An action packed 60 miles in the Scapegoat Wilderness. Incredibly scenic ridgeline walking. A grueling 18 hour, 33 miles day out-walking the arrival of a big storm. Navigating in dark. Give me back the bears, lightning is a thousand times more terrifying!
I left Benchmark at 4:30 p.m. wanting to shave a few miles off the trail ahead. It’s only 60 miles to Rogers Pass and a hitch to the town of Lincoln. I figured i’d do it over 3 full days and a half day, so a head-start this afternoon means i’ll get to the town of Lincoln a little earlier on that half day. Not how it’s going to turn out, but you’ll read about that soon.
The walk back to the trail turned out to be shorter than i’d planned because I got a ride in the back of a pick-up truck for a mile of it. It felt good to be back on the trail, this afternoon’s hiking was easy as it pretty much followed Straight Creek the whole time. I found a camp off-trail in a meadow of blow-downs, taking care obviously to locate my tent in a spot where a falling tree wouldn’t hit me.
Today was nice walking and my feet were feeling good again, what a relief! The trail followed a couple of different rivers and there wasn’t a lot of vertical gain or loss, aside from one mellow pass to cross. It was a hot day and I walked with my umbrella up some of it to try to stay a bit cooler. I love my umbrella.
I stopped for lunch at a great viewpoint and settled in. Lunch usually means I find a spot on the trail, take my shoes and socks off, lay on my ground sheet with my feet up on my pack and munch on a Pro Bar and other snacks. However… i have tortillas for this stretch thanks to WiseMan! Yum. So the dining highlight of this stretch is to eat a Pro bar burrito, that’s right, put a Pro Bar in a tortilla, wrap it up and eat it. So good!
A funny thing happened in the afternoon. I stopped at about 4:30 at a nice stream to ice my feet and legs, cook some dinner and rest for a bit. I was sitting 20 yards or so from the stream and its view was blocked by some bushes. All of a sudden I heard something walking through the water and rustling coming through the bushes. I started making noise “hey bear, hey bear…” When it emerged from the bush I was standing barefoot on my ground sheet with bear spray ready to go. To my surprise it was a hiker and she was as stunned as I was at the scene. Ha! I hadn’t seen a person all day, so I wasn’t expecting a hiker to be coming along. We had a good laugh and she sat down and introduced herself as Orbit.
We chatted for a bit about ‘the storm’ that’s apparently headed our way and that there’s a lot of ridge walking ahead and no trails to bail to if it gets ugly. Hmm. She was going to try to get in another 8 or 10 miles today and then knock out the rest of the trail in one-day to beat the storm. But she’s averaging 25-30 mile days, and i’m only doing 15-20, so given that Rogers Pass was about 40 miles from where we were sitting, that didn’t seem like an option I had. We wished each other well and she was on her way.
I sat eating my dinner and debated the storm situation in my head. To add to the internal debate, I noticed on my GPS that 2 friends had messaged me today to warn me of a big Arctic low headed into the Mountain West, it was supposed to be pretty ugly and drop snow up high. Hmm.
I packed up my dinner stuff and got back on the trail. My plan I decided was to try to get in 4 or so more miles today, and then knock out the rest over 2 days camping overnight below tree line near a lake about 14 miles past tonight’s camp and 18 miles from Rogers Pass. I was just going to have to battle it out with the weather, there’s no way I could walk all that way in one day.
I found a nice spot to camp at Pear Creek and settled in for the night. I was tossing and turning a lot with this storm on my mind so I got out my GPS and requested a weather forecast. My Delorme GPS has a very cool feature whereby I can get weather forecasts sent to it for the location I’m at, or a location I can select from a map. I selected one of the ridgelines above the half-way lake i’d planned to stay at tomorrow night and requested a forecast. It came back 20 minutes or so later and basically told me that the storm was moving in tomorrow, but not letting rip until the next day and would continue another day after that. Fuck. I might get stuck at that half-way point for a couple of days. But what choice did I have?
