A short day and unexpected trail magic allowed me to go into town, resupply, and bring cheeseburgers back to camp.
After a rainy night, it was cool in the morning, though not as cold as I was expecting. The rain overnight didn’t seem to have done much for getting the ash out of the air, though. It just made it incredibly humid out.
I left camp a little after 8, one of the last continuing up a dirt road. The trail very quickly left the road, going through a fence at a trailhead parking area, and beginning a relatively moderate climb across a meadow to a forest.
The trail passed near Granite Butte, a rocky granite prominence jutting out of the mountain, and then climbed up the bald side of a mountain towards a lookout tower. However, my trail guide reported that the lookout tower was locked, and with the smoke in the air and the clouds still in the sky from the rain overnight, I doubted I would have much of a view from the overlook. So rather than following the trail to the top of the mountain, I instead joined a dirt road about 250 feet below the summit, and followed the road across the mountain, rejoining the CDT when it reconnected about three miles later. It didn’t save much distance, but it did save a couple hundred feet of elevation gain and loss, and it put me on a dirt road or ATV track the whole distance.
Rejoining the CDT where it crossed the road, I followed a fainter set of ATV tracks across a meadow, gradually, and then steeply, descending towards Stemple Pass, a trailhead at a six-way road and trail junction.
Just before reaching the pass, a side trail (with a sign promising water) cuts through the forest about a quarter mile to High Divide Outfitters, a small three-building complex with a small gear shop, absolutely stuffed-to-the-gills with hiking equipment and food.
I got some sodas, Gatorade, and a fig bar (that was kind of like a gigantic Fig Newton). I was also able to replace the water bottle I lost (other places had wide-necked bottles, but this was the first narrow-neck I’d seen since I started looking), and found a Sawyer In-Line water filter that could serve as a replacement for my ailing Platypus filter.
After leaving High Divide, I returned to the CDT and continued down the hill to Stemple Pass. Rather than immediately following the trail uphill from the pass, I instead took one of the several roads that intersected at the pass, heading directly uphill and rejoining the CDT at another intersection, about half a mile shorter than the trail’s more circuitous route.
There were several signs for cross-country skiing routes on the roads and the trail. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more of that as I continue to progress north.
I caught up with Fuck-It, Sprouts, and Wild Man near the top of a hill taking a break, and stopped to chat.
Although I’d planned on attempting a resupply at the outfitter to avoid going into Lincoln tomorrow, I completely forgot to even look at what food they had available, partially because I’d learned Velveeta needed to go to town (to go to the post office), and so therefore assumed that we all were going into town. Thus, I was a bit surprised when they said they weren’t going to town. (They’d actually followed through on my idea to resupply at the outfitter.)
While we were talking, George, who used to work with the Forest Service, came down the hill. He was out for a long hike today, parking at Flesher Pass and doing an out-and-back hike to Stemple Pass. (This is about 12 miles one way.) He was especially keen to talk with thru-hikers, since he was considering thru-hiking one of the Triple Crown (AT/PCT/CDT) trails next year, and joined us for conversation. He was also kind enough to offer Velveeta and me a ride to Lincoln from Flesher Pass, and back, tonight, which was absolutely incredible.
From Stemple Pass, the trail was mostly in forest. The shade and tree cover made it both somewhat cool and humid, so I was a little uncomfortable for a good portion of the afternoon. For a while, it felt almost like I was just zombie hiking, completely zoned out and not paying attention to the trail around me. (I wasn’t entirely sure if this was because of no views because of the forest, or the smoke, or the overall need to grind out miles in order to finish the trail on time.)
The trail passed through a burn area, which was nice only in that it added a bit of diversity to the day’s scenery.
I reached the Flesher Pass trailhead around 4:30. It was a short day of hiking, about 17 miles. Offer for a ride into town aside, it would have been great to go further, but reports were of poor water availability and a burn area up ahead, so Flesher Pass was the best place to stop. The trailhead is nice, with a camping area, picnic table, pit toilet, and bear box surrounded by a parking loop. A couple of pickup trucks were parked, one of which presumably belonged to George. After taking a short snack break, I set up my tent.
Surprisingly, I was the first person in the group to make it to camp today. But being first also meant a long wait. I didn’t have enough water to cook dinner, not that I was going to with a ride into town in my future. There was water “nearby”, but a bit of a long walk down a side road, which I didn’t really want to do since I didn’t know when George was going to finish his hike, and didn’t want to miss my window.
As the rest of the group arrived, a tent city gradually formed in the grass island in the parking loop.
After we’d been there about an hour, Velveeta left to try to hitch into town, hoping to be able to get there before the post office closed. About an hour later, Wild Man left to go get water, taking several people’s water bottles to fill up (including mine).
George arrived shortly before 7, and in chatting with us, a plan formed. Not only was he willing to drive me to town and wait for me and Velveeta to hit the grocery store for resupply, he was also willing to wait for us at a burger joint to get cheeseburgers to bring back to the trailhead for everyone else.
On our way out of the trailhead, George and I ran into Wild Man. We brought him back to camp so he could unload all the water he’d collected, and took him with us to town, since there was space.
The trip to town and back took about two hours. As we arrived at the food store, we saw Velveeta sitting across the street, so he joined us for the rest. He, Wild Man, and I got our resupply shopping done. Velveeta sat with George in the truck while Wild Man and I got burgers and fries for ourselves and the rest of the group. Velveeta had gotten to town too late for the post office. The liquor store apparently also closed at 6, but he was able to get ingredients at one of the bars to make a mixed drink out of a jug of juice, soda, and vodka. We got back at the campground long after the sun had set. At first, it looked like the rest of the group was gone; they were all sitting at the picnic table, but with their headlamps off, we couldn’t see them as we drove up. Thanks again, George, for your generosity!
It had gotten cold out, and so for the first time this hike, I put on my down puffy jacket.
Velveeta’s hooch was good, though a bit strong, I think. The gallon jug sent a puff of compressed air into Fuck-It’s face when he opened it, thanks to the drop in air pressure at altitude and carbonated contents.
Take-out cheeseburger containers, salt and pepper packets, ketchup containers, and napkins created quite a lot of trash, far more than I’d initially expected. Most of it’s not heavy, but it is bulky. With no trash can at the trailhead, it’s quite a load we’ll have to pack out tomorrow.
Tomorrow: We’re heading to a yurt about three miles past Rogers Pass, the usual access point for Lincoln. This will also be another “short” day, also just under 17 miles. Flame and Waves will also be leaving us tomorrow, at Rogers Pass. Velveeta and Wild Man are also going back into town; Velveeta to go to the post office and get more booze, and Wild Man to get more food. (Apparently, he didn’t get all of the food he actually needs to make it to Augusta, but he did get the gummy bears he was craving and had forgotten to get in Helena.)
I didn’t get a chance to test out my new filter, but I’ll be able to do that easily enough tomorrow morning.