Down to Moyie River and back up! Day 15

I had a dream right before waking this morning that I was dancing with some friends of mine from my dance community back home. There were four of us and we had the most exhilarating quartet, swooping like Swallows on the currents of each others’ movement. Contact Improvisation is like that sometimes, though the dream dances always have a special and improbable grace. I sometimes think about Contact Improvisation, the dance form I practice, like marbles on complex and varied surfaces. We dancers are the marbles. We dancers are the surfaces. There is vast room to create here, playing with tone, tempo, size, emotion, timing.

Now imagine a relief map molded out of plastic of the mountains. You want to build a passage, a route for a marble to roll its way through this webbed, folded, finely detailed terrain. You could do all kinds of things: get the marble somewhere as directly and quickly as possible, for example. Some features of the surface will be too difficult for the marble to roll through, so you’ll want to avoid those. Ultimately, though, you can give the marble a great ride, letting it swoop into and out of great bowls of mountains, bump along ridges with backbone-like undulations, send it long up enormous climbs to roll it back down again along the firm and delicately featured earth.

So you get what I’m saying. Hiking is like dancing for me, in a way. But I’m the tiny, well-defined point of contact and the great earth with all its incomprehensible detail is my surface. The trail is my pathway in this dance. And this particular trail seems to be hell-bent on the ride. Good for me.

20130731-115758.jpgView from Bussard Mountain

20130731-115949.jpgMountains across the Kootenai Valley

Day 14 in Northwest Peaks Scenic Area

Well, that whole thing about the storms happened. It rained off and on all night while the meadow-ey place I was camped got damper and damper. I didn’t sleep well for half the night, and woke up the next morning later than I would have liked and with everything wet. The sky had fat dark clouds hanging down like apples but they weren’t raining. Sun was able to stream through occasionally. Why not split the difference, then, and take the medium-exposure route?

A few miles in and it was clear the question was not if they would break but when. The clouds were steely and heavy, and as the trail climbed up it rained off and on, sometimes driven hard by the wind whipping across the ridge the trail followed. Ahead was a long, exposed cross-country traverse on a ridge above tree line where it would be bad news to be in a lightning storm. Stephan and I knew we needed to move fast to cross the ridge before the thunderstorms built up. Also the mosquitos were feasting. Also I had 6 liters of water for a potential 18 mile dry stretch. Also the route climbed a lot and steeply and I sweated and groaned and hurried, and even as we approached the exposed traverse a storm crossed the ridge where we had just been. The thunder was magnificent and scary, but by the time we reached the ridge 20 minutes later, the sun was out and stayed out the entire traverse.

All day the weather was like that, tipping like a boat with no ballast one way and the next. Sun followed by severe thunder followed by rain and then sun. My feet got soaked and never dried, and yet I also was able to step off the ridge onto a sunny saddle and dry my tent and sleeping bag while eating a bag of crackers.

The Northwest Peaks Scenic Area is beautiful! Check out the pictures.

20130731-114248.jpgClouds gathering above the Yaak River Valley

20130731-114506.jpgRidge walk towards Rock Candy Mountain

20130731-115059.jpgNW Peak and Mt Davis making a bowl of trees

20130731-115433.jpgHappy face

Days 12 and 13: Up to Mt Henry, down to Yaak, and up again

My feet hurt. My legs. My butt. My neck. All of it. And it’s the most satisfying feeling. Everything falls into rhythm, including physical aches, including emotional and mental noise. I notice sometimes that my emotional life here on the trail is quite large. I suppose that as long as there aren’t any real distractions, it makes sense that my inner life would rush into the vacuum. But the magnitude of it, the sheer volume, is almost hilarious. I had remind myself multiple times today that what I was feeling was happening only in my head, and in that sense was real but subjective. No matter: just keep walking. Let the head be what will.

My head and my body run monologues as I’m hiking like a bird chorus of gossipy hens. Body: my feet hurt. Head: Are those storm clouds? Body: gee, the soles of my feet are really tender. Head: I hope I have enough water. Body: Oh, new pain on the side of my right foot! Head: What am I doing out here? Body: aaarrgh, foot cramp! Head: what a beautiful tree! And so on. I often find I’m counting as I walk, and the counting rhythm inevitably becomes a chanting sing-song. Plop plop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is is in 4/4 time, a simple yet effective walking time signature. Today I was counting in twelves which naturally became the Twelve Days of Christmas: On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me and so forth. That’s how it is, the cacophonous mind and body making low levels of constant background noise.

