CDT Day 15: West Fork South Fork Sun River Meadow to Straight Creek – Golden Hour Meadow Camp to Kalamatagusta Camp
Miles hiked: 9.4
Total miles: 229.4
The sun had just peaked over the mountains when the alarm got us moving, a bit earlier than usual. This was going to be a resupply day, maybe a town day, so we wanted to get a head start. The air felt misty as we packed up, tent damp with dew. The sun ducked behind the high ceiling of cloud as I set off, five minutes behind SpiceRack.
A few miles floated by, fuzzy thought mimicking the fuzzy view of the wide open valley. Spice was waiting for me at a big bridge and we continued from there into a large burn zone. Fortunately, the trail was wide so no fallen trees blocked the way. Unfortunately, it was wide because of heavy horse use, which meant that long patches of thick mud did. It persisted for the remaining few miles to the trailhead and did a great job of keeping our minds engaged on this flat section. Steep drop-off on the left, bottomless mud on the right, and only a few inches of solid ground to walk on in between.
At the trailhead we found some familiar faces waiting for a hitchhike into Augusta. Snow White and Nightshade we knew from the CDT, Sci-Fi I met at Kennedy Meadows on the PCT in 2015. I didn’t recognize her on sight, but her acquaintance was easy to remember once she mentioned it. It’s a crazy small world. We got those lazy hikers off their butts and walking down the gravel road to an area that might have more traffic. After a mile or so, we all piled in the bed of a pickup heading our way. Spice and I unloaded a half-mile later at Benchmark Wilderness Ranch where we had a resupply box (hopefully) waiting, while the others continued all the way to Augusta.
Our box was right where it was supposed to be, filled with all the things it was supposed to be filled with. We languished on the wooden porch of a cabin, eating some of the yummiest things and reading the hiker log. However, besides us, the ranch was empty. What we really needed was an outlet to recharge our batteries, but with no one around, all the outlets were dead. We slowly came to the realization that into Augusta we must go, then formed a pact to make it back to the trail that night and not get stuck in town. We packed up then got back to the dirt road with our thumbs out.
We caught a ride easily from a very nice couple from Anchorage, visiting home for the first time in 20 years. I learned a lot about the area as we descended from the mountains into the eastern plains of Montana. Green ranchland spread to the horizon and I imagined it continuing that way for infinity, or at least to North Dakota. Augusta was a strip of a town, perfect for hikers. We made it to the park where the locals let hiker trash camp for free for some reason. There were outlets there too, which is exactly what we needed. A dozen or so hikers, most of whom we recognized, drifted around town. It was a social affair to charge and take care of e-mails.
In addition to battery power, Spice and I loaded up on spinach, pickles, non-dairy ice cream, chips and salsa from the trading post. It was with a full stomach that I joined the others in an impromptu yoga session led by Katie, who did a wonderful job of bringing my mind back to the moment, away from the chores of the trail. Although it took time that I felt I didn’t have to give, it was absolutely worth it and left me relaxed and at peace.
7pm, trying to hitch 30 miles up a dirt road to a remote trailhead. I was feeling lucky. And we needed to make it back to the trail. We had made a pact after all. We decided to give it one hour of effort. 10 minutes past the hour we were getting ready to walk back to the park when an old truck towing a long horse trailer did a lap around our block before pulling over to give us a ride. The last ones going out there, they said. The trailer bed was full of saddles and saddle blankets so we perched on top, bracing ourselves with whatever we could find.
The ride was amazing. Beautiful golden light spilled over the approaching peaks as we were again treated to a colorful sunset. The truck struggled with some of the uphills and I lost my sunglasses off the top of my head, but otherwise we made it back to the trail without trouble. Montana has been a pretty cloudy state in the early going, so maybe I’ll get by without shades just fine. At 9:30pm we saddled up our packs to make a little distance down the trail before camping. A half-mile later we pitched the tent with headlamps and settled in as the forest became dark. I finished off some couscous and olives for dinner, but was down one Oreo for dessert after Spice tricked me out of it with a new game that I don’t care for. I lost an Oreo and my sunglasses, but today was pretty darn sweet when it comes down to it. Excited for the next section.