#12 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Lima, MT to Anaconda, MT

This is update #12.
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.

August 8, 2022

2,590 of 2,967 miles…87% complete

I covered a lot of miles, so this update is a bit longer.  

Sara Keller asked for a little SOBO/NOBO explanation. NOBO is short for NOrth BOund (Mexico – Canada); SOBO is the opposite direction…SOuth BOund. And with that…

Trail Names:  

NOBOs are still hard to spot, but I’ve seen a few during town stops. 

Leadore, ID:  Cheer, Snickers, Stevie Wonder, Halfmile.  

On Trail:  Blue Blaze.

Anaconda, MT:  Kingpin, Porky, Finder, Elk Rocco, 700 Club, Halfmile, Takashi. 

SOBOs were plentiful this leg…98!  Double D, Thirsty, Dog Whisperer, High Stakes, Physics, LaCopa, Mowgli, Snickers, Snow, Corky, Gretzky, Stardust, Wow, Stash, Abbey, Andy, Bambi Magnet, Keep Up, Teva, Rally, Frisky, Chuckles, Perry Mamba, Prime Time, Zach Galifianakis, Cruiser, Luke, Shellac, Kris, Trooper, Walky Talky, GQ, Mayor, Snake, Matt, Goldfish…+62 more unnamed.

Lima, MT to Leadore, ID:

Before heading back to the Trail, I loaded up on calories at Jan’s Cafe…the western omelet, again.  At 11:30, Monty drove me back the I-15 underpass where three more hikers were waiting so they could catch a ride to Lima. The day started with 11 miles of gravel road across open prairie…several cattle herds. The road was flat, and I don’t remember a single vehicle.  It transitioned to an ATV trail along a creek. I topped off my water because I would climb to a ridge top and would be there for many, many miles. After the steep climb, I saw the game ahead for me…countless PUDs (pointless ups and downs) along the barren ridges following a fence row…as far as I could see. The SOBOs in Lima warned us NOBOs. I hiked late and finally reached the end of the exposed ridges. I made camp on the edge of a cow pasture…reminded me of summer camping with my brother and friends when we were teenagers. We’d wake up with cows around us. My lower right shin/ankle had been hurting for hours. I hoped it wasn’t the beginnings of a shin splint. After dinner, I took 800 mg of Ibuprofen…hiker industrial strength. I finally got in my tent at 10:00 pm. 

The next day, my shin pain was gone…no sign of it. I started seeing patches of trees, but mainly sun exposed hiking. Grass and sage covered the mountain sides…a pretty green canvas as far as I could see. A good part of the day there was no visible Trail. I would shoot bearings from cairns.  FarOut (my navi app), warned how confusing this area would be. I had an extreme climb mid-afternoon so I stopped at Deadman’s Lake under a tree for a snack and to drink an electrolyte. The climb was up a “Jeep trail” that, by my estimate, would be terrifying to descend in a Jeep or any vehicle. There were warning signs at the top about how hazardous the descent was, but there were 2-tracks worn over the years.  After reaching the top, the way ahead was flat along the same rancher road. Patches of cloud shadows crawled across the plains and mountains.  I would pick the ones that would cover me along the way. I had a spot to camp in mind, but it didn’t look like my mind’s eye.  I pictured the edge of trees…not the case…completely without trees. It was almost dark, so I set my tent up on an exposed rocky knoll since the weather looked clear. I ate dinner and tied my food bag to the only vertical fixture I could find…a Trail sign. An elk herd settled near willows along Bear Creek about 1/4 mile away…I could hear them through the night.  

My usual…hiking by 6:00 am. I passed several sets of SOBOs breaking camp. I appeared to be hiking much earlier than my SOBO companions…they’ll catch on. The PUDs continued throughout the entire day. I counted eight large PUDs usually bouncing me between 7,000 and 8,000 feet. As the day before, the Trail tread would disappear at times…more warnings about how confusing this section was.  I got irritated after a few PUD, because the next one looked exactly like the last…every single time. It reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail…the scene where Lancelot and Galahad are charging the castle over and over and over to save who they thought was a damsel being held in the tower. Thankfully, the monotony was now being filled with me replaying movie scenes in my head for a while…love that movie. The climbs were so steep, and rocky, and slippery…so easy to fall.  