Well today didn’t go as planned.
I’d woken in the middle of the night to a thunderstorm raging. A precursor of what’s to come with this storm? I hope not! I tossed and turned the rest of the night worrying about what to do about this storm the next couple of days, which is very unusual for me as normally I sleep very well.
I woke early and was on-trail by 6:30 eager to get in as many miles as I could, as fast as I could. There was an 8,000ft peak that I had to hike up to first up this morning and it was the highest point around, so I was keen to get it over with early before any thunderstorms moved in. From the beginning of the day, dark clouds were moving fast over the peaks. I climbed from the valley floor up to the divide as quickly as my legs could carry me. The wind was ripping.
The trail climbed up, up, up, and well above the tree-line. The views were immense, mountains as far as the eye could see, which was pretty far as this mountain range is extremely remote. I started to get really nervous headed up to the highest point because there was a steady stream of very dark clouds whipping over its peak. I didn’t really have a choice though. There was no thunder/lightning yet, so I decided to go for it, but it was a bit of a risky commitment as it was above tree-line and extremely exposed for 3-4 miles. Argh. Time and temperature were on my side however, it was still pretty early in the day and the air was cool; most thunderstorms hit in the afternoon when the air is warmer.
I put my head down and went for it, my legs pumped and my lungs were working overtime. It may surprise you to hear that I only stopped to snap a few very quick photos. Ha, I must have been nervous! But I made it up without seeing any lightning. I breathed a sigh of relief as the trail dipped into the next drainage and with ever step I was getting further away from that peak and closer to tree-line, yay! It wasn’t until I got well below the tree-line again that I stopped to catch my breath, eat some food, drink some water and rest my feet. Whew.
I’d made it to the mid-way lake by about 2 p.m. Feeling relatively safe now that I was off the ridgeline I stopped to eat lunch and ponder what to do. Set up camp in the forest nearby? Push on and try to find a low point in the ridge somewhere in the 19 miles between here and the road that would take me to a town? I really didn’t want to be stuck on the wrong side of this long ridge walk for this storm, so I decided to go for it and see how far I could get today. I’d find a camp somewhere that wasn’t too exposed surely.
Happy with my decision I hiked up out of the basin and gained the ridgeline once again. The clouds headed my way were starting to produce thunder rumbles and some lightning. Argh. I watched for a few minutes, yep, this thing was going to roll right over me. I bailed back off the ridge down into the basin and sat in a small strand of trees. The rain pelted down on me, thunder was booming and lightening filled the sky. Give me back the bears!!! I HATE lightening when i’m outside.
I sat in the trees for a long while and when the storm had passed I raced back up to the pass, eager to get up and over the next peak before another storm were to move in. I noticed that the big peaks I was surrounded by were attracting lots of mean looking clouds and the lesser peaks in the direction I needed to go had less threatening lookings clouds tracking towards them, and even some holes of blue sky poking through. But I had to knock out a few miles of exposed ridge to get away from the epicenter I seemed to have found myself in.
I really went for it, pushing as hard as I could and made it across the pass, up and over the next peak and down to the next pass. I sat just off the ridgeline in some trees at a low point in that next pass and studied the sky. Thus began the game of cat and mouse I played with the storms for the next few hours. Storm rolled through, I sat in a strand of trees at a low point on the ridge, blue sky poked through I mobilized and got myself up and over the next high point in the ridge. Just as I observed, with each stretch I knocked out, the weather was looking better and better ahead. Yay!
Funny moment I had with myself in the middle of all of that… I took my hat off at one point when i was hiking along to cool off a bit and according to my shadow it looked like my hair was really standing up on end. I had read that if lightning is imminent, your hair will stand up on end. Shit! Wait, there’s no clouds or thunder right now. Then it hit me, my hair always looks kind of crazy, that’s probably just how it looks right now. Ha. I hadn’t looked in a mirror in well over a week.
