Gear Review: Fjallraven W’s Abisko Trekking Tight

 

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Life is good when you have a good pair of tights and a swing!

As any woman who has ever done anything even remotely outdoor-oriented knows, finding clothing that is functional (helloooo – pockets, anyone?), fits (we don’t have to look incredibly frumpy, do we?), and is durable is about downright impossible. And I get some of it. Clothing is mass made now, cut to the “average” person, and the truth of the matter is that us women have a million plus one size and shape combinations. Some of it I don’t get – why do the men always get great pockets that they can actually fit things in, and the women’s version of the exact same item from the exact same brand has little tiny useless pockets that you can barely fit a tube of lip balm in?

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Pockets, anyone? That right pocked housed my breakfast bar every day.

For this reason, I gave up on hiking pants years ago. Honestly, I was just sick of the constant search, and I started wearing leggings. I struggled with it a little bit at first – there’s a certain consensus that you’re not wearing enough if you just wear leggings, so my first foray into the legging wearing world included shorts worn over them. However, I gradually began to not care what others thought. I’m out hiking or running, and leggings cover me perfectly, if someone else is going to judge me for it, well, that’s their problem.

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DGAF – Ima wear leggings.

This summer, before starting out on our thru hike of the Continental Divide Trail, I was poking around for the pair of tights that I wanted to bring with me. I have done most of my hiking, running, and backpacking with the Lululemon Speed IV Tight (can I say awesome pockets), but I have one problem with those tights. They have a zipper pocket on the back of the tights that sits right on the bones that stick out on either side at the base of the spine. Literally, the beginning and end of this zipper coincides perfectly with those bones. Normally, for running or hiking (without a pack), this is no big deal. However, when Dan and I hiked the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail in 2015, I wore those tights, and ended up with pretty bad sores there, and that was only a month. I was worried about what I’d look like at the end of 5 months.

Literally a couple of days before leaving on our trip, Dan and I stopped into the local Fjallraven shop, just looking around, when I saw the Abisko Trekking Tights.

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These tights were made for train tunnels!

Enter Love at First Sight.

Now, these tights were not cheap. But, there were several features that sold me on them.

  • First – no zipper in the back! No sores on those bones! (There is a tiny little pocket on the front of the tights, but my belly is soft, and I did not have a problem with this pocket.)
  • Second –  the pockets! A girl could dream forever about these pockets! One flap pocket on my right thigh, where I kept my bar before eating it for breakfast, and one zippered pocket on my left thigh where I often kept my phone handy. Imagine, pockets big enough to fit things in. Can you hear the choir?
  • Third – the reinforced zones! Another concern I had had was that, well, this was going to be a really long trip. Every piece of gear was going to go through the wringer. These tights have great reinforcements on the rear-end (if I may say so, I think it also helps that area look better, always bonus points) and on the knees.
  • Fourth – the back panel is wide, so the possibility of seam rubbing while wearing a pack is greatly reduced.
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How’s that for versatile? The Abisko tights made a decent ski pant, too.

So, I bought them, obviously – and proceeded to wear them almost every day for five and a half months.

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I mean, literally, every day.

Pros: Overall, I really loved these tights. They were comfortable, functional, looked good, and had great durability. They were one of the few clothing items that I not only wore throughout the whole trail, but also can continue to wear post-trail, as they have no holes! They were a great layer for traveling through the snow and putting on during those chilly mornings. The durable panels added on were a lifesaver. I didn’t have to pay much attention when sitting down, or kneeling on things. Also, they made it through climbing through/under/over/around a ton of deadfall while on the trail. That is saying something. Tights being tights, I also believe these would fit a variety of outdoor ladies.

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They were great lounging around the camp fire tights, too!

Cons: Only a few (very small) downsides existed with these pants. I really did not spend much time sitting in these tights – surprisingly, a thru-hike consists mostly of hiking! But if I did spend a decent amount of time sitting, I felt my bottom become a little agitated by the coarseness of the reinforced material in that area. The other thing was that over the course of not washing these for a week on end, they became quite baggy in the knees/rear-end areas. I also rated these a bit lower on versatility because they are a slightly warm tight. When temps warmed up, I was generally changing pretty quickly.  For me, these cons were fairly insignificant.

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Chillin’ with my shades an’ my tights!

(Scales 1-10)

Price: $175

Mobility: 10

Durability: 10

Features: 9

Versatility: 7

Weight: 10oz / 284g (size XS)

What is my end take away?

If you are looking for a new tight to hike in, or perhaps are utterly sick of dealing with the rubbish that is hiking pants for women right now, look no further.

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Continental Divide Trail Gear List

by Elaine Vardamis

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The right gear makes map reading in mosquito-infested lands more enjoyable!

When preparing for such a long trip, a lot of thought goes into what you are willing to carry on your back. Gear choices are going to be a little different for everybody. That being said, here is the gear that, after much deliberating, I decided to go with.

A lot of our decisions that we made for this trip were strongly influenced by past trips. Two major ones, our most recent ones, had involved hiking through cold, almost hyperthermic conditions for most of the time, while also in pouring rain. We were also coming off a ski trip to Norway in which we encountered conditions with strong winds and -30 degree Celsius tempertures. So, our packs ended up being a bit heavier than they should have been. We most definitely could (and should) have done an overhaul of this list, taking into consideration the facts of where we were, and what time of year.

Items with an * next to them went through reiterations while we were out on the trail!

The Big Things:

  • Backpack: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 (lined with trash compactor bag*1)
  • *Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering UltraLite 5’6” (also has a trash bag to line the stuff sack – don’t want it wet!!)
  • Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XLite short

*1 The fabric is said to be waterproof, but after having significant leaking during a heavy downpour a few years ago, I always line my backpack.

