#11 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Dubois, WY to Lima, MT

This is update #11.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

July 25, 2022

2,134 of 3,100 miles…69% complete 

Trail Names:  

NOBO:  Big Green, Heater…finally saw a couple NOBOs…met them originally back near Monarch Pass in CO.

SOBO:  Off Grid, Duke, Skybird, Pinkman, Lillian (a guy from Hong Kong), Gazelle (a guy from Taiwan)…my first batch of SOBOs.

Dubois to Yellowstone:

I walked about half a mile to old downtown Dubois for a big breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe, then back to my hotel to pack up. While I was downtown, I finalized my Yellowstone permit with the backcountry office…I only needed two campsites in Yellowstone. By 9:30, I was at the edge of town under a shade tree trying to catch a ride back up to the Trail. I thought it would be an easy hitch, but not the case. I was heckled multiple times…won’t describe specifics here…but not kind. At 12:00, a guy named Yogi picked me up. As we drove he told me how the area had changed and how he used to “Cowboy” until injuries took him a different direction…could tell he missed it. It was early afternoon, and I was back on Trail. I was headed to Brooks Lake at the base of the Pinnacle mountains…a beautiful spot to fish, ride horses, and of course, hike. As I passed by the lake, I saw an old cabin nestled against the tree line.  It was old enough, that it was probably the singular home in its time. I can imagine how special a place it was to them…the Pinnacles, the lake all to themselves. I was now in the Teton Wilderness. Although I wasn’t going into the Teton mountains, at times I caught glimpses of them to my west. Each day I hike, different wildflowers seem to dominate the landscape. On this day, the Silky Phacelia with their stalky purple flowers and Mountain Bluebells kept catching my eye. Although I’ve been in Grizzly territory, most of my hiking had been in open fields/meadows with easy, long sight.  I was now hiking into more dense forest and saw more bear scat than I had previously seen. I was already in the habit of making plenty of noise. I’d clank my poles together; I’d say, “coming around the corner,” “coming up,” “coming down,” “hope you had a good day,” “hope you got some rest during the storm last night.” If people heard me, I’m sure they’d think I was crazy. With such a late start, I pushed my hiking day almost until dark. I looked around for a camp spot, and there were a lot of snags. Snags are dead standing trees. I ended up picking a less desirable slanted spot, but at least there were no snags. I walked across a rock field to stash my food bag. I didn’t like seeing many of the rocks having been recently flipped by bears looking for bugs. Early that evening a storm blew through…it passed quickly, and I heard a snag about 100 feet away fall…it hit the ground loud and hard…it was actually in a spot where I had considered, but didn’t like the snags. It wasn’t even very windy…just its time to fall.  

Next morning, I was hiking through a wildfire area. The peaceful serene morning air was disrupted by what sounded like a black powder rifle. I had been walking among the wildlife for months…it hurt my heart to think a life may have ended. Hypocritical of me…every animal, to include humans, must eat. Still, in that moment, I had hoped the hunter missed. About 15 minutes later, the air was cut by another sound, one singular elk bugled loudly. The two sounds seemed connected…but what did it mean? The bugle was loud and strong…maybe defiant I hoped. I transitioned from wildfire area to a lower flat section. The ground was fully saturated from the storm…my shoes caked up with heavy mud. I was headed to acres and acres of willows…crap! Grizzlies love willow bushes. And there they were in the fresh mud…tracks going both directions on the Trail in the mud…griz tracks. The tracks went both directions. 6” and 4” square track mainly…mother and cubs.  Occasionally, a monster 8” square track.  It’s pretty unsettling to hike through these areas with this many fresh tracks with side tunnels where I’d see tracks go deeper in the willows. I made noise every 10 seconds and kept rehearsing my reach for bear spray. At times, I’d have to put my poles in front of me to cut through the willows…my other hand held out my drawn bear spray, just in case. I was so relieved when I’d clear away from the willows. 

Definitely grizzly tracks…Front print about 6” square; rear print bigger than my shoe…believe it was a female because smaller tracks were with these.  

Later that AM, it rained about an hour, but the afternoon broke out to be clear and cool. The day before I crossed a few streams; I was now crossing streams about one per hour.  Most of the afternoon I was crossing through massive willow sections…constantly on guard. Early that evening, I had finally crossed into Yellowstone National Park and had made it to my first campsite there…campsite 8C9 (Crooked Creek). I was the only person there that night…not surprised given its remote location. I set my tent, walked about 100 yards away, and ate dinner quickly with the mosquitos.  Yellowstone campsites all have bear poles to hang food, so up my food bag and other smellies went. In the tent I went. I got into sleep clothes and inspected my wet feet…my right pinky toe nail decided it had enough fun…it gave up and fell off. My first toe nail of the trip…not bad really!  

