This is update #13.
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 20, 2022
2,877 of 2,967 miles…97% complete.
Long leg…lots of words.
A new hiker slang term below…Flip. A flip is when a hiker decides to skip a section that has a problem (closure, weather, etc) and continues to hike past the skipped section. For example: If a hiker doesn’t think they can beat the snow to Canada, they may ”flip” all the way to the Canadian border and hike south…away from the snow in order to keep their thru hike intact.
SOBO: Quips, Tank Top…+1 more.
NOBO: Finder, 700 Club, Tin Man, St Bernard, Takashi, Bird, Just Right, Olan, Queen B…+5 kids (see Trail Tale), Blizzard, Bird (a second one), Hot Rod, Peaches.
Anaconda, MT to High Divide Outfitters:
Although Pintler’s Portal Hostel was new and nice, it had zero windows and no A/C. I ended up going to the basement and slept in a recliner at 1:30 am, because it was so hot upstairs. Other than July and August, it probably isn’t a problem. The next morning, I moved to a hotel on the edge of town…ahhhh, much better. By 7:30 am the next morning, I started the long road walk out of town. The 8 miles of highway walking was tough because the road was so busy and no shoulder…had to keep stepping down into the ditch. As I departed pavement, I crossed under I-90…my last interstate. By the time I reached the 20 mile dirt road walk, the heat dramatically climbed into the low 90s. I was low…just 4,700 ft. I also had a 20 mile water carry with no shade. I went into my water miser mode…1 sip/mile. Along the way, I saw a horse against the fence that seemed to want me to come over. I sidled up to her and visited about 5 minutes just talking to her…we both liked our visit. I looked back as I walked away, and she started grazing again. Once off roads and onto trails, I came to Champion Pass. It had seven, yes 7, trails intersecting…never seen anything like that before. As I got further away from the farms, I came across several free-range cows laying down and sleeping with their calves just before sunset. I didn’t want them to wake and get up, so I tried to sneak by. It made me happy to look back and see them continue to sleep. It was a long day, but I found a great ledge in that same field with a sunset view as I ate. As I started to drift to sleep, I heard something hit my tent. I came to and looked beside my tent. It was a chipmunk that appeared to try to jump through my bug net! If I just had a tarp, that little bugger would have landed on my head. It looked up at me and sped through the grass…what was it thinking!
I broke camp, put a couple bars in my side pouch to snack later as I walked, and started back across the open prairie. As I popped out of the trees, I surprised a bull elk, and within 5 minutes, a couple deer ran past me. The rest of the day was spent in dense forest just climbing up and down…hundreds, not thousands of feet. Clouds built above by late morning…looked like rain. It sprinkled off and on all afternoon…so light I didn’t have to put on my rain jacket. At least it was cooler. I was able to make camp and eat before the light drizzle started. The air was calm and the rain very, very light…perfect to sleep.
Skies were clear and blue the next morning. My tent was even dry. About an hour after leaving camp, I was passing through thick huckleberries, grabbing a few occasionally. Then, a commotion…a bear was on the opposite side of the berries near a rock scramble. It bounced up the rocks, trying to put distance between us. I’m pretty sure it was a black bear (but cinnamon colored), but it could have been a grizzly…hard to tell because it happened so quick and I didn’t get a great look…it never turned around for me. I found a few raspberries and the thimbleberries were starting to turn red…not quite ripe yet. Most hikers planned to resupply in Helena with a hitch at Highway 12 at McDonald Pass. I was carrying enough food to keep moving forward and to skip Helena. A short .75 mile walk down Hwy 12 connected back to CDT trail. As I approached the intersection, a van pulled up to drop off a hiker. Yip was the Trail Angel’s trail name…she hiked the AT last year. I had not met the CDT hiker yet; his name is St Bernard and is from South Africa. We all had a short conversation, and Yip gave us both an icing slathered cinnamon bun…plopped it right in my filthy hand. As St. Bernard and I set off on a 1,400 ft climb, we got to know each other, ate the buns, and licked out sticky fingers. If you know my issues with touching food…I was freaked out, but hey, calories. We also plotted for our 25 mile water carry across exposed, hot prairie and dirt forest roads. Overnight a dry lightening storm passed to the west…impressive flashes and loud thunder.
I woke with a thirst…unusual for me. I guzzled a full liter at the next stream and loaded up 1.7 liters for the next 20 miles. I saw deer all day. Back to water miser mode…1 small sip/hr. As I got closer to the next water source, then 2 sips/hr…each time swishing around in my mouth and holding it a bit before swallowing. The highest point of the day was Granite Butte Lookout with an impressive tower. FarOut comments suggested there may be a water cache at the tower. I arrived at the tower. A family had rented the entire tower from the US Forest Service for just $58 a night. It has an awesome 360 degree view, completely protected from weather. The father immediately offered me a couple bottles of cold water…guzzled the first, sipped the second as we talked for 10 minutes. He and his family had all kinds of questions about Trail life. They also pointed out a small wildfire that was caused by lightening the night before. Fully watered up and just 3 miles away from High Divide Outfitters at Stemple Pass.