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Full on sun protection

The Things on the Body:

  • Socks: Darn Tough Ultra Light No Show Tab
  • *Shoes: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
  • Insoles: Custom from Bob Egeland with Boulder Orthotics
  • Gaiters: Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • Underwear: Icebreaker Siren
  • *Skort:  Lululemon Final Lap Skirt
  • Sports Bra: Ibex Balance Bralette
  • *Shirt: Arcteryx Fernie LS Shirt
  • *Sunglasses: Julbo Megeve
  • *Sunhat: Arcteryx
  • Sungloves: OR Chroma
  • *Trekking Poles: BD Distance Carbon
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While dealing with infections in both heels, I hiked in Chacos for a while.

The Other Clothing Things:

  • Warm Hat: Swix
  • Socks: Darn Tough Ultra Light No Show Tab
  • Underwear: Icebreaker Siren
  • Sleep Socks: Zpacks PossumDown
  • Compression Socks: 2XU
  • Long John Top: Icebreaker Oasis 200
  • Long John Bottom: Icebreaker Oasis 200
  • Warm Layer: Ibex Hooded Indie
  • Tights: Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights
  • Down Jacket: Western Mountaineering Flash
  • Rain Pants: Arcteryx Beta SL
  • Rain Jacket: Patagonia M10
  • *Mitts: Zpacks Rain Mitt & Zpacks Fleece Mitt
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When you have to wear all your layers!

The Things of a Personal Nature:

  • Food Consumption: Snowpeak Spork
  • Cup: GSI plastic cup
  • Feminine Products: Diva Cup
  • Hairties 
  • Toothbrush: Oral B Travel
  • Lip Balm: Ski Naked
  • *Water Bottles: 1 Poweraid bottle and 1 Smartwater bottle (can buy new ones when they become gunky!) and 2 Platypus soft bottles (1 liter)
  • Journal: Write in the Rain, Write in the Rain pen
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Hiking with umbrella from the Dollar Tree in Rollins, Wy. Hey, when it’s the only way you get shade!

The Things with the Batteries or in Need Of and of Course, Accessorizing! : 

  • Headlamp: Petzl Zipka
  • Watch: Suunto Ambit 3
  • Phone: iPhone SE w/Lifeproof case
  • Battery: Goal Zero Flip 20
  • Earbuds: Apple
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Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest and the Tenkara USA Rhodo – at home in the Wind River Range in Wyoming

The Things that We Shared (Because Sharing is Caring):

  • *Shelter: Hilleberg Anjan 2
  • Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket
  • Cookware: Snowpeak 9000
  • Coozy: Handmade
  • Lighter: Bic
  • Stuff Sacks: Assorted sizes from Sea to Summit
  • Water Treatment: Aquamira Drops and Tablets
  • 1st Aid/ Repair Kit: second skin, neosporin, band aids, liquid bandage, Advil, Tylenol, Advil PM, Benadryl, Peptobismol, needle, athletic tape, safety pins, Leatherman Squirt ps4, tweezers, nail clippers, arnica, Therm-A-Rest repair kit, Trail Toes, sunscreen, Dr. Braunners, Tenacious Tape
  • Extra Batteries: AAA x6
  • Sharpie
  • *Camera: Sony a6000
  • Camera Battery
  • Communication Devise: Garmin Explorer
  • Cords: Watch charger, phone charger
  • Maps: Ley Maps
  • Toothpaste: Lush Toothy Tabs
  • Floss
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • *Solar Charger: Suntactics
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She’s a real nowhere (wo)man, living in her nowhere land

 

The Things That Were Changed:

  • Sleeping Bag: Through New Mexico to our home in Colorado, we carried the Western Mountaineering Ultralite, where we switched to the Western Mountaineering Summerlite. We then carried the Summerlite through Montana until Augusta, MT, where we picked up the Ultralites again (it was snowing!)
  • Shoes: When I was buying my shoes (we bought all of our shoes before hand), La Sportiva did not have enough of my size shoe. So I decided to use the Altra Lone Peak 3 to start off with. That shoe did not work for me, but I know it works for a lot of hikers out there!
  • Skort: I used the Icebreak Comet through to our home, but was having terrible durability problems with it. It is not sewn along the sides (I can’t tell if they were glued or welded seams) and was constantly falling apart. At home, I picked up a Lululemon Final Lap Skirt. That thing was amazing!
  • Shirt: I wore the long sleeved shirt through Grants, New Mexico, but ended up switching out to an Icebreaker Cool-lite shirt. I had never hiked in a long sleeved shirt before, and it was worth a try. I did not like it, I definitely prefer to hike in a T shit.
  • Sunglasses: I wore the Julbo Megeve sunglasses from the start until Chama, New Mexico. There, because I knew I would be on a lot of snow, all day long (and I know my poor eyes are very sensitive), I switched to the Julbo Tensing sunglasses. They have a very dark lens that was very protective.
  • Sunhat: I wore a large, full brimmed sunhat from our start at the border of Mexico through the Great Divide basin. It was great for sun protection, but annoying, and I switched to a normal ballcap.
  • Trekking Poles: Dan and I skied the San Juans, and I used a pair of the Black Diamond Traverse poles while skiing. Extremely strong and also adjustable, they fit my needs better than the lightweight, fixed length pole I used on the rest of the trip.
  • Mitts: I hated the Zpacks mitts, both the rain mitts and the fleece mitts. In Grants, New Mexico, I switched both. I used the Hestra XC fleece mitt and the Outdoor Research Shuksan Rain Mitt for the rest of the trip. In retrospect, they were overkill for most of the rest of the trip, but this system was much more functional when I actually needed warm hands.
  • Water Bottles: When we started in New Mexico, we were carrying seven liters of water. (Also, I think too much, but there it is.) So I was carrying the Smartwater and the Poweraid bottles, one 2 liter Platypus bottle, and three 1 liter Platypus bottles.
  • Shelter: We started with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear DuoMid. We switched to the Hilleberg in Grants, New Mexico after sleeping on mud (and this was the mud of nightmares) during a snowstorm between Pie Town and Grants. Once again, in retrospect, I might have stuck with the Mid, as it is significantly lighter, but the Hilleberg did provide great protection, good warmth, and a mosquito free area!
  • Camera: We started with the Canon PowerShot G9X, which is a great little camera. We did switch to the Sony a6000. This was definitely a bigger camera, but we felt like the quality of picture produced was a great trade off for the weight.
  • Solar Charger: We started carrying the solar charger, but after it broke, we did not replace it. As on our previous, month long trips, we have never gone into town, the solar charger was valuable. But on this trip, we were in town often enough that the solar charger was unneeded.
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The standard procedure in every town: dump out the pack, reorganize, repack!