I was short on water the night before…just enough to eat dinner and a few ounces for overnight. I was thirsty the next morning, but would be quenched after the first climb of the day at a cold spring. Along the climb, a lone deer effortless bounced up the near vertical side of Elk Mountain…a single grouse stayed on the ground as I passed. I was just a passing tourist that I’m sure they’ve gotten used to seeing.  The early morning view off Elk Mountain was a great moment…cool air and calmness filled me. But, on the horizon I could see the thick smoke. I had smelled and seen smoke the past couple days, but this morning was worse. The Moose Creek fire was the source, and I was getting closer every day. After a few miles of scrambling down, and up/over more steep PUDs, I reached the gravel highway I heard so much about.  The FarOut comments were clear…tough hitch to Leadore and no shade. In one hour, only a single truck passed me and no ride.  Then from the Leadore direction, a pickup pulled up and dropped off two hikers. I was saved…it was Randy. For the past two days, Randy had been shuttling hikers the 13 miles between Bannock Pass and Leadore…all he asked for was a little gas money. I enjoyed Randy’s conversation, and he really liked meeting all the hikers…he genuinely seemed to like being a part of our journeys. As usual, my first stop was food…lunch time. My burger arrived, and ouch!  I didn’t realize how burnt my lips were until my first bite. The inside of my bottom lip got sunburned while I huffed and puffed mouth breathing up all those PUDs. After lunch, I stumbled around town trying to figure out what to do…small hotel was full; city park camping could work in my tent; maybe resupply and get back on Trail. Cookie Jar saved my day…see Trail Tale!  

Leadore, ID to Darby, MT

Leadore’s small store, the Stagecoach, was known for their homemade cinnamon rolls…they opened and 8:00. A mix of NOBOs and SOBOs were huddled around the picnic table out front waiting to get in.  I said, “we’re like a bunch of mosquitos trying to get into a tent.” The door unlocked, the open sign lit, and we were in.  Back outside, we scarfed down the cinnamon bun…mine was awesome. Then, over to the Depot Cafe for eggs and bacon.  I arranged a ride with Randy back up to Bannock Pass at 10:00 with Stash, a SOBO.  After a short road walk, the Trail broke into a dense forest…finally breaking out of the exposed section.  The town stop was great; I felt strong, even a bit primal…and a little too “froggy.” I was thinking about everything I had endured on the CDT and was thinking about the end.  I had projected my finish to be Aug 26th so Cookie Jar could make plans to come to MT. With the end in sight, I told the CDT to “Bring It!” I’ve taken everything you’ve thrown at me, and I’m still standing.  Either uncanny timing or a dared fate I deserved, the CDT commenced to “Bring It!” The smoke immediately got thicker; so thick, that it blocked my view of the closest mountains to my east and west…couldn’t see them. The sun blotted completely out…couldn’t even see where it sat in the sky.  Breathing in all that smoke made my throat hurt. I pressed on into early evening and made camp.

It wasn’t over…the CDT had more for me. Although the morning sky looked good starting with a beautiful sunrise, the valleys below were thick with smoke.  

Bright orange sunrise piercing the horizon’s smoke.

Across a field, I saw a ranch crew with dogs moving sheep…I could hear the dogs barking for a couple hours. I saw a lone coyote, running a ridge line away from all the commotion.  For some reason the coyote reminded me of me. I was thinking about the hike winding down, looking forward to the end, but also knowing I’d miss the long Trail…I got a little emotional and teared up.  Then, the CDT snapped me back.  I had a 20 mile water carry. The morning warmed; the wind increased; the sun blotted out; poor visibility…again.  I was living through my dare to the CDT…Bring It! The CDT was doing just that. The smoke was even more thick from the west; then, the wind shifted the opposite direction. Ash started to fall from the east; it was getting in my eyes. I walked for hours, squinting trying to keep it out of my eyes. Many times, I’d hike with just one eye open while I tried to clear my other eye from ash. At times, both eyes were plugged…I had to stop entirely to clear them.  I couldn’t tell the clouds from smoke above, but the wind shift concerned me about rain. And that’s what happened next. A drizzle started, and the rain drops hit me the color of brown. As the rain fell, it picked up ash that tinted the drops brown.  It looked like I was getting covered in mud actually.  I just kept making forward progress..the light rain mercifully stopped. After a tall rock scramble up to 9,700 feet, I made camp on top of a ridge tucked against a couple trees just before dark. A flurry of biting midges or baby flies swarmed me. They were all over me…I dove into wind pants, wind shirt, and bug net. Wow! They tore me up…the bites bled! The day was like living through an Old Testament beat down; but, I was still standing. The CDT dished it out once again; I remember kind of regretting the dare, but also smirking that I’d made it through more of the CDT’s “brutality” as I tucked into my quilt.    

