CDT 2012

Continental Divide Trail
(2648m Ley Mileage) or (2741.7m Bear Creek Mileage)

*mileage under-estimated. One's shown below estimated using Ley's


New Mexico (645m):

Crazy Cook, Southern Terminus

I had heard of the road down to Crazy Cook but foolishly disregarded the information on how rutty, rocky, and burly the road can be. Jerry was ecstatic to be out here. Even though he lived in the area he was surprised at how remote we were.

With the truck rocking and jeering he erupted, "We're so far in the toolies that the hoot owls fuck the chickens!" I laughed at this. I was enjoying this ride immensely.

Joe and Jerry were sharing stories of road wars with trucks and rocks and sand. I had a frightful notion of being stuck out here in the toolies if the truck failed or the tires popped. However, we continued on in Joe's reliable and sturdy Tacoma when suddenly Jerry exclaimed, "If the tree holds his bark the likes of this truck'll get up anything!" I chuckled again.

We went further into nothing. The boot heel of New Mexico is utterly empty. The three of us spoke of this desolation, why I was doing this, was I crazy and such. We all were excited about the huge expanse when Jerry broke the truth of what we were probably all feeling: "When the lord musta made this desert, he musta been pissed off!"

Joe turned to him and blurted, "He musta not been too happy that day!"

And I was to walk this big empty.



At the border we were tailed by Border Patrol. We arrived at the monument and they pulled up behind us. The 2 agents questioned me with the usual questions. They even went so far to say they could tell their bosses a very motivated CDT hiker started into the Chihuahua Desert. They checked the sole of my shoes and even commented on my left forearm tattoo of a constellation. Oddly, they did not check or care to document my other obvious tattoos. They did not identify Orion on my arm, they merely stated that it was just a constellation. But 2 days later I would know that they knew of this constellation. On a clear starry night Orion loomed in the western horizon so big it seemed to be cascading like a tidal wave right onto the desert landscape. I swore I could have leapt up into the colossal heavens up above to be side by side with the warrior in the cosmos' trophy case. However, I mortally replied obediently to all their questions. Once they were gone I left the monument into the Chihuahua Desert.


Like I said the place is empty. And to my surprise I ran into 2 big horn sheep hunters from Washington at Sam's water cache. As I approached them the younger hunter placed a hand pistol he picked up from the ground it against his far hip so that I could not see it. Initially leery of me, they soon loosened their guard with slack shoulders and toothy grins. I chatted with them for a few minutes, then they offered me an apple. First trail magic on the first day! I told them of the Mennonite Colony just on the other side of the border. Their land was lush and green. They said they might go there instead of Hachita for Hachita's nightlife is one to behold. After the sarcasm settled they joked they might make a trade for some young Mennonite girl. I told them to offer an apple...

My first night I slept in an empty stuccoed water tank, excellent coverage from the wind which howled incessantly. I awoke the next morning and continued my march of the desert. Most of the trail is cross-country which makes things a tougher go. Throw in that everything is spiky and thorny, hot, and dry then it turns into a real challenge. I lumbered a gallon and a half of water between water sources. Each day I have been out here it has topped 95 degrees and I have not seen a cloud. I try to find places to rest around noon but there is hardly any shade. Shade is never around when you truly need it. Then rambling along a rare section of road 3 police officers motored on ATVs from the other direction. Huh, every person I have met so far has been armed. They were very helpful and less suspicious of me than the Border Patrol agents. They even told me of a hidden trough that held wonderful water.

The boot heel of the desert is so intensely empty and vast that distances that look close are really far, water shimmers from mirages looming in the distance, and all you can think about is water or shade. It straight messes with your head. You follow the CDT markers laid out on the land hoping the wind has not knocked them over. You think you see one and the next moment you don't. They are fairly easy to follow but you have to stay on point; you know the signs lead you to water at some point. I tended to feel like cattle walking from one trough to another within the drudgery of the desert. Cows are good for some things: they clear out smooth, soft ground under trees for a long rest, break, or for the night; they occasional make good paths that allow for easier walking; and they are the only ones to talk to. Nevertheless, the cows can be a basic nuisance: they pollute and make the water wretched to drink; their smaller, dried out cow pies that are ringed in concentric circles look amazingly similar to a coiled rattlesnake causing you to flinch at poop in the early morning coolness; and finally, they are the only ones to talk to.

Today, heading into Lordsburg, I spotted my first clouds in 3 days. They did not choke out the heat but they were beautiful nonetheless. They were like eyelash wisps, daintily applied by a girlish diva, soft to the viewer, all in the azure sky way up high.



Into Silver City:

My great, great grandma grew up in Texas near the Oklahoma panhandle. My granny tells me a story of her. When my granny was just a little girl her granny told her of the Divide. She said if you go on the Divide you die. That was the end of the story. My granny never thought to ask why. When I ask her why she says maybe it is too spooky. I always laugh at this small story, a glimpse into hard, dusty times. I can understand why someone or humans would be afraid of the Divide. The high backbone is sacred to some cultures, seldom visited and scant traces of human existence remain. The Divide has wild animals unaccustomed to human co-habitation, the water is scarce, and the wind howls constantly. It can be very inhospitable and you have to face fears unimaginable.

The CDT itself exemplifies these sentiments. You are on your own. The CDT trail culture is completely opposite of the PCT. There are no trail angels or anybody for that matter, the towns are oblivious to what you are doing, support for the trail seems meager, and a solid, defined trail easily followed does not exist. You truly do not have the secure sense you have on the PCT. Within the first day of leaving Crazy Cook I realized the profundity of the vast emptiness. I understood then that I had to adapt and that my plans were gone in a dust devil swirling across the scorched desert plains. First off, I am not able to hike the way I was when I finished the PCT. I had to start over, hardening my body and mind for the long haul. I have stuck closely to my daily itinerary breaking nearly every hour and drinking water and eating and most importantly resting my charred feet. So, I am moving slower, methodically, with the intention of getting stronger as the trail goes on. I am more focused on hours of hiking than I am on speed or mileage. Both speed and mileage, I believe, are by-products of hours hiking, so the more I condition my self hourly the stronger I get. Secondly, there is no one out here to motivate you. My competitive drive has succumbed, for the moment, for actual survival. You realize soon how self-reliant you have to be. Take, yesterday for instance. I had a 28 mile hike with only one potential water source around mile 17. The day turned into its usual swelter with the need of quenching my thirst became more essential, especially with a 2000ft climb of Burro Peak. The water source was poor, at best. I continued on with 2 liters not taking the canyon the map suggested because I was lured by fresh new singletrack with bright shiny new CDT trail markers. Next thing I know I have only half a liter left and it's getting near dark. The last thing I want is to sleep with no water and then have to trek 12 miles to town without water. Mind you, I am not in the complete boonies here. There were friendly cars that pulled over as I walked the dirt road. I said I was fine, though I was friggin' thirsty. I never asked for water. I had to get out of this myself unless times got truly desperate. I finally reached the highway and saw a house. I was going to ask the owner but as I neared the house I saw him wrenching over his Aerostar minivan wrenching away only wearing his tighty-whities. I kept moving until I found some bungalow owned by the massive Tyrone Mine. I lumbered over the barbed wire fence similar to Andre the Giant stepping over the top rope ringside. I sneaked over to the bungalows under the coverage of mine tailings and dusk. No spigots anywhere but I found an emergency eyewash station and stole water from there. This may seem like a trivial story but it is essential to becoming more resourceful on the CDT. It is the High Lonesome after all. 


 
I imagine 'wilderness' broke down to mean a place full of wilder things, including emotion, senses, animals, spirit, culture, landscapes-- rivers, mountains, terrain, and weather. Wilderness is full of challenges and is a place which pushes us farther.

Not too far away from town I entered the Lower Gila River Canyon. I stood on the canyon floor with my legs from the calves down in the water gazing at a rock promontory that caused the river to horseshoe. Above this protruding rock soared turkey vultures, at least 10 of them, all hovering over something dead, I imagine. Like the river flowing, the 'umph' inside me roared.

Turning up river I trekked, with about every 1/4 mile fording the Gila. I ended up fording the Lower Gila 104 times. And I wasn't even at the Middle Fork yet! Everywhere I looked filled me with wild thoughts and emotion. I was swimming in raw adventure. Across the canyon, on the eastern bank, a ponderosa came crashing down unexpectedly. The noise gave a whoosh of swift air flowing downriver. Suddenly I came upon a sycamore grove.