A note on socks: I started with too many socks, and somehow acquired even more as the hike went on. I love to wear compression socks at night, as I feel it helps me with feet swelling. But when I had massive infections in my heels in New Mexico, I stopped wearing them. I did, however, continue carrying them the whole way, which I was annoyed at myself for until Dan got tendinitis in Montana, and he had some relief from the pain when wearing them. 

The Things that Were Special:

For the San Juans, Dan and I decided to ski, so our snow gear list looked a bit different from others

  • Skis & Bindings: Ski Trab World Cup & La Sportiva RT bindings
  • Boots: Scarpa Alien
  • Skins: Pomoca Race Pro Climbing Skins
  • Ski Crampons: Dynafit
  • Traction: Kahtoola MICROspikes
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Because: skiing! I developed a whole new appreciation for this ski set up in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado

We will definitely do a write up on how the skiing portion went, that will also touch on gear. However, that will be a whole other blog post!

The Things for the Bugs:

  • Bug Repellant: 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellant
  • Headnet: Sea to Summit
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Head nets are sanity saviors!

The Randoms: 

  • Sandals: Chacos 
  • Umbrella: Picked up from Dollar Tree in Rollins, Wyoming
  • Fly Rod: Tenkara USA Rhodo
  • Kid’s skis: Lucky Bums*I used Chacos for a significant portion of the time while I was letting the infections in my heel heal. The umbrella was a $1 addition to our packs through the Great Divide basin. It was my first experience with hiking with an umbrella for shade, and if we do something in desert style environment again, I will definitely consider it more strongly! We took the fly rod through the Wind River Range in Wyoming and into Montana. As far as the Lucky Bums skis went, Dan and I had had a strong streak of skiing every month going before we started the hike. We wanted to keep that streak alive and well, even during a five month thru hike. By skiing the San Juans, and then shipping these little skis to ourselves along the way, we succeeded, and finished our hike with 84 months straight of skiing at least once a month!
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The Lucky Bums skis after their debut skiing Knapsack Col in the Wind River Range, Wyoming

 

Snow’s (Elaine) CDT Wrap & Impressions

The final wrap up for Team ThunderSnow!

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We did not hike the CDT on a whim. This was first our first thru hike, back in 2012, on the Colorado Trail, where we first uttered the words, “I want to hike the whole CDT.”

The Continental Divide Trail. I grew up in the shadow of the Continental Divide; as a kid, it blew my mind. I was micro-focused. I was captivated by the little things, fascinated by them, as I think most kids are, and the idea of this ridge of mountains stretching all the way from South America, through the whole United States, up through Canada to Alaska? It was something my mind couldn’t comprehend, and so it took on a mystical quality. I’m not the first, either – the Blackfeet called it the Backbone of the World. As I learned about trails, and then longs trails, and then learned about the Continental Divide Trail, my whole being swelled at the concept. Something about it tugged at me. Since I first understood the concept, it became something I wanted to do. And then, in 2012, Dan and I hiked the Colorado Trail, where I said it for the first time:

“I want to hike the Continental Divide Trail.”

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Our 2015 CDT prep hike, a fast 500-mile September jaunt from Wolf Creek Pass to Eldora. All that was left was to quit our jobs and commit to making it happen. That took another 18 months.

Five years later, I sit here, having done it. And I can’t even begin to process what just happened. Some people say they aren’t really changed by their hikes. Some people say that thru hiking will ruin your life.

For me, I have no idea where to start. I know I miss the trail – I miss it with a deep, painful throbbing that encompasses my whole being. It’s a constant flicker in my mind, a prickle in my eyes, a desire in my gut, an ache in my feet. A few days after being back home, Dan and I drove over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, where we went into the visitors center and watched the movie. It was longer than normal, and people came and left throughout the film – nobody else stayed for the whole time. And I cried. I cried that desperate, gut-wrenching, unrestrained cry that I usually associate with loss. Even now, just typing this, I finally make the connection. Because I am grieving. I have, even if temporarily, lost the Continental Divide Trail, the trail life, and I desperately want it back.

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The sun drops as we take our last steps out of the southern Rockies and into the Red Desert of Wyoming.

I know that mostly, it’s chemical. When the last of the aspen leaves rustle around on the ground, when the sky is tinted that brilliant morning hue, when the elk down valley from us bugle, when the sound of a chattering creek makes me break down – I know I can tell myself this is chemical. All summer I was in the sun, all day, every day. I’m not getting the endorphins of hiking a marathon every day. I know myself to be sensitive to chemical imbalances – heck, chemical imbalances were the story of my life for many years. I know it will come around, that if I do the things that I know work, I can rebalance my internal chemistry. But for now, while I’m deep in the mourning process, it feels devastating. (And I feel silly that it does.)

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One of those moments that makes you feel so alive. A ski traverse of the San Juan Mountains. Just north of Wolf Creek Pass

I am not sure I can explain it. Were there so many terrible, horrible times? Yes. I bruised my heels in New Mexico; those bruises turned to pockets of infected pus. I dealt with that for two weeks by ignoring it and eating pain killers like Skittles before going into the emergency room when I saw a streak of dark red running up the outside of my leg. We stood by a river in the San Juans in Colorado, pantless at 8pm, debating a crossing of a raging river that we backed out of and then yelled ourselves hoarse because we’d scared ourselves so bad. In Wyoming I dealt with two more infections in my feet, so painful that ibuprofen hardly touched it and I cut massive holes in my shoes so that I could still walk. In Montana Dan got tendonitis  and we had to road walk many miles around fires. In Glacier National Park, there was a night I got chilled, and found myself shivering uncontrollable and temporarily lost the ability to think clearly. I spent every day in pain; some days more manageable than others. My level of exhaustion climbed past what I ever thought possible. The Continental Divide Trail was ruthless.

