CDT Day 1: Chief Mountain border crossing to Mokowami Junction – Canada to Say Hey Bear Midnight Camp
Miles hiked: 13.5
Total miles hiked: 13.5
Trains taken: 2
Hitchhikes granted: 6
After so much build up and so much preparation, the CDT has finally arrived. And it actually started earlier than we expected, just by one day, but the adventure has begun, the feet have touched the dirt.
After two 15-hour train rides and a day in Portland, Spice and I stepped on to the East Glacier platform, the morning breeze brisk and invigorating. Here we were, just a few miles and logistical tasks from starting our long walk from Canada to Mexico. Other hikers were easy to spot, our shared aesthetic bringing us together.
After a short round of greetings, we split to make our way to the permit office in Two Medicine. Two hitches and 12 miles later, we got in line to set our itinerary through Glacier National Park, roughly the first 85 miles of the CDT. Glacier is a bit strange in that there are designated backcountry campsites where one must stay while backpacking. Good for bear safety, but limiting for hikers. This can create some issues for CDT folk who try to piece together an itinerary along a very specific corridor, but to make a long story short, Spice and I snagged the permit we were looking for, just with two bonus backpacking days to start with. This meant that instead of having a leisurely day in town, we needed to make it to the border two hours north, then hike 13 miles to camp. Sure, it was already 1pm with hitchhikes far from guaranteed, but we weren’t worried about an extra night in the woods. After huddling on the porch of the campground store for protection from the passing showers, we gobbled the last of our kale and fresh food, then got going for the hitch to the border.
The weather and hitching was fine indeed on the east side of the park. The views of ridiculous fins of stone along the Divide were incredible as four rides sped us north, finally depositing us at the nondescript Chief Mountain border crossing on Hwy 17. We unloaded, ate as much extra food as we could stomach, took the obligatory border monument photos, then got hiking. 5pm.
The trail began with a meander through the woods. The kind of woods that I imagine could hide grizzlies very well. Spice’s cowbell dongled and I clacked my poles together, but honestly, bears were far from my thoughts. I’m not sure if I had expectations of how it would feel to begin another journey of this length, but I know I didn’t expect it to feel so, so normal. Here I was, just out for another awesome backpacking trip with an awesome person. Surely there is more to it than that, but maybe it’ll take a little longer to kick in. A couple weeks without a shower is bound to do something to me. No, I wasn’t even considering the bears, though I had bear spray on my hip, ready to go. I felt intense gratitude to be outside, somewhere new. Even the stormy clouds up ahead didn’t look too bad.
Enough drops splattered for me to use my pack cover, but we had mostly sun as we passed through endless meadows of dandelions and purple things. Rugged peaks with horizontal stripes of snow loomed ahead, in and out of the clouds. This was a pretty sweet way to kick things off.
We didn’t push ourselves even though the trail was in good shape and mostly level. With eight days of food on our backs and soft, city legs, we rode the blissful undulations without urgency through vistas of flowing light.
Epic rainbows graced us with their presence as we climbed a side trail away from the CDT towards our camp. We’ll be coming back this way in two days, but the aforementioned permit finagling postponed our southern progress until then. Muddy trail swept us through more woods and meadows before we sat down for a much needed break to make dinner at 9pm. I have left myself plenty of room for improvement after a barely palatable meal of cold, plain mashed potatoes. And because I couldn’t finish it, I’ll have the pleasure of eating it for breakfast tomorrow. Lucky me.
With summer in full swing, darkness didn’t truly fall until a couple of miles later. It’s incredible how much light there is this far north. That being said, a few more hours of daylight would have been nice. Walking through the woods in the dark is no fun for me, especially when the trail is super muddy and there is an unknown number of ferocious bears hiding in the bushes. The last five miles to camp seemed endless and I quickly ran out of things to shout out to alert bears to our presence. I was unmentionably happy to have Spice for company and in the lead. Alone, in the dark, in grizzly country is not where I want to be.
Covered in mud below the knees and lacking all humor, we finally stumbled into camp around midnight. I was pretty beat, so searching for an open space to pitch a tent was lamer than usual. And it was far from the ideal time to figure out how to hang food for the first time. However, by 1am, Spice had found a spot and pitched the tent, the food was up, and I was in bed, happy to only have a 1-mile day tomorrow.
It was certainly an interesting start to the CDT, with plenty of awesomeness to get me excited, but also humbling in the way it demonstrated how little it takes to push me outside of my comfort zone. I should expect many more of these lessons along the way. This is going to be an adventure.