CDT Montana Day 12: Hot and Cold, Up and Down

Today’s miles: 18.5

Miles to date: 223

It rains off and on through the night, but if there are more actual storms, I’m too sleepy to notice them. In the morning everything is a deep wet cold, the worst kind of cold. The sky is grey-white, no hint of sun or blue. I carefully stow my dry sleep gear, worried I may not have a chance to dry it in the sun today, and bravely put on my cold, rain-soaked hiking clothes.

Meanwhile, Dad Jokes has built a campfire and when I emerge from my tent, everyone is crowded around it, warming up and drying their clothes. We watch the steam coming off our clothes, watch the skies for hints of blue. Someone asks Snotfish how the lightning storm was for her. The reply: “My sphincter was very tight.” Whiz and Cowboy finally hike out, but the rest of us delay, unwilling to leave the fire. I pack up, filter water, eat breakfast, and still keep coming back to the smoldering embers for a little warmth. Finally Sultry Bear sees blue sky and I take it as a cue to go. It’s after 9am — a very late start.

The climb out of the lake site feels incredibly hard. My body is tired and it takes me forever to finish ascending. All morning there are steep uphills and steep downhills. I have to drag myself through the uphills especially. I plan to take lunch at a dirt road crossing, but find some of my folks finishing lunch in a burn area a mile earlier. I sit, eat quickly, and try to get back on trail to make up time from my slow morning. Cowboy, DJ, and Foxy plan to hitch into Lincoln from the highway near our planned campsite, just to get dinner and then hitch back. I don’t think I can get to the highway fast enough, and the energy required to hitch there and back feels too great — I’d rather lie down at camp.

I cross the dirt road and begin a long, very steep uphill. I put on an audiobook (The Sun is a Compass, by Caroline Van Hemert) and take it one section at a time. The worst is so steep I have to hike on my toes on scree and choke way up on my trekking poles. But the book really does help. At the top, finally, I follow a few cairns downhill until I hit my next water source, a spring with crisp cold water just to the side of the trail. There are four trail maintenance folks there when I arrive: a Forest Service employee, a Montana Conservation Corps employee, and two college students doing summer jobs with MCC. They just set up their base camp for nine days of work and are filling huge plastic containers with water to lug back there. I chat with them while I filter water and eat a snack, and eventually Sultry joins us. They offer a very promising weather report, for which I am deeply grateful. Watered and fed, I head out for my last three uphills of the day.

I cross a wide saddle in big gusts of wind to start the first ascent, which doesn’t feel too tough except that the sun is baking me. There’s a long, steep, scree-filled downhill that requires me to constantly brake with each step. I can look out from here and see the trail ahead for miles: down and across another windy meadow, past a yurt apparently owned by folks from a wildlife research group, then up again. It is this uphill that almost breaks me, in searing heat as I climb on the balls of my feet again. Hard to believe I was shivering in camp all morning. I take many breaks, any time I can find a hint of shade. Down a bit and then the last climb, which is remarkably reasonable. When I crest the top I feel exhausted but triumphant. My lips are chapped and cracked from the wind and direct sun. I pound downhill the last mile to Rogers Pass, where the trail crosses Highway 200. While waiting for Sultry Bear to arrive, I text Whiz — they did hitch to Lincoln, but as I predicted I’m more interested in sleep than town food today. Sultry and I set up near the trees up above the highway just a bit, soon joined by Dad Jokes, Snotfish, and Redbeard. Redbeard is probably getting off trail tomorrow, and I’m a little sad because he seems cool and I barely got to know him. We eat, I text Cyn, and then I retreat to my tent to deal with the two new blisters today’s miles created. The other four return just as I’m snuggling into my quilt, and I drift off to the sounds of their light conversation and nighttime camp tasks.

Opposite side of the lake where we camped, blue skies and sun finally happening.
Morning trail and slowly clearing clouds.
Cairn at the top of a super steep climb.
Cool rock formations to briefly distract from climbing misery.
But climbing leads to amazing views.
Looking at the trail ahead: down, past the yurt, and up again.
Top of the day’s last climb, lips too chapped to smile!

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