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The hills on the Montana/Idaho border are almost inhumane in their steepness and endless dishing out of pain. 800 miles from the Montana border and feeling every inch.

Yet, I miss it.

I miss it.

I miss those moments: those moments of strength, when you’re body is aching, so tired, and yet you realize, simply putting one foot in front of the other is not that hard, and it turns out that you can do it indefinitely (or so it seems). It’s the moment of the sun rising up above the trees, filtering its golden beams onto the earth below. It’s trudging through 8″ of fresh snow, feet safely encased in gallon-sized ziplock baggies, enchanted by the cold beauty around you. It’s camping beneath the stars, no tent up, just a few miles from the Mexico border, the Milky Way a great glittering banner in the sky above you as the coyotes serenade you to sleep. It’s hiking down a massive, glacier-carved valley for an hour with elk bundling all around. It’s finding a water source in the Red Desert that isn’t terrible. It’s watching a herd of 150 wild horses thunder across the ground, feeling the pounding of their hooves shudder up your legs. It’s slogging for 14 hours a day through the San Juan mountains in Colorado, being exhausted, but knowing that you can’t let your guard down for a second, that you have to always be paying attention perfectly, and finding that you can. It’s putting your frozen shoes in the sleeping bag with you the moment you wake up so that you can actually put them on when you want to.

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We were warned Knapsack Col was uncrossable because of a huge cornice on top. The doomsayers are many out there. They are almost never, ever right. It went with a smile and a fist pump. – Knapsack Col, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

While I am still processing what the CDT means to me now, and what it is that I am taking from this experience, I do have two things that really stand out to me about what I learned while hiking the Continental Divide Trail this summer. The first is that being stubborn is not always a bad thing. I have had my stubbornness pointed out to me many times as a fault, and I will concede that stubbornness can be a detrimental quality. I will also fully claim that one needs a high level of stubbornnes (I would go as far as to say pure mule-headedness) to finish a long trail like this. There are a million and one reasons to not finish. In fact, most of them make a heck of a lot more sense than continuing. The second thing I learned is that flexibility is just as important. When I finally allowed these two traits to coexist (it seems like an oxymoron to say to be stubborn and flexible at the same moment), I felt like I was finally able to experience the trail in all that it was, and not try to force it to mold to my expectations – because the Continental Divide Trail is fierce and unpredictable and unyielding and uncaring. With these two traits combined, it felt like the obstacles the trail threw at me were manageable. I also think that maybe, just maybe, the right combination of these traits (one pinch stubbornness, two dashes flexibility) might be a good way to approach life in general.

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There will be many more campfires, starting with the Great Divide Trail in 2018. Snake River, Wyoming

This life – I suppose it’s “reality”. I’ve realized I want so much more out of it; maybe it is that I want less. All I know is that when I embarked this summer, I think I was maybe looking for answers, for some sort of epiphany. I had no epiphany. What did happen is I’m more thirsty than ever. I wish to drink from that endless fountain of adventure. And maybe that’s ok.

The Earth, our Mother, she breathes
She pulses, pulses with the breath of life
In, out
In, out
In, out
Ground swelling beneath my feet, heave
Heaving me forward, ever onward
In, out
In, out
In, out
She cradles me to her bosom,
Hold me close, close, closer
In, out
In, out
In, out
Scarlet, golden sky, explosionÂ
Basking me in her glory
In, out
In, out
In, out
Rivers flow, flow, flowing
Rushing, tumbling, chattering
In, out
In, out
In, out
Trees, leaves bursting with color
Rustle in the gentle breeze
In, out
In, out
In, out
The Earth, our Mother, she breathes
Pulse, pulse, pulsing with life
Breathing that life into me

Fireburnrogers

I’m friends with the trees, don’t you know
And the trees, I believe, are friends with me
Tree-ish love is not wild and passionate –
As the love of the sun is want to be –
Tree-ish love is strong and steady
They spread their boughs overhead, protecting
They offer their strength, soft and mighty
Quiet, unassuming, but consistently steady
The love of a tree is a thing of beauty
So I’m friends with the trees, (and so should you be!)
And the trees, I believe, are friends with me

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This summer’s end will be next summer’s beginning. – Chief Mountain, Glacier, Montana

 

 

Glacier National Park – or Where Did the Summer and the Miles Go?

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Breaking snow on the pass out of Glacier National Park.

Crunch, crunch, squeak. We’re postholing through mid-calf deep snow up to Triple Divide Pass. Dense clouds swirl around us, a sharp this-is-no-longer-summer wind biting the bits of skin we still have exposed. The trail winds through the cliffs, expertly chiseled between rock bands. Mountain goats leap nimbly on the bands above us, seemingly impervious to the late fall snow building up around them. The monolith of Triple Divide Peak looms above, the snow accentuating the great bands of rock wrapping around the peak. Hearts soaring, we continue punching our way up, our winter souls pulsing to the gusts of the wind.

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The Garden Wall rises into the mist.

All summer every footstep, every action, every decision, every motion Dan and I have made has been ultimately directed into movement. Movement north, north, ever north, the end goal being the Canadian border – and one hundred miles through Glacier National Park. When huffing over so many dry, dusty mountains, when there were injuries and infections to battle, motivations to boost, and tired bodies to move, the thought of this land of towering mountains, thundering waterfalls, and glistening glaciers pulled us on when nothing else could. Our hearts beat snow, our blood runs ice. Winter lives in our souls – Glacier National Park was the dream, the reason.

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Dan breaks trail up Pitamakan Pass.

While Dan and I both have been feeling the urge to get home and start prepping for ski season (there is also great amounts of wood that needs to be gathered), I think we even might have hoped to see snow before the end of this trip. Fortunately, northern Montana was more than happy to oblige! The evening before we left East Glacier, fat flakes fell heavy from the sky, and we spend a cold, happy couple of hours skiing around the golf course to get our September ski in.

