Day 128: Cottonwood Peak

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The early morning moo’s of the cows broke through the cold air sounding almost like they were covered in frost. We started going through our routine of getting ready, and we finished up by throwing our packs once again over our shoulders. In order to the combat the cold morning, we still had our down jackets, but as soon as we followed the trail out of the gully, we started to climb. This portion of trail was covered in morning sun unlike where we had camped, so the air was noticeably warmer. We started our ascent surrounded by herds upon herds of cows, black cows, brown cows, and even the albino ones. As we passed they looked up from their breakfast and watched as we wandered past. We started to heat up quickly being in the sun now in addition to climbing. We each stopped and took a brief few seconds to shed our insulated layer and begin climbing again. Critter took a couple of extra minutes to patch a tear she got when she was taking off her pack to take of her down jacket, but soon enough we began walking once more. If we did not mentioned in April that over the next months we would mention walking a bunch, we will go ahead and apologize.

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We had decided to take another alternate pointed out on our Ley Maps. The initial climb was tougher but miles and overall climbing would be less that the official route. However, this alternate would take us up and over Cottonwood Peak standing tall at 11,029 feet. We stopped to filter at our last water source until the end of the day, and then continued on turning off from trail when we arrived at the alternate’s trail junction.

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The trail began to climb immediately. In the mile that we had to the top, we had around 2,000 feet to climb. We left the openness of the the trail and entered into the trees for our trail-less scramble up to the top. There is no feeling quite like the one when you leave tree-line. The dense forest began to fade until there was nothing in between us and the air surrounding us. We could see where we had come from the days before behind us and we could see where we were headed. We could see the wall of exposed rock to our left and the seemingly innocent rolling mountains to our right. Trail, still nonexistent, became a massive talis and scree field. The summit was almost in sight.

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We kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. Our trekking poles digging deep into the loose rock for grip as our minds tried to ignore each slide our feet took with each step. As quick as the peak came into view, we took our final steps before the ground leveled out at the top. Still rocky and straddling the Montana-Idaho border, the top was decorated with its very own geographical marker. We sat at the top for a handful of minutes before making our descent. The descent was more gradual than the climb but ironic when we began losing all the elevation we just worked for very quickly. We reached a saddle where we met back up with the official trail and suddenly we were climbing again.

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For the rest of the day, the trail took us over the tops of balds as it tucked us into the most beautiful mountains. Intense layers surrounded us. On the ridge we were on, we were not the highest point but we also were not the lowest among the layers. There was no trail to follow so we followed cairns and kept our eyes on the general direction we know we needed to head in. Finally, we popped back into the trees and began to descend down towards a water source, Tex Creek. We stopped sooner than what was marked on our maps to filter and make dinner. A hiker, named Wire-Rims, that we had met after joining back up with trail continued on down trail before stopping for the night. We made dinner and as the sun started to lower we kept heading down trail. Our goal was to make it to Morrison Lake for the day. We had five more miles to go so we picked up speed and hiked on. Cows surrounded the trail and as we came up and over a hill we were face to face with a line of young bulls. We made noise and continued on past trying not to turn our backs to them.

As we arrived at Morrison Lake, the sun had already set and the air was beginning to cool off once more. We found a non-sagebrush spot to set up camp, and as soon as we climbed into our sleeping bags we were out.

 

Cheers,

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 127: Deadman Pass

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We woke up fairly early on the side of a very uneven slope overlooking Lima. We knew it would be a beautiful sunrise, but part of us was too exhausted to get out of the tent to look. Instead we laid there and talked to each other about our plans for the day. Part of us wanted to hike as fast as we could to get to Leadore, but the other half wanted to explore the area. When we looked at our maps, the official trail went in more of a straight line and skipped a lot of the dramatic mountains we wanted to wonder through. After next to zero discussion, we decided to take the route that would be nine miles longer but with better views. This motivated us to finally get out of the tent and get walking for the day.

