CDT 2021: Day 150, Strawberry Creek to North Badger Creek

I've been searchin' every which way

Top O' and Thirteen walk through tall grass

You are not at the top of the food chain when you're hiking on the CDT in Montana. Grizzly bears are much faster and stronger than you and are often hungry.

Fortunately, the forest usually provides plenty of roots, grasses, insects, fish, and small mammals to keep the bears well-fed. Grizzlies will hunt large mammals when necessary, but humans aren't usually the first choice for their next meal.

Nevertheless, it's wise to take several precautions when hiking here. Top O' and I have been carrying bear spray since we entered grizzly country in Wyoming. We also try to cook and hang our food far from where we sleep.

People often wonder if a gun is the best protection against a charging grizzly, but statistics have proven bear spray is a far more effective deterrent. A study found that shooting a bear with a gun didn't always stop it from attacking, but people who used bear spray were uninjured 98 percent of the time.

DateThursday, September 9, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy and smokey with a brief evening rain shower; temperatures from the mid-40s to low-70s
Trail ConditionsLarge burnt sections and several overgrown sections, with a moderate elevation change
Today's Miles19.1
Trip Miles2247.2

Bear spray might be effective, but I don't want to be in a situation where it is necessary. I would like to see a grizzly from a safe distance.

I've seen grizzly footprints and scat, but the only bears I've seen so far on this hike were black bears. And even then, I only got a glimpse.

It's not like I haven't tried to see a grizzly. I actively and intentionally search where I walk to make sure I won't be surprised by one. When foliage along the trail is so overgrown it is difficult to see ahead, I sometimes call out, "Hey bear!"

Still, I have yet to encounter a grizzly bear.

Until today.

Burnt, dead trees

After another dry and comfortable night, I was slower to leave camp than usual. I stood around instead and talked to Thirteen and El Dorado, and didn’t leave until 8 a.m. They were still packing when I left.

The trail soon entered another large burn area. Every slender lodgepole pine tree was black and dead.

Sun shines through trees

I had been walking about an hour when I heard rustling noises in the brush to my right. My head snapped in that direction. Was it a bear or just a squirrel?

When I didn't see anything, I assumed a squirrel made the noise and kept walking. El D caught up to me about 30 minutes later and asked, "Did you see the grizzly bear cubs?"

I wasn't entirely surprised by his question because of the noise I heard in the leaves. Then he showed me a short video clip of the cubs he shot minutes ago on his phone.

There was no sign of their mother. El D and I agreed she couldn't have been far away. We were both glad we weren't around long enough to see her.


I ran into a southbound hiker, who turned out to be someone I knew. It was Foxy. I met her at the Toaster House on Day 20. She told me she stayed there several more days to heal her injured foot. When she got back on the trail, she continued north until she decided to flip to Montana and hike south before winter weather arrived.

Thinking about the day I met Foxy at the Toaster House felt odd. It seemed like it happened years ago.

Seeing her was another reminder about the quick friendships hikers form on a long-distance trail. We only saw each other one day, which was more than 18 weeks ago, yet here we were chatting like old friends.

I knew she had hiked for a while with Just Awesome, and I told her to keep an eye out for him. He should be six or seven days behind me.

El Dorado and Thirteen walk through dead trees

The trail was making a steady climb as it followed Strawberry Creek upstream. The 6.2 miles that led to Badger Pass from our campsite went up just 600 feet.

The gradual ascent was easy to walk, but walking among so many dead trees made the morning a little depressing. The air seemed clearer today, and that improved the mood some. There were no clouds in the sky.

A CDT trail marker on a tree is burnt

The wildfire that swept through here was called the Strawberry Fire. It was started by lightning in 2017 and burned more than 30,000 acres in 68 days.

Looking down toward Beaver Lake

After reaching the top of Badger Pass, the trail began a steep drop to Beaver Lake.

The forest is green and alive

At last, the trail went through a section not damaged by the Strawberry Fire. That didn't last for long, but then after another stretch of trail through dead trees, we finally left the burnt forest.

Overgrown shrubs across the trail

Being rid of the blackened trees turned out to be a "be careful what you wish for" moment. When the trail re-entered a forest that wasn't charred and dead, the vegetation sometimes became so overgrown I couldn't see the footpath.

The only positive thing about these conditions was the shrubs weren't wet. Otherwise, I would have gotten soaked while walking through them.

That was a topic of conversation when I stopped for lunch with El D, Thirteen, and Top O'. Everyone was growing annoyed by shrubs and weeds overtaking the trail.

Top O' and Thirteen walk in tall grass

There were more overgrown sections after lunch, which were becoming tiresome. I sometimes felt like I was bushwhacking.

I arrived at Kip Creek as Top O', Thirteen, and El D were about done collecting and filtering water. Like me, they were still complaining about the condition of the trail.

Then one of them suggested taking a short alternate on the North Fork Badger Creek Trail. It followed an old road and had been the official footpath before the trail was rerouted.

This was a welcomed idea. Several comments in the Guthook app claimed the alternate was a clearer trail than the official route. I also remembered that Golden recommended this alternate when we met him at Rogers Pass.

Running Owl Mountain

Top O', Thirteen, and El D went on without me while I stayed at the creek to refill my water bottle. I caught up to them a short time later when I found them stopped on the trail. They were staring at a mountain.

They were watching a mother grizzly and her two cubs climbing the mountain. The bears were so far away that I didn't see them at first. I had to look for some movement when someone pointed me in the right direction.

Mama stopped and appeared to look back in our direction. She was so far away, we knew she wouldn't consider us a threat. This was exactly what I wanted for a grizzly encounter.

There is less smoke in the sky

A mile or so farther up the trail, Thirteen discovered she had cell service. I took the opportunity to call Kim and check about her plans to pick me up when I finished at the Canadian border.

I also got text messages from three friends, who updated me on where they were with their hikes. Baguette was still off the trail after leaving in July but hoped to return soon. Beer Goddess wasn't far behind us. OldTimer had just finished.

A large group of hikers

We found the large, flat campsite described in the Guthook app. As we were wrapping up the evening, several familiar faces arrived. They were Loverboi, Cheeto Jackson, Tobey, Spamcake, and Spench. With them were two hikers I hadn't met before, Pressure Drop and Janis Joplin. They didn't stay long to chat because they planned to hike about a mile farther.

I went to bed soon after they left. A light rain began to fall seconds later. It didn’t last more than five minutes, however, and no more fell after that.

Well now, if I have to swim a river, you know I will
And if I have to climb a mountain, you know I will
And if she's hiding up on Blueberry Hill
Am I gonna find her child? You know I will

Well, I've been searchin'
Oh yeah, searchin', my goodness
I've been searchin' every which way
I'm like that North West Mountie
You know I'll bring her in someday

Gonna find her
Gonna find her


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