stumped as to where the leak came from, but my best guess is that the quick connect mechanism for the bladder’s tube had too much pressure on it causing the hose to be partially open. It’s just odd that there was no water in this area, nor was it wet. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped this would not happen again, and thankfully it didn’t.

four pass loop clockwise day 1

colorado mountain goats

These goats weren’t happy to see us

Now late afternoon, it was pretty hot out at this point. We were both a little dehydrated, despite drinking tons of water in the morning and throughout our hike today. I had a bit of a headache, which I blamed on the elevation and dehydration. Lisa wasn’t feeling good, and was ready to stop. I wanted to make it to around 10,800ft today as I’ve read that there are not many good campsites past this mark. As we pushed on towards our destination, we encountered a few mountain goats grazing alongside the trail, maybe 30 feet away. I took a few pictures, and moved in closer to shoot a video of them. One of the goats turned and started trotting towards me, so I backed off and let them be. These guys were big, and I did not want to find out what they were capable of.

west maroon creek stream crossing

four pass loop west maroon campsite view

Night 1 campsite near West Maroon Creek, around 10,800ft

After leaving the goats behind, we crossed over to the East side of West Maroon Creek. I decided to start looking for a place to make camp for the night and dropped my pack to scout the area. We were just below the Len Shoemaker Ridge at this point. Leaving the trail and hiking up the hillside towards the ridge, I found a nice campsite on a hill with some good tree cover and a nice view. As we set up camp we could see several other mountain goats on the slopes South of Maroon Peak and above us near the Len Shoemaker Ridge. Great, hope these guys leave us alone!

maroon bells len shoemaker ridge

The Len Shoemaker Ridge

Next, we headed back down to West Maroon Creek to filter some water. My MSR Miniworks water filter was usually good for 2-4 liters of water before needing to be cleaned, but the water was so clean here that I filtered 8 liters without the flow slowing down much. Of course, Giardia is still a threat no matter how clean the water looks and this water must be filtered or boiled in order to drink it. I chugged a liter of water while I was filtering, which I typically do in order to rehydrate and still leave with a full supply of water. After taking an asprin and downing that liter of water, my headache was gone.

Now it was time to hang our food. There are VERY few good places to hang food along the Four Pass Loop as most of the trees are coniferous and do not have long branches. My first attempt at a bear hang here ended up in the loss of my cordage, as it got tangled in the jagged branches of a leaning tree. I tried climbing this tree as well as the one next to it to get my rope back, but after a half hour I gave up. Fortunately I had a spare rope, but it wasn’t as long as it really needed to be. I brought a large dry sack to keep our food in, which was stored in my OPsaks. Being in the OPsaks, I didn’t worry too much about the quality of the hang as these bags seem to do an excellent job of masking the smell of it’s contents. I’ve never had a problem yet with animals getting into anything I have stored in these bags.

camping below len shoemaker ridge

Eating dinner on the scree slope below the Len Shoemaker Ridge

We ate our dinner in the talus field below the Len Shoemaker Ridge, about 200ft from our campsite. I happened to glance at our camp and noticed a large buck wandering around near our tent. So far, we had seen quite a bit of wildlife and this made us think what we were in for in the upcoming days. After finishing up with dinner we had a nice fire on the rocks below our camp and watched the stars for a while, before the brightness of the moon took over. We decided to call it a day around 10 or 10:30. Tomorrow is going to be a long day with two mountain passes to traverse.

 

Day 2 – Tuesday July 31st, 2012

Miles Hiked – 7.5
Route – Camp to Fravert Basin

west maroon creek campsite view

View from our campsite on the morning of day 2

I awoke on our second day to an awesome view of the unnamed peaks to the North. It was a relief to see daylight after a pretty uncomfortable night’s sleep. I felt great today, but my thermarest air mattress had a small leak in it that I thought I had patched up during my last trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia. Apparently there was another leak somewhere as it was completely deflated. Then I checked my half-assed bear hang, which I was happy to see untouched. Being our first morning, and Lisa’s first hike since our trip to Manistee almost a year ago, we were pretty slow to break camp this morning. I also went down to the creek to top off our water supply which took an extra half hour. We have two mountain passes to climb today, West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass, so I wanted to make sure we had enough water.