Now, sycamores are, from what I always thought, an ornamental tree. I always thought they were from another country like the eucalyptus until last year when hiking in Arizona in a faraway gully I found wild ones. Being from L.A. I had only saw sycamores in city parks, people's lawns, and the occasional canyon. But seeing a sycamore grove in the Lower Gila with its white polished bark reminiscent of a giant gleaming bone pumped my blood faster. I stood in the grove looking straight up with the sun rays infiltrating the broad star-shaped leaves making the otherwise green color turn fluorescent. When I break the word 'sycamore' down I come up with 'sick love.' To me a feeling that which is more intense than love. I found another definition of wilderness in 'sycamore.'

The Lower Gila was in spring form big time. All the trees were in complete bright green leaving and signs of wildlife were everywhere. The last 11 miles to Doc Campbell's I followed fresh bear prints, easily a size 10 in the rear foot.

Doused with the sense of the wild I made the post and the German shopkeep handed me my food drop. I ate some homemade coconut ice cream as the shopkeep told me ways of refuge if I should get lost. He also told me of a French gal towing a mule walking her way north. I could not help but envision a young Everett Ruess incarnate dressed in an all khaki outfit with the trousers tucked into sand colored boots, a wide brimmed hat dimpled in the gallon-storage area, and a mule named Chocolate.

I could not help but feel the sudden cold flash as I trundled my way across the first ford of the Middle Fork. Instantly, I surged with the healthy spirit of the canyon; you could feel the heaps of life, both ghostly and nature-like. Within a mile I sensed this canyon was a living memorial. Upward I gazed the steep canyon slopes and spotted ancient dwellings. Entering this Middle Fork was going back into time.

At every bend of the river I was smacked with constant life; spring in full detail. My feet soothed with the cool water as I waded across time and time again. The Gila rejuvenated my hot, seared feet. This canyon heals.



I left the Middle Fork early the next day after having crossed her 169 times. I opened up my stride as I hit better walking conditions. For the next couple of days I went through vast, spacious grasslands and thick pinyon and poderosa pine forests. Up and down I went making more miles each day; in no time I was through the Tularosa Mountains. I rarely saw anyone. I did see a Mexican Lobo, a wolf to the layman. The enormous canine furtively sprinted through the pine-needle forest. Like that, poof, he was gone.

 
I am enjoying my time immensely out here. My thoughts drift to and fro like a Montana homestead in Choteau in the summertime. You know, the one with the huge cottonwood soughing in the breeze in the front yard, a lazy porch, and a clothes line with some shirts here and there, a few trousers swaying gently in the soft wind.

I like to watch the turkey vultures as I trek or sit. I gaze at them soaring in the high thermals, twisting in the phantom twisps of wind, pondering what to take opportune of, for what will continue to give them sustenance to keep them soaring.

Like the turkey vulture, I, too, mainly stay focused at the task at hand.

  
 
From Grants and into Cuba:

I hit the CDT trailhead and before I knew it I stood perched atop Horace Mesa viewing the hulking mass of Mt. Taylor and surrounding San Mateo Mountains. The mesa extends for about 10 miles and gives you a sneak peak at what this section will be like. An easy, gentle hill climb through pinyon, ponderosa, red leaf cedar and juniper, the mesa is what trailrunners dream to mash. With smooth singletrack weaving in and out of forests and grasslands, then topped with the crown of Mt. Taylor, only to turn to mash back down for about a 30 miler, my feet began to get the running itch.

For this section I decided to take the Mt. Taylor route as the official CDT side skirts this beautiful old volcano. From atop the peak I can see the crater. Supposedly, the old volcano erupted some 50,000 years ago akin to what Mt. St. Helens did, of course, with out the human travesty. I believe the lava flung from the perch deposited where El Malpais lays hardened. Also, from the top I could see 100 miles, both north and south, of the CDT route.

Climbing down the highest peak in Western New Mexico (11,301 ft), I headed for American Canyon Spring. This section brings the challenge of finding water through lengthy sections with the most being a long, dry 28 miles. So when I found the spring nestled in a mountain meadow surrounded by large ponderosas and magnificent aspen I gulped water and snuggled up against a rock for some well-deserved rest. After about an hour soaking up the meadow and spring I made my way to another mesa. On my way down to the mesa, I think I solved the mystery behind all the littered empty Bud Light cans strewn about all roads of New Mexico. At a fork in the road, a paper plate stabbed through a branch on a tree had a message scribbled on it:

Myer's
through gate
down road follow
beer cans


What poetry, I thought! Plus, the use for littered beer cans is for people to find their way back. Shit, here, I thought New Mexicans just didn't want to get popped by the police and/or New Mexico doesn't have a recycling program.



The next morning, my simple goal of finding water went underway. I swiftly raced to Los Indios Spring. I found another oasis. At both the springs, I soaked up the scene, for it was so different than what I have seen on trail yet. I recline against a rock, fling my shoes off and prop my feet up on my backpack, and listen to the aspen quiver and shake, the noise resembling a babbling brook; and listen to the hummingbirds flit quickly in the fecund air, whistling high-pitched like the whistles of tequila slingers ramming bottles of agave down your throat in Tijuana.

The end of Chivato Mesa, I descended 1900ft down to the desert floor. I was going to miss the pleasant walking of the cool mesa. The path wended it ways down and around boulders and loose talus. On the way down I could see the valley floor was once a river bottom, the river bed itself white from the salt minerals. I crossed the Arroyo Chico choked with salt cedar, or tamarisk, the scourge of western waterways. I wondered if the reason for no more water in the large arroyo was the salt cedar. This hardy plant is known to suck up water and prevent other native plants, like cottonwoods, from growing in the river bottom. I then wondered if some type of geologic event was the reason for the wrinkled, dry bed. Never no mind, I made my way up out of the desert valley floor towards San Luis Mesa that provided me with views of spectacular Cabazon Peak, which resembled Devil's Tower in Wyoming. That night I found my favorite campsite yet. It lay on a sandstone shelf high up on the mesa overlooking the volcanic pointed mounds and the amazing amalgamations of reds, and greens, and whites of the land.
 

 
Northern New Mexico: 
 
I met Shroomer, WhyNot, Eric, and Blister at Ghost Ranch. After I had a rest at the colorful ranch I pushed on and eventually caught the foursome. We hiked together and moved from one conversation to another, sharing stories and familiar names. This little hiking troupe we had were connected through some point because of the trail, mainly the PCT. I relished in the group hiking and did not push forward, as was my initial plan. The foursome are tough, fast, and hardy hikers, so moving along with them gave me no stress. In fact, I was relieved to not have to navigate and I was very happy to have someone else to talk with on trail. I had hardly walked with anyone else the entire month of May. Together we easily rolled out 27.5m. Relaxed and exhaled, I slept comfortably despite the cold, brittle night.
 
The terrain is vastly different than any we have seen. Aspen are in much greater number and the groves are resplendent in bright lime-green leaves, though some groves are bare due to the massive horde of caterpillars. In some sections of trail, thousands upon thousands, daresay millions, litter the ground, trees, and shrubs. You name it, they are everywhere, an infestation to say the least. Sub-alpine confers are the dominant tree within the elevation sphere we are in. We push upwards of 10,000ft on average and hit alpine tundra grasslands in open areas. Every elk and antelope are glowing with bright newly shaded fur from winter. The luster of their coats mixed with the sun displays the antelope as moving art, a vivid real life. From the heights we are at we can see both Sangre de Cristo ranges in New Mexico and Colorado. Fleeting with rampant patter of heart beat, I stood stunned at the broad vistas of the lowlands and highlands far, far way. At the same time and the first time on the CDT, I now know really where I am at. I can see places I have been before. Even though the wind howled with a mean chill, I gazed afar feeling inspired. 

 
Colorado (677m):
 
Cumbres Pass:
 
 
Leaving Cumbres Pass, climbing higher and higher up, my blood boiled. The grit coursing through my blood clinched my teeth and I had to control my breathing through my nose. I was too excited, too amped. The lofty bumps all around me jolted my heart. Passion, you say, crazy in love with timberline, the alpine tundra. Yes, shit right I am. The Divide weaves and meanders like an inverted river up here. There is no High Lonesome up here. The trail is with you: this stuff, out here, the mighty San Juans, is what we face inside every day. I shudder at the thought of waking up, the rush of this dream is so real, so vividly sensual my skin is prickled.
 
