Rogers Pass to McDonald Pass (Lincoln to Helena)

65 miles. My first CDT cows! Remote road walking. Longer water carries. Private property to navigate through and around. My feet are now too big for my shoes.

Day 19

19 miles

I got a ride out of Lincoln back to the Pass with the hotel proprietor, thank you Dick from Sportsman Motel! Half Mile was hitting the trail today too, so we started out together from the trailhead.

Half Mile I’ve come to learn, is a total legend on the PCT. Through his work with the PCTA, he mapped GPS coordinates/waypoints for the entire PCT trail, recording location data every half mile, as well as for other points of interest. Pretty much every other hiker out here has done the PCT and so they’ve all benefited from his hard work. In fact, last fall when I hiked the stretch of the PCT from Cascade Locks to Mt Hood, I think I used his data.

Today was a great day of walking up on the divide, big vistas, fun walking, great company. A ‘life is good’ kinda day on the CDT.

Day 20

16 miles (the photo says 14, I forgot to turn tracking on before I left camp)

We started walking a little after 7 a.m. The first half of the day was walking through pine forests and then through the Stemple Pass Cross-Country Ski Area. We stopped for snack breaks every 2 hours and to put our feet up.

This stretch of trail is pretty dry as it’s up on the divide most of the time. The only water today was a cache that trail angel Marc Braken keeps stocked for hikers at Stemple Pass. The last water was another cache that he stocks at Flesher Pass and the next water is 20 miles in a cattle trough at Dana Spring. Thank you Marc for the amazing magic you do for us hikers! The cache at Stemple Pass had a hot pink, coconut and creme filled Twinkie in it! I’d been talking about what food might be at the cache for at least a few hours and i’d actually said to Half Mile that it would be cool if there was one of those Hostess style C-store 1000 calorie danish type snacks. Weird the crap you crave when you’re stuck eating whatever is in your food bag. So awesome, thanks Marc!

There was a bike race of some kind crossing over Stemple Pass and there was a support car up there with sodas, orange quarters and some other kind of sandwich type food. Half Mile and I slowed considerably as we walked by the car and glanced at the food suggestively, they struck up conversation with us, but didn’t offer us any food! Failed yogi attempt by Elevated and Half Mile! To ‘yogi’ food is to aquire it along the trail from day hikers and others you come across along the way. Oh well.

I spotted a couple of WiseMan trail smoke signals today too:

Early afternoon started with a steep climb on a gravel road up and over a peak and then followed the ridge on the divide for a while. Really great views. I really loved the hiking. Lunch featured a great new menu item for this stretch, Richards family, this one is for you: Step 1: unwrap delicious Pro Bar; Step 2: place it in a tortilla; Step 3: smear no less than 4 tablespoons of Nutella on the Pro Bar; Step 4: wrap it up, sit back and enjoy! Takes the slight blandness out of last stretch’s menu item of the same kind less the Nutella. Good stuff. Nutella is awesome, it packs a whopping 2000 calories into a 13oz/370g container.

By mid-afternoon we’d dropped down off the divide below tree line and that’s when the first storm rolled through, heavy rain, lightening and thunder very close to us. I felt okay as we were below tree-line, in a lower point compared to everything around. Good timing storm, good timing. After it passed we got a look at the back of it, massive Cumulus Nimbus cloud. We stood and watched the trail ahead for a few minutes, it climbed back up to the divide and stayed high for about 11 miles, the highest peaks in the range I think were up there. Hmmm. We noticed a steady stream of clouds were coming across the peak in front of us, and now that the last storm had passed, the sun was out and it was hot again, perfect thunderstorm conditions. Feeling a bit nervous about it all, we left the trail and headed down the Nevada Creek Drainage. Not only was it lower in elevation and had plenty of trees, but it also had a creek for us to refill our water supply.

We got down to the stream and sat and pondered our options. The sky was looking bad and conditions were ripe for thunderstorms. We decided to call it a day and set up camp nearby even though it was only 3:30 p.m. No sooner had we got our tents up did the rain drops start. I fiddled around in my tent and snuggled in my sleeping bag. Then the thunder and lightening started, it was intense and seemed to go on for 20 minutes or so. The ground trembled with some of the lounder thunder claps and even though it was daylight I could see lightening fill the sky through my tent walls. I sat on my sleeping pad, feeling a little happy that i’d have some insulation from any ground current that came my way. Just because i’m a weirdo, I sat there reading on my phone some info i’d downloaded about the best position to sit in when a lightening strike is imminent and the difference between a direct strike and a strike sustained via ground current. Great thing to read when a violent storm is raging on top of you, Kate, good work.

Everything went quiet, the sun came out again and the birds started chirping. Still sitting in the middle of my tent on my sleeping pad I called over the Half Mile, “Did you survive”, he replied “I think so, is it safe to come out?”.

