Friday, 1 November 2013

152ish days hiking the Continental Divide Trail- A look back

Sam Hughes and his trusty jeep. Also, Speed Bump
 and Estero. 
I've been off-trail for over a month now, which one would think would give me enough time to decompress from trail life and assimilate back into the ebb and flow of being off-trail.  I have adjusted, but I notice myself taking quite a long time to reintegrate myself, generally by choice- I didn't want to get too much culture shock. :)  I have had the chance to take a look back on the past 5 months, and below are some of the memories and people who have made this trip so exciting.

New Mexico:
Water Source.
Softwalker at sunset
Hikers in Pie Town!
Ruins in New Mexico
An after lunch nap for Softie
-The first few days- meeting Estero and Speed Bump, getting dropped off at the Crazy Cooke Monument by Sam Hughes (may he rest in peace), tasting agave straight from the plant, that full-body soreness that only comes from hiking 85 miles in 4 days with a pack on,  and the WIND!  I hate strong winds.
Estero in the Gila
Road walking towards Cuba
-Running out of water 5 miles before the next 'potential' water source- which may be dried up or a cow trough, more
than likely both.
-The Gila- 1st frozen shoes, 100+ river crossings when the temperature is barely above freezing, cliff dwellings, hot springs, my legs getting torn up from the growth between the river crossings- some nights I couldn't sleep because of the pain of thousands of little scratches all over my calves/shins.
Doing sock laundry in the first flowing
water source on-trail.
Fun in an ABQ parking lot
Fun back on trail, now that
I have new shoes!

-The extraordinary pain of having blisters and shoes that don't fit while road-walking.  I was on the verge of tears most of the time between Snow Lake and Grants.  Have you ever had that pounding pain in your feet from walking for too long? Now imagine it going on all day- yea, that. A special thanks to Softwalker and Estero for walking/breaking with me during these times- and reminding me that positive attitudes are key.
-Bo and Flyby each getting themselves a personal pie in Pietown- Apple and Coconut Cream.

And then it snowed...
Walking into Ghost Ranch
-Going into Albuquerque from Grants and meeting some more awesome people- too much whiskey and free beer (they work at Marble Brewery-yum!), naps, and recovery.
-Hunters!  They were all so friendly and helpful.  I hope you all got your turkeys!
-Getting higher in elevation and getting thunder-snowed on as we were walking across a soggy field- which way is the CDT again?
-The views from the mesas! The subtle nuances of the high desert will always pleasantly surprise me.

Walking out of Ghost Ranch.  Irony?
Camp for the night
Me, Estero, and Softalker on the snow before Cumbres Pass.
Estero glissaded!
And then it snowed…. smack in between Cumbres Pass
and Wolf Creek Pass

-SNOW.  The harsh beauty of it, coming to terms with having frozen feet all day, every day(until near Frisco), the futility of trying to walk through/around it once it began melting, north-facing slopes and shade (insert hateful glare here)
Bumpy and I crossing the snow
Checking out THE Pagosa Spring.
-Some potentially dangerous route choices- going straight up/down 45+ degree slopes, generally on scree, snow, or some other unstable surface. Climbing up and down rocks without protection above multi-hundred foot drops with a pack on (cuz you NEVER leave your pack)."Whoa, that's like a class 4 move!"-Max Chill to me
-I do love a few things about snow, and one of them is glissading!  We did it every chance we got, so much so that I tore a giant hole in the butt of my shorts before Wolf Creek Pass, and had to get new pants in Pagosa Springs.
Pod and Gnar catching up fast through the snow

