Pie On The Continental Divide Trail – The First Three Weeks
Missoula, Montana. Home to our crew for the final few days before we set out on our southbound hike of the Continental Divide Trail. We gathered together our last minute supplies and took care of chores that needed to de done before the off. Missoula made for a great place to enjoy civilizations’ niceties; ice coffee, BBQ and Hot Showers. My girlfriend flew in so we could spend time together before being apart for five months. It was so hard to say goodbye to her but being with her for those last few days was really special.
We had some major problems organizing permits for nine people when we arrived at glacier visitor center. We spent over an hour working with the patient ranger at the desk, eventually coming to a compromise. Six of us would start on the 28th of June and the other three on the 29th, any other scenario involved many miles of off CDT hiking to campsites that weren’t already taken.
The morning of the 28th I woke up in my tent at the KOA campground and was shivering, partly due to pre trail jitters but mainly due to the cold early morning temperatures. We headed to the monument at chief mountain, took our photos and set off southbound with the sun shining.
The first few days on trail were an eye opener.
Day 1 we did just short of 20 miles, exhausted when we arrived in camp but amazed by the beauty and scale of Glacier National Park.
The rain hit us hard in the middle of the night. Puddles formed all around our tents and the condensation was so bad that water dripped onto our sleeping bags.
We were definitely hiking the CDT.
Day 2 was a thankfully a short day of 9 ish miles. That morning we all felt sore and tired from the previous days efforts and packing away soaking wet gear was no fun. We arrived to Many Glacier camp area and spent the rest of the day drying out gear and resting for the next few days of high mountain passes.
Day 3 was a beautiful sunny day which made getting up and over Piegan Pass a pleasure. On the way up we had to do some snow traverses with our ice axes and micro spikes, which was a fun first for me. Right at the top of the climb we saw a mother grizzly and her large cub. They moved away instantly and by the time we got up the climb they were way down the slope into the other valley. Seeing them marked another first for me, Grizzly Bears in the wild. Piegan pass gave us epic vistas whilst we enjoyed our lunch before heading down into the valley on the other side.
Glacier is definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Day 4 was a super easy day of 15 flat miles however we had some stretches of super overgrown trail and a burn area that offered no cover from the harsh afternoon sun. Whilst eating dinner that evening we were graced by the presence of Marvin the Moose. Marvin didn’t seem at all bothered by us, feeding from the lake and posing for photographs.
Day 5 Was a double pass day, starting early at 5am. More or less from leaving camp we starting climbing towards Triple Divide Pass, a tough but beautiful climb. The sun and exposure on the other side was harsh just like the previous day. After lunch we climbed up to Pitamakan pass for 360 degree views down onto our campsite at Old Man Lake.
It was another 19+ mile day and we were tired and ready for food once we rolled into camp, I had a quick”swim” in the icy cold lake to freshen up and treat my muscles to some cold water therapy. Then food, conversations with friends and an early night.
Day 6 Meant a 17 mile day into East Glacier village. We would be zeroing the following day so everyone was excited to get to town and get some real food and showers.
Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan. A few of us weren’t paying attention and took a wrong turn, going a few miles in the wrong direction before realizing. Making it a 22 mile day instead of the 17 we had planned to do into east glacier.
Days 7 and 8 were spent zeroing in East Glacier, One Day turned into two due to some knee pains and some logistical issues.
Day 9 we entered the Bob Marshall Wilderness and an abrupt change of trail conditions compared to that of Glacier. Huge amounts of blow downs littered the trail, making for slow progress. I got separated from the group and somehow managed to get in front of everybody. When they weren’t in the spot we’d decided to camp I assumed they’d pushed on. I got pretty freaked out when I started seeing huge Grizzly prints in the mud and a deer jumped out in front of me on the trail. After not catching up with them I eventually just set up my tent in the middle of the trail. I wasn’t aware that they were all freaking out, thinking something bad had happened to me. Happily they caught up with me early the next morning, they’d taken a wrong turn and I’d got past them before they got back on trail. Panic over.
Day 10 was the first day we had all hiked and camped together as a group. Having friends to complain to makes dealing with unkept trail and blow downs way easier. After almost twenty miles we set up camp and ate together before a good nights sleep.
Day 11 started off cold. We donned all our cold weather gear and packed up quickly. Straight out of camp we had to ford an ankle deep stream, not a pleasant experience first thing in the morning. The day quickly turned hot and sunny, moving through burn areas only made the heat worse. We passed a couple of northbound thru hikers who had started back in March and where only eight or nine days away from being done. I can’t imagine how they must feel with such a huge portion of the trail behind them and so little left to go. I felt motivated and strong in the afternoon and arrived in camp around 5pm with a solid twenty miles done.
