A little over a month and 1,000(ish) miles down, our time in Montana and Idaho's mountains is finished. The Continental Divide Trail has been a series of remote, hidden gems that are peaceful and unimpacted. Quaint and quiet small towns and adventurous, happy travelers; I have not been bored.
My dog Luna and I left Maine in late June to drive out to West and begin the trail. My dad was up for a trip and agreed to drive us, along with a friend I'd met on the AT. We hauled ass to the Canadian Rockies and made a stop to visit Terrance and his family, someone I'd hiked with on the PCT, to get gear and food organized for the first leg of the trip. They generously hosted us, providing some delicious calories and even better company.
Then we headed to Waterton Lakes NP to get permits for beginning at the Canadian border in Glacier NP. There are two possible starting points for the CDT- Waterton or Chief Mountain. It was tough to get an accurate report on snow conditions for the higher route (since Rangers don't seem to hike the harder, less popular routes early in the season) so we decided to start from Chief on July 3rd. Glacier requires all hikers, including CDT thru-hikers to reserve backcountry campsites during their stays. The holiday weekend made it a challenge, with lots of full sites and ultimately we either needed to delay our start by 3 days or begin further south near Many Glacier. I was bummed to miss the first 40 miles of the trail, but sometimes things are outside our control (including a 200% snow year). We got sunny, beautiful weather in our three days in Glacier, enjoying lots of clear water and getting the legs used to climbing again. I saw some stunning mountain goats, sheep and grizzly bears. Ran into a few other sobo hikers, including AT friends Killer and Sunny, who are newlyweds on this hike. Per suggestion of another CDTer, myself and another hiker took an alternate route over Dawson Pass near Old Man Lake to walk this quiet and phenomenal ridge. Glacier's snow-capped views were not disappointing, but I did suffer disappointment when Yogi, my original hiking partner decided to go home. But I've began my other two hikes solo, so it wasn't intimidating to do so again. My dad remained near Glacier to do trail magic (beers!) and watch Luna, and she began her hike 100 miles in after the Park.
Next I entered the Bob Marshall Wildnerness with 8 days of food, the most I've ever carried in a stretch, to walk through one of the most remote and wild places along the trail. Remote meant some sections of thick blown down trees and hardly any people. The Bob was filled with grizzly scat (though I had no sightings), plentiful water to drink and soak in, hot temperatures, pesky horse flies, and burned areas. I hiked through this stretch with Pounds, whom I'd met in Glacier and later a few others. The Chinese Wall, on the Spotted Bear Alternate provided us with the most dramatic views and fields of wild chives. The end of the stretch, close to Lincoln, MT I decided to stay high on a ridge to scramble up a peak, another highlight of the area. This proved to be a tough start for Luna, despite trying to avoid the heat of the day, the 100 degree temperatures and some rocky terrain left her (not hardened up yet) paws sore for the last 2 days.
The next stretch from Lincoln to Anaconda Luna skipped to rest her paws, staying with some awesome friends, and fellow hikers, Bamboo and MK in Anaconda. I missed her, but knew she'd be more than ready to go a week later. I'd only been hiking with Dingo for a few days when we were invited to his PCT friend Clicker's place in Helena for a rest and showers. Hot temperatures, a pool, town chores, great food and fun company led us to end up zeroing there before pushing to Anaconda, where we enjoyed a stay with Bamboo, including some good beers and catching up.
The Anaconda-Pintler range surprised me, and was a highlight of Montana. It's a rather unknown but spectacular area. With Luna back, Dingo and I spent the next few days climbing some higher passes and swimming in gorgeous glacier-fed lakes whenever we had the chance. The thirsty mosquitos and smoke from nearby fires didn't deter us from taking some alternate high routes along the Divide.
The stretch from Darby, MT to Mack's Inn, ID included wonderful stops to resupply in the small towns of Leadore and Lima, ID. In Leadore, Dingo and I spontaneously took two days off to hitch up to Salmon for a Blues & Brews festival with some nobo CDT hikers we'd just met. The music, food and drinks were fantastic, and our legs appreciated the break. Leadore was also home to the first person I'd consider a trail angel on the CDT. Sam, owner of the Inn, shuttles hikers back to the trailhead up a dirt road, lets them camp in his yard, shower and do laundry. A visit in Leadore wouldn't be complete without an afternoon drinking beers on Sam's porch, watching him wave to every car that drives by. In Lima, we enjoyed stuffing ourselves with food, grabbed showers, and got to chat with the first Ride the Divide cyclists we'd met. The stretch before had some steep climbs, helping all three of our hiker hungers kick in rather suddenly. The final hundred miles to Mack's Inn included the first real bushwhack and heavy rain we'd encountered. The few hundred miles where we stayed high on the Divide, bordering the two states, was beautiful. We'd lucked out with most of the fires being behind us, but we had lots of haze and smoke to block some stellar views. The terrain began to change from rocky, jagged peaks to rolling hills and wide open spaces. The smell of beargrass was replaced with sweet sage. The area was rich in history of our early explorers, Lewis and Clark, offering us insight to discovering new areas of the West.
Luna impressed me this section, having boundless energy and enthusiasm for up to 25-30 miles a days. After her rest in Anaconda, she settled into the freedom to roam as she pleases and live outside. Her new food routine, which involves me soaking raw, freeze dried food from Sojos as well as supplements from our sponsors, Vetriscience, are keeping her healthier and fitter than past distance hikes. I'm stoked to see her loving life on the trail, as I have been, through these first 1,000 miles.