In Rainbows

7/22 – 7/25 Leadore to Lima

After spending the last of our change on freshly baked cookies from the Leadore Store I was ready for the trail once more. We were now a big group – Rock Steady, Kombucha & Hawkeye, Joker, Lost, Found, Heaps & us – but thankfully a local Leadorian gave us a ride back up to the pass in his cattle-truck.

Highlights: Peak-bagging Cottonwood Mountain, meeting our first NoBos (CDT thru-hikers travelling north), a cave harbouring elk and bison bones, cowboy camping with a visit from a moose, a superb rainbow-route (a new phrase we coined for when we make up our own cross-country route), visiting Cow Camp and refreshing swims in rivers when the water wasn’t cow-taminated.

A word on the wonderous wildflowers. I can’t get over them! There are so many:  fragile pale pink bitterroot, pale purple sticky geranium, wild irises, vibrant yellow mule’s ear, columbine (some wedding white, others vibrant crimson and gold), cow parsnip, buttercups, lupine and sagebrush.  I love the slight variations… as the soil changes or as you round a bend new colours are added to the symphony. As you get higher in elevation the flowers cling to the rocky soil, holding on for dear life against the powerful wind.  Shockingly vibrant colours and towering heights (many waist-deep and some up to my chest) indicate a nearby water source. The Master Gardener is marvelous! And to think that we have to work so hard to tend the flowers in our own gardens when these thrive free and effortlessly.

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wildflower walking

The Continental Divide recently (which is also the southern Montana/Idaho border) has often been rolling hills and gorgeous wildflowers. For a while we enjoyed the glistening snowy Lemhi Mountain Range to our west….. Idaho and Montana have so many undiscovered mountain ranges….. exploring them has definitely been added to our to-do list.

The Beautiful Beaverheads

7/16 – 7/20  We journeyed through the Beaverhead Mountains which were a delightful alpine surprise. Unfortunately our time up high among the rock and ice was limited and some of the trail took us to viewless woodland where we were voraciously attacked by bloodthirsty mosquitos.  Thankfully Deet saved the day!

 We also saw 5 bears!  One afternoon we spied a cinnamon Black Bear and her 2 cubs swimming in a river we were crossing a few hundred yards down. We starled them and they scampered across the meadow but we got a good look at them (and some in our group got photos!)  Another time Candyman (Dan) & Hawkeye heard a strange scratching noise and then saw it was coming from a tiny black bear cub as it scampered high up a pine tree.  We immediately looked for mama bear, who thankfully was further away, but quite worried about her baby. She kept standing up on two legs to look for him until we backed away and baby scampered back to mama.  These sightings were spectacular because we were far away enough to be safe but close enough to get a good look and most importantly, we never came between mama & baby – which can be a dangerous situation!

Anaconda-Pintlers

7/11 – A low cloud in the valley hiding a herd of elk lifted as we trotted down through sage brush to a spring at Home Ranch.

Hundreds of swallows darted about the old barn in the morning light. The snowy Anaconda Pintler’s loomed large on the horizon.  By 7/12 we were up amongst the stunning alpine peaks doing an incredible ridge walk which involved scrambling and rock climbing up to Kurt and Fish Peaks at around 10,000 feet.

Anaconda

The Anaconda-Pintler Mountains

7/10 We headed into Anaconda for the day to resupply. The town is very depressing, packed with little run down houses with only a sliver of dirt between them. The main “attraction” is a 600 foot tall smelter – a tower used to smelt the copper they dug from the surrounding hills that was in service from the early 1900s till 1980. There are some grand old buildings – the City Hall and Post Office – but they look out of place surrounded by such poverty and shabbiness.  We hoped to do a quick in and out – hitch in, buy food, take a shower and hitch back out – but town chores are never that easy. Not spending the night meant we had no place to store our stuff while we did chores and the town was fairly spread out as well.  Plus there were periodic downpours and t-storms throughout the day and so we spent a  good deal of time huddled under the awning of buildings trying to stay dry. In addition, the RV park owner was very rude to Dan. We got permission to take a shopping cart around to help lighten our load, but I’m sure the locals are still talking about the crazy girl who was running down the street with a shopping cart in the middle of a torrential downpour.  In the evening as we walked to the edge of town to get a hitch, every other car that drove by yelled something at us…… such as, “Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?” to things much less friendly.

I won’t even talk about our hitchhike back to the trail…..let’s just say it was a massive relief to finally arrive there in one piece. And the Anaconda-Pintler mountains greeted us with a lovely alpine glow, seeming to say that even though they shared the same name, they wouldn’t share in the cruelty of their namesake town.

