Day 123: Plus or Minus Twenty Pounds of Sweat
Sunday, September 4, 2022 9:45 pm
Location: Butte Express: Four Corners Trailhead (1838.4 miles)

A very hot day leaving Whitehall took us towards the mountains on the way to Butte.

Recon and I left the Whitehall Town Hall garage at 7:30, heading across town to hitch back to where we stopped hiking two days ago. Along the way, we stopped at the gas station to get breakfast.

It took us about five minutes to get a ride, which was much faster than I expected on a Sunday morning, and we were “hiking”, by 8:30. As I expected, the highway wasn’t much fun to walk down, with its narrow shoulders. At least, there was a lot less traffic than on Friday afternoon. It was cool out, but not for very long. As the sun rose, it quickly warmed up, and smoke from a fire made it feel more oppressive.

Hazy Farmland
Hazy FarmlandFarmland south of Whitehall, MT. The air is hazy due to smoke from a fire.

After a mile along the highway, we turned onto a dirt road, a shortcut from the highway to another highway, and followed the new highway north. For a large portion of the morning, the roads were surrounded by fields, some fairly green from irrigation. A small herd of pronghorn ran through one of the fields.

10 am Selfie Day 123
10 am Selfie Day 123

I stopped for a break after a little less than seven miles, sitting down in a flat area in a ditch next to the side of a dirt road. Recon continued ahead, probably looking for somewhere actually shaded to stop.

From this point, Recon and I charted our own route, at least for a few miles. The roads we’d taken since Friday are part of an alternate that roadwalks all the way to Butte, crossing the CDT along the way. Now, we’re cutting north to connect to the route that I would have taken had I hiked into Whitehall, and from there, reconnect with the CDT tomorrow northeast of Butte.

Another six miles of relatively boring roadwalk later, I stopped for another break, in the shade of a tree outside of the fence around someone’s house. A few minutes before I was about to continue on, a conversion van pulled up. Inside were Digs, and her husband. Digs had just completed the PCT, and they were now driving around looking for CDT hikers who needed assistance. They offered me a place to stay tonight if I needed — I didn’t — and gave me cold cans of Coke Zero and sparkling water, which really helped, given how hot it was.

About a quarter mile later, I joined the roadwalk alternate leaving Whitehall, and followed that for another mile, crossing under I-90, and diverging again at a trailhead. Near the trailhead was an open-air mine, and a truck scale was placed near the road leaving the mine and trailhead. I walked over the scale just to see what would happen; measuring in 20-pound increments, it measured my weight (with my pack) as being 200 pounds. Given how much I’d been sweating from the heat and lack of shade, that felt high.

Mining Equipment
Mining EquipmentMining equipment near the trail.

Following a dirt road, I came to a small stand of trees in a drainage, where the rest of the group (sans Recon) had gathered, having hitched most of the way there from Whitehall. While normally a little early for a break, I stopped for a while anyway, taking advantage of the shade to help cut the heat.

Fuck-It, who was standing on the dirt road on the phone when I arrived, decided to get off-trail for a few days. Both of his ankles hurt, he said, and he’s going to go back to Ennis for a few days, and then meet us in Helena (the capitol of Montana, and the next trail town after Butte) in about a week.

After letting the sun sink for an hour and a half, I continued on. Wild Man and Stumblebee had already gone on ahead, the rest of the group lagged behind a bit. I followed a twisty series of dirt roads or ATV trails, some in less than stellar condition due to erosion. I passed by a train track that passed over what appeared to be a berm built just for the track. I briefly considered following the tracks, rather than the road, to cut some distance and elevation change. While it probably would have been safe, and the tracks looked unused, a berm twice the width of the tracks with a steep drop-off in both directions seemed unnecessarily dangerous in case the tracks turned out to be in-use. (Wild Man later said that he did take the tracks.) I passed a few ATV riders, and shortly after, passed their camp, with a couple of RVs. Someone there was cooking something, and it smelled good.

The dirt roads led to a rather significant gravel road, which I followed for another two miles to our planned destination for the day, the Four Corners Trailhead. Three RVs were there; the family with the one in the corner near the entrance waved me over in the direction of Stumblebee and Wild Man, on the far side of the parking area.

Stumblebee and Wild Man had already talked with the family that had waved me in their direction, and said they were leaving tomorrow, and had extra water, so we could have whatever we needed. We decided to wait until they were clearly finished with dinner, so as not to interrupt them.

Over the next hour, Bass, Velveeta, Sprouts, and Recon gradually arrived. Recon had taken a (very) long break under a bridge with a creek a little before I-90, which is why he’d apparently disappeared.

Smoke from a fire filled the sky, tinting everything red and giving it a bit of a spooky feeling, especially as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

Smoky Sunset
Smoky SunsetSunset through a smoke haze.

True to their word, the family let us have all the water we needed. Between the seven of us, we mostly drained a 5 gallon jug of water, and we moved across the parking lot to cowboy camp in a small stand of trees.

While we waited, and then later, as we cooked dinner, a group of very obnoxious dirt bike riders came into the parking area from one of the several nearby trails, performing wheelies, and generally making a lot of noise (and kicking up a lot of dust) as they took turns waiting for the pit toilets.

The two older couples in the adjacent pair of RVs, partially surrounded by a fence to contain a pair of very large dogs, invited us over for beers and soda (and chat), which we were happy to partake in. They also offered us water; by the time we were done, I think most of us had our water capacity filled to the brim.

After the sun sank below the horizon, and night fell, the ash in the sky turned the moon blood-red. A light breeze blew, and smoke aside, it is very nice out.

Tomorrow, after a week and a half away, we’ll return to the CDT. It’ll be great to be back on trail.