CDT Montana Day 8: The Wall

Today’s miles: 23.2

Miles to date: 160.2

The morning is cold and my quilt is wet from condensation again, but the sky is bright blue. Whiz and I are the last two out of camp, chatting and taking the trail’s relatively gentle ups and downs at a leisurely pace. Soon we have our first view of the enormous escarpment called the Chinese Wall, which is part of the Continental Divide and goes on for many miles. The CDT passes right beneath it, and so we spend most of our morning walking along the wall and gazing up at it in awe. It is overwhelming in size and beauty, and beneath it runs a wide meadow dotted with boulders, little gurgling streams, and countless wildflowers. “I’m so happy,” I say, over and over again. It is almost utopic here. We take a snack break and dry our gear in the sun.

The last real uphill of the day feels unduly difficult for me. The sun is beating down on us and I feel overheated. I can tell I’m in need of rest in town (tomorrow!) because my energy levels just aren’t quite at their peak. But overall it’s my lungs that are holding me back — they haven’t yet caught up with the rest of my body. I have to take a few breaks to breathe, and apologize to Whiz though I know it’s unnecessary. I hate to feel I’m slowing others down. At some point on this climb Whiz looks way up and wonders if that white dot on the hillside is a boulder or a mountain goat. We stare. Whiz yells, “Are you a goat??” and the question comes back to us in a perfect echo. We look at each other with delight. Town food on the brain, Whiz yells two more echoes: “Cauliflower crust!!” and “Rotisserie chicken!!” Thus satisfied, we move on.

Over the pass we go and then downhill for several miles. I am thankful that I have no knee problems. On an efficient lunch break at a campsite we find a full-sized shovel courtesy of the Forest Service, for burying human waste. Wow. More down and flat trail until we find the guys eating lunch and discuss possible dinner and camping sites. A few miles later, after passing several weekend backpackers headed for the wall, we take a longer sit-down break and our friends pass us. My feet are increasingly painful, tired from overuse, and Whiz is having shin pain.

Another 4.5 miles finds us at the creek we thought was our dinner meet-up, but no friends. We eat there anyway, and walk the next mile to the proposed campsite. Every time I start walking again after a break, even a short break, my feet feel like big lumps of painful clay that can’t move properly. I limp along for the first several minutes until they acquiesce to something like actual walking.

No friends at the proposed campsite. Whiz suspects they hiked on. My feet hurt desperately, but I don’t want to camp alone and then have to make up a ton of miles tomorrow morning while everyone waits for me at the trailhead. I agree to do another 2-3 miles to see if we can catch them. These miles are fairly agonizing. I hike in a daze, barely thinking, just putting one foot down and then the other. The landscape changes, opens way up, and around every turn I hope we’ll see their tents, but we don’t. A deer runs very near the trail, it’s longish white tail up. Finally we approach the bridge over the West Fork Sun River, and see Sultry Bear. The others went on to the trailhead, a 27+ mile day. I am 100% done now and ready to camp where we stand. We set up on a small meadow near the river. A hiker named BootScoot joins us, and later Monk does too. I fall asleep to beautiful evening colors in the sky and the sound of the river below.

First view of the Chinese Wall.
Hiker dork under the wall.
With a Whiz for scale.
Whiz and Sultry Bear.
Best day for views.
And more views.
The agony of waiting for your dinner to rehydrate.
View from my tent before bed.

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