CDT Update: Shoes

Cottonwood Lake on the way to Anaconda, MT.
Cottonwood Lake on the way to Anaconda, MT.

No gear is more important to a hiker than shoes and I have been having shoe problems the past few weeks.

Many hikers on the Continental Divide Trail wear trail running shoes which are slightly heavier running shoes designed for trails. Over the years I have leaned that trail runners usually don’t work that well for me and I need a more supportive shoe. I hiked the New Mexico section of the Continental Divide Trail wearing Vasque Breeze hiking shoes which worked pretty well, other than being slightly too narrow in the toes and the stitching failing. The shoes are about half leather and half mesh and the leather took a long time to dry when they got wet. When hiking around melting snow your shoes get wet a lot and that was one reason I looked around for different shoes when I started hiking again in Glacier National Park. 

Shoes from a company called Altra are very popular with long distance hikers so I decided to give them a try. The Altra’s worked well during training hikes but you never know how shoes are really going to work out until you hike four or five twenty mile days in a row. I should have known better. My right arch and outside of my foot was sore when I reached East Glacier.

The hiker box at Brownies Hostel in East Glacier had a pair of Brooks Cascadia shoes in good condition that fit perfectly so I switched to them. The Cascadia shoes are more supportive with a somewhat stiffer sole. They were better for me than the Altra’s, but my feet were still hurting so it was shoe shopping time when I reached Helena, MT.

A outfitter in Helena called Base Camp had a pretty good selection of shoes so I spent the morning trying on shoes and pacing about the store trying to imagine what they would feel like if I was walking on the trail. I ended up changing to some La Sportiva Primer Low shoes.

I have now hiked from Helena to Anaconda in the new shoes and I think they are going to work out OK. I’ll know more soon.

CDT Update: Helena, MT

Along the Continental Divide Trail.
Along the Continental Divide Trail.

Next on the Continental Divide Trail was a four day hike from Lincoln, MT to McDonald Pass and nearby Helena, MT. On this section is trail my hiking companion was Elevated, a hiker from Australia.
Most of the trail follows the Continental Divide through Helena National Forest. Hiking is often along ridges above the tree line with wonderful scenic views.

On the second day we dropped down off the Divide on the Nevada Creek Trail to find water as storm clouds started to roll in. We decided to camp early in the relative shelter of a small valley as the winds blew, rain and later hail started to fall, along with loud thunder and lightning. I was very glad not to be on the ridgeline in all the weather. The next morning was a clear but cold and the weather had been good since.

On the third day we reached Dana Spring and had a chance to visit with our first Montana cows at the water trough there. These are the first cows I’ve seen since New Mexico. They seem somehow friendlier up here and very comfortable around hikers. The cows didn’t seem to mind sharing the water trough, but they didn’t move out of the way either.

We reached McDonald Pass and easily found a ride into Helena and checked into the hiker favorite Budget Inn Express motel. I will be taking a zero day here to rest, buy new shoes, and resupply.

CDT Update: The Scapegoat

New trees growing in the 1988 Canyon Creek Fire burn area.
New trees growing in the 1988 Canyon Creek Fire burn area.

From the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch it was a three day hike on the Continental Divide Trail through the Scapegoat Wilderness to Rodgers Pass near the small town of Lincoln, MT.

I had the Benchmark Ranch all to myself (except for the owner and about 25 horses and mules). My resupply package was waiting for me, I pitched my tent, and enjoyed my first hot shower in six days.

When I departed the ranch, a sign at the trailhead discusses the 1988 lightning caused Canyon Creek Fire which burned 247,600 acres and became the largest forest fire in Montana since 1910. The fire burned about half of the Scapegoat Wilderness that I was about to hike through.

True to the sign, much of the Scapegoat had burned. Some burn areas looked more recent than 1988, while other were probably from the Canyon Creek Fire. In many areas you could see small Lodgepole Pines regrowing. It was both encouraging to see the forest coming back, but at the same time it’s been almost 30 years and the small size of the new trees is a reminder of just how long the recovery will take.

The final day of the hike was a spectacular ridge walk along the great Continental Divide. Skirting Caribou Peak and then following ridges connecting Red Mountain and Green Mountain to Rodgers Pass the views were windy but spectacular.

Currently I’m taking a zero day in the pleasant little town of Lincoln, MT. It has several motels and restaurants and a small but good grocery store. Tomorrow I depart for the four day hike to Helena.