It’s now day three after leaving Dubois, and my feet have been wet the whole time. So, for the third day I put the same wet socks back on so I could keep my other pair of socks dry…I knew I had stream crossing coming up. The socks were getting funky! The morning was chilly…actually frosted in some areas.  I had hoped for a hard frost to kill the mosquitos, but it didn’t get cold enough for that. I could see a brown/gray smoke layer on the horizon and could smell smoke. It’s pretty common out west this time of year. Wildfires from hundreds of miles away…the winds carry the smoke everywhere. On this morning, the Indian Paintbrush flowers dotted the fields in red and pink…it was everywhere. I was headed to my second campsite, 8M2 (Moose Creek). Along the way, I heard voices ahead, climbing above me. I caught up to a father and daughter that had been out for six nights.  I would guess the father was about 65; the daughter about 45. That morning their campsite was visited by a grizzly and black bear at the same time. Multiple groups were in the campsite, so I’m sure something bad happened with food to draw in both bears. No incident, they just passed right through the camp.  Honestly, I’d rather stay at unpopular sites for this very reason…you never know what someone has done:  they might have buried food they didn’t eat; thrown it in a fire pit; drained noodle water. Speaking of water…I needed water and Witch Creek was coming up. As I always did, I found a small cascade and put my water bladder in to fill so I could filter it.  In the water my bladder and hand went. Immediately, I drew back. The water was HOT! That’s why it’s called Witch Creek…it’s hot, but perfectly fine to drink. This was the only good water for several miles. I sipped that filtered hot water for a while and it eventually cooled off. Weird to drink hot water.  My campsite was on the far west side of Shoeshone Lake. I walked it’s shore to the outlet that’s the headwaters for Snake River. There, I’d cross in knee deep, crystal clear and cold water. The beach and bottom of the lake are completely lava rock about the size of a golf ball…so uniform. The water was so clear I think because the rocks create a filter effect and traps sand, organics, everything below the rocks. I stopped on the sunny side to camel up with this cold awesome water and to guzzle a liter. Knowing, that as soon I crossed into the shady climb, I’d get swarmed in mosquitos. I was right…they were all over me after I crossed the 100’ outlet. On went my full mosquito gear the last few miles to camp. Again, I set my tent location and walked about 200 yards to a clearing I had hoped would not have mosquitos. They were intolerable!  I ended up walking around the entire time to eat dinner to keep most of them in my draft. Normally, I’d sit in my tent and prep food right outside the bug net. Definitely a bad idea to do in bear country…food scents draw bears right to your tent. Again, I hung my food, dove into my tent, killed a dozen or so skeeters that followed me in, reviewed the next day’s route, and to bed I went. I was the only person in camp that night again.  

The next morning I had a decision, cross a bog section where other hikers had commented about knee deep mud to get to the lower geyser basin or take the horse route and miss the geyser basin. This is a very remote part of the basin that very few get to see. It’s about 14 miles away from the more popular areas around Old Faithful Inn.  I decided to be adventurous and cut through the bog.  I descended steeply from my campsite with all my skeeters in tow back down to the shoreline of Shoeshone Lake. I didn’t even try to keep my feet dry, knowing it would be impossible. I was only ankle deep cutting across the marsh. There were a few foot logs and makeshift bridges to cross drains and small streams. A couple “bridges” were snapped in half…just aged out old logs.  The bog film on the bottom of my shoes was slippery, and at one of these broken bridges, I tried to use part of the remaining wood to spring across the stream. Yah, it didn’t work so well. My slippery mucky shoe slipped immediately under my weight, and splash!  I was on my butt in the boggy stream. From waist down, my left arm, half my torso…completely soaked through.  I bounced up immediately. In good spirits, I just pressed on to the geysers and rising steam. I’d dry out before I got to Old Faithful. I entered the lower geyser basin without another person anywhere…it was all mine. Several signs warned to stay on Trail.  Pools, geysers, sulfur pots speckled the area. Steam rising through the cool morning air.  I slowly made my way forward taking too many pictures. I cleared the basin, and my next target was a good break at the Old Faithful Inn where Cookie Jar had made me a reservation for the night. I walked into Old Faithful Village at 11:30. First, I stopped by the Old Faithful Snow Lodge to ask about laundry. I got so lucky…it was just upstairs from their front desk.  I jumped in the mens room to put on my wind pants and tee shirt. Tossed everything into the washer, then back downstairs for lunch.  It was a bit overwhelming to be around so many people after weeks of barely seeing people. Back into clean clothes, I went over to the general store for snacks and a few items form my food bag for the next leg. All chores done…I went over to Old Faithful Inn that was constructed in 1903.  It’s my favorite place in the village. The lighting is dim; it’s a cool temperature because they leave doors open to draw in air; and, I love the rustic construction. It’s mainly as it was over 100 years ago. The Great Room has a massive fireplace, the ceiling is around 70’ high, and there are leather couches, chairs, and rockers everywhere. I found a comfy, cool couch to sip my Dr Pepper and eat some Huckleberry ice cream for a couple hours until my room was ready…Life is Good!!! Rested, relaxed, watched people and talked to a few.  I also made dinner reservations for the dinner buffet. At 4:00, I checked in to my room. It was a cute little room just down the hallway on the first floor.  I opened my window to the shaded side of the inn and a direct view of Old Faithful Geyser…awesome! I opened my window for the night to drop the temperature to low 40s and to hear the geyser cycle overnight. At dinner, I ate three plates piled high…all with a slab of prime rib. I got my $39.95 worth…and carefully waddled my way back to the room to fall asleep with Old Faithful right outside my cold, comfy room.  