Today I went through Yaak MT, walking in after a creative bit of route finding on off-trail roads. I had lunch at the tavern, a lunch that included perfectly crisped tater tots of all delicious things, picked up the box of food I mailed myself for the next section, and was off. Rather than backtrack to where I walked off the PNT, I walked up a long forest service road into the mountains west of the Yaak river valley and camped where I finally rejoined the route. Just in time too, since thunderheads were building empires in the sky and trouble was brewing. It started sprinkling as I pitched my tent, and the sprinkles turned quickly to stark flashes followed almost immediately by teeth-rattling thunder claps. Two concerns come to mind: fire, in the case of dry lightning strikes, and lightning strikes, in the case of tomorrow’s hiking, which climbs high through Northwest Peak Scenic Area and follows exposed ridges for sustained periods of time. I think it rained decisively enough to quell the first concern. Tomorrow morning will have to settle the second, whether I can take the highest and most exposed route over Northwest Peak, the second highest and exposed route over towards Rock Candy Mountain, or a low and minimally exposed alternate of forest service roads that would skip the entire Northwest Peak Scenic Area.

Yesterday’s trail, by the way, was generally good. After a fine departure from Webb Mountain, the trail bopped along some forested mountains, crossing passes and following overgrown logging roads before arriving on the lovely ridge approaching Mt Henry. Though off route by a smidge, I couldn’t resist the climb. I lost the trail a bit on the way up in a mess of little-used, growing-in, unmarked trails, but heading up helped and eventually I made it up to the top where a lookout was perched precariously on old log stilts. The wind pitched it from side to side and the place was a mess. It looked like somebody’s project gone wrong. I didn’t stay long, leaving the crap shack to its lovely views and descended all the way down to the Yaak Valley, where I made the mistake of camping in one of those high-impact, hand-built forest service camp sites where rodents swarmed all night and chewed up the grip on one of my trekking poles. Se la vie.

20130730-202714.jpgMt Henry through the trees

20130730-202901.jpgStephan and Mt Henry Lookout

20130730-203203.jpgTrail down from Mt Henry

Leaving Eureka on Day 11

Beautifully, scorchingly hot day in the Tobacco Valley. I think it was 99 deg F, or that’s what the sign said in the little camp store when I went in for something cold to drink, paying with a twenty and getting over twelve ones and a five in change. The walk out of Eureka was probably the worst 99-degree-day walk, involving a long stretch of paved, busy highway 37 which, unfortunately, I hit in the hottest part of the afternoon. Even so, I rather enjoyed today’s crossing of the Tobacco Valley. Before the highway, the route followed an abandoned rail corridor and then a series of campground complex trails along the shore of the stunningly blue Lake Koocanusa. It generally made for pleasant walking.

20130727-065712.jpgOld train cars on Eureka rail corridor

Finally the highway ended with a traverse of a bridge spanning the narrow lake, apparently the only bridge along the entire length of the lake. A short while later, I started up the Webb Mountain trail, which climbs 3400 feet in four miles. I had been a bit wary of this climb, largely because this upcoming stretch of trail is fairly dry and I was hauling a good bit of water in my pack. I thoroughly enjoyed it though. The trail was gratifyingly difficult but never demoralizing. Most of it climbed through an old burn, so the views were lovely, though tempered by the thickening haze of smoke blowing in from a large fire in Oregon. At the top of the trail is yet another lookout, this one reachable by road. A couple, transplants from Washington State, were renting it out for the night and generously shared water and made popcorn and conversation as the sunset lit up the lookout windows.

Dan left Eureka this morning when I did, he heading back to the goats and work, me heading back to my walking. Stephan, the PNT hiker who started the same day as me, left Eureka when I did and we are hiking together again. It’s nice to have the softening effect of company.

20130727-065744.jpgWebb Mountain Lookout

20130727-065733.jpgView of Lake Koocanusa from Webb Mountain burn area

20130727-065825.jpgSunset behind Mt Henry in lookout windows

Day 9 followed by Day 10, cause that’s how it goes

Yesterday I made my way out of the Whitefish Mountains, dropping down down down several thousand feet to the Tobacco Plains (as the valley is known) where Eureka sits next to the Tobacco River. The trail down zigzagged out of the forest that predominates here around 6,000 feet, eventually passing through a low-elevation Ponderosa Pine and Fir forest like the ones in eastern Washington. A bit of road walking and some hours later, I landed in Eureka. Hello sandwich!

After lunch I visited the laundromat, featuring machines from the eighties (by appearance anyway) and a spread of Better Home and Garden magazines. I slipped into my raingear and marinated like saran-wrapped chicken while my clothes went through the wash and dry. In the meantime, I read an interview in Oprah magazine of Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. An interesting interview, given my current circumstances. I haven’t read her book, but I wonder whether someday I will.

Dan arrived later, and we’ve had a great visit, now wrapping up a rest day. Tomorrow morning I head back onto the trail. It’s hot here, very hot. It was 98 deg F here in Eureka today, and the next few days the trend continues. Dan and I went swimming in Lake Koocanusa, and otherwise have been eating or hanging out in air conditioned motels where, sad to say, my hard-won inoculation against the heat has no doubt eroded away. Tomorrow morning I must whip it back into shape again, road walking and climbing up up up several thousand feet in the scorching heat.

