Tag Archives: Continental Divide Trail

Bob Marshall Wilderness, worth the wait!

Back in 1974, I read an article in Backpacker Magazine about the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana along the Continental Divide, one of the first areas designated as wilderness by the feds after the signing of the Wilderness Act in 1965.

(Side note: The Wilderness Act was bipartisan legislation that Congress supported as a unified body. This stroke of genius was followed three years later by the National Scenic Trails Act for which those of us who enjoy epic adventure can truly be grateful. Imagine — Congressmen from both parties uniting to pass wise legislation.)

Anyway, I was impressed that the Bob Marshall Wilderness was out there for me to explore at some future date. I do not keep a bucket list, because I love the spontaneous thrill of jumping on the next adventure to emerge. But the Bob was waiting for me, and when my AT thru-hiking son took a trip there years ago and raved about it, my interest was piqued all the more. As my friend of more than 65 years, David Chandler, was planning a trip for this fall, I tossed out The Bob as an option. He did his due diligence, and late last month David, Steve Skinner and I traveled out there.

Due to forest fires, we decided on an in-and-out hike of about 50 miles over six days. We put in at Benchmark and followed a route along the west and south forks of the Sun River. We were equipped with bear spray and made every effort to properly protect our gear from griz.

Daytime temps were perfect, and nights dipped to as low as 20 degrees. We had rain and snow, but mostly clear with occasional angry clouds and gasp inducing sunsets. One night before the full moon rose, we watched the International Space Station glide overhead. We spent hours around campfires retelling the same jokes and personal stories we’ve hashed over for over half a century. We also realized how fortunate we are that we can still haul heavy packs up multi-thousand-foot climbs.

The pic above shows me taking in the Chinese Wall, a massive escarpment that meanders a dozen miles along the divide. Most of the trip was along the Continental Divide Trail, and we saw several late-season thru-hikers plugging toward the end. For two full days we saw no one at all. We saw no grizzlies but plenty of berry-laden scat. We did see mule deer and elk.

It was because of people such as Bob Marshall and Benton MacKaye who founded the Wilderness Society that we have these amazing chunks of paradise set aside forever. So, read THRU, hike the Bob Marshall, stay vertical and keep walkin’!

Advertisements

National Trails Act and Wilderness Act are at the heart of so much that matters!

Forgive me for emoting a little, but I appreciate so little of what the government does without my asking that when it does something wonderful — I want to point it out.

Lyndon Johnson signed a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation 53 years ago called the Wilderness Act giving Congress the right to decree tracts of federal land as wilderness. I have visited a number of wilderness areas in the last half century and am a better man for it. I spent a career in the oil business and watched the Kabuki dance that went on between bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, environmental groups and public citizens about how “wilderness” would be established and where.

This year we celebrate another major half-century milestone, the National Trails Act which gave government incentives and funding to recognize and promote maintenance, development and protection of a number of trails including the PCT, the AT, the CDT and the Florida Trail.

I wonder if any of this would had happened if Benton MacKaye — the ultimate hiker’s hero — had not (1) Conceived of the AT and (2) Cofounded the Wilderness Society. Let’s just be glad he existed so we won’t have to find out. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!

 

No sheep jokes please!

Before I turn the page on the adventure in Wales, I need to display this photo taken by hiking pal Susie McNeely (triple crowner, i.e. CDT, PCT and AT). We had just climbed through morning mist out of the town of Knighton where the Offa’s Dyke Path HQ is located. It was a steep, relatively short climb to the grassy ridge where we came to the spot in the photo which had a sort of Mediterranean look to it. The inquisitive sheep added whimsy to the moment.

My friend Jay Dement who will soon be prez of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club observed that the Welsh word for Richard is “BAAAAAAA.” Clearly, I command little respect among my companions, nor do I give a sheep’s butt if I do. Jay and I spent several days swapping sheep jokes before we exhausted our repertoire. Wandering along the Wales/England border certainly provides a sheep jokester with plenty of inspiration.

I am moved to note that the agricultural element of the British Isles is a big part of the joy of the experience. We hiked through fields of corn, sugar beets and all manner of other cultivated vegetation. At other times we hiked through dark forests and across windswept moors covered in purple blooming heather. In other words, there was variety of experience. Each day stood out as an individual memory.

At the end of each daily hike, we bent over — testing our aging, aching vertebrae — and scraped mud and sheep/cow/goat excrement from our boots and trail runners. It’s just what you do there, and it isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve experienced the same thing in Ireland, the Balkans, South Africa, Nepal and myriad other adventure venues. Sheep and other livestock — even yaks — are part of the deal. You enjoy their curious countenances and live in the moment. Stay vertical, you all, read THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, and keep walkin’!

 

 

Triple Crowner Extraordinaire

I hiked the past couple of days with Susie McNeeley. Susie deserves to be loved and appreciated for putting in a career as a special education teacher. But beyond that, she is a spectacularly gifted and accomplished hiker.

She and I have spent lots of time talking about the old days of thru-hiking the AT. We thru-hiked SOBO in the 70s — me in ’73 and she in ’79 — back when there were still dinosaurs out there. She later thru-hiked the PCT in the early days of the 80s. Then, last year, she went out and took on the Continental Divide Trail. “Anyone who plans to do the CDT should have already thru-hiked one of the other big trails,” she says. “The logistics and route finding on the CDT are way more difficult than the other trails.” She stresses that finding reliable water sources and getting resupplied are Herculean chores out there.

Susie battled illness and minor injuries during her trek, but she managed to do her share of 35-mile days and did most days over 20. I could not have done that when I was 21 years old, much less at Susie’s (I’ll phrase it delicately, and add that she is younger than I) more mature age. But I think I understand what makes her tick. I hiked with her on the rugged Peaks of the Balkans Trail a few years ago. There, I learned that she has constant good humor, an indomitable positivity and energy that just goes on and on. She couples this with a remarkable level of physical stamina unlike any other I’ve witnessed. Any hiking group is improved by her presence.

It’s my guess that of the of 200-or-so Triple Crowners in the world, Susie is among the ones who have the longest gap between first and third thru-hikes — if not the single longest. Apparently, she will not be slowing down. I hope to have a chance to hike with her in future years.

Meanwhile, she is one of those rare, fortunate mortals who can eat all they want. The CDT left her stick-like, and she can scarf down great quantities of food as often as she wants.

Susie exemplifies what I love about the hiking community. If you enjoy being out there, you belong. You check politics and other opinions at the trailhead and enjoy people for who they are out there in the wilderness. Anyone hiking with Susie learns from her example. Stay vertical, Susie, and keep walkin’!