Friday, January 2, 2015

2014: A Year in Review

2014 was a busy year for Sara and I. In many ways it was a great year: we got engaged, we became partners in Sea Level Sucks, we finished the CDT, we moved to Missoula and started new jobs. But we feel very relieved to have made it through the year after what felt like multiple hurdles kept us jumping from one crisis to the next. We had a surprise $2000 car repair when we needed it least, we spent a day scrambling to different vets to try and keep Zeno alive, we got sick on the CDT again, and while in Flagstaff one of us always had to be sweeping to stay ahead of the dust from the backyard. But we prefer not to dwell too much on the negatives though, so here's our 2014 highlight reel!
It's 2015! (photo by Jacque Povilaitis)

In January we survived no snow in Flagstaff by spending time mountain biking in Sedona with friends and enjoying Oak Creek Brewing company. Sara improved her confidence on the mountain bike and is now ready to ride the infamous white line next time we hit the red rocks (see video).

February was very race filled. We both did the Agassiz Uphill in Flagstaff, the Mt Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, NM, and the WillRace Snowshoe Qualifier in Bend, OR(we both won!). We followed the snowshoe race with a failed attempt at the Bend pub crawl, but enjoyed quality time with our siblings.
Qualifying for nationals in Bend

In March we got engaged! We want to continue adventuring together for a lot longer so we're making it official on June 13th. We also became majority partners in Sea Level Sucks where we hope to inspire others to more outdoor adventures (a work in progress).
Romantic Engagement Photos by Jacque Povilaitis

In April Sara started the first of 5 river trips as a guide. While she was on the river soaking up the sun and having water fights, I kept trying to keep up with the guys of Team Run Flagstaff Pro. I also traveled to Vegas for my first XTERRA trail run and placed a humbling second to Roberto Mandje after he loped away on hill number three of seemingly hundreds.
Still hanging with Mandje after the first mile (pic courtesy of XTERRA)

As Sara continued her river season in May, I went to Los Angeles (Malibu to be exact) where I got to race another XTERRA race through where MASH was filmed. We also began seriously thinking about planning our return to the CDT.
Saying goodbye to good friends in Flagstaff

In June, Sara continued her river season and I went on a Zeno/Forrest weekend trip to Colorado for a race and play time in the mountains. I raced the Mount Evans Ascent where I remembered that road running is not as fun as trails, there is no air at 14,000' and wind slows you down. Zeno and I had a great time hiking a couple 14ers after the race, though, and returning to sections of the CDT from the year before. Sara and I also began and finished planning our last 1000 miles on the CDT June 30th and July 1st so we could leave on the 2nd.
Zeno's first Mountain Goat sighting
In July we frantically cleaned our apartment and drove up to Lander, WY to resume our CDT hike in the Wind Rivers where we aborted in 2013. July 4th I jumped in the local half marathon, we watched the city of Lander fire department waste thousands of gallons of water in a spectacular water fight, and quickly packed for the CDT while what sounded like a firefight at the Battle of the Bulge (really just fireworks ignited by people trying to out-'Merica each other) commenced outside.
Finishing the Lander 4th 1/2 Marathon
The rest of July and August we spent hiking the CDT. We quickly fell into the rhythm we established last year: get up, I make breakfast and coffee, Sara breaks down the tent, we hike, we eat, we hike, we do core and pushups, we eat, we hike, we sleep, we repeat. Once again the scenery was spectacular, and it was wonderful to be out on the trail again. This year, though, we did feel a sense of pressure the entire time since we needed to be in LA at the end of August for a wedding. This meant that we hiked 25-30 miles a day over terrain that would have been trying at 20. We were more than exhausted and would have preferred to back off a bit. But, the CDT never disappoints in terms of providing adventure satisfaction and we are very glad to have finished what we started (aside from one relatively teensy section that is slated for a weekend this summer).

Sara on the CDT before Rogers Pass

After getting off the trail at the end of August we drove back to Flagstaff, packed, drove to LA, went to a wedding, and then I drove up to Missoula to start work at the Cycling House the first day of September. Sara followed a few days later with the rest of our stuff and we began life as Montanans. September was also our introduction to bike racing. Sara did the Montana Hell Ride and I tried my hand at cyclocross. Despite Sara's bout with near-hypothermia, we both enjoyed the bikes and are looking forward to more races for 2015.
Sara in GNP (pic also now an ad for the Student Conservation Association)

In October we started to feel at home in Missoula. Sara found steady work at the Good Food Store and I continued trying to sell bikes and wheels. I also raced a 20k in Whitefish and found that cyclocross races don't transfer to trail runs longer than 12k.

