The sun is partially obscured by a smokey sky

If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do

Day 151, North Badger Creek to Summit Trailhead/Marias Pass

Friday, September 10, 2021

I've often said thru-hiking requires flexibility. Sometimes the trail throws a sudden change at you. Or maybe it's a surprise opportunity that comes your way. You should be prepared to roll with whatever happens. Today offered more proof of that, though Top O' and I had help in a manner most thru-hikers don't. We had Polecat with us.

Weather Partly cloudy and smokey; temperatures from the mid-40s to upper-60s
Trail Conditions Some burnt sections, many stream crossings, and only one short climb
Today's Miles 13.6 miles
Trip Miles 2,260.8 miles

Of course, the CDT itself gives us some flexibility because there are so many alternate routes and a culture that encourages their use. We used one yesterday, which we finished today. Then after leaving that alternate to get back on the official route, two more were available.

We didn't save many miles by using the alternates, but they saved enough to give us time for an attempt to make camping reservations. That's where Polecat came in. He was able to drive us to the national park.

The trail with a low sun

The string of dry, cool nights lately has been enjoyable. Last night was another comfortable one. I've been sleeping well and appreciate waking up to a dry tent and quilt.

I was the last of our group to leave camp this morning. Even though the thick smoke of the last few days appeared to clear yesterday afternoon, it was back today. There may have also been a light overcast of clouds, but it was hard to tell. The sky was a flat, pasty brown, with a hint of orange and red blended into the mix by the rising sun.

A low sun over a wide meadow

I was back on the CDT after finishing the last 1.2 miles of yesterday's alternate. Soon after that, the trail crossed a broad meadow. The open space provided a view of some surrounding mountains, though the smoke made them difficult to see.

The trail hasn't been in Bob Marshall Wilderness since yesterday afternoon. This part of the trail was in the Bear-Marshall-Scapegoat Swan Inventoried Roadless Area. That mouthful of a name simply means the land has been identified and mapped for possible inclusion in a wilderness area. The designation adds most of the protections of a wilderness, including prohibitions against road construction and timber harvesting.

Burnt trees

After I crossed the meadow, the trail entered yet another section of burnt forest. The trees looked so much like the ones I saw yesterday morning that it felt like I'd walked a full circle to where I started then.

Badger Station

Another Forest Service guard station cabin stood on the other side of the burnt forest. Though getting to it was a little out of the way, I decided to go there and get some water. There was a hand pump near the building.

When I arrived, I discovered Spamcake, Tobey, and Janis Joplin were still there. The others in their group had already gone, but they were taking their time to leave.

South Fork Two Medicine River

The scenery for the next several miles was dull compared to Bob Marshall Wilderness. Admittedly, the air quality didn't improve the views.

I wouldn't say the hike was entirely boring, however. There were several stream crossings to break up the monotony.

The trail crossed South Fork Two Medicine River as well as feeder streams. Each crossing was different and posed a unique challenge to get across without getting my feet wet.

After I had walked about six miles, I came to a trail junction. Top O' and Thirteen were there waiting for me. They wanted to tell me about another shortcut. Like the last one, it didn't save a lot of miles but appeared to be a little faster because the terrain looked easier.

I'm not sure that turned out to be true. Many of the stream crossings I mentioned were along this section. There were also a couple of spots where it was difficult to find the correct route because it wasn't a marked trail.

South Fork Two Medicine River

One crossing I had to make was where the river was wide and shallow. The tops of many rocks stood above the water, but it was difficult to pick out an easy route to hop across.

After mapping out in my head what I thought would work, I started across. Then about three-quarters of the way to the other side, I came to a wide gap between two rocks.

I hesitated here because I knew my short legs couldn't stretch far enough in one step. I would have to make a jump, and that posed a dilemma. Could I leap without falling short? I could see myself just missing the rock and falling in.

Then I wondered, could I maintain my balance if I landed on the rock, or would I tumble forward to the other side? This seemed likely because of the added weight of my pack.

I paused for several seconds, weighing my odds. At this point, I only had one other choice and that was to intentionally step into the water, but by now, I was committed to keeping my feet dry. Despite my doubts, I went for the leap.

