Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Day 151: The Two Medicine Slackpack

September 18: While looking at maps the evening before and planning out the next section of my hike, I realized that I had an unexpected slackpacking opportunity. From East Glacier to Two Medicine, it was about 10 miles, and permits for Glacier NP could be acquired at Two Medicine. And I realized--I could therefore hike from here to Two Medicine, pick up a permit, then hitch a ride back to town until I could pick up my packages on Monday. It meant I'd only need one zero day instead of two!

 


Even better, tomorrow, Sunday, the weather was expected to be bad. Definitely a good day to take off! Which meant I should slackpack today.

The one kink in my plan, as I looked up permit information for Glacier, was that permits would be issued only a maximum of one day in advance of starting a trip. Since I didn't plan to start for two days, I couldn't get a permit today. I'd have to wait until tomorrow.

Well, at least that would give me something to do on Sunday, I suppose. I could hitch a ride to Two Medicine, then hitch a ride back into town. At least I wouldn't be hiking in the bad weather tomorrow.

I really liked the idea of not taking a zero day today when the weather was... well, the weather had problems, for sure, but rain and snow were not in the forecast. "Dangerously" strong winds, however, were most definitely in the forecast. As well as a heck of a lot of smoke from wildfires burning who-knows-where. But I could live with that.

So that's why, at about 8:30 in the morning, I found myself back on the trail and hiking. But my pack was very light--I would be returning to town at the end of the day and therefore didn't need much more than snacks to eat and some water. Perhaps a jacket if I got cold.

As I got above tree line, the wind was bad--perhaps the strongest wind gusts of any day on the trail so far. It knocked me over several times. The smoke was quite thick as well, thick enough to smell it in the air, and definitely enough to obscure otherwise phenomenal views along the way.

From this photo, you can't see that the wind was strong enough to knock a grown man over, but you can see a lot of the smoke in the sky that just seemed to get worse and worse throughout the morning.
 

It was also a fairly rugged day of hiking. Although I covered barely 10 miles for the day, my GPS recorded over 3,000 feet of elevation climb as well as another 3000 feet down. In total amounts, it wasn't much, but given the relatively short distance I covered, it was some of the steepest terrain of the trail. A perfect place to slackpack! =)

Near the top of one of the ridge lines, I found a credit card laying in the middle of the trail. It was an Amazon card, and surprisingly heavy, as if it were made out of metal instead of the usual plastic that my credit cards were made out of. It seemed like a weird choice for a thru-hiker--I'd imagine that a thru-hiker would prefer a lightweight credit card!

I didn't recognize the name on the card, but I didn't know the real names of most of the hikers on the trail. It looked like the card had only been out since that afternoon, and I knew Jazz Hands had left shortly ahead of me. Maybe it was his card? I wasn't sure how to contact him, though. In any case, I decided to pick it up and perhaps back at the hostel, someone might recognize the real name. Luna and Will might even recognize the name on the card if they had a record of the payment there. Additionally, almost all thru-hikers return to East Glacier after finishing the trail since it's pretty much required to go through on the way to anywhere else after getting off at the end of the trail. If it belonged to a thru-hiker, they'd probably wind up back in East Glacier within the week. I might be able to get this card back to the owner.

The first half of the hike, I saw absolutely nobody on the trail, but after passing a side trail to a scenic viewpoint a few miles from the end, I started passing a large number of day hikers from the park. They were climbing up a steep mountain and most of them looked exhausted and out of breath, but I often stopped to chat with them when they stopped to catch their breath as I was passing by.

One group said they could give me a ride back to East Glacier if I were still trying to hitch when they got back to the trailhead. That made me happy--there was a limit to how long I might have to hitch to get back to town! Probably not more than an hour or two. I hoped to find a ride sooner than that, but it was nice that I had this as a Plan B.

Eventually I made it down to the trailhead, and it only took me about 15 minutes to get a ride from two women who just finished finished their own hikes.

Back in town, I finally took a shower. I had arrived late enough the evening before that I never got around to it, but now in the middle of the day, most of the other hikers at the hostel were gone so I made use of the shower while I could.

Then I headed to Brownie's for lunch, where I ordered a sandwich, potato chips and a Coke.

Back at the hostel, I met a few of the other hikers there. The place was surprisingly busy with probably 10 or so hikers in all loitering around. Some of them had just finished the trail, reached the end, and were passing through East Glacier a second time, this time as a stopping point on their way home. The others were like me, still hiking toward the Canadian border.