Starting up out of town, the clouds hang heavy in the sky over us, and soon, as we wind our way through golden and scarlet brush, wet snow begins to fall, becoming heavier and heavier as we climb in elevation. Several big horn sheep pass us by, picking their way nimbly down the ridge by us, unconcerned by our presence. Passing by Scenic Point, we laugh, as we become completely engulfed by clouds. The trail wraps around to the northwest side of a peak, and the trail becomes obliterated by snow and Dan leads, his long legs an advantage in the deep conditions.

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Out of the plains near East Glacier, into the mist and snow.

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Who are ewe looking at? Big Horn sheep ambling about.

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They say it is scenic; I’ll have to take their word for it.

Soon we are down in Two Medicine Campground, we’re too late to talk to the ranger about backcountry sites, so we’ll do that tomorrow. Meanwhile, we eat dinner with the only other people there – a guy who hiked the AT last year and his wife. I’m clumsy and spill wine all over my rain pants.

“That’s something they never talk about,” we joke. “When you spill wine on your pants do they have to go in the bear box?”

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Dan navigating the insides of a ping pong ball.

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It just got real.

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Heading down to Two Medicine Lake.

Glacier continues to awe the next morning, gracing us with more snow overnight. We watch a bull and a cow moose foraging down in a swampy area before climbing up, up, up to the cloud land. We are up to Pitamakan Pass without seeing anyone, I think the cooler conditions are keeping most people away. The trail tops out at a heart stopping overlook of Pitamakan Lake. Good steps here. Don’t tumble over. Over Pitamakan Pass, we dive down into a lush valley, dense with crimson brush, the blueberries overripe and the aspens a deep gold. Autumn is getting on, and we scour the land for animals.

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That poised moment between fall and winter.

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Into the mist land.

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Overlooking Pitamakan Lake

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Don’t look now, but there’s kind of a drop off there to your left.

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The trail showing up faintly over Pitamakan Pass.

Triple Divide is a decent climb. At this point in the game, though the excitement level is high at being here, the body is also just tired. But the beauty pulls us up to where the clouds wrap their cold arms around us and the wind leaves cold kisses on our cheeks and nose. We keep stopping to gape around us, the beauty overwhelming. At the top is a snowman we are enchanted with, little shale rocks for buttons, his whole body icy from the pummeling winds.

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Serious work went into the trail over Triple Divide Pass.

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Dan rising above the valley floor.

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Do you want to build a snowman?

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Descending the other side of Triple Divide Pass.

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The last rays of the day.

The next day is golden, a watery autumn sun shining down, and we let our limbs thaw in the light. We don’t have to go far today, because of the way the backcountry sites are, so we stop for little things, lounging in the rustling of dying leaves. The smells of fall wash over us – sometimes the dank, over powering, too-much-mold smell; sometimes the sharp, bright, spicy smell that makes me dream of pumpkin pie and chai. We are giddy with it, drinking it in, breathing it deep into our souls, filing up with the pulse of life.

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Alpenglow on Triple Divide Peak.

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When they say “suspension bridge”, they mean it.

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Brilliant brush in a sea of standing burnt trees.

We pass Virginia Falls, and we marvel at the luxury of having the time to clamber around on the rocks, the mist billowing over us. The temperature is not quite warm enough for it, but we do it anyway. Finally, after hoping up and down the complex of falls, hands chapped red with cold, we continue down the trail. As we reach St Mary Fall, we see a couple coming up the trail towards us.

“Did you go to Virginia Falls?” They ask and we say we did.

“Is it worth it?” We blink. Worth it? Worth what? After coming this far, it better be!

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Enjoying the lower part of Virginia Falls

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The trail around St. Mary Lake had this stone. That’s quite an Eagle Scout project.

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You tell me: Is it worth it?

As we cross the Going-to-the-Sun Road the next morning, we gleefully pile our trash in the bin. Always glad to be rid of trash! Then it is climbing up to Piegan Pass. The legs fall into a rhythm. Though they are tired, one of the biggest things I’ve learned on this trip is no matter how tired the legs are, it’s not so bad to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. As the clouds hug the peaks again, we decide to take advantage of the wind and dry our tent before heading down the other side. Tumbling down the north side of the pass, the wisps of clouds twirl around the incredible towering presence of the Garden Wall. Huge and dark and slightly foreboding with the snow and the fog, it dominates most of the rest of the day.

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Heading down Piegan Pass

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The Garden Wall looms to the left.

We round a brushy corner and come upon a grizzly digging up the tundra, woofing quietly. He looks up at us, and I feel his eyes land on me. Then, as though shrugging, he goes back to his digging. We navigate down and around him, breaths fast in our chests and bear spray out.

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Fascinating snow formations

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Fortunately not interested in us

It’s our last night. We’re in Many Glacier campground, a crackling fire warding off some of the chill. A melancholy fills the air. Maybe it would be good to spend this night with others. There are a few tears. At times, I’ve wanted nothing more than to be done, but now that it’s so close, I think that desire was wrong. As the last embers die, we crawl into our tent, tucking into the familiar feel of the small space, all our things arranged just so around us.

We drag in the morning. Leaving camp for the last time? How is that a thing? But eventually we are all packed up and begin up our last pass of the trip. Not a mile into the day, we meet a lady moose coming down the trail. She is making odd grunting noises, and we hop off the trail to skirt around her. The trail meanders for a while before climbing up. We scan the wall ahead of us. There is the Ptarmigan Tunnel, and I’ve been trying to imagine what it even is. It is, it turns out, to be an actual tunnel! As we round a bend, we see it is a tunnel with doors, both propped open for now, but soon to be closed for the winter. It looks like something from the Lord of the Rings, and we walk through the tunnel listening for orcs. On the other side, it is not a stretch to imagine the stone giants living here, heaving boulders crashing over the cliff walls to the glacial carved valleys below. The trail is incredible, carved right into the cliff, but bitingly cold – it feels like this cliff rarely sees sun.

