Fiddlehead’s Most Excellent CDT Hike
After intense planning, (much more than I’ve ever done before) Four of us: Rainman, Let it Be, Mr Miserable and myself, met in Demming NM April 30 and, after caching some water, headed to the border. We met the rest of our crew two days later near Antelope Wells! It’s a lot of fun hiking with such a big group and we had all known each other before. So we passed the afternoons in the shade, playing backgammon, studying our new GPS’s, and thinking of the year to come! We met one more of our group in Silver City and headed into the Gila. Well, El Nino hit the Gila Wilderness a lot harder than any of us expected and we got split up by the lure of the hot springs and the snow. We had planned to meet but never did, we were now in 3 separate groups. No big deal but only one group had the Gps. On Mogollon Baldy there was rhime ice forming on the fire tower, (and we were all in running shoes with desert clothes) it was quite the introduction to the CDT! Rainman had bad fall and reinjured his back so when we got to Reserve, NM (our 2nd maildrop) he said he was going home. This put quite the damper on my hike as he and I had done lots of hiking together in the past and much planning for this one.
We continued on and during our time in Pie Town, we ran into another thru hiker: HH. He joined us and we continued north. We really enjoyed Ghost Ranch where we ate like thru hikers, had a big chess tournament, and went to a concert. The colors in that place are so spectacular! Then we headed thru the Tierra Amarillo Land Grant asking permission from land owners as we went. After asking one, he said ” We’re driving 158 head of cattle up to the high country today so, it might get a bit dusty” We asked if we could help and enjoyed a great day of mixing with the cowboys and driving these cattle. We had some beautiful memories of the land grant but kept seeing these snow covered mts of colorado ahead. Well, only 2 of us had snowshoes and that’s not good for a group of 5! The others were sinking up to there waists in snow after 12 miles into the San Juans. After two days and only 15 miles, we decided to retreat. But to get out of there, we had to keep hiking in this soft snow or, there was a narrow chute that dropped about 400′ at about a 60 degree angle. HH went first (it was his idea) and he dissappeared from sight. We heard him yell something but couldn’t make it out so, we all slid down this chute on our butts steering with our ice axes!! It was so steep and I was pretty much out of control until the runnout on the bottom, which was a grassy field by a beutiful stream. We all took a nap after a rough day! So now, back in town, what to do? We called all over the whole trail and the answers were pretty much the same everywhere: Cold, snow , rain, and snowpack. We even called Jim Wolfe who told us a few places where we might get thru. After much discussion, We decided to rent a car and head to South Pass City to head south! Except Lori and Slo Ryd who decided to go visit friends for a few weeks and then continue northbound! So, 4 of us rented a car, and drove all night to Atlantic City, WY, and went to sleep.
We woke up the next morning to 6″ of snow (on June 16th!), which changed to rain later in the day so we took the car back and hitchiked back to the trail. We then hiked the great divide basin southbound which turned out to be an excellent idea as the wind was blowing hard at our backs most of the way to Rawlins! We stopped in Jeffrey City for supplies and ran into Sue and Gordon and Nick Williams and another hiker who had just come from northern Colorado and said it was also snowed in. We decided to give it a try anyway and continued. We hit the snow in the Medicine Bow NF and started getting into hiking in snow all day, navigating with our GPS’s . Once we got to Steamboat Spgs, we got our snowshoes (HH and I) and headed back out loving it! Now, this is one of the first times I felt really comfortable not being on any trail and just feeling a new sense of freedom! Who needed a trail? Wow, it was a whole new world! After about 5 days, the snow abruptly ended around Rabbit Ears Pass. Then we took to the road again. — That’s another thing you get plenty of on this trail, road walking!
The CDT in Colorado averages 11,000′ and it sure is incredible!! What a state! Lots of elk, friendly people, and everyone seems to be into the outdoors! I was particularly impressed with the Leadville 100 racecourse location as I would like to be able to run it someday. That Hope pass was about the toughest descent so far and they do it twice on the race course! We saw a few people training for the race even though it wasn’t for another month. They come early to get acclimated. Around the Collegiate peaks , we ran into Slo Ryd coming North (Lori had just finished) and also two true northbounders: Wyatt and Dave! That was impressive as they came thru a week later, where we had been stopped in southern Co. I saw so many elk in this state as we were up close to the divide most of the time. On August 4, we got back to Chama where we had done the flip flop. We then hitchiked up to Denver where we stayed with a friend (Pieps) who drove us back to Wyoming and decided to hike with us. He was a bit shocked at first as to how much bushwacking we had to do on this trail but with the GPS, we were so used to it by now. We often said “CDT, it’s not for everybody” The Wind River Range was definitely the most spectacular part of Wyoming and also the most people. I had been there 8 years before and noticed a big increase in the numbers. When we got to Togwotee Pass, we ran into most of the CDT southbounders: White root (who had started northbound , 5 days ahead of us but flipped all the way to the Canadian border after the snow in CO! Andrew from England and CW. We had a mutual friend who was working at Grand Teton NP, so , we all went to his place and had a CDT thru hiker party. (maybe one of the biggest ones ever held on that trail as there were 5 of us there!)