Trivia: Ted Kaczynski (AKA the Unabomber) lived near Lincoln until his arrest in 1996.

CDT Update: The Bob

The Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness .
The Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The Bob is the Bob Marshall Wilderness that begins about 30 miles south of Glacier National Park. 

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, since I haven’t had cell service in awhile, I departed East Glacier on the 4th of July. It’s a 16 mile hike on the Continental Divide Trail from East Glacier to the southern boundary of the National Park and I hiked a few miles past that. I have been hiking 20 mile days pretty regularly so it was not difficult to make it past the park boundary were I could legally camp. 

On the second day the CDT passed through a large wildfire burn area from a few years ago. The problem with burn areas, aside from green trees being much prettier than dead burned trees, is that the burned trees often fall down blocking the trail. It was slow going in a few places because of the downed trees.

The Chinese Wall was the highlight of The Bob. Named because of the similarity to The Great Wall of China, it was quite spectacular and it was fun to spend the day walking along it. Unfortunately for my photos it was overcast skys.

The area is popular with weekend backpackers. I saw around 40 backpackers the final day I walked the wall and into Benchmark Wilderness Ranch, where I had a resupply box waiting. Benchmark is the first road access to the trail since Marias Pass 100 miles and six days ago.

CDT Update: Glacier National Park

Oldman Lake, Glacier National Park
Oldman Lake, Glacier National Park

I decided to flip up to the Canadian border and walk south on the Continental Divide Trail for awhile.

After a pleasant three week break from hiking in Santa Fe, I flew to Spokane and then hopped on an Amtrak train. The train departed about 1 AM and arrived at the small town of East Glacier about 10 AM. It was pleasant ride with large comfortable seats that were easy to sleep in. (I heard that the next day’s train was seven hours late, so it’s best not to make any firm plans for your first day in Glacier).

In East Glacier I purchase stove fuel and “Grizzly Tough” bear spray ($48!!). Since you can’t take either on an airplane you have to wait until you arrive to buy these. Then I made my way to the small area known as Saint Mary closer to the Canadian border. Saint Mary has a visitor center where you can get backcountry permits, a campground with $5 hiker/biker campsites, grocery store, restaurants, expensive lodge (one hiker stayed there and said he spent $200 a night for his room!). I shared my campsite with a group of four bicyclists who were riding across the country. 

Speaking of backcountry permits, they are difficult to get in Glacier National Park. Backpackers are required to camp in established backcountry campsites and each campsite must be reserved when you get your permit, except that almost all the campsites are already taken. CDT hikers are having to do all kinds of crazy things — delaying there hike, doing really short or long days, hike alternate trails, camp in campgrounds, take extra zero days, hike northbound, hike southbound, etc. to find campsites and work through the permit process. I was only able to get a permit for three days of hiking from the Canadian border to Going To The Sun Road because of this.

Monday June 27, 2016

I took the noon GPI shuttle from Saint Mary to Chief Mountain ($30). The shuttle dropped me off at the Chief Mountain border crossing to Canada. I didn’t actually go into Canada, but hiked south from the border and I was off to my first night back on the CDT at Elizabeth Lake. It was an easy 11 miles — I started about 2 PM and arrive in plenty of time for dinner.

Tuesday June 28, 2016

Elizabeth Lake to Many Glacier via Redgap Pass

This was a very pretty day of hiking up to 7,500 foot Redgap Pass then down to the campground at Many Glacier. Apparently there is a shorter route through a tunnel, but it’s has not yet opened for the season and the doors of tunnel are locked. Not sure I can imagine what this looks like, someday I will get up there to see the trail going through a tunnel.

Many Glacier is a hub of tourist activity with several hotels and a busy horse concession. It does have a pretty good (and also very busy) restaurant where I enjoyed dinner with another hiker.

Wednesday June 29, 2016

Many Glacier marks the point I joined the official Continental Divide Trail. The previous two days I had been hiking the Chief Mountain CDT Alternate because the official CDT was closed due to snow. So far I have encountered almost no snow on any of the trails I have hiked.

Before departing Many Glacier I was able to stop by the ranger station and get another backcountry permit for three more days of hiking. It does start at a trailhead in Saint Mary, so I will have to hike about five miles to actually rejoin the CDT.