-Exposure- We went noticeably higher in Colorado, the CDT doesn't dip below 9,000ft and generally stays above 10,000ft the entire 700+ miles in that state. And the wind was again incessant.  At one point, I was walking with my body at a 45* angle into the snow and wind trying not to get blown off the mountain, while muttering to myself and crying for a couple of hours- it sure makes getting to tree line more appreciable!
-Map reading and group consultation happened a lot through the snow, thankfully we were generally above tree line, so we could see where we needed to go, we just had to figure out the way to do it that would lead us through the least amount of hip-deep post-holing while keeping us generally near the actual trail.
Sketchy alternate route along the divide
instead of post-holing? Yes, please!
-As I've mentioned, there are a lot of natural obstacles through this state, and it made for a lot of people dropping off-trail here.  We lost Waldo in Salida, Max Chill in Leadville, Shay got off for a while in Steamboat Springs, and most everyone waited for the snow to melt out in numerous towns along the way.
-I've called what I developed around this time 'Stockholm Syndrome' because no matter how beat down and exhausted  I was by the  weather, terrain, elevation, and lack of forward momentum, I was still in love with the CDT.  How could you not be?  Maybe I'm just a masochist….
And then it snowed…almost to Lake City!

-Hike naked Day! The first one I ever got to celebrate appropriately- it was awesome!
-The woman at that lake south of Twin Lakes who offered comic relief after we just had been slogging through snow all morning:
Her: "You girls should do the El Camino in Spain, you've already got all the gear"
Me: "Well, we've got to finish this trail first."
Her: "It's a total life changer, you should do it."
And all the other people who inadvertently made me laugh along the way.
North of Monarch Pass- sheltering from the wind.
-Friends! I am lucky enough to have great friends who live in lovely places- Fidget, Whompus, Zen, CC and Lisa were visiting, Kim, and my sister and Brother-in-law brought my nephew in different towns along the CDT here. I actually didn't stay in a hotel until Encampment, WY, and we made new friends along the way.
Almost to Twin Lakes with a storm rolling across
the mountains.
Fly over on Mt. Elbert
Looking back towards Gray's Peak
Why can't we go around James Peak? ….Oh, that part of it seems to be missing.
The wildflowers!

-New hikers! I (and a few others) started earlier than most thru-hikers, and the snow in CO hampered most people's progress, so I only saw 5 or so other hikers until this state when people started popping up all over. E, Balls, Sunshine, Dain, Sweet As, Mountain Rat, Beacon- just to name a few.
-From Encampment to Rawlins was my first time hiking alone on this trail.  I got lost, found myself, and enjoyed the solitary environment.  It was good to catch up with everyone in Rawlins though.
I am here.

-TRAIL MAGIC out the wazoo!  Hiking around Balls and Sunshine definitely had its benefits through the Great Basin- Teresa and Butterfly's presence being one of them. We had water, shade, snacks, and good vibes delivered to us throughout this arid and shadeless 110-mile section.
-Attack of the Grouse!  A mean and defensive grouse chased me(and multiple other hikers) up to a quarter mile or so, trying to peck at me as I shoved it back with my trekking pole-scary and rediculous!
CDT marker.
-Getting into Grizzly country.  Pod and I were worried about bears going into the Wind River range, so we began 'training wheels' steps to avoid bears- cooking away from our tents and hanging bear ropes. We didn't see any grizz prints until Yellowstone.
-Speaking of the Winds- GO!  They are unquestionably one of the most beautiful sections of the CDT, and we only saw about 15 people in the entire 160ish miles. I've heard the mosquitoes can be tortuous, while we were there they were only mostly rage-inducing. We only got caught above treeline by a storm once- and it wasn't too terrifying.
Double rainbow coming out of Rawlins!

-Going into Jackson Hole to visit Emilee- such a kick-ass woman!  As are all of her friends(kick-ass that is, not all women).  The last time I had been to Jackson was almost 10 years ago, and a lot of memories came flooding back as I looked out the car window driving  through Yellowstone and the Tetons.
-Running into a few chinese tourists who had just come from my home town (State College, PA) and were in Old Faithful village visiting before heading back to China- reminding me again what a small world it really is. They were thoroughly impressed at what I was doing and just excited to be around someone going on an epic trek such as mine.
Sunset over the Great Divide Basin
Green River- the Winds
Sunrise in the Winds

Look! More of The Winds! Yes, that stream by
my feet is the trail.

