Big Sky Variant (aka the Butte Super Cut-Off)

Dear Reader, please be not be alarmed when we tell you that we have parted company with the CDT (for now)! We are still hiking, just not on the CDT. And we are still moving South in a continuous line, just not on the CDT. Why not the CDT? Well, compared to our new chosen route, the CDT is slightly longer and reputedly offers just more of the same i.e. trees, trees, trees.
We will meet the CDT again in South Yellowstone however, to follow it through the Windriver Mountains to the end (to Colorado).

So we are now on what B likes to call the “Big Sky Variant“, a line going from Whitehall more directly South than the CDT. We’ve just crossed a lovely mountain range called the Tobacco Root Mountains and are headed for the Spanish Peaks. Should be in Yellowstone NP in about a week.

On our way into the Roots, we got a tip-off from a passing local (as well as a cold can of Miller Light each!) to stop by some lovely wild hot springs in the Jefferson River Valley. They were literllay on route and we gladly stripped off and hopped in. We even had a little bathing companion in the form of a small swimming snake who paddled past my shoulder, head above water, beady eyes looking at me slighly annoyed at being disturbed. Sunflowers were framing the scene and an eagle was flying overhead! Apparently there are petroglyphs on the hill nearby. As soon as we were out of the water, the little snake was back.

Yesterday it rained quite a bit, so last night we went into the town of Ennis (very nice!) and got a cabin and watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on video in the evening. Today we head for the Spanish Peaks.

Urban Montana

Three days gliding over gently rolling hills full of flowers and berries, to the left the yellow velvet of the prairies, to the right the dark green of the fir, spruce and pine covered “not so rocky” mountains. Above: the BIG SKY that this state is rightly known for. Heard coyote song again for the first time in a long time. Also had the company of lots of young ravens, squaking and honking joyfully as they surfed the thermals next to us on the divide. A silent deer occasionally appears on the edge of our vision, looks at us solemnly and then disappears into the half-dark of the trees again. If I carried any butter, we could have had wonderfully fried mushrooms every night. They grow everywhere, big and brown as newly risen loaves of bread. But I don’t carry butter.

Two nights ago we finally got into farming country: cattle grazing in open meadows and thin woodlands. We camped with some cows in a herby meadow next to a fenced-off spring and a tank with water for cattle. The water came out of a spout and ran crystal clear so memories of New Mexican cattle tank gunk where quickly banished.

As we were eating our dinner (reclining in the tent like Romans at a feast), we heard a truck drive up – farmer checking his cows. Truck stops a wee distance away, quiet, then the engine is started again and the truck comes closer, stops again. We hear a door slam (we’re too tired to pop our heads out of the tent). And then someone suddenly pings the back bungee on our tent !!! I shoot out of the front door and see a cowboy in his mid 20’s with a big stetson, big mustache and 80’s aviator specs looking startled as he fiddles with the back of our tent. “Ah didn’t even know it was a tent! Don’t look like one to me. Just though I aint never seen that thing there before – goan check it out” he appologised once I had given him a potted version of what we were doing and why we were there. (We were on public lands, so there was no argument about our right to camp there).

That night we had thunderstorms (again) and rain. In the morning we were woken by sonorous, low moooooooing and huffing. We were surrounded by 30 odd cows and calves – and 3 bulls giving it lalldy: peeing on the ground, kicking dirt around themselves, rolling their heads in the dirt, head butting each other and generally making a big song and dance about their virility. The cows had obviously seen the show before because they congregated in a semi circle around our tent and instead of paying the bulls much attention, watched us nervously dismantle our shelter and pack our bags. We were very much hoping that the bulls didn’t feel we were stealing their limelight and wouldn’t turn their excess energy on us in order to impress the cows. They didn’t – we got away unmolested!

So much for camping on range-land! And to think that we’ve been worried about camping in the woods with the bears!

Horse Whispering

160 miles since Glacier National Park and I am sorry to say, dear readers, that most of those miles were in the trees! Through the Bob Marshall Wilderness and most of the Scapegoat Wilderness, the CDT has been routed up and down river valleys in the forrest – our theory is that it’s all the horses’ fault: this is horse country, Rohan in the trees so to speak. The thing to do here is to pay an “outfitter” to take you into the back country on a horse for a weekend or longer. That also involves big tents, a cooking tent, mules to carry the gear and mules to carry horse and mule feed! So you end up with a pack train of 5 to 25 horses. Wonderful to see with the big western saddles and the fine shiny animals. Slightly less fun if you are a hiker in trainers following one of those horse trains. So the horse trails were here first and horses seem not to like the ridges and seem to prefer to be close to lots of water, so the CDT maybe just takes the existing horse-designed trailes rather than forging new, interesting and walker friendly trails higher up? That’s our theory.

Talking of excrement: we also saw lots of bear poo but had no direct contact with the big predators. Still, we had lots of fun trying to throw our bear cord over branches and hoisting our food bags onto a safe branch for night-time storage (10 feet up and 4 feet from the tree trunk) every evening before going to bed.

We had a few interesting things to see: a long limestone escarpment called the Chinese Wall and a hill that took us briefly above the trees. And the last day and a-half of the trail were on the divide itself and above tree line. What a relief!!! The flowers are starting to look a little tired now but in exchange, there are lots of berries to be picked in the forrest: huckle berries, strawberries and whortleberries we’ve eaten already – thimble berries are just about to come out!

We also had a day rest in a small town called Augusta which lies in the Prairies East of the Rockies. Augusta was great! We stayed in a tiny historic hotel from 1917. The town had a grocery store with the motto “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” painted on the outside. It also had 3 bars where men in check shirts wearing stetsons sat drinking. We even got an excellent vegetarian pizza (though only after some deep soul searching from the lady who runs the diner – vetetarianism is not a common affliction in Montana). I can proudly say that we’ve managed so far not to crack any jokes about “Brokeback Mountain” to any of the locals.

Now we are in a place called Lincoln and are resting up. Our next stop will be the state capital Helena.

Glacier National "walk in the" Park

We hiked south from the Candian border through the rather wonderful Glacier National Park. The week that was in facts and stats:

  • immigration officers (1 Canadian, 2 US)
  • US National Park Rangers (several, all very concerned that we hang our food into the provided bear safe hanging tree over night, make lots of noise on the trail so as not to startle a bear and use the pit toilets at the campsite – “but don’t put trash in them”)
  • moose (10, grazing in a lake)
  • marmots (hoary and very friendly)
  • Columbian ground squirrels (standing bolt-upright like mercats)
  • mountain goats (white as snow with black eyes, kids and nannies)
  • Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (group of tups lazing around, groups of ewes busy looking after lambs)
  • golden eagles (soaring)
  • bald eagle (soaring)
  • black bear (digging up stuff at the side of the trail)
  • tourists (thousands at the roadside visitor centre – very scary – only a hand-full on the trails)
  • miles walked through the park: aprox 90
  • weather: sunshine, hot
  • flowers: carpets of them (bear grass, forget me not, indian paint brush, penstemon, cinquefoil, Schafgabe, hollyhocks, geraniums, delphiniums, asters, glacier lillies and lots and lots I don’t know by name!)
  • mountains: SPECTACULAR

Many Glacier Lodge outside panob m at Grinell Pass MT3