This is update #14.
Chris “Pacer” Ford has completed his thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). He began on April 30, 2022. He kept 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 29, 2022
2,967 of 2,967 miles…CDT 100% complete!
Jamie…for letting go of me (once again) so that I could find my way back home to you perhaps a little more complete, whole, and a smidge better than when I left.
Jamie, Kim, Jim, Martin, Wendy…for all the “yellow-blaze” miles and the time to reconnect.
Everyone that followed along…for the hitches, shuttles, trail magic, encouragement, e-mail responses, and your positivity.
New Mexico = Gila River
Colorado = Collegiate Mountain Range
Wyoming = Wind River Range
Idaho/Montana = Glacier National Park
Overall = Glacier National Park…an absolute wonderland for hiking.
Breakfast = Montana Cafe, Darby, MT. The hiker trifecta…huge, high quality, cheap.
Burger = Dave’s Last Stand, Pinedale, WY.
Pizza = Gannett Grill, Lander, WY.
Mexican = Texaco Gas Station, Cuba, NM.
Steak = Oxbow Reataurant, Lander, WY.
Dinner = Briar Rose Chophouse, Breckinridge, CO.
Staying in East Glacier a few days allowed me to see several hikers in my bubble…and I’ve met most of them at some point during my hike: Peppermint, Ninja, Walking Man, Pneumonia, Blouse, Denver, Just Right, Big Green, 700 Club, Ross, Porky, Bird, Professor, Tall Son, Hot Rod, Peaches, Ross, Beat, Martin, Boomerang.
Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC) Update:
As I mentioned in the last update, the CYTC is just short of 8,000 miles…AT, PCT, and CDT. In just a couple days, I hit a bubble of several hikers attempting the CYTC. Boomerang (Germany), Blouse (SC), and Professor (TN)…barely missed Kansas Express. Professor’s attempt is far more audacious and deserves a little background. He’s attempting to hike 11,000 miles this year to break Cam “Swami” Honan’s record of 10,244 miles. Swami is one of the hiking legends with 60,000+ miles hiked all over the world. Professor’s attempt is a BFD, and he’s well on his way to success being about 2,000 miles ahead of this year’s CYTC pack. While Professor was in East Glacier, we chatted over dinner. Turns out that he’s from Maryville, TN, just 20 miles away from me…East Tennessee Represents!!!! Once he’s done, we plan to link up back home. Here’s a link for all the details: https://thetrek.co/a-calendar-year-triple-crown-and-then-some/.
The Final Plan:
Cookie Jar and I had set the plan for the final days a few weeks earlier. She and Kim would fly to Great Falls, rent a car, and join me in East Glacier the day before I finished the Trail. For my last day, Cookie Jar would drop me off around sunrise on Aug 26 at the Many Glacier Lodge in GNP; I’d hike the last 27 miles to the Canadian border at Chief Mountain where she would walk the last few steps with me.
East Glacier to Glacier National Park:
I wanted to get to the Two Medicine Ranger Station (10 miles away) early to give myself the best chance to get a same day backcountry permit, so I left East Glacier about 45 minutes before sunrise. Within the first 10 minutes, I was out of town and already on overgrown trail and soaked from the “carwash.” I noticed fresh overnight grizzly tracks on a dirt road near a pond and made a lot of noise to make sure any bears on the town’s perimeter would hear me coming. I was already in my 2,500 ft climb to 7,400 ft and turned off my headlamp as daylight slowly turned up. I wondered if I’d beat the sunrise to the top of the climb, and I did. There it was…Two Medicine Lake far below surrounded by green forest, puffy clouds in a blue sky, and rocky massive peaks as far as I could see…what a great start to the day. I stopped many times while descending the switchbacks to watch the day wake and the views change. I got to the ranger station around 9:30 with only one person in front of me. I got lucky as I built my backcountry plan with the ranger and was able to continue hiking the same day. I’m the only CDT hiker that I know of that got that privilege. All others had to wait one day at Two Medicine before they could continue…skipping town breakfast and leaving early was the difference. I only had 15 miles to get to the Atlantic Creek campsite so I went down to the gift shop for a breakfast burrito, a raspberry fritter, coffee…and a chocolate milk. After an hour break, I headed back to the Trail and started working my way up the second climb to 7,600 feet. The views grew as I climbed; I couldn’t stop taking pictures; I couldn’t stop, stopping…spectacular! Huckleberries were still abundant, so I plucked them as I continued my climbing and as Old Man Lake got smaller below. Staggering…the view from Cut Bank Pass was immediately my favorite of the entire CDT.