Old Faithful Geyser…still reliable as clockwork.  

Yellowstone to Lima:

I tried to sleep late because I was so stuffed from the dinner buffet, but I still was up by 5:30.  I enjoyed a cup of coffee from the second floor outdoor deck…relaxing the body and resting my mind with all my town chores done. I finally felt able to eat around 9:00…I still shoveled in two full breakfast plates. Wow, I was topped off with calories! By 10:30, I was slowly making my way through the upper geyser basin along the paved walk ways. Soon enough, the pavement and visitors disappeared as I made my way to the west side of the Park. I stopped at Summit Lake for lunch and water. The lake’s bank had grass and reeds about 10 feet into the water’s edge…hundreds of thin blue dragonflies clung to the wind blown grass. I balanced on a downed narrow tree in the wind as I filled my my water bladder…we all teetered in the wind.  I carried 3.2L of water because I wasn’t sure where I’d camp…saw some lakes/ponds ahead, but no streams. Summit Lake was clear, so I used it.  The rest of the day was varied terrain:  thin trees, dense forest, arid old wildfire areas, lush thick wildflowers. I passed three milestones this day:  1) crossed 2,000 miles, 2) exited Wyoming into Idaho, and 3) left Yellowstone…in that order. I had no idea the boundary of YSNP was a few miles into Idaho. At the end of the day, I ended up on remote closed Forest Service roads.  They hadn’t been used in decades by the looks of them. A few of the roads were actually massively trenched and burmmed to prevent vehicles from getting on them. In actuality, it created neat obstacles for dirt bikes. Anyhow, the big burms (wind block) and flat spots created a great camp spot for me.  

These old closed roads intersected and transitioned into open dirt roads that led me into the small town of Island Park where I hoped to get breakfast and a small resupply. Along the way, I saw a cow moose and her calf walking the road towards me. I barely missed breakfast and got lunch; resupplied at the small gas/grocery (packed out an apple and a couple plums); and stopped by Subway for a foot long sub I packed out for dinner. My hot afternoon was spent climbing Sawtell Peak along a dusty Forest Service road where well over 100 ATVs blasted dust everywhere as I hiked…I was covered in dirt as I climbed. Eventually near the top, the Trail broke away from the road…not before two teenagers on four wheelers were racing sideways through the corners blasting gravel and dust. The Trail was nonexistent the next 3 miles. The bushwhack was well known, but footprints and knocked down grass helped set the way…wasn’t that bad until I found myself on the wrong side of a stream. My feet were finally dry so it took a while to find a rock hop. I ended up camping at a perched campsite above Lillian Lake. I ate my Subway sub looking over the lake as the sun dropped below the mountains…shared a piece of it with a few ants.

I’ve noticed the mornings are darker as I wake. I set my clock for 5:00, usually snooze until 5:15, pack up and hiking by 6:00.  It’s fairly light by 6:00, but that may not continue to hold by the end of this hike…we shall see. The morning started with gentle long climbs. I ended up on a mountain that had been cleared for mining decades ago. It created a perfect landscape for wildflowers above 8,000 feet. This mountain side and nearby hills were covered in patches of yellow created by dense patches of Maximillian Sunflowers.  

Maximillian Sunflowers turn distant fields yellow…so pretty.