Wind sculptures and blue sky at Discovery Ski

In November Sara went back to Flagstaff to help run the Grand Canyon Youth fundraising event and got to see great friends and family. I stayed in Missoula and journeyed to Coeur d'Alene for a weekend of freezing cyclocross to end the season. It also started to snow some in the mountains so we got to use our Kahtoola microspikes more in November than we did all last year in Flagstaff.
You can help send a kid on a GCY trip here

In December I went down to Scottsdale for the Cycling House staff retreat; a glorious week with a wonderful facilitator, early morning runs, afternoon rides where everyone repeatedly attacked, and late nights. To end this week of exhaustion I attempted to defend my title at the McDowell Mtn Trail Frenzy 10 mile, but failed when my Cycling House coworker opted to run.
Team TCH 1-2

Back in Missoula we wrapped up the year with a huge Christmas snowshoe where we climbed over 4000' to the ridge just below Stuart Peak. When we started there was 1/4" of snow and at the top there was over 7'. It was a beautiful day, but we were both quite exhausted after nearly 18 miles of powder.
Working down 7' of snow

The next day we went cross country skiing at Pattee Canyon for the first time with a night ski. It was great being able to skate without fear of rocks!
Breaking trail in the Rattlesnake

We continued our snow play days with a ski/snowshoe excursion at Lolo Pass the next day. The trails weren't groomed yet, but we did get in a couple miles of classic skiing before Sara's boot came apart. After hobble-skiing back to the car we donned the snowshoes and ran a couple miles up and across a ridge-line with views of more snow.
Training for Snowshoe Nationals begins!

Since then we've gone out on skis a couple more times, and even spent a day alpine skiing. We are loving how easy it is to play in the snow here in Missoula. Even when there isn't any in town we can run up to the point where skis/snowshoes are a necessity within a couple miles.

Ski day at Discovery - my first and last double blacks

2014 did have some great moments. But with snow, steady living locations, and the promise of long summer days (and a wedding!) we're hoping for bigger things out of 2015. We appreciate all the friendship and help we received last year as well. Thank you!

Happy Trails.
Happy New Year! (Photo by Jacque Povilaitis)

Forrest and Sara.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Missoula Living

This weekend marks the end of three months since Sara and I moved into our place in Missoula. Three months, but it feels more like a hectic two weeks. Looking back it seems we have fit a lot in that time.

We got settled into the house rather quickly with help from Sara's parents. Sara put in a bunch of work to get all the boxes unpacked and everything put away within two days. I don't know how she did it, but I came home from work to a home instead of the expected tornado alley.

Right after moving in we got hit with a huge car repair that sidelined us for a week while it was in the shop. The little bit of smoke we smelled driving back to Flagstaff from Glacier, then to LA, then to Missoula, was apparently a big deal that needed a ton of money to fix. Fortunately, us driving it around didn't make it worse, it just smelled bad and now we have a healthy, happy car.

Meanwhile, Sara decided she wanted to do the Montana Hell Ride, a 126 mile ride/race with 8200' of climbing. The Cycling House, where I work, put on the ride so I was going to be there for the weekend anyway. Sara spent a week putting in big miles to get her butt used to the saddle again, since all she had been doing for a few months was walking. Apparently a week is all she needs to train for a huge ride because she did great!

Sara putting in some miles
The day of the ride was quite chilly for mid-September. The start was in the low 50's but drizzling, and the top of the first climb was 41 degrees. By the time Sara got there she was wet and cold, but opted to continue without my jacket (most riders were very cold) and took off on a 17 mile descent. That sustained downhill after sweating and riding through rain understandably froze just about everyone. I was very glad to have a fire to stand next to all-day.

After finding a place next to a car heater for a while, Sara got back on the road and kept pedaling. The course makes a big loop on the East side of Skalkaho Pass before climbing back up and over the mountains. She spent most of that loop by herself, but managed to start catching people again on the last big climb. Apparently spending all day hiking the CDT for a couple months pays off in long bike rides. When other people started faltering, she just kept going.

Sara also applied for a variety of jobs to try and find something before returning to school. We had heard the job situation in Missoula is rough so we weren't expecting much, but she landed two jobs in the first few weeks and has a pending job for the spring. The first job was an in-home provider type job that she tried, but left to pick up more hours at the other. Her main gig right now is working at the coveted Good Food Store, a mere three blocks from home.

Zeno and Sequoia love the snow as much as we do
Yes, GFS is a grocery store, but to Missoulians it's more of a lifestyle. The food is delicious, it's healthy, and it's a great place to hangout. It is a great "for-now" job, and just about everyone we have met has worked there at some point.

Sara also may have an opportunity to work for a rafting company this summer in Missoula. We still don't know for sure if that will come through yet, but it will be a great chance for her to get out on the water on any number of rivers. There is so much water here!

I have been spending my time working, trying to learn bikes, and racing cyclocross. There are a couple big cx series in the area and the Cycling House competes in all of them. You can read more about my racing on my blog.

