Another long day, with a little shortcut, put me in position for getting to Helena tomorrow morning for resupply.
The morning was cold, surprisingly so. I put on my gloves for the first time since Colorado, and didn’t leave camp until after 8 am, much later than I wanted, since I was attempting to catch up with the rest of the group.
The smoke in the air has continued to increase. Seeming to come from the west, it’s most notable in the morning when the sun’s more able to illuminate it from the front.
About half a mile ahead, I crossed a small clearing that would have made for a fine campsite for the whole group. Nobody was there, of course, but it was cold (and late) out, so I didn’t bother taking the time to look more closely to see if anyone camped here last night.
Like yesterday, much of the early morning was through forests punctuated with small clearings. Cloud cover increased as the morning progressed. It warmed a little, though it was still cool out, and the air had that crispness it does shortly before it snows. But it felt a little too warm for snow, so I expected there to be rain this afternoon.
The cold kept me moving through the forest, and I stopped for my first break after almost eight miles, stopping at a trail junction. An arrow in the dirt pointed downhill, further ahead on the CDT, but I was considering otherwise.
This was the junction to the Blackfoot Meadows Trail, which provided a roughly three mile shortcut to the slightly circuitous routing of the CDT ahead. If I took it, I’d easily cut an hour from my hike today. Besides shortening how far I’d have to hike tomorrow to get to town, it would also make it much more feasible to make it to a water cache, and to a trail angel who’d reportedly been providing trail magic for more than a week. Preferring a 23-mile day to a 26-mile day, I took the alternate.
After a short uphill, the Blackfoot Meadows Trail leveled out a bit, and then dropped fairly steeply towards a creek valley (presumably, the Blackfoot Meadows). For a side trail, it was fairly well maintained, though there were a few places where fallen trees hadn’t been cleared. Clouds continued to cover the sky, and the forest took on a somewhat gloomy appearance.
Near a creek, the trail forked. A pair of arrows fashioned from branches pointed away from the “nice” trail and towards a mess of fallen trees. This was a bit of a chore to get through to the creek, and then the creek was a bit of a chore to cross — slightly too wide and deep, and I had to hunt a bit to find a dry crossing.
I bushwhacked along the edge of the forest for a bit before arriving at the Bison-Blackfoot Trail, which rather steeply climbed back up to a ridge to rejoin the CDT. Near the end, the trail seemed like it was an old road bed with a bunch of switchbacks not on my map; after taking a couple of the switchbacks, I cut the rest of them out, going straight up the hill on a partially-cleared path.
Not even ten minutes back on the CDT, it began to snow. A light snow fell for maybe half an hour, not really accumulating, before tapering off a bit. I took advantage of a lull in the snow to take a break, which was good timing, since not long after I resumed hiking, the snow turned to a light drizzle. For once, the trail went through a fairly thick pine forest, which helped to keep much of the rain off of me. Once the rain stopped, the clouds lifted, and the sun came out.
The snow was an acute reminder that I’m late in the season, and I began to worry about timing to get to the northern terminus again. Glacier National Park is supposed to be one of the best parts of the trail, and the last thing I wanted was to get snowed out on the way there. Although I didn’t really want to, I began considering flipping up to Glacier and heading south.
I ran into Rabbit Foot, who’d started the trail nobo last year, and is finishing up sobo this year. He got blizzarded out last year as the result of being delayed a month due to injury. He endorsed the idea of flipping up to Glacier, saying that I should definitely not miss that part of the trail. He also confirmed the presence of a large water cache and the trail angel.
I stopped for another break, sitting down on a log cut from a fallen tree at the start of a sea of fallen trees. A short stretch of blowdowns on a climb was a bit annoying, but must have been doubly so for the trail maintainers: a rusted chain from a chainsaw was stuck in a fallen tree. The sun continued to warm the air up after the snow and rain, as puffy clouds floated through the sky. In the distance, it’s a lot clearer than it was; the haze is not totally gone, but the precipitation helped clear a lot of it.
Just before arriving at a dirt road, I reached the water cache, and filled up on water. It was a rather large cache, I think at least 15 gallons of water.
I ended the day with a short downhill along the dirt road, passing a truck parked at on the side of the road and arriving at a conversion van with a “trail magic” sign, pointing at a bear can with a couple of cans of soda, some oranges, and a log book.
While I was getting the bear can open to get a soda, Guru came out of his van. He offered a grilled cheese sandwich for tonight, and pancakes tomorrow morning, and we struck up a conversation. He’s been here a while already, and will be waiting a few more days for his friends Arrow and Ranger. I’d last seen them in Grants at the Lava Flow Hostel. Guru had been hiking nobo, and stopped when he realized he wasn’t having a good time.
The logbook showed that Pecorino and Lush were here yesterday, and the K2s (who I hadn’t seen since Salida) a few days ago. Guru also saw Mr. Freeze.
Later in the evening, Dino arrived. He was at the water trough yesterday about an hour and a half after me, and had seen the group sometime before that. He also saw Velveeta around noon today, and that they all seemed to be going pretty slowly, so it seems like I was chasing phantom footprints yesterday and today, and the rest of the group is quite far behind. I don’t know if they’ll catch up, but since I’m not planning on zeroing in Helena, I’ll probably wind up ahead of them once I head back to the trail from town.
For most of the day, I made really good time, though the pine forest meant there wasn’t much in the way of views. If the twelve miles to MacDonald Pass tomorrow is similar, I should be able to get into Helena by noon.