Eclipse in the Winds

“It’s so cold!” Murphy calls with a laugh from her tent. I’m usually the first one to wake up and start hiking, but they’ll catch up with me pretty quickly.

Last night we’d crossed the Buffalo River to get to an amazing and spacious campsite. I’d left my socks to dry from the easy crossing on top of my tent.


Will it storm? Who knows. I sure don’t.

“My socks are frozen solid!” I call out, also laughing from how cold it is. Somebody with a thermometer later told me it was 24F/-4C that morning. Going through my pack I realize I’d left one of my liner socks on the other side of the river.

“Totally not worth it,” Murphy agrees when I say I really don’t want to cross the river there and back again to get it. Yay for my father’s Amazon Prime subscription! I’ll just have new socks mailed further down the trail.


Sometimes you just have to scramble on the trail.

We set off in the Teton Wilderness in the early dawn light, taking off layers as I climb and warm up from the movement. Getting up is always so hard when it’s cold and my 10F/-12C sleeping bag is so toasty, but within a few minutes of walking I’m usually fine. It’s just difficult to get to that point!

There’s only 15 miles/25 km from our campsite to the highway, where we’ll hitch into Dubois, but there’s no rush. There’s no way we’re doing the 37 mile hitch to Dubois before or during the eclipse.


I got some eclipse glasses in Grant Village, Yellowstone National Park. Didn’t want to start off Wyoming by going blind.


There’s a bit of dirt road walking towards the highway before cutting across a field with a barely discernable trail, which abruptly drops me off at US 26. There’s a lot of traffic in both directions and although the cars are going pretty fast, I get picked up by the second car.


Shortly before totality. The stars came out, the birds stopped chirping, and for two minutes it was totally dark. To the north and south we could see light on the horizon. I later heard it dropped 17F/8C degrees during the eclipse.

A Parisian and his boyfriend on a cross-America road trip drop me off in Dubois, and I immediately head to the Episcopalian church to reserve a spot…just to find out that at 3pm I’m the first one of the day. They let hikers and bikers sleep on the floor, which is nice considering the Super 8 Motel is $1000 a night, two night minimum, due to the eclipse.

Dubois has about 1800 people in the summer, and it’s not as packed as I thought it would be post-eclipse. Some woman at the Cowboy Cafe thinks I’m an employee, which sends some northbounders into a fit.


They had tea and popcorn at the Dubois church! I was so in heaven.


“Your shorts cut off mid-thigh, your beard is insane, and there are streaks of dirt all over your face. Of course you’re a waiter here,” a hiker says once the woman has disappeared.

The church is awesome, and Dubois has everything a hiker would need. Some coffee shops are an excellent bonus, and the laundromat has pay showers inside. I ask a cyclist from the church if he wants to split a washing machine since we both have so few clothes, and he looks at me as if I’d asked if he wanted to shower together. The cyclists are weird, and come across like princesses compared to the hikers. Motown, who remembers me from the PCT in Kennedy Meadows (I honestly have no recollection of her), asks if I want to split a dryer with her and her boyfriend.

Hitching inside the city limits of Dubois is illegal, but the point is rendered moot when some weird guy in his 80s asks if I want a ride back up to Togwotee Pass. He keeps offering to take me to random other places along the trail to cut off a day or so, and I have to tell him four times to just drop me off where he said he would. Like I would accept a ride from a stranger onto a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

I give him $10 for gas (it’s a long drive) and wait until he’s gone before I set off so he doesn’t know which direction I’m going. Never tell strangers the exact route you’re taking, and never tell them where you’re spending the night.


The Winds are pretty spectacular.


There’s a 17 mile detour to Elkhart Trailhead, where you can hitch 15 miles into Pinedale. Everyone loves Pinedale, I’m fairly fast, and there’s no way in hell I’m doing a 180 mile stretch after all the northbounders shared their stories of running out of food.


I saw nobody for hours along this route.


Getting a ride into Pinedale is easy. There’s very little traffic at 9am, but the second car stops and a trio of South Dakotans make room for me. The Episcopalian church in Pinedale lets hikers sleep on the floor and use the kitchen, and there are three other hikers already there when I arrive.


Another shot of the Winds in the Bridger Wilderness.


One is a northbounder, which is strange because there’s no way he can reach Canada before winter. As a southbounder I have to reach New Mexico before the snow starts, but I have many fewer miles and a good deal more time than somebody trying to reach the Great White North. So it’s no surprise when he’s cagey about what he’s actually hiked, and I get the impression he’s just taking advantage of the hospitality of the church. The other two southbounders I haven’t seen before, but they started 12 days before me and took a different route. They also seem to be taking multiple days off in town, which is quite atypical with the tight weather window on a CDT hike. There’s just something off about the others, and it’s further compounded when they stay up late watching TV. I’ve never seen thru hikers be able to stay up past 9pm, also known as hiker midnight. I go upstairs, find a quiet corner, and try to sleep.


Around the end of the more spectacular parts of the range.


I can’t hear the television, but I still can’t sleep. Having trouble sleeping in towns was a common problem I remember in myself and others on the PCT. It’s just hard to sleep without the cold breeze, and my one night each in Dubois and Pinedale are the first times in over 6 weeks I’ve slept inside. It’s definitely an adjustment.


Near the northern boundary of the Bridger Wilderness at the Green River Lakes Trailhead.

I make a “CDT HIKER TO ELKHART” sign and stand by the side of the road with my thumb out. Within two minutes I’m in the car of a local, not much older than me, who’s on her way to do some hiking. It’s a Sunday morning in August, and it seems like everyone else in the northern Rockies is of a similar mindset.

“Little late for a southbounder, aren’t you?” is a familiar refrain that I hear fairly frequently from old white dudes who apparently have nothing better to do than strongly suggest I’m going to die in the snow in Colorado. This is part of why I avoid humans on trail.

“The others all came through a month ago,” I hear from one hiker. “September is a terrible month to hike in Colorado. The snow was nearly vertical when I was there in July, I normally do 25-30 miles a day and could barely manage 11! Plus, you know what happened to Otter when he went through late season.”

Here’s my response to this bullshit:

  1. Not even Anish, who holds the fastest unsupported records for most of America’s long distance trails, had been through here a month ago. I pay great attention to where everyone is, and I’m in the middle of the pack of southbounders that aren’t yellow blazing (a reference to following the yellow blazes on the road by hitching, rather than the blazes on the trail).
  2. In a typical year, September is the best month for hiking in Colorado. The monsoon season is over, but the snow and cold hasn’t started yet. October starts to get iffy, but I should be in New Mexico by that time.
  3. Doing 11 miles a day in Colorado in July is a little ridiculous, considering the snow has largely melted by then.
  4. If it takes you four months to reach the halfway point and it takes me two months, then we’re going at very different speeds. Your times are not likely indicative of what mine will be.
  5. It’s true that a hiker with the trail name Otter doing a section of the CDT died in southern Colorado, with his body being found by a northbounder the following season. But he was hiking in November, two months after I’ll be in Colorado.
  6. If winter comes early this year, there are lower routes I can take.