Cut Bank Pass…this was my favorite view of the entire CDT. I hope you can expand the panoramic pic and see it well.
Old Man Lake far below on my left and Pitamakan Lake below on my right…other lakes too. Deep green forest below, blue sky and puffy clouds below…and those brown, gray, red, pink, copper peaks stretched in all directions. I took my pack off, sat down in silence and just watched. I became part of the moment with a marmot, the ants and butterflies. Glacier National Park shot up to my favorite section of the CDT. I descended past Pitamakan Lake and hiked along its outlet that was a creek’s headwaters into the trees. I thought to myself this looks like moose territory. Shortly after that thought, there he was. A bull moose was laying on the other side of the creek for an afternoon rest. He didn’t get up as he watched me pass. I arrived at the Atlantic Creek campsite by 5:00…a few hours earlier than usual for me. I had so much time, I didn’t know what to do with it all. By 7:45, I was already trying to go to sleep.
The next day’s mileage was only 25 miles. Since my mileage was again much shorter than usual, I slept in until 6:30. Shortly after getting back on Trail, I rounded a corner and a cow moose was about 50 feet from me right on the Trail. I spoke softly and kindly to her. After a few moments, she slowly turned around and comfortably walked up the Trail and stepped into the trees. I followed her; she stepped about 20 feet off Trail and turned her head back to watch me pass. I’m sure she turned right around and continued down the Trail when I was I gone. I was already climbing…not just any pass, this one was exceptionally unique…Triple Divide Pass. Along the entire CDT, water either ends up in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. At this pass, water can also eventually make its way into the Arctic Ocean. Continuing my climb up the Pacific side to the pass just below the summit, I paused to look at the green open valley below. Four moose (a bull and three cows) mingled. Across the valley up high on the mountain side, I saw white spots. They were mountain goats, but they were too far away to get a clear picture. Once at the pass, I took a snack break to absorb this 3-drain marvel and its many features above and below me. The rest of the day would be spent 3,000 feet below without these high views. I decided to push on and descended the Atlantic side back into forest. The many sounds of water surrounded me. Out of forest, I started across a wildfire section and soon heard a solo wolf repeatedly release slow haunting howls. I could hear exactly where it was, but couldn’t see it. It was around noon, and I was looking for a shaded lunch spot in the exposed fire section. From across the stream, I saw a black bear. I stopped to watch. It worked its way down to the stream and out of sight. After a couple minutes, it climbed up to my side in good view. It went from bush to bush plucking off serviceberries. It had no idea I was there and watching. I planned to just let it wander by and continue to feed, but it turned my way and I had to speak up. Like the moose earlier, I spoke softly and friendly…it stopped mid-step pausing to look at me for about the same length of time as the moose. Neither of us were threatened, and it slowly trotted back to the stream and across. Great, it went the exact direction I was headed for lunch…I’d just keep an eye out for it. I went over to the very bush it plucked berries from to get a few ripe purple berries for me. I found a tiny shade spot under a live pine tree for lunch. The Trail soon exited the wildfire section, and I walked several miles along St Mary’s Lake in the trees. This section was wildly overgrown…it wasn’t hard to make noise so bears would know I was coming. I had a waterfall coming up that promised better Trail conditions because it was so close to Going to the Sun Road…gobs of park visitors would have widened that section of Trail, and they did…I finally cleared the overgrowth. I was less than two miles from my next campsite at Reynolds’s Creek, so I took plenty of time to admire the water falls and cascades. I was stopped by a father and son that asked what I was doing since I looked different than everyone else (backpack, dirty, etc). Once I described my quest, we talked for at least 15 minutes as they both fired repeated questions at me, then a few others gathered around with their questions. It was great fun answering and asking a few questions of my own. Off to my camp…right at the camp, I crossed a short suspension bridge and filtered camp water. The campsite’s entry was only 50 feet away. I wandered through and confirmed I was alone. I pulled my food out of my pack and went to hang it on the bear pole up front. I heard voices across the stream, then a couple young hikers speed walked into camp right along the stream’s trail. They said, “there’s a grizzly right there; it just crossed the stream as we crossed the bridge.” I asked, “Did it climb the bank to this side?” They said, “Yes.” I had my bear spray and they did too. I walked over to them and scanned the stream…no bear. They were early twenties, man and woman, and pretty freaked out. They wanted out of there and back to their car. I said make plenty of noise as you cross the bridge and continue to make noise. I watched them as they lightly jogged out of sight. Now alone with a known grizzly roaming and a comment the night before about a black bear wandering around camp. I set camp…it was again much earlier than I usually make camp. I fiddled around the tent area to make sure all my “smellies” wrappers, etc were clear. Time to eat…I pulled down my food bag and decided to skip the bear-attractive scent of tuna this night. I filtered a little water to rehydrate the last meal I had that Cookie Jar made me. In between bites, I’d fold over the ziploc to reduce smell (I hoped). It was strange to eat so defensively…meaning, I was constantly trying to be aware 360 degrees around me while I ate my calories. Is this what it’s like for all the wild animals, I wondered? Do they gobble and defend? I imagined they do much of the time. I was definitely in that mode with bear spray right next to me. Back up my food went and to the tent I went. I woke in the dark to a loud clap of thunder and a bright bolt of lightening. I expected storms and hoped so hard they’d pass me by. The storm was southwest of me. I could hear and see it coming…it luckily stayed to my west and passed me by…significant lightening and thunder for about an hour. I didn’t get a single drop of rain…so lucky.
