The Three Bears

NOTE:  Our next resupply point is Darby, MT.  Anything sent should arrive by August 2oth at the very latest.  If you want to send us along something, address whatever delicious thing it might be to:

General Delivery
Darby, MT 59829
Write on Package: “Please hold for Dan Feldman or April Robinson, expected arrival 8/24/10”

Onto the blog, another long one I’m afraid…

The Three Bears Motel, Lincoln, MT

We only had 51 or so miles to walk between Augusta and Lincoln, but it ended up being closer to 58 and felt more like 100.  The route into and out of Rodger’s Pass (route 200 is here, leading 18 miles down blacktop to Lincoln) has been described as the CDT roller coaster.  This is because the CDT runs, for much of its length, straight along the divide.  It’s fun to walk the divide; it usually means we’re up on a ridge top with views in all directions.  Water on one side of us goes to the Pacific and water on the other side goes to the Atlantic.  Fun!  Which side would you spit to?  Walking the divide also sometimes means that we’re doing a lot of climbing and descending.  Not so fun.  Lots of times these are small 3-400 foot climbs, no big, but they add up to a very tiring day.

This aside, we almost didn’t even make it 9 miles past the trailhead.  Our first day in from Augusta, we took it easy since getting out of Augusta took quite a bit of time.  Getting to Augusta is no problem.  The trail spits out at Benchmark which, if you remember from the last post, is a busy trailhead full of horse packers and hikers.  Most people leaving Benchmark have to go through Augusta get anywhere else.  However, most people leaving Augusta are not going to Benchmark.  I’d say we waited an hour and a half or so for a hitch and were passed by maybe 10 cars, most going about business in Augusta.  Nobody going to Benchmark.  We walked back to the Buckhorn bar, bought some lunch, and I announced that we were looking for a lift up to Benchmark.  We were quickly taken up by a fella who teaches at the local school and does some shuttle work for one of the ranches in the area during the summer.  He drove us up to Benchmark for $20 in his big white van.  Not bad!  Plus we got a tour of all the ranches along the way as he knows most of the folks in the area.

Once on trail, we hiked in perhaps 5-6 miles before pitching our tents for the night in a stand of evergreens on the opposite bank of the creek we were walking along, getting cover from the late day rainstorm that often hits around here.  The next morning we decided to have breakfast at a backcountry patrol station that was on the trail 3-4 miles away from where we had camped.  We made good time and rolled into the uninhabited cabin around 9AM.  We made a small fire, ate our breakfast, and started walking up the trail that lead away from the cabin, heading for a low climb over Straight Creek Pass.  It was supposed to be a pretty mild, well graded climb of approximately 2 miles.  What we got instead was perhaps 3 miles of flat to mild grade followed by a nearly vertical climb to a dead end in a large cirque.  There are times when the map is a little off from where the trail goes.  When we’re navigating, we accept these inaccuracies if the surrounding topography makes sense.  A trail might not climb as much as it should (although usually it’s the other way around), but if the area it’s in matches what we’re supposed to be seeing on the map, no big deal.   Other times (and these have been few so far),  we get completely off route, either due to not paying attention, map error, or a little of both.  In this instance, we were totally off route.  After 3.5 miles, the surrounding topography (a steep, impassable cirque) didn’t match the mild grade of Straight Creek Pass.  We concluded that we made a wrong turn somewhere, most likely at the patrol cabin, and so we turned around and hiked the 3.5 miles back.Eastern Montana from the Rockies

Once back at the cabin, we looked at the map a few more times.  I was completely puzzled.  The map showed two trails leaving the patrol cabin, but in reality there was only one trail, a path going in the wrong direction.  Where was the right trail?  We worked it over for 45 minutes while eating lunch, checking compass bearings, walking everywhere, doing a little bushwhacking, etc.  Nothing.  No trail.

Since we only had very local CDT maps (not the broad overview that Forest Service maps provide) we grudgingly decided to go back nine miles to the trailhead to read the Forest Service map posted there to see where we went wrong.  We were both disappointed as this meant we might have to go all the way to Augusta to get more supplies since we had already eaten into our food supply.  Augusta’s a great town, but what a hassle!  I felt dejected.  We walked back down the trail the way we had come before breakfast.  Not even 5 minutes out we passed a trail intersection, a sharp split from the main trail leading to Straight Creek Pass.  Our trail!  I was totally relieved and a little annoyed.  We had, in our eagerness to get to the cabin for breakfast, missed the turn.  Compounding the problem was that the map was wrong.  The trail never did pass by the cabin.  We made about 10 miles that day, but were happy we didn’t have to go back to the start.  We spent a chilly night near the patrol cabin on the other side of the pass, catching a little ice on our rain fly in the morning.  But we were warm and toasty in our tent.

Huffing and puffing
Huffing and puffing

The next afternoon we set out on what has been thus far our longest day of climbing on the trail.  From the Donahue River (sp?) we had to ascend roughly 2,100ft up to the divide, drop down, then ascend maybe another 800ft or so to clear a pass.  The day covered close to 18 miles and by the end we were both exhausted, April skipping dinner and going straight to sleep after pitching the tent-me walking a half mile back and up a sandy creekbed to get water.  The next day we took it easy on the miles, moving slowly and taking lots of rest along the way to enjoy the scenery as the previous day’s hike was a real grind.  Now up on the divide, we still had a fair amount of up ad down, but it didn’t quite match the punishment from the day before.  We enjoyed unlimited views in all directions for most of the day, taking in the expanse of the Montana Rockies and the vast plains to the east.  On our last 200 yds before getting to highway 200, we encountered a small patch of dead ripe huckleberries.  Very delicious!  According to April, this was the trail’s way of saying “Hey guys, no hard feelings OK?”

Kevin and Lou Anne
Kevin and Lou Anne

Today we took a zero in Lincoln after arriving late yesterday morning.  (A “zero” is hiker slang for a day without hiking.)  We couldn’t have done it in a better place.  We’ve spent our time resting here at the Three Bears Motel, a mom and pop owned by retired beef ranchers Kevin and Lou Anne from West Virginia.  We got a cozy room and got to use the motel’s slick new Huffy cruisers to get around town.  Kevin and Lou Anne told us all about their old WV farm and how moving out here to Montana had always been their dream.  They run a wonderful, friendly motel and the four of us stayed up late last night chatting.  We had lunch yesterday and today at the Montanian, which, as you might imagine, has a fantastic burger.

Tomorrow Kevin will take us back up to Rodger’s Pass and it’ll be back to the trail for a while.  We’ll definitely miss Lincoln.  We’ve got an increasingly complex itinerary ahead.  There are 60 miles to Helena and then we’ll catch an evening bus to Butte as I covered this section of trail last month.  We’ll crash somewhere in Butte and then head straight up to the trail for a 140-mile (approx) hike to Darby, where we’ll stop and pick up our mail and resupply.  After Darby, the trail gets pretty remote, which will be a challenge as we’ve got to somehow get out to get to Idaho Falls to fly to Newark to see a friend get married.  April’s in charge of the cake.  We’ve got our plane tickets for the 30th, but the rest is a little dicey.   It might go a little something like:  hike to trailhead->hitch to closest town served by Greyhound->take bus to Idaho Falls.  We’ll see….

A haircut in Lincoln
A haircut in Lincoln

post note:  Thanks for the tasty treats mom and Auntie Sue!

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