I successfully completed the Continental Divide Trail on September 18th, 2005. It was an incredible journey which will live in my memory as one of the times in my life when I felt truely alive. You will find a few of my journal entries below.
It rained hard all last night. Luckily, we were camped on forest duff that drains well so we didn't get flooded out in our floorless tents.
We walked out of camp and within a mile or two got to Weminuche Pass. Its a miracle someone didn't build a road over this pass. It's only at 10,500 ft. and plenty wide, so it would have been ideal for a road. Fortunately, the road wasn't built and the pass is now part of the half a million acre Weminuche Wilderness Area, which we are currently walking through.
As I walked east up the North Fork out of the pass, I came upon a striking scene. The San Juan's got enormous snowpack this past winter and avalanches were clearly common.
Here, an avalanche had come down from the slopes above, snapped off 3 feet in diameter trees at their base, and deposited them in the North Fork stream. The trees were all piled on top of each other, and much unmelted snow remained beneath these trees. Nature is so powerful.
We cleared the trees at the head of the North Fork and reached the alpine tundra zone once again. And right about this time the weather rolled in. Our timing was perfect. :o) We got rained/hailed on off and on for the rest of the day.
But the weather created a surreal beauty around us. Often, we were enveloped in mist, rain or hail and couldn't see a thing with 50 ft. visibility.
We'd go for miles like this and suddenly the clouds would part and reveal the beautiful landscapes around us. And then there were the in between moments where we had some visibility and the clouds were hovering around the peaks, with otherworldly lighting conditions highlighting the reddish fall tundra, creating a kind of fairytale scene. I felt privileged to witness this kind of beauty, walking up high through the mountains in the midst of storms. Fortunately, we had no thunderstorms while we were walking.
Another thing that made today beautiful was the sound of Elk bugling. The Elk are in the midst of their mating season and the bugling is their mating call. It was eerie to be walking in clouds with no visibility and hear an Elk bugle wafting up on the mists from the valleys below.
Such beauty today on so many levels. The price I paid was physical discomfort. Small price to pay for what I witnessed.
By 6 p.m., Eric and I reached a cute little lake (Cherokee Lake) on the north side of the divide a few hundred feet down from the crest. We'd only gone 22 miles, but the route ahead was right on the crest of the divide with no place to camp. And the skies were looking scary. Seemed like something big was moving in. We were beginning to hear thunder.
We were discussing whether we should camp at the lake and quit early when Jonathon and Beth caught up to us. We all had a little pow-wow of sorts and collectively agreed quitting now was a good idea. Cherokee Lake was beautiful. It sits right on the edge of a big cliff and has gorgeous views north over the Rio Grande Valley. Getting to camp in places like this is why we are out here.
It was a good decision. Minutes after getting our shelters set up, the first thunderstorm of the day struck. High winds and hail would not have been fun to walk in. Not to mention the fact that lightning is now striking the divide above us, right where we would have been walking had we continued. I'm snug in my sleeping bag, but the rain/hail is coming down hard. This feels like Hurricane Weminuche. I'm gonna have to cut this entry short as I see water starting to flow underneath my tent. I've got to go outside and dig some trenches with a rock to channel the water away from my sleeping area.
Today was amazing. Our itinerary had us doing 20 miles from the Granite Park campground to the Kootenai Lake campground. We noticed 3 stellar side trips we could do today to scenic overlooks. In total, they would add 5 miles and a lot of beauty to our day. We of course did all three.
First, we decided to climb Swiftcurrent Mountain. This 8400 ft. peak promised great views of the entire northern part of the park. Eric left camp early to eat breakfast in the sun at the top of Swiftcurrent Pass. I ate breakfast in camp and started up later. We planned to rendezvous at the pass and climb the peak together.
Just as I was about to start up the trail to the pass, I noticed something moving in my peripheral vision off to the left. It was a Grizzly maybe 150 yards away digging for moths right on the trail. It stopped and looked at me for a second, then went back to digging. The bears are up high this time of year. They apparently like to turn over all the rocks near treeline
looking for a species of moth that they like to eat. This particular moth lives off of flower nectar and thus has a high carbohydrate value. These moths and berries make up the bulk of the Glacier National Park Grizzly diet.