One of the hikers fresh back from finishing the trail turned out to be from San Luis Obispo--my hometown in California. Wow! Way cool! His name was StormMocker, and he told me about first trying to thru-hike the CDT back in 1977. I couldn't imagine what the planning for something like that must have been like so long ago. Without Guthook, without GPSes, without decent guidebooks and resources to learn about thru-hiking. Of course, the operative word was tried. He didn't actually succeed, but it had been burning a hole in him ever since and he really wanted to finish the trail while he still had the health to do it, and by golly, he finally finished. He finished today! Congrats!

Later in the evening, I headed out with four hikers to Serranos Mexican Restaurant for dinner: Reality Check, Just Awesome, Click and StormMocker. We got there just as the restaurant opened for the evening and spent the next hour or two eating and chatting and laughing and having a good old time. I really missed people on the trail and was thoroughly enjoying my time with all the other hikers in town! It seemed odd that the trail could feel so empty but the trail towns so busy with other hikers.

Reality Check and Just Awesome couldn't sit still long enough for me to get a decent photo in the dark interior of Serranos!

I had already inquired among the other hikers if they recognized the name on the credit card they found, and when we sat down, I joked that they could order anything they wanted--that he hiker who lost their credit card was paying for our meal. I was totally joking--I had no intention of really using it, and they all knew that but laughed anyhow. =)

Then we headed back to the hostel where we eventually headed off to sleep for the night. Living the good life!

I did get a lead on the credit card I found, though. Someone said they thought it was a certain hiker with a given trailname, and he was actually hiking with his friend--both of whom were trying to hike the Triple Crown this year. I'm not talking about finishing a Triple Crown this year, but hiking the entire thing in one calendar year. That's the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail--all in a single year. Most people only do one of those trails in a single year, but a precious few want a bigger challenge and attempt to do all three in a single year. It's insane. Even by thru-hiker standards, it's totally insane.

Anyhow, I hadn't realized that's what he was doing. I met him briefly at my last campsite on the trail when they hiked by me in the dark, and the rumor was that they were planning to finish the CDT within a few days then hop over to the PCT and finish the Washington section of that trail. The rest of the Triple Crown they had already done.

In any case, I was finally able to find his account on Instagram, and the name on the account matched the one on the credit card. I found him! So I sent him a message to let me know that I found it and asked if he wanted me to throw it away or send it to him. I didn't expect a response quickly--he was in the backcountry probably without a signal. He might not even have realized he was missing his credit card yet, and wouldn't notice it was missing until he finished the trail and tried to pull it out to pay for something.

So I sent him a message, but I didn't expect an immediate response. I was a bit surprised when he finally did send me a message back a couple of weeks later. I figured he'd finish the trail in a few days and reply then, but it was two or three weeks later when I sent a second follow up message that I planned to throw it away unless I heard back otherwise, and a few days later he finally replied. He was already back on the PCT and had canceled the card and had a replacement sent after realizing he had lost it. So after carrying the card myself for two or three weeks, I finally just threw it away. At least he learned what had happened to it. =)





The views were awesome, but I imagined they would have been even more awesome if not for all the smoke in the air!




My ending point for the day was somewhere near the bottom of that lake in the distance.



These guys walked up to me like they expected me to feed them. They had definitely picked up some bad habits from earlier hikers!

This is the Two Medicine ranger station where I could get a permit to hike through Glacier NP, but since I didn't plan to camp until two nights later, I couldn't pick up a permit until tomorrow. I will return!!!!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Day 150: The East Glacier Run

September 17: It was another bitterly cold morning. My water bottles partially froze and frost covered everything. I so did not want to get up this morning! Or rather, I very much did not want to leave the confines of my sleeping bag.

The sunrise, however, turned out gorgeous. I eventually pulled myself up and ate breakfast and brushed my teeth afterwards, but I skipped flossing them like I usually did. My fingers were so cold and numb, I just couldn't work the floss. My fingers just didn't have the necessary dexterity. Argh! Stupid cold. I really needed to get this trail done.

The sunrise was gorgeous! Cold, but gorgeous!
 

I managed to get on the trail and hiking at 7:47am according to my clock. A quick and steady walk helped warm me up a bit, but it was still a cold morning and I wore my fleece jacket for the first part of the day.

The trail largely followed parallel to a creek, but it crossed the creek about a dozen times in total. I didn't count them all, but none of them had bridges and comments on Guthook reported some fairly harrowing crossings at times by the southbound hikers. However, a few of the northbound thru-hikers with more recent reports said that the water level was low enough that it was possible to rock hop across every single crossing without getting one's feet wet. Given how cold it was, that sounded like a swell idea to me!

