Friday, November 29, 2019

Day 15: Welcome to Idaho!

July 30: I woke up and hit the trail a bit after 6:30am. I might have lingered later except the bugs were terrible and the sooner I got moving, the sooner they would stop annoying me.

A little way up the trail, I hit the first trail register on the trail and saw that there was a hiker named Skeeter who signed in the day before. Perhaps this was the hiker the trail angel I met yesterday dropped off on the trail head of me? I couldn't tell if I was hiking faster or slower than Skeeter, though, and had no idea if I'd cross paths with her.

The trail continued upward, eventually reaching Cauck Peak about two hours into my day's hike where I discovered a tent set up behind some trees.

"Hey!" I shouted out. "How's it goin'?!"

The mysterious tent of Cauck Peak

I wondered if it was Skeeter who I knew signed the register just the day before. There wasn't a time of day listed for when the register was signed. If it was late in the day, she might have stopped and camped here. The views were certainly nice!

But I heard nothing but silence from the tent. Was it someone who died? A really deep sleeper?

"Is anyone in there?" I asked, not quite as loudly in case they really were trying to sleep despite the sun already being up for a couple of hours. It sounded like someone in the tent rolled over but--again--there was no reply.

Hmm.... Maybe it was Skeeter--a woman--hiking alone and didn't want to engage in a conversation with a weird guy she didn't know in the middle of nowhere?

Whoever it was, it seemed clear at this point they wanted nothing to do with me so I stopped for a quick snack break then continued onward. I never did find out who was in the tent or what they were doing out there. I could still say that I hadn't seen a single hiker on the trail since leaving Eureka--but I did finally pass one! I was a little disappointed that they didn't want to chat, though. Especially if it might have been another thru-hiker which seemed like a good possibility.

The Montana-Idaho border was near!

Later in the  morning, I approached the Montana-Idaho border. I pulled out my GPS and zoomed in as far as it would go to pinpoint exactly where I crossed the border. There was no official sign or anything marking the point which seems like a missed opportunity; when I identified the crossing with my GPS, I drew a line across the trail and made my own photo op.

I've crossed the border!

About 15 seconds further down the trail, I saw a board that someone had place on the ground next to the trail marking the MT-ID border. I wondered if that's where their GPS sent them or if they just estimated where the border was located.

Another hiker left this on the side of the trail a hundred or so feet away from my marker.

At the border, I changed timezones and needed subtract an hour from my devices, but it wasn't a priority. Out in the wilderness like this, knowing the actual time was useless. My day revolved around sunrise and sunset--not by clocks. With each passing day, the daylight hours became a couple of minutes shorter. My start times would gradually shift later and later in the mornings while my ending times would gradually shift earlier and earlier. Hiking westbound, the daylight hours as a whole would shift later in the day, but slower than the daylight hours were shrinking. I was losing daylight hours in the morning faster than I was losing them in the evening. Not that I could notice the difference from one day to the next, but after two weeks, I definitely noticed a difference!

From there, the trail descended 3,000 feet toward the Moyie River. Temperatures soared as the elevation plunged and by the time I reached the bottom, I was sweating bullets and loathing the sun. It was so hot and humid....

At the bottom, the trail came out at a trailhead off Moyie River Road. The trailhead, I was pleased to note, included covered picnic tables and I was thrilled to lay down for a break at one. A family of three were picnicking at the other one and seemed surprised to see me come from off the trail from seemingly the middle of nowhere, dirty and grimy and looking homeless. When they found out that I had hiked there all the way from the east side of Glacier National Park, though, they were full of questions about the trail that I was happy to answer. I was happy to have an actual conversation with people! I was getting lonely on the trail.

Covered picnic tables! What a wonderful place to escape from the burning heat of the sun!
Eventually I continued onward--and the beginning of the road walk section of today's hike. It started as one of those awful paved roads and I took a 1/4-mile detour to the Feist Creek Falls resort which my guidebook described as "a hiker friendly bar/restaurant and lodge." I couldn't wait for a cold Coke and a burger with fries. I'd been saving myself for an epic meal that I hadn't been carrying on my back for most of week! It was going to be a late lunch and early dinner.

But when I arrived, the doors were locked, nobody appeared to be inside and a help wanted sign stood in a window outside. Whaaat....? I looked through the windows with disappointment. Nobody. There was absolutely nobody around that I could find.

The Fiest Creek Falls Resort
I sat down at a bench outside next to a small pond. It was a nice place to take a break despite the disappointment. I ate some snacks from my pack in place of the burger I had hoped to order, threw out some trash (in a nearby trash bin) and filled up my water bottles from a spigot on the side of the building.

Rested and refreshed--but still disappointed about the locked doors--I returned back to the trail. From here, the road turned gravel (yeah!) and I followed it a few miles across the valley bottom before I reached the trailhead for Bussard Mountain.

It was the end of the road walk and my minimum goal for the day, but I still felt strong and there was plenty of daylight so I decided to push onward--despite the fact that the next few miles included a 3,000-ft climb up Bussard Mountain.

