Continental Divide Trail – Day 1

Day-  1

Date-  6/22/17

Location- Poia Lake

Elevation- 5,797 ft

Distance Traveled Today- 19.6 miles

Distance Traveled Total- 19.6 miles

Weather/Temp- partly cloudy, windy, light rain, 60s, 70s 

Injuries- none

Pain level- zero

Spirits/Morale- High, confident, in awe

Days without shower- 2

Hunger/craving- low, nothing


And so it began. We were up at 6am to catch our $150, 2 hour shuttle ride to the Chief Mountain Trail Head on the U.S./Canadian border. Our driver was a Native American fellow named “David Mountain Chief.” Scouts honor, that was the name he introduced himself with. 

For nearly two hours, David bent my ear about the surrounding area, plus many other things(Schweppes slept the entire drive).  He talked a lot about Buffalo, Grizzly Bears being the Blackfeet tribe spirit animal, growing up hunting with his father on the reservation, his time spent in the navy on a submarine during the Gulf War, his children, Native folklore, crazy local stories, movies that had been filmed in the area, and much, much more. I greatly enjoyed his narrative throughout the drive. 
Finally we arrived at the trailhead/international border, and sure enough there was an American and a Canadian customs checkpoint. We decided to get our passports stamped by the Canadian customs official. It was comical because the U.S. officials were a middle aged, overweight man and woman; while the Canadian official had a lean, borderline body builder type build, with a shirt he must have stolen from his little brother, tribal tattoos down his arm (he was Caucasian as they come), mean goatee, and black shades (even though he was in a dark booth). It was like Canada was trying to “one up” us. Anyways, he looked ready to stop all of America, should they decide to storm his checkpoint. After giving us the fifth degree on what we’d be “doing” on the American side (which was really none of his business), since we weren’t actually going into Canada; he finally stamped our passports and let us walk 100 feet back to the American Customs, where the nice lady  agent stamped them without fuss, bid us farewell, and “hoped we enjoyed our visit to Canada.” We didn’t. 
We snapped our pictures at the only landmarks for the border we could find; and we were off. 

The first ten miles of trail were through meadows, shallow streams, and lush forest thick with vegetation. All around us were towering, snow splashed mountains; mostly consisting of sediment rock with various striations and veins of different color running through them. Those first ten miles were leisurely and beautiful. 

For about the last 4 days preceding the start of the hike (pretty much since we’ve been in Montana), a lot of local residents have “fear mongered” us about the Grizzlies. We each have bear mace, but even still, it was like every “Montanan” was trying their absolute hardest to make us terrified of the bears. If there is anything I’ve learned from the trails, it’s that the people who are most afraid of certain wildlife, are the people who have spent the least amount of time in the wilderness. The people who have spent time out there still give you a healthy, realistic warning, but they don’t fear monger you; unless they’re just trying to have some fun (I’m guilty of this every so often). 

So anyways, Schweppes and I quickly turned the fear mongering into a joke. No sooner did we start the hike, we began to bestow names upon anything and everything we encountered. Every meadow was “Bear Attack Meadow,” or “Grizzly Killing Field.” Streams, creeks and rivers all got their own violent bear names, and even a few mountains got new names. “Grizzly Stomp Your Ass Creek.”  “Bear Beware Mountain.” “Bear Lick Stream.” “You’re Gonna Die Lookout.” The list goes on and on. 

We also began practicing our “quick draw” with the bear mace that we have slung on our hip belts; sometimes having quick draw duels against each other. We’ve even tried to get fancy like Doc Holiday in Tombstone, spinning and twirling our mace cans like western outlaws before trying to smoothly holster them. If it wasn’t for the safety mechanism, I surely would have maced myself 30 times by now. Good times.

We met 4 other male thru hikers right off the bat, but they were only slated to go 5 miles today, so we only saw them for a moment; long enough to introduce ourselves. Aside from them, there were no other thru hikers, and only a handful of day hikers that we saw. This was a huge change from the other trails, which were crawling with both thru hikers and day hikers. I’m going to enjoy the lesser traffic immensely. 

After our ten mile lunch, we began the nearly 3,000 ft climb up to our first mountain pass called Red Gap Pass. The average steepness off the trail was greater than the PCT, but less than the AT. My legs felt like anvils for the second half of the climb. We were required to hike nearly 20 miles to our designated camp spot; this was the furthest I’ve had to hike on a first day, plus the most elevation gained on the first day of a thru hike. We were definitely getting broken in hard for this trail. 