We cooked dinner, did our camp chores and hung our food bags just in time for the next storm to roll-on in. This one seemed more violent than the last, it was right on top of us again. I decided not to worry about it as much this time and so lay on my sleeping mat, with my earphones in and watched the beginning of the movie ‘Wild’ on my phone. It helped for a while but during the really wild part of the storm I couldn’t focus on the movie, so I gave up and just lay there and listened to the storm sounds.

After it passed I came out of my tent and saw blue skies and the glow of a sunset on the hillside up above us. Happily, that was it for the storms today, I slept well.

Day 21

19 miles

Woke to a lot of condensation inside my tent and a very cold morning outside, the sun’s rays still no where near hitting this valley yet. Half Mile and I both struggled to keep our hands warm as we broke camp. The walk back up to the CDT from Nevada Creek was very wet, the long wet grass on the trail soaked out shoes. Brrr.

We paused in the first rays of sun when we got to the pass, it felt good, but my feet were still numb. We continued on, hiking up steep switchbacks for 20 minutes, I still had my down jacket zipped up and hood covering my head. It was cold!

The first 9 miles today followed the divide, beautiful ridge-top walking and lots of elevation gain. In the afternoon the trail dropped down from Black Mountain to some farmland and I got to say hi to my first CDT cows! In fact, our first water source in 11.5 miles was their water trough, so it was good to see them!

The last 5 or 6 miles down Hope Creek were cruisy gravel road walking. It was really hot and I hiked under the shade of my umbrella for a couple of hours. I have it rigged to my pack so I can hike with it up hands-free. Not only is it about 10 degrees cooler under it, but it means I can take off my hat and cool off that way too. Love my umbrella.

The Hope Creek road had signs posted everywhere that either side of the road was private property. But WiseMan had texted me before I got on this section of trail to tell me there was a good ice-bath location for me part way down this road down a little side-road. I imagined a farmer happening across an Aussie with braids sitting in the water culvert on the side of his road and decided he’d take pity on me and not mind too much. This stretch between Lincoln and Helena has very little water, and none so-far that I could take an ice-bath in, so this pool of water under his culvert was too much for me to resist. Sorry farmer.

Half Mile was taking a nap under a nearby tree while i got my ice bath taken care of. So i sat down next to him when i was done to put my shoes back on and get organized. A few minutes later we heard a series of shots, Half Mile said it was probably someone coming to get us for trespassing, if not that then maybe hunters. Yikes. Without giving it much thought i let out a cooee, thanks Mum and Dad for teaching me that helpful method of communicating. If you don’t have any idea what i’m talking about, you can read all about what a cooee is here. When we went bushwalking when i was a kid, if we got split up on the trial we’d communicate via cooees.

We set up a stealth camp behind some bushes a little further down Hope Creek. We though we were on public lands, but weren’t totally sure, so kept a low profile. We ate dinner and retired to our tents for an early night.

Day 22

12 miles

Today was mostly road walking on gravel roads, although there were 4 or so miles of trail. We arrived at McDonald Pass at about 1 p.m., hungry and ready for town food. It took us 7 minutes to get a hitch, yay! The driver was on vacation in Montana visiting his daughter in Missoula, but she was at work and so he was doing some sight-seeing. Apparently the Missouri River runs just the other side of Helena and he was on his way to visit that. He dropped us at a Pub and Half Mile and I gorged on bacon cheeseburgers, beer and soda. It hit the spot!

Rest Days Helena

Helena is the state capital of Montana. It feels more like a large Colorado mountain town than a state capital. The population is a little over 30,000 and from what I can tell there isn’t a single office tower. The motel all the hikers stay at, and where my resupply package is being held at, is the Budget Inn Express. It’s across the road from the homeless shelter but a few blocks from some coffee shops, restaurants and importantly, a great little shoe shop and not too far from a good PT clinic.

It’s been nice hanging out in town, I like Helena. I went out to dinner with Slaughterhouse, Matterhorn and Half Mile the first evening at a historic Helena establishment called Bert and Earnies and ordered a 16 inch pizza just for me. Ha. Have definitely been getting my latte fix at Fire House Coffee and Starbucks, it’s been nice hanging out there updating my blog. Katie’s resupply package arrived at the motel, so my maps for the next section and most of my food was already dialed, thanks Katie!!! I supplemented my resupply package with some store food from Safeway, you’ll have to wait to next blog for this week’s dining delicacy. I like my town time, kinda like having a weekend at the end of the work week kind of feeling, but for a job that you really look forward to returning to on Monday.

You may or may not remember that I have an issue with my left ankle that I just have to deal with. I rolled it 2 or so years ago and tore 2 of the 3 ligaments on the outside of my ankle, an injury there is no surgery for. Since then my talus bone has a tendency to track out-of-place and cause the whole ankle joint to get locked up pretty badly. It doesn’t do it all the time, in fact the first 250 miles of the trail it was fine, however the last 1o0 miles I started noticing little signs here and there in my lower leg that indicate to me that my ankle needs to be mobilized by a PT, signs that now i’m aware of it all, might have been the actual cause of that stress fracture I landed myself with last year when I attempted the trail- how about that.