Parting of the waters

Yellowstone backpacker fail. No people to be found
Geyser Valley- YNP

Getting water in Monta-ho
-Roller Coaster- some people had been warned that the Montana/Idaho border was hilly, I was not.  We went up and then down all day for at least 4 days, plus or minus a week.
-I learned a lot about the history of the natives of this region as well as the Lewis & Clark expedition.  There's the flight of the Nez Perce, where L & C and their posse crossed the divide, and many more historical markers along this otherwise boring and tedious section of the CDT.
Cadillac Mtn, perhaps?
-Not all was lost in tedium, there were many beautiful views as well as my first up-close bear sighting!  2 babies and a mama black bear- she ran off as soon as I made noise, which left one of her cubs to run up a tree and the other to run towards me, then sit down in confusion when I yelled at it to run the other way!  That was an eventful morning.
I laughed about this for a full day, from when
I first saw it on the map
Another beautiful view from the trail
I came up to this sign from the trail behind it.
-I hiked mostly by myself through this state, hiking/camping alone from Anaconda to East Glacier- about 300 or so miles. There were dull moments, and remembering to be noisy (for the grizzlies) is definitely not one of my strong suits.  I feel like it was good for me, pushing myself to be more independent than ever before was a real eye opener, and made me appreciate people even more when I did see them.
This trail and the CDT coincided for a while.
-There were fires going on all around the trail through Montana, and we were very lucky to only be redirected once- unfortunately it had us miss the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but we were redirected into the next valley (actually going between two fires) and were able to still get up near the divide, and get above the smoke for some views.
-Notice my use of 'we' even when I just said I was hiking alone- it becomes habit- especially as a woman hiking alone. In my mind, 'we' is safer than 'I', and it's my observation that people ask fewer questions that way.
-My one and only grizzly bear(s) encounter:  It was my last day in The Bob Marshall Wilderness, and I had camped at a pass (alone).  I was walking down from the pass on the trail at about 8:30am, and trying to make noise.  I got water from a stream, and wandered on for another couple minutes.  All of a sudden, I feel something in front of me and look up from the trail- a bear cub is on the trail about 15 ft in front of me, eating.  We notice each other at the same time, and it runs into the trees off-trail to the right as I stop dead. I stand there, listening for anything and in a moment I hear a huffing noise.  Assuming it's the mother bear warning me, I begin slowly backing up while grabbing my bear spray from the side of my pack and taking off the safety.  I notice something moving near a small tree on the side of the trail, and look- it's the mother bear standing on her hind legs looking over the tree directly at me! The mother and I stare long and hard at each other as I continue slowly backing up the trail with my bear spray ready.  She then goes back down behind the tree, and wanders across the trail, with her baby on the far side of her and they go off into the trees on the left side and away from me about 30 ft or so from where I'm standing.  I stood there for a minute with my knees shaking so hard I wasn't sure they could handle my weight, unbelieving what I had just witnessed. I made sure to make a ton of noise the rest of that day!
Sunset through the fire smoke in Anaconda, MT
- Glacier NP, even in the misty rain we endured through most of it, was definitely a capstone to a magnificent journey- I'd go back in a heartbeat….in warmer weather. I also found it interesting that we came upon a black bear on the trail about 500ft before we hit the Canadian border after following muddy grizzly prints all day- a great end of trip omen!

Fire smoke in the valley
Fire closure list going into 'The Bob'
Closed trail in 'The Bob'

Estero checking out the view in Glacier NP

Small view across St. Mary Lake
Of Course these memories wouldn't be what they are without all of the amazing people that make a town what it is- In New Mexico there was the bike house in Silver City, the hunters hat gave us their leftovers from the night before near Mangas mtn, the fire lookout guys on Mangas mtn,  that guy that gave us a ride to and from the cliff dwellings in the Gila, the toaster house and Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town- Nita, Megan, and Kathy, the guy who offered us water on that long road walk into Grants, the gentleman who paid for Estero and my breakfast in Grants- "Oh, I thought you'd be a guy.", Sarah, Calculator and his roommates in Albuquerque, the guy that talked to us on our way out of Cuba, the couple I ran into at Ghost Ranch and then again in Chama- keep getting out there and thanks for the trail maintenance!

