Location- Grove of trees at top of hill
Elevation- 6,850 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 27.5 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 325.5 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, windy, 90s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- feeling strong
Wildlife encounters- cows, rabbits
Human Beings encountered on trail- zero
Thru hikers encountered on trail- zero
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 10
What a rough night. The wind never let up and I couldn’t get to sleep to save my life. At 1:30am I made the executive decision to move into the privy itself to eliminate all the effects of the wind and the chill it was bringing with it. Thankfully it was an excellently maintained wilderness privy. It was clean and even had scented car fresheners scattered about; there was virtually no poop smell. This was the proverbial jackpot.
I moved all of my things in and layed down my tarp as a large barrier between me and the floor. I was out like a light by 2am. What is the lesson here? Never be above sleeping in a wilderness shitter. Being flexible and adaptable might save your life, or at the very least improve your comfort.
So I awoke from my shit palace much later than I wanted. No doubt due to my extremely late night. Even though I was up and packed by 7:45, I was still exhausted and my eyes felt puffy to the point of being swollen. “Oh well.”
Things kicked off with a steep thousand foot climb, the top of which held my first natural water source in 27 miles. I loaded up 4 more liters for the 19 miles to the next source. There would be no more human maintained caches for the rest of this section. I had breakfast here; a toasted bagel with charred summer sausage, pepperhack cheese, and horseradish mustard sandwich; all done on my small gas stove. I don’t normally like to cook food directly with a chemical fire, but I could honestly tell/taste no difference. I’ll happily do it again.
It was a hot day, and most if it was spent on exposed ridgeline, or forest that wasn’t thick enough to provide ample shade. It was brutal climb after brutal climb; 1000ft here, 1000 ft there, 700 feet here, then another 700 feet again. There were countless smaller rollercoaster climbs in between along the ridges. This trail does not believe in switchbacks. My personal preference is to go straight up anyways, but I only prefer these when my trail legs are at 100%. I think I’m at about 70% or 75% right now. Either way, these brutally steep and scree strewn climbs will do wonders for my fitness level.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but my long time followers will already know… I do not carry or use trekking poles. I carry a single wooden staff I made myself from a magnolia tree in Florida. I’ve done every inch of the Appalachian Trail, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail with it. It is the only item that has been a constant with me on every trail. The sentimental value of it is tremendous, and I regard it as an old friend who’s always been there for me. I must admit, I hardly use it nowadays anyways. Most of the time I just hold it or fidget with it, spin it, twirl it, or hang it across my shoulders and rest my arms on it like a scarecrow as I hike. The only time I ever really use it is when I’m leaning on it to take a break, or when I’m moving quickly downhill. I’ll use it to steady myself as I lean hard, letting gravity do most of the work on my quick descents. It’s been a lifesaver in that regard, since I’m able to reach much further out with it than I would a standard trekking pole. Anywho, I’m sure it’s already been done, but I’m really looking forward to triple crowning my wooden staff.
I reached my next water source around 5pm at the 20 mile mark of the day. It was a piped spring running into a wooden trough in the middle of a cow pasture. This would be last water again for another 20+ miles or so. Since I didn’t want to stop this early, but knew I couldn’t make it to the next watering hole, I “cameled up” big time. I drank 2.5 liters while I was there, and packed out another six liters. This would give me enough to drink for the rest of this evening and tonight, with enough left over to knock out whatever remaining miles I had to the next source.
I laid down in the grass next to the trough for a moment and accidentally fell asleep. When I awoke it was already 6 pm. I’d wanted to be hiking by 5:30, so I’d already fallen behind my goal. I set out into the early evening…
The trail from here on was nothing but back country gravel road running through free grazing cattle land. I encountered more than a hundred cows in dozens of small groups scattered throughout the forests and fields. Always mothers and their calfs, and never in groups of more than four to eight animals. Most of the time they scattered as I got near, but sometimes they would square up to me and stare as I went by. The ones that stared as if pondering my presence could have actually been mistaken as looking “intelligent,” but I know better. The calves would sometimes make short charges towards me, but never followed through. I’m guessing they were young bulls.
I hiked almost another 8 miles after the water and stopped atop a beautiful hill with a large grove of trees on the side of a grassy pasture. I had a gorgeous view of the sunset, as well as a decent crop of trees. If I’d continued on to get my thirty miles (which I very much had the energy to do so), I would have ended up in some low rut on the side of the road with less than ideal camping conditions; this spot was perfect.
It was brutal day in every respect of the word (heat, sun, terrain, steepness), but I feel fantastic and proud of myself for what I was able to pound out (nearly 28 miles) despite the obstacles. I have around 16 miles to reach the next road that will take me into Helena. I’ve never been to a state capital while on a thru hike, so this will be a cool first. The next water is about 13 or so miles ahead of me. I’m leaving myself 4 liters for that stretch…