Andrea at Canyon Sports Therapy in Salt Lake gave me a good mobilization I can do on myself out on the trail, which is probably how I got through 250 miles without any issues, thanks Andrea! But I think once it gets really locked up I need a PT to have their way with it and get it all moving properly again. I stopped in to see the team at Peak Physical Therapy, Helena, and Megan and Brant got me sorted out, thanks guys! Megan worked on my ankle and foot one day and then scraped my lower body the next. If you haven’t been ‘scraped’ it’s pretty much paying to be tortured, your skin and muscles get scraped hard by a metal device and it helps bring in blood to the muscles and speed up the rejuvenation process. Hurt like hell but really feels good now. I have some flexibility in my muscles again! Ready to get back out on the trail.

I think i’m just like an old car, I need my regular tune-ups if I want to keep the machine running properly. Andrea put it well to me before I left for the trail, there’s probably no reason I can’t do a long-distance trail like the CDT, but I just need to work a lot harder than most to stay on-trail with my ankle problem and weird gait/motor control tendencies. I know so much more this year than I did last year! Happily I think I know how to catch things and treat them before they turn into injuries now, so far so good at least!

A word on gear now that I’m 350 or so miles into the trail. Most of my gear i’m really happy with and it’s holding up well, but there have been a few casualties…

The Brooks Cascadia trail shoes I started from the border with had a weird seam inside the shoe and Brooks agreed to send me a new pair, sans weird seam. They worked much, much better until about the last 60 miles headed into Helena; my feet have grown much bigger and wider (it happens on long hikes apparently), so even though my shoes are a full size bigger than what I’ve ever worn before, they’ve become too narrow. It felt like someone was squeezing my toes together the last 60 miles and i’m not going to walk another mile like that! I stopped by the shoe shop today, Tread Lightly, and got myself a pair of men’s Saucony Xodus 5.0 trail shoes. They’re as wide as I can get in a men’s or women’s trail shoe, short of the Altra’s, which I can’t do because I can’t wear a zero drop shoe with my bad ankle and tight calf muscles.  I’m a bit nervous to try a totally new shoe on this next 80 mile stretch, I’ve worn the Cascadias for a few years now, but new shoes hopefully can’t be as bad as the 60 miles I just did in shoes that had become too narrow. I really hope there isn’t a story about this next blog.

My Komperdell trekking pole snapped between two rocks back in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Katie talked them into warrantying them for me. When I arrived in Helena the hotel had a brand new pair of carbon poles waiting for me, thanks Katie and Komperdell!

My Therm-a-rest NeoAir sleeping pad developed a defect a couple of nights before I hit Lincoln. Two cells had merged to become one and I had a giant bubble running horizontally across my lower back. Not super comfortable after a long day of hiking! The guy at Therm-a-rest was awesome and overnighted me a new one! Thanks Therm-a-rest!

My Dirty Girl hiking gaiters had developed some holes by the time I hit East Glacier. The lovely lady at Dirty Girl sent me a free pair with the new pair I ordered, thanks Dirty Girl Gaiters! I love the designs on these hiking gaiters which is why I hike in them instead of a different brand, but they aren’t really designed for some of the dense brush I had to battle with in Glacier. Hopefully southern Montana is more kind to them!

Thanks to all the great brands for standing behind their product, and for being so awesome about sending me stuff overnight etc to the middle of nowhere Montana.

Thanks for reading.


12 thoughts on “Rogers Pass to McDonald Pass (Lincoln to Helena)”

  1. Hi Kate, I think of you often and have watched on the GPS site to see where you are. You can go to Google Maps and switch to satellite view and really zoom in… it is weird to think you are out there. Glad to hear you have some company off and on. All good here, Alison says hi (she is 3.5 weeks in to radiation but going strong!!).

    Keep in touch and stay safe.

    Paul and Alison Roland

    1. Hey Paul and Al! Great to hear from you. I’m happy to hear the radiation is underway, it’ll be good to get that over with. That’s cool that you can zoom in and see the detail in Goggle Maps, maybe you can give me the intel on where I should camp each night?? 🙂 xxx

  2. Sounds like the adventure continues at a nice clip Kate.
    Keep the posts coming.
    Swam in Lake Superior tonight – felt like an ice bath.

    1. Hey Dave! Adventure is going well, I love it. Glad you like the posts, it’s a commitment for sure, but I know everyone loves reading about what’s going on, and i’m going to enjoy doing the same a few years from now too. Happy to hear you’re up at Lake Superior and taking a break from work! Ice baths are great, you just have to embrace them. Hi to the family.

  3. Thank you for the panorama! Gorgeous. I like Helena too. Hope you enjoyed your ice cream. Glad you could sort out your leg issues too. Hopefully it keeps you going. Love that you cooeed! Send me details on how I can send you something.

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