CDT Day 3: Poia Lake to Reynolds Creek Campground – William Merrybeet Camp to Triple Decker PB&J Camp
Miles hiked: 23.2
Total miles: 60.1
With big miles scheduled for the day, SpiceRack and I agreed on a 5am alarm. At 5:01am we agreed that it was too early to be awake. Gray sky was turning blue when we finally did make moves, so I was optimistic that the weather had shifted for the better and I made sure my sunscreen was within easy access. At 6:30am I moved out of camp, 10 minutes behind Spice who didn’t need to filter water.
Hiking alone, I jingled my bear bell with great enthusiasm and sang my heart out. No bears. The trail pointed me straight at the low-flying sun, which lit a stand of aspen, causing them to shimmer and glow with golden hour green.
I soon caught up with Spice as we went up and over a small bulge of dense forest into the next valley south. Many Glacier was just a short four miles from there, although deeeeep mud churned up by horses left us sliding, squelching, and smacking at a frustratingly slow pace down what should have been easy trail. We are both now officially against allowing horses on hiking trails after rainfall. We reached the road with our lower legs splattered in thick ooze, trying not to think about all the other horse products that were likely mixed with it.
We cruised up easy trail to Swiftcurrent Lake, stopping to gaze at a waterfall and epic mountain views along the way. The parallel road buzzed with vehicles and the trail grew thick with dayhikers. Upon reaching Many Glacier, we scattered to take care of some chores including charging electronics, washing socks in the sink, drying out gear in the sun, and buying a big bag of tortilla chips. We met a handful of other CDT hikers while we waited around, some familiar, some new to us, but all NOBOs (NOBO: trail parlance describing a northbound hiker.) who flipped up here after reaching the crazy snow in Colorado. They’re making it busy out here, but they are friendly folk. So after an hour and a half of hard chilling, we rolled out around noon to tackle the big climb of the day to Piegan Pass.
Horse mud got us again on the other side of the valley, but a perfectly placed privy more than made up for the gooey going. The climbing had been steady, but now flattened out and the trail improved in a wide area along a creek. A waterfall, high on the cliff above, sprayed water into the abyss that seemed to blow away in a mist before ever reaching solid ground. The next falls had more structure and we took a lunch and laundry break there for one final recharge before the big ascent.
A few patches of snow covered the trail on some choice switchbacks through the last couple hundred feet of treeline, but then cleared up completely along with the stunted pine. Wide open views from a bench spun me around as I tried to take it all in. This world was too big to picture and I felt small standing in the middle of it. Pointy peaks soared high above and steep valley walls marched into the distance with varying colors of banded rock. Failing glaciers clung to steep cliffs in the shadier parts, but I can only guess at how they have diminished in recent decades. Sad!
Dark cloud blew from the west, providing welcome shade, but also a disquieting menace. We were exposed up here and a thunderstorm was the last thing we needed. A light sprinkle turned to stinging hail, then turned off for good. The cloud lingered, but no thunder rumbled so we kept climbing. A huge traverse cutting across a cliffy slope popped us out onto the pass surprisingly soon, but we weren’t complaining. The sun was starting to break through, illuminating the peaks beyond in a new and warm panorama. Piegan Pass (7,326ft).
A brave chipmunk kicked us down the other side for the final steep descent to camp. We had heard that the trail crossed five or six sketchy snow patches on this side of the pass, but these turned out to be a total joke. The real struggle turned out to be the steepness of the trail and our accumulated miles. My knees started to ache, but I know that Spice had the worst of it. The downhill was relentless, and there was nothing we could do besides grit and bear it. And with the pain came the rain. Just a light precipitation, but it was enough to dampen my mood further and soak the bushes overgrowing the trail. Carwash time.
Coming darkness turned all tree stumps into bears for the last few miles. We sang the first 15 seconds of What’s New Pussycat on repeat with much enthusiasm to keep the real bears away. At 9:30pm we crossed a bridge then staggered into camp.
A fire was already going and surrounded by friendly faces so I couldn’t help but smile despite my exhaustion. The rain stopped and a delicious dinner featuring many laughs kept us busy until midnight when we turned in for some horizontal recovery time.
This was a big mileage day and really pushed us to the limit. The Glacier permit system definitely forced us out of our comfort zone today. Hopefully our bodies bounce back tomorrow. We shall see. A good day with awesome views despite the pain. Still grateful to be out here.