From Many Glacier I hiked up 7,300 foot Piegan Pass and then dropped down to Going To The Sun Road. The hike from the road to the pass is popular with day hikers and I probably saw 40 hikers — far more than I have seen anyplace else in the park.

Some hikers from California gave me a ride to Saint Mary campground. This time I had the hiker/biker campsite all to myself. 

Thursday June 30, 2016

Saint Mary to Atlantic Creek backcountry camp

I followed the Red Eagle trail about five miles to rejoin the CDT. The trail runs near Saint Mary Lake but sadly much of it runs through a large burn area from a wildfire in 2015.

After rejoining the CDT the trail climbs up to the 7,400 foot triple divide and then along the side of a steep rocky slope above Atlantic Creek. Tiny baby mountain goats looked down at me curiously from the rocky slope above.

Friday July 1, 2016

Atlantic Creek camp to Two Medicine Campground

Today’s hike climbed up to 7,600 foot Pitamakan Pass and then followed Dry Fork Creek to the Two Medicine campground. I saw more hikers in the back country than usual as I got near the Two Medicine Lake area. Fortunately it’s not as busy as the Many Glacier area. I’m sharing my hiker/biker campsite with a bicyclist and four hikers doing short backpacking trips in the park.

Saturday July 2, 2016

Today was a short 10 mile hike from the Two Medicine Campground to the community of East Glacier. The Glacier National Park area is pretty busy due to the holiday weekend, but Brownies Hostel allows camping in their shady yard behind the hostel. I have had lunch, showered, done laundry and plan to take a day off from hiking tomorrow. 

CDT Update: Chama, NM

Storm clouds over aspen trees.

We have now completed the entire state of New Mexico on the Continental Divide Trail.

After leaving Cuba, NM the trail climbed in elevation and changes from desert to alpine forest and mountains. Much of the trail is above 10,000 feet and often closer to 11,000 feet.

Our week hiking was made a little more challenging with snow covered trails, downed trees, rain and endless soggy meadows keeping our socks and shoes wet.

Deb has reached her goal of hiking New Mexico and will be taking a break from hiking until the snow thaws in Colorado so we can finish the Colorado Trail that we started last summer. I’m evaluating the snow conditions and taking a short break to decide where to resume hiking next.

CDT Update: Cuba, NM

Along the Continental Divide Trail south of Cuba, NM.
Along the Continental Divide Trail south of Cuba, NM.

The Continental Divide Trail between Grants and Cuba, NM was a really excellent section of trail.

We hiked up the 11,300 for Mount Taylor, our highest elevation for the trail so far. We encountered snow and many downed trees covering the trail on the north face, resulting in our first postholings of our hike. Fortunately it didn’t take long to get down.

That last fifty miles of the section of trail winds its way up rocky mesa tops and down canyons passing fabulous views and interesting canyons along the way. The interesting trail at this point made the days really fun. We would definitely like to explore more trails in this area in the future.

Hope those who are interested, the two days rest in Grants helped my shin splints which are no longer bothering me at all.

CDT Update: Grants, NN

The view of thunderstorms from the Narrows Rim trail.
The view of thunderstorms from the Narrows Rim trail.
We have hiked the 85 miles from Pie Town to Grants. About 70 miles of that was road walking (jeep, dirt, or paved).

We have now hiked more than 400 miles since starting our hike one month ago today.

The section did have several very nice areas. The Cebolla Wilderness, the El Malpais lava fields, and The Narrows Rim trail in the El Malpais. Plus Bonita and Zuni canyons.

The highlight of this section was The Narrows Rim Trial with its great views. Unfortunately, shortly after we hiked up to the rim thunderstorms rolled in and lighting started striking nearby, sending us and several other hikers scurrying down to the relative safety of lower elevation. We then navigated cross-country a few miles to a place identified on the Ley maps where you can bush-whack down what’s almost a 200 foot cliff to a natural arch. The route was a bit sketchy especially because it was rain-soaked (and steep despite Ley’s comment that it was a more “gentle” descent! – Deb’s interjection!!)

After two days of rain, we awoke on the fifth morning to freezing temps. Everything that was wet seemed frozen or icy, including our shoes. But with clear skies we made good time the final 16 miles into Grants.

All the road walking in this section has caused my shin to hurt. We going to take a double zero here in Grants in hopes that the pain clears up. We really aren’t in any hurry to reach Northern New Mexico which still has plenty of snow. And we are enjoying good food, hot showers, and rest – all much appreciated right now.