This was my first experience with cyclocross and as a whole I loved it. It's extremely challenging and painful, but like trail running has nothing to do with time. It's all about competing. Since biking divides races into categories I was able to compete for the win against people of similar abilities. Assuming you can stay upright through sand pits, run up hills quickly, negotiate barriers smoothly, and make sharp turns, there is a strategic aspect that made racing exhilarating. The season is over now, but I'm already excited to get back out there next year.
Sara and Carly enjoying the Stuart Peak descent

Cycling took up a lot of the fall for me, but I still tried to get back to the running a bit. I jumped in a couple races, which mostly reminded me that I need to train more. Sara and I both did the Elk Ramble 15k, which went up and over and up and over Mt. Jumbo, with some of the other Cycling House team, and that was a little more promising. Sara ran well and seemed to enjoy it. Like the Hell Ride she got stronger as the race progressed, which is why she's starting to look for a spring ultra.

If I could have thrown out the first three miles of my race I would have been quite pleased with my day. I let the leaders get away early and couldn't close the gap like I had hoped. The multi-mile descent to the finish was a blast though, and I made up a lot of ground. Next time I know to fight harder earlier since I can rely on downhill speed even if I'm tired.

Last weekend Sara and I went adventuring near the Rattlesnake Wilderness with a couple friends. Our initial goal was to summit Stuart Peak. I had gone up the Lolo peak trail a ways the day before and based on that assumed we'd have maybe 18" on top of Stuart and the snow line would be a couple miles from the top. Turns out the snow was 18" three miles before the top and the snowline was five or six miles down. That much snow forced us to move slower and we weren't quite prepared to be out there for a longer time. We opted to turn back just before we hit the ridge/Wilderness.

A now snow-covered wilderness
The adventure was not a failure though! The snow was still clinging to the trees and quite powdery and we got great views of Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley. We ran down the first few miles because the snow was so deep. If you have never run downhill through feet of snow you are missing out! When the snow is deep enough there is no consequence to falling (unless you hit a tree; don't hit a tree) so you end up running faster and with less control than you normally would. Plus, snow is flying everywhere behind you and it's not expected to be the most graceful thing. So running down the trail completely made our day.

For Thanksgiving Sara and I joined Owen (my boss) and his wife Anya for a trek to dinner. We drove up to the O'Brien Creek trailhead and hiked up and over Black Mountain to Owen's parents for a lovely meal. We started the hike well below snowline on trail, but ended up bushwhacking straight uphill into the snow. The last bit up/first bit down was surprisingly challenging because the snow was just deep enough to cover hundreds of fallen logs (burn area). This pick-up-sticks hillside would have been challenging anyway, but since we couldn't see our feet, or most of the logs we were tripping on, it was slow going. I attempted to do the downhill running thing to see if that would work, but ended up tripping on a log and staring up at the sky. From then on it was hiking.

We are grateful that Owen and Anya let us join them in their annual trek/dinner. It gave us our traditional Thanksgiving outdoor fix, but included a scrumptious meal.

Near the top of Black Mountain
Today we went for a spontaneous drive up to Seeley Lake. Neither of us had been up there before, but may head that way a bit this winter to get in some skate skiing. The biggest spontaneous thing I do is get up early and go for a run, or buy a snickers, so randomly leaving town was a big deal for me. We both just felt the urge to get out though and we had just enough time before Sara had to work to make it happen.

We got up to the lake/community just as it started to snow. The first road I attempted to pull in was a mistake and we barely made it out. A bit of jockeying and pushing the car through the snow and ice helped us get back to the highway, but we made sure our next stop was plowed. We were able to stand on the edge of the lake and watch the snow blow across the surface for a bit before we had to head back to Missoula. It wasn't much of an outing, but it was enough to give us our outdoor fix for the day.

A snowy Seeley Lake
I think most people still laugh at how amazed we are with water. All the rivers and creeks around here make us incredibly excited, since Flagstaff has nothing. When the Clark Fork froze over for a week I stopped on my ride home in dark, four degree weather to watch it buckle and ooze for 10-15 minutes. I'm sure I looked like a nut, but we are appreciating surface water.

Sara and I are working opposite schedules so we aren't able to get out overnight at all. Trying to fit in adventures has been difficult, but we have a lot of options close so it isn't impossible. Both of us are revamping our training for the winter as well so we'll get to play in the snow more often. Sara is training hard for the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, and I'm focusing on US Snowshoe Nationals this year. Even if we don't get to do everything together outside, we are both getting outside frequently that we get our fix.

It's currently snowing in town again and we're looking forward to many more feet in the mountains this winter.

Wishing you lots of snow,

Forrest and Sara

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The End of an Era, Off the CDT

Hike up to Scenic Point
Taylor picked us up early from Roger’s Pass and we quickly piled into Sara’s car and made our way toward Glacier National Park. We decided to skip the Bob Marshall Wilderness for now because we have a wedding we need to get to in Los Angeles, and Glacier is a much easier place to organize a shuttle, or so we thought.  I got to drive, which turns out is a lot faster than hiking and the 65 mph speed limit was about 10 miles an hour faster than I felt comfortable going. It still felt like we made good time, however, mostly since we were not walking, and we arrived at the Two Medicine backcountry office just after noon. We had to wait an hour or so to pick up our permit so we enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the lake. 