Day 12 was anther solid twenty mile day, dominated by an afternoon climb of about 2500 feet immediately followed by a long descent. In camp we ran into another North Bound hiker who had started in March, he talked about the frost bite he received in Colorado and that he’d recently broken his stint of 70 nights spent camping alone on the trail.
Day 13, unlucky for some but not for us, we had a great day out on the trail. All morning it looked like it was going to rain but it luckily never came. Just as we approached the Chinese wall the clouds parted and graced us with blue sky and sun. It was great to walk alongside another of Montana’s landmarks. The Chinese wall is a beautiful natural feature that we took time to enjoy and take photos of. After another up and over pass we settled in for the night near a running river. My favorite way to fall asleep is to the sound of running water and I’ve done it several times already on the CDT, perfect.
Day 14 was dusty. Dry and dusty. We had a fairly easy 23 miles for the day but a lot of the day was spent on dusty trail that got into our shoes, noses and souls. We picked up our packages at Benchmark Ranch and settled down at the campsite nearby. Scheduling out the next six days to Helena we realized we were heading into some areas that had serious dry stretches. We scrounged together as many extra water containers as we could and prepared for an early start the next day.
Day 15 started off with some bad news. Two of our crew had serious enough injuries to have to get off trail. One, a possible stress fracture of the foot and the other with terrible pains in the front of the shin. They both decided to take a couple of days of rest with the intention of getting back on trail ASAP. Due to the bad news we didn’t start hiking until 9:30am and we still had to do 23 miles. These would be the most exposed miles we had yet to do on the trail, almost all day we walked through burn areas with the sun beating down upon us. Water was starting to get scarcer. We rolled into camp around 8pm and fell quickly to sleep after our dinner.
Day 16 was probably my toughest day on the trail so far. Mentally I wasn’t in a great place for the second half of the day. We had a climb totaling almost 4000 feet, probably the reason that my mood dropped. I’d say that it was a pretty good example of what to expect from the CDT, hard climbs, heat, exposure, crazy mosquitoes and limited water. I’m just really glad I had a good group of people to share it with, everyone was feeling the same way.
Day 17 started early, we all wanted to get going before it got too hot and we were expecting a day with lots of ups and downs and fairly little water. We got 16 miles done and decided to wait out some of the heat of the day by a creek. After a couple of hours of resting and eating dinner we started an ascent of 1000 feet up to the ridge of the Continental Divide. As we reached the top we could see dark clouds and lightning on the other side of the valley. We decided to set up our tents in the shelter of some trees rather than walking the ridge in a thunderstorm. The storm blew over us quite quickly but there were storms all around. In the distance we could see that a forest fire had started from a lightning strike, smoke was quickly rising from the flames. We called 911 and they were aware of the fire already. We watched the fire for a while before going to sleep, hoping the fire wouldn’t affect us over the next few days.
Day 18 started with me waking up early with a deflated air mattress, not a pleasant experience. We rolled out of camp around 7, we had planned on starting earlier as we had 25 miles to do for the day. It was a cloudy day which made for cooler temperatures, a relief after the brutal heat of the previous few days. The clouds progressively got darker and turned into a thunderstorm as we made our final climb of the day. Just before the top of the climb the rain stopped and we were treated to amazing sunsets for the second night in a row. I also hit my personal best for miles hiked in a day at 25.6 miles. A record that would only probably last a matter of days before being broken again.
Day 19 I just felt exhausted, 11 days in the woods hiking big miles had taken its toll. Despite my body hating me and my energy levels being low, I felt in good spirits. The morning was cold and sunny which made for a nice morning of hiking, it didn’t take long to warm up and starting pounding out the miles. Our water supply for the day was a surprisingly cool and refreshing cow trough in the middle of the day, it would be the first of many we would use as our water on the CDT. The afternoon was spent on seemingly endless gravel roads that lead us to our camp spot for the night, just 8 miles from the road to Helena. We decided to Nearo into town and take a Zero the following day, everyone was talking about what food they were going to enjoy in town. I was craving fresh pineapple and chicken wings. We all planned to leave individually in the morning whenever we awoke to avoid seven people all trying to hitch a ride into town.
Stay tuned for more posts over the next few weeks, and follow me on Instagram to see more updates from the the trail https://www.instagram.com/pieonthetrail/
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