I wasn't about to disturb this bears breakfast, so I just waited for him to
move on. Finally, after many displaced rocks and moths eaten, the bear moved on and disappeared in the trees to the right of he trail. It was fascinating to watch him feed on moths. Who would have thought? Luckily, he seemed to have no interest in the dried fruit in my pack. :o)
I decided to give the bear a wide berth and took a path far to the left of the trail to get up to the pass. I made noise the whole way up to where Eric was waiting. We walked up the trail to Swiftcurrent Mountain a short ways and looked back to see Mr. Grizz strolling right on the trail over the pass below us. We watched a little nervously as he reached the trail junction between the pass trail and the trail up the peak which we were on. Fortunately, he continued on the pass trail. It was super enjoyable to watch the bear from above like that. This was the way I had always wanted to see a Grizzly.
We climbed on past a Mountain Goat grazing on the tundra grasses and reached the top of Swiftcurrent Mountain in high spirits. The view up here was amazing. We had 360 views out into the land of a hundred Grand Tetons.
There was actually a fire lookout station on the top manned by a fellow named John. Just before we reached the lookout, there was a sign that said, 'Private Residence.' Talk about an amazing place to call home. John had about 2 hours of work to do each day, then he was free to write or read or whatever. The park service used pack mules to bring his supplies up, so he didn't have to pack up water or food or anything. The woman who was the lookout before him held the job for 20 years and raised her kids up there. I assume those kids were homeschooled. :o)
Next on the side trip agenda was Ahern Pass. We reached this lookout in time for lunch and sat down to enjoy the view of Helen Lake below. After lunch, we walked down the pass a bit to the east and stood on top of the snowfield/glacier that graced the mountain walls above Helen Lake. Eric walked up and to the east to get a picture of me on the snowfield with Helen Lake below. As he was walking through the talus to a good spot, he started freaking out and said, "You gotta come check this out." I walked up and freaked out myself. We had worked our way around to the east on the slopes south of Ahern Pass to the point where we could see the Ahern Glacier high above Helen Lake. Three or four 1000 ft. waterfalls flowed off the glacier down into Helen Lake. Holy amazing!! It was a scene like no other I have ever witnessed.
The last of our side trips was the Sue Lake Overlook. We crested the divide and looked east down on massive Sue Lake. This lake seemed to sit in the middle of a huge basin surrounded by towering peaks covered with snowfields. Conical Pyramid Peak was east of us on the other side of the lake. The view of the glaciers in this basin from that peak must be amazing. It was such a beautiful spot, that we decided to have an early dinner and spend some time.
After dinner, we packed up and rejoined the Highline Trail which led to our camp. We immediately passed through a large alpine tundra field before dropping into the trees of Waterton Valley. Some friends of mine who hiked the CDT in 2003 southbound had been bluff charged by a Grizzly in this area on the first day of their trip. And we'd heard from some folks up at the Sue Lake Overlook that 4 Grizzlies were sighted in this tundra field last evening. This was a big Grizzly feeding area, as there were abundant rocks around which held little moth treats for the bears. We were a little weary as we walked through this prime Grizzly feeding area, but we didn't see any bears.
We strolled into camp at Kootenai Lake around 9 p.m. for the days Grand Finally. Four Moose were standing in the middle of the water grazing on grasses which grew on the bottom of the lake. They would stick their head under the water for about a minute to chomp on grass, and then come up for air. It was quite a sight to watch these magnificent animals graze as the sunset colors lit up the sky. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Grizzly Bears, Moose, 1000 ft. waterfalls, beautiful alpine lakes. I can't believe this day. My words seem so inadequate.
A journal entry last night was out of the question. We walked out of Anaconda yesterday afternoon in good spirits. We had a 20 miles road walk ahead of us to get back to the Continental Divide, but it didn't matter. It was a beautiful day and I felt so blessed to be doing this.