Some of the crossings were a bit of a challenge or required navigating up or downstream to find a suitable place to cross, the I did manage to cross them all without ever getting my feet wet. Sweet!

So many water crossings, but I managed to keep my feet dry! Whew! =)

Early in the afternoon, I reached a campground at Highway 2. Originally, my plan had been to stop here, or at least somewhere nearby, and camp for the night. Just across the highway on the other side of Marias Pass lay the promised land: Glacier National Park. I did not, however, have a permit that allowed me to legally camp in the park. Not yet, at least.

The trail, on its way to East Glacier, eventually leaves the park and enters the Blackfoot reservation--which one also needs a permit to camp in. (I'll make a note here that I thought you needed a permit to camp in the reservation, but I later learned that you actually need a permit to hike through their reservation as well. I didn't know about that at the time, though. So while I refer to needing a permit to camp, I completely ignore the fact that I needed a permit to hike through--but only because I didn't realize it at the time.)

Which meant.... the next legal place where I knew I could camp was actually in the town of East Glacier itself. That was quite a distance away, however, and it was only Friday in any case. If I made it into town today, I'd have to take a double-zero to wait for the post office to open on Monday.

On the other hand, I really didn't really feel like stopping so early in the day. Eventually, I decided to push onward and hoped I'd reach town before dark and hope I could find cheap accommodations. If I didn't make it before dark, I guess I'd have to stealth camp illegally. Somewhere to be determined. I hoped it wouldn't come to that, however.

I did stop for a lunch break at the Summit Campground, however, used the outhouses and checked out the impressive obelisk marking the pass. Then I crossed Highway 2 and a railroad--the railroad actually predates the highway over this pass. The pass was discovered by the white men when explorers were looking for a route to get the railroad through the Rocky Mountains in this area.

The obelisk at Marias Pass

And just passed the railroad, I officially entered Glacier National Park. I couldn't help but smile at finally being in the park. The CDT ends in Glacier National Park! This was the last stretch of trail! I still had the entire park to go through before I reached the end, but still... the end never felt so close. I had sewed a patch of Glacier National Park on my hat--it was my destination the entire time. And finally, I was here! It was a sweet, sweet feeling of success. =)

I had only been in the park for about 3 minutes when I came across a moose standing on the trail. Wow! How cool! It's like he came out especially to greet me for my grand arrival!

I watched him for a bit, and he watched me, but eventually I grew bored of the watching and shooed him off and continued the hike.

This moose greeted me on my entrance to Glacier NP.

The weather forecast for the afternoon included an advisory about "dangerously high winds." The wind did, indeed, pick up strongly about the time I entered the park. I wouldn't say that they seemed especially dangerous, although even a light wind could blow down an occasional tree. That's always a risk. The bigger problem I had with the wind was the wind chill. Even in the sun, the air felt cold and the wind chill even worse! The entire day was just plain cold.

A couple of hours in, I took a short snack break during which Reality Check rounded the curve and caught up with me. I last saw her way back in Rawlins, WY, which seemed like a lifetime ago. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up with each other's adventures. She mentioned having reserved a cabin in East Glacier for $50/night or something, and I asked if I could sleep on the floor or something if I couldn't find my own accommodations in town and split the cost. She didn't have a problem with this, and I felt much better having a definite place where I could stay for the night without breaking any laws. =) But my plan was to find other accommodation and let Reality Check have her cabin all to herself.

She pushed onward, and I finished my snacks and followed a short time later. Reality Check hiked a lot faster than I did so I had no expectation that I'd see her again until after arriving in East Glacier.

I passed a couple of weekend backpackers heading in the other direction, but otherwise the trail was empty. Late in the day, I crossed into the Blackfoot reservation--at this point hiking illegally since I didn't have a permit but still oblivious to the fact thinking that I only needed a permit if I camped there.

In the reservation, I noticed a lot of bear poop. Not just a big pile of it, but it seemed like bear poop was everywhere! I must have passed dozens of separate poops the last couple of miles into town. I definitely did not want to camp anywhere near this area. My gut feeling was that the bears were particularly thick here because they'd try to go into town and score food in trash cans or on the street. I suspected these bears weren't especially fearful of people given the close proximity to town. And there were likely grizzly bears included in the bunch. Nope, I definitely had no intention of camping in this area after seeing all that bear poop.

So much bear poop on the way into East Glacier. It was everywhere!