High Divide Outfitter. If you’re not a hiking gear head, you can skip this paragraph. If you like hiking gear, please pay attention…unbelievable, but I saw it!!! High Divide Outfitters deserves a moment. I have never, ever, never, ever, ever seen anything like it. It’s a cross between Narnia’s wardrobe and Harry Potter’s tent. Imagine if you’re a hiker and you walked through the back wall of a privy…😝. It’s a prefabbed 20ish X 30ish ft building. During hiker season, Dave (the owner) sleeps there. From ceiling to floor; tight tunnels, not aisles; not a single flat spot to include the counter…gear, food, snacks stuffed everywhere. Shoes? Dave has full lines of Altra and Topo shoes up to size 14…right there. Gear? REI wishes they could sell this quality of gear. Every major cottage company is there to include many major brands. From the FarOut description: Mt Hardware, Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Salomon, Merrill, Cascade Designs, Kenda, Serfas, and Bike Planet; as well as ultralite favorites like Z-packs, Yama Mt, Hyperlite Mt Gear, Mt Laurel Designs, Six Moons Designs, Superior Wilderness Designs, ULA, our own Cuban Fibre/Pertex Bivy’s, Montbell, Icebreaker, DeFeet, Vargo, Evernew, Sawyer, Feathered Friends, Katabatic, and many more. Riders will be happy to find Mt Bike/Cyclocross and Roadie accessory’s to include tires, tubes, lube, lights/headlamps, helmets, pumps, CO2’s, bike tools, gloves, leg and arm sleeves, socks, and more. HDO is also well stocked with resupply items such as Backpackers Pantry meals, Cliff, Pro, Kind, Honey Stinger, No Cow bars, Organic Bars, nut butters, Olive Oil, Knorr meals, Ramen, Couscous, Idahoan’s, and a wide selection of electrolytes, and other food and drinks. They have large and small Iso/Pro fuel cannisters, denatured alcohol/Heat, and fuel cubes for Esbit style stoves. Medical/hygiene supplies are also available including, knee and ankle supports, sports/medical tapes, bandages, Body Glide, Sports/Butt Shield, blister kits, NuSkin, Dr Bronners, toothpaste, Advil, Sun Block, Insect Repellant, etc. The gear repair section is also very well stocked. I still can’t get my head around what I just saw. This is the absolute middle of nowhere, yet the best stocked gear shop I’ve ever seen. How remote? It’s literally in the middle of the forest, miles away from paved roads and .2 miles away from the CDT. From the steps, Dave pointed to the exact spot where Ted Kaczynski’s (Unabomber) cabin was located before the FBI seized it. I bet I could find 90% of my exact gear there…I put hands on every one of my “Big 4” items. 🤯🤯
St Bernard was at High Divide Outfitters when I arrived…he was shopping, oh boy! In the US, we’re spoiled because all the cottage gear companies are here. I grabbed two sodas, a Powerade, and three candy bars for my break. After my break, I shopped for my resupply to get to Augusta, MT, 58 miles away. St Bernard ended up dropping over $900, and Dave boxed it all up to ship back to South Africa.
High Divide Outfitters to Lincoln, MT:
Dark clouds built, and I thought I should press on. Within the hour, it started to rain…full rain gear on. It only lasted an hour, and I was able to set camp in the dry just before dark.
The next morning started with rolling climbs between open prairie and trees. St Bernard starts hiking at 5:00 am, and I start at 6:00 am. We ended up linking up that morning and hiked together. He asked me if I’ve ever heard of John Cage’s music piece 4’33. I hadn’t…he described it (check YouTube 4’33). The next mountain top, we sat silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds…wonderful. I intended to hike straight to Augusta and pass the Lincoln turnoff. But, as I approached Hwy 12 (Lincoln turnoff), the promise of food, shower and a bed forced me to put my thumb up for a hitch. Bingo…caught a ride! St Bernard pressed forward since he had ZERO’d in Helena. Quick, but satisfying town stop…hotel room, cheese burger, shower, ribeye dinner with all the trimmings.
Lincoln, MT to Augusta, MT:
Breakfast was at 6:00 am at the Cenex gas station…bottle of orange juice and a blueberry muffin. At 6:15, on the curb to hitch on a Sunday…yah, no cars. Cars started to trickle by, but no luck. Finally at 8:30, I caught a ride back up to Roger’s Pass. After a steep climb, I was atop windy ridges with big long views with many many mountain tops rippling in all directions.