After about 10 miles of paved road walking, the paved road turned into a dirt road. We were glad to be off the paved road, but hordes of mosquitoes greeted us as we walked through irrigated farmland. It was the worst mosquito area yet. We were literally swarmed. We each had clouds of mosquitoes around us as we walked, and the little suckers were dive-bombing us. I just kept walking. There was no stopping to put on clothes. There were too many of them. Our hands, arms and legs were bloody from swatting them. I just walked, hoping we'd get away from them in a few miles as we turned up towards the mountains and began our climb up towards the divide.
As we made that turn, the numbers of the little buggers did diminish. After only a mile or two of climbing though, we ran out of daylight. We climbed off the road high on a ridge hoping for some wind to keep them away. No
Setting up my shelter on the rocky ground was out. We climbed in our bags. I put my balaclava on and my hat over my face. Now I was safe. There were probably 25 mosquitoes on my hat right above my face alone. I fell asleep with the white noise of mosquitoes buzzing all around me. I would have been eaten alive had I done a journal entry.
It was a broken sleep. I woke up 20 times itching like crazy on my hands and face. What a night. The last time I woke up I could see dawn on its way. The numbers of mosquitoes were down to tolerable levels because of the cold of the morning. We ate quickly and walked out of there at 5:30 a.m. A few hours up the road and we crested the divide. No mosquitoes up here. How wonderful.
We walked north along the divide with pretty views back down in the valley towards Anaconda. When we got to Cold Spring, we filled up our water bottles, ate lunch and took a long siesta. It was such a beautiful spot - grassy meadows, the perfume-like scent of lupine flowers wafting around us, a gentle breeze and no mosquitoes. We slept for 2 1/2 hours. It felt so luxurious and pleasant to nap in that spot with no mosquitoes. I appreciated it so much. It may have been my favorite nap of my whole life.
To appreciate the comfort of things like sleeping, going to the bathroom, or eating a meal without mosquitoes, you first have to have to do these things with hordes of mosquitoes. This is the gift of all suffering. To fully appreciate health, you have to go without it for a time.
Sometimes, suffering is necessary in order to slow us down and openthe heart. When your heart fully opens and you greet the dawn on that first day of your Greater Life, you will have immense gratitude for every experience that helped you get to this place of freedom. I say, side-step suffering when you can. But when it comes, embrace it with gratitude for the gifts it brings you.
After our nap, we walked on nearly mosquito-free after our nap to a camp high on a ridge with nice sunset views. We walked our marathon today, but the little bastards were there to greet us at the finish line in abundant numbers. :o)))
Another marathon tomorrow and we'll be into our next resupply town in Elliston.
Riding the Storm Out
Its 8 AM and we haven't left our shelter, nor does it look like we will any time soon. We are surrounded by snow that invites us out to more postholing. We don't know exactly where we are on our maps, as we lost the trail in snow sometime yesterday. We got slammed by a storm last night just as we got Eric's shelter set up so we both climbed in.
The storm is still going strong. Fierce winds keep blowing the tent stakes out of the ground. We're constantly restaking to keep the shelter secure. Rain and hail nonstop for the last 12 hours. Visibility is maybe 100 yards outside. We're lucky the temperature is not in the 30's or we'd be in trouble, as the precip would be multiple feet of heavy, wet snow.
Given we are navigating by map and compass, we feel that its safest to stay inside until the storm lets up. No sense going out and getting soaked to the bone while lacking the visibility to navigate properly. No fun to be lost, hypothermic, and have all our gear and clothes soaked.
The clincher is Eric's tent is single wall, and we discovered, not seam sealed properly. This means moisture is condensing on the inside wall of the tent, and dripping through the seams. The wind is continuously shaking the walls of the tent so that moisture is misting down on us. Our down bags are slowly getting wet and losing their loft.
I'm not worried. Our bags are not that wet and still provide warmth. This storm will stop before we get into trouble. I've been in worse. I know we'll be fine. I feel this already, and so our escape from this storm is inevitable. The only thing that is unknown is the details of how it will come to pass.
We could walk the 13 miles back to Old Faithful. Or, more likely, we could walk 22 miles on route to Hwy 20 and hitch into West Yellowstone for food. From West Yellowstone, we may hitch down to Lander, WY and walk south through the Red Desert for 200 miles, giving snow time to melt up here. It's probably dumping snow at higher elevations right now. If we continue northbound, we'll be at those higher elevations soon.