It normally rained lightly in the afternoon.

One guy near a trailhead (I try to just hike fast through these, I hate everyone) asks me where I’m from. “You Ohioans are always coming out here and don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into-” I ignore him and just pet his dog as he goes into the “aren’t you a little late for a southbounder?” tirade. I like his dog but not him, and cut him off to brusquely tell him bye halfway through. Who the hell says that? No wonder your wife left you last year (I’m also not sure how that was relevant to the conversation or how it came up). And how many Ohioans can be coming out here in the middle of nowhere in the least populated state in the country?


My maps said the detour to Pinedale wasn’t very scenic, but I have to disagree.

Although the Winds were visually stunning, I was glad to get out and enter the rolling, dry desert prairie of the Great Basin. Maybe I’m becoming too much of a misanthrope, but on the PCT I got to the point where I just avoided anyone who wasn’t a thru hiker. And I think that’s happening again on the CDT.


The start of the Bridger Wilderness is at the lakes.


When I finish the cross country bushwack, still soaked from the storm, I emerge onto a gravel road that descends somewhat steeply to the east. The rain has thankfully stopped and there’s enough sunlight for me to walk another 80 minutes, setting up camp just off the road.

August 14th – 7.5 miles

It rains hard most of the night. Usually I try to be on the trail by 6:30am, just as the sun lights up the mountains, but today I wait until 8am to take down camp. The rain just doesn’t stop until then, and being just a couple hours’ walk from Sawtelle Resort I don’t really see the need to put myself through a cold, torrential downpour.

Yesterday evening I could see all the way down the valley where I’m headed, but this morning everything is shrouded in a low-hanging, pervasive white mist. The sun isn’t visible, but I just plug in my headphones to my phone and listen to some music to help pass the road walk. I think most hikers hitch the road walks on the CDT, and hike your own hike, but I want continuous footsteps all the way from Canada to Mexico.


Road walks aren’t that bad on the CDT. 

I’m surprised that my commitment to continuous footsteps hasn’t faltered out here, especially as the rain comes back. It’s pelting hard against my raincoat as my numb, wet hands cling to my trekking poles.

It feels like an eternity before I get to Sawtelle Resort, which is just a hotel, campground, small grocery store, and a few restaurants on the side of a busy Idaho highway. If this weren’t a short walk to town kind of day, I don’t know if I could’ve motivated myself to hike through that hell.

Subway is the only thing open at 10am. Dropping my pack off in the shelter of the covered awning in front of the restaurant, I plug my portable battery into the wall and survey the breakfast menu. It seems kind of weird to get a sub for breakfast, but I order a massive beef-egg-pepperjack cheese-lettuce-spinach-tomato-mayonnaise-chipotle sandwich. My hands are still so numb that I have trouble getting my credit card out of my card-money-charger bag, but the cashier is patient. Which might be because I’m dripping wet and the only person there.


I’m walking through Yellowstone. 

In the bathroom I run my hands under warm water until I can mostly bend my fingers again. It’s hard not to marvel at what a luxury it is to have hot water on command! And electric lights! I take a few moments to put my face under the hand dryer, basking in the warmth. I’m getting so feral out here.

I’ve heard that some of the most intense feelings of happiness and contentment come from deprivation, and as I get the mayonnaise and chipotle sauce all over my ridiculously thick hiker beard I feel that I can vouch for its veracity.

While I eat, I read this amazing fundamentalist Bible tract in Subway called Flight 144. An elderly couple sit next to a murderer on the plane. The plane crashes and everyone dies. The couple spent 50 years helping people in Africa but didn’t try to convert anyone, so they burn in hell. The murderer converted his cellmate to Jesus so he goes to heaven. Beautiful.

I buy food for the next stretch, just 36 miles to Old Faithful, and set off. Mack’s Inn is just a couple miles down the road, and thankfully there’s a dirt road paralleling the highway so I don’t have to deal with walking next to cars.

It looks like it’s going to storm again that evening, so rather than hike on and stealth camp in the woods I opt to stay at the forest service campground. $15 seems pricey for one night of camping, but it’s better than the $42 at the RV park across the street.

August 15th – 26 miles

The storm didn’t materialize, for which I am quite thankful, and I pack up camp to get breakfast and coffee at the gas station before heading out. I take my time eating my microwave breakfast burrito and drinking my machine French vanilla cappuccino, while I purchase on my kindle a new book by one of my favorite authors. Most of my hiking breaks are spent reading, if I have time after filtering water.

The sky is clear and it’s an easy walk along empty dirt roads toward Yellowstone and the Wyoming border. It soon gets hot. The temperature swings from night to day are often around 40F, and I’m definitely feeling it. Each morning I don’t want to get out of my warm sleeping bag into the 25F cold, but once I get walking I usually start stripping off layers within an hour.


At last! The border is actually crossed just inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. 

There are these annoying mounds of dirt with pits hidden behind them in parts of the dirt road, which I’ve heard were put there because the forest service wanted to close the road. But I’m not sure why they were necessary for over a quarter mile, one after the other every 10 meters. They’re easy to walk around, though, and soon enough I’m filtering water at a spring hidden off trail.


“An arrow points the way to the spring, which is not visible from the trail,” my maps say. 

I just need enough to last me…15 miles?! I must’ve miscalculated the distance last night while looking at my maps. I definitely thought it was shorter to Summit Lake, my assigned campsite for the night in Yellowstone. No breaks in my 26 miles today!

Storm clouds are threatening in the distance, and within a couple hours it starts to rain. Not heavily, but enough that it’s kind of annoying and I don’t want to stop and talk to the northbounders I meet. Plus, night is fast approaching. I know there’s no invisible bear barrier I’m breaching upon crossing into Yellowstone, but my bearanoia goes up all the same. I rush to Summit Lake, trying to outrun night and the dark clouds to my west.

I make it just before sunset whereupon I set up my tent next to the three others already there and asleep, hang my bear bag, and crawl into my sleeping bag.

August 16 – 14.5 miles

There are creatures outside my tent! I think as I grab my bear spray, heart going a thousand beats a minute. Then I remember I’m camping with strangers in Yellowstone and relax. It’s 5am, the sun still an hour away. Early even for hikers. Weirdos, I think, and fall back asleep.

I next awake to a panic from the smell of smoke. These kind souls, section hikers that I probably woke up last night with my arrival, have made a fire! I take down my wet tent in stages, stopping periodically to warm my hands next to the fire.

