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[CDT-L] Spiriteagle - thoughts from the trail (part 1)

These are some of my notes from the CDT.   I didn't do a lot of writing
on the trail - I was busy.  So there's not a lot of this - probably five
or six parts including some observations that might be of interest to
those who intend to hike the CDT.   Most of it is 'bare-bones' but for me
it brings back a lot of memories, some good, some not so good.  In
retrospect, even the 'not so good' things have been transformed into
essential pieces of what was an unbelievably fantastic, life-changing

Some of this may end up in the journal - yeah, Ginny did keep a journal. 
And that'll surface someplace before we leave for the PCT.  I think maybe
on Daniel's site along with the Thruhiker Papers (circumtech.com).  

I've been having second thoughts about making this public - but it might
be of interest to someone on one of the lists.  And the lists seem to be
quiet right now, so here's part 1.

Walk softly, 

August 14, 1999 ---  We've been on the CDT for 2  months now - about 900
miles.  I haven't kept a journal - and probably won't - but it's time to
write down some thoughts about what we've seen and done and experienced. 

 Spirit Eagle - originally consisted of Jim & Ginny Owen and Dave
Fleischman.  We've all thruhiked the AT at least once, Ginny hiked the
John Muir Trail, Dave thruhiked the PCT in a "high-snow" year, and Jim
and Ginny have logged over 4500 trail miles during the last 6 years -
most of those on Pennsylvania trails (the significance of which will
become apparent later). Dave taught us a lot about snow travel and ice
axe use.  I won't comment on what we taught him. Dave is a faster hiker
than we are - and in better physical condition.  He'd planned to hike
with us for the first month so we could all get through  "bear country"
as a group.  Then the plan was to separate so he could do higher-mileage
days.  As planned, we separated at Chief Joseph Pass - that way we could
each go our own way and "Hike our own hike" without the compromises
necessary to hike as a group.  Dave is more than a friend - "brother"
would be a better word.  We miss him and wish him safe and happy trails. 
Unfortunately, we recently learned that Dave had to leave the CDT because
of stress fractures in his foot.  But Spirit Eagle flies on.  

 The plan - was to start at Warm Springs, Montana and walk north to the
Canadian border, then to return to Warm Springs (site of the Montana
State Mental Hospital) and walk south to the Mexican border.  The purpose
of this "flip-flop" was to hike the lower elevation (6,000-8,000 foot)
mountains of northern Montana before trying the 7,000-10,000 foot
mountains of southern Montana.  The hope was that the snow levels would
be better at the lower elevations.  In a 'normal' snow year it would have
been a good plan.  But this was a 135 - 200+ % snow year with 3 to 4-week
late snow-melt.  So our first 6 weeks consisted of 5 - 10 foot snowpack
on many of the trails and ALL of the passes.  Lots of ice axe practice. 
Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas,
the Anaconda-Pintlar range - were beautiful, but WHITE.  The snow didn't
disappear until Goldstone Pass.  We finally sent the ice axes home from
Leadore, Idaho in mid-July. 

 The trail - yesterday someone said "The CDT - that's like the AT, isn't
it?"  How do you answer that kind of ignorance?  Comparing the two would
be like comparing a house cat to a mountain lion.  Not that the AT is
'easy', but the CDT is an entirely different world.  The trail itself
varies from easy, brand new sidehill like Elk Mt in the Bitterroots to
rocky scree slopes to unmaintained sections of old trail to jeep tracks
which haven't been used for 20 years to sections which have never had
trail and are your basic bushwhacks.  We just spent 2 days bushwhacking
through the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Bushwhacking is a good way to
spend twice the time and four times the energy to cover half the

August 22, 1999 --- My writing is sporadic to say the least - but I've
been busy.  Back to the trail - 

 Trail marking/blazing - We're at South Pass City, Wyoming and we saw 2
CDT markers today.  They're the first we've seen since Green River Lake
on the other side of the Wind River Range over 100 miles ago.  The type
of trail marking also varies - it may be wooden CDT signs or carsonite
posts with paste-on stickers or axe-cut blazes or International orange
metal tabs in the trees or rock cairns (or 'ducks') or any combination of
the above.  Or none of the above.  For several sections in the last two
weeks there have been what we call 'ducklings' - rock cairns that are 2
to 6 inches high.  Today was a 24 mile day along jeep tracks with no
indication whatever that we were on trail - or what road we were on - or
where we were.  It was strictly 'dead-reckoning' navigation by map and
compass with a few hints from Jim Wolf's guidebook.  The 2 CDT markers we
saw showed up in the last mile and we have no idea what relationship they
actually have to the trail. 

 Injury - let's dispose of this one so we don't have to dwell on it
again.  We've had the usual blisters, sore muscles, aching backs, etc. 
On the second day we were post-holing in waist-deep snow and I twisted my
left knee and tore tendons in my right leg.  That took over a month to
heal and slowed me down considerably.  Then there was the phlebitis that
developed in my right ankle.  That slowed us down to 12 to 14 mile days
and didn't get better until we stopped in Salmon, Idaho due to Ginny's
accident. Both Ginny and I have had problems with boots - Ginny with old
boots that dried out after all the stream crossings in northern Montana -
me with new boots straight out of the box.  In both cases, they tried to
cut off our feet at the ankles. The only other problem for my part is the
2 compressed discs that I acquired on the AT - the pack sometimes hits
them wrong and provides my daily ration of agony in the form of extreme
pain running down my right leg.  

