I keep on comparing myself to how I was by the end of the PCT: ridiculously strong and constantly ravenous. In both respects I’ve been falling short of what I remember. Of course, I’m forgetting how long it took for me to build up my trail legs, and for the hiker hunger to set in.
Leaving the motel room around 7:30am, I head across the street to find Murphy and Movin’ On getting ready for the day outside of Brownies.
“It’ll be nice setting off with a big group,” Murphy mentioned. This next stretch of trail goes 180 miles, or 8 days, before intersecting with a paved road and a hitch to the small town of Lincoln. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, or “the Bob” as it’s more popularly known, is one of the largest roadless wilderness areas in the lower 48. And it’s also home to around 900 grizzlies. Safety in numbers is the general rule in grizzly areas. And although I enjoy my solitude more than most, going 8 days without seeing another human is pushing it. Plus I sleep better in groups when I know there are grizzlies around, which is somewhat irrational considering 90% of encounters are on trail.
I’d originally planned on eating a big breakfast before heading out, but as per usual I just wasn’t hungry right after waking up. Brownies has breakfast burritos, so I bought one rather than get a sit-down meal. Someone’s three legged dog was hopping around the porch, so I was entertained while I made sure I had everything.
The way out of East Glacier is on a dirt road, where I passed Phoenix and Mad Science stealth camping on a golf course. It’s wonderful seeing familiar faces from the PCT, and I think I would’ve been better off discreetly camping rather than staying in an expensive motel with others. I’d heard about a nuisance bear and a pack of Indian reservation dogs that harassed campers, so maybe not.
I reentered Glacier National Park for 13 miles, meandering along streams in thick forest. It’s hot, and the undergrowth rakes at my legs. But I’m enjoying it all, amazed for the 300th time at how much difference a day off can make on my feet.
Murphy, Movin’ On, Dingo and I take a break at a picnic table in a campground across the highway from the Glacier exit. We’re finally in Lewis and Clark National Forest, and will be hitting the Bob the next day. We raid the pit toilets for a little extra toilet paper, trying to gauge how much we’ll need for 8 days, and set off.
There were few people in the campground, and nobody once we leave it on an obscure trail heading south. Prints and scat of bears, mountain lions, and wolves are everywhere, and I feel better knowing the three others are just ahead of me. I meet up with them right as we get on an alternate route along the river bypassing the main trail, which is overgrown and has been described as a “jungle gym of fallen trees.”
The alternate is great. My feet are screaming after almost 24 miles, but we push on wading across the river every few minutes until we find a nice, overgrown and abandoned campsite for horse packers.
“This looks just like the campsite in The Blair Witch Project where they hear their missing friend screaming all night, and then wake up to find his teeth in front of the tent in the morning,” I casually mention over my ramen noodles dinner.
“What a delightful thought,” Movin’ On replies.
“I bet we walk four hours and end up back where we started,” I add as we’re all falling asleep. I always think of that low budget independent film while camping.
The next morning I’m out of camp and on the trail before any of the others are awake. It’s eight hours before I see two other thru hikers, the first people I’ve seen all day. Though plenty of evidence of mountain lions, bears, and wolves.
I persuade Funny Bones and Stomper, both older guys, to camp with me in what I’ve heard is a great spot near a stream. I don’t like camping alone with grizzlies, and they’re both hurting after pushing through thick brush, so it works out. There’s a loud thunderstorm for 20 minutes, starting right after we get in our tents.
I’m again out of camp before the others are awake, and I run into the three others I’d camped with the previous night. I hadn’t seen them for 24 hours, but somehow they’d passed me and set up camp 2 miles down the trail! The CDT is weird, such a labyrinth of various trails. I’m constantly getting out my paper maps and compass, using skills I learned on Boy Scouts to make sure I stay on the right path.
Early morning is my favorite time on trail, and that’s the key to making big miles. Movin’ On, Murphy, and Dingo all walk together while I prefer to hike solo and meet up with them for breaks.
We take the Spotted Bear Alternate, which is supposedly more scenic and saves us 16 miles. It’s 135 miles to the remote Benchmark Wilderness Ranch, where we’ve all sent food packages, and then another 60 miles to the first road where you can hitch into town. On such a long stretch, and so early in the hike, we’ll take every advantage we can. It’s a little nerve wracking knowing that if something goes wrong out here you’re screwed.
We camp together, and I rest better in a group. At least until a psycho deer runs through our camp all night and tries to reach my food bag in the tree. The deer chewed up Dingo’s trekking pole handles during the night, but on the PCT I heard stories of people waking up to deer licking their face. Quite a wakeup call.
I don’t see the others all day, camping beneath the Chinese Wall. One of two people I see all day is some dude with llamas, and is apparently something of a trail celebrity. He seemed really lonely, but I wanted to make some miles and after 10 minutes of conversation plugged onward.
Camping solo in grizzly areas has been easier than I thought it would be, mainly because I’m so exhausted and immediately drift off to sleep. And in the morning I always find myself very close to the other three I’d spent most of this section with.
As we get closer to Benchmark, and our resupply, we start to see more hikers (like a couple every three hours). We cowboy camp by a river, despite having just seen three black bears and a mountain lion. Nothing attacks our faces in the night, and we get up periodically to watch the billions of stars in the night sky.
Once I got service, about a half day’s walk from highway 200 and the 18 mile hitch into Lincoln, I was able to figure out that the smoke and fire were not coming from near the trail. Since it was getting late, and I didn’t want to get to town after the restaurants had closed, I laid out my sleeping bag in a cluster of low hanging trees to get shelter from the heavy wind. No tent that night, which helped me get up and do the 40 minute walk to the highway without having to do much to break camp.
I’ve had a great time on this section, but I’m definitely ready to take a day off in town. And although I enjoyed seeing others a lot, I think I’d like to get some solitude over the next week.