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Home » Adventures » CDT » Journal » Montana » Beaverhead National Forest

CDT: (Bannock Pass to I-15)

July 18

I grabbed breakfast and resupplied in town before the Homestead Motel’s owner generously drove me back to Bannock Pass. Roaring Lion stayed in town for a zero, his blistered feet still bothering him.

I took a break at the pass before starting my afternoon hike to allow my filling breakfast to settle. While relaxing, Transient walked in off the trail, ready to head into Leadore. Meeting him there was another big coincidence, and we talked a while before he relatively quickly found a ride into town.

I started along the trail, my pack feeling overloaded with only a hundred miles until the next town. I climbed through a very windy, open prairie along the divide before setting up camp a couple miles shy of Elk Mountain. That was the only decent place to camp for several miles, and I did not want a long day coming out of town.

The rolling mountains near Bannock Pass

July 19

I began the morning by completing the climb over Elk Mountain, my first time over 10,000 feet on the CDT. From there I followed the divide along a jeep road, mostly through open meadows, and as always going up and down. In the afternoon the trail fell off the divide, into the valley, and finally ascended along a river.

Morrison Lake
Looking up Tex Creek

July 20 — An Alternative Day of Hiking

Jonathan Ley guilted me into trying his alternates, with “highly recommended” and “this is why you are hiking” spread around his map’s notes. My day started with his “I saw 5 bighorn rams” route, which was a nice cross country trek, but I did not see any wildlife. Shortly after reuniting with the official CDT, the tread thinned significantly, but the terrain was easy to follow and the occasional signpost provided confirmation. I did see a herd of around fifty elk in this area though.

I then climbed Cottonwood Peak, since the weather was good and I had the time. The climb was long and a bit breezy in places, but the summit had spectacular views. The way down the east side of the mountain was much steeper, basically a scree slide at the top, on which I had to be careful. While bushwhacking at the base to return to the trail, I happened upon an unmarked improved spring, as well as a SNOTEL station.

Back on the tread the miles passed slowly, but I eventually reached my last alternate — a loop along Nicholia and Deadman Creeks — which added around six miles to this section. What are a couple more hours in the mountains anyway?

I made camp shortly after splitting from the official CDT. I had many hours on my feet today, but due to going off trail and climbing, I did not cover many “red line” miles.

A herd of around 50 elk
From atop Cottonwood Peak, looking at Eighteen Mile Peak
Looking up the Nicholia Creek Valley

July 21

In the morning I finished the alternate along Deadman Creek, which had nice mountains, although not quite as amazing at Ley insinuated.

I then took the alternate from the alternate along Divide Creek. At Divide Lake I met stock riders who shared their food, including shrimp and cheese — what delicacies in the backcountry. Further along when I rejoined the official CDT at Bannack Pass I met a couple guys from Lima (my next town stop), one of whom was a former backpacker and gave me even more food — cookies and a candy bar. A great day for free food!

I searched for the “bison bone cave,” but even after figuring out the coordinate systems on my GPS, could not find it. I later heard from other hikers who had though, so the cavern was out there somewhere amongst the new quarrying in the area.

Looking up Deadman Creek Valley
The view from Buffalo Spring
Sunset in the backcountry

July 22

The miles came hard and slowly today, as my legs were dead. I was bonking and needed more energy, but my pack only fit so much food. I really looked forward to my zero in Lima for rest and calories. My shoes and socks were shot as well, which did not help. I should have at least a new pair of shoes in Lima. I will have two new pairs of socks in my supply box in Yellowstone, but that was still a long ways away given the ragtag state of my current pairs. Maybe a store in Lima will sell some.

I met Sandman today, my first NOBO. He had started early and hiked fast enough to reach southern Montana already. He missed all the fires in Colorado and New Mexico as well. I talked with him about trail conditions and what to expect — navigation might get harder, but there was still a lot to look forward too.

In the late afternoon the trail climbed back to the divide and followed every up and down, no matter how steep, which was not fun on my drained legs. The landscape was entirely bare, high country meadows, which provided expansive views of the area, including thunderstorms in the distance.

The ridgeline was also windy, but coming from a direction that should have pushed the storm clouds away. The wind at higher elevations blew in a different direction though as the dark clouds came my way. While hiking atop an exposed ridgeline, a nearby thunderstorm was a great motivator to help me find a previously undiscovered second wind. I watched the storm approach, but it held off for a while. I moved quickly, desperately trying to reach my turn into the valley. My trot finally brought me there, and I literally ran down the hill, with lightening cracking much too close for comfort. I reached tree line with no close calls, and only frazzled nerves. Rain came with the storm, and I enjoyed a damp dinner, while trying to keep the wetness at bay. I finally went to bed with rain hammering my tent.

Sheep grazing along the divide
The sun setting after a rain

July 23 — Lima

I still had ten miles before town, but the entire way was an easy gravel road walk. At the interstate the awesome folks from Mountain View Motel picked me up and drove me to Lima. There I had lunch and vegged out in my hotel room for the rest of the day.

No place in town sold hiking socks, but I found a used pair with a few small holes in the motel’s hiker box. They were still in much better shape than mine though and should make the walk to Yellowstone much easier on my feet.

Transient and Roaring Lion showed up as well late in the day. We never can seem to separate much from each other.

I had yet another bad experience eating too much of the wrong type of food. I think my trail name needs to be bulimic, glutton, or weak stomach.

The far off mountains seen from the side of I-15
Welcome to Lima
3 thru hikers having breakfast at Jan’s Cafe in Lima, Montana

July 24 — Zero in Lima

I took my first true zero on the CDT and sat around the motel all day, relaxing and letting my legs recover. I had to resupply and plan logistics, but otherwise just rested and ate, trying to rapidly regain weight for reserve gas tanks further down the trail. I also visited the two gentlemen I met at Bannack Pass who lived in Lima and had a fun time talking with them again.

Transient moved on, but Roaring Lion stayed for a zero, and I split a room with him. A few other NOBO hikers were here as well.

The GDT intersected the CDT in Lima, and quite a few bikers stayed at the hotel, with one guy even riding a unicycle. Knowing other, different types of crazies besides thru hikers roam the earth was a little reassuring.

Pack explosion inside my hotel room. Somehow almost all that stuff fits inside my pack.
Mountain View Motel’s shoe tree, where CDT hiker shoes go to retire