I think it was a good call, though. It was late enough in the afternoon that the entire east-facing slope was in the shade allowing me to hike up without the sun pounding down mercilessly. The day was hot and hiking uphill on a hot day in the sun is horrible.

View looking down from partway up Bussard Mountain. The Fiest Creek Falls Resort can actually be seen in the photo if you know where to look. (Just to the left of the white building a little left of center.)

I made it most of the way up the mountain before stopping late in the afternoon--and a little earlier than I planned on. I reached a small, grassy clearing that looked absolutely wonderful for camping and couldn't be sure if I'd find anywhere better than that up ahead.

So I stopped and set up camp. There was no water at the camp, but I packed for a long dry stretch by filling up all of my water bottles. I was prepared for a "dry camp."

My streak of setting distance and step count records stopped at two. Today was a big day--at 21.7 miles, it was my second-longest day on the trail. Only yesterday was longer! And my step count came in at 57,452 steps--and again, second only to yesterday's step counts. But today's terrain was considerably more difficult with a lot more ups and downs so I was pleased with my progress.

Sunrise! And it was already getting hot....

The first register on the PNT!

I see you, Idaho!
It might not be obvious, but we've entered Idaho! It looks a lot like the terrain we've been passing through in Montana.

Moyie River

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Day 14: The End of Montana!

July 29: I woke up and hit the trail at a fairly normal 6:45am. Before I left camp, I walked out to the bridge across the creek and looked for the tree that fell the night before but didn't see any obviously recent tree falls. The trees were thick along the creek, though, so I couldn't see very far and I didn't care enough to make a thorough search of the are.

There was a lot of road walking today! The first 10 miles of the day led me up this gravel road in a slow but steady climb. Not a single vehicle passed me the entire distance!

I followed the gravel road higher and higher. I had a 10-mile road walk ahead, but it was a relatively slow climb. A steady upward trend, but not steep or difficult.

During the entire 10 miles, not a single vehicle drove passed me. It takes hours to walk 10 miles and it seemed suspicious to me that not a single vehicle drove by the entire time and I started wondering if the tree that fell blocked the road just out of view of my campsite and unless someone happened to carry a chainsaw in the back of their truck, they wouldn't have been able to access this portion of the road. I had no way of verifying this theory, though.

Finally the trail veered off onto a proper path for a few, glorious miles. The trail passed near another fire lookout tower that was a half-mile off trail and I was tempted to visit it but not only was it a half-mile off trail, but also hundreds of feet higher in elevation. I had enough photos of fire lookout towers on this trail. I didn't really need another one that badly.... So I skipped it.

The real trail only lasted a few miles before it dumped me out on another five or six-mile road walk. This road walk started off with a paved road (boo!) before turning to gravel (yeah!). Along this stretch, two vehicles drove by--one of which stopped to ask if I was hiking the PNT.

It took three days, but finally I had someone actually speak to me! And he already knew what I was doing out here! Wow! We chatted for maybe 5 minutes. He asked if there was anything he could do to help but there wasn't really anything I needed. He was in the area because he dropped off another thru-hiker at the trailhead earlier in the day that had resupplied which floored me. There's another thru-hiker nearby! And not more than a half-day ahead of me! Maybe we would cross paths? I wondered how fast he hiked.

Eventually I reached the end of the road walk where the trail started climbing steadily again--the last big climb in Montana before I expected to reach the Montana-Idaho border tomorrow. I looked at the distant peaks to the west. That was Idaho country.

I stopped by a dinky little trickle of water after 18 miles of hiking. It was the last known reliable water I could count on for quite a long distance and was my destination for the day. I sat down and took an hour long break, cooked dinner and relaxed.

But the trail had had so much road walk today and the ups and downs were so gradual, I knocked out the 18 miles rather quickly. And I still felt strong and good. And I still had hours of daylight available. I decided to push on. I loaded up with a whopping 5.5 liters of water for the long, dry stretch. I needed enough to last me the night and into the next day. At least I wouldn't have to cook dinner with it since I did that already.

The trail continued climbing a ridge at which point following the trail became a challenge. The rocky top didn't clearly show a trail of dirt surrounded by grass--and following the route became more a matter of looking for the next cairn and creating your own route to it. Nor did the rocky terrain make it easy to travel quickly. My pace slowed to a crawl!

The path seemed to veer around the side of a mountain top which had me doubting that I was even following the correct trail. Both my map and GPS tracks showed the trail going up to the top of a ridge and following the ridgeline back down to a saddle, but the cairns I followed appeared to be directing me around to the back side of the ridge. Was I going the wrong way? Had the trail been rerouted? Were my maps just plain wrong? I had no idea and it filled me with dread that I might have been hiking in the wrong direction.

On the plus side, I found a nice water source along the route and filled up with nice, cold spring water. The water I carried had warmed up to outside temperatures which were unpleasantly warm. The water I carried wasn't bad, but it didn't taste great either. The cold water was a refreshing and pleasant surprise!

I was tempted to stop and camp right there but I didn't see any suitable places to do so on the steep slopes and continued onward.