 
High plateaus lay down the path. Snow here and there, not much. Then the mountains jag with craggy peaks, knobby tops, that I round about, circumambulate around ridgelines pointed. The newly snow-free alpine tundra is still a stale brown. A month from now it'll be green as Ireland or the plains of Eastern Montana. The trail narrows down steep drainages with the Adams Fork being the steepest. I pick my way across and down, through the trees, postholing, so I find a semi-hard patch to glissade. Fast, then faster, I slide, almost out of control but dig in the heels to stop about 150ft later. The snow is softer here and I stand up to ski the 200ft down in a v-pointed gulch. Long meadows venture up to the high pyramids. Elk run away from me, keenly aware of my intrusion before I can even spot them. Quickly, they vanish, sprinting their way up steep ascents away from me. It's okay, I yell. Free Dirt, I yell. 

 


I pick a another line to traverse a snow field. This time sun cups are good on angled slopes. I can step on the rims of the sun cups and scamper across football field sized snowfields. Wake up, dirtmonger! Piss off, I shrug. I crave this waking, dreaming moment. Another climb up. No matter, my legs are pistons, like from a churning train. I like the burn, especially at higher altitudes, say 12,500ft. My life is up there; I want to spend 5% of my life up there. I think I am about at 1%. I know that country, I read that country, I mash that country. Wake up, dirtmonger. I haven't much time. I want all that is here in this moment. Nothing lasts forever. But I have the marrow right in under my feet, in my hands. I won't wake up...piss off. I am crazy; you should see it here. Look back up at what you just did, what you came down. Now look up the other side to see what you will climb. The one constant: work, focus... the marrow better be, even after it is sucked dry. I've heard grizzlies pick up cattle corpses and body slam them to the ground with a tremendous force to crack the hard bones to extract the marrow. The Rockies are doing that to me. Or I to them.

 
The San Juans:

From Wolf Creek Pass I hit trail. And lots of it, dirt. The trail was spectacularly built, a true trail dog engineering feat, the track on the right side of the mountain, snow free and clear. I leaped to the front of the group and swiftly moved. My fervent state from 2 days earlier; I was foaming at the mouth. As I neared Hope Peak, I noticed storm clouds. The bowl reverberated with the shockwaves of thunder. I slowed a bit, cautiously, I kept meandering up the switchbacks, a tad skittish, looking around for a safety route in case of lightning. I kept climbing and climbing, my adrenaline pumping. I made the top and the cloud ceiling was now higher than I initially saw. The top was glorious, the storm had moved, sailed on by the top.


The next day, proved to be the toughest day. I hit snow and postholed a lot. I put in work, hard, hard work. The train slowed and puttered. Putt putt putt, then the rain hit. Cold and windy, I kept pushing up and down steep slopes, skittering over snow fields, slicking my way across trail. I needed to keep moving to keep warm. For 4 hours I was assailed by rain and a biting wind. Small hail crystals pelted me. I hiked non-stop, the daunting mountains around me shown their teeth.

The sun finally shone amid a thick veil of clouds and I laid upon a lichen covered rock. I splayed out under the warmth and smiled. In minutes, I dried. In minutes, I slept; napped at 12,000ft I felt cozy. I awoke in half an hour, picked up my grit and sauntered forth. The next challenge was a monster climb and near the top I spied a overhanging cornice directly where the trail went. I climbed and climbed, up and up, to see the cornice swallow trail. No footprints anywhere. I saw a rock formation with 15ft of cornice above tilted less than the other parts of the cornice. I made an athletic move to ascend the rocky outcrop, then kicked footholds, and carefully plodded my way to the top of cornice where I then danced over compact snow to dirt and rock.


Than night I stopped hiking early due to howling winds and low clouds. Plus my feet were sopping wet and frozen. I needed to get warm. But I felt proud of the work I put in that day-- a slugging 23 miles.

The next morning, my socks frozen and shoelaces stiff, I groaned out of my tarp at 7am and sluggishly hiked on. Suddenly, the day and trail opened up. The sun blazed and the snow vanished. If there was snow it was minimal and of no real concern. Now, I just had to deal with ascent and descent after ascent and descent. I felt to be in an ultra-running race, the course ahead of me laid out like one. My experience in the area drove me to push harder. This is why I love the mountains. The harder it gets, the more I want of it.
 



Along a 12,500ft ridgeline I saw the Rio Grande Pyramid. Looming over the San Juans, the behemoth stood like an obelisk paying tribute to the harsh landscape. Next to the pyramid opened up a window on a knife ridge. The window gaped open like space between 2 skyscrapers. I pulled up a rock and leaned back looking up at my scenery. I marveled at the sight, this being the highlight of the section.
 

I made more hilly miles. I must've climbed 20,000ft total that day, up and down. The western San Juans were more ominous, as my western swing turned northward. The spires and teeth appeared grumpy and irascible, like they did not want to be trod upon. I felt to be swimming with sharks with the pointy fins and spiky summits swirling around me in hyperphagia. I felt like Doc Rivers for the 80s Atlanta Hawks looking up at the frontline of the 80s Boston Celtics, with Bird, McHale, and Parrish, knowing I was never going to win. A helpless, vulnerable feeling engulfed me but at the same time energized me. Strengthened, I mashed on and camped in a cirque with shrubs encircling my tarp and the peaks glaring down on me. I made 29m.


The morning, I groggily unzipped my tarp and the slight breeze whipped frost into my face. Ah, the cold; it wakes you up. The snow lessened even more though the trail became insanely steeper. I stayed above timberline the whole day, right where I am supposed to be.

I hit a dirt road at Stony Pass and a surreal feeling sunk within me. A hollow cavern filled my gut with a smack-dabbed feeling of no-where. And it felt good. I felt a part of something, just knowing that people, humans, take this road.

The rest of the way to Spring Creek Pass kept me in awe. I even camped at 13,000ft, my best campsite so far. I was stunned at every turn at my landscape unfolding in front of me. In amazement, I kept saying to myself: "This is the prettiest, most harshest place I have ever seen."




Cochetopa Hills:
 
It seems so long ago, the San Juans gone. I stood on top of Snow Mesa, the 12,000ft broad tableland, and like a kid looking up from his crib I could still see the Rio Grande Pyramid hovering over the rugged range like a mobile. The pyramid acted as the crux of the mobile while all the other mountainous trinkets rotated and floated around the hulking mass. In an instant, I was filled with wonder at the stark contrast of the Pyramid's balance of harsh beauty with the spirit of innocence it instilled within me. 



Excited to start this section, I made easy miles over the mesa, rolling along the high table with the giant peaks of the La Garita Mountains peeking down on me. I was filled with emotion and my spirit soared. Usually, not a big fan of birthdays, that day seemed different for me. I think it related to the overall theme of the CDT to me: I feel like this is my trail, my special thing I am doing and I have an incredible sense of ownership over it. I thought of my granny singing happy birthday to me and my momma's wishes. I looked all around me, the mountains peaked and cragged and I zoomed along feeling like a child.


Then the trail suddenly changed. San Luis Peak stood aloft north of me but the trail went down the Cochetopa Creek drainage. I opted for the drainage and meandered down trail, lower and lower I went, into a different life zone and mindset. It was a welcomed changed and then the forest turned red and ashen. Pine needles littered the forest floor in a rainbow of dead colors, like a slow moving earth fire low to the ground the forest floor was speckled with embers. I looked around me, the forest was dead. Beetle kill decimated the upper basin of Cochetopa Creek. I turned blue as the forest turned red and ashen. This went on for miles and my sadness went away as I dealt with the reality. I knew this was happening, but, shit, this was bad, worse than I thought. 




Monarch Crest to Copper Mountain:

I ventured into this next section feeling energetic socially. The feeling tied into mountains as I trailed rail and mining paths through the Sawatch Range. Remnants of peoples pasts and a working legacy seemed petroglyphed in memorium among the sharp craggy rock walls, old fire rings, and ancient cabins. This part of the CDT was a walk through an American Frontier. 

I went high and low and found evidence of humans from the past. It made the hard walking easier. I made Tin Cup Pass following a winding 4wd road and stood breathless looking at Mirror Lake and mountains beyond. The next pass put me in full view of Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and I knew I was close to Twin Lakes.


