Fog covers a trail

Had two big horns and a wooly jaw

Day 129, Cherry Creek to Meadow Lake Campground

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Yesterday's rain and gloom didn't go away overnight. It stuck around for another round today. The conditions weren't continuously cold and wet, but once again, there wasn't any sunshine.

Weather Rain, drizzle, and fog; temperatures from low-40s to low-50s
Trail Conditions Long descents, some with many switchbacks, then a gravel road walk
Today's Miles 9.6 miles
Trip Miles 1,876.2 miles

Rain began falling again at 5:30 this morning, about the time I usually wake up. Top O's tent was nearby, and I heard snoring coming from that direction. This was a clue I could sleep in a little longer.

He later told me he heard snoring coming from the direction of my tent, which he took as a clue he could sleep some more.

The rain diminished to barely a drizzle by the time we left camp at 7:45 a.m. The late start wasn't going to hurt our day's mileage because we knew we would stop near the small ranching town of Ennis.

A forest of slender trees

We are still walking on the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate instead of the official CDT route. We've been following a track we downloaded to Gaia, but the app doesn't offer some of the information we've been accustomed to getting from Guthook.

Navigating this way has occasionally required us to make guesses and assumptions. That was often the case today.

Two cows stand in the middle of a trail

We walked through a cattle-grazing area, which didn't make the route easier to follow. Cows had added their own trails in a few places.

Though the drizzle eventually ended, low clouds lingered through the morning and sometimes caused foggy conditions.

Arrows drawn on the trail show a turn should be taken here

I felt fortunate today to again have Top O' walking ahead of me. When he came upon a confusing trail or an obscure turn, he attempted to warn me by scratching arrows into the mud. Although these usually caught my attention, they weren't foolproof.

Another arrow drawn on the trail

One turn was located where there was a gap in the footpath, with thick grass growing over what should have been the trail. I failed to notice this and kept walking ahead.

Perhaps because I'd been burned several times by poorly-marked sections of this trail, I soon sensed I should stop and confirm I was still heading in the correct direction. I wasn't but had only walked about a tenth of a mile out of my way before realizing I needed to backtrack.

When it wasn't confusing to follow, the route was easy and mostly flat for the first 2.7 miles. Then the trail began a long descent toward Madison River and Ennis Lake.

A view of Ennis Lake

Before long, the lake came into view, though I was still about four miles away from reaching it.

The terrain here was an open range with only a scattering of small trees and shrubs. This turned out to be a help as I made my way down to the lake. My GPS app placed me at a spot on the map that didn’t line up with the path and landmarks I was seeing around me on the ground.

I paused to make sure I hadn't missed another turn. When I saw there was no other road or trail nearby, I correctly concluded I was walking in the correct direction and the map was wrong.

Descending to Bear Trap Canyon

Five miles into the hike, the trail entered a side canyon and followed Trail Creek down to another canyon formed by the Madison River. This one was called Bear Trap Canyon.

Meriwether Lewis gave the river its name during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was named for James Madison, who was the U.S. secretary of state at the time and later became the fourth U.S. president.

I found Polecat and Top O' at the bottom of the canyon where they had stopped at a trailhead parking area. We attempted to dry out our gear there but didn't have much success. The sky was still too overcast.

Madison River

Polecat told us he found a site at Meadow Lake Campground, a small facility with no services except a pit toilet. It was operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and provided fishing access at the lake.

After we gave up trying to dry our tents and sleeping bags, Top O' and I followed a gravel road for the last 3.1 miles of the day's hike. This took us out of Bear Trap Canyon and around the north side of the lake to the campground.

Ennis Lake

The lake was formed at the end of the canyon after the completion of a dam on the river in 1906. The reservoir covered less than 5,000 acres. It was shallow, just 20 feet in the deepest areas.

prairie sunflowers

Although the sun never appeared, we were now well below the low clouds. The rain continued to hold off and I began to hope a few rays of sunshine would penetrate the clouds. That didn't happen.

There were some nice wildflowers to see and photograph along the lakeshore. Prairie sunflowers were the first. Also known as lesser sunflowers, they can be found throughout a wide part of North America. They can grow up to four feet tall and are often the size of shrubs, but these were smaller than that.

Rocky Mountain beeplant

Another wildflower I saw was Rocky Mountain beeplant. The first written description of this wildflower came in a book by the German-American botanist Frederick Traugott Pursh, who examined specimens collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in South Dakota.

Despite the plant's name, its flowers are attractive to many pollinators, not just bees. Native Americans found several uses for it, and it's understood that they cultivated it to ensure it was available the following year.

Dark clouds over a ridge behind Ennis Lake

Bad weather continued to hold off while I walked, but I began to wonder how long that would last. I saw dark, menacing clouds behind me on the ridge we had descended from this morning.


In the last couple of miles of our walk, the area surrounding the lake transitioned from rugged and remote to rural, with a few homes and ranches appearing along the road. A humorous sign was posted to warn motorists of this change. It said, "CAUTION, FREE RANGE CHILDREN & ANIMALS. PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY."

After Top O' and I arrived at Polecat's campsite, we set some items on the table to "reserve" it. We didn't want to set up our tents yet in case a storm blew in while we were away. We then left to drive into Ennis.

Fewer than 1,000 people live there, but it was large enough to support several businesses. U.S. Route 287 runs through the middle of the town, making it an attractive stop for vacationers. We went first to Gravel Bar, where we ate an early dinner.

We ran into Spench, Spamcake, and Cheeto Jackson, and later saw Loverboy, as we left the bar. Despite a late start yesterday, they found their way into town a short time after us.

Polecat then drove Top O' and me to a grocery store, where we purchased food for the next four days of hiking.

Polecat and Gravity sit under a tarp

Rain started falling just before we arrived back at our campsite. Not surprisingly, Polecat had a solution for that. He pulled out a tarp from his truck, and we sat under it to wait out the rain.

A large bull moose near Ennis Lake

The rain fell for about two hours before diminishing enough for us to decide it was time to set up our tents. Just then, we noticed a bull moose munching on grass about 50 yards away. It was a large and intimidating beast, probably weighing more than 600 pounds.

The moose took no notice of us and was content to finish his dinner before wandering away.

Rain continued to fall well into the night.

Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro
Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw
Had two big horns and a wooly jaw

Wooly bully, wooly bully
Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully

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