Sunday, June 23, 2013
Day 6 - most fun day on the CDT yet
Our permits through Glacier National Park read "NOT RECOMMENDED" in big blue letters. Our journey from the Northern terminus of the CDT, Chief Mountain at the Canadian border winds through a few mountain passes and valleys which are still steeped in snow. Of the four passes on the CDT, only one has been deemed "safe" by the rangers, i.e., passable. That doesn't mean that the pass is impassable (no pun intended), but merely that it hasn't been officially opened.
We bailed on Piegan Pass since we were due to hit it during a thunderstorm. Ultimately, it was the right decision since that very day we would have crossed the pass, we were caught in a thunderstorm and intermittent hail. Truly terrible. A few other CDTers (Lush, Manparty, The Captain and Columbus) attempted the pass that day and turned back due to the thunderhail
Anyhow, this is a long, convoluted story to say, we tried another pass today. We had heard from Ranger Ed in Many Glacier that Triple Divide Pass was likely safe. It's typically the second pass to open, after Red Gap. The approach was clear, but just as we got above treeline, we were in a long snowfield. The trail was completely obscured. We pulled out microspikes (i.e., baby crampons) and ice axes and started steeply up. Some previous hikers had carved snow steps, and trail explorer MVP, Trailbait started up the the steps. At the top, she started yelling something, but I couldn't hear her.
By then, I was nearly 2/3 of the way up, and continued to climb. Once I reached the top, I realized what Trailbait was trying to tell me: We were standing on the edge of a cliff. I had climbed up one hundred feed up a 70 degree snowfield and was now peering into a deep blue-ish abyss. Carefully looking away from my imminent death, I tiptoed along the cliff until I came out to the larger snowfield. Hearing water running beneath me, I became suddenly concerned that the snow beneath me was about to buckle, so I continued to move left until I was certain the snow beneath was silent. The remaining thousand feet of climbing or so was relatively uneventful, going through a mixture of friable red and green rocks, and long snowfield necessitating spikes. The pass itself was lovely, extraordinary 360 views of the nearby peaks.
We descended South on relatively clean path, and even saw 2 flocks of Bighorn sheep up close. They were quite mangy, as they were switching to summer coats. The matriarch of each flock lingered watchfully as we neared as the rest of the sheep fled to safely. Enviously, I watched them tiptoe gracefully across the snowfields.
I don't even know how to begin the next section of the hike. As we descended we came across a 15-20 snowfields, each was quite dangerous. I hope my parents are not reading this. Because I will say that my children are *forbidden* from hiking the CDT. The traversing of these snowfields was most definitely NOT RECOMMENDED. On a few, I flashed back to Ranger Goodwin who we saw on the approach to Triple Divide. We told him where we were going, and he papally crossed us, and said "Go with God". He meant it.
Some of the fields were simple traverses requiring careful tiptoeing across the fields, lest you tumble to a steep and rocky fall a few hundred feet down. Others were...
Well, a few you passed close to the side of the mountain, pressed between the rock and the snow itself. Some were cleared out through steep ravines containing waterfalls, so climbing across the snow, then dashing across a running waterfall to the other side. Some had water running underneath, which meant possible postholing through the snow, into the water and sliding all the way to the valley floor. The worst were the ones where we couldn't figure out how to cross safely, e.g., the snow was too thin, too steeply angled, and we had to navigate steeply above or below the snowfield, scrambling up and down the mountain. Being terrified of heights, I was in a state of high alert for nearly all of the afternoon descent.
We emerged nearly unscathed. On one snowfield, I had come across, and jumped down ~6 feet to a gravelly slide. The jump was longish, so we were passing down packs. As I took Moosie's pack, the weight toppled me, and I crashed down and burst my right knee. I actually had forgotten about it, thanks to the power of adrenaline borne of mortal peril but when changing for bed, I discovered my bloody knee.
In short, an extraordinarily fun (and dangerous) day on the trail. And a scraped knee to show.
Mileage: 10mi, Red Eagle Foot campground to Atlantic Creek campgound
p.s., 6/22, the day after the solstice, and Barrel Roll's birthday. We packed out marshmallows and Keebler Fudge Stripes for s'mores. Love trail birthdays. Happy birthday, big papi.