Date- 7 /28/17
Location- Just below Storm Pass
Elevation- 8,675 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 25.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 448.2 miles
Weather/Temp- sunny, cloudy, rain, thunder
Pain level- none
Wildlife encounters- zero
Human Beings encountered on trail- 3
Thru hikers encountered on trail- 2
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 5
As usual, I didn’t get on trail as early as I wanted. It’s just too hard to leave a comfortable room. After a shower and packing up, I was road walking again by a few minutes after 9 am.
Being that I would be on a sidewalk for the next couple miles at least, I embarked to the sound of some tunes; just to set the mood for the day. The “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin set that mood rather nicely.
So there isn’t much to say about the 17 miles of road walk I had right off the bat. They were sunny and hot, and my Tilly hat did a good job of shielding me through most of it. Still, the sweat poured. I stopped once at a gas station to get some new water bottles, then again at a whole foods market to get some breakfast sandwiches, as well as pack out two chicken fried steaks for a late lunch/early dinner.
Around 7 miles into the road walk I ran into two other female southbound thru hikers who were going north while slackpacking a good chunk of the road walk. A local had given them a ride south up the road and dropped them off with basically only water in their packs. Now they were hiking north back into town, back to their motel room. Tomorrow they would be able to continue south from where they were originally dropped off today. It makes the road walk a little easier and also maximizes their relaxation time in town. A solid strategy
I knew one of them from the AT back in 2014. Her name is “Murph,” and I’d hiked around her a bit back then. She also did the PCT, but she was ahead of me, so I didn’t see her out there. The name of her friend slips my mind, but they have been hiking together on all three trails. We spoke for about ten mins in passing before continuing our separate ways.
The road switched back and forth from gravel to paved throughout the 17 miles, but my feet felt fantastic. I’m glad I gave them an extra day. As the final gravel road finally faded back into trail, I found myself in a bit of a crap shoot; there was no trail. For more than a mile I had to use my GPS, as well as my human tracking skills to stay as close to what was essentially the path as I could. I had to keep my eyes peeled for trodden earth and vegetation, as well as the path of least resistance through trees, brush, creeks, and rock fields in order to stay on track and maintain any kind of decent pace. If I was unsure whether I was following animal trails or human trails, I’d consult the GPS and adjust course accordingly. I was basically being funneled between ridges, through meadows, and across small valleys, so without the GPS I could have trail blazed fairly accurately to where I needed to be, although painstakingly slow without the trail.
As 4pm rolled around, the storm clouds which had been brewing ahead of me began to get active. Thunder rolled and the rain came down. My umbrella got to see action on its very first day on trail; and boy am I glad I had it! It drizzled, it poured, it drizzled, it poured, and it poured a little bit more. All the while I continued to creep higher and higher towards my 9,200 ft apex for the day (the highest I will have been so far on this trail). At close to 7pm the rain cut out and some patchy blue skies replaced it. This made me feel better about my ascent; I was going to crest that pass one way or another today, come hell or high water…or so I thought.
I reached the gorgeous Storm Lake slightly after 7pm and found a unique sight. A civilian customized wilderness firefighting truck that said “Zombie Outbreak Response Team” on the back of it. It was parked at perhaps the most scenic location on the lake, and I asked the owner “John” if I could take a picture of it. He obliged, and we talked for a few minutes. Come to find out he’d bought it at an auction for $500; yes that’s “five hundred.” He said no one else bid on it and it only had 25k miles. The water pump for the tank was broken and cost 30k to replace, so the department had let it sit for a few years before auctioning it off; it was worthless to them. John said he changed the battery and the antifreeze, and the damn thing ran like a champ ever since. He’s put his own customizations on it, and isn’t through yet, but it’s one hell of an off-road camper if I do say so myself.
I departed the apocalypse vehicle and made my way around the gorgeous lake. I had plans to get 30 miles today, and easily could have, but I was deterred. While wrapping up the final ascent over Storm Pass, I came across a laminated memo stapled to a tree by the forest service that warmed of unusually high bear activity at the very lake I was shooting for tonight. That meant they had personally been harassed by a bear, or they had received multiple reports from others being harassed. Not having anyone to watch my back, I wasn’t going to tempt fate, not in grizzly country. Although I haven’t seen a bear track or bear shit for a hundred miles at least, it doesn’t mean they’re not still out here. Besides, they should be getting thick again the closer I get to southern Montana and Yellowstone. Wildlife has been a little bleak lately, but I have a gut feeling that’s about to change.
So I didn’t crest the pass, and instead stopped several hundred feet below it on a forested shelf that gives me a somewhat spotty view of Storm Lake. I’ll easily knock out the rest of the climb tomorrow and be on to greener pastures, as well as reconnecting with the official CDT in about 1.5 miles. I do anticipate a fairly chilly night at this elevation, especially after all the rain, and doubly especially due to the fact that I’m above a giant freezing lake. I hope I can sleep…
Looking at the terrain ahead of me, all I see is giant climb after giant climb. I can only assume this was what Schweppes was warning me about, plus a few other things. I still want to stick to as close to 30 miles or more a day, but I don’t think those miles are going to come easy. As usual, I’ll do what I can and try to make the best out of whatever I encounter, or whatever happens to me.
I’m torn between continuing to hike alone, or seeking out companions. I’ve certainly had my pick of other hikers. I met 9 other southbound thru hikers in Anaconda while I was there; this is including the two ladies today, Stomper and Funny Bone, then five others who caught a car ride for half the road walk into town yesterday (three girls and two guys). Stomper and Funny Bone are the only ones ahead of me right now, but I’m more than certain I could join any of these posses if I wanted to. I’m just torn between the freedom of being able to do whatever I want as a solo hiker, or enduring the continued loneliness of being a solo hiker out here. Not to mention the thin veil of paranoia that plagues the back of my mind due to not having someone to watch my back through such remote wilderness.
I know I’ll be more proud of myself and relish in the ever continuing growth of the confidence that comes from the extended isolation I’m experiencing. But, I can’t decide which I want more; the confidence or the companionship. I suppose I’ll just keep on trucking, and whatever is meant to be, will be. I make a great effort not to force things to happen in my life nowadays; instead waiting to see what the universe puts in my path at the moment it makes the most natural sense…