“Jesus, do you not breathe at night?” a northbounder asks me as she comes out from around the bush, brushing her teeth. “How the hell do you keep your tent free of condensation?”


Welcome to Yellowstone. 

The humans are onto me! Most thru hiker conversations are about something like gear, weather, route options, and resupply strategies.


On the way to Old Faithful. Literally nobody was here because it’s more than a 30 second walk from the road. 

It’s an easy ten miles to Old Filthy, which is just as chaotic and overwhelming as I remember from my four summers working in the park. While looking for a spot to cross a stream without getting my feet wet I fall into a mud pit, and just walk through to the other side. Screw the log bridge.

It’s weird walking amongst the clean tourists, who avert their gaze and pretend I don’t exist. Did I ever really look that clean?

My first port of call is the Old Faithful Post Office. I’m reading the CDT hiker notices, which definitely weren’t there when I worked in Yellowstone. The trail seems to be gaining in popularity, as much as a 3000 mile five month trek through remote backcountry grizzly bear areas can be popular.

Then Murphy and Movin’ On appear! We have a happy reunion, not having seen each other since Helena. By coincidence we’re all sharing a campsite tonight an hour and a half walk south of OF.


I have no idea why this ice cream was so massive. But I’m not complaining. 

The OF backcountry office prints off our permits, which they’d emailed to us a week prior, and let us drop off our packs while we eat massive amounts of ice cream and watch Old Faithful go off numerous times.

There’s another CDT hiker, 5 Cup, and his Swedish friend visiting him. She’s surprised to find that I’ve hiked the Kungsleden trail in Arctic Sweden, and I’m surprised to find an amazing campfire that she’s kept running all afternoon. The five of us stay up until dark talking around the fire, and it’s a wonderful moment.

August 17 – 19.7 miles

Murphy and Movin’ On have backcountry permit issues, having been assigned a campsite that’s much farther than they were told. Not wanting to night hike in a part of the park notorious for grizzlies, they join me on my trek to the South Entrance Road and a hitch to Grant Village.


Murphy fell into a mud pit, and luckily we eventually got her trekking pole out of it. 

Most hikers skip Grant because it’s only a day more to Old Faithful, which doesn’t need a hitch, but I’ve spent four of the best summers of my life there and want to go back for the first time in four years. Just to walk around and see it one more time.


Crossing a stream. 


The Shoshone Geyser Basin is really cool, and fairly far from the road. 

We barely stick out our thumbs before we have a ride to Grant, from a Chinese couple and their young son on a road trip through the American west. They’re a bit shocked when I chat with them in mandarin, and also when Movin’ On mentions her daughter married a Chinese man and lives in China with her granddaughter.

“Are you serious? That’s my family’s hometown!” weird coincidence, not the biggest town.

I thought it would be weird being back, but it’s not. The weird part is walking around and the employees not recognizing me, and not seeing familiar faces. But I’m hanging out and hiking in the park with friends, which is the whole spirit of my four summers here. So it feels right.

The Grant campground has spots reserved for CDT hikers, and they charge the three of us just $13.20 in total for an entire group campsite to ourselves. It’s nice, and we fall asleep after chatting.

August 18 – 12.5 miles

When the backcountry permit office opens, the three of us go to get the campsite assignments worked out.

“The campsite is almost full, but we can squeeze you into Connor’s,” one of the rangers says. After chatting I realize they’re the same ones as from when I worked here, which makes sense considering they say they’ve been doing this job together for 28 years. The way they bicker they must be married, and we surreptitiously notice they have the same surname on their name tags.


Hitching out of Grant. 

Our hitch back to the trail is almost as easy as the first, and since it’s a short day (other campsites we wanted weren’t available), we take it easy.


Back in front of the Grant Village Restaurant. The employee dining room, where I ate 12 months of meals, is next door. 

The “full” campsite has just us, and with all the grizzly markings on the trees everywhere, the two grizzlies we see near Heart Lake, and the news that nearby campsites are closed from nocturnal grizzly visits we set up our tents clustered together. It just feels safer that way.

August 19 – 23 miles

It’s 35F in the morning when we have to cross multiple streams, our feet cold and wet. It’s almost painful how cold it is with wet feet, but eventually it gets better.


A dry crossing on a log. 

We see a few northbounders and eventually leave the park, entering the Teton Wilderness (not Grand Tetons National Park).


Looks a lot like the Bob. 


Looking back at Heart Lake in Yellowstone. 


Hanging my bear bag for the night. 


Our three tents at Two Ocean Pass. 

On our way up to Two Ocean Pass we see more bear scat in an hour than we would in a day in the Bob. It’s a little disconcerting, and I rush to catch up with them. We mutually decide to camp high on the pass, and definitely think it’s a good idea when we see other tents. Not alone tonight!

August 20 – 26.5 miles

It’s a beautiful, easy walk alongside streams to the Buffalo River. We cross the frigid water and set up camp.


Just trucking along. 

Although the campsite is large, we set up in a tight formation and talk until we fall asleep. Tomorrow is the eclipse!

Leadore to Mack’s Inn

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.

Lots of fence hopping, but there are usually these useful ladders. I was trying to flee a storm in the distance, the usual afternoon Rocky Mountains summer activity. 

“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.

It was kind of hard getting a photo of Leadore, but here it is. Population 100.

“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.

Sam from the Leadore Inn drives hikers to and from the trail, if you call him a day or so before you get to the pass (no cell service on the trail where it crosses the dirt road to Leadore). He also accepts packages for hikers, lets you camp in his lawn, use his wifi, and provides laundry and a shower. 

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 divide is beautiful, but absolutely terrifying during thunderstorms. 

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.

Should probably find a campsite soon, but it can be hard to find a sheltered spot. 


I took this panorama during a particularly powerful storm. I ran back into a couple of retired section hikers here who reminded me that I’d got my wish for rain! I just kept walking, and after an hour or so it died down. 

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.


I met Endless on the PCT. He’s really nice, and has one of the thickest Massachusetts accents I’ve ever heard. We ran into each other during stormageddon, when we got caught on an 8 mile stretch of trail on an exposed ridgeline during a thunderstorm. Not fun. I tried to bail off the divide and cut cross country to the interstate, but the brush was too heavy and I figured it was best to just stay on trail. 


Walking on a side road paralleling the interstate. Mike from the Mountain View Motel will pick you up from the interstate and drive you to Lima, MT. It’s basically just a rest stop with a gas station, Mike’s motel and RV park, and a greasy spoon known as Jan’s Cafe. 

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.


Medicare Pastor, at 76 years old, is 180 miles from finishing her 15 year section hikes of the triple crown trails and being the oldest to do so. She said she needed something to do in her retirement, and I’ve met dozens of other retirees who’ve said the same thing. 


I ordered new shoes sent to Lima from Amazon. I generally get about 700 miles out of my Altra Lone Peak 3s, the most popular shoes in the long-distance hiking community. 