This was the view in all directions…mountains forever.
I think I went over half of them by the end of the day…it was a climby 8,500 ft day. And, a long day to make up for the late start. To get into Augusta, I texted a shuttle driver named Frank for a 5:00 pm pickup the next day. After the satellite text sent, I guzzled a caffeinated electrolyte and hustled down the long descent. A tough day, but I ended up getting 30 miles, hiking into darkness at 9:30 pm along Pear Creek. I was in grizzly country, so I decided to just eat bars and skipped cooking…kept food scents down. I crawled into my quilt pumped up to crush the next day.
10X10 and 20X2. Distance hikers that want to bank miles have a couple goal posts. 10 miles by 10:00 and 20 miles by 2:00…Gitty Up! Next days task…28 miles by 5:00 pm for a shuttle ride into Augusta. I woke at 5:00 am…pitch black out. By 5:35 am, I was cranking miles under headlamp making sure to be loud. Not the best time to be hiking in grizzly country, but I had work to do! I had my competitive juices flowing…I had my strategy laid out to not stop once (not even to filter water) over the 28 miles. Horses had beaten up the Trail, so I had to really focus on my foot work…couldn’t just throw one foot in front of the other. I ate snacks (bars, nuts, candy bars) while I hiked. By 10:00, I was at 11.8 miles…good start. There was a fair amount of bear scat directly on the Trail that paralleled the creek bottom 100 ft below. This was an old wildfire section with long visibility, so I kept glancing below for grizzlies in the creek…didn’t see any. At the top of Elbow Pass it was 10:48, and I had bagged 14 miles. I started to feel the fatigue of the morning miles. It was time to refuel and rehydrate…I mixed an electrolyte and started nibbling on a ProBar (my third bar). I read about blowdowns descending Elbow Pass. Yep, blowdowns still there…I moved quickly and carefully through them. They only lasted about a mile. By 2:00, I was at 22.2 miles; and at 3:40, I was at the trail head where Frank was already waiting because he just dropped someone off. So lucky…headed to Augusta early! Frank and I chatted the whole 32 miles to Augusta…31 of those miles are gravel. It’s a 1-hour drive each way for Frank, so I paid him well. Frank dropped me off at the hotel, then town chores. St Bernard, Bird (Holland), and I headed to dinner at the Buckhorn.
Augusta, MT to East Glacier, MT:
The hotel’s restaurant opened at 6:00 am…I walked in at 6:15 for my breakfast #1. Then, over to the grocery for a 133 mile resupply. St. Bernard was gonna ZERO, but changed his mind last minute to shuttle out with me. I lined up a 12:30 shuttle and ate breakfast #2. Frank dropped us off at 1:30 in the afternoon. We were entering the Bob Marshall Wilderness.(aka, The Bob), a place I had spent time when I was stationed at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls. As we entered The Bob, horse packers and guests were returning from a 7-day backcountry trip. The guests looked exhausted and a couple were just walking because their butts hurt so bad. The Trail was flat and fast.
The dirt was a fine powder like flour, and it was 90-95 degrees…I was filthy and roasting. Most of the afternoon was spent crossing another wildfire burn section. My camp target was 17 miles into The Bob. When I arrived, a group of four were already there for a 4-day trip back to the Chinese Wall. The Chinese Wall was my most anticipated feature to see in The Bob. I always regretted not seeing it when I lived in Montana 20+ years earlier…here was my chance. It was only 2.8 miles away. I made camp next to a small waterfall.
I hiked a little further than St Bernard the day before, but he caught up the next morning because he starts earlier. There it was…the Chinese Wall. It’s a 12-mile long and 1,000-feet high escarpment of overthrust limestone that juts into the sky…according to the CDT Coalition website. The CDT tracks right against 6-miles of the Chinese Wall.
The Chinese Wall…just a short section of it.
I slowed to take in the many views of the Wall, and to remember the times Jamie and I camped with our dogs on the edge of The Bob at Cave Mountain Campground. As I hiked, I heard voices. St Bernard had caught “The Family.” More about “The Family” in the Trail Tale. There was a decision to make after the Chinese Wall: 1) Stick to the CDT “red line” where we were sure the blowdowns hadn’t been cleared, or 2) take the Spotted Bear alternate route where the blowdowns were rumored to not be too bad. We opted for the Spotted Bear alternate…it was mildly overgrown and maybe 30 or so blowdowns…we made the right call. The day ended with a 2,700 ft. steep climb to 7,700 ft. where we set camp. As I got settled in my tent, I heard a big animal within 3 feet of my head. I knew what it was…not a bear, but a deer. I got out of the tent and the deer backed away, but not before nibbling on the grip of one of my hiking poles…they constantly go after salty grips and pee spots. There were 5 deer, and they reluctantly trotted away. I broke down my pole and stashed it in my tent’s vestibule.
