CDT Day 17: Dearborn River to unnamed peaky thing – Butterfly Enlightenment Camp to Bonus Climb Sunset Camp
Miles hiked: 17.8
Total miles: 266
My nose drips like an old faucet in the cool morning air. Spiderwebs collect on my face and arms as I tear down each masterpiece. I barely notice though. This is just how it is on the trail. Nothing is permanent out here in nature. A spider will weave a new web everyday, a deer might sleep in a new spot every night, and even mountains crumble. As humans we cling to things, trying to make them permanent. Careers, stuff, relationships. Why? When did we start claiming ownership by striving to make things permanent? Nothing is permanent, yet we try to make things so. Why?
The brain can wander to some interesting places when allowed. I watched these thoughts drift through my mind as I physically and mentally spooled up for the day after leaving camp around 7am. I inhaled Pop Tarts on the move and drifted through the woods along the Dearborn River.
The cool shade was most welcome, but I anticipated the warmth of the sun as I watched it pour down the other side of the valley, not a cloud in the sky to delay the inevitable spread. The walking was good. Perfect for a morning stroll. I lost SpiceRack a few minutes back when I stopped to poop, so I was left with just myself and the sounds of the forest. I crossed a couple creeks and gazed, when I could, at the green valley, so different from the burn areas that cover so much of this wilderness.
Six miles in, I found Spice waiting for me at our final crossing of the Dearborn, chilling in the shade and eating as hikers do. The cruisy part of the day was over, so I was glad to join her for a rest. Big climbing coming up. We anticipated a hot, exposed climb back up to the crest of the Divide, but the trees along the trail were more alive and shady than either of us had guessed. At a really funky and poorly marked junction, we picked up a new friend, Canyon, who was just returning to trail after an hour and a half bushwhack on something else.
Even with the shade, the climb was steep and relentless. Sweaty work. I panted conversation with Canyon before stepping aside to let the faster hiker pass. 2,600ft up to a spring. The views opened as I approached along a traverse across a steep slope of flowers and sparse trees. High up for the first time in a while, I was ready for views and got them. But there was plenty more of that to come.
Canyon, Spice, and I swatted fat flies at the only water source for a while. I ate candy and drank as much cold water as I could fit in my stomach in anticipation of more big climbs. Much too soon Spice and I got going again to find them.
Trees faded behind us as we climbed high up a gravely trail on a gravely mountain. More than once I stopped to gape at the expanding views to the north, but mostly as an excuse to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe how many mountains there were behind us. As the trail had wound from valley to valley, we hiked past numerous peaks without realizing it. I was on the Continental Divide for real here, and it felt like it. I tried to pick out features that I recognized in the distance, but couldn’t distinguish anything in the sea of peaks. Too many. I did find myself wishing that I hadn’t lost my sunglasses though. Spice, Canyon, then Masa, another hiker going too fast for me to hope to see again, joined me and the splendor at the top. A couple clouds floated high, the weather was perfect.
I was the last one to leave for the drop into a burn area before yet another big climb. I took some ash from a burned log to give myself eye black like a sportsball player, which cut the glare better than I expected. A short, hot lunch next to a creek, then more climbing. The howling wind kept the temperature reasonable, but made steady walking impossible. Spice and I were both laughing with the effort. The last, massive switchback traversed a vast slope of wild flowers, high above the rest of the world. Spice and I sat amongst the colors, breathing in the scent of life, wondering how these flowers survived, gazing at the world below. This was what I envisioned when I considered hiking the CDT. This was what it is about. This was amazing. We moved again to get to the tippy top of the climb just below 8,400ft, the highest point of the CDT so far by some margin.
We dug around for some rumored cell service, but struck out and ended up sitting off trail on a small peak, wishing that we weren’t a whole four hours from sunset. Though we had planned to sleep at that lake down there, we couldn’t say no to the chance at seeing an epic sunset and sunrise, so we decided to fill up water at the lake, then continue up trail for a mile where it got back to the ridge. Solid plan.
At the lake we found Canyon waiting and joined them for dinner. I ate way too much couscous considering the climbing I still had to do, but my hunger would not be denied. 700ft up from there to the next small peak, rounded and gentle. The panorama was again amazing from there with wider views of the plains to the east and of the Divide to the south. Folds of mountains fuzzed out into the distance. The air was surprisingly filled with mosquitos so cowboy camping was out of the question despite the perfect weather. Best camp yet.
The sunset did not disappoint and I went to bed happy after a hard, but endlessly rewarding day. Wait, no I didn’t. Despite the great day, I went to bed in a fowl mood after putting a inch-long gash in my sleeping pad with an errant sharp rock. My hurried patch job did little, but fortunately we still have two halves of Spice’s old foam pad that we use as sitpads on breaks. Those will hold me over until a patch job worthy of the CDT.
A clear night promised to make it a cold one, but the wind was calm. Stars and bright moon. Best day on the CDT yet? Possibly. Probably.