First the record May snowfall in Colorado derailed all the CDT hikers and now the fire out west has closed much of the area north of Lincoln to Canada. For those who have never lived in areas threatened by wildfires, it is a sight to behold. The sky looks like it is going to rain because of the haze. It is hard to make out the mountain ranges in the distance and the area smells like a giant campfire. Often times ash falls from the sky and the air is very dry. Don’t get me wrong, when it is clear and bright there is not a better place to be than in Montana, but for now it is filled with smoke not only from fires nearby but from the fires in Washington, Oregon and Idaho several hundred miles away. Colorado too is experiencing the smoke, although they have no active fires in the state.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (known as the “Bob”) and the Lewis and Clark National Forest is virtually closed due to the numerous fires. An Indian reservation east of the Bob is being evacuated and several northbound CDT hikers are stuck in Lincoln wondering what to do next. A trail angel in Lincoln has offered to bus CDT hikers up to the northern section of Glacier National Park to avoid the fire area. It was suggested the those hikers come back next year to hike in the closed areas to complete their trek. For me there is no next year; if I don’t complete the CDT this year there is no coming back. I have come over 2,600 miles and would like to complete the journey. I feel the real challenge of the CDT is to complete the thru-hike in its entirety the same year.
I don’t want to take away the accomplishment of hikers who hike one section or state per year or those that come back to finish portions they could not do the previous year because of weather, fire, etc. The real adventure for me is to complete the CDT as I originally planned. Now the question is how do I get from Lincoln or Missoula to Glacier and from Glacier to Waterton, Canada and still have Karen hike the last segment with me. What better expert to consult with than Natalie who knows more about wilderness logistics than anyone I have ever met.
When she came up with the alternate hike in New Mexico taking us from Chama to Pagosa Springs because of the snow conditions and then jumped me just north of the snow to hike the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming and then back to Pagosa Springs weeks later, well she convinced me of her unique skills in backcountry planning. She looked at pack rafting down the middle fork of the Flat Head River, something Natalie has done a lot of in Alaska. Pack rafting utilizes a very light weight raft that you carry on your back along with your backpack and you float/paddle when conditions allow down a river and then hike around either log jams, rapids or falls when present. This plan was not feasible since the river flows right through the fire areas.
Natalie came up with the following plan so I will not have to hike on the road. Natalie’s co-worker, Rachel, is giving her bike to me equipped with saddle bags and everything I need to navigate forest service roads around the fire area. Right now the plan is to bike up to Glacier and then hike the trails that are open, up to the Waterton terminus. If all goes according to plan, I will meet Karen somewhere in Glacier (Bowman Lake/Logan Pass) and finish the hike almost as scheduled. One might argue that by biking to Glacier I somehow break the code or definition of a true CDT thru-hike, but given the conditions all the CDT hikers have had to face in 2015 I feel very comfortable in my decision and hopeful I can accomplish my goal.
This is a record year for the number of people who are hiking the CDT. Most hikers (200) started from the Mexican border in early April and approximately 20 hikers started mid-June from the Canadian border going south. Northbound hikers fear snow in the San Juan Mountains in early June and snow in Glacier National Park in September. Southbound hikers fear snow in Glacier National Park in early June and snow in the San Juan’s in late November. With little snow in Glacier National Park this past winter, southbound travel would have been the best direction to travel this year. However, the idea of finishing on the Mexican border in November was never attractive to me.
Last year there were about 70 northbound thru-hikers who hiked from Mexico to Canada that finished the CDT. This year there may be only 10 that get to complete the whole journey; hopefully, I will be one of them. When Lewis and Clark paddled up the Missouri River the Shoshoni Indians told them they would not be able to get through to the west because the Missouri River terminated at the Continental Divide. They left the river and traveled by horseback to complete their mission and the rest is history. If Lewis and Clark were alive today they would have come up with the same plan devised by Natalie. After all, they had Sacajawea to guide them and I have Natalie.