Just a short ways down the trail, we took a side trip to visit a small cave we had heard about. Sure enough, as we approached the edge of a giant white cliff, there was a deep shaft with hundreds of bones laying at the bottom. Our map read that during the winter, snow covered the entrance and animals fell through only to be trapped in the pit below. Garbelly began to climb down, but then decided it was not the best time to get trapped in a deep pit.

After we headed a mile or two down the mountain, we came to the junction of the alternate trail going over Deadman Pass. Some hiker out there once said, "it's not about the miles, it's all about the smiles." We headed west down a road for awhile, then it quickly turned into a bushwhack through sage brush and tall grass. While wading through the waste deep grass we startled a few large sandhill cranes that took off through the air with their rattling call resonating through the field. We were definitely startled by them, too, and quickly remembered how massive their seven to eight foot wing span is as they fly through the air.

Finally, we made it to a trail that fit the description of the trail we needed to take. The plan would be to hike to a lake right on the divide and then bushwhack over a large hill and down into a different valley. From here we would hike over a pass and back to trail.

Within the first hundred yards of this trail, we became surrounded by wild raspberry bushes. This is never a good thing for making quick miles, but we didn't care because they were delicious. Looking at the ground, we saw bear prints and just about every other animal print you could imagine. As we continued the steps faded as the trail took us winding through a narrow valley.

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Before we knew it, we heard a deep rumble. It seemed extremely close. It went silent. Then we heard it again and realized it was our stomachs. We had not eaten yet and it was nearing noon. Unfortunately we had not made near the mileage that we had hoped to have at this time of the day. We found some shade near a small cave and laid down on a cool rock as we snacked on Cheetos.

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After lunch, we quickly made it up to Divide Lake. Garbelly tried to catch a few fish with no luck. We were way behind schedule, but we did not care. It had been an awesome day of adventure. It felt good to rely solely on our paper maps for a day. As we passed over the large berm behind the lake and entered a new valley, we felt the thrill of adventure. We also felt dumb as we found out the creek on our map was bone dry. With half a liter of water between the both of us and seven miles until the next water, we contemplated hiking southbound to get water. However, since neither of us had much experience hiking south, we decided we would press onward.

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We had hiked about two miles, when we rounded a bend in the valley, we found ourselfs staring at shale cliffs that spanned thousand of feet above the trail.  

Fortunately for us, a tiny stream of snow melt from the last remaining patch of snow poured down the mountain. We eagerly put our water bottles under the stream and thanked the mountains for the wonderful gift. We only had a few hundred feet left to climb to the top of Deadman's pass and we sped right through it. Towards the top however, we started noticing tiny fossils on every rock around us. We slowed down and began looking at every small fossil and wondering how old it must have been. We saw a dozens that looked like shells and others like small crinoids. The biology nerds definitely came out and we searched the entire pass for fossils.

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The rest of the day consisted of us scrambling down the pass and finding our way back to the official CDT. This was easier planned than executed however, and ended up being a couple hours of bushwhacking. Along the way we ran into large herds of black angus and dozens of albino cows with bright red eyes.

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We stopped at a creek crossing to filter water and eat dinner before continuing on to camp. When the horizon opened back out to prairie lands that stretched for miles was where we stopped for the night. The sun was sharing its last rays of light with us before we were sucked back into the comfortability of darkness. 

Cheers to bonus miles! 

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 126: Leaving Lima

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The repetitive drum of the phone alarm blasted away the silence of our dark room at the Mountain View Motel. “BACK TO TRAIL. BACK TO TRAIL,” seemed to take the place of the normally obnoxious, robotic scream replacing it with the urgency of our next task. We stumbled out of bed and into our hiking clothes. With full packs, we made our way back to trail leaving the small town of Lima and its eight glowing Tesla chargers behind. Once on trail, we began climbing back up to the ridge-line. We were then among the open land of rolling hills and beneath the red-tint of Garfield Peak.

