CDT Day 151-153 Retreat from the mountains 

16th-18th September 

16 miles

East Glacier (2559.7) to East Glacier (2575.7)

It was windy. I was blown off my feet. My hiking partners Teflon and Bubbles had been blown off their feet many times. The wind was over 100 miles per hour. At first it was fun to be in the strong winds, before long it was downright dangerous. I wonder if anybody reading this has experienced wind so strong that it is impossible to walk or been blown off their feet while hiking. 

Several hours earlier we left East Glacier on route to Two Medicine a small campground with a backcountry ranger station. It was there we planned to pick up our camping permits, we didn’t make it. We left town late morning. The weather was overcast, not a breath of wind. It would be an easy day of hiking.

We reached the top of the ridge when it was too windy and dangerous to continue. We had only 100 meters to traverse a tricky exposed ridge before the 2 mile downhill hike to Two Medicine. But we couldn’t make it. My better judgement and little voice in my head said, turn around. The bitter cold froze my face. I couldn’t speak properly as my mouth muscles started to freeze. It was like is been to the dentist. It was cold. On the descent the wind blew the beanie off my head, off a cliff into the abyss. For the first time in my life I made the decision to turn around and retreat back to the town of east glacier. There have been times when I’ve had to wait out weather and times I’ve had to bail off a trail due to the weather but never have I had to make a full retreat. Teflon is an experienced hiker and she had never been in wind that strong. She also thought a retreat was the best idea. Despite Bubbles being in a multi month hiking journey, this is her first overnight hiking trip into the mountains, what a start for her. She was cold. Her face was frozen and wiped constantly by her backpack straps. Her eyeballs were frozen. She later told me she was really scared but trusted our judgement. She also mentioned that despite the wind and cold she enjoyed the challenge. Earlier she was shivering, she was cold and struggling.

Several days earlier I arrived in East Glacier. I had several days to wait for my good friends to arrive. Teflon would be joining me to the Canadian border. We had planned to meet up for this trip many weeks and months earlier. For those that have read my PCT hike will remember Teflon, we hiked about 1000 miles together. My other hiking partner Bubbles is hiking across the country west to east. We met in Colorado and have been in contact ever since. We have become more than good friends during that time. Did I mention I have a girlfriend.

The night before the hike we went to the end of season hikers party put on by the CDT Montana. Many hikers were there, some I hadn’t seen in a long time, including Thermometer who finished the trail the day before, he is the first South Korean to hike the triple crown which is the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail.

A big thank you to Ross who sent me Tim Tams all the way from New Zealand.

CDT Day 150 To East Glacier

14th September 

17.5 miles

Bushcamp (2542.2) to East Glacier (2559.7)

The hike to East glacier was fairly easy and the miles went quick. The trail spent most of its time hiding in the thick growth of bushes that seem to happen at the end of season. When the views did present themselves it revolved around the huge Glacier Mountains and the quick changing colours of the aspen trees. Already they are deep yellow. Winter is coming.

The town of East Glacier was surprisingly busy. Hotels were full. Hostels were filling quick. I’ll be in town for several days of rest and relaxation. Some very special friends are joining me to hike to Canada. Stay tuned to find out who! It’s very exciting.

I did find a small cabin and commenced the important job of resting. And getting those town chores done. Rest is rarely ever rest while thru hiking.

CDT Day 149 Brutally Cold

13th September 

26.5 miles

Elbow Creek (2515.7) to Bushcamp (2542.2)

Again it was very cold overnight. Sleep eluded me as I failed to stay warm enough. The tent was frozen inside and out, my shoes were frozen solid as were my socks. My water bottle popped it’s lid as it tried to freeze overnight leaving a trail of frozen water inside my tent. This was by far the coldest night of the whole trail, probably around 10F (-12C). My sleeping bag is rated to 15F! This guy from the tropics is struggling.

I am struggling to cope with the extreme cold. Temperatures well below freezing. But some primal part of me is both comfortable with the struggle and thriving. I can’t explain it, I think I need more time to philosophise about my situation. And why I’m enjoying it so much. I’m actually enjoying this a lot. Much more than a good day at work. Maybe that’s why I haven’t quit the trail when I had many legitimate reasons to do so.