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Looking back from Ptarmigan Tunnel into the depths of Glacier National Park

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Inside Ptarmigan Tunnel

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Dan on the other side of the tunnel

Staring in awe up the next valley – Helen Lake sits beneath some of the tallest peaks in the Park, and seems like a good place for a future trip – we soon lose all the elevation we gained, meandering through the changing leaves. We can’t help but stop frequently to stare backwards at the peaks, rising mighty above us.

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The trail hugs the cliff wall on the other side of Ptarmigan Tunnel

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Looking up the valley towards Helen Lake.

But too soon, we are climbing, the very last of all the climbs on the trail. My parents appear around the corner – they are picking us up. And then the last sign post. There is a small CDT marker, as well as one for the Pacific Northwest Trail. Just a bit further is the boundary line between the US and Canada, and we get our passport stamped. Pictures at the boundary line – it feels surreal. Just this little spot, this mark on the map, is this really it? Where we’ve been hiking towards for months? But this is it, the finish. I don’t think my brain computes it. This little spot doesn’t seem like much, it’s not the most incredible place on the trail, but it’s the end.

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It’s the last trail head sign

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Sorry it’s over, but stoked to finish!

I think I thought I would have answers at the end of this. I think I thought I would feel satisfied. Maybe the thirst for adventure would be quenched. But for all the questions I answered, I have more questions than ever unanswered. We are not satisfied – I think the desire for adventure was a small flame, and we just poured gasoline on it. More, more – more wild, more mountains, more rivers, more vastness. The soul wants it all.

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There’s a heck of a lot more trail out there…

Touring Around the Fires

 

Several days before Helena, I was multitasking. Between making dinner, purifying water, and writing in my journal I got thirsty and grabbed a water bottle. Gulp, gulp, gulp – and then I paused, a mouthful of water still in my mouth, eyes staring at the bottle. Damn. This was the bottle I was getting ready to purify. I leaned over, spitting out my mouthful of water, spitting, spitting. I stared at the puddle of water slowly seeping into the ground. Well.

 

Now I’m not sure if that mistake was what caused the nausea, or if simply breathing smoke for weeks on end caused it, but for this whole section, I’ve had a moderate constant queasiness. The most depressing thing is a burger doesn’t even sound good!

The trail started a mixed bag out of Helena – some beautiful trail, some old forest service roads, and some straight ups and downs. It wouldn’t be the Continental Divide Trail any other way!

The gang’s all here!

We reached Dana Spring – I guess in the springtime there is water coming from an actual pipe, but this late in the season, it’s reduced to a puddle about 3′ down at the bottom of a metal tube. But the puddle provided water for all.

The water…I think I can reach it.

Most of the group stayed and cooked dinner there, as it was a fair stretch until the next water source, but Dan and I headed off (one of my favorite times of the day is dinner, and I don’t like to spoil it by having to hike afterwards). Almost immediately thunder and lightning rolled in. A brisk rain fell – the first since my birthday – but with the lightning and the wind ripping around, we wondered if this storm would do more harm than good.

Light rain – the first for us in a month.

Wind became the story of this section – battering us as we climbed up and down barren ridges, snapping backpack straps across our faces, and whipping dust into our eyes.

The wind howled all night long, whistling through the trees, and causing Dan and I to constantly peer about for a dreaded orange glow, wondering if a lightning strike fire was being whipped into a frenzy up the ridge towards us.

No tree fell on us, and no fire came roaring up the ridge, but that morning dawned on us groggy from lack of sleep. So it was off and at it again. Up and down dry, dusty, and now windy ridges, my stomach gurgled and moaned the whole way. I tried downing water, wondering if I was dehydrated. Most of our food was unappetizing, but I forced it down, as my body hadn’t started rejecting it.

Getting beat up by the wind.

This section would be a 28 mile stretch without water, except that there are some locals that stash water at two of the passes, so the day became dictated by the water at these passes.

We lunched at Stemple Pass, hiding in the trees, and watching folks drive by on the ATVs. The outhouse had a trash can, which we all delighted throwing our trash in. Moose, Dumpling and Wolfman’s dog, proved he was not pure lab by turning up his nose at every treat offered.

Lunch for all – except Moose. Moose has no time for such things.

After a somewhat blistering pace set to Flesher Pass (during which my stomach totally rebelled and required me to sit and try to quell it), we arrived in time for dinner for most.

Before the sky exploded.

Once again, Dan and I went on, stopping 8 miles from Highway 200 and Roger’s Pass, where the trail north of which was closed.

The sky exploded.

A raging sunset trumpeted the end of the day, and the wind howled.

Yet another night of terrible sleep with the buffeting wind found both of us dragging. Everyone passed us as we lagged out of bed. Finally, we were packed and ready to go. Most of the trail miles were on exposed ridge, where we were blasted by the wind all morning.

Autumn – it’s coming!

About 1/4 mile of beautiful trail, with red touched underbrush and aspens just turning golden graced us before we were dumped out on highway 200. And there the road walk began.

Yep, it’s closed, just in case you had any doubts.

For me, there’s not much to do on road walks but plug in the phone and zone out. It’s 38 miles to Augusta, and there was no way I was doing it without music. I had thought that we would have to walk 200 all the way to I-15, but a FS guy pulled over and told us about highway 435, a gravel road we could cut onto earlier. As we tramped down the highway, we watched huge smoke plumes billow up, sometimes even seeing the flames. It’s no wonder they don’t want us back there.

Gutpunch and his parent pulled over, giving us each a Mountain Dew – an appreciated sugar buzz. We just squeezed through on the road, as apparently they closed 200 for a bit after we passed through.

Yes, please and thank you!

As seen on highway 435

Another encounter with another FS guy gave us cold water (amazing!), and the goal to sleep under the bridge at Dearborn Creek. The chatter of the creek, and the absence of wind meant the first good night of sleep in a while.

The next morning was a 20 mile walk into Augusta.

Morning on the road.