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We arrived at a pipe spring just in time to stop for dinner while we filtered water for the next day.  After sitting our packs down in a dry area, we hopped across the swampy ground balancing on small rocks before finally climbing up onto the rail around the spring. Leaning over the rail, we took turns filling up our Sawyer bags before carefully stepping our way back to dry land. We had more miles we wanted to get in before dark so we ate a quick dinner and then headed on down trail.

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The trail traversed the ridge as we climbed up to the top. Surrounding us were mountains and their valleys down below. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky casting this world in a golden light once more. Listening to the magic of Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album as it was powered by the magic of the land around us, we moved with ease no longer restricted by the weight of our packs. Gravity’s pull did not even seem to be a limit instead our connectedness to the earth came from our own free choice. So, we dug in deep.

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During the sun’s final moves below the horizon, the colors in the sky began to display what could only be but a grand finale. We climbed up high away from the traversing trail and sat to watch, when two shadows appearing as tiny specks appeared down trail. As they grew closer the colors of the sun grew richer, and then as they approached us they too stopped to admire the show. We watched in silence. In the sun’s final stages, when the colors began to die out as the sun made its exit behind a mountain peak, we turned to the new hikers and before we knew it we were lost in conversation. They too were climbers. They too were interested in all of the side trails and alternates. In fact, Garbelly had met one of the two, Hot Mess, on the PCT two years earlier. As we laughed and carried on, an owl swooped in for a listen. Flying about, he did not go far during the rest of our time together, and even when we could not see his shadow we knew he was close by. By the time we began to wrap up, darkness had completely fallen and the coldness of the cloudless night settled over us. We had not even noticed that our faces had been reduced to silhouettes, to shadows in the night. Our goodbyes were more like “until next times”, and we ended up not wondering far to set up camp. We could still see the fluttering lights of Lima tucked into the layers of the peaks and valleys below, and we could see the headlamps of Hot Mess and Om Gee navigate South down the trail. 

Cheers to the comfort of the night,

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 124-125: When Gear Fails and Leaves You Unprepared

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The sound of rain slowly pulled us out of sleep. As our eyes fluttered awake they were met by a surrounding darkness and as our faces appeared from their burrows they were touched by a trembling cold. The clock on our phone read 3:00am, so we let the rain carry us back into sleep. Our eyes reopened again. The sound of rain was now heavier than before. A very faint light had begun to flood the tent. The time chimed 7:00am. Big miles were waiting to be chiseled away. We knew we needed to get up. This trail does not wait for fair weathered days, but our minds immediately landed on the thought of our predicament. During the rain we received going into Yellowstone, our rain jackets began to soak through. No matter how quick we moved, our bodies became alarmingly chilled and wet. We were perfectly fine in the end when the sun came out and dried us out, but would we get this lucky again? The forecast called for rain all day for the next few days. If this was true, we were NOT prepared. 

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Quick Note: The Alpine Houdini that we had used for wind and higher alpine protection for the better part of the trip simply could not stand up to rain if even for a short period. This could have been a combination of us expecting too much from the jackets as well as a jacket that is marketed sightly out of its comfort zone. There are much better options out there such as Frog Toggs and even other jackets in Patagonia’s line. 

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Thick clouds surrounded our tent as its damp walls surrounded us. We began to pack up but hesitation altered every move. It was only a matter of time exposed to the rain before we would be wet and cold again. Without a layer in between us and the elements, we felt vulnerable and utterly unprepared. We stood under the slight protection of a tree as we began to weigh our options. We could hope for the best and continue on or we could find a way to get lower and out of the storm. Our answer did not come easily. We were met by our wanting to stay on the trail faced by the little voice in our heads warning us of what might could come of staying exposed. We swayed back and forth between pride and caution. Critter leaned towards caution while Garbelly leaned towards continuing on. Then the balance would exchange its weight to Critter wanting to continue on when Garbelly wanted to find a way to get lower. We could not settle easily into a decision.