I got up a little earlier than I should have, but I only had 14 miles to Many Glacier Lodge, and I wanted to dodge potential rain. I made noise packing up in the dark and waited in the campsite for just a little more light. Around 6:00 am, I set off with headlamp on. At the bridge I saw two more headlamps…visitors had hiked the 1.2 miles down from Going to the Sun Road in darkness…they didn’t have bear spray…yikes! A steep climb of 800 ft/mile to the road, and I stowed my headlamp. I ate a Clif Bar to help fuel the rest of the 2,900 ft climb to Piegan Pass. The clouds were thick and low from the storm the night before. The clouds would either be an awesome accent by the time I got to the pass or could completely block all views. Fingers crossed, I crossed the road and started climbing. Since I entered Grizzly country, I got in the habit of looking at my altimeter and calling out loud each hundred foot mark of the climbs…I’d call out 29 times for each hundred to Piegan Pass. I entered the cloud layer and pretty quickly passed through it. The view was other worldly. Clouds below, clouds above, bright clear views of mountain tops that appeared to float on clouds; Piegan Glacier perched straight across the valley at my elevation. It sits in a cup that runneth over with gushing snow melt…the pass’ dominant sound.
Piegan Pass with clouds constantly changing and deep long views in the distance.
Holes in the clouds quickly opened and closed…one hole revealed Going to the Sun Road 2,900 ft below…the cars were tiny, yet seemed just below my feet. Fresh bear tracks overnight covered hiker tracks from the day before. This was my fourth pass since leaving East Glacier, and they were all such special moments. On the other side of the pass, the mountain top was a flat sawtooth wall that reminded me of a kings crown with a single small glowing turquoise jewel at its base…it was a bright, yet milky blue pond from the glacial melt. I chased the switchbacks down the descent with that familiar sound of water bouncing off the rock walls that surrounded me. Each switchback got me closer to the turquoise pond and eventually I dropped below it into the trees. The views and sounds transitioned to a waterfall where all the drainage above collected….louder and louder as I got closer to the 100 ft falls. The Trail flattened…I popped out on a gravel road. Up a short hill, and there was Many Glacier Lodge; it was built over 100 years ago. Off the lodge’s back sits Swiftcurrent Lake with several surrounding mountain peaks…it looks like the Alps, and the lodge is designed to look like a Swiss lodge with chalets. I ate a burger for lunch, then went down to the snack bar to wait for my shuttle driver, Unit, to get off work…he’s a chef at the lodge and hiked the CDT last year. This year, he’s providing shuttle services up and down the east side of the park. He hiked the AT in 2018…he told me that he weighed over 300 lbs and slowly built strength and dropped massive weight on the AT thru hike. He’s now fit and committed to his wellness. He dropped me back off in East Glacier at the Looking Glass Basecamp. My plan was on-track…I ZERO’s there two days, rested, and enjoyed myself lounging around.
On Aug 25th, I checked into the East Glacier Lodge…Jamie and Kim arrived late afternoon. So good to back together with my Cookie Jar. Jamie got me 3 “Triple Crown” tee shirts, and crafted me a literal triple crown (Burger King crown bedazzled with PCT, AT, and CDT logo stickers) to wear at my hike’s completion the next day. It was fun with all three of us figuring out the crown’s final design…Cookie Jar brought several sets of stickers to play with.