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.


Dingo (L) , Baby (R), and Baby’s dog Luna. 


Luna has her own pack, and a raincoat. She doesn’t like either very much. 

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.


Bridge over a stream. Like many others, I got really off trail near here and had to bushwack a mile to get back on (being stung by a wasp along the way). 

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.


This lake was popular with day hikers and weekenders. Which we usually don’t see because the CDT is so remote. 

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.

Idaho! Plus wildfires

Story of the CDT: I’d planned to be at the highway to hitch into Darby, MT in the evening, but it didn’t work out that way. I was tired, it was getting late, and I decided to just camp four miles (about an hour and 20 minutes) from the road and hitch into town in the morning.

I follow the Idaho/Montana border to Wyoming.

Near where you can hitch into Darby.

How long am I gonna have to wait? I impatiently wondered, thumb out, while smiling at potential rides from the side of a not-terribly-busy highway.

Seven minutes, and then I had a ride. Hitching is such a crapshoot when it comes to waiting time.

“I can only take ya 13 miles to the turnoff to the hot springs,” he said, which didn’t bother me. I’d heard it could routinely take three hitches to get into town.

“My wife does a lot of maintenance of the trail! She and I are looking forward to soaking in the thermal pools.” He noticed I’d been looking around the empty truck for her, confused.

“She’s in the car behind us,” he noted. Does she exist? Is he insane? I decided I didn’t care as long as I got to where I was going in one piece.

After he dropped me off I walked 10 minutes down the road for a better hitching spot. 45 minutes later I gave up, walking down the road with my thumb out to a further spot that looked like a better place to solicit a ride. Winter is coming, I could be eating a burger right now, I’m never going to get a ride, my dehydrated mind kept insisting.

One step before getting to the better hitch spot a car pulled over.

“I’ve got a concealed carry. Want a ride to Darby?” asked the Alaskan wedding planner, aka my savior.


The sunset as viewed from the campground in Darby with smoke from fires.

She was fun to talk to for the 40 minute ride to Darby, which isn’t that close to trail. If I could do this over again, I would’ve just sent a package to the Sula gas station. Much shorter hitch.

Darby is a nice one street town.

“We had a 14 person group stay four nights. I hate to say this, but it’s nice to just have one hiker tonight,” the campground owner told me. Shower, laundry, camping, and wifi was $14 altogether. Not bad.

I bought food at the Family Dollar, getting such novelties as tropical sour patch kids (disgusting) and other foodstuffs (is it really food?) that other stores (probably wisely) don’t want.

The first part of the trail was on a forest service road.

Hitching back up to the trail took over an hour of waiting and two rides, but eventually I’d made it back home.

The fire was pretty small, but close to the trail.

Soon planes and helicopters were flying right over my head, dumping retardant on the fire. The smoke began to block any visibility of the surrounding hills, and as night approached I could see individual trees light up as they became engulfed in flames. So I camped in an uncomfortable spot by a log, laying out my sleeping bag.

Not the most comfortable night, waking up to some rodent crawling on me a few times. This is nuts, I’m out of here. Better to do a 90 mile road walk than asphyxiate, I reasoned. After 20 minutes, though, I turned around. I could get to a forest service road, near the fire, and talk to the fire crew. And walk off the trail if need be, shortening the road walk by a day.

A northbounder who’d camped the previous night with the fire crew said everything was fine, so I booked it and got through. Within an hour I could barely even tell there was a fire. Some other hikers, just out for a bit, said the forest service was telling people to evacuate. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Fire truck! 


It was hard to get info on the fire because neither state nor national Forest was wanting to claim responsibility, since it was on the border. 

Idaho, or at least the border it shares with Montana along the continental divide, is spectacular. Lots of water in some places, though when the divide goes high it can be quite dry. I’d been having an upset stomach, though nothing too bad, and it began to get better every day. That’s why I always carry imodium with me on all my backpacking and foreign trips! Food poisoning in Bolivia at 11k feet is not fun. At all.


Camping next to the ruins of a cabin was weird, but it was a great campsite.


The view from the campsite.

There’s a helicopter above the trail, but it doesn’t seem to notice me. If it does then it doesn’t care, and I make it through without incident. I don’t see a single other person post-fire, which isn’t that strange because there’s hardly anybody on the CDT.


Right after I saw the helicopter. Note the blue skies and lack of smoke.


Seeing this gave me a heart attack until I read the fine print.


Idaho is gorgeous.


Descending into the next valley.

The morning after the fire I notice some smoke when I eat breakfast by a stream, but I’m more focused on some GI issues (which end up resolving quickly). An hour later, when the trail crosses a deserted forest service road, I notice a neon orange sign. CDT CLOSED. My heart goes a thousand beats a minute until I realize I’ve just completed the closed section. They closed it while I was on it. And the next section seems open. That means I’m good, right? I plow on, meeting a few people out for the weekend.


Closure order.


Looking out from the continental divide.


Still some snow!


Back in the forest.

There’s a tough 19.5 mile water carry, difficult mainly because it’s the end of the day, I’m tired, my back is sore, the trail is just loose rock that I stumble on every other step, and water is heavy. I can just envision my brother Kevin telling me the same thing he always does whenever I complain about anything: stop being such a whiny little bitch. My brothers are full of such sage advice.


I camped here on the 19.5 mile water carry.


Descending to Lemhi Pass, which Lewis and Clark visited.


Bannock Pass, where Sam from the Leadore Inn met me and gave me a ride to town.

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

Big Sky RV Park is awesome! I’d read on the CDT southbound Facebook group, where the more up to date trail info is posted (and moderated by some crazy Jesus wacko). $18 for camping and shower, they also have a laundromat.

Downtown Anaconda.

Downtown Anaconda has been restored and preserved to look as it did around 1900.

Well, I can stay the night and decide in the morning what I’ll do next. Rest or keep going? I thought to myself. The siren call of clean clothes and feet proved too strong to resist, and I spent two nights at the RV park. After paying a couple visits to the pizzeria and eating a massive amount of food, of course. My hiker hunger hasn’t fully set in yet…but I think it’s coming.


Spotted this walking around town. 

In a perfect world, I’d hang out in town until 5pm and then hike off into the sunset. Technically the sun doesn’t set here until 10pm, but in New Mexico in November I think that’ll be more apt. Sleeping in the woods is just more relaxing, but it’s 15 miles from here before camping is a viable option.

What the hell, I’ll just zero here. Winter is coming, but I’m making good time.

The barista at the cozy coffee shop on the main street definitely thinks I’m a hobo, and I don’t blame her. The last time I trimmed my beard and cut my hair was a couple months ago in the Peruvian Amazon. She seems relieved when I pay with cash and don’t start yelling about being possessed by evil government spirits (witnessed that on the PCT in Ashland, Oregon).