Towards the top of Red Gap Pass I encountered a herd of mountain goats almost right on the trail, with nearly a half dozen “kidd” goats. They kept their eyes on me, but went about their grazing for the most part. 

The views were like that of the Sierra Nevada on the PCT; lakes, waterfalls, streams, snow capped mountains, and other dramatic views galore. I couldn’t believe what we were being treated to on the first day. Already the beauty seemed hard to out due. 

I met back up with Schweppes at the top of the pass (which had almost no snow on it), and we continued down the south side together. About a mile down we ran into a small group of Big Horn sheep right on the trail! They also regarded us with caution, but didn’t run. Already my expectations for this trail have been exceeded. On the first day I got to add two new (sought after) species to my “on trail” wildlife encounters. I had no idea I’d get to see Big Horn sheep, and they were more impressive than I ever thought. 

One thing that surprised me, but didn’t actually surprise me was the heavy presence of mosquitos. For some reason I didn’t associate them with the great north, but sure enough, they’re here with a vengeance. Aside from them bouncing off my eyeballs, I can tune out all but the thickest mosquito hordes. I plan to get some 100% Deet when the opportunity arises. I want them to die on contact with my skin. I want to make myself poisonous to the creatures I loathe most in life. 

We wrapped up the twenty miles a little after 6 pm near the shores of Poia Lake (Grizzly Massacre Lake). I feel fantastic. My feet are a little sore, but I have no aches or questionable pains. I’m not in perfect hiking shape at the moment, or even great hiking shape; however I’ve done this enough to know that the endurance comes quickly when your mind is willing to endure the old familiar pains for longer than it normally would. I’m heavy now, but I’m going to look like a skeleton of my former self by the end. 

It lightly rained intermittently throughout the day, so I’m tarped up in my hammock right now in case it gets worse during the night. If the locals are correct, I’ll surely be disemboweled before morning; I’m sleeping with my (90% effective) bear mace…  

Go to Day 2.

Return to Thru Hike eve.


  1. Getting caught up just got back from Glacier myself and am looking forward to reading your CDT blog. I feel the northern Midwest and Midwest central are vastly different it has a unique primitive wildness. Less people I guess just feels more remote and untouched. I love it! Enjoy your travel and being away from it all 😎🙌🏼⛰

  2. I just stumbled upon this blog today and don’t even remember how lol. Just finished reading your first day on the trail and I find your descriptive style very entertaining. I have always wanted to hike the AP trail but never had the time or the money between work and family. Thank you for the next best thing. I’m looking forward to reading the rest and seeing these stunningly beautiful pictures you have taken. Best of luck.

  3. Sorry you had a less than great experience with the Canadian Customs official. I worked for US Immigration for 32 years and spent time in Alaska (including Poker Creek), and both the US and Canadian Customs and Immigration folks I worked with (or met), were always pretty decent folks, especially out in the wilderness.

  4. Good to see you embarking on the journey across the CDT. I’ll keep an eye on your blog and maybe when you get to Pie Town in New Mexico I can buy you a piece of pie for which the town is named.

  5. Stunning photos.. I can tell this blog will be filled with such pictures and great commentary as usual. Good to have you back in the wilderness telling us about your grand adventures!

  6. Simply…WOW! I’m so glad you’re sharing the fun, beauty & adventure with us. As I was reading about the bear fear mongering and your creative new bear names, a children’s book Tacky Goes To Camp (Tacky the Penguin) popped into my head and made me giggle, picturing you telling Tacky’s “scary campfire story” BEWARE THE BEAR! If you Google the title you’ll find the story online to read.

  7. What a grand and momentous first day on the CDT!…..That probably would have fulfilled my wanderlust right there!……..I’m enjoying this adventure already!…..It’s the woodchucks you have to watch out for, not the Griz!…..Be safe.

  8. Those were some creative landscape “bear names!” Glad you’re off to such a spectacular start…and we get to take a peek at the surrounding beauty – over your shoulders! 🙂

  9. Love reading about your adventures. Read your Lost on the AT and loved it. Not many pics in that. Love seeing your beautiful color pics on these posts. Keep up the good work.

  10. Sounds like your first day went well. Loving the wildlife pictures as well as the pictures of the beautiful scenery.

  11. Good stuff, just read day 1 of ConDiv. Can’t imagine starting my through hike 1st day with a 20 miler,,,and that elevation gain. Thanks for blogging

  12. Hey Mayor – Exciting to read your first round of updates! Thanks for bringing us all along on your journey.

  13. Very entertaining post! I felt like I was there. How fortunate you are to be surrounded by such beauty. Relish every minute.

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