CDT MT Section 7

Day 63: Burnt Mountain

I woke up at 6 and immediately ate breakfast. Then, I dozed off from 6:30 to 7, and woke again to do some more stitching on the Frankengloves. I suited up, packed up, and was on the road by 8:20.

It was another day of blue skies and few clouds, and for the most part, there were not too many options to avoid the sun. All morning was a dirt road walk with occasional trees along the sides, trailers parked just off trail, and trucks passing occasionally. There were some views on occasion, and small collections of cattle unfazed by ineffective cattle guards.

I took a break at the one major creek crossing midmorning, but just for a snack. I had plenty of water on my back already. Shortly after that, I missed a turn for the road that led back to the highway, and ended up meeting it a half mile further away from the road I needed to get to. That is, an extra half mile of paved road walking. Annoying.

On the other side of the highway, more dirt roads worked their way up toward the canyon a creek flowed out of, and if I stayed to one side, sometimes I could pass through a tree’s shade. However, the upside of all the sun was that all the wild strawberries growing in and beside the road were at the peek of ripeness, so I did stop and multiple occasions to eat as many as looked good.

About lunchtime, I could hear the faint trickle of Little California Creek in the woods next to the road. There was another trail just a little ways into the trees next to the creek. I ate lunch while constantly moving around to chase the shade. I also took the opportunity to fill up my water bag from the creek.

The CDT left this road for a smaller road blocked off and reserved for snowmobile use in winter. It worked its way up the canyon alongside Dry Creek. It wasn’t steep, and it was very much a even though more grass grew in it. Getting close to the top, I took anther snack break on a rock that happened to catch a tiny little spot of shade.

Finally, when the road, cut by a shallow stream, passed below the lowest part of the ridge, I left the road on a much steeper single-track and climbed straight up to the saddle. Across the saddle, which had no trail, a machine-made ATV double track started, looping up onto the ridge and following the continental divide. The only other hiker I met all day crossed my path on this bit of forest road. He was an older guy who wasn’t interested in the usual pleasantries or introductions. He just wanted to complain about how little he liked this kind of trail, and how he should have taken the Anaconda alternate even with the long highway walk because at least “you just get it done.” I couldn’t think of anything to say to these complaints that wouldn’t turn into arguments, so I kept changing the subject until the subject turned to moving on with our own hikes. In any event, I think it’s pretty clear I was pretty much past the sobo bubble at this point.

Just ahead, the trail left the road and entered the woods on a section of trail with no trail or only a faint trail. In fact, right off the bat, the trail entered a clearing and vanished. Ahead, on the other side of the clearing, a trail continued, but it vanished again a few dozen yards later. Checking the GPS, I had left the trail, which had made a sharp turn in the previous clearing. There was, in fact, a small wooden sign pointing the right direction over there. Having gotten the picture, I was pretty well able to find my way through the whole section just by chasing signs and tree cut blazes.

But first, the trail left the woods for half a second for a strip of grass to cross this trail. Comments had clued me in there was water here, and when I climbed the hill, sure enough, there were a number of seeps putting out plenty of water in a nice stream down the hill that was lost in the grass and under the rocks before it could reach the trail below. It was supper, so I searched the meadow for a shady tree to cook while I filtered a few liters of water. It would turn out to be the last water on the trail for more than 10 miles.

Anyway, I started chasing blazes through the woods and down a hill. There were more blowdowns as I went, but things got really bizarre when the non-track spat me out onto the ‘jeep road’ of Burnt Mountain Trail. It felt kind of like a Wildwood, a dense forest with a rugged dirt road cut through, where all the tall pines were about the same size and age, but every third tree was dead. You expected to see creatures of fae or hamadryads darting behind distant trees, or maybe a house made of candy. It seemed like it was due for a fire or should have been marked for clearcutting years ago, though the road itself was kept clear by constant chainsaw maintenance.

But I was ready to be done hiking, and the biggest issue for me was finding a suitable site: flat, with a clear view of the sky, and no nearby dead snags ready to fall on me in the night. In fact, I didn’t succeed. I settled on a turnout from the road near where a tree had fallen and blocked the road. Aside from the two dead trees right next to it, most of the snags were far enough away not to be a threat. I gambled that the wind wouldn’t pick up during the night and drop branches on me as I would need to walk several more miles before reaching a site that met all my requirements. I set up and turned off early–at only 10pm–mainly to save cellphone battery for the next day.

Trail miles: 18.1

Distance to Butte: 15.6 miles

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