Once again, it was plug in the earbuds and go. Just as we were nearing town a truck full of hikers pulled over. It was everyone – Sherpa, Wolfman, Dumpling, Moose, Lumber, and Moment. They were heading up to Benchmark – we’ll be behind them for the rest of the hike now. That’s how this trail works, there are so many decisions to be made, especially in the face of all the closures due to fire, and we may never see them again. But it was fun hiking with them for a few days!

Once in Augusta, we started weighing our options. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was open North of Benchmark (with a detour), but we still wanted our continuous footpath. This left one option: a 31 mile road walk from Augusta to Benchmark.

So the following day, we were out of bed and on the road by 5:30. We left everything in town except what we thought we would need for the day – our first experience with slackpacking. We had been told to get out early to catch the hunters going up, but there was no traffic. As we walked along, sometimes stopping (I absolutely don’t want to walk more than I have to) but moving because the morning was so brisk, 6:30 came around. A red Prius drove by, not even slowing down. Just as we were deciding to go back to bed, two guys in a truck pulled over. They were up from Great Falls, were just driving around for the day, and agreed to drive us up to Benchmark. We were lucky they stopped – the whole day we saw one other vehicle come up that way.

The leaves, they are a changing!

The first half of the road walk was much more pleasant than I thought it would be. The road had wound up into the mountains, and we followed along a gravel road, shaded by trees and with a creek right by us. But after 16 miles we were kicked into the rolling dusty valley, and it was back to the trusted headphones.

Would you pick up this guy if you saw him hitchhiking?

Finally, just as the predicted storm began rolling in, the first drops of rain falling from the sky, we arrived back at Augusta. Mission accomplished: we still had our continuous footpath.

Another blazing sun. Hopefully this storm cycle will dampen this.

Ten Things

Sometimes you have to find the things that were good, rather than dwell on the things that were not. This section, as we poured over maps of the area in Darby, was looking bleak. Smoke filled the sky, and every time we talked to the FS rangers, there were more updates on fire closures. Despite this, there was little to no information about where we actually could go, what was even a viable option. As smoke filled the sky, and the walk went on, ash falling on us, sun beating down, there were still the things that were good. But instead of recounting the many hours of ash, smoke, and road, I thought I would count what made this section awesome:

1. Good People!

 

We ended up hiking this section with three other hikers: Dumpling, Lumber, and Sherpa. (And Chosen, if you count watching him disappear into the distance.) We all stayed at Curtis’s place in Darby (thanks Curtis!) and started from Chief Joseph Pass down the highway to Wisdom.

Friends are essential for road walks

Thanks Sherpa for being a goof and making us all laugh! Also, good luck with the shoulder and no more one armed push-ups.

Thanks Lumber for the long talks, chats about music, and being the main source of sound along the endless stretches of highways! And push ups! All the push ups

And thanks Dumpling for the hours and hours we spent, grinding away those highway miles beneath strings of words. It was awesome getting to know another woman out here!

Also, thanks to Chosen, even though your legs ate up the miles so fast we just saw your little backpack disappearing into the distance!

Bandits along the road!

2. Clean Outhouses!

 

The outhouses we encountered on this section were some of the nicest outhouses I’ve been in since Norway. Clean, with quality Charmin toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and no dreaded “cone” – it’s the little things that count.

Home of the cleanest outhouses

3. Trail Magic Breakfast!

 

After a frigid night in Wisdom, we stopped for breakfast. As soon as we walked in, a woman recognized us as hikers. We were on our way to walk the highway, she was on her way to look for sapphires. (Wonder who had a better day?) After chatting briefly, she left, and paid for all of our breakfasts on the way out. Angels – they’re here with us.

4. Trail Magic Beers!

 

Dumpling’s boyfriend banged out this section in one go, getting to Anaconda at 3am. He was hitching back to Darby to pick up Moose (their pup), and found another angel who drove him all around, including to swing by where we were on the road, with a 24 pack of Coors Light and took some of the dead weight we were all carrying. Thanks Wolfman!

Trail magic beers – the very best kind

5. Horses Who Come to Fences!

 

Most of the horses we’ve met have been sort of shy. Along one stretch, three horses decided they’d really like to be pet. So, of course we obliged, because, anything for a distraction!

6. Huge Flakes of Ash are…?

 

The second night out, massive flakes of ash were falling on us. Icky for the lungs, but sort of fascinating.

7. When Tenkara is Better

 

At one point we took an extended break/lunch by the Big Hole River. A couple of fishermen were out in their waders, long rods whipping back and forth, seemingly with little luck. So of course Thunder decided to give his little rod a try, wading out in his shorts and trail runners. He caught three trout before having the good sense to come back in.

8. Smoke or Cloud?

 

This debate lasted a full hour at least. Smoke with cloud on top? Just billowing smoke? It’s fog! Unfortunately it was pure smoke, but the conversation passed some time.

9. Pit Full of Cars

 

As advertised in Wisdom, MT: Do you have a few old cars sitting around? Would you like to be rid of those hunks of junk? Free up some yard space for an organic farm? Bring your old rusteds to Highway 43: we have a pit we’d like to fill, and old cars work best!

 

 

10. Post Apocalypse – Super Fun or Superfund?

 

 

Because, of course when you see train tracks, you want to follow them. These particular train tracks apparently led to the largest superfund site in the world.

Dark and dreary

Rusty old tracks, skeletons littering the sides, mounds of deep black rocks, and that smell, what is that smell? Combined with the blood red sun and the heavy haze of smoke, it wasn’t a far stretch to believe it to be something straight out of Divergent.

There weren’t any No Trespassing signs…

These ten things brought us all the way to Anaconda – and the McDonalds there. And of course, can anyone say no to a chocolate shake?

Also, thanks to Lumber for many of the photos in this section!

Bumping Between Borders

After a double zero in Yellowstone, the legs feel much more recovered, and my headspace has improved too. It has been a lot of fun to walk around the Old Faithful area to look at all the geysers and hot pools.