I reached town very close to sunset and headed out to the Looking Glass. It used to be a restaurant but turned into a hostel this hiking season and hikers could camp inside the old restaurant for a mere $15/night. It was easy enough to fit a dozen or more hikers as well. Plenty of room for everyone!

So that's what I wound up doing. And since the post office didn't open until Monday and I therefore had two more nights that I wanted to stay in town, the low-low price of $15/night was absolutely awesome. Safe from the elements! Safe from the cold! An enormous, industrial kitchen to cook! It was a pretty nice setup.

The owners, Luna and Will, were incredibly friendly and welcoming and shared all sorts of interesting stories about the hikers who came through behind us. They seemed to really enjoy their hiker clientele as well. I had arrived so late, however, that I didn't spend much time chatting with them this evening. I'd definitely get to know them better over the next few days, though! =)

In hindsight, I realized that if I hitched a ride from Marias Pass into town, I could have arrived in time to pick up my laptop from the post office. Argh! That would have been an awesome choice as well! I could have hitched a ride back tomorrow then slackpacked the distance from Marias Pass into East Glacier. Now I was stuck in town for two zeros days without a laptop. *sigh* So I was a little disappointed for not thinking of that alternative option earlier.

My home for the night... actually, the next few nights.




I took a short lunch break at a campsite at Summit Campground, just off Highway 2.

Crossing the last railroad tracks of the trail....

I guess you don't have to register here unless you come in the winter?

Hello, Glacier NP!





I left a few leaf people faces on the trail for those behind me to enjoy. =)

Yes, I suppose it is an open range....

Friday, September 23, 2022

Day 149: Music on the Trail

September 16: The wind finally died down during the night, and except for the lightest of sprinkles that lasted a few minutes, rain turned out not to be an issue either.

But the morning was bitterly, bitterly cold. I was surprised, however, when I looked out from under my tarp and saw actual snowflakes falling! It was snowing! It was very light and short in duration, but they were honest-to-goodness snowflakes! Absolutely none of it stuck so it wouldn't be a problem, but it was definitely a reminder that the seasons were changing and I really needed to get this trail done--and the sooner, the better.


Knowing all the hunters prowling around the area, I decided to play music on my smartphone out loud for most of the day. Let them know I'm coming and hopefully none of them would mistake me for an elk and start shooting. If it warned a grizzly bear that I was rounding a corner, that was a perk too. No reason to scare a bear by accident! But mostly, I wanted to make sure the hunters nearby knew it was a person walking down the trail. My pack was bright with colors--which, in fact, was the main reason I always sewed my packs with bright colors--but that was the only gear I really had that stuck out to say, "Hey, don't shoot! I'm a hiker!"

But I wound up never seeing any hunters at all on the trail the entire day. In fact, I saw absolutely nobody the entire day. Since hunting season started yesterday, I theorized that I saw so many hunters because they were all heading into the backcountry all at once, but now they were already in the backcountry and probably hiding, waiting for their shot at an elk.

I did pass one campsite with a few horses nearby which I assumed belonged to a hunting party, but the campsite was empty of people. They were definitely around somewhere....

The day was a largely easy day of hiking. The burn areas were ugly, but at least they provided nice views. Not much to report, really--so I played my music aloud all day long and enjoyed the walk.

By the end of the day, I decided to set up camp need Woods Creek--away from burned trees. There was a single living tree nearby, and the ground was flat (albeit a little rocky for someone without a pad to sleep on), and--much to my surprise--I wound up getting a cell phone signal from the location as well! It was the first hint of a signal I had gotten since leaving Augustus several days before.

My campsite for the night was on this rocky patch that let me camp somewhere without a lot of dead, standing trees nearby. (There are quite a few live trees in the background of this photo, but there are dead trees just behind them that could easily fall and hit me if I tried camping closer to those.)

So much of the rest of the evening I spent catching up on emails and messages. My campsite was located in plain view of the setting sun which allowed me to soak up its warmth until the very last minute before sunset. And I needed the warmth. The day never really warmed up. Even in the middle of the afternoon at the hottest time of the day, it was still quite cold in the shady areas so all my rest breaks were in the sun.

Once the sun set, however, the temperature plummeted and I stopped using my phone. My hands were just too cold to make effective use of it, so I went to watching Netflix videos and reading my Kindle for the rest of the evening.





Remember these guys from the PNT? No, whoever did those on the PNT isn't ahead of me on the CDT, but I remembered them from the PNT and thought I'd plant my own leaf-people on the trail for the hikers behind me to enjoy. =)




Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Day 148: Hunters! Hunters! Everywhere!