While I've been writing this, we've noticed ice starting to form on the outside walls of our tent. The temperature is dropping. Not good.
On the positive side, our tent stakes seem to be holding now. Possibly, the ground is freezing and holding them in place.
Eric and I have to pee, but aren't willing to go outside to get it done. We're sacrificing a water bottle. It's nice to be a boy. I miss the
desert!!!! I want my mommy. :o)))
12:15PM and the accumulation has begun. The snow/hail is slamming into the tent horizontally from the southwest. Just an eighth of an inch of nylon between us and suffering. Accumulation happening quickly - at least 2 inches on the ground so far. We are in a white out. Visibility is down to 50 yards. This is turning into a full on blizzard. In the words of George Clooney, we're in a tight spot. Eric just filled up another water bottle with bodily fluids. Fond thoughts of sunburn, cattle fouled water and heat in the Red Desert fill our minds. :o)
On the bright side, since the rain has turned into snow, moisture is no longer accumulating on the inside of our tent. As a result, we aren't getting misted anymore, and our sleeping bags have thus dried out. We have 3.5 days of food. We'll outlast this and walk out of here...in our tennis shoes.
Eric and I walked on dirt roads for 20 miles today into Pie Town. We have been waking on dirt roads for the last two days. Its easy walking with no navigational challenges and we can make good time on roads. We covered 20 miles into Pie Town today by 3PM. I usually don't like roads. I never thought I'd say it, but today, I was grateful for the road we were walking on. It made the day easy and, after this long section, I was ready for an easy day.
And as we were walking into Pie Town on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere, we heard a strange sound. Off in the distance, it was a low rumble. It sounded like a car, but we had been walking dirt roads for days and hadn't seen a single car so we were skeptical. Then we saw it, a cloud of dust moving towards us on the highway. It was kind of scary. "What could it be?" we thought. As the dust cloud got closer, a form began to take shape. It was a bird, no a plane, no it was the FedEx van. It was moving fast - probably 70 miles per hour on this tiny dirt road. And, as Nita Larronde (CDT Trail Angel) informed us later, it was carrying my water filter. Even though the van nearly ran us over, my feeling at this moment is "Thank God for FedEx." Hiking in the desert without a water filter is no fun at all.
It strikes me that I have felt grateful for many things over the past few days that I never would have expected - fences, cell phones, stoves, roads, FedEx. Funny. What's the lesson here? Life seems to be teaching me about non-judgment. Everything has its purpose and place. The labels of good and bad are arbitrary. We assign things as good or bad based on whether they bring us pleasure or pain. That seems presumptuous. Who are we to make those judgments? We don't have the big picture. The Universe is no doubt unfolding just as it should according to the Plan of its creator. All we need to do is love what we love. There is no need to assign a 'bad' label to what we don't feel drawn to participate in. Love is all that matters. Why waste time with judgments?
With these thoughts, I walked into Pie Town. What an interesting little town. According to Nita Larronde, resident trail angel, I am presently 50 miles from the nearest McDonalds. Not that there is anything bad about McDonalds, I just don't feel drawn to walk the 50 miles to get there. :o) Nita also tells us that Pie Town (population 100) is located in the largest county in NM. This county has no stop lights and more Elk than people. How fun!
Nita is so amazing. She has opened her house to us. When she found out I preferred raw food, she started breaking out all kinds of nuts and dried and fresh fruit. Nita works at the local cafe here in Pie Town where she bakes guess what?....Pies! That's right, Nita prides herself in her superb pie making abilities. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, Eric was eating one of her special pies with ice cream on top. Every year (Sept 10th this year), the town stops (not that its really moving fast anyway :o) and holds the annual Pie competition. Bakers from around NM come to show off their skills. What a fun event that must be. I'd love to show up and bring one of my own raw apple pies.
Following Your Heart
New Mexico is known as the 'Land of Enchantment'. Today, I was enchanted far beyond my ability to communicate in this email. We continued our journey along the crest of the Black Range today with perfect weather. It was a magical day. Our first day without cattle poo on the trail. In fact, other than a few random barbed wire fences we passed by, we saw no signs of the hooved locusts. Poor things, through no fault of their own, we've turned cattle into ecosystem mowing machines. Today though, we saw a lot of bear and elk scat instead.