I think it was around 9am when we hit the trail today. After hiking about a half mile, we passed another group of hikers getting a slower start than us, still sitting around in camp. Around this point we began to see a ton of hikers going up West Maroon Pass, and I couldn’t figure where they all came from. Many of these people had nothing on their backs, so they were day hiking from somewhere, maybe their campsite nearby? Doubt they came all the way from the visitor’s center at this time of day. We probably passed 30 people going up to the top of this pass, way more than I was expecting.

approaching west maroon pass

below west maroon pass

colorado wildflowers

Wildflowers line the trail up to West Maroon Pass

We hiked in and out of small pockets of wooded areas, but it was mostly low brush. Wildflowers were pretty abundant here, we passed several varieties that got Lisa’s attention. After crossing West Maroon Creek again, we crossed a few more small streams before the landscape really began to open up. The view of the mountains surrounding us was incredible, even more so as we climbed higher. We couldn’t see the exact path of the trail leading up to West Maroon Pass until we were almost near the final 1/2 mile or so ascent.

climbing up west maroon pass

Near the top of West Maroon Pass

west maroon pass view to the east

Looking east from the top of West Maroon Pass

Once at the top of West Maroon Pass (12,500ft), we were greeted by several other hikers. The first thing I did was pull of my boots and let my feet air out while we had the chance. It was noticeably colder and windier up here, but my feet needed to breathe. We ate lunch up here as well, and the chipmunks were already out investigating and begging for food. Obviously, they were pretty used to people, they were not afraid of us in the least. While I was sitting on a rock eating a sandwich, one crawled up my back! Crazy little bastards.

chipmunk on mountain pass

Tons of these guys up here.

west maroon pass view

Beautiful view from West Maroon Pass!

west maroon pass view looking west

View to the west

I also took this opportunity to pull out my Sony Nex-5 camera and take some pictures. Before I left for my hike in West Virgina in June, I ordered a bunch of camera equipment that didn’t arrive until after I got back, so this was my first trip that I had took with my new graduated neutral density filters, polarizer lens, etc. I set up the tripod and got a few decent pictures, but I still need to learn/practice more. Fortunately, the beauty of this place does most of the work for you, and there is no shortage of amazing things to photograph here!

west maroon pass ridgeline

Now on our way down West Maroon Pass and northwest towards Frigid Air Pass, the trail quickly gives way to a much gentler slope. It was really nice through here, just rolling green hills and meadows with tons of wildflowers. It was mostly downhill for quite a while, but not to the point where it’s hard on the knees. This was a relief after having just hiked 1700ft up the last pass. We only encountered one or two other hikers in this section before Frigid Air Pass, and played leapfrog with one of them for the last half of the section.

descending west maroon pass west side

Between West Maroon Pass & Frigid Air Pass

looking up at the pass from below

Looking back at West Maroon Pass

maroon bells wildflowers

East Fork Crystal River leading into Crystal Canyon

East Fork Crystal River leading into Crystal Canyon

At the base of Frigid Air Pass, there was a dried up pond and a sign indicating the direction of the trail. This pass was much short in distance, but would turn out to be pretty damn steep near the top. Once over this, it was all downhill for the rest of the day.

below frigid air pass

Frigid Air Pass in the background

Just below Frigid Air Pass

Just below Frigid Air Pass

At the top of Frigid Air Pass, we were again presented with unbelievable views, this time of the vast Fravert Basin. We decided to take a break up here before descending, so it was time again to air out the feet and have a snack.

upper fravert basin panorama

Upper Fravert Basin from Frigid Air Pass

fravert basin view from frigid air pass

Overlooking Fravert basin

We saw at least 3 marmots up here and this time I was able to get a few good pictures of one up close. Camp for the night was going to be somewhere down in the Fravert Basin, wherever we find a decent site. However, the clouds were really starting to move in, and we weren’t sure exactly how far we’d have to go until we find a good spot. We this in mind, we cut our break short and descended into the basin as quickly as possible. After all, it was late afternoon now, and I’d hoped to be at camp already.

a marmot bumbling around on a mountain pass

Marmot hanging out on Frigid Air Pass

hiking down frigid air pass into fravert basin

Descending Frigid Air Pass

upper fravert basin hiking

We made great time getting down from the pass, and before we knew it we had made it to the forested area near the bottom. I knew there was a river down here and somewhere near it was going to be our best bet for a campsite. Once we got close enough to actually see the river, I left the trail and began to look for potential campsites. I didn’t see any previously used ones, but found a descent site on the opposite bank of the river. It was a tall grassy area situated a few hundred feet from the bank, forming a clearing around 30′ in diameter. I wasn’t too pleased with the site myself, but we we tired and the weather was looking pretty nasty.

north fork crystal river crossing

Crossing the North Fork Crystal River to find a campsite

view of campsite in fravert basin

Night 2 campsite in the Fravert Basin

The good news about this site was that the ground beneath us was pretty soft, so we should sleep good tonight. Well, as good as you can with a deflated air mattress. It was also much closer to a water source than our site last night, which was a huge bonus. On the downside, there was nowhere to hang food here, not one tree. I climbed up the rocky hillside above our campsite and found a dead tree trunk on which I set our food bag. I didn’t like the idea of letting it sit out like that, but here was nowhere to hang the food near our site. I felt pretty confident that the OPsaks would do their job, and those were stuffed inside the dry sack, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

dark skies over campsite in maroon bells wilderness

Right before we started seeing lightning…

As it got dark, it began to sprinkle a little bit on and off. The rain wasn’t a worry, but the winds were picking up and lightning was flashing all around us. At one point we saw a bolt strike the unnamed 13’er that towered above our campsite. This was the nearest peak and had us a little worried, but after an hour or two the weather calmed down and we were finally able to get some rest.

