CDT Day 26 — July 21
Thunderbolt Mountain to Anaconda Alternate Junction
Kismet Spring Camp to Afternoon Camp
Miles hiked: 21
Total miles: 398.7
Today was pretty routine as far as terrain and views go, but SpiceRack and I pushed ourselves a little harder than usual. We moved efficiently, with only one shoe-off break all day, covering our miles in way less time than our history would suggest. It was a scary reminder of what is needed to cover big miles approaching 30 in a single day. I’m certainly not there yet, but today was a good start.
We were extra tired in the morning and couldn’t rise with the alarm. Nothing new there. I was hiking on the trail at 7:50am with Spice ahead because of my powerful need to dig and use a cathole. Nothing new there either. It was a cold morning again, totally clear and with the temps hanging out in the 40s. My legs reminded me that they worked really hard yesterday during an easy descent to a lake that was more football field than actual lake. I found Spice there, sitting on a log surrounded by frosty grass and flowers.
Not much happened of note between there and lunch, 11 miles away. The trail rose and fell gradually as it did the day before, mostly lodgepole pine poking up from a short carpet of baby huckleberry bushes. The weather and shade made for easy cruising even after the day had a chance to warm up. My legs were tired, but felt strong. Steps came smooth. My pack felt light with only a couple days of food and one liter of water.
But 11 miles is a long way to walk without a break. Even feeling as good as I was, my hip flexors were stiffening and my feet uncomfortably hot by the time we made it to the good water. A piped spring flowing into a cow trough on the edge of a sloped meadow. The water was cool and clear. Spice and I found a place to hunker in the shade worthy of a cow. We listened to a particularly riveting chapter of Spice’s audiobook while eating Oreos, peanut butter, trail mix, and dark chocolate. The tree we were under was perfect for propping up my tired feet. Bliss. An hour and a half can really fly by sometimes.
By the time we got moving again, the temperature had ratcheted up to an uncomfortable high. We also lost the cover of the trees, instead following the gentle ridge of the divide through meadows of dry grass, one after the other. I sucked on Jolly Ranchers to keep the juices flowing and to prevent mouth breathing, a trick I learned in the desert on the PCT. Views to the west were of a wide valley, soft with yellow grass and empty except for a lonely highway.
We transitioned between dirt road and trail for the rest of the afternoon. Vicious, biting flies kept us moving quickly, and our efforts to lose them proved to be futile. Bugs in general seem to prefer Spice’s blood to mine, so I actually did alright. She’s a great hiking partner indeed! Nearing 10 miles from lunch, we reached a major junction, where hikers decide to take the official CDT 170-ish miles around the city of Butte, or 80-ish miles through the city of Anaconda. The Butte route was tempting, with a lot of new trail work completed and staying along the Divide in the mountains, but I decided to leave that for a different trip. I would stick with Spice for the long road-walk through the valley to one of the few “CDT Gateway Communities” that is super friendly to hikers. I could have gone either way though, and my decision balanced on a knife’s edge. In the end, I feel like saving 4-5 days on the shorter route could pay huge dividends in Colorado as winter approaches. Hiking the Anaconda Cutoff might be the difference that allows me to hike the San Juan portion of the CDT, one of my most anticipated sections of the trail. Also, I’m still tired, straight up, and breaking in. The Anaconda route is flatter, as well as shorter, so my body should feel more rested when we press the eco-boost along the Montana/Idaho border. Am I still trying to convince myself? Eh, can’t go wrong either way.
Just a quarter mile down the Anaconda route, we pulled off the dirt road to camp along a creek running through a meadow of cow pies. The water might also have been tainted with pollution from the old mining operations that existed in the area back in the day. Oh well, what can we do? My hip flexors and feet were beat again after the long push, but the legs held up. On the PCT it took me a long time to reach the point where I felt comfortable hiking for 10 miles without rest. I like to think that maybe I have some of that residual strength from four years ago, but that’s pushing it. It was probably just those darn flies, reminding me that I smell bad as they buzzed and bit.
It was only 6:30pm, practically afternoon, when we stopped, a darn sight earlier than usual, but I was just as tired, if not more so. It was all we could do to eat dinner and watch the Truman Show before falling asleep with the sky still bright.