CDT 2021: Day 134, Whitehall/Interstate 90 to Nez Perce Trailhead

You gotta get up in the morning, take your heavy load

Top O' walks on a road

If you're a thru-hiker, you often have difficulty getting out of town after a stop to resupply. Beds, bathrooms with running water, and restaurants that serve hot meals tug at you to stay and enjoy these "luxuries." You want to stay until checkout time or even request an extended checkout time. You might then linger at a coffee shop before finally convincing yourself it's time to leave.

I admit I've succumbed to these temptations from time to time, but thankfully, that didn't happen today.

DateTuesday, August 24, 2021
WeatherMostly sunny with some smoke; temperatures from low-40s to mid-70s
Trail ConditionsA long ascent, starting on gravel and dirt roads, then trail to a short descent
Today's Miles22.7
Trip Miles1964.9

The day before yesterday was a wake-up call when I discovered I still had about a month of hiking to complete the CDT. Top O' and I have lately averaged fewer than 15 miles per day. That needed to change.

Hiking 18.7 miles yesterday was a good start. Most of our remaining days need to be at least that distance.

A gravel access road next to Interstate 90

With that in mind, Top O' and I were committed to not letting the town of Whitehall hold us back from reaching our mileage goal today. Nevertheless, it almost did. We would have stopped at a coffee shop if it had been open.

Polecat drove us back to the same spot where he dropped us off yesterday. We arrived shortly after 7 a.m. and were soon walking on a gravel access road on the north side of Interstate 90.

Polecat's plan for today was to drive ahead to a trailhead that accessed the CDT. He thought he might hike in from there to meet us.

A look back toward the Tobacco Root Mountains

The day started chilly and breezy but quickly warmed as we started a long climb. The first 17 miles would be a continuous ascent of 3,500 feet.

I wasn't far into the climb before I could turn back and see the Tobacco Root Range. Those were the mountains we walked through after we left Ennis Lake on Day 130.

The access road went parallel to the interstate highway for a mile before making a series of sharp turns right, left, and right again. Somewhere along there, I lost track of Top O' but assumed he was cruising much faster than me.

After walking another mile or so, I looked back and discovered he was behind me. He had made a wrong turn but didn't walk far before realizing his mistake.

Spire Rock, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

The road took us past private property, then turned away from the interstate to enter an area managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

About five miles into the day, the road entered Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. There are nine units of that national forest, which are scattered across western Montana. This was the third unit we've crossed.

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest covers 3.36 million acres and is the largest national forest in the state.

We weren't far inside the national forest before we passed a weathered outcropping called Spire Rock, which jutted to 262 feet above the road.

A rough section of road

After walking eight miles, we left a gravel road to follow a dirt road. There were a lot of ruts in the road, and it appeared to be heavily used by people on UTVs and dirt bikes. We saw several riders today but no hikers.

While we stopped for lunch, I received a text message from Polecat. He confirmed he would hike in from the trailhead to meet us.

A deeply eroded trail

We turned from the dirt road to follow a single-track trail, which was heavily used by dirt bike riders. It was deeply eroded, requiring balance and agility to avoid stepping into a rut.

A junction with the Nex Perce Trail

Relief from the rough trail came when we reached another one. A sign there said it was not suitable for off-highway vehicles.

The new trail wasn't easy to walk either, but at least it didn't have deep ruts. It was called the Nez Perce Trail, though it was not the same trail as the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, which is a 1,170-mile auto route through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

A nearby marker had an imprint of the CDT emblem and an arrow. I thought for a moment I was starting to walk on the CDT. Then as soon as I checked the map, I realized I wasn't there yet. At least I knew I was heading in the right direction. I was about four miles away from it.

A boardwalk at Halfway Park

I was surprised to find a boardwalk when the trail crossed a meadow called Halfway Park. This kind of trail feature is used in marshy areas but usually only on trails that get a lot of use. I could see how this area could be wet in the spring, but I didn't think it would see many hikers. I wasn't yet on the CDT.

A last look at the Tobacco Root Mountains

The highest part of the trail came about a mile before it connected to the CDT. A large boulder on the way to the top offered a spot where I could stand and look back again toward the Tobacco Root Mountains. The elevation there was a little more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

A marker identifies the CDT

I knew I was in the right spot when I reached the CDT because it was unusually well-marked. I counted at least three signs within a few feet of each other that identified the trail.

It felt good to be back on the official route. Top O' and I had followed the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate for 19 days. Although the alternate was enjoyable, it wasn't easy to navigate. We couldn't use the Guthook app or Jonathan Ley's maps for that, so we didn't have some of the information we'd become accustomed to.

Polecat and Top O' were waiting for me less than a mile farther down the trail. It was where Polecat had stopped at a campsite near a trail junction.

Polecat walks with Top O'

Although the campsite was roomy, there was no place nearby to get water. Top O' and I weren't carrying enough for cooking dinner and hiking out tomorrow. We knew we would find water on the way to the trailhead where Polecat left his truck, though. We decided to go there. It was just four miles away.

The trailhead had a wide, flat spot suitable for camping. No one else was there, so we decided to pitch our tents and stay.

It felt good to hike nearly 23 miles today. I didn't feel drained of energy when we stopped, which gave me confidence I could handle the extra miles I needed to hike.

We won't be able to hike that many miles every day. One reason for that is we will still have to leave the trail from time to time to resupply. Having Polecat with us will make those stops more efficient, however.

The next opportunity for that will be tomorrow. We decided tonight there was no need to stay overnight in Butte. We just did our laundry yesterday, and we only need to resupply for the next three days.

Tomorrow morning we will hike to Interstate 15, a distance of about 2.5 miles. Polecat will pick us up there and we'll drive into Butte for breakfast and shopping. Then we'll drive back and return to the trail.

We won't have time tomorrow to walk big miles like we did today, but the mileage will be a lot farther than if we stayed overnight in Butte. There's no telling what excuse we'd find to linger there a little longer.

So I drifted for a while down the road to ruin
I couldn't find my way 
I didn't know what I was doin'
I saw a lot of people coming back the other way
So I kept on goin' when I heard them say
You gotta get up in the morning, take your heavy load
And you gotta keep goin' down the long black road


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.