Walking on the highway out of Anaconda. 

Anaconda is long and narrow, but all the places I need to visit are within a half hour walk of the RV park. It’s a pleasant place to take a day off, walking around town getting errands taken care of and watching the new Game of Thrones episode at the library. There’s no shortage of local diners where everyone seems to be a local and the waitress asks, “What can I get for you, sweetie?”


When possible, I took side roads paralleling the highway so as to avoid traffic. 

The locals think it’s obvious from my accent that I’m not from here, and a lot of them (plus a lot of people from north of the border) ask if I’m Canadian. Calgary is called “the city” in northern Montana, and I’ve heard that further south that title will go to Salt Lake.

The owner of the RV park is super friendly, showing me how to lock up the office so I can use the laundry machines after he goes home for the night. While waiting for my clothes I befriend a retired second grade teacher from Wisconsin who’s on her annual summer road trip with her husband, and she seems amazed that I’m walking across the country (even more when I mention that it’s my second time doing so).


The divide is somewhere around here. The trail doesn’t always follow it exactly, but it’s usually very close. 

In the morning, fully rested and semi-clean, I set off on the 10 mile road walk out of town. It’s a mile to the grocery store, where I stock up on victuals, and another 15 minutes to the gas station at the edge of Anaconda.

Arming myself with some snacks and a cup of Mountain Dew, since I remember my father saying that has the highest sugar and caffeine content of just about anything out there, I lay out my provisions on the sidewalk in front of the gas station.


Taking refuge from the rain, with my feet helping me stay on a semi-steep slope. The day before I stood under the shelter of some branches during a severe albeit brief hailstorm and stayed dry. 

100 miles to the Idaho border and my next town stop…will this be enough? The eternal question. It’s so hard to gauge how much food I’ll need on each section.

There aren’t any customers inside, so the cashier comes out to chat and ask about the hike. She wishes me well when a car pulls up and a couple guys file inside, and I head off on the highway.


Looking off at some storm clouds. 

Like on the road walk into town, multiple locals pull over to make sure I’m doing okay and that I have enough water. Montanans are so friendly!

It starts to storm when I pull off the highway and onto a dirt road, but I’m just so happy to be off the pavement and back in the woods that I couldn’t care less.


A trail marker.


The trail was really well maintained in this section. 

I camp by picturesque Storm Lake right after the storm, which seems appropriate. 25 miles in less than 11 hours, not bad. I crawl into my warm, dry sleeping bag just as the rain picks back up, falling asleep to the rhythmic drops falling against my tent.

I wake up at night hearing an animal running around. I think I hear voices yelling at it to shoo, and I bolt upright. Something is in my food, which I hung from a nearby tree! After a few seconds I realize the sounds are coming from the opposite direction of my bear hang, and I go back to sleep. Not my problem.


Lots of water in the mountains here. 


The wildflowers were in bloom at the higher elevations.

It’s cold and wet in the morning, and I have trouble motivating myself to leave the dry warmth of my down sleeping bag. Eventually I do so, and fill out a registration form for the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. Never done that before, but there’s no CDT permit like there is for the AT and PCT, so I decide to play it safe. And there’s a big registration desk in the middle of nowhere, so maybe it’s important.


I camped at this lake. You can see the ripples of the raindrops in the water. 


At least it wasn’t too hot and sunny! 

Entry location? Canada, I scrawl. Exit? Mexico. Where will you camp each night? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ How long will you spend here? As long as it takes.

Who knows if anybody will actually read that. I hope so.

The Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is amazing, hopping between alpine passes above the treeline with lush, lake strewn valleys in between. The trail is well maintained, and I cruise on the soft dirt beneath my feet. Every night I camp by a picturesque lake with snowcapped mountains looming above me.


High ridgelines. 

I see few other hikers here, and even go 41 hours without seeing another human. It’s surprisingly not strange to wake up and go to bed without seeing another person, maybe because there are so few people on this trail and I’m used to the solitude. I love feeling like I have the woods to myself, but it’s also nice running back into Vanne. A 60 year old section hiker from the area, I met her previously in Helena National Forest and I enjoy talking to her for an hour.


Morning on the CDT. 

On my last full day on the trail before getting to the highway and the Idaho border, I stop as a small black bear runs 30 feet in front of me. We stare at each other in mutual shock for a split second before he bolts off. A few minutes prior I’d been wishing I had a coffee, but that episode does the trick of waking me up! I haven’t even left Montana yet and I’ve already seen five black bears and a grizzly since Glacier.

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. 

The Bob

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.

Waiting for a train to pass at Marias Pass, the last time we see motor vehicles from the trail for quite a while.

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.

The Chinese Wall, one of the highlights of the Bob.

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.

We had great weather in the Bob, with only a few storms.

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.

Hanging my food so the animals can’t get it.

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.”

A rare trail sign.

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.

Heading up the divide.

“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.

Murphy and Dingo chatting after we cowboy camped.

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.

We spent so much time walking along rivers in the Bob.

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.

Cruising along.

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.

A clear day on the divide, walking above everything.

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. 

View in the morning from one of our campsites. It was somewhat chilly at night, since we were around 7200 feet.

Posing for a photo at Benchmark Wilderness Ranch, where we walked to from the trail along an unpaved, little-trafficked road. 

The packages were kept in the locked box to prevent bears and other animals from getting into them.

The porch was where the packages were kept, and I definitely took advantage of the shade there to take a siesta.

Dingo walking back to the trail along the road from Benchmark.

Lots of wide open spaces on the CDT.

I descended from the divide to get water and take a break here. The wind up above was pretty intense.

Seeing the sun, the little red dot in the upper part of the photo, blocked out by smoke was a little concerning.

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.

Glacier National Park

My second day on trail the sun and birdsongs had me awake by 5am. With only 16 miles to my next campsite (in the national park you can only camp in certain campsites, which you must reserve beforehand), I spent a few hours chatting with the other long distance hikers before finally hitting the trail.

Stoney Indian Pass. 

Stoney Indian Pass, which the rangers told me needed ice axe and crampons, was kind of a joke. There were small patches of snow that were easily navigable, and no big deal at all.

The quality of trail was pretty hit and miss. In some places it was overgrown by brush, which scratched up my bare legs, but above the treeline it was perfect.

Overgrown trail.

Glacier National Park seems to be incredible vistas with miles of dull forest trail in between.

On the PCT, a much more frequented trail, I would run into other thru hikers every couple of hours near the Mexican border. Nobody but thru hikers is out hiking the SoCal desert under the relentless sun and border patrol copters April through June. In contrast, Glacier seems to mainly be the thoroughfare of couples and groups of friends out for a hike of anywhere from one night to a week.

Walking along the lakeshore.