The next morning, I descended against large rock walls through more wildfire damage as far as I could see. Once the sun lifted above the mountains, the temperature quickly climbed. At times, I’d pass through small live forest patches and get cool shade relief…so much of The Bob has been destroyed by fire. I started seeing more bear scat, then a couple tracks around creeks. Then in the mid-afternoon near a creek bottom (mile 2827 exactly), again in a burn section, I heard bushes shaking. To my right about 50 yards away was a bear butt moving the opposite direction. I started hollering at it to stop for some reason. Once it got to the dead tree line, it stopped and looked back for a few seconds…yep, a grizzly. Once in the dead trees, it slowed down and just kept walking. A few miles later around 4:00, I found St Bernard having a snack break. We climbed and passed through a very overgrown section. The thick brush branches scratched and pounded my shins as I refused to slow down. We both kicked hidden rocks. On a descent, I finally took a tumble and luckily grabbed a sapling as I headed over the Trail’s edge. Without grabbing the sapling, the fall would have been far more spectacular. St Bernard had fallen four times over the past two days…his arms were scratched up pretty bad and multiple blisters from wet feet were making him limp. He stayed back at the camp’s water source to care for them. Our camp was awesome…tucked away under huge trees in the center of a meadow…perfectly flat ground with lots of space.
I was finally there. What lay in front of me is known as the “Devil’s Wood Pile.” It was the SOBO blowdown version of what the NOBOs passed through in the Wind River Range. It sounded horrible, slow, and dangerous. A SOBO was helicoptered out a few weeks earlier with a broken leg. The US Forest Service cleared other trails, but not this section. Trail rumor is that there’s disagreement over who has responsibility for this section, so it keeps getting worse each year. High water trail 101 was the parallel trek that became the bypass. Horses use that trail, so it was perfectly clear with 10 water crossings…all crystal clear and just shin deep. The 15 mile stretch on the other side of Hwy 2 is also neglected and known for being overgrown. So, I decided to road walk into East Glacier. Those two decisions (avoid the Devil’s Wood Pile and the north side of Hwy 2) saved enough time that I got into East Glacier by 3:30 and a day early…I got to ZERO!
Extreme Endurance Feats…”The Family” and Tank Top.
1. The Netteburg Family (aka, The Family). Olan and Queen Bee have five kids. I first saw them at the Benchmark trailhead as I was heading into Augusta. I thought they were a family out for a day hike, but quickly found out they were thru hiking the CDT! Olan has the plan. They’re bouncing around the Trail in their van knocking out the most challenging sections before cold weather sets in. Olan’s pack weighed 73 lbs leaving Augusta! Why so heavy? Because Queen Bee’s carrying the newborn!!! As such, they can only cover mid-teen miles/day. I noticed they’re all wearing Xero shoes; Xero is sponsoring them with footwear. Checkout this great short story on XeroShoes’ website (https://xeroshoes.com/xero-heroes-stories/family-of-7-hikes-in-xero-shoes/). At age 6, The Beast is attempting to be the youngest ever to hike the CDT. They have a long way to go to fill in the holes south, but the force is strong with “The Family”…I think they’ll make it.
Left to right. Olan (dad), The Beast (6), Boomerang (11), Angel Wings (9), Blaze (13), Queen Bee (mom)…and, “The Baby.”
2. Tank Top. Those distance hikers that hike all three long trails (the AT, PCT, and CDT) complete what is known as the “Triple Crown.” It’s a major milestone for distance hikers. What’s beyond completing all 3 long trails totaling almost 8,000 miles? Doing all 3 trails in a single calendar year!!! Yep, it’s a thing. I believe only around 10 hikers have ever done it. Throughout my hike this year, I kept hearing names that were attempting the Triple Crown in a calendar year. The day before I made it to East Glacier, I saw a SOBO heading toward St. Bernard and me…extremely late for a SOBO. His name is Tank Top, because he always hikes in a tank top shirt. He started on Jan 14 and hiked the AT all the way up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Then, he bounced to the west coast and completed the PCT. Now, he had just started the CDT SOBO. His goal is to complete the CDT in 3 months, then back to New Hampshire in early winter. New Hampshire and Maine will surely be snow covered…tough, tough terrain in winter conditions. Tank Top rattled off 8-9 other hikers that are attempting the Triple Crown in a calendar year. He said he’s averaging 33-mile days…exactly what I’ve been averaging lately.
Until Next Time,