We had no problem getting permits for yellowstone through their phone system which I believe is for thru hikers only! Our first night in Yellowstone, we met a ranger who had hiked the AT the year before and he told us about a warm creek that we were going to go over. So the next day, we enjoyed about a 2 hour soak in this perfect temperature stream while it was cold and raining out! Then we got to Old Faithful and the throngs of people and the AYCE at the lodge there. We also ran into an old friend there: Billy Goat and his girlfriend who had lots of food for us. He was doing the CDT also but in pieces and was southbound at the time.
Next town: Macks Inn, ID where we again split up as HH wanted to get to Canada before the snows hit. Two days after we split up, Pieps got sick and had to go home so now I was on my own for the next 750 miles. Well, about 4 days later, while I was lost for about the 4th time that day (par for the course) I was sitting there in the middle of rolling, grassy hills in the middle of nowhere, here comes a guy wearing a kilt! Hard to believe but he said he was part of a group that was reenacting an exodus of Morman polygamists. There were about 120 of them in authentic wagons with traditional garb! I was a little low on food at the time and boy, did THEY take care of ME!!!
Those people eat GOOD! I ended up staying with them for 2 1/2 days!
They had started in Salt Lake City and were going to a small town near Glacier NP in Canada! So , we were basically on the same path although they were taking roads all the way (mostly dirt roads where they could) We ended up running into each other 3 times until we finished and they were some great people. I must say, Morman’s fed me and picked me up hitchiking and were so nice to me so many times on this hike. I was impressed with them! (Beautiful women too!)
I did my toughest bushwacking in Montana and one day after descending a steep rockslide, ran into the only other hikers I saw in all of Montana! (except for Glacier NP) It was a couple from Washingotn state and they were fishing. Well, I’ve heard about fish being caught on every cast before but had never seen it until now! Did we eat trout? Just clean em and wedge them on a forked stick and toast them over the fire. I bet I ate 20 of them!
It was always in the back of my mind about the grizzly bear country coming up in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier NP. So I got myself some bear spray, practiced my “draw” and headed into the “Bob”. I resupplied at Benchmark Ranch which is only a few miles off the trail and the woman there gave me a piece of Pecan Pie which is my favorite and about the best thing I’ve ever eaten after being in the wilderness so long. I think her name is Becky and she has a beautiful ranch there on the edge of the wilderness. The next day, I ran into a ranger who fed me and we had a long talk about the grizzlies. She said I probably would not encounter any although they were around, unlike Glacier where they were much more used to people. The bears in the Bob had not associated hikers with food so continued to be wild. A hiker was killed and eaten earlier in the year in Glacier and I would love to see them change their bear policy in glacier. The Bob was beutiful and again, I had it to myself. I had heard horror stories from other hikers about this section because it gets used hard by horse people and turns to knee deep mud in the spring. This is one of the reasons why we wanted to do the trail northbound and when I got there, it was the driest time of year. (There was still some mud around but not too much)
Finally, I entered East Glacier, the last mail drop on the trail and 80 miles or so from the end. While in the store there 5 minutes after my arrival, who do I run into but Mr Miserable who had been waiting there for us for 5 weeks!! HH also was there as he had found a job!! There’s a backpackers hostel in this town and it ended up being my favorite town on the trail! The guy who owns the diner there is a former AT thru hiker and everyone in town was super friendly. I headed into the park after a few days and was surprised to find the trails practically free of people! With great weather, I headed into the most beutiful and memorable part of my CDT hike! The second day, I ran into my first grizzly bear and he was about 100 yards away and coming my way. I’ve never hiked faster and got over a pass and out of his territory quickly. The lodge at Many Glacier had just closed the day before and was strange. Saw people watching 7 different bears from the road there almost exactly where my trail was going. Everything went fine and I took the route through the Ptarmigan Tunnel, probably the most spectacular view on the CDT. (Although it’s not on the official route, which was closed due to fire), I highly suggest this route if at all possible. I understand it may not be open until mid July or so. And, I even met a small crowd of hikers at this point. Mostly locals who really know where to go!
Almost at the end now, I’m getting excited. On my next to last day, I saw a huge grizzly while climbing switchbacks to the last pass. He was only about 50 yds away and again, coming my way! As with both my encounters, the wind was blowing towards me. Again I hurried and on every switchback, he was closer. I wish I could see myself on this climb as I was scared, had the bear spray out, safety off, thumb on the trigger at every switchback! Finally over the top with an incredible view northward, Camped my last night down the other side and my final day! The ranger at the customs station at the lake asked me if I wanted a boat ride back. (and miss my last 3 miles!) Yeah right! I continued on and got to the monument at lunchtime and oh what a feeling!! Hard to describe………..
The ranger had told me of the best place to eat in Waterton Park , Alberta so I ate a wonderful $60 dinner with reindeer as an appetizer, two kinds of wine and the works! Wonderful food! I then found out there was an open mike night at the local bar and went and had a great time with people I’d never met before. One person let me camp on their ranch and in the morning, drove me to the border! Great trail angels in Canada too!!! Well, I never intended this to get so long, but, how do I describe this hike in a short story?? If anyone is planning this hike and has any questions, I’d be glad to help.
ps. this hike took place in ’98. After a few years exploring other parts of the world, I hiked the CDT again in 2002. I hope to post a story describing that hike soon.