Last switchback on the way down to Two Medicine
After lunch we picked up the permit, enjoyed “good rangers being bad actors,” (as the ranger put it) in the bear safety video, then drove back to East Glacier to hike back to Two Medicine for the night.  If that seems a bit ridiculous it’s ok.  We felt the same. 

The hike from East Glacier into the park was a great introduction to the spectacular awesomeness that is Glacier. We quickly climbed above treeline and had magnificent views of glacier carved mountains with waterfalls and rivers running into the dry, relatively flat plains of Eastern Montana.  Near a mountaintop called Scenic Point (as if they had to tell us) we saw our first herd of bighorn sheep for the section, and actually CDT. The trail then descended a few thousand feet to Two Medicine Lake where we camped in the “backcountry,” which here meant we were in the back of the car-camping campground. 
Sara above Oldman Lake
We arose early the next morning to find clouds had rolled in and turned the mountains an intimidating gray. I voiced my thought that it would be a great day to see a grizzly, and not more than 30 second later I spotted a black bear on the slope above us. He was still pretty far away so we did not even attempt to pull out the camera. Our trail then took us around one mountain and up a long valley to Pitamakan Pass. The last push to the pass gave us great views of Oldman Lake, which looked silver under the clouds. The lake views from the top of the pass, however, were fantasmic. We could look almost straight down on a beautiful royal blue lake with two others in view as well.  Snow still bordered one of the edges and an arc of rocks that had tumbled down the snow during the winter was visible just below the surface. It was then that I think we first truly realized the splendor of glacier.
View from Pitamakin Pass

We ate lunch a few miles down the trail and Taylor was able to add a tail frog to his list of amphibious species found in the wild. Meanwhile a mountain goat ¼ mile away paid us no mind as he munched on his own lunch salad.

Triple Divide Pass
Our second pass of the day was Triple Divide.  Triple Divide Peak is the junction of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Hudson Bay watersheds all meet. Originally we had hoped to summit the peak, but then saw that it was rather sheer, and decided the pass was just fine. Crossing the pass meant that we were no longer hiking through drainages that led to the Missouri/Mississippi Rivers. As we hiked up the long valley with stunning waterfalls and other cool stuff a massive cloud rolled in and started covering the higher elevations. By the time we reached the pass we were in pretty solid clouds and our view was limited to about 20 feet of gray and some ever present marmots. 

We did drop back below the clouds on our way to Red Eagle Lake and caught some glimpses of glacier remnants.  Most of the glaciers we saw were sad little reminders of climate change rather than impressive goliaths with the power to shape mountains. We still enjoyed seeing whatever glaciers we could though because our glacier sightings have been minimal for most of our lives. 

About a mile before the head of Red Eagle Lake, our camp for the night, we entered a recent burn area that had obliterated most of the undergrowth and seemed to be only just recovering. All of the trees that were still standing were dead and provided little shade.  We learned later that that fire had burned and absurd amount of acres. Over 34,000 acres were charred.
Bullwinkle sighting

That night, though, we arrived at Red Eagle Lake and got set up just before the downpour started.  Our restaurant was under a large tree along the lakeshore with views of the burned mountains across the water. After a bald eagle flew through the rain, the storm slackened just in time for a moose to wander into the water 50 yards away. He saw us and really did not care. After 10 or 15 minutes of Taylor trying to sneak up to get pictures, the moose sauntered, or whatever moose do, into the middle of the lake. It was one of those beautiful moments that is hard to believe. We were in Glacier watching a moose traverse a lake and we had cherry cheesecake pudding. At that moment things could not have gotten much better. 

It rained pretty hard throughout that night so in the morning we packed up very wet tents and headed off toward St Mary Lake. Just before we left the burn area Taylor frantically interrupted Sara’s verbal pole vault lesson with, “bear, bear, bear.” We turned to look and not 20 yards to our left a cinnamon black bear was nibbling his way through thimbleberries.  Taylor and I immediately started pulling out our cameras while Sara alternately tried to scare if off and get a good look. The bear very much knew we were there and probably saw the size of our muscles and knew we were not a threat. That was by far the closest Sara and I got to a bear for that long of time the entire hike.

The one bridge that didn't say 1 hiker at a time
We came out of the burn area in time to hike along the shore of St Mary Lake, which is one of the lakes that appear on GNP advertising. Aside from not being able to get to the shore for lunch, it was a gorgeous hike.  Along the north end of the lake, and after a rainstorm, we crossed two incredible waterfalls. Virginia Falls was simply stunning.  It was very much what you would picture in your mind when you think of a waterfall: tall, mossy rocks, and wet. St Mary Falls, however, just exuded power.  It was only 20-30 feet high, but the amount of water being forced through the rocks was incredible. The water at the base also seemed to have no bottom. Apparently the bridge below the falls is a very popular jumping spot.
Deadwood Falls
We camped another mile or so up the trail along the same river.  After setting up we walked a tenth of a mile up river to Deadwood Falls, which was a similar to St Mary, but only 10-15 feet high. I decided that since we had a few minutes of sun between rainstorms I might as well jump into a river formed by glacier runoff.  Sara couldn’t believe it, since I normally wimp out (I prefer the term “remain sensible”) at the mere mention of cold water while she jumps into everything. The water was cold. It was not cold enough, however, to keep me from jumping in twice. Like St Mary Falls, the pool below Deadwood was incredibly deep so I could not even sense the bottom as I went under.

