115 miles of total remoteness, the Chinese Wall, blister hell, blow-downs, thousands of stream crossings and a resupply at Benchmark Ranch.
Marias Pass headed into the Lewis and Clark National Forest
Heading out of town involves one very, very important decision… what meal do I order before leaving? It was 3 p.m. and so a bacon cheeseburger with fries was the decision, and it was good one.
I headed out of town with WiseMan. It took us a while to get a hitch up to Marias Pass, but a nice couple stopped and took us the 10 miles we needed to go. If you remember from an earlier blog, I pre-hiked the 15 mile East Glacier to Marias Pass section before starting in Glacier, and WiseMan did it the day prior, a good decision because this stretch through the Bob Marshall/ Scapegoat Wilderness is really long and carrying a day’s less food was definitely nice. There’s a very kind couple at Benchmark about 110 miles in that will have a resupply package for me in a bear box at their ranch. Then it’s another 60 or so miles to Rogers Pass where i’ll hitch into the town of Lincoln 20 miles to the west.
It was really really nice walking out of town with WiseMan because I was still on edge from my 2 Grizzly encounters. Walking with another person means talking, and talking means not singing, and not singing makes me happy. I don’t care what Gene Kelly has to say about singing, I’ll bet his rain storm didn’t last 12 hours a day, day after day, week after week.
The days are really long in Montana right now, so even though we didn’t hit the trail until after 5 p.m., we still got in 8 or so miles. And it was a slow 8 miles as the trail was littered with blow-downs. Blow-downs are trees that have falled over, and the phenomena is particularly frequent in sections of forest that have been burned. Trail crews for each of the various ranger districts clean them up as best they can, but early in the season, or on lesser traveled trails, it can be a while before they get cleaned up, if at all. Interestingly, in Wilderness designated areas, chain-saws aren’t allowed and so the trail crews have to hack away at the fallen trees with hand-saws!
Now that i’m out of the National Park system, there’s no permits and designated camping sites. One of the things I love about backpacking is hiking until you don’t want to anymore and finding a nice place to set up camp. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it didn’t. We were traveling up little hills and down into little valleys, the hills were blow-down hell and the valleys dense wet underbrush jungle, and neither option seemed to have level ground. We’d been keeping our eyes open for a good spot for a couple of hours, but there just wasn’t one. In the end, out-of-light, we settled for a tiny spot right next to the trail that was only mildly sloped, but it was too small for both of our tents. So we both crammed in WiseMan’s tent and tried to keep from sliding into each other all night.
Ha, trail-life, it has a way of accelerating the normal get-to-know-you scale pretty significantly. Within a very short time of meeting someone you can be talking about whether your pee is clear, how your poop is doing, how to manage ass chaffe, peeing on the trail right next to them and in this case, bunking down together.
Somewhere in the Lewis and Clark National Forest headed towards the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Today was a nice cruisy day, late’ish start, cruisy walking in the am, a long lunch at a vacant forest service cabin and some spectacular ridgeline walking in the afternoon.
I walked with WiseMan and enjoyed the company. He lives on Maui in Hawaii and manages a beachfront resort property, his morning in the ‘real world’ starts with raking the sand down at the beach. Tough gig! He’s done a bunch of really cool stuff in life, like working as a fly fishing guide in Alaska and cooking for a crew on a ship at sea. WiseMan was a name given to him when he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail 4 years ago because he sometimes makes marks in the dirt on the trail with his trekking poles that look like Y’s, hikers named him Y Man and that became WiseMan. I like the story behind everyone’s trail name. If you don’t know how I came to be Elevated, it’s a combination of my constantly misunderstood accent and an injury I had last year when I started out the CDT, the full story here: How i got my trail name.
Somewhere in the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Gorgeous sunny day, although a little on the hot side. We officially entered the Bob Marshall Wilderness, that was cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect of ‘The Bob’, i’d heard it was really remote and had a giant wall of some kind in it, but other than that I had no idea what to expect. Today’s walking was pretty cruisy, although we still encountered some blow-down sections that really slow you down. The highlight of the day? We set up camp on an island! Perfect ice bath water on either side for me to do my daily muscle soak, wildflowers everywhere and tons of nice spots to pitch a tent.
Somewhere in the Bob Marshall Wilderness
A few bonus miles in the morning when we headed down the wrong drainage. A big climb up and over Switchback Pass. Day 2 of battling a blister on the ball of my foot near the base of my big toe… ouch. Did you know Duct tape seems to stay on better than any traditional blister prevention method when you have to walk through streams and cross creeks 100 times a day?
Somewhere in the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Started out the day with a stream crossing and battling keeping blister prevention on. Argh. I said goodbye to WiseMan as I needed to slow down for a while to get my feet figured out. Just me and the bears again, time to get the pom-poms out again.
Despite all my blister prevention work the past couple of days the blister had grown big and was pretty painful, so I popped it last night by putting a threaded needle through it and leaving the string in place after so it could drain overnight.