On the other side of the ridge, the trail veered northward around the ridge eventually leading me to the saddle where the trail reunited with my map and GPS tracks. I was definitely back on the right trail again! I still wasn't sure if my maps were out-of-date or just plain wrong, but I was glad my actual location matched up with where I expected to be again. It's a little unnerving when the trail doesn't go where you expect it to!

The saddle had a nice, wide (and waterless) clearing where I finally stopped and set up camp just a few miles short of the Idaho border. I had broken my distance and step count records that I set just the previous day by walking 24.0 miles according to my GPS and taking 58,595 steps according to my Fitbit. Kicking ass and taking names! Yeah! =)

Tons of boulder turkeys (i.e. grouse) on the trail!

Hey, look at that! I passed the 200-mile mark on the trail today!
Another road walk....
Slash pile

Monday, November 25, 2019

Day 13: The Longest Day

July 28: I woke up and hit the trail! It started with a 1000-foot climb to the top of Mount Henry. The actual summit with the fire lookout tower was located about a quarter-mile off trail, but I decided to make the detour anyhow since I wasn't in any sort of rush and I figured that there would probably be an outhouse nearby I could make use of.

The views from the top were expansive and wonderful--as you would expect from an old fire lookout tower! The windows and doors were all closed up like it had yet to be opened from the winter closure, but it wasn't locked. I took off the storm door and entered its interior. It was dark since all of the windows were closed, but it would have been a wonderful place to spend the night and I was a little sad that I wasn't able to make it this far the evening before. If I did spend the night, I'd have opened a few of the windows for the view.

The Mount Henry fire lookout tower was closed up tight but unlocked so it was no trouble getting in.

Reading the register, I saw that Recon had logged in four days before me. At the last register I saw, he was only 2.5 days ahead of me. He was hiking faster than me so it seemed unlikely I'd ever cross paths with him. I still had yet to see another thru-hiker on the trail and wondered if I would meet any at all.

I signed the register, took some photos, then closed up the fire lookout returning it back to how I found it then made use of the nearby outhouse before hitting the trail again.

Now the trail careened 3,000 feet down the mountain to Fish Lakes before bumbling up and over a 1,500-foot hill.

The last nine miles was a road walk split almost evenly between paved and gravel roads. The paved roads were murder on the feet, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic on any of them. Except for a handful of vehicles that drove by, I didn't see a single person all day. Certainly no hikers or bicyclists! And since none of the drivers stopped to chat, for the second day in a row, I didn't actually speak with a single person.

The last mile of the walk, along a gravel road, seemed to take forever. My feet were throbbing with pain, but I pushed on wanting to get away from the civilization by the paved roads. There was a stream crossing ahead and I figured that there would probably be a place to camp near it, so that was my goal. I needed the water--I couldn't stop until I reached the stream. Then I would look for the first place to camp.

This pushed me on to a record-breaking day. According to my GPS, I covered 21.3 miles--my longest day so far--and my pedometer reported 56,515 steps for the day, also a new record for this hike. My feet certainly felt it!

I reached the stream, a big nice one with a new-looking bridge spanning it, and maybe 50 feet away at a turn in the road was a pullout from the gravel road and a fire ring made of rocks where people had clearly camped before. I wasn't the first person to choose to camp here!

This bridge I camped near looked like it was brand-spanking new.
I cooked dinner and settled into my sleeping bag as the sun set. It was about 10:00 in the evening and I was watching an episode of The Office on my smartphone. A whisper of wind blew through the leaves of the surrounding trees, the stars twinkled overhead and then CRASH! A horrendous sound echoed on the hillsides and I just about jumped out of my skin with fright.

I knew immediately what it was: the sound of a tree falling. A very large tree, and a very close tree. I looked around for the source but saw nothing out of whack. It sounded like it came from a little downstream on the creek, maybe 200' away. It was too dark to see much of anything now, but in the morning, I thought, I should look around and see if I could find the tree that just fell. It certainly scared the crap out of me! It's been quite awhile since one crashed so close!

I tried to get some shut eye but started worrying about other trees that could fall. I was surrounded by them! There was no reason to think that a tree would suddenly fall on me. It wasn't windy or rainy which can take down hundreds or thousands of trees in a single night. It wasn't a burn area where a lot of dead and weakened trees are ready to fall with the lightest puff of wind. The nearby trees were pretty solid! But after that nerve-wracking tree fall, I still found myself worrying unnecessarily! Which, of course, made it a little harder to get to sleep, but eventually I managed.

Sunrise on the climb up Mount Henry.

The views from Mount Henry were awesome!
Inside the Mount Henry fire lookout tower
View from the fire lookout--no fires to be seen anywhere!

Fish Lake wasn't the prettiest of lakes. Kind of stagnant.

This sign says that this cabin used to be an old ranger station.

I'd always find dead snakes on the road walks!
There are a lot of old fire lookout towers in these mountains. There's another one ahead! But I won't reach this one today. (Actually, this particular one was a half-mile off trail so I wouldn't visit it at all, but if I did, tomorrow would have been the day for it.)
Home, sweet home for the night! At least until a giant tree falls and scares the crap out of you. =)