Anaconda Pintler Wilderness (Anaconda to Darby)

A cross between Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Uintas, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is totally incredible! 20,000ft of ascent and descent. 90 mountain miles. Wildflowers galore. The Idaho border! Trip odometer just shy of 500 miles. Great stretch, except the return of the blisters.

Day 26

14 miles

The trail climbed past Twin Lakes and up and over a pass to Storm Lake. Unfortunately Storm Lake lived up to it’s name, I was hoping for bigger miles today but the thunder had started rumbling at about 2 p.m. and didn’t let up until nearly 9 p.m. After Storm Lake the trail climbs above tree-line up onto the ridge and stays exposed for a few miles. I hang just below tree line for a few hours hoping it’d break but I called it at about 7 p.m. and decided to set up camp.

Day 27

19 miles

Today was one of my favorite on the trail so far! Preparing for this stretch I somehow missed that it was a Wilderness Area and wasn’t expecting anything to rival Glacier, the Bob or the Scapegoat, but boy was I wowed! To me it felt like a mix between Little Cottonwood Canyon in topography and rock type and the Uinta Wilderness in isolation, lakes and broad treed valley floors. There were even a couple of peaks that looked a lot like the American Fork Twins and the Devils Castle, I felt right at home!

To my Salt Lake friends, put this on your backpacking to-do list! Drive up and park at the Storm Lake trailhead and spend a few days (or more!) hiking around on the CDT or the Highline trail.

I didn’t see another person all day, in fact, while in the Wilderness area of this stretch I only saw one other couple the whole time. It always amazes me that these ridiculously stunning wilderness areas seem so under-utilized. Wilderness is a designation that can be given in addition to National Forest to certain wild lands to protect and preserve them, if you’re interested to read more about what a Wilderness area is, click here. We’re so lucky to have these public lands! Of all the things I’m proud of as a new American citizen, the Wilderness System is one of my favorite.

It was a hard day of walking with 4 mountain passes to cross, but I really enjoyed it! The pics say it all:

Day 28

20 miles

Another day in paradise. What a beautiful place this is to walk through. The highlights: that the wildflowers somehow seem to get better and better in Montana, how is that even possible, they’ve been stunning; gorgeous alpine lakes; and setting up camp high on a ridge while watching to sunset.

Day 29

21 miles

I’m doing better this stretch with waking up and getting going earlier, I’ve left camp at between 6:30 and 7 a.m. each day, that extra 30 to 60 minutes of cooler hiking time is really nice to have!

The sunrise from up on the ridge was pretty great too! Today’s hiking felt like a long approach to the core of a wilderness area, and that’s pretty much what it is, I passed the Wilderness Area boundary early afternoon.

I spend a lot of time looking at the trail. There’s so much you can tell from looking at the trail, like: what animals have passed through the area by looking at the prints in mud or dirt; same of humans as everyone’s hiking shoe sole is distinctive and you get to know who wears what; how recently certain animals have passed through by poking at their poop, thankfully not the same practice with humans (haha); you can wave hello to yourself; and every now and then, I find another Y on the trail from WiseMan.

There were a few short sections of bad blow-downs today, even short sections are incredibly frustrating! 1/4 mile can take a long long time when you’re crawling under, climbing over or bush-wacking around (often all 3) fallen trees. Somehow I always manage to acquire a new leg scratch too. Argh.

Some of the afternoon followed along the top of a ridge and afforded sweeping views over the plains to the east and mountains to the south and west. Pretty cool! I love coming out of a section and getting a sneak peak of what’s to come. The mountains to the south look pretty big, I have no idea what to expect out of this next stretch yet.

WiseMan had texted me some trail intel from when he came through this section to warn me away from a 4 mile stretch of blow-downs after Schultz Pass. Thank you WiseMan! Instead of battling 4 miles of blow-downs, i’d still be there if I was, I opted for a slightly longer road walk. I kept walking until the sun had set and the light was almost gone and set up camp in a forest off to the side of the road.

Day 30

 16 miles

To town today! The terrain looked pretty mellow compared to everything else I’ve experienced in this stretch, so I was hopeful for quicker miles and getting to town for town food by afternoon. Although blow downs can rapidly change hourly mileage. For a change, the day panned out exactly as i’d hoped!

There were a couple of mountain bikers headed in the opposite direction about 12 miles from Chief Joseph Pass and they stopped to chat. They said that outside of the Wilderness Area it’s local volunteers, like them, that cut through the blow-downs and keep the trail clear. Wow, thank you! Sounds like a lot of hard work! I had actually been thinking all morning that without trail crews out on all these trails clearing them from dead-fall, many of these trails would be virtually impassable, especially all of these burn areas. Thank you trail crews and volunteers!