 

Day 3 – Wednesday August 1st, 2012

Miles Hiked – 9
Route – Fravert Basin to Snowmass Lake

I woke up around 6am today, determined to get an earlier start than the day before. It was very cold this morning, and everything was wet from the rain last night. Fortunately, all of our gear stayed dry and our food bag was untouched once again. I headed down to the creek to top of our water while Lisa packed up the gear inside the tent. This became our morning routine… I took care of the outside stuff like the bear hang & filtering water while she rolled up the sleeping bags, the air mattresses, etc. I took some of Lisa’s weight when were packing our backpacks so that today might be easier for her. I would have taken more, but there’s only so much room in my pack! After eating a met-rx bar and whole wheat bagel for breakfast, we were on the trail today by roughly 8am.

North Fork Crystal River From Above

As soon as we we back on the trail, we passed several campsites. I knew we had to be close yesterday, but you never know… could have hiked another mile or two before finding a suitable site. We also passed several hikers in the first hour of today’s hike. After about an hour, the trail leads you to a nice overlook of a river in the valley below. A waterfall can also been seen just off the trail. I tried to take some pictures up here, but the lighting wasn’t the greatest at this time of day. Lisa went ahead of me while I took some pictures, and when I was done I caught up with her. After a sharp decent of a couple hundred feet, we were on the valley floor.

crystal river waterfall up close

Crystal river waterfall

Now looking back up to our overlook spot above, I was tempted to try and get some pictures of that waterfall. this would require a short off trail hike, maybe 1/2 mile. Lisa didn’t want to go, so she stayed behind as I worked my way towards the falls. The vegetation was still covered with last night’s rain, and soon I was too. The route I chose to the falls was much thicker than I thought, but I eventually made it. I took a few quick pictures before heading back. Lisa was waiting for me so I didn’t want to stay too long. Instead of  working my way through the woods again, I opted to follow the waterfall down. It was very rocky but it looked like there was less vegetation on the rocks and this offered a glimmer of hope for not becoming completely soaked. However, even here existed thick shrubs that had me drenched by the time I made it to the bottom. Lisa was glad she didn’t go when she saw me!

The next section was fairly flat and wandered though a pine forest with a ton of downed trees before hugging the North Fork Crystal River. There were a few nice campsites through here that I really would have loved to have stayed at had we hiked this far yesterday. This was a really peaceful hike… didn’t see a soul and it wasn’t too difficult. It seemed like we covered some good ground too.

North Fork Crystal River

North Fork Crystal River

crystal river lead king basin trail maroon bells wilderness

Heading up Trail Rider Pass. That’s Lead King Basin on the left

hiking colorados maroon bells wilderness

beautiful lead king basin

Some of my favorite pictures were here, of the Lead King Basin

After crossing the North Fork Crystal River, the trail remained somewhat flat for another mile or so before steep switchbacks led the way to Trail Rider Pass. I think we both agreed that this was the longest and most difficult pass of the trip. Now in direct sunlight, I put on my hat so I didn’t get to burnt. Lisa didn’t have a hat though, and was getting quite red even with the application of sunscreen. The views of Lead King Basin were incredible though!

geneva lake trail rider pass trail juntion

Trail Rider Pass junction with Geneva Lake Trail

Elk Mountains in the maroon bells wilderness colorado

Elk Mountains

The entire way up, we couldn’t really see where Trail Rider Pass was exactly. After a short climb to the top of the hill above the Geneva Lake Trail intersection, we reached a bit of a plateau. There was a small lake up here, and this made me think how awesome it would be to camp up here. However, this didn’t fit with our plans, and knowing that Snowmass Lake is on the other side of the pass I quickly forgot about the idea. From here, we could finally see where the trail was heading. It seemed like a really long way to go still, especially after the long hike up to where we were now.

snowmass lake viewed from trail rider pass

First view of Snowmass Lake!

view of ridgeline on trail rider pass

view from trail rider pass

Looking south/west from Trail Rider Pass

The “plateau” was a nice break from the steep inclines, but soon the path up Trail Rider Pass became just as steep as any of the passes before it. Once again, I was blown away at the view! Snowmass Lake looked incredible, and we couldn’t wait to get down to it. This was the only pass that we did not share with any other hikers, which was nice. It was very cold and windy up here, even after sweating our way up to the top. We hung out up here for about 45 minutes to air out our feet, eat, and take pictures before heading down.

