Saturday, June 29, 2013

Chief Mountain to East Glacier: CDT 2013

I complimented a park ranger in Two Medicine who gave a very entertaining talk on birds in Glacier National Park last night.
"Great job tonight," I said. "It looks like everyone left feeling really happy."
The park ranger responded, "Most people probably won't remember much of what I discussed tonight. But they will remember how they felt. If they leave Glacier National Park feeling happy, then I did my job."

I also will leave Glacier National Park tomorrow feeling very happy. It was an intense week. How does one summarize an entire week hiking in the back-country in one of America's crown jewels? I simply can't. There were extreme highs and lows both literally and figuratively. Any relationship begins with all sorts of fears and expectations both realized and imaginary. The Rocky Mountains and Glacier National Park are no different. I am just beginning to learn their ways. It felt like they were trying to kill me in the beginning. Yesterday and today they have offered a gentle and friendly nudge to continue on.

Wildlife viewing has been fantastic. Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, giant beavers, moose, marmots, strange chicken like high elevation birds, giant deer. The presence of the Grizzly has been a constant one, although I never saw one, just some fresh prints and scat. Let me just say mountain goats are awesome! I was privileged to observe a group of mountain goats for a couple of hours from one particular campsite called Morning Star Lake. I wish I had binoculars. It gave me the same feeling as the first time I saw rock climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite: Amazed. Although I remember someone once remarking that watching rock climbers is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Maybe the mountain goats are more exciting, or I need to get a job as a painter. The goats were on these cliffs that seemed to go straight up from the valley a couple thousand feet. Not only were they not harnessed in by ropes or other safety gear, but they seemed to show absolutely no fear climbing onto ledges, jumping from ledge to ledge, running at times, and finding their way into cracks and crevasses. 

The weather seems to have gone from winter to summer in a week. It also took about that long to once again feel wild or feral. I noticed it after hiking over Piegan Pass and eventually coming out onto the Going to the Sun Highway. I found a bench near the road where I could sit and eat a snack. The sky had darkened and it began to rain. Not too hard but enough to get a good soaking. Folks were driving by in the comforts of their vehicles, and I didn't care one bit. I was just glad I was off that mountain pass, and the rain at least felt warmer than the one the day before. Uncomfortable was the new comfortable. It was a pleasant epiphany.

I met some great folks on the trail this week, in particular Pyrite and Chinchilla. They are a married couple hiking the CDT. They gave me a burst of energy and renewed confidence while hiking over Piegan Pass. I had been hunkered down below the pass for 24 hours as a storm system passed through. I couldn't bring myself to go up there, it looked so intimidating in the bad weather. The park ranger had warned me a few days earlier that this was probably the most difficult pass as far as snow was concerned. In his words, "You'd better have an ice axe and micro spikes, because if you slip, it's a long way to the bottom." Pyrite and Chinchilla passed my tarp to say hello just as the rain seemed to stop. They told me they were doing the CDT and they were hiking over the pass. I was astounded by their confidence and simple statement despite the bad weather. I packed up my things and followed them up a half an hour later. Yes, it was intense.
A couple of days later I asked them if they would mind if I joined them up Triple Divide Pass, another sketchy area with supposedly steep snowfields. They agreed to let me tag along. The Pass wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. We parted ways at the top. They are now a day ahead I believe. I was and am still grateful for their company.

All in all, it was a fantastic first week on the CDT. I still don't have my hiking legs under me, but I will need to put in longer days this next week. My confidence is gaining as I learn these mountains and their ways. I love my GPS. It's been a super handy tool during tough intersections. So far, my systems seem to be working out just fine. This week I head into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, next strop Benchmark, then Lincoln. Happy Trails!


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Heading Out to Chief Mountain Today!

Finally heading out to hike the CDT in a few hours. It's been quite the roller coaster ride the last few days in town. My box with my ice axe, bear spray, and hiking poles never arrived. Thankfully, a fellow sothbounder named "Hawk" was just getting ready to send both his ice axe and bear spray home yesterday when I happened to bump into him as I was leaving the post office feeling dejected. He let me borrow both items!Thanks Hawk!!! I owe you a beer!