I had some extra juice in my cell phone and battery charger so I listened to audio books for most of the day. I carried a solar charger for the long stretch through the Bob and Scapegoat, but now i’m just using a battery pack, so on these longer stretches I try to limit my battery use. I finished off a great book, ‘River Horse’ by William Least Heat-Moon, it’s a book about a journey across American in a boat and was recommended to me by a man that gave me a hitch into Helena a couple of weeks ago. A few funny parallels to hiking a long distance trail. Well written and very entertaining, I’d recommend it, especially to anyone into long-distance hiking, adventuring in general or sailing. I also started ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho, a book i’d read as a kid and i’m enjoying listening to again now. Very zen and perfect for helping the miles slip away.

I was thankful for the book diversion because my new shoes had given me a few blisters. Argh. I hate blisters. I’ve actually decided to ditch the trail runner concept, even though it’s what everyone out here uses, and I’ve gone back to what I’ve always used for hiking, Keen. I got a pair of the Voyager boots, hoping it’ll give my ankle better support and my feet more cushion. I think they’ll be good but I need to get the lacing figured out, obviously I screwed it up somewhere along the line if I got blisters. I’ve never dealt with blisters before, but day hiking is very different on the body to repeated 20 mile days. Something I just need to keep playing with.

The trail crossed over Gibbons Pass, one of Montana’s most historic passes. It’s historic because the Nez Perce Indians crossed it when fleeing from Captain Gibbons and Chief Joseph, as well as that, like many of the passes I seem to be crossing, Lewis and Clark crossed it returning from their expedition of discovery to the West.

I got to Chief Joseph Pass about 3 p.m. to find it empty of cars. So, I walked an extra mile or so down to Highway 93. The walk was hot! But it was fun because I was looking right at the Lost Trail Powder Mountain Ski Area. Apparently it’s a local family run resort that boast 2000 vertical feet and 1800 skiable acres, and according to their website “we are an excellent family facility that has been helping folks enjoy themselves for over 76 years… we have unbelievable powder at unbelievably low prices… ” I chatted to local later who said it’s $35 for a day ticket and they have great powder skiing!

I’d really been looking forward to getting to the trailhead of this stretch because it sits in Idaho! I snapped the obligatory photo of me under the Idaho sign and then stepped back into Montana to get a hitch into the town of Darby, about 30 miles north. I can’t believe I’ve made it a few miles shy of 500 miles, that’s nothing to seasoned thru-hikers, but to this novice it’s a bloody big achievement! I was barely done scribbling DARBY across one of my map pages when a car came along to pick me up. Record time for a hitch! It was a nice family moving to Montana from Idaho, their son was very curious and asked me a thousand questions about Australian animals that I didn’t know the answer to. Why does everyone ask me about Australian animals?

Rest in Darby

Darby is a cute town. It’s definitely on the tourist path in the summer months and has a constant stream of RVs, Subarus and trucks cruising through. I’m staying at the Travelers Rest Inn in their bunkhouse, my dorm mates are doing wilderness rescue dog training in the area and so I got to hang out with some cool ladies and their very cute and talented dogs for the night.

There’s some surprising shops in town; in one block you can buy homemade fudge, gorge on an amazing selection of Jelly Beans or buy a life sized bronze statue of an Indian on horseback or a giant chicken. As usual, i’m camped out a little lunch spot with good music and tasty beer writing my blog. Next up, I need to sit down with my maps and figure out my plan and resupply for the next section, sounds like it’s 130 miles and has some long water carrys.

Wow, so in the time I wrote this blog entry a forest fire broke out north of town. In the first hour it burned 600 acres of forest! It’s bad, they’ve had to shut the highway, it might be hard to get a hitch out of town back to the pass tomorrow without any traffic headed south! Here’s the local news about the fire: News link to the fire. Hope the wind doesn’t change and send it this way, it’s only 14 miles north of here. Yikes! It’s very hot and windy at the moment. Think i’m going to get my resupply plan/food etc organized sooner than later in case I need to evacuate! I do worry about forest fires… 600 acres in an hour… head for a stream?


Thanks for reading.


6 thoughts on “Anaconda Pintler Wilderness (Anaconda to Darby)”

  1. Hi Leslie (I checked out your blog), thanks for following along! Glad you’re enjoying the read. Looks like you are on your own adventure right now, best of luck and fun times!

  2. Great reading. Keep us informed re bushfire. We are bike riding around Rottnest Is. Today.

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