September 15: I didn't sleep well during the night. Super strong wind gusts picked up, which not only generated a lot of disturbing noise, but also left me worrying about the stakes holding down my tarp getting ripped out. Although the stakes did hold, it still left me largely sleepless for most of the night.

I lingered in camp until about 8:30am. It was a beautiful albeit windy morning. The trail headed down a steep valley before largely leveling out the rest of the day.

 

The Spotted Bear alternate route that I followed eventually recombined with the red main-line CDT route in the early afternoon, and now that I was back on the main route, I took a look at the Guthook mileage and realized that I was about 10 miles behind the schedule I thought I had been following. Oops! So I mentally added an extra 5 miles to today's hike. Instead of the planned 15 miles I'd do for the day, I'd shoot for closer to 20. I'd do the same for tomorrow as well.

With an extra two-or-so hours of hiking to do, I wished I had started a bit earlier. Perhaps at 7:30am instead of the 8:30am when I actually started. That would have better suited me, but there was no changing the past--I'd have to live with my mistake. At least the problem wasn't critical.

In the early afternoon, I passed one CDT hiker heading southbound, a fellow who had started hiking from the Mexican border then flip-flopped to Canada to get through that section before the snows started. I hadn't crossed paths with him before, though. We talked for a few minutes before continuing on our separate ways.

Given how late in the hiking season it was getting, I figured I'd be passing all sorts of people who were flip-flopping, but they were surprisingly scarce. In all, I could count on one hand the number of flip-floppers I would pass on the trail with lots of fingers to spare. I wondered how many hikers were still behind me. I knew there were some, but it couldn't be very many, nor very far back. Anyone more than a week or two behind me would almost certainly have to flip-flop in order to be assured of finishing the trail this year, but they just weren't flip-flopping which made me think that there weren't many people that far back. I was near the back of the pack.


Late in the afternoon, I passed quite a few hunters on the trail, walking around with their giant rifles and leading or riding horses along the trail. Generally speaking, they were friendly and always asked if I saw any elk today, but I hadn't and told them as such. Apparently, elk hunting season started today according to the guys I talked to. Good to know, and that would certainly explain the sudden presence of so many hunters after seeing none for so long.

Two of the hunters I met up with reported that they shot a 7-point buck and were now heading back to their campsite to get their horses. They needed the horses to help carry the 1,200-pound carcass back to the trailhead. They had planned to be out there for the better part of a week, but now that they got their elk, that was out the window. They'd pick up the buck and go home. I think their permit only allowed them to shoot one animal so once they got it, they basically had to stop hunting, and they seemed almost a little disappointed about the fact--despite being so happy about getting themselves a 7-point buck.

Late in the day, the trail passed through a large burn area, so I had trouble once again finding a good area to set up camp away from all the burned and dead tree trunks. The trail passed by one small patch that the wildfire somehow missed, but the trees were relatively thin and short and didn't provide as much protection from the wind as I would have preferred. It was the best option available, however, so I grudgingly took it.

Both rain and wind were in the forecast, so I set up my tarp which is when I discovered that one of my tent stakes was missing. Noooo! It must have somehow gotten left behind at my campsite this morning. With the strong gusts of wind, I needed every stake I had to help pin down my tarp, so I wasn't happy about this discovery. When the air is calm, I usually don't use stakes to pin down the middle of my tarp along the sides, but this was definitely not one of those nights. Nothing I could do about that now, though, except live without it. 

This small patch of trees were the only unburned trees for miles in every direction, so I tried to make the best of them to protect me against the wind and rain. But they were very thin and didn't provide much protection. At least I could be happy knowing that there weren't any dead trees close enough to fall down on me during the night! See that "divot" at the bottom in the middle of my tarp? That's a stake holding it down. The other side, however, didn't have that because I lost the stake! Booo! The other side was mostly flapping free!





This patrol cabin was locked up tight, but there was a register in the front that hikers could sign. Inside the register, other hikers had written that the outhouse behind the building had quite a nice view and gave it two thumbs up, so I went and tried it out....

I don't know how the view from the outhouse was, however, because I got absolutely engrossed by the Bugle magazine I found as reading material inside. ;o) You do have to leave the door open when you do your business, however, because otherwise it's completely dark inside. Usually there are small windows to let in the light, but this one was completely and totally dark unless you left the door open a bit.

Run, little fellow! Run! There are hunters everywhere!

This burn area was huge!