Helena and Deerlodge National Forests


The general route of the Continental Divide Trail through Montana and Idaho.

The thought of getting to town with all the restaurants closed was just too painful to fathom. Rather than try to hitch a ride on the highway at 8pm, I laid out my sleeping bag in a bush to get out of the wind and hoped no animals would harass me. None of the windbent, scrawny trees were ideal for a food hang, so I just hung my smellables from a branch and hoped for the best (no bears got past my shitty bear hang, success!).


Smoke from the fire near Lincoln.

The smoke had cleared up dramatically from the previous night and the wind had quieted. It was peaceful in the early morning as I worked my way down a series of switchbacks in the green tunnel to highway 200, my first paved road in eight days.

Seeing the cars whizz past at 70mph was a bit of a culture shock, and my heart was pounding as I stood by the asphalt with my thumb out. Best road to town, but a hard hitch, my guidebook advised. Hitching is kind of nerve wracking the first time, but after doing it a couple of times on a hike I think nothing of it. Statistically, I’m way more likely to get hit by a car than have an issue with a hitch.


After 35 minutes of standing by the highway I’m in the car of a retired geologist, whizzing down the highway 18 miles to Lincoln.


High on the divide.

Where East Glacier was touristy, Lincoln is redneck. And I mean that in the best way possible. Redneck beats touristy any day of the week. $8 gets you camping, wifi, and a hot shower at the RV park, and I get to journey to the trailer park for the town’s only laundromat.


“I OWN THIS PLACE AND IF YOU DON’T WANNA BE HOMELESS TONIGHT YOU BETTER KEEP YOUR CAT AWAY FROM HIM!” Trailer park entertainment came free with the laundromat, where I think if I touched anything I’d probably get tetanus.

I’d planned on leaving town early after a restful night in the quiet campground, but it’s not until noon when I hitch a ride back to Rogers Pass and the divide. I’m still able to do 17 miles by 7:40pm.


View from the trail.

It’s hot and dry on the continental divide above the treeline, but even in the green tunnel of the forest the trail has got its own special charm. It’s peaceful, and I’ll see at most one other person a day. The constant solitude and prospect of not seeing anybody for days on end was a little discomforting before getting on trail, but it’s now my favorite aspect of the CDT. I hate everyone ❤️


Water cache laid out for hikers.


Some road walking.

Once again I find myself standing by the highway early in the morning, pack on the ground and thumb out as cars zoom past me. Hitching already feels pretty natural at this point in my hike.


Not shown: how goddamn hot it is.

Basically my life right now is walking a marathon a day, trying not to get lost, sleeping in the dirt, and hitchhiking to and from small mountain towns. I’m fine with that.

After 25 minutes a car pulls over. Gonna give me a ride or…oh shit, government license plates. Wondering if I’m about to get ticketed for soliciting a ride, I walk up to the car.

“Heading to Helena? Hop in!” the federal prosecutor calls out, and I oblige.

“You’re on the right track. I used my 20s to do stuff like this, though I sailed the Pacific and rafted the Colorado rather than hike across the country,” he told me. “I went to law school in my 30s, and I have no regrets about taking time to do the things I wanted.” He then insisted on getting me a coffee before he headed over to the courthouse and dropped me off downtown. This was a nicer welcome than all the people who think I’m homeless and avert their eyes. Montanans are so friendly!

I head to the cafe my guidebook recommended to get a smoothie and wifi.

“You hiking the CDT?” another patron asks. I chat with him and his friend about the hike, and he gives me his number.

“If you want a ride back to the trail, just call me and my wife or I will take you back up,” he adds. No need to stand by the side of the highway and hitch!


In Helena I ran into Murphy and Movin’ On, two of the people I did the Bob Marshall Wilderness with.

Helena is spread out and, I think, the largest town I’ll visit on trail at 31k inhabitants. But it’s surprisingly pleasant, with pedestrian areas and lots of hipster cafes.

It’d be even better if there were a hostel or campground, but I’m not interested in getting a motel room so I call up the cafe dude and get whisked back to the CDT.


Back on trail! 


Glad this was here, definitely thought I was on the Appalachian Trail. Not sure why they put this in the middle of the woods far from the road. 

Somewhere in a jungle gym of blowdowns I get off trail and have to spend 20 minutes bushwacking back on. I take a wrong turn an hour later, getting my flashlight out since it’s now dark. I’d like to just camp, but I’m almost out of water and need to get to the stream just a mile away.


More road walks. 

Walking the dirt roads, I get the feeling that I’m being watched. I hear a branch break along with something moving about 100 yards or so behind me. I stop, and whatever is out there stops too. I walk some more and it picks back up, stopping when I do.

This happened once before, back in northern California on a stretch of trail with lots of reports of getting stalked by cougars. I take a deep breath, yell a lot, and just keep going. I set up my tent, hang my bear bag, and get to sleep by 11pm.


Morning on trail. 


Not as dramatic as Glacier, but still quite nice. 

It’s hard waking up the next morning after going to bed so late, but I’ve gotta make the miles so I don’t run out of food.

This section involves a lot of forest walking, which would be fine if it weren’t so goddamn hot and dry. The waterless stretches are up to 20 miles, for which I’ll carry 3.7 liters.


The road walk to Anaconda was mostly like this. 

Like almost all other hikers, I’m taking the Anaconda cutoff. Although the divide curves around towards Butte, it’s possible with 20 miles of highway walking to cut across west towards Idaho and rejoin the divide near the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. It saves four or five days, giving more time to take scenic detours in Wyoming and Colorado.


Filtering water from a cow trough with my pack and trekking poles in front. There was a jet of water from a pipe above the trough, so it wasn’t disgusting. 


Walking along the highway to Anaconda in the evening. 

One thought on “Helena and Deerlodge National Forests

  1. Pingback: Continental Divide Trail 2017 | The Connor Chronicles

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