It took me a long time to leave the comforts of my tent. Putting my frozen shoes onto my frozen socks was not enjoyable. To defrost them I warmed them with the heat of my gas stove. Not recommended. My tent poles were frozen together. Each individual pole was an effort to separate. My hands froze in the process.

It was a blue sky, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. I guess the clouds disappeared last night which might account for the extreme cold. All I had to do was hike to a patch of sun to warm up.

For the most part the trail was snow free. But it took a while for my frozen socks and shoes to warm up. But slowly they warmed and slowly but surely I forgot about the pain and enjoyed the scenery. It was rather pleasant to look up at the snow covered mountain against the bright, warm blue sky.

I stopped on a hill in the warmth of the midday sun. My gear was damp and needed to be dried out. Specially my sleeping bag. The moisture was enough to stop the down from lofting properly. And my tent was still frozen. 

While resting and waiting for gear to dry another appeared from nowhere. It was Boston Chris. He had a black eye and cuts on his face. It looked like he had a fight with a bear. Turns out he took a nasty fall and used his head to break his fall. He was fine. Turns out everyone has been suffering with this unexpected weather. 

We set off hiking together but soon he was well ahead of me. I aimed to hike to a campground near the main highway in Glacier National Park but time and daylight worked against me. I set up camp on a high ridge as it was getting dark. Tomorrow I’ll be in the town of East Glacier. Hopefully ther will be some other hikers to talk to. 

CDT Day 148 A cold day hiking in the snow and mud

12th September 

24.7 miles

Clack creek (2491) to Elbow Creek (2515.7)

It was brutally cold. I was unable to sleep. My sleeping bag is rated to 15F (-10C) and it barely kept me warm. There was a layer of ice on the inside of my tent and either snow or ice crusted on the outside of my tent. Even my shoes were frozen. As I cooked breakfast in the tent the heat defrosted everything causing rain drops inside the tent. Embrace the brutality, I repeated to myself.

I started hiking. My feet were so cold I thought they had frozen solid. My hands were so cold they felt like they were burning. I lost all ability to move my fingers. It took a horrifying hour to warm my body. 

Once I was warm I didn’t want to stop hiking. For the first 5-6 hours I didn’t stop longer than 2 minutes. Only long enough to sip water and eat very quickly. This worked at keeping me warm and the miles seemed to fly by.

It was a little warmer in the afternoon and I was able to rest a little longer. When I say a little warmer, it was still below freezing. It snowed several times during the day, once when the sun was shining.

I took a wrong turn. I was following the trail made by a bunch of horses and mules that I met a little earlier. It was almost a mile of wasted effort. My fault for not paying attention. I did meet some other brave hikers during my detour. Turn out the trail I was on led to a trailhead. But no other CDT hikers were sighted. It was over 8 miles till I saw footprints, well, there were the grizzly tracks. Till then I was breaking trail. 

Camp was snow free after a descent to Elbow Creek. I’m so glad I wasn’t camping in the snow.

Today I walked over 2500 miles since Mexico which means I walked over 4000km today.

CDT Day 147 Hiking through a Winter Blizzard

11th September 

23.1 miles

My Lake  (2467.9) to Clack creek (2491)

I slept in. The overcast morning kept the darkness longer than normal. It was 7.45am when I started hiking. Elusive turned up at my camp just as I hitting the trail.

Light rain started to fall in the morning. The terrain turned to wet rainforest. Mushrooms were covering the sides of the trail as were the long eaten berry bushes. 

I passed many hikers still in camp all through the morning till I reached the Pentagon river which was my lunch stop. Dark clouds started forming them obscuring the tops of mountains. When I last looked at the weather forecast many days ago I remember I said there was a 20% chance of rain today. I’d already had light drizzle earlier in the morning.

I had a 3000ft climb ahead. The weather looked to me like 100% chance of rain. It looked like a storm was brewing. I set off on the climb.

About a third of the way up it started to rain. Half way up it started to snow. By the top of the pass it was a blizzard. Despite the darkness from the storm I needed to wear my sunglasses to protect the stinging in my eyes.

I constantly referred to my maps. Checking that I was on the trail, my altitude, the nearest water and where flat spots might be found to camp. I wanted to make it as far down off the mountain pass as possible.