I couldn't sleep that night. I tossed and turned and the night got really, really cold as I slept in a basin under the Three Apostles. I got up a couple of times to try and relieve pressure. I ended up sleeping a bit but when first light grew upon the morning sky my legs got to itching to climb and mash. Up up and around and finally I stood perched on the first pass of the day. I scampered down talus and scree around the massive cornice hanging on the north side of the pass to hit rocky trail. Once I hit solid alpine dirt, I flew downhill at a trot. Long stride after long stride until I hit the Huron Peak trailhead. I took a rest and realized I was tired, exhausted in fact. Lack of sleep and the onslaught of the chili-cheese dogs at the Monarch Crest Store the day before took their toll and I slowly plodded along until Sheeps Gulch trailhead.


Sheeps Gulch trail is probably one of the steepest section of trail we have to climb on the whole CDT. In fact, the trail climbs to Hope Pass which is a major obstacle in the Leadville 100, which is one of the toughest running races in the world, maybe the most. I climbed and climbed with the uneven, rocky trail sometimes inclining to 30, 40 degree pitch. I breathed laboriously, stopping twice in the first mile. I needed some motivation. Then I got it. I spotted a trail runner high above me clambering up hill. Awesome, now I got a rabbit to chase! I kicked up gears and the legs got to mashin'. Mashin' in all sense of origins. My buddy and I, many moons ago, related cranking uphill on a mountain bike as to mashin' potatoes with a hand crank. So, when I made the switch from mountain bike riding to trailrunning I used the same term. Flat ground does not do nice to my feet, downhill I tend to favor my knees and rock un-smoothly down, but uphill...I mash, always have been, that's my specialty. So, when I saw that rabbit, my competitive fire grew and grew. My crosshairs went into Sarah Connor mode and I pumped and cranked until I overtook him. I breathed heavily and deeply trying to quell shortness of breaths while controlling my breathing from the diaphragm. At 13,000ft the air lacks oxygen and I felt 2 breaths, 1 breath away from never breathing again. I tried to control the pumping but the thin air stole my air; I gasped, I felt light-headed. And I felt happy, I felt exhilarated! What a feeling to think that you may be one breath away from your last! The lack of oxygen put me on an edge and I wanted to cross it, to go farther, harder, to mash more more more. Near the top switchbacks, that little rabbit tried to run---I caught him. My stride and drive too much, even with a backpack on. 
 

The climb up Kokomo Pass, a 2,500ft climb, went as planned. For some reason I felt sluggish and wobbly. My head swooned with heat and my shoulders ached. Why, suddenly, was this happening? I fumed within, infuriated that I was not climbing with my usual vigor. I rested for 20 minutes until I gritted my teeth and focused on the climb.

I eventually made the pass but felt like I was going to pass out. Mentally, I assessed my body, my condition, and my situation. The wind howled up high in the alpine as the trail kept winding its way up to near 13,000ft. The cold wind took my breath away and the fever in my head grew; I just wanted to sleep. I kept pushing on with my mouth becoming so, so dry. I was becoming dehydrated and very cold and I did not know why. Something was messing with me I could not see. I laid down in a small, rocky gully and looked up at the bulk of clouds coming in. Rock chucks whistled around me as I fell asleep for 20 minutes. I knew this could be a bad situation with storm clouds hovering close over head but I just had to sleep. My head, my throbbing head felt to be ballooning, expanding greater in size and heat. I woke up after the nap and pushed along the high traverse of the high basin until I hit Searle Pass. With swallowed grit I forced myself down hill. I had not eaten in hours but felt no appetite. I forced down water though I wanted to spit it out. I labored and lumbered my way down hill until I hit the ski slopes of Copper Mountain. 

I sat against a tree feeling deflated. I refused to believe something was wrong with me so I pushed on a couple more miles. I was under the goal-driven mind state of staying the course. The more I walked the more I stumbled. I zigzagged left and right. My head saw double. I arrived at the gondola only to have the throbbing bass drum of a classic rock cover band enter my dome. The pulse of the drum penetrated into my cranium and I staggered more. I pushed through the gondola under I found coverage behind a golf course storage shed. I set up my tarp and called my buddy Drew. My heart and gut wanted to climb of the range the next morning. I could not be that sick, could I!? Drew provided me with a sound board and urged me to assess how I feel in the morning before making a stupid decision. In fact, he stressed me to take a day off. I knew he was right but I wanted to fight. Plus, I did not want to day an unplanned day off 10 miles before I planned on getting more food. Couldn't this invisible menace wait! I was frustrated with the fact that I felt so good hours earlier and now something unknown put me down.


I had the most fitful night of sleep I had had in years. I had not felt this way on trail since I had salmonella in '07 while attempting the PCT. I had learned from that lesson. I woke up feeling shitty but thinking, believing, I would go up and over the Ten Mile Range. The first 1/4 mile I hiked I felt determined  to make it but the swelter of heat in my head took over and I began to stumble. Thankfully, I knew the area after having working or passing through here in the winter so I walked to the bus stop and took a free bus ride to Frisco where the hotels were cheaper. The bus driver looked me over and asked about my condition. I must of looked like shit. Instead his question went from how I felt to how I looked. He blurted out, unexpectedly, how he lived out of his car for the passed 6 months. I am not sure where this came from but I assume he thought I was homeless. I guess that is how bad I looked. I closed my eyes listening to him and obliging his questions until my stop came. I checked into a motel as oblivious as possible. I slept in the dark motel room feeling invisible. Something inside was eating the outside. My body ached but darkness felt good.


From Copper Mountain to Wyoming:

 


The view from the top of the Ten Mile Range was stupendous. I felt very relieved to be up top though my head hurt slightly. Focused, I sprinted passed other hikers and bikers going up. I took a rest halfway down and realized that I so happy to be on trail but I was really, really grumpy and anti-social. I just wanted the trail to myself. That's not me and I understood that even though I felt good to be on trail I was still a tad ill. But I felt good enough when I hit the highway leading to Breckinridge. I pushed on.

I climbed up until I hit the actual Divide on broad, grassy hilltops. The wind howled and I set up camp at 12,500ft feeling of sound mind and body. I hardly slept at all that night with the wind furiously flapping my tarp. Around 3am my stomach cramped and that kept me up as well. The morning sunshine filled my tarp around 5am and I rolled over but was suddenly spurred to erupt from my tarp with my stomach hurting immensely. I took care of what I needed to do and slowly ambled back to the tarp feeling disappointed. I had another symptom of the flu, or so I thought. 



I gutted my way over peak and ridge lines while my stomach, the my head ached. The wind violently shoved itself on to me forcing me to be constantly leaning into it. My hands and face were bitingly cold but I was up for the fight. I hit a pass that provided me with 2 options. I decided since I felt like crap to take the lower option because of my condition and the Divide had no water. I dirt road walked down the upper Snake River valley, passed the quirky mountain town of Montezuma, until I hit the trailhead for Peru Creek. Sitting alongside Peru Creek having lunch, I felt better. I felt I could manage the nearly 3,500ft climb up to Grays Peak. Plus, I knew that if I couldn't I could always walk back down to the trailhead and into the town of Keystone.

I slowly made my way to Argentine Pass trailhead. A long, gradual climb, I kept my head focused on the ground trying to conserve all mental and physical strengths for the slug up Grays. I hit Horseshoe Basin, took a break, and felt nervous. My head still swooned with a fever but I was not going to stop this climb over something that was invisible. Deep, deep, down inside I earnestly hoped for me to vomit or to crap my pants so I would actually see physical evidence of illness. I told myself I would keep going until I something happened.

I know, I know... not that smart. But now I was relying on my guts and I knew the grit would get me up to the lofty peak. I believed it; this was a big hurdle for me and I was not backing down from it. 
 
The trail up the 14er was hardly that. The trail was basically a goat path and a mountaineer's route. Mind-grudgingly slow I picked my way up the scree and blocky boulders. Up and up I went, my guts taking over. ,I was in for a fight but the higher I went the better I began to feel. Finally, I crested the mount and stood in amazement at the stunning views. I found a father and teenage daughter hunkered in a rock shelter. I clambered over to them and sat among them. This was their first 14er. Together they conquered the rocky mount and they did not come up the easy way like every other weekend hiker. The father, George, could not wrap his head around what I was doing. He looked at me in a befuddled way, perplexed at why I would take in such a task. My explaining of my expedition failed to pay rightful homage to such a romantic endeavor. I remember thinking that I wish Shroomer was there to explain why we thru-hike. After a long and friendly 30 minutes we parted ways. They went back down their goat path and I hit the zigzag of switchbacks. 



