CDT Montana Day 14: Among the Cowpies

Today’s miles: approx 21 (alternates make it harder to know for sure)

Miles to date: 267.3

Despite how tired I am, I have a very restless night. It’s unusually warm, and I wake at midnight to take off some layers. My blackfly bites itch all night, too. Today we have about 20 miles without water, so we all fill up our bottles at the tiny, tiny trickle near camp. It takes forever. I hike out with Whiz, about 3.5 liters of water in my pack. We meet Snotfish at a junction and take a dirt road to Stemple trailhead. There is a privy here, with toilet paper and a garbage can! What luxury. We all rush to throw away our trash, gleeful. There are some ATV riders here and Whiz is half-seriously angling for them to slackpack us on this roadwalk alternate.

This alternate cuts off a little mileage and some climbing, so we’re pretty psyched. We do some calculating and decide we can make it to Helena early. Whiz books another night at the hotel. Yesssss.

The roadwalk is easy and soon we’re back on the CDT, just in time for a snack break in the shade. We run into a northbounder and a guy in a truck who chats with us for quite a while. Tons of ATVs zoom by. Whiz and I start again together but as soon as the trail goes uphill, I fall behind. It’s a long tough climb and I feel overheated again. Everyone but Sultry Bear passes me. I feel like it’s only the breeze up here that is keeping me alive and moving forward. The final bit of the climb leads to a very steep downhill covered in scree (I wonder aloud, “how should I get off this mountain…?”).

At the bottom I wander through trees and then find my friends in the shade eating lunch, surrounded by (non-biting) flies. I gratefully join them, and eventually we all doze off for 20-30 minutes. I cannot make myself eat enough — too hot. I’m also rationing my water a bit.

The next big climb feels okay at first, partly because there’s a lot of wind to keep me cool. But then I get hot again and slow way down. Finally we descend, and there are several miles of flattish, gentle trail that I roll along until just before the final uphill starts. Then I park myself in the shade, drink some electrolytes and eat a Snickers bar, trying to bring my body temperature down to avoid overheating again. With this prep, the ascent is not so bad, and I feel relief as I crest the top, knowing it’s all downhill to dinner. I find Cowboy and Dad Jokes just after I start the descent; Cowboy’s knee is bothering him, not what you want when there are 2.5 miles down to camp.

I scurry down those miles, and spy our evening water source at last: a piped spring flowing into a cow trough. Whiz, Snotfish, and Sultry are already there, lounging in the grass amidst the cowpies. The water is cold and clear and I immediately drink a whole liter. I rationed my day’s water properly and arrived here with only a few mouthfuls left, so it feels amazing to have this source. I eat dinner and soon Dad Jokes and Cowboy arrive, one by one. We discuss plans for tomorrow — a roadwalk alternate that will get us to Helena in fewer miles. We decide to walk a couple extra flat miles tonight to camp near the junction for that alternate.

At the junction, there’s flat ground near a small cow pond and we pitch tents between more cowpies. I drain my blisters again — there’s one on my left heel that is under a callus and so feels extra painful. As I drift off to sleep I hear some of the others discussing the cows that are apparently joining us in this field. I hope they don’t step on me in the night. I’m very dirty and very smelly and so, so ready for town tomorrow.

Snotfish, Whiz, and Cowboy on the morning roadwalk.
Looking down at Dad Jokes, who is coming up one of the long climbs.
View from the after-lunch climb.
Extra evening miles after dinner.

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