The next section takes me through remote Northwestern corner regions of Montana, through Yaak (I pick up a box there in two days) and then into Idaho. I aim for Bonners Ferry, or 16 miles north of it anyway, where the trail intersects the highway. I love the earnestness of this route so far, a kind of headlong thrust-with-abandon into the mountains. Trails are more about where they go rather than how they are made, or in some cases not made at all. It’s brash. It’s to-the-point. So there it is.


20130725-220218.jpgMorning moon over Tobacco Valley

20130725-220238.jpgLovely farmland walking into Eureka

20130725-220225.jpgSea floor rock? Ten Lakes area

Day 8 in Ten Lakes Scenic Area

Apparently this place has been trying for wilderness status for the last twenty years, and the proposal has been stalled in congress. In the meantime logging continues. The patches of forest in different stages of growth down in the basin are visible from the high trail I was on today.

After nine miles of climbing from last night’s camp, I topped out at the Mt Wam lookout cabin on the southeast side of Ten Lakes. The cabin is perched perfectly on Mt Wam’s round little knob of a top and has commanding views of all the surrounding terrain. Lookout cabins no shortage of charm, this one no exception. All the walls are half windows with propped up storm shutters making the lookout appear like its ready for flight. Sadly for this lookout, vandals visited sometime in the last few weeks and kicked the door in, broke some windows. A team of forest service trail crew were there to repair it. Apparently they hiked in that morning carrying three sheets of plywood, a chainsaw, some two by fours, some pulaskis, and other stuff. Since there were only three of them, I was quite impressed. Dan, the crew leader, took some time to talk trails and maps and routes. He knew about the PNT, even had some suggestions for long term alternate routing, and had a wealth of information about the trails both behind and ahead, including their state of maintenance. After hearing his thoughts on the trails in the area, I changed my plans for the day and then changed them again. It’s nice to be flexible. It’s also so nice to meet the people making it possible to hike a route like this. Without their work, the trails would be a mess (as some in the next couple weeks are bound to be).

The Ten Lakes Scenic Area is beautiful, worth visiting if you ever the get the chance. The landscape is mountainous but gentle, with long views across the basin ringed by mountains. The trails are in great shape. There a couple cool lookouts to visit. What more, I ask, could you want?

Tomorrow I arrive in Eureka, where Dan (husband) will meet me for a rest day!

20130724-193234.jpgTrail crew leaping around plywood

20130724-193328.jpgView into Ten Lakes Basin

20130724-193308.jpgMt Wam Lookout

20130724-193223.jpgPanorama of Mt Wam Lookout

Day 7: The Whitefish Divide

I woke up to harmonies of a hundred little mosquitos at my door. Yesterday I left town at 9 am and still hiked a bunch of miles by late afternoon, and I almost found myself wishing for dark sooner (especially with the bugs–you either outrun them or sit in your tent). I figure the same would happen today, so I pulled my hat over my eyes and went back to sleep until 7:30. I was just sorting myself out when Stephan hiked by. He waited while I flapped at the mosquitos and jammed my gear together and we ended up hiking together the entire day.

The route climbed up to a ridge north of Whitefish mountain and proceeded on that ridge for the next 10 miles or so. I remember looking at my maps last night thinking today’s hiking should be lovely. It was. The ridge was high and defined, sprinkled with wildflowers and lustrous grasses. And thin, stubby trees. The perfect weather, though a tetch on the hot side, continues to hold, and visibility is good. The mountains of Glacier are now days away and from the ridge looked distant and massive. The Whitefish mountains tumbled out around us. The ridge was characterized by steep-sided knobs joined by deep saddles, and contour around all this the trail most certainly did not. I feel it now, let me tell you. Only 18.5 miles today and I was hobbling by the end. I wonder if in all the bug fleeing I didn’t eat enough yesterday, because my energy was sapped all day. Even so, the ridge was gorgeous in all its undulating.

20130724-182807.jpgOn the Whitefish Divide

20130724-182735.jpgThe defined ridge of the Whitefish Divide

20130724-182748.jpgThe mountains of Glacier in the distance

20130724-182822.jpgThe tumbling down old lookout on the top of Mt Locke

We had a bit of trouble finding the trail that was supposed to leave the ridge, something the hikers a week ahead of us alerted to us to via email. We ended up bushwacking down from the ridge until the right trail magically appeared under our feet, and it was pretty well maintained to its trailhead, where we are now camped.

