Sunrise in Montana

Roam if you want to

Day 136, Lowland Campground to spring near Black Mountain

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Freezing temperatures in August? We had those yesterday and close to that this morning. That didn't seem right.

Though yesterday's high temperature climbed to at least 80ºF, today's high was forecast to be cooler.

Weather Cloudy with some smoke and a brief, light rain in the afternoon; temperatures from mid-30s to mid-60s
Trail Conditions Gravel road, then well-designed trail; a few blowdowns
Today's Miles 24.8 miles
Trip Miles 2,001.2 miles

I am still nearly 400 miles from the Canadian border, yet the cold has made me wonder if I'm already seeing the first hints of fall. That is not a pleasant thought. Snow soon comes on the heels of cold temperatures around here.

Climbing to a ridge

Top O' and I left our campsite in the National Forest campground at 7 a.m. We had to walk nearly a mile before getting back to the trail.

We were slackpacking again. Polecat told us he could meet us at Champion Pass, a distance on the trail of about 17 miles. We could retrieve there the gear he carried for us.

The route today was a combination of single-track trails and rough gravel roads. As soon as we got back on the trail, we climbed to a ridge that followed the Continental Divide.

We were carrying extra water this morning, which made the climb more difficult than usual. The next water source was about 18 miles away.

The CDT crests a ridge

We stayed on or near the divide for the whole day. Unexpectedly, today's hike had hints of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. There were long ups and downs, but they weren't exactly like the AT because most didn't go steeply over ridge tops.

A mountain meadow with a view of distant mountains

One section came closer to being similar to the AT when the trail crossed a meadow. This provided a wide-open view of the surrounding mountains. The grass and the scenery reminded me of crossing the balds in the southern part of the AT.

The trail crosses a grassy bald

Later, the trail crested a second meadow, and this one looked even more like an AT bald.

Tobey, Spamcake, and Cheeto Jackson caught up to me there when I stopped to check my phone for messages. Spench and Loverboy weren't here because they apparently took a different route.

And that right there showed a big difference between the AT and the CDT. If we had been hiking on the AT, it's unlikely anyone would have departed from the marked trail to follow a different route. The cultures of the two trails are different. With only a few minor exceptions, alternates are shunned on the AT. Here they are embraced.

The CDT's culture is summed best by a phrase I've mentioned before, "Make your own adventure." Much of that comes from the evolving history of the trail itself. It is a much younger trail than the AT. Sections are regularly moved as funds become available to reroute away from roads.

The roads are still here, however, and they're often preferred by hikers trying to move quickly.

Small lodgepole pines

Again today, the trail went through forests of young lodgepole pines. Clearly, these forests were being managed for lumber harvesting.

Sections of the trail we hiked today appeared to be built in only the last year or two. They weren't shown on some maps.

Grass grows on either side of the trail

Some trail sections appeared to be hastily and not properly constructed. When a trail is constructed, it will often be given a slight slope to allow for water runoff. I noticed a few times today the trail was uncomfortably canted at an angle far greater than needed for drainage. Before long, I felt like one of my legs was several inches shorter than the other.

A large swath of the forest has been cleared

Around noon, the trail passed through a large area where most of the trees were cut down. They had been killed by mountain pine beetles.

A report from the U.S. Forest Service published in 2018 says about 19.7 million acres of timber is available for harvest in Montana, with most of the acreage located in the western third of the state. That happens to be where the CDT is located.

The report shows a dramatic decline in the harvesting of lodgepole pines, which was the second-most harvested species in Montana. The loss was attributed to the infestation of mountain pine beetles. In 2018, 7.5 percent of the logs cut were from dead trees. The percentage has declined from a high of 20 percent in 2009.

Hikers sit to take a break

The trail crossed several roads today, and not all of them appeared on the map. One shown was a commonly-used CDT alternate. It was called the Anaconda Cut-off because it went through the town of Anaconda. Hikers choosing that alternate shortened their hike by about 85 miles and gained the convenience of walking through that town instead of hitching to Butte.

The downside of taking the cut-off was it added more road walking. It wasn't an option for Top O' and me because we needed to follow the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate to avoid fires in the west.

Incidentally, those fires were apparently still burning because there was smoke in the sky today.

I played leapfrog with the other hikers for most of the day, though I didn't always know when I passed them or if they passed me because of the alternate routes some were taking.

The first time we all ended at the same spot was at 2 p.m. when we stopped for a break in a forest of young lodgepole pines.

Downed dead trees block the trail

After we started hiking again, we went through an area of older pine trees. Some were dead, and that resulted in some blowdowns that blocked the trail.

The trail crosses a meadow

Thankfully, that section was small. The trail soon entered a grassy, open area. We were now less than a mile before Champion Pass.

Polecat and Top O' at Champion Pass

Polecat was waiting for Top O' and me when we arrived at the pass. He gave us the gear we left in his truck. We tried then to spread out our tents to dry, but that quickly ended when a light rain started to fall.

I wanted to encourage Polecat to hike with us because he hasn't done much of that so far. He said he preferred to go to Helena. He had a membership at Planet Fitness and could take a shower at any location. There was one in Helena.

He said he would meet us again when we got to MacDonald Pass the day after tomorrow.

Of course, Polecat didn't leave before he made sure everyone got some trail magic.

Hikers walk on a road

We left together, but I soon fell behind everyone. We walked on a road instead of the trail, which added a little extra mileage but didn't repeat the up-and-down pattern we've had most of today.

I unexpectedly saw some of the other hikers later when they returned to the road after taking a wrong turn.

A cow tank filled with murky water

At the end of the long stretch with no water, we began to find it every couple of miles. Most sources were springs piped into a cow tank, much like the ones we used in New Mexico. The water quality wasn't any better here.

The trail crosses rolling hills

After leaving the first cow tank, the trail went across the tops of rolling hills with few trees. This was a section to easily cruise along. The sky remained overcast to keep the temperature cool.

Sunlight filters through clouds

The clouds later looked like they might break up a little, but by then, the time was 5:30 p.m. Any sunlight that filtered through now wouldn't make the temperature much warmer.

Hikers stop for dinner

We stopped again at 6:15 p.m. near another spring with a trough. It was a convenient spot, and the timing was right to stop here for dinner.

While we were there, Thirteen arrived. After talking to her a couple of days ago, I figured she would show up soon. She was hiking now with Boonie, El Dorado, and Guy Number Five.

Thirteen told us they were interviewed for a newspaper article when they were in Big Sky.

We continued hiking until 8:15 p.m. This was a day of nearly 25 miles, which was just what I hoped it would be. It also put us past the 2,000-mile mark for the CDT.

Some publications say the CDT is 3,100 miles long. I'm unsure where that number comes from, but I doubt anyone has ever hiked that many miles on this trail. The Guthook app shows the distance is a little more than 2,900 miles. There probably aren't many people who've even walked that distance.

I've pointed out before that most hikers follow at least a few alternates. Many of those trim some miles from the official route's total. That has been particularly true for me when I hiked the Gila River Alternate and the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate. It looks like my hike will finish at around 2,400 miles.

Our choices in the routes we walk make the CDT unique and each of our hikes different. And because all of my miles are connected, it's still a complete thru-hike.

Now I just need to put together a few more long-mileage days and finish this hike before winter arrives.

I hear a wind
Whistling air
In my ear

Boy Mercury shooting through every degree
Oh girl dancing down those dirty and dusty trails
Take it hip to hip, rocket through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

Roam if you want to
Roam around the world
Roam if you want to
Without wings, without wheels
Roam if you want to
Roam around the world
Roam if you want to
Without anything but the love we feel

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