Homestake

July 7th – We left our camp by Delmoe Lake and walked the dirt road towards I-15. Along the way we met a charming older man named Les who does work for the Forest Service. He apparently did the actually gun shooting for the old Western actor Jeff Bridges in several films, including Rancho Deluxe. He enjoyed regaling us of tales of his youth… getting numerous purple hearts in war, chasing after killer Grizzly bears and playing every sport imaginable. He even showed us an old b&w photo of himself back when he was our age! 

Wishing ol’ Les farewell, we noticed we could cut straight to our destination – Homestake Lodge – if we just did a little bushwack and crossed 4 lane Interstate 15 “frogger style” in the words of Joker. (Anyone remember that classic video game?). We said goodbye to Jack/Found and proceeded to bushwack, blazing our own trail complete with a twist and crawl under barbed wire fences and traipse through a muddy bog. Finally we emerged, with twigs sticking out of our hair and mud up to our calves, at a rest area along the highway where 2 truckers stared at us as if we were swamp monsters. We nonchalantly walked on, ran helter-skelter across the highway and then cleverly detected a gate in the upcoming fence. Only once we were all safely inside and several hundred feet on did we realize we’d locked ourselves into a little pen. Ha!

Nonetheless, arrive at Homestake we did. Unfortunately our packages of food had not. Thankfully the owner, Chris, spoke with UPS and assured us it should be there around 7pm that night. This was definitely not what we’d anticipated. We’d spent additional time and money mailing food here to save us time and money. Hmm…

But in the end it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Homestake is a new cross-country ski resort and has a beautiful lodge that’s completely off the grid. Of course, this lodge was rented out by a group so we hung out in the grass….. but it was a very relaxing Nero (near to a zero mile day). Since there was nothing to do but wait we lounged about in the sun.  And plot how to get food, since we’d eated all ours in anticipation of getting more at Homestake.

This involved Dan spending hours calling various pizza delivery places and begging them to deliver pizza to us, even though it was out of their delivery zone, down a highway and then a dirt road. Finally, after much negotiating, Dan convinced Papa John’s to deliver 4 pizzas to us. They were heavenly! Later on the group from the lodge invited us in for leftover lasagna and salad. Yum! Plus they gave us loaf after loaf of the most dense and delicious homemade whole wheat bread. By the time UPS arrived with our trail food we couldn’t manage another morsel.

So, with heavily loaded backs we set off, bushwaking once more up a steep mountainside to a gorgeous camp on the mountain ridge surrounded by a field of quartz.

Hitching

July 4th – July 6th 

In the early morn of Independence Day we spoke to the Pizzos on the phone. Dee reported that the “thought for the day” at their church was “Is it better to be independent or work together?” Classic, eh?  Well, we’d certainly enjoyed the free 4th of July BBQ in Helena the day before. 

We hitched back to the trail….. along with many other thru-hikers who had caught up to us during our second 0 day in Helena.  So far on the CDT every single time I’ve hitchhiked, I’ve gotten a ride in the back of a pick-up truck. Sometimes it’s just been 2 or 3 of us, other times as many as 7 of us have squeezed in. Often the bed of the truck isn’t empty either. We often end up wedged between old tires, random bits of metal and rusty machinery and tool boxes. We even got a hitch from a truck carrying a trailer with a Caterpillar digger on it.   

Riding in the back of a pick-up is a great way to see the countryside but with the wind it’s CHILLY and if you’re sitting up high (on top of all the random bits and bobs in the back) at all it can be rather frightful, especially on the curvy mountain roads.  But so far so good! 

Hitchhiking Montana Style

 

For the next few days hiking through the Helena National Forest we had periods where we were the “Dirty Dozen” – DnA, Kombucha, Hawkeye, Joker, Rock Steady, Mike with a Y, Rolling Thunder, Don’t Panic, Wing It, Lost and Found (Jack). It was incredible, especially considering there’s only about thirty 2010 South-bound (SoBo) thru-hikers total and other CDT thru-hikers we’ve talked to hiked entire states without seeing a single other thru-hiker.  At Four Corners, at  an off ramp of an interstate highway, Naomi (Mike’s wife) met us with food and refreshments and we enjoyed a delightful picnic before saying good-bye to Team Naomi as they headed to Butte to resupply.  We, on the other hand, were hiking onward to Homestake Ranch where we’d mailed food earlier.