We began to walk down trail and towards our first climb when we were jolted to a stop as if attached to an imaginary leash. We could not shake down the red flag that had gone up in our minds. Our trajectory switched leading us away from trail and towards a four wheeler road. Our last couple of steps on trail stirred up a family of grouse sending the mature grouse flying off and the small chicks to scatter deeper into the tall grass. Leaving trail left us uneasy but we slowly picked up our pace once more. Several miles down the road led us to a larger road, however it was still gravel. As we reached the road we watched as two people standing with a tandem bike watched us. We approached asking them about the nearest town and how to get to the highway. After receiving our bearings, they offered to give us a ride to the highway after they finished their bike ride. Afraid of making them go out of their way we decided to continue to walk. We eventually made it to  the tiny town of Spencer, Idaho.

We hobbled into a small diner and grabbed some lunch and water. As we ate we watched people outside sorting through a giant mound of loose rocks. They kept bringing in pieces to show the employees and to verify their find. Once we were finished we headed to the on-ramp of the interstate and began to wait for an seemingly impossible ride into Lima. We waited and smiled as cars drove by some going in the wrong direction others turning onto the highway headed East. We watched as people pulled into a rock and gem shop right across the street from where we stood. A younger woman in jeans and a jean jacket frequently ran to let the visitors into the shop, locking up each time before running back towards a small home next door. We watched as cars left the parking lot and drove past us. Then we watched as the young woman in the jean jacket ran towards us. She asked if we needed a ride, when we said we would love a ride to Lima, she said she could drive us after her shift. She invited us over to a picnic bench by the shop and made us tea while we waited. We poked around looking at the rocks and gems they had sitting on a table outside. When it was time for her to close up, she let us hop in a car she borrowed from her boss. As we headed towards Lima, an intense rain began to fall restricting our view from the car and quickly covering the road in a thick layer of water.  

We arrived in town and headed towards the Mountain View Motel. That night we ate dinner as we watched a storm rest on top of  the surrounding mountains. During a break in the rain, we ran and jumped in our tent. What felt like centuries ago as the morning's hours began to invest in the day, we knew one thing: our gear had failed us leaving us unprotected and unprepared. We did not know what the weather had planned for the hours to come or how we would feel. As we laid dry and warm in our tent, we still felt uneasy by our decision but our guilt began to slowly melt away. 

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We woke up in our tent to sounds of semi trucks flying by us on interstate 15. We woke up in time to make it to the post office just in time for it to open. Arriving there we found out quickly that the packages we were expecting  that had our rain jackets in them had not yet arrived. The postal worker told us that Mike may have already picked them up and to check in with him. When we went back to see him, again we were disappointed to find out he also did not have our box.

We decided the best move would be to head over to Jan's Diner and have a bite to eat. Food heals all problems. We returned to the post office and found out our box still was not there and began to worry that we would be trapped in this town for a few days. This was not just any box either, it carried over a thousand dollars worth of gear. According to the tracking number it had arrived in Lima, but no one knew where it was. 

When we walked back to the Inn, we were greeted by Scavenger, Winter and T.I. Toe. We discussed the big storms from the days before and they mentioned Mike was going to drive them back to trail that night. As we were talking to them, the lady cleaning the motel rooms let us know that our room for the night was ready for us. We let the guys know they could crash in our room for the day and get out of the sun. We decided to head to the post office one more time.

Once we arrived, it was clear that we had become a friendly face to the post master. She welcomed us back and we all began brainstorming on the whereabouts of our package. We had looked everywhere when our if nowhere she said, “hold on, are you M.E. and Ethan?” It appears that our first names were on the box the whole time. We felt silly, but we all laughed it off and said a final goodbye to the post master.  Today’s lesson: Zeros days can be exciting in their own way! 

After Mike took everyone back to the pass around 6:00 PM, we once again found ourselves hungry and ready to try out the other restaurant in town, "Peat’s Steakhouse." We were told a few days earlier by Thor that you could grill your own steaks and vegetables. It only took a three, yes three, hours to complete the restaurant experience with ordering, eating, and paying the bill. Worn out and ready to get out we headed back towards the Mountain View Motel but not without swinging into Jan’s Diner for a piece of pie. 