If you haven't been on an alpine ridge line while cold gusts of 50mph are hitting you then you are missing out in life. First the wind shoves you with a brutish might, sometimes tripping your legs together and clipping your trekking poles. If things were not attached to you they would be gone into the abyss. The cold of the wind stings yours eyes. Sunglasses provide relief but not complete protection. They become raw and dry and you can feel your pupils tingle. Your nose turns numb and frigid. Snot freezes and you constantly sniffle with nothing really to sniff because your mucous is frozen. Your fingertips turn numb. You can barely freely your hands gripping the trekking pole. Though with no wind it may be 60' the wind chill makes it 40' or colder. Mind you, the gusts of the invisible menace only hit you from one side. So, the one side, it may be your left, is constantly being hit with the barrage of icy wind. Your ears becoming trapped in a wind cave, the sound of the ululations screaming in your ear take days to get over. You enter the 'paincave.'

I marched determinedly and stubbornly through the maelstrom on a high ridge line. This was my fight now and the wind made a bad mistake messing with me. After 2 hours of the barrage I motioned my left hand to give me more. Bring it! I grunted loudly and blurted out pissed off phrases. I even passed a mountain goat which stopped me for a brief second. We stood staring at each other recognizing a good beard when we see one. He jumped over the rock edge and I slammed my feet to trail. I mashed on and soon I yelled at the wind. "You ain't gettin' me today, you son of a bitch! I ain't gettin' broke!"

The battle went on all day until I hit Berthoud Pass. I rested there leaning against Continental Divide sign and breathed deeply. Not matter how the day would end I felt I won the day. I pulverized the fever into submission and embraced the wind. The only way to know your opponent is to clench him; sense and touch and grapple the wind with a vicious but loving embrace. Never let it go.

I walked out of Grand Lake and slugged up a dirt road until I hit Blue Ridge. Splendid, high alpine trekking, I snaked my way across 12,000ft peaks until I hit Bowen Pass. The actual Divide even decided to make its way southward. This did not bother me much for it was small southerly mileage. But when I hit Illinois Pass and lumbered down Trout Creek, then back up to Willow Creek Pass only to climb up to 12,000ft Parkview Mountain. I pondered with anger why the trail is so adamant to stick to the Divide while other times so quick to stray from it. Sometimes there is nice singletrack smoothly contouring within 500ft of the Divide and the next section will have super-steep trail going straight up a ridgeline scarring the grassy hillside to barren dirt. Plus, the latter described trail could have easily been contoured and dug out beneath the Divide. This section, between Grand Lake and Steamboat Springs, provided variety in terrain but lacked in integrity of trail. The last 30 miles or so went from dirt road to paved, all off the Divide. I gritted my teeth, realizing this section put the hiker in limbo between what we could be hiking (the Divide) and what we could be hiking (paved roads).

 
From Steamboat Springs, I strode upon Buffalo Pass with a new emerging nagging injury. I took a long break. My right heel bottom became inflamed out of no where. I knew it was plantar fasciitis. I continued on that day as the pain became more intense. I began thinking of a multitude of scenarios. What to do? What is going to happen? etc.

Thoughts swirled in my head, I could not escape them. Luckily, the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area did its best job to distract me. The boulder strewn range looked like an old drunk man's face. Pockmarked with pink boulders and complemented with dry, scuffed alpine grass areas that resembled a rough beard. The trail stayed relatively flat and lily ponds speckled the mountains. That evening I laid in my tarp tent, the wind whipping up at times, and stretched my heel while looking at the smoke-hazed sunset from the tarp flap. The sun appeared like a near planet getting closer and closer as it set behind the western horizon.
The second day, my pain became worse as did the smoke. I did not know where the smoke was coming from. I knew from the West, but where? My immediate concern was my heel. Every step I felt a needle jab from the bottom up into my heel as I landed. My mind harped over the injury and the hiking became strenuous even though the terrain was rather easy. I went from the high Zirkels into the lower Sierra Madres. I then was walking through forest cover. Dead pines afflicted by the pine beetle were the main eyesore. Half of the forest seemed to be affected and I thought about a forest fire and all the other fires going on. Devastation loomed at just a spark.


The next morning I decided on a different approach. I would walk with my normal gait but decrease pace and mileage. I decided to manage the pain rather than fight through it. In my initial exiting of the tarp I thought there would be no way of hiking. My foot felt to be swollen and in a concrete boot. I gloomily broke camp and began walking. Surprisingly, within a 1/2 mile the pain subsided to a manageable pain and soon enough I was able to move with my normal gait albeit slower. I took more rests. I entered the Huston Park Wilderness where long green meadows and parks dominated the upper reaches. The temperature warmed up and the pain in the heel decreased. I sat on the edge of a Huston Park meadow and listened to about 50 elk in the forest across the meadow make playful noises amongst each other. The noise soothed me and my mind went into acceptance of the injury.

That night I laid down with still the same goal of completing the CDT but I might have to do it differently: slower. 11,000ft Bridger Peak sat aloft above me and I wondered if this would be the last time on trail I would be this high. The cool breeze calmed me as I felt a proud tired.

 
Wyoming (475m): (pics. for the Wind Rivers and YNP lost)
 

We all walk our own trail. Yet, every so often, other trails, or human wavelengths, intertwine and cross to spawn a connection. In the armpit of Wyoming (Rawlins) in the library, in walks Lint. He finally caught me. A gregarious hiker, Lint will charm a rattlesnake. I admit I was a little taken aback by his friendliness and outward-ness, especially after hiking alone for 2 months. But after spending lunch with him and a quick walk back to the motel I knew I would like him. We decided to hike on together but I needed to nurse my nagging heel injury a bit longer. Eventually, I moved on into the desert basin of Wyoming.


I looked east and south across the basin at the dark, ominous clouds swallowing the stark landscape. The panorama made me feel like I was in the bottom of the ocean. I stared into deeper waters while small bare hills looked like the ocean floor. I swam underwater northward feeling submerged in shadows. I marveled at the shade of the basin from lofty thunderheads. A lone headlight suddenly shone from afar down the lonely, straight dirt road. It looked so close but the motorcycle took about 10 minutes to reach me. A young man stopped, took off his opaque goggles and said, "Them horses been botherin' ya?" I looked where his eyes pointed and I saw a small herd of wild horses. I said, "Nah. Though 2 horses got close to me and were flirtin' with each other. Nothin' much else." He said, "Alright," nodded and headed south. I sauntered on when the 2 horses from earlier came surprisingly close to me, say 20 feet. They had been running in a wild frenzy teasing and taunting each other. The roan would lure the male in lashing her tail in his face. Then the stallion would abruptly gallop forward to show his strength and his craving. They stopped and looked at me with savage curiosity. With a swish of their manes, they sprinted away from me.

 

The next day was more of the same, both in mental drifting and scenery. The basin was surprisingly cool with the looming nimbus clouds floating quickly through the sky. I took road after road, the CDT taking a more direct route. Miles were easy and my heel was really tolerable over the terrain. The trail gently climbed up Coyote Creek. Cattle slowly moped their way across the drainage heading for muddy ponds. The headwind blew fiercely in my face and I kept my head on the road in front of me. Every once in a while I would look up. I spotted a fast moving herd on the horizon above me. Wild horses roared powerfully towards me. About 40 horses kept getting closer and closer. My head now held high despite the howling wind. They seemed to be galloping with no direction in mind. They weaved around each other, some jumping some galloping, their frizzy manes blowing forward along their long nose. They, unbelievable to me, came within 30 feet of me, all 40 of them. I saw their wild free spirit burn from the eyes. They shook their neck to blow their mane out of their face. Their savage independence invoked a puissance that was unfathomable to me. I felt an unexplainable strength, a surge, with this encounter. The herd snorted and neighed at me, some were stomping the ground making the dirt cloud around them. The herd as quickly as they came left back from where they came. They stormed across the basin desert and zoomed over a far hill. My pace quickened in their direction though I knew I would never see them again.


I made another 38 that day and camped along the Sweetwater River. In the cool morning, I made my way to South Pass City. In a daze I walked into the museum of a town following the path of settlers who took the Oregon Trail. From the mercantile store stood Lint on the wooden porch. He yelled "DIRT!!" I rose my arms and walked on in. We were to walk the Winds, together.