 The major injury, though, was Ginny's finger.  So here's my side of the
story - we were climbing over the 9200-foot pass between Little Lake and
Rock Island Lakes.  The pass was snow-choked - as every other pass had
been for the previous 5 weeks.  The trail consisted of switchbacks up to
the pass, but the switchbacks were covered by several feet of 'rotten'
snow - meaning the snow was soft enough that walking on it meant
post-holing.  So we were working our way up the exposed rocks just below
the pass when Ginny touched the 'wrong' rock and triggered a rock-slide.
I was less than 10 feet in front of her and by the time I could get to
her the snow, the rocks, Ginny and I - were all covered by bright-red
arterial blood.  One look at her finger told me that we were in trouble -
the meat on the last joint of her middle finger had been sheared down to
the bone and was attached by only a small flap of skin and muscle.  My
first thought was that she could bleed out, go into shock and die up
there.  The first thing was to stop the bleeding, so we tied it off with
a bandanna.  Next was to get her the last 100 feet up to the top of the
pass (actually - off that rock face) to someplace where we could safely
do some real 1st Aid.  I managed to get the bleeding stopped, put a
pressure bandage on the finger and get some Tylenol into Ginny.  It
wasn't the best 1st Aid job I've ever done, but it was apparently

The next step was to get her off that mountain and to a hospital - much
easier said than done.  The closest trailhead was 6 miles down the other
side of that pass and there was a Forest Service campground another three
miles beyond the trailhead.  Worse - the descent was extremely steep,
snow-choked, and at one point was a narrow, 45 degree snow chute for
about  mile.  After negotiating a descent - with one hand and a heavy
pack - that was challenging for me with two hands, she then got to walk
another 5 miles until we met some people.  

A comment here - at no time through this whole ordeal did Ginny complain,
whine, get hysterical or otherwise show anything but the highest level of
courage. But we prayed a lot.  I think I was far more afraid than she was
- and this over an injury that for most people would have instantly ended
their thruhike.  I'm proud of her.  

Back to the story - Mike & Michelle Palmer and their son Zeb were the
first people we'd seen in 5 days.  They were out for a Sunday afternoon
drive to explore the eastern side of the Bitterroots.  When I flagged
them down we were still a mile from the Forest Service campground that we
were headed for in an attempt to get help.  But they took one look at my
face and knew we were in trouble.  When they were told what the problem
was, they immediately turned the truck around, got us in and told us that
they'd take us to the hospital in Hamilton, Montana - and that was 100
miles from where they picked us up.  When we got to the hospital, they
waited for us while Ginny  was poked, prodded, X-rayed, cleaned,
stitched, bandaged, etc.  They went to Burger King and brought back food
for us, and they offered to let us stay at the church that Mike pastors
in Salmon, Idaho.  Seems the church was in the middle of a building
project with about 60 volunteers from all over the country (Tennessee,
Ohio, Texas, etc.) working there for a month.  They offered to feed us
along with the volunteers and let us 'camp out' in the church as long as
we needed.  After some discussion, Ginny and I decided that we didn't
have a lot of options and that there was more to this whole incident than
'coincidence'.  So they drove us another 80 miles back to Salmon, put us
up in one of the Sunday School rooms and pointed us to the shower (yeah,
we needed that, too).  This all happened on the second Sunday in July.  

On Monday - and for the rest of the week - we took care of Ginny's
finger, ate with the volunteers, participated in their activities and I
joined the construction crew as an additional volunteer.  I was a 'gofer'
for that week.  I had no tools and I'd promised Ginny to not mess with
rotating machinery until  the thruhike is complete - so there were a lot
of things I couldn't do.  But there were a lot of things I could do, too.
 So I did them - happily.  And Ginny gradually got a little better - so
we started planning to get back on the trail.  What we didn't forsee was
that during that week we'd develop a relationship with some of those
people that would make it VERY difficult to leave.  And that I think (NO
- I know) will affect our lives in the future.  This developed into a
first-class spiritual experience.  I won't expand on that except to say
that anyone who believes this is all 'coincidence' hasn't been paying
attention.  It's been 6 weeks now since that 'accident' - and the people,
the relationships, the lessons, the experience - are still on my mind
(and, I think, on Ginny's as well) every day.  We were touched by "Trail
Magic" of the highest order - by those whose Christianity is real and
alive and expresses the very best that one human being can offer another.

I'll repeat this - Ginny is back on the trail after an injury that would
have sent 99% of the 'macho' men that I've known home with their tails
between their legs.  That, my friends, is courage and determination.  And
I'm proud and happy to be married to the lady.  

Enough - back to the trail.  
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