The next morning, Jamie and I drove to Many Glacier Lodge for a quick breakfast, and then I was off to the Trail at 7:45 am. I started the clock for 10 hours; I should be done at 5:45 pm. The Trail was soaked and soft…it rained hard the night before. The soft Trail was already covered in heavy animal tracks: grizzly, black bear, moose, elk, and deer. And, a single hiker was ahead of me as well. The skies were clearing and there was a strong breeze already at lower elevations. I hoped the cold front was pushing away. I passed by Poia Lake and met two groups of backpackers…both said the storm was tough overnight. I was in and out of trees as I worked my way through the valley. From around 200 yards, I saw a black bear on Trail eating serviceberries. I continued to walk and wondered when he’d see me…he was so focused on eating. I stopped about 100 yards away and just watched, thinking he’d eventually see me…nope. I gave in and announced my presence…he looked at me, and like the last black bear, moved off Trail. But this time, he only moved about 50 yards up the hill and stood up on his back legs to watch me pass by.
Mr. Black Bear just wanted me to leave…he had berries to eat.
Once clear, he went right back to eating serviceberries right next to where he stopped. My last climb on the CDT…I was making my way up Red Gap Pass. Through the trees, up switchbacks, traverse the rocky Trail…then the wind. A stiff wind was pouring down the mountain to my right as I approached the pass. I thought to myself how strong the wind would be at the pass. As I topped out, the wind was easily 70 mph. I barricaded near a big rock to put on my wind shirt. Just get back to the trees below, I thought to myself. I stepped it out on the descent and didn’t dilly-dally to reflect. The wind kept twisting my backpack and tossing me around. I yelled a few curse words at the CDT…taking its last few blows (accidental pun). It was a long 2,800 ft drop to Lake Elizabeth. I didn’t review the day’s final route very well…just figured it out on the fly, so I was surprised to pass such a large waterfall in the backcountry. It was Dawn Mist Waterfall…beautiful and powerful. I had been tracking 1-hour splits to make sure I was on time…I was exactly on time through the first 7.5 hours. Then, I wasn’t. It took me .5 miles to figure out that I missed a turn…that meant I had just added a full mile late in the day. I felt sprinkles hit me…I was under blue skies. Clear of trees and hustling, I saw the clouds catching up from behind. I wanted to finish clear of rain. I started jogging the flats. Could I make up the 20 minutes I lost? Could I outrun the rain? The wind shifted and the clouds moved a little east. I’m only two miles from the end…I shouldn’t be running, I thought to myself…enjoy and reflect. I refound the moment the last two miles.
The Ending. Over the last two miles, I thought about the last eight years…my time on the AT, PCT, and now the CDT; my reasons; how I’ve changed; how I haven’t changed…the millions upon millions of steps. All the while I was hiking the CDT, it felt distant in some ways. My mind lingered around all the years before the moments I hiked these four months. In 2015 when I completed the AT, I knew the CDT would eventually happen for me, but I always had a little dread, knowing it was a hard and wild Trail. It’s final steps were here, and I was relieved…there were many challenges and threats. For those reasons, I think the CDT was my most gratifying hike of the Triple Crown. My thoughts stopped when I saw a parking lot through the trees and heard voices above me. I could see Jamie and Kim; they were snapping photos as I cut through the Aspen trees. We laughed later, because I looked like Bigfoot wearing a blue hoody. At the top, Jamie and I embraced…she has been at the end of every thru hike; supported me through planning and every step over these 3 long walks. I was finally at another end. Jamie gave me the “Triple Crown” to wear to the Canadian border. Jamie, Kim, and I made our way a couple hundred yards to one of the obelisks that signify the international border. They pulled back, and I stepped to the monument. I paused several moments right in front of it with my hand out. It felt like all the AT, PCT, and CDT steps rushed through me while I paused. Then, my hand reached out…it was over. I was teary, a little emotional…I just leaned against it and felt limp. I crumbled from standing, to leaning, to sitting on the ground with my pack off. I didn’t have to hike tomorrow…oh, but I will in the days ahead…just give me a couple ZEROs. 😀
A proud moment…simultaneously wrapped up the CDT and Triple Crown. As of the end of 2021, there were 525 Triple Crowners…I’ll be on a short list that’s added in 2022.
Until Next Time,