trail rider apss decent to snowmass lake

Descending Trail Rider Pass

snowmass lake

Snowmass Peak on the left, and Snowmass Mountain in the middle,

The trail was very visible on the mountainside, and it could be seen for quite a ways here. Some of the gullies still had snow in them, and this was the closest we’d come to them yet. Once we got our first view of Snowmass Mountain, I pointed it out to Lisa. Although we had planned on climbing it together, after seeing it first hand, she decided against it. This was somewhat of a relief to hear because I had a feeling this was a little more than she could handle.  I have to admit that I was having second thoughts as well, since I had never climbed anything like this before. Not even close. But, I had my mind set on it and that was that.

amazing blue color of snowmass lake

Beautiful hike down to Snowmass Lake

Waterfall By Snowmass Lake

Waterfall By Snowmass Lake

We made great time hiking through this next section as we were both pretty eager to get to camp. There were some cool views of the lake as we emerged from small patches of wooded areas. The water was an incredibly vibrant turquoise blueish color that seemed to change every time we looked at it. It didn’t seem like Snowmass Lake was too far, but the hike ended up taking much longer than I thought. I wasn’t exactly sure where the campsites were located along the lake, and I assumed they were scattered along all sides. However, the trail took us to the far end of the lake and past it. Now, I wasn’t sure if we had missed a trail leading to the lake. Eventually we crossed the river and the trail headed up towards the lake again. While there must have been a shorter route, the way we ended up hiking seemed like it added another 45 minutes by the time we passed the lake and had to hike uphill again to get to the campsites. Just before the lake were two good sized waterfalls, and pools filled with Brook Trout. We passed a few guys who had caught some, which I hoped to do tomorrow!

campsite at snowmass lake

Campsite for nights 3 & 4

Once we reached Snowmass Lake, we were surprised to see how many people there were here. Of course, all of the good campsites were taken now that it was 6:30pm. We settled on a less than prime campsite, which was disappointing knowing that we were spending 2 nights here. We could always move sites tomorrow when others clear out, but is it really worth the time and effort? I’ll be climbing Snowmass Mountain tomorrow, so will I want to move when I get back? Probably not. The site wasn’t all bad though. Being set a little farther back from the lake, it seemed like it offered more privacy than some of the other sites. And, people weren’t walking past our site every 2 minutes since it was off the main path. However, there are no campfires allowed within 1/2 mile of Snowmass Lake, which was another disappointment. There were signs posted warning of a $325 fine for having a fire!

view from snowmass lake shore near camp

View from Snowmass Lake

Despite being in a wooded area, there is nowhere good to hang food near the lake. My bear hang ended up being maybe 5 feet off the ground, suspended in between 2 trees that were about 12 feet apart. Not ideal, but better than nothing. I saw many others with half-assed bear hangs as well. After setting up camp and finding a bear hang location, we headed down to the river to filter some water and take pictures. There were no colors on the mountains tonight to reflect in the water as I have seen in some pictures online, but I have one more sunset and 2 sunrises still to look forward to here! It sprinkled on and off for the rest of the night, but not hard enough to keep people out of their tents.

Back at camp, I packed my Camelbak for tomorrow’s climb. I had debated on the necessity of bringing the Camelbak, but knew it would be perfect for my climb and was worth the extra weight in my pack. I figured 2 liters of water would be enough, stored in my Osprey bladder. I packed my map, compass, gps, first aid kit, food, and camera equipment. I took out some moleskin so that it was ready for me to put on in the morning to cover the blisters on the back of my heels, which fortunately were not hurting too bad. Packed and ready for tomorrow, I was in bed by 10pm.

 

Day 4- Thursday August 2nd, 2012

Miles Hiked – 5.7
Route – Summit Snowmass Mountain, same campsite

To be honest, I didn’t sleep much last night. I was pretty nervous about climbing my first 14er, and doing it solo. Sleeping on a deflated air mattress also doesn’t help either. When my alarm went off at 5am, I was having a hard time getting myself up to do this, but after a few minutes I got up and moving. The weather was clear, and I could still see the stars quite well. I retrieved our food from the bear hang, ate some breakfast and packed my lunch into the Camelbak.

snowmass lake before sunrise

Time To Climb!

route to climb snowmass mountain

Snowmass Mountian climbing route

snowmass mountain summit base of climb

Base of the scree field

I left camp around 5:30-5:45am and began the hike around the lake. This was actually one of the worst parts about the entire climb! The trail was cut through thick vegetation that one could not help but to brush up against, which was still wet. It winds along the lake, sometimes on the shore and sometimes on the hillside. There were many roots sticking up that you either trip over or slip on. After 10 minutes, I was soaked to the bone. My boots were full of water, and at this point I felt like it would have been easier to walk through the lake itself! Near the other side of the lake now, I found it easier to follow the very narrow shoreline of the lake instead of the trail itself. In doing so, I missed where the trail went and I ended up scouring the shore for a route inwards toward the base of the scree field, unsuccessfully. Blocking my path was some very thick vegetation, a stream, and some very soft ground. I had to turn back and find the trail. I saw another group of climbers making their way around the lake as well, so I watched where they went and took the same route out onto the scree field.

