The old bell rings as I push open the wood screen door that is covered in cracked old paint. The light is coming in through the stained windows of the general store that carries ample supplies of boxed food, tackle, smokes and bear bells. Everything that the little town of Augusta needs is right here, and nowhere else.
The kind folks who own the Bunkhouse Inn had picked me up from Benchmark. They were new trail angels that offered to pick you up if you stayed at their hotel. It was a nice place and you could see the ghosts of cowboys walking down the halls of the hotel if you looked hard enough. I toured the 10-block town of Augusta, passing the library that had Internet, the bar with lawn mower racing and a yard creatively decorated with more lawn ornaments then there were people in the town. I was able to resupply at the general store with enough food that I was sure I wouldn’t be running low this time. Jerky, rice, chips, cookies, Oreo’s, hot sauce, candy bars of all varieties, dried fruit, Nature Valley granola bars, 3 tall boys of PBR and lotto tickets were all part of my resupply.
In the morning, a Ford pickup took us back to the trailhead we had left just 2 days prior to start our last stretch before feasting our eyes on what we had walked 2,500 miles for…. Glacier National Park. But before we could make it there we had to make it through “The Bob”. A vast wilderness that is truly a gem when it comes to forests in the American West and houses the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. This was going to be fun!
We entered the Bob after crossing a bridge going over a fast river and are immediately engulfed in the vast wilderness. We take our first break under a tree and are almost blacked out by the swarms of flies that engulf us. I’m reminded of those infomercials you see on TV with kids from Ethiopia who have swarms of flies on them. Sad of course but the flies would be our constant companies for the next couple of days whenever you were high on the passes. I was saddened that day because we weren’t able to go see the famed Chinese Wall, a highlight of any CDT thru hike. A fire had broken out a few weeks before we arrived so the trail through was closed due to still remaining small fires and fear of burnt trees falling on you. I chose to be smart and cautions by going around but now regret my sensibility. My only consolation that night was the fire red sky that surrounded us as we started to make dinner. I stared into it to remember it forever and slowly close my eyes to have it burned into my memory.
In the morning I take off before the rest of the pack, heading over the pass we were all to exhausted to climb the night before. I spent the morning hugging the mountain high and traversing to the West. I passed the typical trial junction and instead took the detour around the Chinese wall. Passing by outfitters cabins and campsites protected by electrical fences connected to car batteries.
I begin a slow steady climb up the side of a mountain and reach the trail junction that would take me to the worst pass I have ever experienced. Switch Back Pass it was called and I can’t think of a better name for it then that. It was switch back after switch back after switch back. Every time you thought you were reaching the top it would just keep going. I was sweating profusely, my thighs were burning and I could feel every single thing I was carrying in my pack. There was no end in sight. After several hours of climbing I finally made it to the top. There waiting for me were a couple of people from my group who had passed me on the up hill and were resting from the beating we had just gotten. Looking back now, the view at the top was spectacular but at that time I didn’t care, I was thirsty because I had drank all of my water hours before and the sun was starting to set ever so slightly that I knew my rest would be short lived.
I heaved my pack back on and made my way down the other side, winding past small patches of snow and scree (loose rock) fields. I passed a stream and “cameled” up on water; enough to let me drink to my hearts content all night. We found a nice campsite off the trail because you don’t want to camp next to a trail; animals (a.k.a Grizzlies) use the same trails that you do and why make it easy for them. We setup a nice camp, got a big fire going and let our bodies recover from the long day. That night I slept hard.
I woke up at 6 am that morning, much earlier then my regular wake up time but full of energy. I was up and out of camp by 6:30 ready to take on the day. Tommy, a member of our group was also up early so we struck out on the trail before the others even woke up. We winded our way past hidden lakes that sit nestled next to cliff faces and are a collection of snow run off. The views open up across the valley that we will cover today and its breathtaking beauty almost takes your breath away. We finally make it down to the bottom and come across a wide and fast river. With no easy way to go across and the prospect of getting our feet wet this early in the morning is unappealing; we decided to do a sketchy crossing of tight roping across a dead tree laying across the river about 50 yards up. It wasn’t pretty but we made it.
The valley was a wash of mostly dead trees for sometime due to the burn that had gone through the area and had entered the Chinese wall area. We get lost a couple of miles down the trail because it was wiped away by a mud slide that took out the tree’s and the trail, leaving only bear tracks and confusion. 1 hour later we finally find the trail and continue on a Ley purple route. We pass a few hunters who seem to be hunting a buzz more then the grouse that are in season right now. I chat with some of them for a minute and just pray that several hours from now they don’t mistake me for a grouse and shot me.
The sun had dipped below the mountains to the west and we were still trekking in thick forest. Tommy and I started downgrading our expectations for a desired campsite every 5 minutes as it got darker and darker. We finally decided to just pick a spot and probably found the worst spot in the Bob we could. Uneven ground and next to the trail with a little dry lake bed next to it with thick willows that I was certain held a grizzly family. We hesitantly setup camp and hoped for the best. Sadly, I found myself running low on water again. That night a grizzly came wondering through our camp, sniffing around at our tents. I had been very lazy hanging my food throughout Montana and now while I was resting my head on my nearly depleted food bag I regretted my laziness. Luckily it had better things to do and moved on without incident but sleep that night was hard to come by.
Waking up early the next morning was easy and we cranked out the miles quickly. We rested at Badger Station cabin where we could dry out our tents and bags and drink from its natural spring that pumped out of the ground. We continued on after a quick meal and conversation with a local rancher. He was a 4th generation cattle rancher from the area and told us tales of wild cows in the forest and his distain for big cattle companies who ruin the land and drive down prices.
We made our final couple of miles following a forest road to Marias Pass which was our final large highway we would approach for the rest of the CDT. We took a couple of final turns in the trees and then popped out at a car camping site and made our way to the road. There we stopped and smiled as we finally…. after nearly 2,600 miles, we let the sight of Glacier National Park be absorbed into our eyes. It was unbelievable and we started hooting, hollering and high fiving. We had made it.