The snow got heavier as I descended. I constantly monitored my hands and feet to make sure they stayed warm. I’ve been in this position before. I knew if I kept moving I would be nice and warm, well, more like I’d be ok.

Again the snow got heavier. I took a photo of myself only to notice my beard was frozen. I wanted to make camp a little earlier than normal so I could boil some water and put it in my Nalgene water bottle. I planned to dry out my clothes by wrapping them around the hot water bottle. 

I stopped to fill my second water bottle at a small creek as the snow got even heavier. My Nalgene water bottle was missing. I had it in a side pocket of my backpack. Wear and tear had ripped a hole in the pocket. I had been meaning to sew a patch on it. My water bottle was gone. I was annoyed at myself for all of 20 seconds before I set off to find a campsite for the night.

Ten minutes later I found a flat spot under some large trees that was relatively snow free. The only snow free area around. I set up, cooked dinner then had a comical experience trying to hang my backpack full of food for the night. It took me ten minutes to hang the bag. One failed attempt at throwing the rope over the tree involved me cutting the rope as it was wedged in the branches of a tree. I’m hoping for a warm and long nights sleep.

The evolution of a winter hiker

CDT Day 146 Walking the Chinese Wall

10th September 

28.8 miles

Sth Fork Sun River (2439.1) to My Lake (2467.9)

Again it was an early start and easy hiking on the horse superhighway. Benchmark Ranch was nearby and some trailheads that allowed easy access for horse riders. Horse riding in the wilderness seems to be a big thing in Montana.

It was 12-15 easy flat miles of hiking. I met a couple of hikers heading in the opposite direction. The Chinese Wall is the big attraction in this part of the Bob Marshal Wilderness. As are the high concentration of bears.

I stopped to photograph a fairly recent print of a black bear. Five miles later I bumped into a fellow CDT hiker, Hotshot. The last time I saw her was at Silver City before I even started hiking the trail. More than 2450 miles later I caught up to her. She mentioned that she saw her first black bear five miles earlier, same place I took the photo of the print.

We hiked together and chatted for a couple of miles where we caught Third Monty and Fix It. A mile or so later I caught up to Elusive. It’s a traffic jam of hikers.

We all spread out as we entered the famed Chinese Wall. An escarpment several miles long and maybe 150 meters tall. It stretched for several miles. It reminded me a lot of home, the Arnhem Land escarpment. But unlike home there was lots of evidence of bear activities. Prints and scat, some very recent.

It was getting late in the day as I entered the Chinese Wall area. The bear activities had me a bit nervous. It was grizzly tracks and scat that worried me. There was little in the way of flat campsites with trees nearby that could be used to hang my food. I continued hiking till later than I wanted. Lately I’ve started looking for camps around 7pm, and taking whatever I could find by 7.30pm. By 8pm it is subset time. But campsite selection is a little more important in Grizzly bear country. I wasn’t happy with my site. Starting tomorrow I’m going to start looking for campsites earlier. 

CDT Day 145 I bear sprayed myself

9th September

28.2 miles

Dearborn creek (2410.9) to Sth fork Sun River (2439.1)

It was still dark when I started to cook breakfast at 6.20am. The days are getting shorter. I felt warm overnight but the layer of ice on my tent was telling me it was rather cold.

The trail followed the Dearborn river for about 10 miles and water was plentiful. A lot of the woodlands surrounding the trail was scarred by fire. Some areas had no large trees left and little evidence of a new generation growing. Other areas were crowded with new trees all competing for advantage.

The trail crossed a total of three river valleys today. For the most part the views were good but not stunning like they were yesterday. The weather was much nicer than yesterday, blue skies, light winds and a comfortable temperature during the day.

I had loads of energy today. Much more than I’ve had in a long time. I’m not sure why. Maybe the rest days that I’ve taken lately, maybe the protein powder with added vitamins, maybe more hours of sleep due to the ever shortening days. Either way I feel better. Let’s hope it continues. 

I set up camp next to the South fork of the Sun River. While setting up the tent I accidentally stood on my bear spray. I lost the safety latch a while ago. A short burst of spray filled the air. And my lungs. I started to cough and had trouble breathing as the capsaicin took affect. My nose started to run and my eyes water. I’ve been sprayed by capsicum spray before in my previous life as a Police Officer. It was no fun then and it was no fun today! Epic camping fail in bear country!