The Winds stretch for about 120m with the CDT traversing about 90m of the range. The Winds have been in my mind since last September. The Winds are notoriously beautiful and some say reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada. Some even say they are the highlight of the CDT. I have had opportunities to hike the Winds before, as I used to live so close, but I never followed through on those opportunities because in the back of my mind I wanted to wait to experience the Winds while I hiked on through the CDT. The Winds have always fascinated me because of the mountain man lore that is associated with them. The settlers who caravanned through South Pass City on their way to Oregon were led by these mountain wanderers who mostly came out of the Winds. I think of what they did with the settlers as the job I would want most in life, especially back then: guiding people through unknown lands and mountains.

I could not believe the traverse of the Winds was now underfoot.

We woke early the next day and hit singletrack in no time. We entered the Bridger Wilderness and the trail disappeared the higher we went and it was advantageous to have another experienced hiker navigating through tough terrain. Suddenly the Winds struck your view with impressive heights as sheer granite sprouted up from massive cirques thousands of feet vertical forming jagged, intimidating peaks and pinnacles. Light reflected off the snowmelt slicking down the rock faces. Now I saw the High Sierra resemblance and it was hard to keep my focus on the task of hiking. I just wanted to sit and stare upward until my neck hurt.

We kept at the hard work of trekking but hardly realized the strains of the task as the beauty of the mountains boggled your mind. This beautiful distraction even got your mind off the horrendous mosquitoes. Clouds of the swarmed all around and kept us moving swiftly. If we stopped for too long we would get eaten and jabbed ferociously from the tiny terrors. We walked until sunset and after I tallied up the day we realized we walked 30m through some of the toughest terrain we have had yet on the CDT. In fact the next 3 more days we pushed 30's
.

The next morning, more easy trail emerged. This section of trail, other than the Divide Basin, is the easiest of trail yet on the CDT. We were able to mindlessly walk through beautiful, signed country. Soon we made it to the Parting of the Waters in which a jut of rock split Two Ocean Creek in two and a sign signified the split with some 3000m to the Atlantic Ocean and some 1400m to the Pacific. We took a quick break and a liter from the creek in a quiet respectful manner. I pondered my travels along the Divide. No other thought of 'Oceans' made any sense till now. I felt to be in many places at once, far apart but connected.

The thunderheads opened up as we ambled across boundaries into Yellowstone National Park. We were a bit ahead of schedule that the park officials had for us. So, we sat at Fox Creek Patrol Cabin waiting for a ranger to show up to talk about changing our camps. For 2 hours we waited and no one came. We decided to push on figuring the rangers would be understanding of our 'thru-hiker condition.' It is very difficult for us to plan an exact itinerary with our mode of travel. We pushed on and made 35m that day. At the end of the day we found clear signage pointing CDT-ers in the wrong direction. But no matter, we found our way...

The morning was laden with dew and we walked through large meadows of willows which sopped us wet much more than any rain storm could. The willows made for frustrating travel but we loosened our teeth when we saw Heart Lake back dropped under Mt. Sheridan. The country around us showed its splendor as we walked along the shoreline and eventually traversed a meadow along Witch Creek with fumaroles and vents showing steamy violence from the depths below the ground we were trampling on.
 
Montana (851m):
 
From Yellowstone NP:
 

My CDT route altered upon meeting and deciding to hike with Lint. I am enjoying myself rambling along side the pesky whirlwind known as Lint. We make the forest echo with uproarious laughter while at the same time mashin' miles. My stress level has decreased and I became open to alternate routes. After all, this is the CDT. You make it what you want it to be. If I hiked the CDT every year for the rest of my life, every time would be different. There is no traceable route, especially with Lint.

We chose the Mack's Inn route which consisted of every veritable trail imaginable. We trekked quickly over dirt roads, mashed through wide singletrack, bushwhacked crosscountry over steep hillsides, staggered through disappearing trail in meadows and forests, and followed fence line. We also ambled through towns which enhanced our trail experience because having that opportunity is so rare on this trail. Sitting outside a mobile taco truck in Sawtelle with some locals we relaxed and stuffed our face with Indian tacos.


Up in the Centennials I could see the pointy Tetons jutting up like a sprung bear trap in the Southeast, I spied the Madison and the Henry's Fork Mountains to the North along with the Gravelly and Snowcrest Ranges slightly West; in the Northwest sprouted the Pioneers and Beaverhead. I was know in familiar country after having lived in Montana for some years. This moment of reflection humbled me as the beginnings of courage and independence were borne with Big Sky Country. I stood up from my break feeling tall.


The days flew on by like the sun casting a shadow under the leaves of an aspen tree. Before you know it, your trance from the sun and trembling leaves takes you from one side of the tree to the other; the days passed. My heel flared up with the most pain I have had since before Rawlins. I sucked it up figuring it would get better. We met Freebird, a southbounder, who told amazing stories of past through hikes with such tremendous energy I thought I was hiking with Shroomer again. Freebird told us a heart-rendering but savage story of James Fair, one of the founding members of Hell's Angels and Hiker Town in the Mojave Desert along the PCT. When he stumbled into Hiker Town many years ago Fair let him use water on the property only after answering a question: What is the most misconstrued word in the English language? Freebird guessed right, though intimidated, with 'love.' Fair gave him rough but good hospitality and told cowboy poetry. Fair even went to the depths of the human soul and back again with frightening stories of his past. Fair came to believe in 'love' as what should be truly believed in in our existence. The transformation of Fair was passed down to Freebird and now he relayed this amusing and heartfelt message to us on a green, thickly grasses hillside overlooking the penumbra of time passing below us in the form of clouds shaped by wind.

The CDT climbed near the Divide but never quite got to the spine in the heart of the Beaverhead. We got close enough to see the massive Divide headwall layered with striations of dim and gloomy rock. The layers amalgamated like the cultures within a vast metropolis. Blacks mixed with grays and tannish-whites; crusty browns stacked within opaque yellows; red-dark maroons mingled with rusty blues. The gloomy headwall appeared brighter with the flower fields below. The bright yellows of the flowers gleamed under the diversity of rock above making the stone humanity hopeful.



Bitterroot  and Anaconda Pintler Mountains:

In the late, lonesome-looking evening, we scuttled across the Divide feeling the isolation creep away as we marveled aloud at ominous clouds light up with electricity across the vast valley in Idaho. Nimbus clouds moved in like large battleships across a stormy and rocking sea. We set up out shelters preparing for the worse but nothing major happened. Only the white sparkling of lightning lit up the insides of out tarps while the rolling thunder frolicked within our cavernous bodies. We slept silently while the world boomed all around us.

We entered the Bitterroot Mountain range moving quite effortlessly through well-maintained trail. We camped at Gladstone Pass after night-hiking under a quasi-full moon. The moonlight reflected off the soft colored rock. Even in the darkness the rock looked pink and yellow. The sun fell into the horizon in an orange ball of flame that sent the spindrift of fire soaring for miles in the sky above. I saw Lint ahead of me silhouetted on the craggy mountain and snapped a photo of him mashing through the fiery darkness looking like a Swiss yodeler.



The bugs are gone. So we walked without nuisance through the spiky mountain range passing under the broad flanks of Homer Young Peak. We had 3 30m days in a row walking on some of the cleanest, most fun trail of the CDT yet. We camped 10m shy of Chief Joseph Pass and as I laid in my tarp I realized I went over the 2100m mark. In the morning we clambered up steep ridgeline that seemed contradictive to the wonderful trail we just trampled on.

 
Riding back to Chief Joseph Pass in the bed of an old Chevy truck the Big Hole Valley opened up. The panorama showed the Beaverhead to the south, the Anaconda Range to the north, with the Bitteroots nestled in between. The Big Hole Valley, also known as the Land of 10,000 Haystacks, was sunken in with purple haze from surrounding wildfires. My spirit lifted as the road rose back to the heights of the Divide, for the Anacondas, I had heard from living in Montana, are a rugged, sharp and beautiful range.

We hopped out of the truck bed springing our trekking legs back to life. We read another sign about Lewis and Clark. Rather than think of a Lewis and Clark quote I thought of a Chief Joseph quote and celebrated his life with the honor of walking a part of the path he walked:

'Let me be a free man -- free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself -- and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.'



