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

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