The second day on trail was phenomenal, and I was just so happy to be back on a long walk. The third day I began to have some doubts. Would I be able to make it to warmer New Mexico before winter hit? Would I be alone for the next five months? Could I get over Piegan Pass without falling hundreds of feet down snowy slopes?

Another spectacular vista in the park.

It’s hard to get 5 months off to just go hiking, and since all the stars had aligned for me to do the CDT this summer I decided I might as well enjoy it whether or not I was solo for the whole time. The fourth day, shortly after realizing I was fine going months without seeing others, I ran into my first thru hiker. Because of full campsites, his Glacier permit had him hiking north through the park and then hitching back to the south to continue his southbound hike of the continental divide.

There are tons of different route options on the CDT, and this was a more scenic path I opted to take.

“There are two women going to Mexico just ahead of you!” he told me, and which I heard multiple times a day thereafter.

Upon reaching East Glacier, my first town stop, I was ready to take a break. My feet and legs were killing me after going up to 25 miles a day, so I opted to stay a day and a half in town to rest up. Brownies, the main hiker hostel, had and was everything: laundromat, cafe, pizzeria, restaurant, hostel, hotel, and grocery store. I love it when I can just hang out on the front porch of a place in a small town, eat, and just people watch!

Perfect time for wildflowers at the higher elevations.

My fears of being lonely on this trail came to naught, for there were 11 thru hikers in town at the same time as me. There are probably close to 20 more within a week ahead of us, and more behind.

Walking by the road to the Many Glacier Campground, where I spent a night. There was a restaurant run by my old Yellowstone employer there, and I was able to resupply, eat dinner, and have breakfast before getting back on trail. Although most of my nights were spent in backcountry campgrounds far from the road, I spent two nights in developed car campgrounds.

I finally got to meet the two women a half day in front of me that I’d heard so much about, Murphy and Movin’ On. They met on the Appalachian Trail and did 900 miles of the PCT before bailing because of snow. Movin’ On is a grandmother, and Murphy used to be a third grade teacher. They’re both pretty cool. 

Just trudging along. My feet were killing me at the end of each day.

I got dinner in town with a woman I worked with at Yellowstone who’s now a backcountry ranger in Glacier, after which I got to hang out with hikers I know from the PCT who are out on this trail this summer. 

Hardly any snow left because it’s been so hot lately, up to 90F/32C every afternoon! When I got to the East Glacier post office the postmistress took one look at my ice axe and crampons before saying, “Honey, I’ve shipped my fair share of these things over the years. Just hand them to me and I’ll get them to Ohio for you.” I definitely looked crazy walking around town with an axe. 

CDT: The Beginning

CDT start photo at the Canadian border!

The Pacific Crest Trail Association provides thru hikers with a single, free permit that allows camping almost anywhere along the 2660 mile route. The Continental Divide Trail has no analogous arrangement, although camping permits are only needed in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park.

My father, in his infinite greatness, drove me 2000 miles from Ohio to Glacier, after first driving to and from Vermont for my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah.

Planning to start in Glacier and head south from the Canadian border to Mexico, I arrived at the St. Mary backcountry office. At 6:50am, 10 minutes before opening, there was already a line of backpackers hoping to get camping permits, 50% of which are kept for walk-ins. I was number 19.

The route of the CDT in Montana.

“We want to do a part of the CDT,” a group of four guys in front of me told the ranger.

“Sure, we can get you the last one from Chief Mountain Pass on the low route,” she replied. Fantasizing about throwing them all into a volcano for getting the last permits and messing up my plans, I tried not to scream as they told the ranger they had plenty of snow and ice experience….from Michigan. There aren’t any f@#king high elevation passes in Michigan, let alone mountains!

“Uh, I’m not sure I should give you guys this permit,” she replied slowly. I don’t know how the rest of this trainwreck unfolded because the other ranger at the desk motioned for me to come forward.

It’s generally a good idea to hang your food so bears can’t get it. In the park, Glacier provides bear hang poles.

Most of the people in front of me (which was everyone, since I was last) asked the rangers to make them an itinerary, which is difficult when they provide no further input. I sympathize with the rangers, since I too would be hesitant to give a backcountry permit to people of unknown abilities who obviously have no interest in planning ahead. They were banished to the corner to look at the map with campsite availabilities and then come back.

The backcountry rangers in American national parks are usually phenomenal, and after a few minutes of chatting about trail conditions I had permits to do a slightly nontraditional route starting from Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. Starting from Waterton is much more scenic albeit not typically  accessible for a couple more weeks. Yay for unseasonably hot weather and snowmelt!

After a weekend in Vermont at my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah, my father in his infinite greatness drove me 2000 miles to Glacier. With the permits taken care of we spent the rest of the day hiking and driving along the Going to the Sun Road, the park’s main thoroughfare. Then the next day, July 1st, we crossed the border into the Great White North.

Canada Day!

That happened to be Canada Day, and doubly special for being the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Hopefully an auspicious start!

We picked up a couple hitchhikers along the way to Canada, dropping them off at the Chief Mountain Border Crossing on the American side. One of the pair happened to be Anish, who as the holder of the unsupported speed record for the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails is something of a celebrity in the long distance hiking world.

Crossing into Canada was quick and easy, and after a short drive we entered Waterton Lakes National Park. Canadian national parks are free in 2017 in celebration of the country’s 150th anniversary.

“OH GOD THERE’S A BEAR!” I heard while waiting for a large group in front of me to enter the trailhead. They hurried back and decided to go watch the Canada Day parade instead.

Bear survivors bravely plotting their next move.

My dad spotted two hikers coming down the trail less than a minute later. They hadn’t seen anything, so we figured I’d (probably) be fine.

The American border is about 4.5 miles from the Lake Bertha trailhead in Canada, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. Clear skies, warm temps, and a well graded trail made for smooth sailing.

Passing lots of families enjoying the perfect day alongside Waterton Lake, my prior nervousness was morphing into excitement. I was a little concerned about some of the higher passes in Glacier, for which I had an ice axe and microspikes (basically lightweight crampons).

The trail to the American border while still in Canada.

It’s only been two years since I started my last trans-America hike, but this feels different in some ways. As the trail turns to shit and gets overgrown by ferns I don’t wonder if I can do this, and I’m not overwhelmed by the enormity of what I’m about to do. I’ve done it before, and I will do it again. I know there will be times when I’m so lonely/hungry/hot/swarmed by mosquitoes/hobbled by blisters/etc. that I’ll get frustrated and overwhelmed. But that’s part of the experience, and it’s worth the discomfort to spend five months exploring America’s vast wilderness and small towns.

Grizzly warnings. I carry bear spray and hope not to use it.

There are a million of these signs telling hikers entering the US to report to register at the border station.

Hiking along.

