Monday, August 1, 2011

Hiking a tiny piece of the CDT

A little over a mile from my cabin is a Forest Service road that snakes and climbs its way up to the Continental Divide, gaining about 2,000 feet over 12 miles.  The road is narrow and rugged, travelling along the edge of the mountains and with a lot of blind turns.

About halfway up.  You can see some of the lower parts of the road in this pic, as the strips of white to the left of center and at the far left.

Near the top, at Schultz Saddle.

The Continental Divide Trail crosses near Schultz Saddle.  I parked and took a short hike of a few miles, out and back.  The early part of the trail is in forest, most of which burned in 2000. 

These wet meadows were snowfields until a few weeks ago.

The bear grass is in bloom.

As are the other wildflowers growing at over 7,000 feet.

As the trail climbed to the east, there were more open views of the surrounding mountains.

CDT sign, marking the 3,100 mile trail that generally follows the Continental Divide from Canada to New Mexico.  Each year a small number of intrepid thru-hikers backpack the entire thing.  

I met three groups of southbound thru-hikers on this day.  They were each happy to stop and talk about their trips, all of which got off to a late start because of the extended winter we had this year.  Now they are just hoping to get past the high country in Colorado before the snow starts again in the fall. Their average days cover between 25 and 30 miles, and their packs weigh between 25-40 lbs, depending on how long it's been since their last resupply.

When I asked about their trips and routes, two of them told me about crossing Interstate 90 at Homestake Pass east of Butte.  I asked if there was a bridge over the interstate there, and one of them said "We could see the road we needed to be on, on the other side of the highway, but the official route would've taken us miles out of the way, so we just jumped the fence near the rest stop there and ran across four lanes of traffic."  The other one added "I think we scared a woman waiting for her son to come out of the bathroom when we popped out of the woods with backpacks on."

Each of the groups was planning to take a break at Chief Joseph Pass and hitch-hike down to town to pick up supplies they had sent ahead.  Three of the guys were going to the Sula Store, but the other group, which was two young couples, planned to hitch-hike all the way to Darby.  "They got a movie theater there?" one of them asked.  Crazy thru-hikers.

The trail was faint to nonexistent in a few places, but CDT hikers build the best cairns I've ever seen.  This has to be the tallest and most tidy cairn in the Northern Rockies.

There's no trail at all here, but the cairns are so well done that when you stand beside one you can usually see the next two in line. There are two cairns in this pic, and I was standing by another.

This is the highest point of my hike.  Still a lot of snow up there.

About three feet deep in places.

Panoramic view from on top of the ridge.

Looking over a snow and talus field toward the Bitterroot Mountains.

The return hike, showing how well the cairns mark the route.  Note the complete lack of any signs of a trail.

On the return trip I met two more thru-hikers headed north.  They were doing the CDT in a  "flip-flop," having started hiking north in Rawlins, Wyoming.  When they get to Canada, they'll take a bus back to Rawlins and walk from there to the southern end of the CDT.  At the start their trip in southern Wyoming they encountered so much snow they had to hike down into a nearby town and buy snowshoes.  "That's a badass trip," I said.  "It was an ass trip," one of them said with a laugh, "as in, it was shitty."  They were still in good spirits for having had such a rough beginning.

The beginning of the drive back down.

The long and winding road.

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