CDT Day 51: Poison Creek saddle to below Bald Peak – Squeaky Elk, Black Wolf Camp to One, two, three, four, five, six Thunderstorms Camp
Miles hiked: 17.6
Total miles: 846.6
This was an action packed day with a lot of highlights. Wildlife, weather, town food, the kindness of strangers, everything a hiker could ask for.
I was still feeling tired even after an extremely restful night. Yesterday’s lassitude seemed to have lingered through the night, but it wouldn’t stick around this time. A few miles into the day and struggling to stay on the faint trail, I heard a startling noise to my right. I looked to see a baby deer and momma deer darting down a near hill, maybe 30 yards away, closely pursued by a streak of black. A wolf. All disappeared into a dip in the land. The deer split in opposite directions around SpiceRack after reemerging, but the wolf never showed. I caught one last glimpse of it as it climbed back the way it had come, having apparently given up pursuit. My heart was thumping in my chest. My mind worked on overdrive to memorize the details of what I just saw.
That was cool and all, but I didn’t want to hang around to see if the wolf had buddies. Still giddy and happy to be out of the trees, Spice and I finished the last half mile out into the valley to Hwy 87 at Raynolds Pass.
Here, Spice had a stroke of genius that I didn’t appreciate until much later in the day. Why not get to town today on this highway instead of tomorrow at the next one? It seemed pointless to me, but I went with it because I couldn’t think of a reason not to. It was quiet on the road at only 8:30am, but we soon got a ride with Kathy and Larry who not only took us all the way to West Yellowstone, but also offered us a ride back. They somehow managed to finish their town chores before us so there was no dilly dallying. Two extra days of food at the grocery store, and two sandwiches each from Subway. I heard the sandwich maker utter an “Oh, sweet Jesus” as he tried to close up Spice’s expertly ordered creations. We were back at the trail only 1.5 hours after leaving and after (perhaps stupidly) turning down an offer of lasagna. My most efficient town stop by a long shot. Thanks Kathy and Larry! Y’all rule.
A hot few miles linking sagebrush with mountains put us at the cooling Mile Creek and the bottom if 3,000ft of climbing into the mountains. Second lunch, then hiking. I waited out the first thunderstorm under a large pine as it dumped rain and hail into the valley. I steamed up endless switchbacks in the prevailing sun, catching up with a waiting Spice just before the second storm pummeled us with hail for fifteen minutes. Our umbrellas kept us mostly dry as white marbles skittered on the trail. I sweated again in the sun for the final zigzags up to Targhee Pass (9,998ft).
We had just enough time to eat our second sandwiches and snap a few photos before storm number three forced us into the trees with thundering clouds overhead. Storm number four finally got the message across that we should get out of there with a terrifyingly close lightning strike. No more messing around. We boogied down over bacon streaked rocks as fast as we could do to the safety of the basin below, smatterings of hail encouraging us further.
Safely below the peaks and ridges now, we thought the excitement was over as storm number 5 crackled harmlessly to the north. But storm number 6 was the worst of all. Bright forks of lightning directly overhead, torrential rain. This felt like the most hazardous moments yet as we hunkered separately amongst anonymous stands of trees waiting for it to pass. We just wanted to hike at this point. Just a couple more miles to camp. We should have accepted the lasagna invitation. With a whoosh of cold air in its wake, the big one blew east, setting us free to splash our way to camp.
A small black bear showed us just how fast he could run (darn fast!) as we made it to the final meadow. It moved like a shadow, oozing across the grass almost limbless, formless, somehow not breaking an ankle on the uneven ground. One last treat for the day.
Storm number 7 brews to the West, but camp is set and ready under the protection of dense trees. A burrito closes out a fantastic, but exhausting day on the CDT. I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful for Kathy and Larry. I’m grateful for the wolf and bear. I’m grateful for my strong body. I’m grateful for Spice, for throwing a wild card and making this all happen. Live the way you feel.