snowmass mountain base scree field

Leaving the scree field

sunrise over snowmass

Sunrise over Snowmass Lake

There were 2 climbers already working their way up the scree field when I passed another group of 5 stopped at the bottom putting on their helmets and checking their gear. I was able to follow the path of the 2 climbers above me through the scree field, which was not as bad as many people had made it out to be. It was steep and loose in spots, but I was expecting worse. The steepest section of the scree field was near the top, below the grassy area.

snowmass mountain climb middle section

The middle section of the climb was the easiest

Now on the grass, I passed the 2 climbers that were above me. We stopped briefly to chat, discussing routes up the mountain. I was planning on doing the typical over-the-ridge route, but now that I was up here I was thinking about the shorter route that people take when there is no snow. I opted for the shorter route, while the other 2 hikers were going to ascend via the standard route.

It was nice to be off that scree field. The grassy area was a nice break, although still a climb. There were many small streams of water flowing through this area, with lots of large boulders dotting the landscape. I made pretty good time going up through this section as it gave way to larger boulders. Now you must hop from rock to rock, and sometimes climb from one to another. Some tilt, move, or shift when you step on them, so being conscious of where you step is crucial. The entire way up, I could hear rocks falling in the distance from Snowmass Peak (not Snowmass Mountain).

Once I got close enough to the top of the ridge to see some detail, I could see that it was pretty damn steep. It got steeper and steeper towards the top, until the last 20 feet or so became almost vertical. This climb definitely had some exposure. Although a fall from this height isn’t likely to be fatal, the terrain below was very steep and rocky. You would certainly tumble down the mountainside along with a ton of rocks, which could easily be lethal. So, I hesitated for a few minutes before attempting this climb. After all, I was by myself, and If I get hurt, who would even know?

View form the top of the ridge

The summit is hidden from this view

My adrenaline was pumping like crazy as I started climbing. The handholds on the rock face were good, but extremely crumbly. Even large handholds would just fall right off, so it was vital to test each hold before committing to it. I made the mistake of looking down once, which made me a little dizzy. I turned around and calmed myself down by concentrating on what’s above me and not thinking about what’s below. This worked well and I made it to the top of the ridge. I was a little shaken, so I stopped here for 10 minutes to plan my final ascent to the top and regain my composure. This was the scariest part of the entire climb for me.

The final ascent along the backside of the ridge looked daunting when I first saw it, but once you start moving you can start to see the lines. There are some cairns here and there, follow them when you see them. The summit itself is hidden for most of the ascent and only visible near the top.

Even at 14k feet, I didn’t feel like it was difficult breathing. I felt perfectly fine, and did not feel any shortness of breath whatsoever. I was really surprised at this, but certainly not complaining. This made me wonder how high I’d have to climb before experiencing any breathing problems. I had never been this high up in elevation, so it was nice to know what my body is capable of for future trips.

I made it to the summit of Snowmass Mountain around 9:30am. My GPS said 14,061ft but I am going to trust the folks at the USGS over Garmin and go with the 14,098ft figure they claim. The weather was surprisingly calm and not too windy, but it was turning cloudy fast. The view was so incredible, I just wish the skies were blue for my pictures and it would have been perfect! Views of the red colors on the mountains contrasting against the greens were especially beautiful, never seen anything like that. I could see Geneva Lake below, which would have been a nice place to camp had I planned my trip to include a night there. Maybe on a trip in the future? I could see myself coming back here!

View from Snowmass Mountain

Snowmass Lake from the top of Snowmass Mountain

About 15 minutes after I reached the top, the 2 climbers I passed earlier had joined me. I was taking pictures at this point, and we exchanged some of each other before moving on to our lunches. We chatted and ate for about 45 minutes before heading down around 10:30am.

The other 2 climbers descending Snowmass Mountain. This is just over the ridge, along the standard route

I didn’t want to down climb that death wall I climbed up earlier to get over the ridge, so I decided to take the longer route that the other climbers had taken. I missed the route up over the ridge going this way and had to backtrack a little to find it, but I was over the ridge by 11am. The next few hundred feet of my descent  involved climbing down and jumping from rock to rock, which were surprisingly stable. Once I got the hang of moving on these large boulders near the top, I was flying downhill at a good pace. Before I knew it, I could no longer see the other 2 climbers, who went over the ridge at the same time as I did.

Now at the top of the scree field, I was searching for the route I took up but didn’t see it. The route I  ended up taking put me in the scree field higher up than the way I ascended, and this meant steeper terrain and more time in the gully. Parts of this gully had water flowing down it, and it was pretty slippery. At one point I slipped and fell on my ass, and slid about 5 feet down before stopping myself. I’m just glad I didn’t pick up any real speed. Going down the rest of the scree field wasn’t too bad though. The easiest way to move here was to walk downhill “sideways”, and slide down the rocks in a controlled manner.

