Date- June 30, 2019
Location- Pentagon Creek
Elevation- 4,869 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 15.7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 172.5 miles
Weather/Temp- sunny, high 60s
Injuries- cuts and scrapes on legs
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- cinnamon bear
Days without shower- 4
Days without laundry- 4
FINALLY saw a bear today.
It was another gorgeous day, but I was 2 hours later to it than everyone else. It was after 9 am before I was finally hiking.
In my haste to hit the trail I didn’t drink as much breakfast as I’d initially hoped to. For the sake of speed and simplicity, I’ve been having an oatmeal shake for breakfast every morning. It’s basically just two packets of the powdered “Breakfast Essentials,” two packets of “Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal,” and a liter of water mixed in. I usually let it soak overnight and drink it down in the morning, but last night I forgot to prepare it so I just mixed in the Breakfast Essential powder without the oatmeal. Not enough calories.
I crossed the freezing Flathead River to start the day and began chipping away at the 3,000 ft climb up Switchback Pass ahead of me.
Halfway up the climb, the forest was again burnt (where in 2017 it was not). What had once been a lush tunnel of green was now a transparent formation of blackened skeleton trees and barren ground. As I approached the beautiful Dean Lake, I remembered the thick forest I’d camped in around its shores with Schweppes and Katana back in 2017 as deer wandered through our campsite throughout the night. Nothing but dead trees, charred logs, and a lonely fire ring remained. The rest is memory.
Not far past Dean Lake I began to feel my legs get heavy. I knew I hadn’t eaten enough, and I was already 8 miles and nearly 2,000 feet into the eclectic climb up Switchback. I knew I should stop and eat something, but I was barely a mile from the top of the pass and wanted to tough it out. “I’ll eat at the top,” I told myself.
Well, that last mile took nearly an hour to complete. Not only because I was already beat, but because the trail was nonexistent. It didn’t match up with the maps when it was existent, and was covered in deep but soft snow-pack that wanted to swallow up your every move.
After getting sufficiently lost from the trail, I decided to make a beeline towards where I knew the pass would be – so straight up the steep mountainside I went. The side of the mountain itself was a mixture of clay mud, gravelly rocks, boulders, and snow-pack. I was about to strafe across a section of snow-pack when I thought better of it and decided to keep going straight up the clay mud and gravel. I did a sort of weird turn away from the snow pack mid-stride while taking a big step up the steep clay and rock mountainside. The earth quickly gave way beneath me, sliding down while taking me with it. My entire right side hit the gravel and clay hard, sliding against the rocks for a short distance. The skin below the side of my right knee was torn open while the rest of me was caked in thick muddy clay. I picked up handfuls of snow-pack and washed myself off as blood mixed with mud began to seep thickly out of my leg. I took a deep breath and finished the last couple hundred yards to the top of the pass.
Once there, I considered eating and then decided against it. I had 7 more miles of downhill to reach another Forest Service cabin. Gravity could do the work for the next 7 miles and I could just eat at the cabin. If I could make it there, then the whole day would have been powered by a measly strawberry breakfast shake.
I caught Jetpack about 2.5 miles out from the cabin and hiked with her the rest of the way. Dale and Sid were already past it, but Jetpack was hurting a bit from the long downhill and wanted to call it a day right there. We’d only gone about 15 miles (it was 4 pm), and I would have liked to have gone further. But, I had promised Jetpack in East Glacier that I would stick with her through The Bob, and I intend to keep that promise, even at the expense of temporarily losing the other people I was hiking around/with.
We ate an early dinner on the front porch of the empty, locked cabin before Gator and Leper showed up. They are a newly wed couple in their twenties hiking the CDT for their honeymoon. Gator has hiked the PCT, but his wife Leper has never done a thru-hike until now.
While sitting on the porch of the cabin, Leper excitedly exclaimed that she’d seen something in the woods next to the cabin and that she thought it was a bear. I looked to my left where she was pointing and sure enough there was a young, 150 pound cinnamon bear (brown colored black bear) approaching the cabin outhouse about 35 yards away from us. The little bear looked healthy and adorable, and was more than aware of our presence. It snooped around the outhouse for a couple minutes while throwing us a cautious glance every now and again before tumbling back into the woods and disappearing.
Overall, I rate this bear encounter experience a 4 out of 5 stars. It was long lasting, cute, and with great views of the actual bear. The only thing that would have made it 5 stars is if it were closer, a more dangerous situation, or if the bear had shown more interest in us or our food. I’m glad to have the monkey off my back for bear encounters. CDT bear count… 1
I’m hoping we pull a 20+ mile day tomorrow, as it should put us less than 100 miles from being done with this section. My food is holding out so far, but I’ve definitely been conservative with it. Tomorrow we should also reach the China Wall. I look forward to sharing that with you…