We had amazing views all day long as we walked on the Black Range Crest Trail. It was tough to make progress towards our next resupply town, as we couldn't pull ourselves away from the views out to the desert plains in the distance and far below us. The only thing that kept us moving along is that we are running out of food. Yet, I would have so loved to linger.
The high point today was 10,011 ft. Hillsboro Peak. We climbed through a lot of SNOW to get to the top of this mountain. On the summit, there was a fire lookout which we climbed for 360 degree views. Wow! I couldn't have imagined anything more beautiful.
Something about this New Mexico landscape really tugs at my heart strings. I was here in the Black Range 15 years ago for the first significant backpack of my adult life. It is good to be back. I was swept away by the beauty of this place then, as I am now. The me of 15 years ago would have smiled big had he known I'd be walking over Hillsboro Peak again on the CDT. At that time, the thought of doing something like a CDT through-hike was incomprehensible.
A lot has happened over these last 15 years. Being here in this place again helps me see the last 15 years of my life with proper perspective. Pain has just been the Soul's way of prompting me to let go and allow something higher to come through. I wonder, "Why I have been so reluctant to do this?"
The great Silence in nature holds and contains the human drama. Human lives come and human lives go. The Silence remains, always quietly whispering to us to let go and surrender to our Heart - the guide to our life purpose. Our lives are really not our own. We belong to the Silence from which we came. It wishes to express into this world through each of us in a unique way.
I hear the whisper tonight camped high on a ridge in the Black Range of New Mexico. It is the sweetest sound. I couldn't imagine life without the Presence of this sacred something quietly calling my name on the winds. All it asks is that I surrender to my heart and let that guide my life, no matter what my mind says. It calls to all of us, if only we would listen, our lives would be blessed with an effortless flow. Magic would swirl around us.
I wish I could write a letter to that Doug of 15 years ago and share with him a few things, send him some love.
The quality of the love that we express in our lives is really the only thing that concerns the Soul. It should be the only thing that concerns us. What do we love? Who do we love? The answers to these questions should guide our lives.
It will be with a heavy heart (and sore feet :o) that I leave this place tomorrow to walk to the next resupply town. I love these mountains. I remembered my name here.
First Day on the Trail
It's been a good day. 22 miles on April 22nd. We got "lost" many times today, but it didn't matter. The country is so open that we just broke out the topo map, picked a landmark that we knew was on route, and headed towards it cross-country across the desert. We made our own trail today.
The desert is in full bloom. Mexican Poppy flowers and blooming Barrel, Prickly Pear, Cholla and Ocotillo cactus everywhere. And sweeping vistas across vast flat open spaces dominate the landscape. The beauty here is stark and spacious, punctuated by colorful and delicate flowers. This beauty can only be appreciated with adequate hydration, however. One miscalculation in the location of our next water source, and we experience the harshness that is also part of this land. Out of these desert flats all around us rise steep, isolated mountain ranges - mountain islands in a sea of desert. We are camped at the base of one of these islands tonight - the Florida Mountains. Tomorrow we are headed up and over these steep mountains with no trail. We're gonna get an early start so we can clear the crest of the range in the cool morning and be on the flats to the east of the mountains by the heat of the day.
Today was hot. I drank 7 liters of water. By mile 20, Eric and I were feeling worked and sunburnt with a few blisters starting to form on our feet. As we were nearing a house by a road, a woman out in the yard waved. We introduced ourselves and asked if we could sit under the Pecan trees in her yard for shade as we ate dinner. Glenna invited us under the porch. We sat down on cool stone tiles feeling like we were in heaven. We lingered for a couple hours in this oasis before moving on to our present camp.
It's 16 miles to the next relatively certain water source tomorrow. And the Florida Mountains are between us and this water. Shouldn't be a problem. I'm so looking forward to my first night out under the stars with a full moon. I feel worked but so alive. We saw Jackrabbits, mule deer and a few lizards today. No rattlesnakes yet. Tomorrow promises adventure as we head out into the undiscovered country.