Near the very bottom of the scree field, I was crossing over a small stream when I slipped on some roots and fell on a boulder, right on my hip. This fall hurt but I was ok. Later on, this would turn into a softball sized bruise. Going around Snowmass Lake was still a pain in the ass, even now that it was mostly dry. I fell once or twice making my way around the lake. It’s funny that the the most treacherous part of the climb wasn’t even up on the mountain!

I made it back to camp early afternoon, around 1pm. Just then, it started sprinkling. What great timing, I thought. I had neglected to bring any rain gear with me since it wouldn’t fit in my Camelbak, which in hindsight was probably a mistake on my part. Especially since I could have used it in the morning when traveling around the perimeter of the lake. My first priority was removing my boots and getting some air to my feet, and secondly, chugging some water. I had only drank about 1.5 liters of water during the climb, as well as a full liter in the morning before leaving camp. I wasn’t feeling dehydrated, but my pee was pretty yellow.

While I was gone climbing, Lisa took a few pictures with the Canon Powershot:

After getting my fill of h20 and filtering more water, I had the rest of the day to relax. Lisa was happy to sleep in and use today as a recuperation day, and had a very laid back morning by the lake. We thought about moving camp to a better site, but decided that it didn’t matter and the time spent moving would be better used fishing, exploring, etc. We headed down to the lake shore, and hung out here for a while taking pictures and getting some sun. It was pretty hot when it wasn’t cloudy, but pretty cool otherwise. Lisa and I laid out on a large rock at the edge of the shore for a while before trying my hand at fishing. I didn’t bring much for gear, and other than a Mepps spinner and a spoon I didn’t have anything for trout. I completely forgot to pick up some worms when we stopped for my fishing license in Aspen. Needless to say, I didn’t catch anything in the lake. Back by the mouth of the river, we saw a mink or weasel, not sure exactly. It appeared to have a mouse in it’s mouth as it scurried along a log protruding into the water.

trout fishing below snowmass lake

There are trout in here, but I didn’t get any

I also fished the pool below the 2nd waterfall on Snowmass Creek, heading away from the Lake. I could see several trout in here, maybe 15 or so. There were a few that were 10″ plus, but they didn’t want anything to do with my tackle. After a few snags and no bites, I gave up. I wouldn’t have been able to eat them anyways, since I left my stove behind for this trip and opted for easier to prepare food, and there are no fires allowed by the lake. So either way, it was going to be catch and release.

Closer to sundown, I set up my camera equipment in hopes of capturing some colors on Snowmass Peak reflecting in the lake. There were no colors yet again, but it was still very picturesque! We pigged out on some sour patch kids as the sun went down. Without being able to have a fire, there wasn’t much else to do but go to sleep. We did hear a coyote howl shortly after lying down though. After it’s 2nd or third howl, someone camping near the lake did his own coyote call to mock it. I could have gone without that.

 

Day 5 – Friday August 3rd, 2012

Miles Hiked – 5.6
Route – Snowmass Lake to Minnehaha Gulch campsite

early morning snowmass lake

My alarm went off at 6:15 today. I wanted to catch the sunrise and hopefully capture some great photos. The water was like glass and so far the sky was completely clear. Absolutely perfect conditions! I set up the tripod and got my camera ready while Lisa filtered water. We hung out here for quite a while taking pictures, eating, and just taking in the beauty of this place before we hit the trail at 9:15.

The hike back to the main trail seemed much longer than I remembered. Maybe 20 minutes after leaving camp, we passed a large pile of boulders that housed a family of marmots. These guys were all over the place… I wasn’t expecting to see so many! Finally back on the main trail and heading towards Buckskin Pass, we only passed a handful of hikers, mostly closer to Snowmass Lake.

Today’s hike had us traveling through more forests than the other days it seemed. I was surprised to find out how wide open everything is here, I wasn’t expecting to have huge views almost every step of the way. That’s how it is here though… huge, spanning views everywhere. Seldomly did we find ourselves in a forest area for more than a few hundred feet at a time. Being in the shade was a welcome feeling, especially for Lisa who had gotten quite a bit of sun by this point.

beaver damn in the maroon bells wilderness

Beaver dam

After crossing Snowmass Creek late in the morning, we saw a beaver dam. We saw the “lodge” off in the distance, but no beavers. A waterfall lies downstream of the dam, but I didn’t stop to explore. The trail follows the creek a short ways before splitting off in a V. The funny thing is that in between the fork lies a tree with a sign on it that just says “Trail” and doesn’t point in either direction. It’s placement in the fork doesn’t indicate which direction to go, so the sign is completely useless! I chose the one that went up, and apparently I chose wisely.

The trail worked it’s way up the mountainside for a while before emerging from the tress and once again exposing us to intense sunlight for the ascent of our final mountain pass. On the bright side, Buckskin Pass was probably the easiest one of the four, at least in the clockwise direction we hiked it.

