CDT Montana Day 4: You Must Be This Tall to Hike the CDT

Today’s miles: 20.5

Miles to date: 75.5

[After reading my previous posts, Whiz wishes me to clarify that she was very seriously ill in Glacier and it was not just some random pooping problem. This paragraph legally serves as said clarification.]

I sleep very well by the stream, partly because the lumpy ground works out to elevate my feet just slightly and it’s especially comfortable. When I start packing at 6:20am, the mosquitos are already thick. I eat a quick breakfast while marching in place to keep the bugs off my legs, and go. I hike alone for the first few miles, through trail closed in by overgrown dew-covered plants and lots of bugs. But if I hike at a good clip the bugs mostly leave me alone. Occasionally I get some nice views of distant mountains. After a bit I catch Cowboy and Dad Jokes, who are hiking slower due to various aches and pains, but I fall in line behind them because it’s nice to chat and because the conversation means I don’t have to do my periodic bear calls.

After a snack break (joined by Whiz and Sultry Bear), I hike alone to our designated lunch spot. My feet and toes feel pretty good. I cross Marias Pass, which marks my exit out of Glacier National Park, cross the railroad tracks and head into Summit Campground, a car camping site where I soon find DJ and Susan, shoes off, already eating lunch. I’m so happy to sit on a bench and do the same, and soon the rest of our crew joins too.

We talk at length about our options for the afternoon. We can do the official CDT where we’ve heard there are a lot of awful blowdowns, or a slightly longer lower alternate route that avoids blowdowns but requires many water crossings. We eventually choose the official route, hoping trail maintenance crews have cleared the path already. We also leave Dad Jokes here — his shin and ankle pain is too severe and he decides to hitch into Augusta (our next town) and rest up until we arrive. We’re all bummed.

Now six again, we enter Lewis and Clark National Forest and enjoy some nice walking for a while. We pass a trail crew and thank them, then hike through a long burn area. It’s hot here, and I get overheated and fall behind on an uphill portion. I meet everyone again at a creek for snacks. It’s 3pm and only six more miles to camp. I feel great.

A mile later, I run into a few blowdowns. They are annoying, and it’s tiring to clamber over/around them. Whiz catches up to me. We cross a stream and then I see what a “blowdown section” really looks like. The trail is buried under masses of fallen dead trees, tangles of branches and vines. Sultry passes by — he’s not having an easy time of it, but at 6’2” he can clear many more of these than I can. I fall way, way behind, watching Whiz and Sultry make their way uphill. There is no visible trail, so I just note where they are and head in that general direction, planning to look at my maps and GPS when I finally get out of this mess.

If I ever get out of this mess. Every time I get over one blowdown, a new puzzle of sharp branches appears. My legs are bruised and scraped and bleeding, and mosquitos are constantly in my ears. If only I could be a few inches taller. I lose my balance on one log and fall backwards, stumbling for several seconds until I finally hit the ground in a tangle of vines. Angry now, I forge ahead with gritted teeth and finally clear the last blowdown. But now where is the trail? I’m just surrounded by thick green undergrowth. I look above and see possible flat ground, check my GPS and confirm the trail is above me. I bushwhack through big plants and climb up a steep wall of dirt on all fours, and finally stand on clear trail again.

My friends are long gone. I travel across a short ridge and then descend. Into more blowdowns. This trail can go to hell. Exhausted, I yell a string of curse words into the empty hillsides. Every new set of trees that blocks the trail elicits more swearing, more desperation. I am so, so tired. I wonder if I might just burst into tears here.

It’s after 6pm when I finally reach healthy forest again. Still two miles to camp. I try to hike fast on my worn out legs. There’s another section of thick blowdowns just before our campsite, just to crush the last of my spirits. I have to slide on my butt down a dirt slope to get around the last giant log. As I stand up, Cowboy yells from camp across the river, “Apple Juuuiiiiice!! Yeah!” But even this greeting is not enough to wipe away the afternoon’s feelings. I wade through the shallow river, sit against a tree long enough to eat dinner, wearily pitch my tent in the meadow above, and collapse into sleep, my legs still burning from their scrapes.

Morning mountain views.
Susan, DJ, and Cowboy heading out of the campground after lunch.
Overgrown trail.
Landscape layers: greenery, burn, mountains.
Beginning the serious blowdown section. No visible trail.
After my bushwhack, looking down at all the blowdowns I climbed over and through. No pictures for the remainder of the day because I was seriously losing my shit.

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