After my little swim we went back to camp, made dinner, and jumped into the tents in time for it to rain ridiculously hard. In the morning we packed up wet stuff, again, and began hiking up to Piegan Pass. The trail up to Piegan was spectacular. The pass itself was also incredible. We were just below cloud level so the mountaintops were covered leaving their height open to our imagination. The valley below needed no imagination to make more scenic. Sara described it as an Alpine Grand Canyon. And the descent definitely seemed akin to hiking down to Indian Gardens. We dropped below massive sheer walls, but instead of varying rock layers, we descended the lengths of multiple waterfalls, snowfields, and green goat and sheep pastures. This was by far our favorite couple miles in Glacier.
Sara dropping into the "Alpine Grand Canyon"
At the bottom we popped out near Many Glacier and decided to get some hot chocolate in the little store. Before we were could get there, however, we had to negotiate park tourist traffic for a half mile on the road. The traffic was made even better by the grizzly owning the slope above us. This was the first grizzly I had ever seen (Sara got to literally fish with them in Alaska and, yes, Taylor and I are jealous) and I would have liked to sit on the road all day and watch him strut his stuff, but with thousands of people milling about and jabbing fingers uphill, the moment was lost. 
Climbing up to Swiftcurrent Pass
From Many Glacier we climbed back up into the clouds concealing Swiftcurrent Pass. By this time it was late afternoon and our camp was in Granite Park, just over the pass. The clouds were very moist though and, combined with the wind, chilled us pretty deep down. That, combined with two days of not being able to dry out our sleeping bags, made the Chalet that was in the area hiding amongst the fog, seem very inviting. We imagined a great front room with a roaring fire and cups of hot chocolate just waiting to be consumed. Instead we camped in the middle of a cloud overlooking what was supposed to be a gorgeous view, but all we could see was gray.

The cloud hung around the next morning when we began our last day on trail. As much as we would have liked to see more expansive views, the 20-40 foot visibility actually made for an incredible morning of hiking. Being from Arizona, we have not had many opportunities to hike in clouds. The stillness and almost smothering feeling of them is something else.
End of the line at Logan Pass
The first few miles out were great. We saw few people on the Highline Trail and could only imagine how many bears we walked near (we really wanted to see more bears). As the morning wore on we started to see more day hikers coming in from Logan Pass, and then the illusion of serenity was shattered by a considerate group of hikers announcing their presence with an air horn. We were furious. True, they could not see us because of the fog, but we could hear them talking, which meant a bear could. We could hear the runners that had just passed them, which meant a bear could. They could hear us, which meant a bear could. There was absolutely no need to carry, much less use, an air horn for bear safety on the most popular trail in the park. The horn announced to us that our CDT experience was officially over and it was now time to adjust back to “normal” society, as long as Taylor could refrain from throwing the air horn and person attached into the mist.

The rest of the hikers were actually polite and pleasant so the hike out was still enjoyable. The clouds cleared for moments here and there so we could get glimpses of the glaciers and waterfalls for the last time. Sara and I began feeling a little nostalgic since every step was taking us closer to ending our trip. And just after noon we reached Logan Pass and it was over.

Exploring a cave in Craters of the Moon
We did not quite finish the CDT. We still have the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the last 20-30 miles to the Canadian Border, which we are saving for a symbolic last section. We did, however, have two amazing summers of backpacking. Since late April last year we have hiked nearly 3,000 miles on the CDT and spent numerous nights out under beautiful stars (which only I can see after Sara takes her eyes out), pouring rains, and among many nocturnal creatures. We have found that the act of thru-hiking sets you in a different world where time, days, and really anything off trail does not matter as long as you can get to your next resupply before the food runs out. Thru-hiking is freeing in so many ways and we are very grateful of our time on the trail. Thru-hiking is also incredibly draining physically, straining emotionally, and simply hard. While on trail we talked a lot about our preferred manner of wilderness exploration and realized so much of it depends on what you want to get out of the experience. While on the CDT we had to pass up so many little side canyons, peaks or waterfalls just to make sure we hit our miles for the day. But, we did get to see a larger portion of the country because of the 25-30 miles a day we logged. We felt like we were constantly fighting an ethical battle of miles versus appreciation and only somewhat succeeded in keeping a balance. Still, the CDT is an absolutely incredible trail and our memories of our time outside, and together, are worth more than we can measure. We recommend a month outside of the “real world” for everyone to appreciate nature, the pure charitableness of humanity, and to just have time to think.