Pika

Buckskin Pass

We saw several more pikas and marmots on the way up. The marmots had burrowed into parts of the trail, leaving large holes in places. We still couldn’t see where the trail was taking us, or where exactly the pass itself was. By the time we could see where the trail was taking us, we were almost at the top. It didn’t seem as long or steep as the other passes, and we made it to the top by midday.

Of course, there were several other hikers up here already. We ate lunch and chatted with a woman who was by herself. She told us that a climber had died on North Maroon Peak the week before. This made me feel glad to have returned from my solo climb unscathed. Very sad to hear though. We saw a man descending Buckskin Mountain as we sat eating lunch, who eventually came over our way. I asked him about his climb and he on his way rather quickly.

Snowmass Peak & Snowmass Mountain viewed from Buckskin Pass

North Maroon Peak viewed from Buckskin Pass

Pyramid Peak behind me

The cool thing about this view from Buckskin Pass is the different perspective you get of Snowmass Mountain and Snowmass Peak. From Snowmass Lake, Peak looks taller than Mountain. But from here, you can clearly see that Snowmass Mountain is taller. North Maroon Peak can be seen to the south and Pyramid Peak dominates the landscape to the southeast.

Rain over Pyramid Peak

The east side of Buckskin Pass was much steeper, thankfully we were going down it. The weather was threatening to rain on and off like always, so we were trying to hurry up and get to our intended campsite at Crater Lake asap. However, after descending about 1300ft we camp across a campsite that had a pretty badass view, and was only a few hundred feet from a small stream. I knew Crater Lake was going to have a ton of people, and if you haven’t guessed yet, I like my solitude. Tomorrow’s hike was only going to be 2 miles back to the car, so adding 2 more miles of downhill hiking wasn’t really an issue. This is it, our final campsite of the trip.

It was 3pm when we stopped for the day, which was our earliest time yet. It sprinkled briefly as we set up the tent. While we were setting up camp, a group of 3 or 4 people passed by on horseback, with about 10 horses total. We had seen piles of horse shit here and there, but this was the first time we’d actually seen people on horseback. This site had a rope tied between 2 trees about 15 feet up, so this was the easiest bear hang of the whole trip. We really wanted a fire tonight since we only had one on our first night. We gathered some wood and stored it under the base of a pine tree to keep the wood dry, just in case it rains. We filtered water from the creek, which would be enough for tonight and tomorrow since it’s an easy hike back to the car. Filtering water always seems like it takes a long time, but as clean as the water was here in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, it went a lot faster not having to stop every other liter to clean the filter.

Night 5 campsite

Looking towards Buckskin Pass from our campsite

Back at camp, we were sitting around on a log when an overly territorial bird started messing with us. We later found that it was a Grey Jay.  Just as it did in a previous campsite, the bird would circle us, hopping or flying 10 feet or so at a time. It would look at us for a few seconds before moving to another position. After making a complete circle, the bird stood on a stump facing away from us. It then proceeded to do a 180, stared at us for a few seconds, then flew directly at us! It turned away only 6 feet from our heads. We must have been near it’s nest or something, but I had never seen a bird act like that. It was pretty comical!

Sometime later, the thong piece on my sandal had come off and it was now almost impossible to walk in them. The thong had separated from the foam body of the sandal, taking with it a chunk of the foam. I sliced a narrow hole through the body of the sandal underneath the area of foam that was missing, just large enough to force the foam chunk attached to the thong through. I was skeptical of the longevity of this solution, but it felt great and was still intact by the end of our trip. Good fix, but now I’m in the market for another pair of sandals before my next trip.

Sleeping Sexton & North Marron Peak on the left

Our campsite offered excellent views of Pyramid Peak, Sleeping Sexton, and North Maroon Peak. We spent most of the evening lounging around, just enjoying the view. Below our campsite, it was evident that an avalanche had been through this area at some point. All of the trees were uprooted and a path was cleared through the forest. We didn’t get a direct view of the sunset, but there were some cool colors going on in the sky behind Pyramid Peak. It was actually fairly dark when all of the sudden the sun, which was behind Buckskin Pass somewhere, started shining on the clouds behind Pyramid Peak somehow. This seemed to defy all logic, but gave us a 5 minute window of some beautiful reds and oranges before finally going down for the night.

The stars came out very bright tonight as it was mostly clear. However, the moon was almost full and drowned out the stars by around 10pm. I was really hoping to see the night sky with great clarity on this trip, but between the weather and moonlight, that never happened. Being from the city, I don’t get to see very much of the night sky, so I always look forward to it when I go backpacking. Next time, I might try to plan a trip concurrent with the phases of the moon for best results. We stared at our campfire for a little while longer before calling it a day.

 

Day 6 – Saturday August 4th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 4.2
Route – Camp to car

This morning I awoke at 6:30 with the hopes of viewing the sunrise, but again there was no direct line of sight as it rose behind a ridge blocking my view. I’m sure the Maroon Bells would have looked spectacular this morning viewed from Crater Lake, but I was not regretting my decision to avoid the crowds. The weather was cool and clear as it was every morning here, and looked like a gorgeous day. As beautiful as it was here, we were ready to go back to the car and have a taste of civilization. We packed up camp and were en route back to the trailhead by 9:15am.

