CDT 2021: Day 138, O'Keefe Mountain to MacDonald Pass/Helena

Folks are just fools making too many rules

Clouds in Montana

To hear some hikers talk, there is a clear set of rules for thru-hiking. Many people treat these as canon. For instance, one supposed rule says you can't give yourself a trail name. It must be given to you by another hiker.

Some will have you believe a thru-hike must be walked end-to-end in one direction. Your hike doesn't count as a thru-hike if you flip-flop. Or they might claim a thru-hike must be completed within a calendar year.

Though some hikers take these rules as gospel, they are phony. They are no more true than the myth that waterproof shoes will keep your feet dry.

You can give yourself a trail name if you want to. (I did.) You can flip-flop and still call yourself a thru-hiker. (I did that on the AT, PCT, and CDT.)

The organizations that manage the trails, like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, don't set rules like these. As long as you've hiked all of the miles, they will recognize your accomplishment.

DateSaturday, August 28, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy; temperatures from the mid-30s to upper-60s
Trail ConditionsDirt and gravel roads, then an up-and-down single-track trail with a few blowdowns
Today's Miles12.7
Trip Miles2038.4

Another so-called rule I hear from time to time says a nero day (near-zero miles hiking day) is a day of hiking under ten miles. Who knows why the line is ten miles? I don't have a strong opinion on this one, though it seems arbitrary and unnecessary.

Top O' and I needed to walk more than 12 miles today before we reached the MacDonald Pass. That was where we'd leave the trail to go with Polecat into Helena. Perhaps that distance is a little far to qualify as near zero, yet the day felt like a nero.

With one exception, the hiking was easy. We completed most of the walking by noon. Before long, we were in Polecat's truck and driving to town. We then had the rest of the day to complete our laundry, shopping, and other necessary chores.

A clear-cut forest

I found an unexpected amount of condensation in my tent this morning. Everything was wet, which was surprising because we weren't camped near water or on grass. We were in an open space with a slight breeze.

Condensation is likely to form in a tent when the temperature inside its walls is much different than outside. This is the same reason water beads on the side of a cold drink.

Our campsite was at about 7,200 feet above sea level. The outside temperature was cold again. It wasn't below freezing but was low enough to be several degrees colder than inside my tent.

The temperature remained cold for much of the morning.

Stacked logs next to a gravel road

After leaving camp at 7 a.m., we continued to follow the road we pitched our tents on last night. It went up about 100 feet before starting a descent that lasted most of the way to MacDonald Pass, which was 1,000 feet lower.

Much of the surrounding area had been clear-cut. The road passed several large piles of debris left over from lumbering operations. There were also large stacks of logs.

It was a shame to see so many trees removed. That was probably necessary because of an infestation of mountain pine beetles. The stacks of logs were what could be salvaged for sale.

Because the temperature remained cold well into the morning and there weren't any big climbs, I didn't stop to remove my warm layers as early as I usually do. Then after walking only a half-mile or so farther, I stopped again to put my wind shirt back on. The chilly air was colder than I thought.

Ruins of the Beatrice Mine

After getting through the clear-cut areas, I passed the ruins of Beatrice Mine. According to a report from surveys taken at the site in 1995 by the U.S. Forest Service, the gold mine was only active from 1901 to 1903.

All that remained here today were tailings and the ruins of two log cabins.

Thousands of mines were dug in this part of the Boulder Mountains, with names like Orphan Boy, Pauper's Dream, Golden Muskrat, and Lucky Joe. A small percentage are listed as still active.

An airplane circles overhead

As I walked near the Beatrice Mine site, I heard a plane flying overhead. I didn't pay much attention to it at first. Then it turned around and appeared to circle me.

I don't have any proof someone was keeping an eye on me, but it was a creepy experience nonetheless.

A view of Red Mountain

After I was past the mine, the trail began a series of ups and downs, with occasional views of distant mountains. The weather wasn't ideal for seeing anything far away, however. The most prominent mountain I saw was Red Mountain, a little more than a mile away.

There are at least three mountains in Montana with the same name. This Red Mountain stands near Helena at an elevation of 8,150 feet.

Blowdowns across a trail

The trail was sometimes well-marked and sometimes poorly marked. The most frustrating section, however, was where it left the road to follow a single-track path. I was at first glad to be off the road, but soon I had to walk over several fallen trees. They were all lying at heights that were difficult for my short legs to step across.

A grassy hill with a CDT sign

Weather conditions began to improve around 11 a.m. The clouds pushed away to reveal large openings of bright blue sky.

The trail crossed a broad, grassy hill, and I began to see some day hikers when I got to the other side. I didn't see any thru-hikers today.

A wooden boardwalk across a marsh

The trail next dropped into a wetland where a boardwalk had been constructed. Then after a short climb, I arrived at a parking lot. Polecat was waiting with Top O' when I got there. This wasn't MacDonald Pass, however, so we weren't yet at the highway into town.

We had less than a mile to get there and decided to leave our packs in Polecat's truck before finishing the walk to the highway. Tomorrow when Polecat drops us off to begin hiking again, we will start from the pass.

Walking toward MacDonald Pass

The trail down to the pass was barely visible across a grass-covered hill, but that didn't matter. We could see all the way to the bottom and didn't need the trail to know where to go.

By the time we reached the parking lot at MacDonald Pass, Polecat was waiting for us. We then drove to Helena, first in search of a restaurant still serving breakfast. That turned out to be a place called Steve's Cafe.

We then looked for a motel for the night. Because we had good luck staying at a Super 8 on Day 126, we decided to go the one in this town. Our experience didn't turn out to be as pleasant, however.

The worst thing about the motel was the dryer didn't work in the guest laundry room. We had to go to a laundromat to wash our clothes.

We then found a large supermarket to purchase our food for the next trail section. Four days of food were needed, which would be enough to get us to the town of Lincoln. That was assuming, of course, we could keep up our daily mileage the way we've done lately.

Maybe – just maybe – we can get to the Canadian border in about three weeks. And maybe we can do it without breaking too many "rules."

I got home last night at ten past two
My folks turned blue, their tempers flew
I gotta be in bed at quarter to ten
There go those rules again

Too many rules, too many rules
Folks are just fools making too many rules
I'd pray the stars above, I haven't lost your love
'Cause there are too many rules


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