Sara in the freezing water at Lower Calf Creek
After getting off trail, Sara and I took Taylor to the airport in Missoula, signed a lease for our house, then took a couple extra days to drive home to Flagstaff. Along the way we camped along the Salmon River and visited Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. We spent a morning worried about flash floods and then an afternoon worried about lightning in Capitol Reef. And then we capped it off with a gorgeous hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante. After a frantic few days of packing, visiting family in Prescott, and running with friends, we are now in LA for a wedding on our way up to Missoula for good. Even though we were still on trail just over a week ago, it already seems longer than that. We hope to continue our trail adventures in Missoula and finish the last little section of the CDT.
Like last year, we will continue to occasional update this blog with our outdoor adventures that we do together. I will also be blogging about my races, trail runs and rides, and other endurance adventures at Lastly, we want to send out a HUGE thank you to everyone who came to our aid on, and off, the trail. We met some incredible people while hiking that made our experience so much better. And, of course, our parents gave us considerable help that enabled us to keep hiking, and eating food while hiking. Thank you.

Happy Trails.

Forrest and Sara.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Anaconda to Roger's Pass

(We have finished the CDT for this summer and are currently back in Flagstaff.  Due to a lack of wifi the last few sections we are still posting our blogs in order.  This post covers the section from Anaconda to Glacier.)

Trestle Bridge hidden near the trail
The hike out of Anaconda was not the most pleasant experience we have had on the trail. We spent another 9 miles walking paved highway with little shade before crossing under I-90 and switching to dirt. It was very tempting to jump in the Clark Fork River and float to Missoula from there, but the area was trying to be returned to wetlands so water travel was restricted. We ended up doing another 11 miles that day on well traveled dirt roads before settling down.

At this point we were in a conundrum. We had enough food for 5 days but the section was short enough for us to comfortably do in 3 full days. The problem was that the Elliston PO closed at 11:15 on Saturday (day 3) and we needed to hitch down into town. Our original plan was to zero on the trail Sunday since it was also closed then, but we didn't see an enticing zero option on the trail. So, we decided to do a 40 mile day and get in to Elliston in time on Saturday.

The 40 day actually went pretty well. The trail was a lot of dense lodge pole pine cleared out about three feet on either side so we felt like we were hiking down a hallway for miles at a time with no perspective on distance. We had a few miles of dirt road and few miles of bush whacking. But the greatest thing was not hurting the next day. Last year our 40 sidelined us for two days. The next day we got up early and hiked the last 9 miles to MacDonald Pass. Along the way I picked handfuls of berries before catching up. Delicious, yes, but I did miss most of the bear that Sara saw as she came over a hill.
Setting up the Big Agnes Copper Spur for the first time

We made it to MacDonald Pass above Elliston around 9:15 so had two hours to get to the post office.  We decided that I would start hiking the seven miles to the pass and Sara would try to hitch so if she couldn't get a ride then I would still be there in time to get our box.  To help me hike quicker I gave Sara the tent and took the swedish fish and started off.  After about a mile a car came by honking.  Sara's hitchhiking skills were still above par and she grabbed a ride for both of us with a couple very active in the Montana Wilderness Association. We got our box without issue, but realized that in all the excitement of getting a hitch, the tent did not make it into the car and was still on the side of the road.  Bill and Marita (our ride) gave us a ride back up to the pass to find it, but it had already disappeared into the wild.  Fortunately Bill and Marita were the greatest people to have around in this situation and they gave us a ride the other direction to Helena (calling police, sheriff, and outdoor shops for lost tents along the way) so we could replace our shelter at The Basecamp.  The staff at The Basecamp was also incredibly helpful and helped us find a new tent, let us leave our packs in the back while we found huckleberry and white chocolate mint ice cream, and watch Guardians of the Galaxy (you should see it). The hard goods buyer even drove us back up to the pass when we were ready to leave town.  So despite having a very stressful day after an exhausting stretch, we met some great people who saved the day.  
Bit smoky but still a beautiful trail to Roger's Peak

That night we camped in the campground at the pass before setting out towards Roger's Pass for our next stretch.  The first couple days of this section we spent a lot of time on hot dirt roads and had plenty of opportunities to test out our new tent in evening rains.  The first two days of this section were difficult to get through.  We were both still a bit tired from our 40 mile adventure and stressful day in Helena, and we didn't feel a need to press the miles since Taylor would be meeting us at Roger's Pass on Monday night/Tuesday morning.  The last day to Roger's Pass was beautiful, however.  We popped out on a beautiful ridge with storm clouds constantly threatening a downpour and wind that allowed no tree to grow more than three vertical feet.  The view was incredible though. The east side of the trail was lined with cliff faces that fell away to the plains of eastern Montana, while the west and north led to the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  By this point Sara was feeling pretty tired, but the the cooler weather had helped me throughout the afternoon and I felt ok enough to scurry up to the top of Roger's Peak and get one last look around before dropping to huckleberry elevation and the pass.  We camped next to the highway waiting for Taylor through another night of rain and a rare night of traffic noise before heading up to Glacier for our last section.  

