Ten miles from Bannock Pass, where Sam from the Leadore Inn will take me into town at 10:30 tomorrow morning, I stop to camp with a northbounder. I’ve only seen a few so far, and I’ve seen even fewer southbounders apart, so I camp with him. Big mistake.
“Women are just naturally weak. You know what I mean?” That doesn’t even merit a response, especially considering that women have a higher completion rate of long-distance trails than men. I’m cowboy camping under the stars, hoping to get up before dawn and hike fast to get to the pass on time.
“I understand the meaning of the words you’re saying,” I respond.
“Have you ever packed up after setting up camp, just to go farther? Seems like it’d be a lot of work.” He adds. No, but I’m seriously considering it now! The campsite is slanted and uneven, and the company is less than stellar. But I’m tired and slink into my sleeping bag with my headnet on, hoping the mosquitoes will go away when it gets cold.
They kind of do, but I have trouble sleeping. Before long my alarm goes off, and I shove all my things into my pack and head off downhill towards the pass. I don’t see anyone except tons of cows, typical on the CDT. Get out of my way, cows! Sometimes I think the CDT stands for Cow Dung Trail.
I arrive at the pass an hour early, having done 10 miles by 9:20am. Not bad. Sam shows up in his pickup just on time, and takes me to town.
“Leadore used to have 104 people, like the sign says, but this winter some died. So it’s really 100 now,” he mentions as he shows me a 19th century Prince Edward Island coin he found in the area, with what I realize must be Queen Victoria on the front.
Sam seems to understand that I need to get something to eat before I can figure out where I’m staying. Life in Leadore seems pretty slow paced. It’s not much more than a collection of buildings on a lonely stretch of Idaho highway, but it’s charming in its own dusty, remote way.
“You can sit with us,” a couple guys in their 60s say after I ask the dual waitress-cook where I should plant myself in the crowded (and only) diner.
I’m getting used to the incredulous looks I get when I casually mention I’m taking five months to hike the continental divide from Canada to Mexico. They seem to get it, and mention they think it would’ve been fun to do that in their 20s.
“I’m telling you, you don’t wanna piss me off!” shouts the waitress, who is a 20 year older version of Pennsyltucky from Orange is the New Black. “I piss on the graves of my enemies. And I once bought the house of a woman who I hated just so I could evict her.”
I just wanted to pay. I eventually do, and take a shower in the RV park Sam owns in addition to the Inn. He lets me set up my tent in his yard, and I hang out on his porch while the locals come and chat the night away. They’re all into hunting, and know the mountains well. Not that we can see them now, with the smoke blocking it all out.
I meet a cool northbounder whose name I instantly forget. He’s worried about the fire closure I just came out of, but I can’t give him much help.
Sam gives me a ride back to the trail the next morning, and I follow a dirt road up and up and up. It’s so dry, and although it’d be annoying I wish for some rain. That’s better than getting blocked off by fire closures. I bushwack to a spring a five minutes off the trail, and push onward to an uneven semi-sheltered campsite in the few trees on the exposed divide.
The walk to Lima, 100 miles and four days, is pretty. I see no other hikers apart from a few northbound section hikers. Most of them are finishing up the trail after having gotten off last summer, opting to instead do the CDT over a more leisurely two seasons. I can totally see why. It’s kind of a crazy rush to Canada or Mt. Taylor in northern New Mexico before the first winter storms, much moreso than on the PCT and AT.
A northbound thru hiker tells me he’d picked up the water filter of two other southbounders, Sunshine and Killer, and was hoping I could give it to them in Lima, the next town stop.
“Uh, the math definitely doesn’t work out for me catching them, but maybe I can mail it to them?” I try to be helpful, but he’s not the brightest guy I’ve met and didn’t seem to realize that because he saw the couple 24 hours ago doesn’t necessarily mean they’re 24 hours ahead of me…I mean, it’s possible. But I highly doubt they stood in one place for 24 hours on trail. And if he walked for a day north and they walked south a day, that’s two days from our current point. I try to explain this and quickly realize from his glazed look that it’s not gonna work. Sometimes it’s better just to smile and nod.
Lima is a bit overwhelming with hordes of northbounders. This is the most hikers I’ve seen in a trail town on the CDT. This must be the “bubble,” the most concentrated mass of thru hikers. But there are only 15 or so in town at a time, with Mike doing a shuttle to and from the trail multiple times a day.
I camp with Dingo, a guy I met in Glacier and have seen off and on since then, and Baby. Baby is hiking with her Australian Shephard named Luna, who has already done the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails.
I send Sunshine and Killer their water filter, making it to the post office at Old Faithful in Yellowstone. I’ve never met either, but I’ve heard Killer is such a nice, sweet Canadian that a bunch of guys on the PCT thought it’d be funny to name her Killer.
The only other two southbounders (three if you include Luna) and I hop on the 2pm shuttle to the trail, after calling the Yellowstone backcountry office and arranging for camping permits. You can camp pretty much anywhere on trail, except in Glacier, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountains National Parks.
We don’t beat the afternoon thunderstorm, and end up huddled together for an hour with a strip of tyvek under a tree rather than walk in a thunderstorm on an exposed ridgeline (again). Luna runs between us, herding us and making sure we’re all sticking together. We camp together that night after 12 miles in a sheltered, warm expanse of forest with lots of campsites.
At dawn Luna starts patrolling our tents, telling us we’ve slept enough. She goes ballistic when I get out of my tent, running around and wanting to play. I leave camp shortly before the others, somehow immediately getting off trail and having to bushwack back on. This section is notorious for people inadvertently getting off trail. It’s easy to do on the CDT, and I can’t imagine how difficult this trail would be without a GPS on my phone that always tells me where I am and how to get back to trail.
I hike with the aforementioned others until we all get lost multiple times and consequently get separated, somehow passing each other constantly without seeing each other in the process. That’s the CDT.
We take the Mack’s Inn cutoff, which cuts across Island Park, Idaho to Yellowstone and involves some road walking but saves three or four days. More time for good weather in Colorado! The race against winter is full on.
“Stay on the north side of the ridge. There’s no trail, just do that or you’ll end up waist deep in beaver ponds and thorn bushes,” my maps say. It rains nonstop and it’s cold, the CDT once again standing for Constant Downpour Trail. But I keep on trucking, knowing that Island Park will be reached tomorrow morning.