As luck would have it, I decided on a whim to go get my permits yesterday morning at Two Medicine before I bumped into Hawk. Everything feels like quite the chore, but I guess I better get used to it. As I was getting my permits for the first leg through Glacier, I stepped outside to take some pictures of the amazing scenery. It was incredibly windy and somewhat stormy. I had a ziploc bag filled with all of my Montana town and resupply data. I put the bag on a bench while I took a picture. Next thing I know, I heard a rustling sound, and turned around horrified as I watched all of my papers blowing across the parking lot into the nearby meadow and woods. My heart sank, and the first thing that popped in my head was "There goes my hike..." Thankfully, a family quickly jumped into action. the mother ordered her kids to help pick up the pages. I attempted to grab a few, and each time I almost grabbed one, a wind gust blew the page further from reach, like a slap in the face. The kids had jingle bells tied to their legs, bear bells I assume, and ran after and secured every page that had flown out of the bag! Thank you ananonymous family!!! I learned a very valuable lesson. It's crazy how these small mistakes can really add up over time. I've got to be more careful and vigilant with everything.

While hanging out in town, I've met some great people, as well as a few southbound CDTers. I spent my first night with a few "youngsters" right out of college who are working for a tour company in the park. A young woman named Jenny invited me out to dinner with her friends. I had a great time, the food and company were excellent. After dinner, we all walked around town and later sat around the room of the hostel drinking wine and telling stories. Thank you Jenny!!! I also met southbounders Sage and Smoke. Sage also goes by the name Burney. Burney shared some incredible knowledge and insight while we sat in the comforts of the East Glacier Lodge. I hope to run into the couple again, but they seem to be fast hikers. Burney is finishing his second triple crown. Smoke has already finished her triple crown as well. I also met Hawk, who I mentioned before, Bluefoot, and Challenger. I hope to see all of these guys again later on down the line, but who knows? The trail is strange that way, there is a good chance I will never see any of them again.

Weather is improving. It actually felt somewwhat warm outside this morning. Can't wait to get out there. I am definitely nervous and anxious, the mountains look very intimidating. Glad to get out of East Glacier though. Happy Trails!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting in East Glacier

I'm currently waiting in East Glacier. Why waiting? Well, my hiking poles, ice axe, and bear spray that I sent off last week has not arrived at the Post Office. It was supposed to arrive Monday, but no luck. For me, the phrase SNAFU comes back to mind. How else do my thru hikes begin?! Waiting has been the theme the last few days. There were long waits in between trains from Northern California to Glacier. The train was great overall though. It was like taking a trip down memory lane on the PCT. I was privevledged to see Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, Mt. Thieson, the Columbia River, and the Bridge of the Gods again from the comfort of the train's lodge. Huge windows allowed for fantastic sight seeing. I met some great people as well, including a couple who also are just beginning their southbound thru-hike of the CDT. Their names are Littlebug, and Aaron. They should be hitting the trail this afternoon.

My luck took a turn for the worse this morning. As I was departing the train and saying goodbye to the pretty girl I was sitting next to, I stood up too fast and smashed my head on the overhead compartment, created an awkward departure. The train was late so I could not take the shuttle to secure my hiking permits at the ranger station. When I arrived at the post office, it was closed for two hours for lunch. Of course when it re-opened, as I mentioned above, my package was not there. It was becoming clear I was going to have to say goodbye to Littlebug and Erin and decline the ride they offered to the ranger station in St. Mary's as a result. I attempted to find a stealth camp spot outside of town, but was quickly swarmed by mosquitos. The CDT motto is to "Embrace the Brutality." I think I'm ready to embrace the brutality, just not mosquito brutality just yet. As a result, I had to get a room in the local hostel. It's a great place, I was just hoping to stay there after finishing the first few days of trail, not the day I arrived in the area.

Not all is lost however. There was a BRUTAL thunderstorm that rolled through the area, dumpuing torrential amounts of rain, wind, lighting and thunder, and dropping the temperature about 20 degrees. I would have died if I was out there in those conditions on day 1. So, for now, I still have a roof over my head and all is good. Hopefully my box arrives tomorrow. I'm not sure what to do if it does not arrive by Friday...

