Location- side of trail on ridge
Elevation- 8,248 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 30.1 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 379.7 miles
Weather/Temp- 80s 90s clear then cloudy
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- rabbits, elk
Human Beings encountered on trail- 1
Thru hikers encountered on trail- 0
Days without shower- 1
Days without laundry- 1
I rolled out of the nest a little after 7 am, just in time to say goodbye to Vanne and give her a hug. I hope she continues to enjoy the rest of her hike.
I knew I wanted to break 30 miles today, so I put my nose to the grindstone fairly quickly. I knocked out close to 4 miles before stopping for a quick breakfast of bagel and cream cheese before continuing on.
I had over six miles of road walking right off the bat, and most of the water sources were pretty foul. Some were yellow, others were red, and some were nothing more than wallows. I don’t care to collect water near roads as it is, but these were exceptionally bad, causing me to have to make the water I had stretch for longer than I would have preferred. In the end, I found some excellent cold spring water that wasnt even marked on my map. I heard the water flowing and went down to check it out around 2pm, then decided to just have lunch there and camel up.
I’ve done a really good job at keeping myself hydrated since that episode just before getting into Lincoln. In Helena I bought a little bottle of “Mio.” Not the energy Mio, but the one with only electrolytes. When I worked on deep sea fishing boats and parasail boats, I used to keep a bottle on me and squirt it under my tongue every so often when I felt fatigue setting in. It was a real kick in the pants! Mainly due to the incredibly bitter taste of taking a direct shot of what’s supposed to be mixed with 18oz of water, but also because it absorbs so quickly this way. So I began taking shots of Mio every several hours to keep my electrolytes replenished along with my fluid levels. It kept me feeling strong and fantastic. Why don’t I just mix it into my drink instead of torturing myself with straight shots? Because I hate flavored water and it only makes me more thirsty.
I decided on a good stopping point during lunch, but sadly it was only a little over 27 miles. The reason for choosing it was because I had a ton of climbs ahead of me and the spot was next to a lake at the base of yet another 1,000 ft climb. I truly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to push past the lake once I got there. My 30 mile day would just have to wait…
Onward I went, eating up climb after climb and feeling absolutely unstoppable. Today was the strongest I’ve felt so far on this journey. The climbs weren’t especially steep, but their frequency and elevation gains were monotonous; still, I encountered not a single climb today that gave me “pause” before reaching the top. I’m right at the 4 week mark of this journey, and it usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to get your “trail legs.” I can feel them now, only getting stronger.
When I finally descended to Cottonwood Lake where I planned to camp, I caught a glimpse of an elk grazing across the huge meadow. This was the first elk I’ve seen on the journey and an excellent addition to my wildlife encounters.
Cottonwood Lake must have been mostly dried up, because I only found a medium sized watering hole in the middle of an enormous grassy meadow; perhaps 3 times the size of a football field in every way. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like the location one bit as a camping spot. This was the only watering hole for a decent distance, and obviously an awesome ambush spot for predators. My gut told me to “move along.”
The summit of the mountain I’d just descended had been beautiful, and I’d stayed up there for nearly an hour. In my mind I was prepared to stop at the lake, so I didn’t give myself much wiggle room for daylight. When I got down to Cottonwood, it was a little after 9pm and I was left with less than an hour of ambient light. I walked along the edge of the meadow looking for a spot to jump out at me with no success. Yeah there were spots, but like I said, my gut went against all of them. So after about ten minutes of quiet contemplation, I decided I’d just knock out the big climb in front of me and find a spot at 8k feet up the mountain. It wasn’t getting very cold at night and the sky was gorgeous, so I wasn’t really worried. I figured I’d thank myself in the morning too.
So once again I set out up the mountain in the gathering dark. Being on the east side of the mountain ridge, it got much darker much quicker; especially under the thick pines. Amazingly, my feet felt fine, my legs felt strong, and my mind didn’t feel tired. I felt like I could hike all night if I wanted to…but I really didn’t.
Nowadays when I hike at night, I generally try not to use my headlamp. If I let my eyes adjust to the fading light, I can usually see perfectly clear even in total darkness devoid of ambient sunlight. If there’s a moon, then forget about the headlamp all together, but tonight there was no moon. The reason I don’t like to use my headlamp unless I absolutely have to is because it blinds me. Once it’s on, I can only see what’s in front of me, as well as wherever I turn my head. It essentially gives me tunnel vision and renders my peripherals useless. It creates shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows and causes me to turn and jerk my head around in order to illuminate every little thing I want to focus on. When I night hike with only my naked eyes, I’m able to utilize my peripherals and see the whole picture. It may be dimmer, but I can still see everything around me. I’ll only use my headlamp if there is a lot of rock or debris in the trail that compromises my safety…and usually only after I’ve tripped a couple times.
The last mile and a half to where I decided to camp went by quickly and uneventful; I didn’t even feel the climb due to my body performing so strongly. On the corner of a ridge I found a flattish grove of spaced out trees and hung my hammock as well as my rain fly to be safe; in case any sudden weather or winds picked up, I wouldn’t be caught with my pants down, halfway or otherwise…
I checked my map and to my pleasant surprise this extra little push up the mountain put me at 30.1 miles for the day. My first 30 of this current adventure! I’m more excited at the fact of how strong I feel after having done 30 miles over more than 10k feet of elevation change than I am at just having done the miles. This is excellent progress in the execution of my plan. So far, since my dehydration episode, every “FULL” day that I’ve hiked on trail has been a longer day than the previous “FULL” day of hiking. To know I’m only getting stronger, even as I push myself harder and further each day is a tremendous feeling, as well as a surge of confidence and high morale.
I’m looking at the map, and I have something like 42 miles left to get into the town of Anaconda. There is a 26 mile road walk that counts as an official alternate of the trail (everyone takes this alternate due to the poor maintenance and unfinished nature of the main trail). I smell opportunity. I have about 16 miles of regular trail to hike before the road walk begins. Road walks are boring and hard on the feet, but they are usually fairly gradual, plus you can move fast. If I want to shock my body, raise my endurance and pain threshold, as well as get a 40 mile day completed in Montana… tomorrow would be that perfect day. I feel fantastic as I lie here in my hammock, and I think I can do it. I think it will hurt, but after a day of rest, I think the positive benefits of putting my body through something like that this early will be massively beneficial.
I skipped dinner and haven’t eaten anything since 2pm, but I’m not hungry and I feel fine. Cutting the simple sugars out of my diet is the best thing I’ve done for myself on a hike. The sustained energy I’m experiencing throughout the day is indescribable. So long as my body still has excess fat to metabolize, I don’t believe my on trail hunger will be too voracious. It’s a wonderful thing to see and feel your plans fall into place while producing the desired results…