Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Day 44 - so far, so good
The morning was a nice rolling hike over to Little Shineburger creek. At this point, the map shows a dashed line, which indicates that the trail isn't fully "official". And just as a man plummeting from the top of a skyscraper may say to himself as he passes each floor, "so far, so good". Our dose of reality was the the next section of trail, not clearly defined, but simply: find a way back from Little Shineburger creek up to the Divide. We found the creek, no problem, and traversed across the beginning of the ridge. We knew we had to follow the creek running up to the ridge, and started walking on nicely defined trail. The trail disappeared in some meadows, to reappear in sections, all the while relatively flat. We were most likely on some game trails, given the flatness of the trail, and the random scattering of large ungulate bones.
The real fright was the steep, looming peak ahead. We kept walking along the creek, which was narrowing at the headwaters, and finally disappeared into a dry bed of motley sized pebbles. And then, we saw, we had a major climb up over the next 0.8mi for so to the top of the ridge. Normally, this wouldn't be so bad, except... for the terrible prickers. I'm not sure of the technical name for these things (burrs, stickers, pokey things), but these are the flowers of a scrubby plant ubiquitous on these hillsides. The pricker are lime green when young and a pale yellow when dry and at their prickliest. They resemble 3D asterisks and are very tacky. The only part of me which repelled them were my Gore-Tex gaiters, but I was otherwise covered. I couldn't go very far without removing them, since they penetrated my pants, and scratched me at every step. The bushwhack up to the Divide was studded with these irritants. Add the steepness of the climb and the sun beating down, it was a relief when we were finally on the ridge. The views of the countryside were thrilling--we could see I-15 from miles away, as the 18-wheelers looked like small white rectangles sliding across the horizon.
And then we started the roller coaster, of ridge to ridge, following the barbed wire fence. We started off with gusto, tackling the first few ridges, and then ran into our next set of Nobos, Why Wait and Rob Steady. We were up on the barren ridge for the next 10mi or so, and they had just lunched in a small stand of three gnarled pines a half mile away. Just as we were wishing each other bon voyage, the rain moved in. Expecting this to be a short, limited burst, Gangles and I hiked on. Now, one of the benefits of being on a ridge is that you can see so far, and unfortunately, we could see no end to the dark clouds. The downside of being on a ridge is the danger of thunderstorms, both rain / wind exposure and lightning. We quickly bailed to the trees where Why Wait and Rob Steady had lunch.
The trees provided much better cover, and we were mostly shielded. We had lunch, and were just going to wait out the storm, but it continued to intensify. We pulled on our ponchos, and sat with our packs under the trees. The rain worsened, and turned into pelting hail, with no end in sight. We were getting cold, and feared hypothermia, so we decided we should pitch our tent. The hardest part was emerging from my poncho cave. We managed to very badly pitch on the steep slope. and crawl inside. The winds and rain were howling outside, and we had to re-stake a few times, as the tent was being uprooted from the winds. After ~1.5h in total, the rain blew over, and the skies were blue. Montana's weather motto: If you don't like the weather, don't worry, it'll change!
Now, way behind schedule, we packed hurriedly and hustled back out on the ridge. The roller coaster was fun, but began the toll of the bushwhack and hail storm began to wear on us. We were still hoping to get in tonight, so we called Mike and Connie at the Mountain View Inn. They said if we could make it to the road around 9pm, they would come get us. We had to hustle up and down, peak to saddle to peak, on the gently descending ridge. Though the amplitude decreased during our trip, the constant up and down was difficult at the end of the day. I remembered that Peanut Eater, a Nobo we met in Leadore, said it was 'the worst 12mi of the trail'. We ran out of water with ~4mi left on the ridge, but the weather was blessedly cool.
We kept running, and were ~4mi from the road at 8:15pm. We called Mike one last time, and he mentioned that he was picking up some other Nobos, Optimist and Stopwatch. If we were okay with being picked up now, he would come get us so he wouldn't have to make two trips.
And just like that, Mike ex Machina, we were in a SUV, speeding to Lima.
Brutal section--tough terrain, getting lost on the trail, but we made it. We'll tackle the last few miles on our way out. Nearly done with MT, though.
Mileage: 22mi from Sawmill Creek Rd trailhead to somewhere on the Frontage Road to I-15
p.s., Happy trails to Very Fit! Hope you have a safe flight back to ATL. And Swiss, see you soon.