We sat down at the bar with a couple we had met in Peat’s. They were from Spain and were biking from Canada to Yellowstone. We bonded with them quickly sharing stories of the trail asking about their lives across the Atlantic. They invited us to Spain in the future and we invited them to good ole  Nashville, a fair trade to say the least. We spent a good bit of time talking with them over pie and tea, before heading back to the motel and heading to bed. 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 123: Trail-Bushwhack Transition

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We took it a bit easy this morning packing up and grabbed some last minute resupply items before heading down a gravel road. We walked the road up towards Sawtelle Mountain for what seemed like an eternity. Dusty air getting kicked up with each step left us feeling immediately dirty and disgusting. Finally, we made it back to a single track trail.

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We followed the trail as it took us up and over small hills. The trail suddenly disappeared into faint trail of slightly trampled grass. This left us following our compass and beginning what our maps called a "trail-bushwhack transition". We stayed high overlooking a river valley as we passed through tall fields of wildflowers and different grasses. The "bushwhack" did not truly begin until we were nearing the official CDT. Our nice field turned into a brushy maze of tall moose willows and boggy paths. We stood at the edge of the last dry bit of grass over looking a deep marsh with no where to go but through it. Our feet dunked under and were quickly consumed by the silty bottom like stepping into quicksand.

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We stumbled across finding stability on the top of a beaver dam which we followed to dry land on the other side. The trail met back up with the official trail and continued steadily climbing as a rain began to fell. Due to the rain, we kept putting off filtering water, but our sources listed on our maps were dry as a bone when we came up on them. However, to our relief, we found flowing spring water at an unmarked source. We filtered enough water to drink and cook with and then continued down the trail. A couple of miles later we found a flat camp spot tucked into some trees for a windbreak and set up camp.

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The night was cold and windy. A storm was blowing in, but we would worry about that in the morning. We closed our eyes and drifted to a warmer, drier place.

Cheers!

Garbelly & Critter

Day 122: Mack's Inn & Island Park

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We woke up in Idaho, an exciting accomplishment, indeed. However, our first night took place on the side of a residential road tucked out of sight into trees. We woke up early, packed up quickly, and marched with ease into town. Once arriving at the small town of Mack's Inn, we could smell the laundromat before we saw its timber frame walls. Peering into the dirty windows, we saw Scavenger who waved back at us.

We stepped inside to find both Scavenger and Winter just finishing up their laundry. We joined them, throwing our clothes in the wash and sitting down to eat some snacks for breakfast. After finishing up our laundry, we repacked our packs and put on our fresh clothes. Our next goal was food, more food. We walked to the main highway and crossed over the Henry Fork of the Snake River, apparently an amazing fishing spot. This river pours out of the mountains at a place called Big Spring, pumping out over 120 gallons of water per day. Next to the river sat a Mexican restaurant. Here we ate way more than we should have and left feeling slightly miserable and satisfied.

With full bellies, we headed towards Island Park to find a place to stay the night. Sawtelle Resort and RV Park was recommended to us by other hikers, and after checking it out for ourselves it really was a great deal. Twenty dollars bought us a camp spot, two towels, unlimited showers and pool access! It was truly a hiker heaven.

We picked out a campsite and then perched up for the rest of the afternoon. A heavy rain started to fall as a storm moved through and we watched from the comfort of the porch. Thunder boomed throughout the sky and eroded dirt covered the roads. We both acknowledged how happy we were to be in shelter and not on top of a ridge at that moment.

For dinner, we walked back across the street to the Chinese restaurant, and along the way, we met some more Southbound hikers and a film crew shooting a documentary of a group of hikers on the trail. We drooled over some of their equipment and probably dreamt about the possibilities of camera gear that night. The Chinese food was extremely good, which surprised us in a town that small. We headed back to our tent and fell asleep to the sound of a neighbors campfire and a distant owl.

 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter

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Large crew of SOBOs from the 3mph film group