Day 140: A Baked Potato of a Cabin
Wednesday, September 21, 2022 8:52 pm
Location: Spotted Bear Pass: Campsite 21.8 (2097.2 miles)

After a day of clouds, the sun was back out and the sky was once again blue, as I made my way north along the Spotted Bear Alternate.

Surprisingly cold overnight, I put my puffy on in the middle of the night to stay warm. In the morning, I swapped it out for my rain jacket, which was less warm, but that wasn’t much of a problem once I got moving. (I don’t like hiking in the puffy since I want to keep it from getting wet.)

The morning sun low in the sky, the forest was still a bit dark and gloomy. But with the sky clear, the day was off to a much better start.

A Cold Morning Forest
A Cold Morning Forest

From camp, the trail continued to follow the Spotted Bear River, downhill through forest. As with yesterday evening, the trail was still narrow and overgrown, but at least it wasn’t wet. I made quick progress along the relatively gentle downhill. The forested valley did not allow many views, though.

10 am Selfie Day 140
10 am Selfie Day 140

Much of the morning passed uneventfully. After 11, crossing a creek, I reached a large campsite, with a cabin and another smaller building both completely covered in reflective foil. According to comments in my trail guide, “the cabin looks like a baked potato,” which it most certainly did. About a month ago, the cabin was wrapped in insulation and foil, and a sprinkler system installed, to protect the cabin from a fire that had been threatening the area.

A Baked Potato of a Cabin
A Baked Potato of a CabinA cabin wrapped in heat-reflecting foil to protect against a forest fire.

From the cabin, I departed the Spotted Bear River, turning up the Pentagon Creek valley towards Switchback Pass. In contrast to the gentle slope along the river, the trail up the creek was much steeper to start with. After crossing Pentagon Creek on a somewhat flimsy log, it got steeper still.

I stopped for a break at a small campsite; a chipmunk skittered about with its mouth stuffed with food, or maybe building materials for a nest.

From the campsite, the trail began switchbacking its way up to the pass, making the pass truly worthy of being named “Switchback Pass”. I lost count somewhere after two dozen.

The weather was pretty nice out; the sky remained mostly clear, but clouds started to accumulate in the south. As I continued to climb up the mountain, the view to the southwest gradually got larger. Once I was near the top of the pass, I finally had a good a view over the nearby mountains, one of the best (it felt) I’ve had in Montana.

View southwest, from below Switchback Pass

Unusually, there was a lot of trash on the trail going up to the pass. Normally, the wilderness trails have been fairly clean, so I was rather surprised that there were multiple pieces of trash on the trail. I didn’t know quite what to make of it; I didn’t want to think the trash came from other thru-hikers, since the group I’m hiking with tends to be fairly considerate. But I haven’t seen evidence of anyone else out here today, so my guess was that someone stuffed trash in a pouch on their pack, and it wasn’t as secure as they thought it was.

After crossing the pass, the trail dropped down a bit. It was just steep, no switchbacks, though another trail that split off from the pass lead down to an earlier junction with the CDT, and that one may have had more switchbacks. (If I wanted to get back to the CDT earlier, I could have taken that route, but that would add several more miles to the alternate, which I didn’t want given a less-than-stellar weather forecast for tomorrow.)

I passed Stumblebee and Bass; they confirmed that Wild Man and Fuck-It are ahead, but they haven’t seen them since yesterday.

After going around a mountain, the trail climbed back up onto a bit of a ledge overlooking a valley full of dead trees burned in a fire. I really didn’t think there’d be as much burn area in Montana as there seems to be.

2017 Scalp Fire
2017 Scalp Fire

After another brief break above a small lake, I continued to follow along a relatively narrow ledge and stopped for the day at a small campsite near a creek, just before the trail dropped down the mountain. It was still before 6 pm; I probably could have kept going, at least for another hour, but an extended burn area ahead makes for a poor camping situation, and the next campsite my trail guide reports is good is several miles further than I want to hike today. The trail down from the pass also had a lot of steep downhill sections, and my knee is also unhappy from that as well.

Stumblebee and Bass passed while I was setting my tent up. Later, while I was cooking dinner, Sprouts arrived to collect water for Sprouts, Recon, and Velveeta; the three of them had camped a little further back at a larger campsite.

Once the sun set, it quickly became cold. In spite of the weather forecast, and the clouds that are slowly approaching, there hasn’t yet been any rain yet. Hopefully, I’ll get lucky, and it won’t rain tomorrow either.