I just enjoyed the moment, and reveled in being outside and disconnected from the rest of the world.

I camped at the customs and border patrol station, which nearby had a pavilion with flush toilets and electricity. Pretty fancy.

View from the Goat Haunt camping area at sunrise.

There were shelters at Goat Haunt, but I set up my tent in the grass because it’s not free standing and wouldn’t stay up on a concrete floor.

By pure coincidence, I shared the backcountry campground with one of my favorite hikers I met on the PCT. Sass and I corresponded pre-hike, but I had no idea she was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail to the Pacific (like the CDT, the PNT starts in Glacier). We spent hours chatting, and she introduced me to a couple other PNT hikers she’d met while doing the CDT last summer. Mermaid was 60, and her hiking buddy Beacon was probably around that if not older. Both have many, many thousands of miles of backpacking experience, and I think the latter has done the CDT four times. I love chatting with older hikers. 

The Things I Carry – CDT Gear List

How much does your pack weigh?

I’m constantly getting asked what my pack weighs. This is a little difficult to answer because:

  1. I don’t walk around carrying a f@#king scale.
  2. It’s constantly changing.
  3. I have to carry it no matter how much it weighs, and sometimes ignorance is bliss.

When fully loaded with food, water, and other gear my pack rarely weighs more than 25 pounds (11.3kg). The precise weight of my pack can fluctuate dramatically. I may have to carry up to a week’s worth of food in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, but in Glacier National Park lies my shortest stretch between stores: 11 miles (18km), or about four hours. On a similar note, walking those 35 miles (56km) between water sources means lugging a lot of H2O, with my general rule being 1 liter per 5 miles (8km). Sometimes water is plentiful and I don’t carry any, just filtering some when I need to.

I’m constantly taking off and putting on various articles of clothing, which further changes the weight of my pack. In Glacier I may or may not be carrying an ice axe and microspikes (like crampons but smaller), which at a couple pounds (~1kg) are really heavy. From Canada through northern Wyoming, areas frequented by grizzlies, I’ll be carrying bear spray on my belt.

Are you ultralight?

Not in the typical sense of the term, which usually refers to dry weights of fewer than 10 pounds (4.5kg). To get that low you have to make some sacrifices on quality of gear and bring a lot less stuff. The former can be accomplished through using cuben fiber shelters and packs, which aren’t terribly durable. Having spent 12 months working in Yellowstone during college, I know that the Rocky Mountains can be an unforgiving and harsh environment. I’m not taking chances when it comes to being unprepared on the CDT, which often follows the exposed continental divide ridgeline.

The list below can and will change as the trail goes on, and I’m not always carrying everything described here. It depends on trail conditions and hosts of other factors. But it’s a good guide to what’s in my pack.


My pack and assorted other items drying out in Arctic Sweden.



Zpacks Arc Haul 62L – 24 oz, 680g

Zpacks is a fairly small operation run by some guy in Florida. Few companies make backpacks for people my size (or lack thereof). On the PCT I used a similar pack from the same company, albeit lighter and made of cuben fiber. That material didn’t prove to be terribly durable, and the shoulder straps were torn and coming off within the first six weeks. I’ve had this pack for a year and a half, having opted for a more durable plastic-like material. I used it for 10 weeks hiking through Iceland and Arctic Sweden, and again for six months in South America (Patagonia and the Peruvian Andes). It’s completely waterproof, and my stuff stays dry during storms without any liners.


My tent in use in southern Peru. It’s fairly spacious inside for a one-person tent, and I can fit both myself and my pack inside.


Tarptent Protrail – 26 oz, 740g

I had a Tarptent Notch beforehand, which I used on the PCT, the Arctic, and South America. I collectively spent around 9 months in that tent, and it was starting to give out by the end. This new one is fairly similar in that it saves weight by using trekking poles in lieu of separate tent poles. I’ve only spent about 7 nights in it, but this nylon shelter kept me warm and dry in some fairly intense storms at 15,500 feet (4700m) so I’ve been pretty satisfied.


Zpacks solo down sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag

Zpacks down 10F/-12C bag – 22.6 oz, 640g

I brought a 30F/-1C bag on the PCT and it was nowhere near warm enough, so I changed to this one in late 2015. This bag kept me toasty during nights that were well below freezing in the Arctic and Tierra del Fuego.

Cooking and Food

MSR Pocket Rocket – 3 oz, 85g

This is probably the most popular stove I’ve seen on the trail. I’ve been using this since southern California on the PCT, and I’ve had no issues since then. It uses gas canisters, which I’ve found to be pretty easy to find almost anywhere in the world.


My cooking set at work in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru.

330mL pot and lid – 2.6 oz, 75g

I got this for a few dollars from Walmart and used it on the PCT, in the Arctic, and in South America. It’s served me well and I have no complaints. I usually just boil water and add it to my food in a plastic bag, which means I don’t have to clean the pot or hang it in a tree with my food whilst around bears.

Plastic spork – 0.4 oz, 11g

A friend of mine I’ve known since middle school gave me a spork for my hike! I’m excited for it to make the journey from Canada to Mexico.

REI waterproof 10L nylon sack – 2.3 oz, 65g

This will be my food bag, which I’ll hang in trees out of reach of bears when appropriate. We’ll see if it’s actually waterproof during the first storm on trail.

Waterproof matches – 0.6 oz, 17g

In South America I had a lot of issues lighting my stove with ineffective, cheap lighters. So I’ll be using these matches probably until I run out and forget about how much I hate lighters.

Fuel canister – 12.8 oz, 360g (when full)

Isobutane-propane canister with a screw-on top. A full canister generally lasts me about four weeks, and decreases in weight over that time. I only cook dinner, and usually that’s just to boil water.


Amazon Kindle Paperwhite – 7.2 oz, 200g

I bought this for my 2015 PCT hike, and it’s served me well in the almost 30 countries and 2+ years since then. This thing seems almost indestructible, and the battery life is still strong. I read a lot, especially on my hiking breaks, in my tent before going to bed, and in cafes on my days off. I have dozens and dozens of books on this thing at any time, and I love being able to get new releases on the trail or in faraway corners of the globe.


My luxury item on trail.

Wall adapter and charging cords – 3 oz, 85g

This keeps my shit charged, and thus my sanity intact.

Anker 10,000 mAh portable battery – 6.4 oz, 180g

See above.

Earbuds – 0.2 oz, 6g

I got some off Amazon for around $10, and they’ve been surprisingly high quality and semi-indestructible.

Huawei Honor 8 with case

This cell phone replaced my 3.5 year old iPhone. I’ve had it about three months, and have subsequently become an android convert. This serves as the depository for all my music, podcasts, and audiobooks with the help of a 64GB SD card, tripling the device’s storage. I’ve also downloaded the Guthooks CDT app, with topo maps and my phone’s GPS hopefully helping me from becoming lost and dying of thirst in the wilderness.