20130724-192554.jpgButterflies on the Blue Sky Trail coming off the divide

My knee is vastly improved, only to be replaced by a painful right Achilles’ tendon. I’m sure that will pass soon too. The trail is breaking me in, but I think we’re beginning to come to a mutual kind of understanding. My back, in case you are curious, has been an interesting challenge. I generally have had no pain while hiking. Indeed, my backpack forms a frame against my back that encourages my exaggerated low back curve to relax a little, something that is good for my back problems. The fast accumulation of tired, stiff, and sore walking and postural muscles is less good for my back, but if I’m conscientious about stretching and minding them, I seem to have little trouble. Sitting is still painful, though becomes less and less so each day I’m on the trail. I still take many of my breaks standing but he sitting is coming along. Katherine’s plan to heal your back in two months: walk it off.

Day 6, with bugs

I left Polebridge around 9 this morning after a cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich from the bakery. My bag packed, loaded again with too much food for this stretch to Eureka MT, I wrestled my hat into the front pocket of my backpack while on the porch of the Polebridge Mercantile. A man in a very fine hat sitting in one of the porch chairs said to me “you are being very hard on that poor hat”. “My goats chewed this hat,” I said, as if that explained anything at all.

Hat stowed, pack on, I climbed up away from the North Fork Valley and into the Whitefish mountains. The route followed a gravel road, then a closed and overgrown dirt road, and finally actual trail about 14 miles in. I deeply enjoyed the hike today, however. There is something about this kind of forested terrain that feels warm to me, almost as if I belong in it. The hillsides were thickly emerald and the sky was electric blue, and wildflowers clustered color here and there.

What was less enjoyable were the bugs. For much of the day it was flies, little black biting flies and big horseflies that leave pits in your legs after they feast on you. I slap and slap and only make myself tired and crazy while the flies continue unfazed in their assault. I stopped to cook dinner at a small creek and couldn’t sit to eat. I ate standing, pacing and stomping and then packed up and ran out of there, hoping for better up higher. Not to be. The mosquitoes are out in force, and I spent the last few miles practically running to get away from them, which of course didn’t work. I’m laying in my tent writing this and I’d like to get out to pee but there are hundreds of mosquitos clinging to my bug net door.

Even through the persistent hum I can hear woodpeckers hunting and thrushes singing the night on. Tomorrow I get a long ridge which, if its not too buggy, should be beautiful.

20130724-174747.jpgFlowers on the climb into the Whitefish Mountains

Resting in Polebridge

This place is particularly well suited to what I need in a rest day, including a limit on what I can do. There is only one restaurant for dinner. There is only one bakery for midday snacks. There is no post office to mess with mailing away a bunch of my gear. It’s exactly what I need without being excessive, which when I get down to it is part of why I like hiking so much. Sometimes we moderns don’t seem to know how to distinguish our needs from the roiling fog of everything else, and so many of our basic needs appear to have modern-day cognates that are at best poor translations from the original. In the business of everyday living, losing touch with my hard animal body that eats, moves, eliminates, and sleeps starts to cause an irritated anxiousness in me that I wouldn’t notice except that when I finally arrive out here on the trail it quiets down. I feel like an animal again. I feel more primitive. This is part of the therapy of nature.

That said, I am at the same time an animal that loves a good shower, a good book, and even my iPhone (because that’s how I stay in touch with all of you). Hence, the parameters of a good rest and resupply: a bathing facility, a laundering facility (a sink or tub and line will do), a way to charge gadgetry, Internet, a source of different food from trail food, a way to make phone calls. Also, either material of resupply (food and fuel for the next hiking section) or package reception. Nice but not required are a bed and a way to mail out, both post cards and packages. Polebridge has the food part nailed down, and the North Fork Hostel, run by Oliver, is great too.


Polebridge! Day 4

First resupply! Woo!

I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights, like a bout of sticky insomnia has latched on to me and squeezes the sleep away. I think I eventually sleep for a few hours in the early dawn mornings, but with all the exertion and the mending my depleted carriage (body) needs, I could use more sleep. More than a few hours. Even so, I don’t feel too tired during the day, at least not due to lack of sleep. And being awake in the night has its advantages. The mountains are filled with two sets of creatures, day ones and night ones, and the night ones make rich, mysterious noises. Last night loons called across Kintla Lake, their haunting cries soothing my sleepless hours.

20130724-162249.jpgUpper Kintla Lake

20130724-162310.jpgStones in the clear water of Lower Kintla Lake

The hike out of the park, past Kintla Campground at the end of Kintla Lake, was smooth, other than the favoring of me knee I’ve had to tend to. Then there was a 14 mile road walk along the narrow, dirt Glacier Route 7. It was probably one of the more beautiful road walks this entire trail will offer. The mountains of Glacier National Park loomed to the east, the Whitefish range to the west (where I head next). Now I am in Polebridge, having stuffed myself on pizza, showered, and hand washed my clothes in a metal bucket at the hostel. I’ll rest my knee for much of tomorrow before heading off.

20130724-162805.jpgMountains of Glacier along road walk to Polebridge