North Maroon Peak

Below Sleeping Sexton & North Maroon Peak

After leaving camp we hiked through the avalanche area that we overlooked yesterday. It’s pretty amazing to think that snow can literally wipe out everything in it’s path like this. The rest of the hike to Crater Lake was downhill from here, and mostly covered by trees once we passed the avalanche zone.

View of Crater Lake

View of the Maroon Bells from Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Once we neared Crater Lake, you could see how dried up it was from above. This must be a far cry from last year, which I was told had near record snowfall, so I’m sure the water level was much higher then. There weren’t any other people around yet, but that’s because it was still a little too early. After leaving Crater Lake, we were once again confronted with an army of day hikers. They come in by the busload at the visitor’s center, and seem to hike no farther than Crater Lake for the most part.

Approaching Maroon Lake

It seemed that the trail in between Crater and Maroon Lakes was much shorter this time around. Our large packs gave us away to the day hikers, who frequently stopped us to ask about our trip. I don’t mind stopping to chat, but after 6 days, we were ready to get back to the car, with a shower as our ultimate goal for the day. That, and a hot meal.

The Maroon Bells behind Maroon Lake

This sign was near Maroon Lake

By the time we reached Maroon Lake, the day hikers were out in full force. We stopped for a minute at the lake for few final pictures. I couldn’t help but look back at the Maroon Bells and reflect upon the most amazing backpacking trip of my life.

The hike back to the car seemed much longer from here though, despite being downhill this time. We made it back to the car around 11am, just in time to avoid the heat of the day. It felt great to finally change into shorts and sandals, and to sit on a comfortable seat instead of a log.

On the drive through Aspen, there were even more cyclists than I remember. We passed over a small bridge that had so many bikers that they had to get off their bikes and walk them across. There must have been 50 bikers on a bridge that was only 100 feet long! It was a biker traffic jam, pretty ridiculous if you ask me. There also seems to be a shortage of gas stations in this town. The ONE we stopped at was cleaning it’s bathroom so we had to look elsewhere. We ended up going to the King Sooper’s “City Market” grocery store again. I saw a few bikers almost get clobbered by cars backing out of parking spaces, and I almost hit a few myself. This place is a nightmare with all the pedestrians!

I was relieved to be out of Aspen, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. There were still tons of cyclists on the narrow mountain roads going all the way up to Independence Pass. After going over the pass they seemed to disappear from the roads and I felt much more comfortable driving.

We stopped in Leadville again for some food, and there was some sort of festival going on. We parked a few blocks off the main strip and headed towards a cool looking place called the Silver Dollar Saloon. The place was packed because of the festival, but a busboy showed us to a seat right away. The atmosphere was very cool in here, very old looking with lots of cool artifacts on the walls. There were several guys in here with handlebar mustaches, cowboy hats, and had pistols holstered on their side. We sat there for about 20 minutes and didn’t see ONE waitress anywhere in the entire restaurant. The only employees we saw were the busboy and one bartender, and nobody came by to give us a menu or take our drink order. We left and went to another place down the street called the Pasttime Bar. We were served immediately here, despite them being very busy as well. The food was great and the service was so-so.

We got back to the Denver area by late afternoon and immediately jumped in the shower. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for! After getting clean, we headed to downtown Denver for dinner before going to bed around 10pm. Tomorrow we would drive straight through to Detroit, but for now, it was time to get some good sleep on a real bed.

 

Final Thoughts

The Maroon Bells Wilderness is absolutely beautiful! This was easily the best hike of my life, no questions about it. This is the trip that all others will be measured against in the future. On top of the non-stop postcard perfect views, abundant wildlife, and sense of real adventure, the weather was pretty damn good. We didn’t get rained on once during our hike, only light rain at camp and slightly heavier rain our second night. No injuries, no altitude sickness beyond a bit of acclimation woes our first day, and overall just a smooth trip. Everything went according to plan, which is always a great feeling.

The downside is that there were a lot of people hiking here, which takes away from the whole experience in my opinion. At this time of the year though, crowds are to be expected, so I wasn’t holding out hope for a whole lot of solitude. Still, there were many more people than I had anticipated.

Climbing my first 14er, and doing it by myself was a huge thing for me. Just a great feeling that I really can’t describe. So glad I did it and hoping to do another someday soon!

I was disappointed with the fishing aspect of the trip, which is becoming the norm for me unfortunately. I don’t pick my trips with fishing as the main goal though, so when it doesn’t pan out it’s not too big of a deal. I didn’t get to see the stars like I’d hoped, nor was I able to photograph any good sunrises or sunsets. You can’t win them all though, and I still got some great pictures.

 Complete Maroon Bells Photo Gallery

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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