Into the Anaconda Pintlers we stomped, free. The trail leveled out on the Divide and we mashed out miles in a flurry. We ambled through a burn area from some years back. This is one of the largest of burn areas I have walked through on the CDT. I relished in the veracity of the land as the burn exposed and eroded layers of forest once hidden from view. The land lay bare and the dirt spread freely.
 


The Bob Marshall Complex:

Trail in this section stayed near the Divide easily molded over the lay of the like soft bumps. Trail contoured just beneath the ridge proper, however, the signage in the area was either superb or non-existent or ridiculously misleading. Lint and I talked aloud of the blatant errors misleading hikers in wrong directions. Some signage looked to be 15 years old while new trail appeared to be within a 5 year range. I think what has been most annoying about the hike is the inconsistency. But whenever I get frustrated I find ways to alleviate stress, i.e. walking different alternates and routes. With this trail, flexibility is the most important factor in enjoying yourself. I tried to ignore the errors and focus on how thankful I still am for being out here. Thankfully, Lint and I have each other to vent our frustrations.

In Anaconda, I had heard of a forest fire burning in the Benchmark area in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The CDT is in the direct path of the fire and Benchmark Ranch is a major re-supply point for us. Never no mind until we have to make decisions in Helena. Again, flexibility.


Near the end of our middle day, we meandered down easy-grading switchbacks signed with misleading posts and blazes. The day had been long but not tough. 36m, I believe. At the bottom of the switchbacks at a poorly marked post and blaze, Lint snapped and ripped the sign off the post. From this point on no more misleading of hikers. He grabbed a football sized boulder and began smashing the sign into splinters. I watched casually thinking he's acting on his frustrations. I turned and walked downhill with the echoes of the broken blaze flowing violently through the forest. Whack, whack....whack. The sound brought a call to trail, to paths uninterrupted by notions of neglect or ignorance. I am sure many thru's have felt the same way. I am kind of glad he did what he did. At times, the CDT is disgraced by the lack of respect or care of it. The trail is now in even more dire straits as the CDTA went defunct earlier this year. Who is to protect the trail, to keep our human interactions alive? I asked myself this question as we tip-toed across Ontario Creek. I feel as a thru-hiker it is our responsibility to preserve this culture. At least Lint proclaimed his actions in honor of trails, fighting for his way of life. Lint followed me across still venting his frustrations in a whirlwind tirade. I listened.


The rock changed, the mountains morphed from seemingly endless heaps of rounded, molded dirt hills to limestone cliffs studded with sedimentary rock. Huge escarpments fell off into precipitous abysses below us, the alpine trees shrunk, and the wind whipped; we were small in the world again.
The terrain unveiled its top, pointed conical peaks to us as we moved along the spine of the continent. In the evening, a blue, purple haze sunk within the layers of mountains like 2 cold hands in winter wrangled around each other with the knuckles revealing the topographic lines of raw, blue skin. Different shades of blue, some dark some light, infiltrated layer upon layer of tree lined ridges. Fire was in the air throughout the thick horizons of hazy landscapes. No matter what, we pushed onward.


Caribou Peak stood like a sentinel over the wilderness baring witness to our remote baptism of isolation. I admired in jaw-dropping amazement the pointed peak of Caribou. Around its saddle and down a rock-dammed basin where water no longer flowed, the spiked peak revealed its massive escarpment. The setting sun shone in alpenglow upon the rock canvas premiering a motion picture to my walking imagination. We camped on a fire-scarred saddle of Bighorn Lake that held underneath a 90 degree wall that plunged into the lake's depths.

We awoke early the next morning and soon met Swami, an Aussie thru hiker who is hiking 14,000m in 18 months while in the states. It was refreshing to talk with another thru-hiker with similar styles, philosophy, and gear as Lint and I. We all had sub-8 pound packs but my pack dwarfed the 2 smaller ones of the others with more miles on their legs.


The CDT fell into the Dearborn River drainage and our strides opened up with the flat terrain. The sky appeared less smoky than the prior few days and we thought of pushing through a nuked zone but thought otherwise. The mountains can hide very many things from a common eye. At Welcome Pass we started our detour towards Benchmark Ranch avoiding the heart of the fire zone. We zigzagged down Jakie Creek, eventually climbed Petty Creek and took a saddle up and over into the Benchmark Corridor where we dirt road walked 10m into the ranch under the cover of darkness. We were unsure of our detour being technically 'legal' under the guise of a proper USFS forest detour route but we felt confident in our decision and route after talking in person to the fire dude at the Helena Ranger Station. Either way, we wanted our hike in to be covert and quick and safe. Along the road, we saw 3 large truck hauling hotshot crews heading towards the plains; a good sign. We waved at them as is we were supposed to be there and they waved back as if they expected us. At Benchmark we scoured our packages with our hungry eyes and headlamps with our lights flickering off plastic wrappers. We had enough food for the long stretch into East Glacier. We had cranked out 36m and laid down on the dark porch of the ranch for a restful sleep. With the fire danger gone we breathed a smoke-free air of relief.


As the sun rose in the Benchmark Corridor, we scurried around the porch filling our food bags. We had a long haul of 130m into East Glacier. We would enter the Bob Marshall Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48. The area is legend for horse travel, wildlife, and primitive living. I have been awaiting this section the whole way from Mexico, especially after hearing about the 'Bob' complex when I lived in Montana.

We eventually walked away from the ranch and entered the wilderness at a sign 3m or so from the end of the road. We ambled down the South Fork drainage of the Sun River through thick stands of lodgepole pine, in which most of the forest was afflicted with pine bark beetle giving the stands a mixed color of dark gray and dark pine-green. We went deeper into the wilderness at a trail junction that pointed us west up into the West Fork drainage. There, at the crossing, a large bridge spanned the West Fork. Swimming holes swirled from the ledges of rocks beneath the bridge. Lint immediately blurted out that he wanted to dip in as soon as we stepped onto the bridge. I decided to push onto to the next drinkable, shady water source as he went swimming.

The day turned hot, the heat pressed down on us through giant burned areas leaving stone-like totems of silver trees. The standing carcasses of trees gleamed with the sun's reflection and heat waves simmered off their trunks taking me into my imagination of what it must of been like here, this place, burning in an inferno. The drainage must have seemed like hell with the river boiling like a cauldron and the trees torched with flames hundreds of feet in the air. I imagined animals charred, burnt in their footsteps, standing in black frozen in time. I sat under what shade I could find from a few sparse live trees waiting for Lint. Within a half an hour he made my rest spot. He walked down the trail with his shirt off and had a smile on his face looking re-born. With his baptism in the Sun River complete, I thought he had been 'saved.' I looked deeper west and spotted a huge, polished wall through the burnt silver trees. The Chinese Wall loomed over the drainage like a pristine cathedral. Our place for the baptism was here, this wilderness complex, with the river providing the cleansing and good ol' Bob Marshall and his goofy ears conducting the ritual. Lint's eyes glowed with re-freshness; he looked the wilderness spirit took hold of him. He was in church now, out here in the mountains with no one around for miles but the spirit. Lint and I have seen the flowers bloom, the mountains shine, the trails dust up in a ghostly manner showing us the spirit, and the rivers roar with enlightenment. Walking through the Bob, Lint had been saved. Maybe it will now be easier to get a hitch, I thought.
I should have jumped in too but I felt immersed in the wilderness. As I hiked, I swam. As I plodded along, I gasped for air. As I climbed, my eyes grew wider and wider. My spirit waded in, deep, submerged within the realm of wilderness.



We climbed higher to the start of the Chinese Wall, a 1,000ft high cliff escarpment rising abruptly from the forest and drainages below to from a long spine of the Continental Divide. We surged upward with excitement as the early evening light began to shadow under the massive reef. The outcropping stretched for many miles with green grassy ledges and sheer, polished cliffs. I guess, at on point in time, this part of Montana was under an ocean of water with the Chinese Wall being the highest and farthest barrier for the water that itched to cross the Divide. I could imagine the waves of the ocean smattering the rock cliffs with salty water. Pockmarks dimpled the wall in places revealing reefs that were once under water. Places on the map showed other topographical features named for reefs. The Bob was an ancient seabed but the Wall itself was the end of the line, the escarpment sticking above the shoreline like a hogback, like dinosaur fins.
 