I got an American pay-as-you-go SIM card from H2O Wireless, which leases bandwidth from AT&T towers. Verizon is much better on the trail, but is also more expensive and this phone is incompatible with their network. It costs $27 a month for 3GB of data with unlimited calls and texting. By American standards that’s a decent price. When I leave the US I can just stop paying each month, since I don’t have a contract. I miss paying less than $10 a month for cell phone plans in Europe and South America.

McMurdo Fast Find 220 – 5.3 oz, 150g

This is a personal locator beacon (PLB). If something happens, I can press a button on the PLB. The device will send my GPS coordinates via satellite to local search and rescue, and immediately notify my parents. Because the CDT is relatively remote and can have long stretches without seeing anybody on trail, I decided to carry a basic PLB. I previously rented and carried one on Stewart Island, where I did a week-long hike off the southern coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Petzl e-Lite headlamp – 1 oz, 30g

A new, lightweight headlamp since my old one died in Peru. I’d had the old one for years and it was held together by tape, so it was probably time to get a new one anyways. The new one has an option for red light, which doesn’t destroy your night vision. I mostly use my headlamp at night, when I’m paranoid about bears and will snap awake at a twig breaking and flash it everywhere in a panic.

Worn Clothing

Alpaca wool gloves – 1.2 oz, 34g

I bought these for $3 from some woman at a market in Peru. They’re surprisingly warm.

Alpaca wool hat – 2 oz, 57g

Also bought this at a market for just a few bucks.


My shoes.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Trail Runners

Switching from boots to trail runners was so worth it. They’re much lighter, and they dry out in minutes when they get wet. It’s a lot easier on my body than heavier boots. At least 99% of thru hikers eschew boots in favor of trail runners or tennis shoes.

North Face fleece – 7 oz, 200g

I’ve taken this on every trip since the PCT, and it’s somehow withstood all the crazy wear I’ve put on it.


Toe socks look crazy but seem to help prevent blisters.

Injinji toe socks – 1.4 oz, 40g

These are my liner socks. Since using these I haven’t had a single blister.

Darn tough hiking socks – 2.2 oz, 60g

These are my outer layer of socks. They’re 65% wool, 31% nylon, and 4% spandex. At the recommendation of other PCT hikers, I picked these up in California and have been using them ever since. The company is based in Vermont, and the socks are supposedly actually made there.

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket – 9.6 oz, 270g

I’ve totally worn out two of these synthetic jackets already. Considering I’ve worn one almost every day for 2.5 years in climates ranging from the Arctic to 1000 miles off Antarctica, I feel like that’s not terrible. There was a 50% off sale for men’s small, which I hope to be a little more durable than the boy’s XL size I wore previously. It’s proven to be extraordinarily waterproof and warm on previous hikes.

REI midweight long underwear bottoms – 6.2 oz, 175g

These are pretty lightweight and kept me warm on the PCT, in the Arctic, South America, and on cold nights in former Soviet republics with awful heating. They were on sale for less than $11 at REI. Being able to wear clothes for 14 year old boys has saved me tons of $$$.

REI tech hiking shirt – 5 oz, 140g

Basic synthetic shirts have served me well in the past, especially since they dry quickly. After wearing the same shirt almost everyday for 11 months I decided to get a new one.

Salomon running shorts – 3.8 oz, 110g

After having issues with hiking pants rubbing my waist raw on the PCT, I switched to basic running shorts for the Oregon and Washington sections. They worked out great on that trail, and I appreciate the weight savings from the liner (no need to carry underwear!). I’ll probably switch to long pants for the New Mexico desert section, which has some prickly brush. Until then, I can combine these with long underwear and/or rain pants for warmth and brush leg protection as needed.

Trash bag for clothes storage – 1.6 oz, 45g

Basic and lightweight solution for keeping my clothes together when in my pack. At night I put all the clothes I’m not wearing into this and use it as a pillow.

Extra pair of liner and hiking socks – 3.8 oz, 110g

I like to change out my hiking socks every couple of hours, which also gives me the opportunity to air out my feet.

Random Other Stuff

Deuce of Spades Trowel – 0.6 oz, 20g

I’ve never been able to dig a decent cathole with my shoes or trekking pole.


A pretty indestructible sleeping pad.

Small z-lite sleeping pad – 10.2 oz, 290g

After my inflatable sleeping pad punctured for the second time, I switched to this on the PCT and haven’t looked back. Almost every thru hiker had one, and it doubles as a seat on hiking breaks.

Frogg Toggs rain jacket and pants – 10 oz, 280g

This lightweight and not terribly durable rain suit served me well on the PCT. If needed, I have a sturdier (and heavier) raincoat I can have mailed out to me from Ohio.

Toilet paper – 1 oz, 30g

Pack it in, pack it out. Toilet paper can take a long time to decompose in many environments, so I pack it out in a ziploc bag and dispose of it in town.

Pocket knife – 0.8 oz, 23g

I’m not really sure where I got this, but a small knife always comes in handy in the backcountry.

Small first aid kit

Just some alcohol pads, band-aids, thread, and needle. The latter two I use more than anything else, mainly to fix rips and tears.

Random toiletries

I have a refillable 60mL sunscreen tube, travel size toothpaste, a travel toothbrush, chapstick, and hand sanitizer.

Wallet – 1.5 oz, 40g

Small ziploc bag with a credit card, debit card, national American ID card that’ll get me in and out of Mexico, and small amounts of cash. I hardly ever use cash in the US, but some places in the middle of nowhere don’t take card. My Schwab debit card refunds me all ATM fees from anywhere in the world (saved me $1300 in South America!).

Mosquito headnet – 1 oz, 30g

Please, God, never make me have to use this.


Studying the (paper) topo map in Iceland.

Paper maps – variable weight, up to 5 oz, 140g

Electronics can fail, so it’s good to have a backup. A veritable trail angel named Jonathan Ley updates CDT maps and routes every year, and has them available for free online. I ordered them printed from Yogi’s Books and sent to my parents’ house in Ohio. I’ll carry a few sections of trail maps at a time, mailing them to myself throughout the trail and getting rid of the old ones in town as appropriate.


My water filter of choice.

Sawyer squeeze water filter – 3 oz, 85g

I’ve done thousands and thousands of miles of trail with this, and I’ve been pretty satisfied. You don’t get the taste from using bleach or other liquid-based purifying schemes, and it can turn brown water clear. That’s pretty nifty. I use a 1.5L Evernew plastic water bladder to help filter. I just put the dirty water in the bladder, screw the Sawyer Squeeze onto the top of the bladder, and squeeze the bag until the water has all come out.

Two disposable plastic water bottles – 1 oz, 30g

These are lightweight and found pretty much everywhere.