CDT Day 4: Reynolds Creek Campground to Red Eagle Lake – Triple Decker PB&J Camp to Bonus Hour Camp
Miles hiked: 14.6
Total miles: 74.7
After that tough descent yesterday evening, there was no way Spice and I were going to set an alarm to get us up this morning. Our bodies needed a break and by 10:45am we felt like we got it. Slugs covered everything outside, but the sun was shining and the tent was dry. Regretfully, the slug hiding in the toe of my shoe met an unfortunate end. I stood outside, warming myself in the sun and listening to my body. I noticed a hotspot on the inside of my right heel, but otherwise I felt mostly recovered, if a bit fatigued. Good news. Nice work, body! We ate, packed up, and were hiking in the wrong, then right direction all before noon.
The trail stayed mostly flat all day. No passes to test our knees. We started in a burn section, which I really appreciated for the views it allowed of the surrounding peaks. Wildflowers also seemed to be pretty happy about all the sweet sunshine pouring down too. The trail was packed with dayhikers coming from a nearby road en route to a punishing discharge of turquoise water from a terraced gorge. The pool at the bottom was inviting, but my healthy respect for turbulent water kept my clothes on.
The wide trail improved to a narrow grassy track once the falls were behind us and the crowds disappeared. The only people we saw on our 10 mile traverse above St. Mary Lake were a few other CDTers heading north. The trail was overgrown with swaying greenery and bear scat, and the walking was sublime. Wind whipped up whitecaps on the lake surface, but trees kept our atmosphere tranquil.
Following the shore straight east, I got the feeling that we were walking out of the mountains. Central Montana looked flat, and it finally occurred to me that I was walking along the continental divide. The real thing! Or close to it at least. That struck me as being pretty cool.
Near the foot of the lake the trail turned south into another burn section to take us up a bulge into another valley, back into the mountains. Afternoon light stretched shadows to the left and made the baby pine trees shimmer. Behind us, the mountains were hazy silhouettes crowned with tufts of cloud. In a see of snags, I stopped to ponder the existence of two healthy trees. I wanted to ask them why they survived when so many others did not. What did they know?
My legs were tired, but it was my lungs that got a work out as Spice and I echoed Harry Belafonte’s Day-O song to alert any bears in the area to our presence. No bears, but the trail decided to do a crazy thing by backtracking the way we had come to a bridge crossing. This lunacy added two whole, unnecessary miles to our route. We weren’t having any of that and decided to ford the river right where we were. Our trail was just 100 yards away on the far side. Before going in, I said I would turn around if the water reached my knees. After only three steps it was three inches above that, but it didn’t get any deeper and I didn’t want to stop. Ten steps later it started to shallow and I was across soon after. When Spice joined me, we struggled over downed trees until reaching the trail once more. Never before have I been so appreciative of quality trail, but in this case we shaved off about a hour of walking. Worth it for a few scrapes.
The shadows lengthened further and wind screamed through the snags for the last few miles. Dusk was in full effect when we cruised into camp at the head of Red Eagle Lake. A pair of young anglers showed us pictures of their latest fishing conquests as we spooned an awesome dinner of beans and ramen. Another thru-hiker, Papa Oats showed up later and we spent the evening picking his brain around the fire about the gear he makes and the hikes he’s done. Much to learn. Much to see.
11pm rolled around before we knew it, well past hiker midnight. The clear sky begged us to cowboy camp, but the bugs said no. The mileage today was nothing to shake a stick at, but the cruisy terrain was exactly what we needed to loosen our kinks. And the kinks need to be loosened because tomorrow looks like another doozy.