Monday, June 17, 2013

One Last Note Before Hitting the CDT

My brother Michael kindly offered to post pictures from time to time on this blog as he did along the PCT a couple years ago. Thanks again Michael! I will surrender the reigns to him. I will try to post from time to time when I get into town if I have the time. I would like to update it, but I don't feel or want to feel any pressure to do so. So with that, I will send off. Happy Trails everyone...

Off to Glacier: CDT Prep June 17, 2013

One last visit to my spiritual/hiking home Montgomery Woods
 In a few hours, this next journey within a journey will begin. I am scheduled to take a bus/train combo that will eventually take me to East Glacier on the morning of the 19th. There I will pick up my hiking poles, ice axe, and bear spray that I had to mail off last week since I can't bring those items on the bus. I also will have to set up an itinerary with the park rangers in Glacier when I arrive. I'm not sure whether I will be able to start hiking on the 19th, or will have to wait until the 20th. I'm about as ready as I'm going to be at this point.
3 Resupply boxes and 1 bounce box
 There have been lots of goodbye's this past week, with people and places. I managed to visit Montgomery Woods one last time yesterday, and say goodbye to what I consider my hiking and spiritual home for the last  two years. I'm definitely not a fan of goodbyes.
Power objects
This morning I have a few more errands to do, among them to pack up my pack. Above are a couple of "power objects" I will be bringing with me on this hike. One is a piece of a collar of my dog Lily, a beautiful white Siberian husky. I use the word "my" very lightly, because she belongs to my brother who has cared and housed her for a majority of her life. My brother gave me the collar at my sister's wedding  a couple of weeks ago as a gift. He doesn't believe she will make it through the summer, as she is getting very old and feeble now. Since Lily has such an independent and fighting spirit, my brother thought it would be something I could carry to remind myself when times get tough on the trail. I don't feel like I deserve to carry it, but I will.

The other object is a rosary that my mom gave me that belonged to her as a child. There is a story behind it that I want my mom to write down because I don't remember it. I have always liked the idea of using these hikes as a way to develop and strengthen one's spirituality. Often times, for me at least, the opposite can happen. World religions seem pointless in the wilderness sometimes. But I will bring it, and use it, and see what happens.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Week to Go! CDT Planning: June 10, 2013

My bedroom for the last week and a half
 Down to the last week before hitting the Continental Divide. I am putting final closure on things and am just about ready to go. Of course there are plenty of last minute chores to accomplish, including figuring out how I am getting to Glacier. I'm not a fan of flying, so it looks like it will be be a bus, train combo. I moved out of my room on June 1st and put my belongings in storage. My roommates have been gracious enough to put up with me sleeping on the back porch at night. It's pretty nice actually. The big dipper is right above me when I fall asleep. I wake up to the sound of a variety of birds, flying around the backyard. I also have been waking up much earlier than I usually do. My body becoming acclimated to the cycles of dark and light once again. I love it.
My belongings in storage yet again
My roommate Michael and my friend Kate treated me to a weekend in Ft. Bragg as a sendoff gift. It was really nice of them to do. Temperatures in town reached 110 degrees the day we left for the coast. It was probably no more than 70 degrees on the coast. We ate Tai for dinner, played music in the evening, and went for a couple hikes along the beach. Thank you Kate and Michael!
Spending the weekend in Ft. Bragg with Kate and Michael
 My resupply packages are just about full and ready to go. I will be sending off four boxes. Benchmark, West Yellowstone, Encampment Wyoming, and Pagosa Springs Colorado. I will resupply the rest along the way. Other than my Benchmark box, the others will have all of my maps and paperwork for each state.
There is order in this chaos
Besides being completely out of shape, I think I am ready to go. It's been too darn hot around here to do any training hikes in the afternoon. My last day of work is Thursday, and it looks like I will begin heading to glacier on Monday, with the hopes of starting the trail on the 19th. I will probably write a couple more posts before I leave...