A couple years ago, my great friend, Nancy, showed me the Seek app. You just point your phone at the plant/flower, and it tells you what it is. So with that said, I didn’t come up with these names because I’m a botanist or naturalist…it’s all about the app. I do like pretty flowers though. And this is only a smattering of the flowers I saw, but these were some of my favorite. Hairy Clematis (it’s a flower straight out of Dr Seuss…google it), white Mariposa Lily, Nettle Leaf Giant Hyssop, Cone Flowers tall as me, Sticky Geranium, red and yellow Columbine, Gray’s Lovage…and of course, purple Lupine and bright red Indian Paintbrush. The hills were lit up with color…so pretty. As I looked over these fields below, on a shelf 500 feet below me, I saw a moose high stepping trying to get out of view into a clump of trees.  By the end of the day, I realized I had dropped below 1,000 miles left in my hike.  I’m in triple digits.  Late that afternoon, it lightly rained…barely enough to put on my rain jacket, but enough to wet the waist high foliage I had to traipse through as I made way to camp…we call that a “car wash.” I read a comment about a nice campsite near a small lake. I found it and set up for the night.  

The next morning, I got out of the tent and canvased the area with bear spray in hand. My eyes spotted a large dark animal about 75 feet away…it was a bull moose. We stared at each other for a moment, and he bent back down to get more grass; then, came back up as he chewed to look at me. He didn’t look interested in anything but eating. He ate while I continued to pack up.  I was ready to leave and said, “Have a good day Mr. Bull Moose.” He stayed right there and kept eating as I walked away.  

Mr. Bull Moose.

The flowers and plants were humongous in this damp area for the next mile or so. Some were taller than me. I climbed above the damp layer and found myself walking an old fence row that I’d estimate to be from the 1950s…a different era. Wildflowers had been replaced now by sage brush so dense against the Trail that it gently scuffed my legs as I passed through.  It reminded me of walking along rock walls from the 1800s on the Appalachain Trail. They both held livestock in and neighbors a little further away. Now, here, the barbed wire is gone…the space is wide open. I like it better this way. The sun was hidden behind a mountain top until 7:00…it’s a great time of day with cool air and fresh legs. I had two stiff climbs, both early in the day. I started up the first climb about 800 ft/mile. About 1/4 of the way up, I saw a 4-wheeler laying on its side stuck against a couple trees…no way that’s moving without a winch. I couldn’t believe it was there. The Trail was so narrow and steep…how in the world?!? I hope they didn’t get hurt too bad. Across the top, I saw tire tracks and realized the 4-wheeler must have descended…I was astonished they made it that far down without crashing earlier. At the top, there was an awesome piped spring that filled a trough at least 20 feet long…cold, clear water. I also saw the bluest blue bird. The descent turned into a dusty 8 mile road walk through several cattle herds. My target for the day was a 5:00 shuttle from the intersection with Interstate 15. The shuttle would take me about 20 miles to the small town of Lima. I made it to the underpass at 3:30. I pulled out my sit-pad and lunch bag to nibble a while.  

I’m sitting on the ground at the I-15 underpass eating a snack and recognized how grubby I was.  I’m always filthy when I head into a town.  The dirt washes away…the memories remain!  

Other hikers, both NOBO and SOBO, started to arrive…dirty as me.  In all, we had 7 hikers waiting. Monty, the shuttle driver, had to make two trips. Lima is a small, small town attached to a rest area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these…a town and rest area joined together.  It’s perfect for a hiker…two restaurants, motel (attached to town’s laundromat), gas station across the street, post office a block away.  

Trail Tale:

Let me continue to describe Lima…there’s a point.  I’ve hiked over 2,000 miles north and have a pulse of the towns. Lima was refreshing. The past several hundred miles, I’ve been less impressed the way I and other hikers have been viewed/treated…I’ll leave it at that. This morning, a short walk to the post office and the gas station made a great impression on me about this small town called Lima. First, I got waved at by the driver of a car. I usually wave first…not this time. I get into the post office and was happily helped to pick out the cheapest way to mail something back home…friendly and polite. Then, in walks an older, hearty rancher named Bob that struck up a 10 minute conversation with me about where I’m from, the hike, how I navigate, his son’s ranch up near Chouteau, MT, (that I’ll walk by), his ranch, my AF days in Great Falls, MT…on and on. It was like we were sitting in a barbershop having a talk. Time runs a little slower here.  In walks his buddy…we all passed pleasantries and shook hands to include the post office worker that was also plugged into the conversation. I stepped outside, and Bob’s truck was still running…not worried about it at all. The US Flag was crisp and clean. I got to the gas station, and someone held the door, insisting I come through…smiling by the way. At the diner, the server and cook engaged with everyone…locals by name of course…my omelet was truly the best omelet I’ve ever had BTW. My point in all of this is that…kindness to others is a much better way to go. So nice to see a small town like Lima still exists. It’s not a wealthy town, but it’s a friendly town. If you’re coming through Lima, MT, stop by The Peat for a steak or Jan’s Cafe for breakfast or lunch…nice people here.  

Until Next Time, 



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