CDT 2021: Day 148, Rock Creek to East Fork Pentagon Creek

There goes my hero

A closeup of water over rocks in Pentagon Creek

The Chinese Wall did not disappoint. It was as spectacular as I thought it would be, and I couldn't stop looking at it.

Although the trail would take us past more of the wall today, Top O' and I would have to leave it soon and continue our northward journey to the Canadian border. Polecat planned to turn around this morning and hike south back to his truck at Benchmark Trailhead. We've made plans to meet him again in three days when we get to Marias Pass.

DateTuesday, September 7, 2021
WeatherSunny with smoke, then becoming partly cloudy; temperatures from the mid-40s to low-70s
Trail ConditionsOvergrown in some sections with a large blowdown
Today's Miles20.1
Trip Miles2207.0

When I went to bed last night, the temperature seemed colder than it's been lately. Yet when I woke up, it didn't feel as chilly as I expected. Once again, the night was dry and comfortable.

Drier air should be expected this time of year. I have been surprised, however, by the amount of smoke in the air lately. We've had smokey conditions for weeks, as far back as when we were hiking south through Colorado. Some days have been worse than others, but it has never gone away.

The source of the smoke hasn't come from just one fire but has spread from several all over the West.

The top portion of the Chinese Wall is struck by morning sunlight

The smoke didn't hinder a dazzling display we saw this morning as we were about to leave. The first rays of the rising sun hit the top of the Chinese Wall. The entire top layer of the rock bluff glowed a brilliant orange as if it were lit from within.

A mule deer stands and watches

I was greeted by a couple of mule deer when I left the campsite. They eyed me warily but didn't flee as I walked by.

Bob Marshall Wilderness is a prime habit for grizzly bears. I haven't seen any or noticed signs of them so far. "The Bob," as the wilderness is often called, is one of the largest grizzly habitats, so I know they're around.

A cyclist was killed in his tent by a grizzly just two months earlier on the edge of the wilderness.

The number of grizzly bears has increased significantly since the early 1980s when their number dwindled to only 386 bears. The Conservation Fund says more than 1,000 now live in the Rocky Mountains.

It would seem that an increase in the bear population would make it more likely to see some. It's possible, though, that conservation efforts have also made them harder to find. That's because they now have a wider range to roam.

Years ago, only a few places like The Bob were a safe environment for grizzly bears. More land is federally protected today, and ranchers have become more tolerant of grizzlies. These changes have allowed the bears to extend their territory.

Sun shines across one side of a valley

Within minutes of leaving camp, I began a climb that was just steep enough to give me a good warm-up for the day. It lasted 1.2 miles, then the trail's next half-mile was a short drop.

A number 200 is written in rocks

I came upon a handmade marker on the first descent. It was one of the most artistic I've seen on any of my thru-hikes. Someone had crafted the number 200 with small rocks and decorated it with sticks and red leaves. I smiled when I saw this display because it reminded me I was closing in on Canada.

The only thing was, I didn't really know if I had just 200 miles to go. After all, this was the CDT, where everyone chooses their own path. Whoever determined that spot was 200 miles from the border may have calculated the mileage using a different route than I will take.

A case in point was coming up just a few miles ahead. Top O' and I thought we might follow the Spotted Bear Alternate, which was about 15 miles shorter than the official route.

Looking south at the Chinese Wall

As the trail began a second climb, it went near the Chinese Wall. This section offered the last close-up view of the wall and also the broadest, most unobstructed view of it. The trail went within 50 yards of the base.

There were few trees along this stretch. Because of that, I could look back and see three miles of the wall that extended behind me...

Looking north at the Chinese Wall

...and ahead to see another three miles of it.

The Chinese Wall is farther away

I frequently turned around as I made the next climb to catch more views of the wall. It was so magnificent, I couldn't stop looking at it.

Still, I also had to focus on the climb, which rose another 400 feet in a little more than a mile.

The last view of the Chinese Wall

There were a few more short ups and downs after that, and along the way, I had one last view of the wall. It went out of sight when the trail turned to pass by Larch Hill.

My Lake, Montana

The next couple of hours of walking were relatively mundane. The trail went by a shallow lake, but otherwise, it passed through a sparse collection of trees. Most were lodgepole pine.

Spotted Bear Valley

After seven miles, I reached the junction where the Spotted Bear Alternate split from the official CDT. Top O' stopped there to wait for me and confirm we wanted to go that way. We consulted the comments posted in the Guthook app to see if they offered any insight about which route was better.

As best we could tell, a trail maintenance crew had recently cleared blowdowns on this route. That was good news for us, so we elected to take the alternate. We've had to plow through some brutal sections of blowdowns on this hike and were in no mood for more.

Top O' walks down the trail

The trail made a long, steady drop as it entered a valley formed by Spotted Bear River. The next ten miles would be a continuous descent along the river, going down 2,000 feet in elevation for that distance.

A fallen tree across the trail

I found the trail to be mostly clear, except there was one large tree blocking the trail. From the looks of it, the crew attempted to cut up the tree, then gave up. Perhaps their equipment wasn't up to the task, or they intended to return to finish the job. For me, it was a difficult obstacle to climb around.

The trail is overgrown

I didn't find any more blowdowns the rest of the way down the valley, but the trail was overgrown in a few spots. These sections posed a challenge because I couldn't always see where I was placing my feet. It seemed like I was constantly at risk of stepping badly on a rock or root, either to twist my ankle or trip.

Though I stumbled a couple of times, I made it through the covered trail without falling.

Spotted Bear River

The trail crossed the river three times and also crossed some feeder streams. Top O' and I stopped near one crossing for lunch. It was a sunny spot and would have been suitable for a "yard sale" to dry our gear. That wasn't necessary today, however, because we didn't get any condensation last night.

I never saw any hikers today, but I passed some hunters on horseback after lunch. They had been bow-hunting for elk, and the head of one they killed was strapped to a mule.

The hunters didn't stop to talk but asked questions about my hike as they slowly rode past me. They seemed startled and impressed when I told them I began hiking from the Mexican border and was walking to the Canadian border.

"That’s freakin’ awesome!" I overheard one hunter say to another after they passed me. "I want to do that!"

I felt awkwardly proud when I heard that. Thru-hiking isn't an ordinary activity everyone wants to do, yet I'm often reluctant to think it deserves admiration from others. It's just walking, I usually tell myself.

After pondering this a moment, I thought, "You're right. This is freakin’ awesome."

I also hoped that guy was inspired to start planning a thru-hike.

A log used to cross a creek

At the end of the ten-mile descent down Spotted Bear Valley, the trail crossed East Fork Pentagon Creek. I discovered that an easy way across wasn't immediately obvious. The stream was shallow, but it wasn't possible to rock hop across because none of the rocks were large enough to stand above the water.

It took some extra effort to find a crossing without wading. I eventually found a log to take me across, then had to bushwhack my way back to the trail.

A campsite with two small tents

I walked about three more miles after crossing the creek, and at 6:15 p.m., I arrived where Top O' had stopped for the night. The campsite was cozy, with barely enough room for our tents.

It felt rewarding to complete 20 miles and still have plenty of daylight for camp chores and to eat dinner. I might be particularly grateful tomorrow for this relaxing evening. When I looked at the trail profile of tomorrow's route, I saw it included about 4,000 of climbing. Half of that will come in the first 3.5 miles.

I wished I didn't know that.

Too alarmin' now to talk about
Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary


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