The air is rich with smoke

Evening sun reflecting off a hot pool

It’s a vacation! Also, thanks for the birthday beads, Fran!

I came here a fair amount as a kid and remember feeling like I didn’t really understand the hype. I’m not sure if I was underwhelmed or overwhelmed, but now, sitting and looking into Doublet Pool, feeling the ground thump beneath us, I’m in awe of the whole Park.

Catching bubbles rising up

Morning Glory Pool

We walk along more pools in the morning, it’s a popular area, but it’s early yet, and the swarms of people haven’t made it out yet. Sapphire Pool blinks blue in the sun, and steam rises from the Firehole River.

Sapphire Pool displaying her glory

Streams raging with life

The day quickly becomes dominated by water sources, and we stop for lunch and water at Summit Lake.

Summit Lake

It’s a gorgeous lake, and I would take a dip, except it’s cold and clouds are moving in. We stop to look at the last geothermal area, enjoying our own personal hot pools and mud pots.

We cross the Idaho/Wyoming border and attempt to take one of those classic photos. But I’m uncoordinated and fall a lot before we get a decent shot.

Stop laughing, what is wrong with you?

Whoops

Hey look, Idaho!

We laugh when we leave Yellowstone National Park and are immediately dumped out on an old dirt road. So classic CDT.

Goodbye, Yellowstone National Park!

The next morning we are clumsy and uncoordinated. Trip, stumble, bumble, bobble. Maybe it’s a good thing we’re taking a cut-off through here. Maybe, at this point, the body is just not happy. Maybe it’s just tired. But we are close! Closer, anyway. Lunch is an incredible Chinese meal that catches us off guard as we walk through Sawtelle, where we meet a couple that we ate lunch with on Mt. Taylor, way back in New Mexico, Liam and Kate, and then a long climb up a dirt road before finally branching off onto trail again. Beautiful trail with purple, yellow, and red wildflowers.

As we neared the top, we stopped and chatted with a sobo hiker. He spent some time in Spain and hiked the Kungsleden, a trail in Sweden that we’ve talked about hiking. But the sun was setting, and we all respect the value of daylight. After a short downhill, we hit the source of the Missouri River. There is an ammo box with the story of how the source was found and after filling our bottles right at there, we spend the night in the tent reading this rather than looking at our maps for the next day.

Lewis & Clark never found this. The source of the Missouri!

Brower’s spring, the source

The rain patters on our tent as we fall asleep, and at one point, we wake to coyotes howling and yipping and an owl hooting. I snuggle deeper in my sleeping bag, searching for the pockets of warmth. It’s cold.

As we drag ourselves from sleep, the sound of rain pounding on the tent greets us. Gladly, I would tuck back in and sleep, but instead we pack up and head out, hoping there is a spot of sun sometime in the day to dry our things.

Lots and lots of green

It’s my birthday, and some might be bummed, but the rain is beautiful. A few miles down, we meet Kate and Liam as they are heading out for the day. Immediately afterwards, we find ourselves practically swimming through a swamp. I don’t feel much wetter than before, as it’s been raining so hard all morning. My rain jacket is delaminating, but I’m hoping to coax it through the rest of this trip.

It’s entertaining to walk and talk with people, and we tick off the time chatting. When the sun peaks out for a second, the four of us explode our packs to dry things out and take a snack break. Kate is from South Africa, and Liam is from Canada, so we all have fun talking about different places. Eventually, we drag ourselves up and continue on.

We’re literally on the Continental Divide in the section, and this involves lots of climbing up and down. I hear this is the story for the next couple hundred miles. We are crossing between Montana and Idaho all the time, and I can’t keep track. I’m tired, and I trip, but my legs aren’t burning with lactic acid all the time. That double zero paid, I think. The views are beautiful and the undergrowth has begun to change, reds and oranges beneath the trees.

Ridge walking in Montana

At second lunch, Dan surprises me with a whole box of Chips Ahoy that he brought from Old Faithful. This is truly delightful, and soon half the box has vanished.

At last we reach our water source, and Dan and I begin to set up camp. Liam and Kate decide to stay as well. Liam builds a fire (the Canadian says there is always dry wood, as a Colorado kid, I was convinced everything was soaked) and we spend a good evening cooking, eating, and talking as more rain falls. And then the sun has set and everyone is tired.

I am cold, cold, cold, and there is frost on the ground as we hike out. But soon forward progress come to a halt as we find berries.

Raspberries, and then huckleberries, and then blueberries. As we crest yet another rise, the sun peaks out – and out comes the tent to dry. Sarah and Liam show up and set up their stuff to dry, and before long, Numbskull does too.

It is one of those days that miles aren’t coming easy. I’m not that tired, necessarily, but definitely dragging. Dan says he feels like dog, which spurs a conversation on slang, as apparently that is a phrase not used in Canada or South Africa.

Finally we make it to the cross road we had set as a goal. It turns out to be Cow Area, with cow poop all around, but the option is to set up here, or to do a 2,000′ climb. It’s 8pm, and nobody wants to do that, so we set up.

Around our pots of food, we discuss social media, and how it has influenced people’s lives. We talk about #vanlife and all the “hip” things – how social media spreads the misconception of perfection and simplicity, yet the real story behind these photos is one of stress and time, definitely not simplicity. And then it is quite late, and we’re all too tired for this conversation anymore.

The walk to the highway is boring the next morning and so I plug in a podcast. At the start of the hike, I felt badly about this. On other hikes, we hadn’t even brought a phone. But at this point, I no longer feel that way. We’re out for a long time, and if a podcast is going to help in some sections, I’m going to do it.

It’s just a short wait at I-15, and then the guy who runs the motel pulls up. He gives rides to hikers to town, and the five of us pile into his truck. So far, I have to say, I’ve really loved this section. The hills, the expanse, the feeling of The North. I’m falling in love.

Numbskull, Kate, & Liam as we all wait for our ride

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A huge shout out to everyone who has followed and supported us on this adventure! You guys are all so amazing and bring us strength and inspiration every day.

— Dan and Elaine