All I needed to do was keep the blister covered with something… moleskin, ducttape, whatever, and let it callous over right? Easier said than done when it’s really hot (ie. sweaty feet) and there are a gazillion stream crossings every hour. Occasionally i’d luck out and there would be a log to walk across the stream on, or tall rocks to hop across, but the rest of the time I had to wade across it. I tried everything… shoes on (really wet feet, socks and shoes for ages after), sandals on (blister stuff would come off after too many crossings), zip lock bags on feet with sandals on over that (filled with water anyway), plastic bags over shoes (very slippery!) and probably a couple of other ways i’m not remembering now. Argh. Today was frustrating. I believe they call this type 2 fun.
The trail also followed a river for a lot of the day and the brush was pretty dense, which meant singing to the bears loudly. Eventually though the trail climbed up out of Spotted Bear River valley and up onto a pass. I called it a day after only 15 miles at a nice lake up on a pass. Burrito Grande was up at the lake and decided to stay the night too, we ate dinner by the lake and chatted with Plastic and Yeti, a mother and son team section hiking the CDT north from Helena to East Glacier.
Examining my body before crawling into my sleeping bag was a sad experience. It looked like someone had attacked me with a knife… my legs were totally scratched up from all the blow-downs and my feet weren’t much prettier. Sleep came quickly.
Somewhere in the Bob Marshall Wilderness… and the Chinese Wall!
Today was awesome! My foot itself was doing a bit better, although the ankle and lower leg muscles that had worked overtime keeping my blistered foot moving were now sore so I took it pretty easy today. The day started with a steep climb up to Larch Pass for an epic view, I could see the snow capped peaks of Glacier way way off on the horizon to the north and the massive Chinese Wall stretching on for miles to the south. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, ahhhh, happy days on the CDT today! Most of the day i frolicked (yep) along nice trail that wound through flower filled meadows under the giant wall. Did I say today was awesome?
The trail veered away from the wall after 8 or so miles and followed a stream. I must be getting close to a trailhead of some kind as there was actually a bridge (!!!) over one of them! Yay. I stopped by a nice stream at about 6:30, iced by legs and cooked dinner. After resting a while I decided to walk a few more miles and found a spot to pitch my tent on a ledge overlooking a nice valley. My feet did much better today and I knew I was now only 15 or so miles from my resupply package, and maybe a cabin rental, at Benchmark Ranch.
End of the Bob Marshall Wilderness to Benchmark Ranch
Yay! Not a ‘town-day’ as there’s no town at Benchmark. It’s a trail-head west of Augusta that is an access point into the Bob. But there is a ranch there that has delivered a resupply package there for me and has it stored in a bear box… and rumor has it that IF the owners are there they have cabins they will rent to you. Please be there.
The hike today was HOT and dusty, but pretty. The miles went quickly. Trail traffic increased with weekend backpackers and horse groups. There were bridges over streams, I even took a long lunch under one of them to hide from the sun and ice my legs.
The ranch was 4 or so miles from the trailhead and it was a long hot road-walk. I was thankful to have my umbrella to hide under as I walked down the road.
Rest Day at Benchmark Ranch
Darwin and Shellie Heckman just happened to be at the ranch when I arrived and agreed to rent me a cabin for a couple of nights. Yay! My feet needed some R&R. The cabin had no electricity, but there was gas so that I could light some gas lanterns and a wood burning fireplace for me to make a fire and stay warm. There was also an icy cold stream for me to soak in and a hot shower nearby! What a great place to spend some time! The Heckman’s left the next morning to go back to Great Falls and I had the ranch to myself. Cool!
My devices were all dead after the long-stretch i’d just been on, and it rained all day and so I couldn’t charge my external battery charger with my solar charger. What do you do when you can’t be entertained by your phone all day?? Without the option of watching a video or listening to an audiobook, I went hunting for something to entertain me in the cabin. I found 2 books, the best of which was a book about the secret life of Fergie, the Dutchess of York. Great, going to be a really boring day! I curled up and read it for most of the day and surprisingly I found the pages turning pretty quickly. Ha, who would have thought.
I must have been dozing in the afternoon because a bang on the window woke me up. I opened the door and a hiker was standing there, “are you a CDT hiker?”. She had seen a Sawyer filter on a Smartwater bottle through the window, a tell-tale indication of a thru-hiker, and figured someone was inside she wanted to see. Ha.
I invited her to stay in the cabin with me for the night. Her name was Tick-Tock and we had a great night chatting about all kinds of things related to the trail. It was good to have some company! Thanks Tick-Tock! Right as we were about to nod-off to sleep she mentioned that there were some tortillas in the hiker box with my name on it. What?!?! I’d been dreaming of tortillas to break the monotony of all the Clif and Pro bars etc in my food bag for over a week. I jumped out of bed and ran outside and over to the bear box. WiseMan had left me a packet of 10 tortillas!!!!! WiseMan, you totally rock!!!! I ate 2 in bed before I fell asleep.
The next morning two other hikers came along to pick up their resupply packages, ‘The Couple’ aka Steve and Kristen and we all hung out for the first half of the day. The sun had come out and so I was trying to get my devices charged before getting back on the trail. I even did some laundry. We’d all been hearing about a storm that apparently was headed our way and so we fashioned Tick-Tock a rain poncho from a garbage bag to help with her rain jacket that seemed to be failing on the water resistant front. Kristen gave me lots of good blister and foot advice, thanks Kristen!
Thanks for reading!