This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
In the middle of the night, a bear crashes into the campsite. At least, that’s what I think, until I reach for my bear spray and find my phone instead. I can’t figure out what it’s plugged into, until I come to enough to realize I’m in a hostel, the bear is Wild Land, who can’t sleep in the boys room and I’m inside. This does not bode well for reintroduction into society if I can barely handle being inside for one night.
We’re all groggy in the morning, and get coffee and breakfast. Glimmer has seamlessly been folded into our trail family. And then we head out, climbing up to a high ridge. The smoke rolls in, but the view is still the best I’ve seen since the winds. I feel like so much of the CDT has been unspectacular- brown lumps, rolling grassland, cow fields. But the fantastic bits? They are some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. There are a million day hikers and they are all grumpy- it’s too hot, too smokey etc. But I find a quiet switchback and sit alone, eating an apple, watching the mountains ghost in and out of the smoke, and I am wildly happy. This is where I belong. We make the 10 miles to Twin Medicine easily. Wild Land has sorted out our permits with the ranger there. We have a few shorter days than we wanted, but oh well. We will still finish three days before my birthday, our target end date. Our miles for the day done, we raid the store for soda and ice cream, then sit by the lake, alternating between watching the people and the landscape. In the morning, we have 25 miles and 5,000ft elevation gain. At some point, what would have been impossibly difficult on the PCT became an easy day for me. It rains a little as I climb Pitikan Pass, but I take a long break on the top, watching bighorn sheep and the stunning scenery. We drop down to the valley floor before the equally stunning triple divide pass. We’re lounging at the top when Wild Land comes up. He’s been behind us all day, but he looks a little shaken and pulls out his phone. He proceeds to show us a terrifying video of a grizzly walking down the trail towards him, obviously agitated. He tells us this was a mile back, just ten minutes after we walked through and saw nothing. We form a little hiker train after that, through the brush and burn, to our campsite by red eagle lake. We’re lazy in the morning. Glimmer makes coffee and we pass it around. It’s almost nine when we leave, hiking 15 miles along a lake to the road, where we take a shuttle to a restaurant. We sit and consume burgers and beer, then goof off in a photo booth. By the time we go outside again, the smoke has rolled in thick enough that we can barely see the mountains above us. The sun burns red. We take a shuttle a few more miles to the visitor center, for wifi and to make sure we’re not about to burn to death. I learn online that we’ve just skated through another closure- the CDT through the Bob is about to be closed by one of the fires we walked past. Despite feeling conflicted about finishing, I am suddenly so glad to be at the end this early. The Bob wasn’t the stunning place I was promised, but I’m still glad I got to see it. I brush the ash that’s fallen on my phone off, before we take the last shuttle and hike a final mile to our campspot. We climb up and up over a pass in the morning. The smoke clears as we climb- finally I can breathe again. The wind buffets me, but it’s so beautiful and I’m so happy to finally be able to see. Then it’s down to Many Glacier, where the hordes of tourists give me a panic attack, but there’s a little restaurant, where we traumatize the waiter by asking for a can of whipped cream and demolishing the entire thing. We climb Swiftcurrent pass, easy in the cool evening air. Near the top, I have a standoff with a mountain goat. I wait patiently until he gets bored and heads up hill, but the trail switchbacks and this plays out three times before he finally wanders off. I crest the pass, then it’s down to our crowded campsite. I like meeting other hikers, but I resent the way Glacier cramps so many people into such a small space. Thatch and Glimmer haven’t shown up quite yet, but Wild Land and I join the other hikers for dinner. I look around and realize I am surrounded by 8 men and not a single other woman. Guess the gender disparity is not just for thru hikers. Then Glimmer shows up and I feel slightly less out of place. I don’t sleep well. Some animal crashes through our campground, which reminds me about the granola bar I forgot about in my pack. Every time someone turns over, it convinces me I’m about to be eaten. In the morning, we’re high on the high line trail, contouring ridges. I find bear poop so fresh it’s practically steaming, and bear prints over the tracks in front of me. I wait for Glimmer, who is closest behind, and we hike together until lunch. We stop at a campsite for lunch, chatting to a group of guys. They are all heading out the next day and have too much food. We’re leaving too, but we take their food, always happy to eat more. The trail throws us down to the valley floor by a lake, for an easy 20 mile day. We’re all up early in the morning, antsy, ready to go. Glimmer makes coffee and we share it. It hits me hard and I practically run down the trail. 7 miles to the border and 11 to Waterton. Let’s do this! We regroup at the lake, then it’s 4 miles to the border. I get there just after Wild Land. As always, there’s a mix of emotion. Relieved and happy to be done. Excited and proud. And so sad that it’s over. Glimmer pulls out home made crowns, we take our photos, drink our celebratory wine. Then it’s another 4 miles to Waterton and we are done. Or are we? There’s another trail, starting where the CDT ends. Everything is closed for fires, but still. I’m ready for a new adventure.