Even though I had to fight off bugs the night before, the ridge camp was a good call. The ridge descent was steep and no place to camp. The smoke had cleared for the most part.  I couldn’t believe how quickly the terrain had changed. I was now in a dense wet forest. Ground movement just ahead caught my eye.  Three mama grouse and their chicks were on the side of the Trail. The chicks were gobbling up something as they kept pecking the ground.  For some reason, all three mamas were calm…not freaking out like usual. I slowly passed and calmly talked to them…they just watched as I passed…loved that experience. I started seeing green huckleberries and hoped I’d run into ripe ones soon.  Switch backs…Montana cut switchbacks, and I liked them! The lower I dropped, the more streams I crossed; then, ripe huckleberries.  I plucked berries as I hiked.  

Early the next morning, I was heading past Slag-a-Melt Lakes; I thought I saw a squirrel bouncing down the Trail towards me.  It turned sideways to jump on a tree, and I quickly thought it was a weasel. It was twice the size of a squirrel and a much longer tail. It gripped the backside of the tree and peeked at me…head profile was just like a weasel.  I found out later in Darby it was a Pine Marten…in the weasel family. I had never seen one…neat!  Again, the sun cut through the smoke more brightly than the day before…continued to improve. I came across a 3-person AmeriCorp crew clearing blow downs. The surrounding mountains were now topped with decomposing granite, reminding me of the Pacific Crest Trail. I couldn’t remember the last time I was below 6,000 feet on Trail.  I started to see deciduous trees; even what I thought to be a type of maple…it was actually a Rocky Mountain Maple. And, more ripe huckleberries!  I saw boat loads of thimbleberries, but they had weeks before they would ripen. The LodgePole Pines grew so close together that they clanked and clunked as they swayed in the afternoon breeze. A deer had made a day bed right in the middle of the Trail on a long descent; I couldn’t get around her because the traverse was steep. As I got close to her, she finally got up.  I was within 10 feet. She kept that distance walking just in front of me…she finally went down the steep side just off the side of the Trail so I could pass..she just watched me and snacked on a little grass. At the end of the day, I ended up in a large burnt section with dead snags everywhere. Around dark, I finally found a safe spot around a couple live trees. It was easily a Top 5 worst tent spot ever; and my worst the whole CDT, but I made do.  My head and half my torso was six inches above the rest of my body…I made it work and actually slept.  

The next morning, I saw smoke laying low in the valleys again. It snuck up the mountain sides as the wind picked up…not too bad though. I followed elk tracks through the burn all morning. I wondered what it was doing in this destroyed area. I only had 11

miles to Hwy 93 where I’d hitch to the town of Darby. The very first vehicle picked me up!  We had a good conversation…he spent a lot of time outdoors too and told me about the Pintlers Wilderness that I was about to hike through. He and his wife are also working on visiting all the national parks…they have visited 43 so far.  He dropped me off at the Montana Cafe. When I walked in several people came over to talk about my hike…everyone was so friendly. Breakfast was enormous; high quality; and cheap. A single 14”, yes 14 inch, pancake was only $2. I went up to pay, but someone had already paid for my breakfast, so I left a monster tip. Next was a resupply at the grocery store, then down to my hotel. My room had a kitchenette so I decided to cook something. I craved macaroni & cheese. I prepped a box of “Deluxe” mac & cheese with sautéed celery, green pepper, shallots, and ham…all mixed together.  I ate the whole box; along with a can of black olives, then two Nutter Butter bars and chocolate milk; then a whole bag of Haribo gummy bears. Thru hiking drives the weirdest cravings.

Darby, MT to Anaconda, MT

Next morning, I was a back at Montana Cafe for an encore breakfast…sans the ginormous pancake. I was the first hiker there, but four others collected in my corner.  I enjoyed their company and conversation. Halfmile is a small, 133lb guy. He ordered a full breakfast with that pancake plus a 1-lb burger and a 2-lb sandwich to pack out! Mid-morning, I was on the side of the road once again with my thumb out. Got picked up within 15 minutes and was back on Trail at 11:00. There was a small ski resort nearby and the surrounding trails were flat and used as cross country ski trails. The burn areas continued but less severe…the Trail was flat and fast. Winds cranked up and whistled through the standing dead snags. I didn’t smell or see smoke once all day. Overnight, I could feel the chill…made for good sleeping.

As I packed up camp, it was colder and clearly more dark…the fall season is beginning to nudge summer aside.  I passed by the sign for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. It was sad to see I was still in an old wildfire, working through blowdowns. As I climbed through a rocky section, a little critter passed right in front of me. I’m used to hearing Pikas squeak at me in areas like this. I immediately thought weasel of some sort. I googled it, and it was definitely a short-tailed weasel…very cool! I hoped to get through the burn soon, and I did.  On the other side of Pintler’s Pass, the change was sudden. I was now in dense, jungle-like forest. When I descended, I was reminded of my Smoky Mountains. When I was high, it reminded me of the Pacific Crest Trail.  There were usually pockets of lakes in between the passes.  

