Sept 23- Woke up the sun trying hard to come out as the rain had finally come to an end. Packing up a soaked tent is awful, but three days in a row of wet shoes is much worse. We got going a bit after 8 after sleeping a little too late. We walked maybe ten minutes before joining the road that would lead to Benchmark Ranch. The road was easy walking and included walking next to the air strip for 6,000 feet. We passed a few log cabins as well and met one of the owners. He told us a few stories that were quite interesting! He told us about an elk hunter down in the valley that shot an elk then went to get it and got killed by a grizzly. He said the Grizzly bears are becoming a problem more in town and head toward gun shots. He has never seen one in this area and he suspects they may become hunted again soon. We walked a little farther passing 6 healthy deer just grazing along the road. We made our way into Benchmark Ranch and through the gate, over a foot bridge, and to a porch with two bear proof boxes. For $25, you can send a box here instead of a 30 mile hitch on a dirt road most of the way into Augusta. We grabbed our two boxes and tore into them! Thank you so much mom for taking care of my mail drops these past three years. Without your support it wouldn’t have been possible! We both made a huge meal for breakfast at 9:30 and sat at the large picnic table. This is a very peaceful spot with small log cabins, running water, and places to relax. Too bad we have no time to relax at this point. I did pack up first and found time to sit in a rocking chair for a few minutes. A little after 10 we were back on the road and walking towards the trailhead. It’s 3.5 miles back to the trail and well worth the detour. Oh yeah… We were the last two boxes besides three unclaimed boxes from July. Back of the pack for sure this year. I also counted 25 other thru hikers that had signed the book in September and there were many more in August and sobos in July. We walked quickly to get warm on the road just waiting for the sun to shine down on us. The trail crossed a neat suspension bridge over a river and continued on a slippery muddy mess mostly destroyed by horses. It was slow going as your feet sink into the mud and you have to pull them out. Slow and tricky hiking. We each hung part of the tent on our pack to help it dry then got to the next suspension bridge where we took a drying out break. The sun was not shinning, but it wasn’t raining just breezy. We hung everything over the sides of the bridge while feasting for lunch. We could hear elk bugling in the distance. Everything dried out including my soaked sleeping bag! My pack is still damp, but it’s getting there. This was a huge moral boast that was greatly needed after three wet nights. The terrain was rolling, but slow due to all the mud. We were told it rained 2.5 inches down in the valley. As we turned a curve, I saw a black bear running along the path. We both stopped and watched him go for maybe .2 miles along the trail. Black bears are such a beautiful creature and graceful in their own way. We pushed on until dinner time where I cooked and he ate a presoaked meal. It was windy and a bit chilly, but for thirty seconds the sun shinned down on me and it was a relief. We pushed on as night began to fall. We are officially in the Bob Marshall Wilderness also known as “The Bob.” We found a large site along a stream where we decided to spend the night.
Our first obstacle was crossing the stream which was pretty large without getting our feet wet this morning. I dipped one toe into the water, but overall made a good choice. Today we get to walk along the Chinese Wall which I learned about many miles ago when there was a CDTC sign along the trail. I saw a photo with the label, “Chinese Wall.” What? It was stunning in this old photo and I could not wait until the moment we saw it up close. We climbed up for a few miles before we had our first glimpse. It sure did not disappoint. It got so cold since we were at a higher elevation and it was cloudy most of the day. I took so many photos this day and drove him nuts asking for photos of myself. I would love to visit here again, but it is not a day hike so who knows if I will ever return. I appreciated every moment of the day. We took a lunch break where we both cooked a warm meal while admiring the great wall. So many people will never see this sight and it seems like we were transported to another world. The tamaracks are all changing colors which made the sights even more magical. We came to Spotted Bear Pass where there was a 2,500 mileage marker that made me giggle. This trail is so difficult to know the mileage compared to the AT or PCT. Everyone takes different routes and you add or sometimes lose mile when you bail off the trail due to storms. We continued on for a few more hours. We passed a ranger station with lots of sites, but it was a bit too early. So onward we went and were shocked to find no campsites. I just wanted to be done for the day as we pushed onward looking everywhere. We decided to just make a spot work and had to move a few branches. It would do, but surely one of the most uneven spots so far. It was nice to lie down in a dry sleeping bag and drift to sleep. I looked up the trail a bit seeing nothing only to find out the next day that Chipmunk and Crocs were .2 miles ahead of us at the stream with a large campsite.
We passed the nice campsite and stream thinking our friends might have camped there last night. We began the climb up Switchback Pass and at the top we were rewarded with one last view of the Chinese Wall. It was too cold at the top of the pass to take much of a break so we headed down to a lake. Unfortunately, it was not much warmer at this elevation so we kept going down. We walked until we were both starving so we took a long snack break along the trail. Lots of reminiscing these past few days about this hike together and the miles we did together on the Appalachian Trail. The next few miles were pleasant and fast, but still chilly. We came to a ford where we had to get our feet wet and hear yelling. I looked ahead to see a forest ranger cabin and two people on the porch. It was Chipmunk and Crocs. She was upset that we had lost each other for good and I thought the same. She promised she would of waited at Glacier for us! Chocolate Chipmunk has been family since northern New Mexico and it is fitting that we all finish together. We all walked together catching up on the past few days. The four of stopped for dinner and had to put on all of our layers. “Winter is coming!” They were both happy they bought warmer gear weeks ago. Crocs left first in search of a big campsite for all of us. We found him at a large campsite above a stream. The four of us enjoyed some time catching up before the cold forced us into our tents for the night.
