July 23 – 28, 174 miles hiked
We woke Sunday morning to overcast skies, a nice change from the heat of the days before. The trail was relatively flat, ambling through a sparse forest. It smelled like pine and dirt – some of my favorite smells in the universe. Our friend Jay was coming up from California in a few days to meet us and go fly fishing, and we were meeting him 70ish miles north at Miner Lakes trailhead. We would take a few days off to hang out with him, and I was really excited to have a little break!
This section of trail was still on the divide much of the time, but there was less elevation and exposure and we were in forest a lot of the time. Sunday was one of those days where we just ambled along and the miles seemed to happen easily. That evening, we made it to Lemhi Pass and camped at Sacajawea Memorial Camp, which had PICNIC TABLES (a wonderful luxury), a pit toilet, and a spring, which Lewis and Clark had believed to be the headwaters of the Missouri River. It was later discovered that these were not the real headwaters (we passed the real headwaters last year north of Yellowstone), but the camp still had historic significance and we had fun reading the info displayed. Three southbounders showed up that night and camped with us.
The next day, the trail continued through pine forests. That evening, we finally started climbing above treeline and came to a shale-covered ridge as a storm rolled in. It rained a bit, and everything smelled like rain and dirt and rocks. I loved it. It reminded me of Colorado last year and the way the rain made everything smell and feel fresh, but this rain felt kinder and less menacing than the Colorado rain. We camped high on a ridge that evening, overlooking the mountains we had just come from and the mountains we were about to hike into, and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. The mosquitoes that night were also the most horrendous of the trip so far, so we didn’t enjoy the sunset for very long.
The trail stayed high on the ridge much of the next day, then dropped into some forest after that. Phil kept wanting to take cross country “cut-offs” to shave off some miles. He would study the map to see where we could take shortcuts (like if the trail curved in a horseshoe shape, we’d take the shortest route across) and then race to see who could find the most direct route and get back to the trail first. It was exhilarating and fun, and broke up the monotony of the forest. However, sometimes the trail curved for good reason, and we’d end up picking our way down a cliff or swinging from tree trunk to tree trunk to get down a steep forested descent. We spent a lot of time that day hiking cross country through the forest, climbing over downed trees and through spider webs. The nature of the CDT was such that hikers could make up their own routes much of the time. Often there would be several route options available, or no trail at all. It wasn’t at all like the PCT, where there is one beautiful ribbon of trail to follow for 2,650 miles. The CDT was fun and freeing in this way, but it could also be incredibly frustrating.
We made it to Miner Lakes trailhead that evening, where we were meeting Jay. We had to walk an extra 3 miles down a dirt road to the campground where Jay was, and along the road, we saw a bear! Our first bear sighting of the trip! It was HUGE, light brown, and looked like a grizzly, but everyone told us there weren’t grizzlies in this area. It stopped and looked at us, then went back to digging for grubs in a downed tree trunk. Eventually it walked away and we were able to pass on the road.
The next day, we hiked north on the CDT a few miles to Rock Island Lakes, where Jay wanted to fish. The trail started out in forest and then opened up into beautiful meadows and finally a lake surrounded by mountains. The fish weren’t biting and it eventually started to rain, so we hiked back and drove into the town of Wisdom for food.
The next day, Jay and Phil were going on a guided fishing trip on the Big Hole River. I spent the day in the tiny town of Melrose, where the fly fishing shop was. I worked on the blog, talked to my parents, slept, and sat on the porch with the shop’s resident dog, Drifter. Every few hours I went next door to the restaurant/bar and ate more greasy food. The number of greasy hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve been eating in trail towns is quite impressive. Everyone was exhausted at the end of the day, so we decided to get a hotel room in Butte.
A big street festival called Evel Knievel Days was happening in Butte that weekend, so we checked it out the next morning. Apparently Evel Knievel was from Butte and still has quite a following there. We got ice cream, perused the booths, and watched people with their Harley Davidsons. That evening, we went back to the Miner Lakes area for some final fishing before Jay went back to California. On the way back, we stopped by a cool estate sale at a ranch near Wisdom, and the gun show, which was also happening that weekend.
It was a wonderful, restful time away from the trail. I loved seeing all the tiny Montana towns, learning about fishing, and spending time with Jay. The next morning, we would continue hiking north to Darby.