(We will try and get the post up from our last section in the next couple days.  For now,

Happy Trails,

Forrest and Sara)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Montana's Smoky Mountains

Ok, so the mountains we just hiked through are not actually called the Smoky's. That is still a very Southern phenomenon. But the Anaconda Pintlers were full of smoke the few days we went through them, slightly obscuring what could have been an incredible view.

We got back on trail just after noon on Saturday before my parents drove back to Flagstaff. We hiked through a cross country ski area, which I am sure we will be back to visit for a weekend get-a-way from Missoula, read even more Lewis and Clark/Nez Perce history at Gibbons Pass then hiked into our first few miles of burn area. The next day or so the trail wound through the skeletons of forests with only occasional respites in areas that had escaped the flames. We entered the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness and ate next to the beautiful Surprise Lake, then hiked through even more burn area. To make things worse the smoke from current fires somewhere in the northwest rolled in and cut visibity down to 5 or ten miles. We, mostly me, struggle mightily in such big burn areas and smoke haze sends me into another level of depression. We were still hiking high up on ridgelines, but looking down on tree carcasses is not quite as pleasing to the eye as blue lakes against a green carpet.

We did see and hear a good bit of pika activity in this area, which gave us something else to do. We are still taking gps data of all the pika evidence we come across for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. Their study is tracking the disappearance of pika habitat as scree fields turn into ovens at lower altitudes.

Finally after a day and a little we made it to the pretty part of the Wilderness. By Montana standards this was described to us as a small Wilderness area, which now explains the size of my omelet the other day. There must be a couple hundred miles of trails through the Pintlers that need exploring along with dozens of alpine lakes the would be great for an afternoon of reading. High peaks with intriguing spinal ridges greeted us after every climb (there was a lot of climbing). I had no idea this place existed and it has definitely been one of the greatest "little" mountain ranges of the hike.

Aside from the thieving night critters.

I'm going to blame marmots, but I suppose it could have been any number of sticky-fingered bandits with a taste for sweaty millinery. Marmots have just been our scapegoat since they overran our lunch spot above Copper Mountain last year. Anyway, the last night of this section we ended up hiking late due to a rainstorm and damp camped on an the edge of an incredible ridge overlooking a basin full of avalanche residue and grazing elk. What made for a beautiful camp also made for easy access to our tent for residents of scree fields. We spent much of the night listening to scampering paws and attempting to ward of the forays into the tent vestibule. We thought we were successful, but as we packed up I noticed my hat and sunglasses were missing. After looking around I saw them about 30 feet down the cliff face/embankment. I scrambled down only to recover my glasses and the remnants of my hat. I came up with several angrily creative (I thought) ways to punish marmots for the first few miles that day, but the trail called and we moved on to Anaconda.

By trail calling I mean to say the road called. Our miles into Anaconda finished with 9 on a hard packed dirt roadway and 12 or so on and near MT Highway 1. We made it in all right and are now holed up in a motel on the edge (i.e. there are no buildings east of us) of town for a day off. The town is an interesting place. The occupied houses and businesses are very well main tines with immaculate lawns and gardens, by are separated by multiethnic boarded up buildings. It's hard to tell if the old mining town is dying or coming back, though, since there is reconstruction going on everywhere. Either way it is eerie.

Next stop for us is Elliston, MT our friend Taylor is going to join us for a skip up to Glacier. But for now we have another pound of blueberries to eat.

Happy trails,

Track and Field

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lima to Sula, via Leadore...Sagebrush to Mountaintop

As I am sitting here writing, the sun is coming up over soutwestern Montana through low clouds, the (some) fork of the Bitterroot River is flowing 50 yards away, and a hummingbird is making it difficult to type as he keeps zig-zagging between my face and the keyboard.  We are now in Sula, MT at the south end of the Bitterroot Valley hanging out at a camground with my parents who have been up here resupplying us for the last week.  We took four days to get from Lima to Leadore, ID and another four and a half from Leadore to here.
One of the lines of Ups and Downs

The section from Lima to Leadore overall was less than stellar in our book.  For the most part hiking felt better than before, but the first day out was miserable.  We had used the morning looking for places to rent in Missoula when we get off trail so it was just afternoon by the time we started a hot and dusty 7.8 mile dirt road walk, half of which paralleled I-15.  From there we jumped, or rather slogged, up a steep hill to the divide, only to find that the routing along the divide only took us up and down and up a series of steeper hills.  Since we both like starting in the morning, and were not quite back in the trail mindset after a busy morning, the climbing exhausted us.  Towards the end of the day we did see a spectacular herd of elk in the deep shadows of a hillside.  When they heard us they all took off to create the illusion that the entire hillside was moving. 

