CDT Montana Day 5: Lakeside/Fireside

Today’s miles: 19.1

Miles to date: 94.6

Given how exhausted I am, I’m surprised to find I sleep very restlessly. It’s a cold dewy morning in the meadow but I don’t want to get out of my quilt to put on another layer (this is a poor choice but my brain isn’t working great at 3am, so I just keep shivering). As we all start to pack up, Sultry Bear pokes his head out of his tent and announces an alternate that cuts out a big climb and cuts off a few miles. We all readily agree; Whiz whoops a big cheer. Unlike most of the PCT, the CDT is filled with many alternate routes so you can kind of choose here and there how you want the trail to go for you.

My first five miles of the day are only difficult because horses walked through when the trail was muddy, and now the mud has dried into a very hard, uneven surface with lots of divots and bumps that hurt my feet. I see a whole lot of bear scat through here, and do my bear calls regularly. Then the path opens out onto wide meadows full of wildflowers against the distant mountains. Easy, beautiful hiking.

I meet Whiz at the junction for our alternate, and one by one the others arrive. We sit in the hot sun and eat snacks, finally heading on down the trail. This alternate, five-ish miles, is a dream — easy walking on a gentle flat tread covered in pine needles. Ahhhh. We make quick work of it, meet up with the formal CDT again, and break for lunch on the bank of Kip Creek. All our sleeping bags/quilts and tents are hung on the trees around us as we try to dry our things in the afternoon sun. I also dry out my feet and note that my toenails (which sadly were not yet ready to come off in East Glacier) are looking pretty gnarly (but still not quite ready to take their leave).

Another five miles finds me at Elbow Creek with DJ and Cowboy, and later Sultry Bear, having a quick snack. The final five miles to camp are tough. My feet hurt. Some of it is the toenails and related blisters. Some of it is structural pain, just from walking so much every day. But some, I think, is skin irritation from so many water crossings. Though the terrain is not difficult, I stumble painfully the last half mile to our planned campsite, which I see is already taken by some people with horses. After a bit of searching (during which I limp around on my sore feet), I find most of my crew hanging out in front of Beaver Lake chatting with two Forest Service employees, Kristen and Emily. They’re doing trail clean-up and maintenance, and we’ll have them to thank for our nice first eight miles tomorrow.

It’s only 5:30pm now, so early to be finished walking for the day! I eat my cold-soaked ramen and handfuls of other things from my food bag, massage my feet, and enjoy the stories that these two women share. Kristen tells us that she hasn’t seen a grizzly in the Bob in five years, though they’re definitely out here. Wolves too, apparently! They both reassure us about potential grizzly encounters, saying how very unlikely it is. We tell them our trail names, note that Susan doesn’t have one yet, and Emily suggests something fox-related. And so Susan becomes Foxy.

We retreat to our meadow campsite, where Cowboy builds a fire in the fire ring. I sit near it for a while but then escape to my tent for blister care and extra lying-down time. This is the first day we’ve done big miles and also had enough time in camp to just hang out in the evening. It feels rejuvenating to listen to the lingering conversation through my thin tent walls, and I’m starting to feel like a long-distance hiker again.

Morning meadow walk.
The wildflowers are out in force right now.
Montana beauty.
Afternoon mountain views.
More afternoon pretty.
View of Beaver Lake (and my shoes and gaiters drying) from my dinner spot. No complaints.

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