I stuck the landing. "I can't believe that worked," I shook my head and said.

The rest of the crossing was easy, and I didn't get my feet wet.

South Fork Two Medicine River

I caught up to Top O' and Thirteen at the last of the stream crossings. They were finished with lunch and were preparing to leave. I quickly ate mine so I wouldn't fall too far behind.

Tobey and Spamcake

Janis Joplin caught up to me about an hour after lunch, with Spamcake and Tobey arriving soon after him. We hiked together for much of the remaining distance until we got to the Summit Connector Trail. This was another alternate.

Instead of following the CDT to Marias Pass, the connector went to Summit Trailhead. We had already planned to walk on U.S. Highway 2 tomorrow into East Glacier Park instead of staying on the CDT. The official route was reported to have many blowdowns and was overgrown. By going to the highway on the connector, we will avoid that and cut two miles from the road walk.

Little Dog and Summit mountains

The connector trail down to the highway made a climb up a 400-foot ridge. Marias Pass and the mountains on the other side could be seen from the top.

The mountains, Little Dog (8,610 feet) on the left and Summit (8,770 feet) to the right, were inside Glacier National Park. Though the CDT doesn't go in that direction, this first view of the park was a welcomed sight. It was another reminder of how close I was to the finish.

Trail magic at Summit Trailhead

I arrived at the trailhead at 2 p.m. Expecting to only see thru-hikers, I was surprised to find several more people there. They were a group of tourists traveling with a guide in two vans.

The tourists soon became curious about us and began to ask questions about our hike. Then they pulled out snacks, and the gathering turned into a brief trail magic party.

When Polecat arrived at the trailhead, we realized we had time to drive to the national park's ranger station at Two Medicine. Backcountry camping permits in Glacier must be purchased in person, and this was one of the locations to do that.

I thought Yellowstone's permit system was inconvenient, but this was worse.

We didn't need a permit until the day after tomorrow because we had several miles to walk to get to the park. Still, we hoped to secure our permit a day early, and perhaps get the sites we wanted. It's not unusual to be given reservations with extremely long or short distances between sites because of their limited availability. There aren't any special exceptions for thru-hikers.

The drive to Two Medicine took 30 minutes. Thirteen went with us. Unfortunately, we learned when we arrived that camping permits are not issued more than 24 hours before a hiker's start date.

Despite our disappointment, the park ranger provided us with some helpful information about how the system works. We could start planning accordingly and will be better prepared when we return.

On the way back to Marias Pass, we stopped in East Glacier Park for an early dinner at a restaurant. We then went to the town's general store. This gave us an idea about resupply options, which we determined were okay but not great. Thirteen bought a pizza to take back for Fraggles and Guy Number 5.

While in town, we saw Tik and Tok, plus Dirty Money. Freebird and Raven were arriving when we left.

Thirteen and Guy Number 5

Back at Marias Pass, we found some sites in Summit Campground to set up our tents. Conveniently, the sites had picnic tables, so we could spread out our maps of the national park and see where the campsites were located.

Theodore Roosevelt Monument and John F. Stevens statue at Marias Pass

A 60-foot-tall granite obelisk stood at a parking area near the campground. It looked like a downsized version of the Washington Monument and was erected in 1930 to honor President Theodore Roosevelt. Originally, the monument stood in the middle of the highway. It was moved to the parking area in 1989 for traffic safety reasons.

Next to the obelisk was a statue of John F. Stevens, who led the construction of the Great Northern Railroad through Marias Pass. It was placed at the pass in 1925 by the railroad.

Stevens Pass, which is where the PCT crosses U.S. Highway 2 in Washington, is named for him. Coincidentally, that's the same highway that crosses here at Marias Pass.

We will walk north on that highway tomorrow to East Glacier Park. What happens after that is yet to be decided. Even after gathering all the information we can, some decisions will have to wait. We'll roll with them when they come. We're thru-hikers and that's what we do.

If I had ever been here before
I would probably know just what to do
Don't you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you

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