The next morning we dropped down into Shineberger Creek and traversed through cow territory towards a small mountain range that included Mount Garfield.  We got our first taste of the hidden treasures in the small mountains as we climbed up out of the sagebrush and within a mile felt like we were high up in the rockies.  Unfortunately we then dropped back down into wide open sagebrush again.
Sara on the last push up Cottonwood Peak

A day or two later we took a side trip up Cottonwood Peak, which is right on the Divide.  There is no trail up and heading northbound on the CDT means you go up the steep side.  And I mean steep.  We gained appx 3200 feet in less than a mile, with heavy packs.  It was a definite effort.  I have started to look at all these steep climbs as training for the Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill.  Pretending we're in the middle of a training workout helps us silence our screaming calves and quads a little on each ascent.  The view from the top of Cottonwood was glorious.  A turqouise lake came into view, the few buildings of Leadore were visible a day and a half away, and the ridge of the Divide ran away from us, very obviously in two directions.  

The next day we had another big ascent up Elk Mountain (along with some incredibly steep hill climbs and descents following an ATV trail), which afforded another great view even though our legs were reminding us of the strenuous Cottonwood climb the day before.  New trail up Elk Mountain though made it a much more pleasant climb and descent.  From there we had a loooong 11 miles down to Bannock Pass where my parents were waiting to help us resupply.  
Being Elk-like on the top of Elk Mountain

Having my parents around for the off-trail time in Leadore we knew was going to be pleasant, but it also ended up being incredibly good timing.  We spent the next morning trying to figure out how to get money to pay for a security deposit.  Since none of us had checkbooks it required a drive to Salmon, ID and a great lunch at a mexican food place overlooking the Salmon River.  If we had to try and hitch that drive, then hitch back to Leadore, then hitch back to the trail we probably would have needed another day.  We did secure the house though so we now have a place to live in Missoula!

Ocean of Bear Grass near Lena Lake
The section from Leadore to Sula was glorious!  There has been a lot of recent beautiful trail work done and we think it has the highest percentage of trail of any CDT section we have done so far (not counting the Colorado Trail sections in CO since the CDT overlaps).  We still had a crazy amount of steep climbing and descending so physically it was very challening, but it was much more enjoyable since we were going through alpine lakes, jagged rocky mountains, obvious glacier residue (big rock deposits, or "glacier poop") and a beautiful bloom of Bear Grass.  We had not expected to be back in the mountains like this for a while (possibly the Sapphire Range?) and the unexpected nature of the hiking made it more pleasant. One of the lakes where we enjoyed lunch was called Slag-A-Melt.  Doesn't a name like that just make everything more fun? 

We finished up yesterday by catching a couple who were hiking the sections bordering Beaverhead County.  We hiked with them for a few miles, which made the one 5.7 mile section of logging road go by much quicker.  Sara and I enjoy hiking together, but it is always a treat when we get to hike with another person(s) for a little bit.  

Upper Slag-A-Melt Lake
My parents met us at Chief Joseph Pass yesterday and took us down to the Sula Country Store and cabins.  We had a great dinner with scrumptious cheesecake before enjoying the hot tub.  Well, Sara and my parents did, I fell asleep before making it to the water. My parents are heading back to Flagstaff after we resume our trek so we won't be spoiled anymore.  But it has been wonderful to have them around to help us, and they got to explore a bit of the Idaho/Montana area as well.   Hopefully we get resupplied ok this morning then back to the trail this afternoon. Our next stop will be in Anaconda, MT.  No more border hopping, we are in MT for good!

Happy Trails

Track and Field

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Idaho, Montana, no, Idaho, now Montana...both?

After trying to leave West Yellowstone, failing, and deciding to stay another night, we had the pleasure of meeting Frank and Pami. This couple from Florida spend their summers RVing around the country and, fortunately for us, parked in the Grizzly RV park next to us. After seeing us walk back into our campsite they invited us to a wonderful home cooked meal. They also treated us to breakfast the next morning then drove us up to Targhee Pass to get back on trail. They were pretty much the greatest people to meet as hikers.

Hiking again felt great. We were both feeling healthy and strong. Being along a ridge-line splitting the Divide, and Idaho  and Montana with expansive views helped as well. We opted to take a short side hike/scramble to the top of Targhee Peak which gave us a great view of the Divide back to Yellowstone.

One of the fun things about this section has been bouncing back and forth between two states. Along the Divide every switch back takes us into one state and out of the other. We have jumped lines a couple hundred timed now and it looks like that will continue for the next week or so.

Dropping down from Targhee Peak we came across a moose with a very very newborn baby Bullwinkle. A few miles later we saw papa moose with full paddles. This stretch we also came across a massive herd of elk that we sent running into two separate states. Aside from that and dozens of hawks, wildlife sightings have on the lean side.

After a bigger day yesterday in the mis-guided hope that we could camp with a bear box, we made it to Lima, MT back on schedule. The motel here runs a great shuttle service so we didn't have to try and hitch off the interstate.

The last couple days both of us have been feeling great and enjoying the feeling of putting up bigger days. We are enjoying the hiking and the physical aspect and challenge of hiking all day. Despite probably running out of time to finish the last section (Weddings need attending in LA) we are definitely enjoying the trail again. I just hope Sara starts laughing at more of my jokes.

Next up we hit Leadore where my parents will be there to help resupply us. Yay!

Happy trails,

Track and Field