This morning was entertaining as our maps gave us two options. I choose to stay on the muddy trail as the other three picked a bushwhack across the woods to prevent a loop. I have done enough bushwhacks. The option of taking the trail was definitely slower and slippery, but I found the guys hanging out together having a snack so I joined them. Chipmunk was bringing up the rear listening to music as she caught up to join us as well. We had a friendly grouse hanging out with us at the water source. It was then back to work hiking along.
Chipmunk was off doing her own thing as usual so the three of us walked together discussing future trails and dreams. Crocs was the leader, Paperweight was in the middle, and I was bringing up the rear as we chatted. We came to a flooded stream across the trail so we did a small bush whack around it only getting slightly wet. We walked a bit farther before crossing a small stream and seeing the largest bear print yet. We then took a few more steps finding an animal’s bone that had been gnawed on recently. We said “someone had a good lunch.” We continued walking when Crocs suddenly started to back up into Paperweight then me without saying a word. Before I realized what was happening, I saw it. It was a huge bear. It suddenly stood up on his hind legs and stared at us only 15 or so feet away. We yelled at it saying “Hey Bear” and clapping our hands together. It stared at us for what seemed like forever before slowly walking away from us off of the trail. We didn’t know what to do so we moved forward with our bear spray ready to go. We came to the spot to realize the bear was hidden in a deep hole it had dug. Inside the hole was an elk that it had recently killed and began feasting on. The trail was the exact location where the elk was killed and it looked like quite a struggle. We knew we couldn’t leave Chipmunk alone not knowing how far behind she was. No one should walk up on this situation without being warned. So we retraced our steps and waited for over half an hour for her to return. We were all a bit concerned and on edge as we waited wondering if the bear would return at any moment. She finally joined us and on we went. The four of us walked together very quickly past the scene of the attack and dead elk with our bear spray on hand. I took the lead and we made lots of noise searching the area off of the trail. We were able to see the elk’s prints heading to the spot of the scene. We wondered if the elk was injured or if the bear was stalking it. We also debated if it was a grizzly or black bear. I am guessing a grizzly, but we were unable to see if there was a hump on the bear’s back. The bear was at least 500 pounds so in my opinion that was my first encounter with a grizzly bear. I’m much more on edge now and do not want to hike alone anymore. We all stayed close the rest of the day discussing the “what ifs”. Always be bear aware especially in grizzly bear territory. I wanted to see a grizzly bear on my hike, but I did not expect to come across one eating a dead elk on the actual trail. We were lucky!
We split up into twos and continued walking. We were ahead of Chipmunk and Crocs as we came to a ranger station. We met a female ranger and her father out for a few days with their horses and a dog doing trail work. They invited the two of us inside for some lemonade. We were able to sit at the table and share stories. Of course, they decided to tell us more horror stories about grizzlies and said the trail we were on is not traveled much so no need to close it down. It was another reminder as to how remote the CDT really is. We spent too long hanging out here like usual before finally packing up. It was a nice treat though. We hiked four miles from the ranger station and found a spot right off the trail to set up camp. Chipmunk and Crocs never caught up. It was dark by the time we were setting up so into the tent we went. We reflected on our encounter being very thankful we were not alone and all of us had our bear spray. In case you were wondering, we keep one can of bear spray in the tent at night and the other outside in case one of us needs to use the bathroom. We have been doing this since the Wind River Range. We also never cook at camp, but a few miles before we set up camp. The last thing we want to do is attract a bear to our home.
We did not want to get out of our tent this morning, but as we were trying to get motivated we heard them. Chipmunk and Crocs were growling trying to be grizzly bears and frighten us. They did not succeed. We finally packed up our tent finding a small hole at the bottom of the tent. A stick went through it last night and luckily did not pop his sleeping pad. We caught up to our friends at one of the many river crossings. I think we crossed at least 4 of them this morning. We all took a nice break together. It was then a mad dash into East Glacier. We walked nonstop until we made it into town for a late lunch. I wanted to get back on trail tomorrow for the final stretch, but we decided to take a day off due to weather and not having our permits done yet. So we enjoyed a nice lunch before getting a hotel room. In East Glacier, they have been working on the water pipes so after Paperweight and myself took a shower there was no water. Poor Crocs and Chipmunk! We bought some beers and relaxed for a while before I went to do everyone’s laundry and catch up with my mom. When I returned, they were all pretty funny! We had been told to visit Serrano’s Mexican Grill. It was the busiest place in town, but for a good reason. The meal was delicious and we bought a very expensive pitcher of margarita. It was a pricy meal, but maybe the best on trail. We even brought home some key lime pie for dessert. It was a nice evening spent with good friends. The best part is that we are actually going to make it. After all of my concerns, I know that we will complete the hike and my triple crown! I slept very well tonight.
We left the hotel at the very last minute. We got all of our chores done. We resupplied, called about campsites, and ate plenty of food. We had to make a trip to one of the Forest Service offices to watch a video about backcountry safety. It was likely made in the early 2000s or late 90s. I think the four of us could make an even better video. We got our permits before checking into Brownie’s Hostel. We got the last private room and the other two had to sleep in the shared bunk room. We did some research and realized where we would be ending at Chief Mountain and on the last day of September they close down the border. That meant it would be tough to hitchhike out of the trailhead. Paperweight called and booked an expensive taxi ride. We then had to walk back into the busier part of town for one last dinner together. I have spent a lot of money on food this hike and not lost much weight which is fine by me. The hiker hunger hit very hard this year. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out at the hostel and drinking a few beer. It was a good zero day and the last one until every day is a zero day!