After injuring my ankle, a slightly shorter day put me behind schedule for reaching Augusta tomorrow.
It was below freezing overnight, so I wasn’t surprised to wake up in the morning with my tent covered in frost. Being still cool in the morning, I wasn’t motivated to break camp quickly, until I had the explicit thought to wait until the sun came over the ridge to thaw out my tent so I wouldn’t be packing away frost, and then I realized that was a bad idea. Taking my tent down so I could shake the frost off would make it “dry off” faster.
That happened while I had stepped away to dig a cathole. When I came back, I found a young buck entirely too close to my tent, and not at all afraid of me as I got closer. When I took the poles out of my tent to take it down, it was close enough that I could easily have speared it if I wanted.
There was so much humidity in the air overnight that my tent was more frost than tent. It stayed standing even with the poles out and stakes removed. After shaking it out, I removed several fist-sized clumps of ice, but my tent was still quite wet, it wasn’t going to dry out on its own anytime quickly, and packing it away was a huge pain.
Just as I was leaving camp, three nobos arrived to fetch water. Trying to make conversation, I joked that I thought I was “last of the nobos” (which I knew wasn’t likely to be true, even if it often felt like it). They said there were more behind them, but otherwise were short of words, making a beeline for the water.
Leaving the forest, the trail began a long stretch above the treeline by switchbacking up a steep ridge. This was the first of two steep, but short, climbs today.
The air was cool and crisp on the ridge, and I made good time on the downhill after reaching the day’s high point. Actually, it wasn’t just the day’s high point — it was the last time the trail in Montana will be above 8,000 feet.
After following the ridge for a few miles, the trail dropped down a creek valley. A fire had raged through this area as well, with burnt and fallen trees everywhere (though, fortunately, not on the trail).
Reaching a somewhat Y-shaped mostly flat meadow, I turned up one of the branches, beginning my second steep climb of the day, and stopped a break partway up a valley. The three nobos I’d passed leaving camp passed me while I had my snack.
The wind continued to blow, so I took the opportunity to pull my tent out and set it out, weighted down with rocks, to dry out. This worked well at getting the top of the tent dry in the sun. Once I’d finished eating, I held my tent out with one of the doors held open to give it some volume, rather than just letting it flap in the wind, and this did a great job at getting the inside of the tent completely dry.
The trail continued uphill; from the top of this new ridge, a view to the north was filled with lush, green trees, a welcome change to the burn area I’d been in for most of the last 24 hours.
On my way down I passed the three nobos having a break with Velveeta. Wild Man was, apparently some distance ahead and pushing for a very long day today to make up for a short day yesterday.
Shortly after that, the downhill — itself as steep as the uphill climb — dropped me into the forest I could see from the ridge. With the sun now overhead, it was finally starting to warm up, though the trees provided sufficient shade.
The trail was surprisingly overgrown with shrubs. This added a bit of annoyance, mostly because my shoelaces kept coming undone today, and the shrubs were only making it worse.
I was making very good time down the hill, but that came to a halt when I very badly sprained my ankle — probably a result of misstepping on something and my shoe not being as tight as it needed to be thanks to the laces pulling loose.
I’ve sprained my ankles a couple of times so far this hike, but this was the worst by far. Normally, after a sprain, I can (carefully) limp along for a bit and the activity helps with recovery, but this time, I only made it about 150 feet down the trail before I had to sit down and take the weight off my foot.
Velveeta and the three nobos caught up with me, and one of them gave me some advil — I was all out since I’d given all of mine to some sobos at Brooks Lake Lodge a month ago in Wyoming. Taking an early break, I tried to relax my foot. (Velveeta also mentioned that he’d learned that Sprouts and Recon had returned to the trail from Helena, and camped with them about three miles before we camped last night.)
After an hour, I decided I’d waited long enough to let my foot rest, and continued down the trail. My physical low point of the day was very quickly followed with the trail’s physical low point of the day, as I crossed over the Dearborn River, struggling to keep my feet dry with limited mobility as I used rocks and fallen logs to bridge my way across.
For the rest of the day, the trail began a long, very gradual climb, following just above the river’s wide flood plain, with forest doing a passable job at keeping the sun away. I leapfrogged Velveeta, passing him, and then was passed again by him when I stopped for a break. My ankle was still a bit stiff, with a dull, continuous pain, but it was mostly back to normal. My main problem now was the mental exhaustion associated with having to push through the pain.
Crossing the Dearborn River again, several miles upstream, I followed one of its tributaries, Welcome Creek. The trail gradually began to steepen as I climbed up the creek’s drainage.
Shortly before 7, I spotted a small campsite just off trail, adjacent to Welcome Creek, and decided this was good enough for the day. I’d planned for 22 miles, but made it 19.5 miles; with the sprained ankle, this seemed an entirely acceptable distance.
Velveeta caught up shortly after, and after mulling over it a little, decided to stop here as well. The campsite had a fire pit; I helped Velveeta collect some firewood, and he managed to set it up so easily it looked almost effortless.
Tomorrow’s going to be a little tough. Although it’ll be a relatively easily elevation profile (two short, steep climbs excepted), 19.5 miles to the Benchmark trailhead and still getting into town tomorrow is going to be rough. It’s still doable, though, as long as I get a reasonably early start tomorrow.