By the time I was 8 or so miles from the biggest of the peaks, the skies were looking pretty tame, so I stopped for about 45 minutes to rest and eat. As I lay there in the middle of the trail, feet up on my pack, I wondered how many more peaks and passes I could knock out on this ridgeline before night would come. The sun was setting at about 9:30, but especially up high, the light seemed to linger until well after 10 p.m. I was exhausted, but something deep down told me I really needed to get out of these mountains before the big storm set in later tonight. So I pressed on. Up, down, across, up, down, across. The miles were flying by. The sun set. Twilight was a tap with only limited supply. I sat on top of Green Mountain, about 8 trail miles from the road, and here is how the internal dialogue went:
“Where should I camp?” I don’t want to camp up here. I want to get to town.
“But it’s dark, you can’t get to town.” I could navigate via the app on my phone in the dark by following the arrow?
“But you don’t have that much battery life left in your phone.” Well, I can keep going until my phone gets close to dying?
So I kept going, and going, and going. Up, down, across, up, down, across. Then it got really dark, with the thick cloud cover there was very little light. Also with the thick cloud cover came some delayed GPS data. I use a couple of different navigation apps on my iphone that uses the phone’s GPS feature, it doesn’t do great when there’s thick cloud. Argh. I passed a few pine trees in the dark, should I call it and camp here? No, I want to go to town. Up, down, across. Your phone is going to die soon, what are you going to do then? I could mark waypoints for the rest of the trail and navigate using my Delorme GPS device? The Delorme uses military satellites and seems to do better in cloud. I marked waypoints every couple hundred feet for the rest of the trail and readied for my cell phone to die. It died. It was cold, windy, dark, and then with my phone now dead it felt even darker. It was only a couple of miles to go and I could hear the occasional car down below on the highway. “I want to go to town”. Okay.
I arrived at the trailhead at Rogers Pass at about 12:30 a.m., 18 hours after setting out for the day, having covered 33.4 trail miles and about 10,000 ft in elevation gain and loss. I was hoping for a restroom facility like they have at some of the busier trailheads, I was going to sleep in there instead of dealing with setting up my tent (sorry Mum), but there was none. So I pitched my tent a few feet from the highway and crawled inside. I… was… exhausted. Beyond it. But i’d beaten the storm!
Rest days in Lincoln
I woke to the rumble of trucks flying by at 70 miles an hour. Light was just cracking as I packed up my stuff. It took me about 40 minutes to get a hitch into Lincoln. There wasn’t much traffic, but what there was wasn’t stopping until finally a nice fellow on his way to Seattle took pity on me and pulled over. I looked cold apparently. He was a bit surprised I’d been standing on the side of the road in the middle of no-where at 5:30 in the morning on a Sunday. I told him about the CDT and that i was headed to Lincoln to resupply and rest up for a few days. He was happy to help with my plights and gave me a ride to town.
Lincoln’s claim to fame is that the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, lived nearby in a cabin. In fact, i’ll walk nearby to the site in a couple of days. There’s nothing to see now though, the FBI carted it all off during the investigation.
I took a few days off to rest up after the 33 mile ordeal and to wait out the storm. It rained torrentially my first day in town and dark clouds headed towards the mountains for a few days. I was really happy that I wasn’t still up there! I spent my time eating, catching up on work with Snowbird, working on my blog and hanging out with other hikers.
When I ran into everyone i’d met further up the trail, Tick-Tock, Orbit, the Couple and Gnome God they were all very stunned to see me in town. How on earth did I get there so fast? I was still wondering how i’d pulled it off too!
Apparently Tick-tock and the Couple had run into a Grizzly a quarter mile from the trailhead that I camped at last night. Nice. Glad I was unaware of that!
I’m happy for some town time to rest my body. Nothing is injured, i’m just going to be really sore after pounding out that monster 33 mile day. Going to take some time to read up on clouds, lightening and all of that good stuff.
Thanks for reading.