Pintler Wilderness (1 of 2).

Pintler Wilderness (2 of 2).  

Over the top of Rainbow Pass, I dropped to Rainbow Lake to set camp. It was Saturday so I expected weekend campers.  I talked to a 4-person group that knew the area well. As I set up my tent, I had multiple deer passing by with a buck…another sign fall is coming. They didn’t care a bit that I was there. I gobbled up dinner as it started to sprinkle. I hid my hiking pole so deer wouldn’t eat the grip…they like the salt. As I fell asleep I heard the deer running by my tent…back and forth. It lightly rained all night with zero wind…so calming to hear it gently tap my tent.  

The light rain continued for an hour after I left camp. Just enough moisture to waken all the forest scents. The skies quickly cleared, and I started to dry out. I mentioned Smokies-like…I even saw a small leafed Rhododendron of some sort.  Feels like

I’m walking home as I head to Canada. I walked by so many clear lakes. I had also noticed pine cones that were purple and pink destroyed by chipmunks and squirrels along the way…they loved them far more than any other. I saw several critters carrying them off to a safer place to eat. I finally found one of the trees…according to Seek, it was a Subalpine Fir. I had hiked hard the past three days to setup a short day into Anaconda. I found a flat spot in small pines for the night.

The next morning was cold enough that I needed a jacket and gloves. Just 17 miles to the town of Anaconda. I ate a Snickers bar to hold me over until lunch. I heard high praise about the hostel.  Pintlers Portal Hostel was tagged as “favorite hostel all-time” by many on FarOut. Several other hikers were there already.  We spent time relaxing, talking, and eating. Finder and I went to dinner. When we got back to the hostel, there were several hikers that cooked a massive beef stroganoff; they insisted we eat again. Ohhhh, ok! The hostel did live up to almost all the hype, but it had an Achilles Heal…no windows…none. This time of year the sun bears down all day and heats up the building.  By night, my room was intolerably hot. At 1:30am, I took a pillow and blanket downstairs to the common area. Halfmile was already sleeping in a recliner. He was too hot as well. I jumped in another recliner…much cooler. I decided to checkout the next morning and move to a hotel for my ZERO day.  

Next, sort out my Glacier NP permit; sort out my next leg’s hiking plan; and, finalize plans for Jamie to meet me in Glacier.  

Trail Tale:

Sam Blom…Leadore Inn. As I approached Leadore, it was clear that a guy named Sam was a CDT legend. For many years, Sam ran a hiker favorite called the Leadore Inn.  Getting down off the 13 miles from Bannock Pass to Leadore was famously hard to do, so Sam single-handedly covered the hiker season going up and down.  For hikers, his place was the hub.  Sadly, in July of 2021, he suffered a heart attack while sitting on his porch swing…dead right there on the Inn’s porch. The Inn sat empty until about one month ago.  A recent Army retiree named Mark and his wife bought Sam’s place. They’re renovating and reopening as the Mustang Inn. They hoped to open early August.  

Enter Cookie Jar. It was late July…I was in Leadore…not sure if I was going back to Trail or would camp at city park.  Jamie reached out to Mark, the new owner. He told Jamie that I should call him. I did, and met Mark down at Sam’s old place. Although not ready to open, Mark let me stay in one of Sam’s old rooms. His renovations were behind schedule…tools and materials all over the place. It was perfect! Washer, dryer, shower, bed…all I needed. Sam’s old place was mine alone for the night. Sam was also an accomplished wood worker.  His old shop was a rail car from the early 1900s. All the out buildings were unlocked. I slowly wandered around the property looking at his shop, trimmings and small woodworking touches. He had a pile of stumps out back for carving projects. Mark said I could sit in Sam’s massage chair while my laundry ran, and I did. I read through many years of hikers that wrote in Sam’s Trail Journal. The journal was hand-sewn and leather bound, by who else, but Sam himself. At the Depot Cafe, they still have three tables and a tall stand Sam carved…prices range between $5,000 -$7,500.  

An example of Sam’s woodcarving!  

I really enjoyed staying at Sam’s place. I believe I will be the last guest of Sam’s, on Mark’s behalf. I wrote my journal entry as Sam’s last guest and Mark’s first…left a single $1 bill for Mark to frame. Thanks Cookie Jar…it was a special treat!  

Until Next Time, 



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