Then in Colorado there was the semi driver who gave me a ride into Pagosa Springs, the city workers who were just as concerned about my 'lost' wallet as I was (it ended up being at the bottom of my pack), Grizzly and his amazing hospitality, the developer who gave us a ride into Lake City, Lucky at the Raven's Rest Hostel in Lake City, the guy running the gondola at Monarch Pass, the guy who gave Max Chill and I a ride into Salida, Liv!, the general store in Twin Lakes for holding our packages- even as they were taking apart the post office as we walked in,  Fidget and her former landlord for letting a bunch of dirty hikers hang out and recuperate for a few days in Frisco, "Have you read 'Wild'!?!?"(I was asked this at least once a week), the kid who made room for all 3 of us and then got pulled over on the way into Steamboat Springs from Rabbit Ears' Pass, Kim and her friends/roommates in Steamboat, Strider's cousin who gave us a ride back up to Rabbit Ears' Pass while asking us about the trail- hope you're enjoying India!
Sycamore told us to look happy, I apparently
was the only one who heard him. It was pouring.
Estero along the Ahern Drift
In Wyoming, there was the guy who just moved to Wyoming and gave Bob and I a ride into Encampment, Dain's mom Kathy for being awesome, Teresa and Annika for being supportive to not just their family but also to their extended trail family, the guy who warned me about bears: "I'd hate to find your red bandana covered in blood out there"; Atlantic City was full of trail angels- John, the people at the restaurant, the amazing Beverly who fed us, let us shower, and did our laundry; the cute couple from Prescott who gave E and I a ride into Dubois, E's friend Degan who gave us inside info for Yellowstone and a ride back to the trail, the shuttle driver and his passenger who gave me a ride into Jackson, the people canoeing on Shoshone Lake who gave me apples, the amazing helpfulness of the backcountry office in Old Faithful Village and the postmaster Alex who allowed me to get my packages on a Saturday- I can't thank you enough!,  the multiple people who offered us hikers water through the dry sections of trail.
In Idaho/Montana there was the woman who gave us a ride into Leadore, ID in the back of her truck even though she had sleeping babies in her cab,  the hotel owners in Lima- we got a flat tire and it didn't seem to affect your mood, the sobos (southbound hikers) who we were running into giving us (mostly) useful information on the trail ahead, the wonderful woman who gave me a ride from Chief Joseph Pass after backing up the highway to pick me up, the wonderful guy who gave me a ride back up to the pass, the guy from PA who gave four of us a ride into Darby!, the guy who gave E and I a ride back out of Darby, the cross-country cyclists who shared their beer and stories at the campground,  the guy who gave me water from his front yard well after rinsing out my bottle when I told him what I was doing, the girl who pulled over and gave me a ride into Lincoln as soon as I stuck my thumb out, the random guy at the grocery store who gave me one of his beers after telling me I wouldn't see any bears in 'The Bob'(liar!), all of the friendly people on the first day out of Benchmark telling me how many thru-hikers they had seen that day, the older women who told me their story of being air-lifted from the trail after one had fallen and split her head open- she still had the staples in!, the helpful woman answering the backcountry office phone in Glacier NP who helped me with permitting, the rangers who allowed Sycamore to get on our permit, the ranger who was aghast that we thought we could do 20 miles  in the day starting at 11a.m.: "Have you done this before?",  Sycamore's folks for driving us back into the U.S., and all the people who told me congratulations- starting 500 miles before I finished the CDT!

I'm currently working on moving to the next thing in my life(whatever that is) after finishing up this amazing adventure, while allowing it to become a part of me and how I go about living my life.  I believe it will always be a part of me, just like everything else in my past that I've learned from. I'd also like to thank you (yes, you!) for vicariously being a part of my journey and inspiring me. When there were times on the trail where I didn't think I could perservere, and then I'd remember one of you, smile in gratitude, and push on.

Wow, that's a lot to write, and it was even better living in it, so remember to get out there where/whenever you get a chance!
E, me, Estero, Malarky, and Sycamore at
the Canadian Border!