At one switchback we ran into Brooks, who we both hiked with at some point in Southern Colorado earlier this summer. We erupted in glee at seeing him and we all sat down in a flowery meadow and shot the shit. By far the most interesting story of the summer was from Brooks. He was walking through the Frank Church Wilderness expanse when at a remote air field he managed to hitch a ride all the way into Helena by airplane. He said he followed some parts of the CDT by plane and thought of us walking down there from his aerie loft. We chatted eagerly for about an hour and a half and parted ways. Him the way we came, us due north under the massive flanks of the Chinese Wall.

Darkness soon enveloped the wild, rocky area but not before we observed a herd of mountain goats feeding peacefully on a precipitous ledge about 500ft above us. The larger rams stood like sentinels on the edges of rock precariously standing guard. The kids and ewes lazily fed or laid in the grass on the steep slope. We night-hiked into camp under the twinkling stars and amid tall gray ghost pillars of trees. My eyes drifted to a deep slumbered sea.




Infused with the spirit of the holy trinity of the Bob, the Chinese Wall and the Sun River, we roared out of camp. Eventually, we met the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. We skittered across Strawberry Creek, representing the northern arm of the Middle Fork. We flew up the drainage under beautiful trail. The forest was lush, the trail firm, and the trees bright green. Springs tumbled down hill sides as we lapped from the crystal clear waters. The walking was quite easy and we stood atop Beaver Pass amazed at how early in the day we did 30m. We hiked another 7m down Badger Creek before making camp behind the Badger Creek Patrol Cabin, under dark impending skies. The wind struck up with violence and cold. We hunkered down in our tarps under a grove of lodgepoles hoping for better coverage.



The trees did provide refuge from the rain, well, at least some refuge. Throughout the night the rain pitter-pattered with heavy drops on our tarps. We scuttered around in the morning with swiftness and intent; there was no time to linger in camp. It was just too damn cold and wet. We knew we had a long hike of 30m that day into East Glacier, however, now the day would be a cold, long march into town.

Packing up my tarp I said to Lint, 'Man! It musta rained all night long!'

He spontaneously went into a Lionel Ritchie fit and sang, 'All Night Long!'

I responded with the background vocals of 'All night...'

We went back and forth, improvisation-wise, laughing and belting out our best soulful voice while getting pelted with raindrops. The cold stung our hands and we continued singing with our horrible voices, our bodies starting to gyrate in awkward convulsions; we thrusted uncomfortably but grooved right. We didn't care anymore about the miserable rain and the cold. As thru-hikers the heavy rain and 35 degree wet weather was just another obstacle. There is no point in letting it get us down. We control our temperment. We laughed and sang the same lyrics over and over. We only knew the chorus of the song and nothing else. I am sure all wildlife stayed clear of our crooning voices, bears heard us over the storm roaring above. We even crossed thigh deep into the frigid Two Medicine River singing the song as we laughed at the threat of immediate danger. The slick rocks, rapids, and rushing water could not thwart our belting of notes; we lashed back at the river and storm with our insanity, we laughed in its face. We were too tough, filled with too much grit, to be affected by what could've been a gloomy day. Our spirits were cleansed again as we made Highway 2.


Submerged throughout the Bob, we gasped a sudden breath of air in East Glacier. The surrounding brown and dry hills looked bright green, the birds sang loudly, the sky shot resplendent rays off massive peaks to the north with the pink and orange hues soothing the soul. Shit, even the rez dogs looked friendly enough to pet.


Glacier NP and Canada:


In Glacier NP, we ascended to our first vista high in the Northern Rockies over looking Two Medicine Lake. Peaks and spires sprouted into the sky like bear trap teeth looking ready to snap a leg in an instant. The trail rose higher towards the roof of the land and even higher pinnacles casted rock menacingly into the peaceful bright blue sky. At a saddle, we admired the deeply gouged valleys below us. Lakes reflected late afternoon light in a glittering manner. I put my right hand over my visor and eyes, for the light was too resplendent for my puny eyes.  
 


I looked up at the sharp glaciated valleys and gazed steadfast at the massive polished walls. I thought of the walls as refinement, or constant erosion to grow. It seems counter-intuitive to grow while you shed but it is the foundation of my philosophy. Freeing your dirt is erosion within self to face fears and insecurities. I look at my hiking style the same way; I am constantly eroding, or refining, or growing. As water and ice erode hard rock, so does each step I make, facing the reflection of self from the trail I trod.

Lint describes the CDT best, I believe. The CDT is a strand of pearls. There are many jewels, or highlights, of the trail but they are held together by a crappy piece of string. Sometimes the gap between pearls is longer than others, other times there is a long succession of pearly white gems. Within the strand of pearls emotions may ride high and low, vacillating your inner core with confusion and bafflement that may bring something out of you from inner depths. Sometimes you struggle to know who you are in those instances. 




 From Two Medicine Campground the trail steadily climbed up a steep valley that abruptly ended at the Divide headwall. The valley was so sharp that the walls seem to plunge directly into the trees surrounding us. Ledges resembled giant stairs for some behemoth folklore figure like a Cyclops. The hem between the sky blue sky and knifed rock spires was outlined in a thin black line separating the spheres like a black hole. The mirage seemed as if nothing existed between the 2 realms. However, as we ascended the layered wall upwards to Pitamakin Pass I could see the bond between sky and rock in the reflection of alpine blue lakes below. Ice chunks floated clumsily in the waters below, Mt. Morgan pierced the blue canvas above dimpling the sky with rock. We spread out on the pass and slept for lunch with the stone as our pillow.
 
 

I find it hard to convey the magnitude, or scale of enormity, of the mountains around me in Glacier. The stark scenery and cragginess blend in to form a savage beauty that is indescribable. All I can say is the high peaks and walls instill in me a true 'wilder'-ness. At Triple Divide Pass, the waters separate and plunge towards the Colombia River drainage and the Pacific Ocean, they roll over prairies in the Missouri and eventually the Mississippi River into the briny Atlantic, while the waters north flow through the bogs and tundra of Canada into the frigid Arctic Ocean. The massive walls surrounding our perch were horizontally striated dappled with lime-green lichen and scraggy rock. Steep snow fields, stained with late summer dirt, draped the base of 1,000ft walls on top of alluvial fans of rock detritus. Enormous shadows from spires and monoliths casted a cool bleakness over iceberg lakes, alpine tundra, and pygmy pines. Some basins and cirques never sun-touched were strewn with tarns fluorescent blue; within the darkness of shadow, light emerged. 

 
The next morning sunshine pushed us westward up the steep walled Swiftcurrent Pass. We then traversed the Ahern Drift, a notorious dangerous section of trail where the angle of a gargantuan rock wall engulfs the basin in refrigeration keeps a large snowfield in place all year long. The 60 degree slope is extremely treacherous to early season thru-hikers. After a quick negotiation of the obstacle we existed the basin and the trail climbed up to 50 Mile Mountain Pass as we met grizzly bear biologists tracking hair samples trapped in barbed wire along bear corridors. We also met Charlie, who just finished the PCT a week earlier. He knew Lint from previous trails. We observed a grizzly bear at the pass wallowing in the mud and willows until he left hurriedly away from sight over a broad knoll. Charlie walked with us all the way to Kootenai Lakes, our final campsite along the CDT. We talked late into the night and basically I forgot we were to finish the next day. But at about 3am I stirred around in my bag anxiously awaiting my alarm to go off. 


We marched towards Canada with Charlie in tow. At Goat Haunt, we looked out over Waterton Lake. We could see Canada. Charlie departed us at a junction. We really enjoyed his company. Nothing else to do but to mash on to the border. We walked in silence, maybe the both of us reflecting. But to be honest, I felt normal, like every other day on trail; I was submerged in my routine. Suddenly, 2 obelisks appeared in front of us. We made it! Lint and I crossed over to the most eastern placed monument, touched it at the same time and clasped hands together as one. We embraced in gratification, snapped numerous photos especially of Lint holding up the deuce-trey with his fingers for the rare accomplishment of a Double-Triple Crown.


There was nothing there to signify the end of the CDT, or start for that matter, not even a register. We sat under the obelisks, I under one, Lint the other, and pondered. I re-traced my route in my head, all 2615m (vastly under-estimated) of it. About 10 minutes later I came to and Lint still had his head and chin high with his fierce eyes behind dark shades gazing out into the lake and mountains beyond, back into the U.S.A.


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
 
 
 

No comments:

Post a Comment