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[cdt-l] The State of the Trail - UAD II

	Okay, so the title sounds rather more grandiose than the truth, but
there you are... Yesterday my wife Peggy and I took part in Uniting
Along the Divide II (UAD II), a series of hikes organized by the CDTA
and a number of corporate sponsors. In return, we got a bunch of swag -
a couple of cool T-shirts each, one apparently a 'generic' REI volunteer
shirt and one from the CDTA, REI, & Liberty Graphics (the T-shirt
printer) with a very nice graphic of the trail and the three national
parks it runs through on the back. We also each received quart sipper
bottles from Galyan's, Power Bars, muffins, bananas, and such, as well
as gas money for the run to and from the trailhead, all presumably
courtesy of REI (the local store organized our trip). The press release
also mentioned the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club and Spiker
Communications, but I'm not sure how they helped out. (You have to make
sure all of the donors are mentioned, so they'll be more inclined to
pitch in next time...)

	Our section ran from Big Hole Pass on the Montana/Idaho border south to
Twin Lakes, Montana, with eight of us starting at the pass and two more
heading north from the other end. We only had topo maps and James Wolf's
1979 edition of his trail guide to go by. Driving to the pass, we
observed a CDT trail marker at the beginning of the jeep road to Morgan
Mountain, but our maps didn't show any connection between the road and
the Trail on the Idaho side of the border and Wolf's guide advised
against that route, instead suggesting a lower road, so that's the way
we went. We later discovered that there is now a connecting trail not
shown on the map. (This is most likely old news, and there's an update
to Wolf's guide that may very well mention the 'new' route. I also
haven't had a chance track down a copy of the CDTA's guide to Montana &
Idaho to see what it says. But since some folks only use maps, or guides
that are woefully out of date, hopefully our experience will be of some

	The lower route runs through a gently rising valley to the saddle on
the Divide, where it meets the CDT. There's numerous side roads in
various states of use, but as long as one avoids the first one to the
right, which leads to a private cabin (and reminds one of all the
crazies who supposedly live in the wilds of Montana), it isn't difficult
to find your way. A compass might help in moments of confusion. there's
a couple of small streams that could serve as water sources.

	At this point the Trail drops over the Divide into Idaho, passing a
locked gate and a sign barring motorized travel. A plastic post reads
'128', presumably the Forest Service trail number. The 'real' Trail back
to the pass follows the ridge towards Morgan Mountain, but we only
explored far enough that way to find its beginning at the edge of the
clearing on the saddle. For north bound hikers, there's a couple of CDT
trail markers - a plastic one high up a tree trunk, visible from the
saddle, and from that tree a second wooden one is visible where the
trail takes off into the brush. There's also a Forest Service roofed
sign board, but like many of its type, whatever message it once held has
been ripped off and lost. A note on the wooden CDT markers - made of
untreated wood, they blend in quite well with the trunks they are nailed
to, too well, often making them quite hard to spot. You almost have to
know to expect one before you spot it...

	We followed the CDT into Idaho, and it's obvious why the route is
closed to vehicles. Whoever originally thought this was a adequate road,
even for jeeps, was (how shall I say this?) an idiot. The section was
around a 20 percent grade, with several places even steeper, and covered
with much loose stone from the rocky soil. At one point on the hike
back, Peggy asked how many more talus slopes we had to climb. We were
very glad for our walking sticks, which greatly helped to reduce our
slides, and provided necessary support on the return. Wolf's guide
through this section is still accurate, despite its age, though his
description of the Trail as 'steep' is definitely an understatement.
Bradley Creek is easily accessible, though it disappears underground at
one point, only to reappear further down. The Trail crosses the creek
twice, without problems. Reaching gentler slopes, we passed through an
old prospecting area; quite a lot of earth had been moved around once
upon a time. We took our time, trying to consume just as many
huckleberries as possible; to give the bears less reason to hang around
the trail, of course. I'm afraid we weren't very successful, however -
the thru-hikers who come after us will find plenty themselves I'm quite

	Crossing the North Fork of Sheep Creek was easy, thanks to some logs
below the ford, but which are becoming rather old. Finding them was
simple, especially with Wolf's mention in the guide, but I think north
bound hikers might have more difficulty spotting the dry route, due to
the angle the trail hits the creek. From there, it's a short hike to a
hunting cabin. the trail becomes less distinct after the cabin, but we
had little trouble following it. Wolf notes that the jeep trail
continues on, crossing Sheep Creek, but it appears to no longer be used
by anyone and disappears quickly. Since the area had heavy use at one
point, probably in connection with the prospecting, there's a number of
old tracks and such, but we stuck to the clearest one, which proved the
way to go (but see below). 

	There's several trail markers in this section, four visible for south
bound hikers and one north (that we spotted, at least), but I saw all
but one of them while heading the 'wrong' direction, and the fifth I
spotted immediately after I saw another one facing the other way. The
philosophy behind their placement seems to be that they are intended to
mark where there might be some question of which way to go, but I didn't
find them necessary, or even particularly visible. I walked by three
without noticing them, and only saw the markers on the return trip. The
only time we strayed from the 'official' trail was shortly before the
cabin, when the CDT marker indicated the faint route closer to the
creek, while we blindly wandered by on the more obvious left track. Both
ended up in the same place, though, so it didn't really matter.

	The southern-most markers we spotted are at the point where a faint
trail connects to the CDT from across the North Fork. Up until this
point, the trail seems to have been cleared fairly recently, though
strictly for foot and horse travel. Branches and logs not blocking the
route entirely were left, presumably for the ambiance. After the trail
junction the CDT follows the South Fork Sheep Creek Trail, which has
quite a bit more deadfall across it. This may also be intentional,
however, as most are small and do not hinder movement (as long as you
pick up your feet). In a couple of places major falls have blocked the
trail but use has created re-routes. There's next to no undergrowth, so
that's been no problem. The trail through this section is far from
heavily used, but we didn't have any difficulty following its route. The
Trail climbs over a ridge here, occasionally climbing steeply, but with
much better footing than on the old jeep track.

	At the top of the ridge, Peggy and I turned back - we had to do the
section as an in-and-out, and were not looking forward to the climb back
to the Divide. Despite it being an even drier year than the last, and
area rivers are running far below normal, there seems to be no shortage
of water along this portion of the CDT. While on the trail the largest
animal we saw was a pine squirrel, but there was ample sign (read scat)
of bigger travelers, especially elk and bears. The Western tanagers Wolf
mentioned failed to materialize, but a couple of Steller's jays
complained loudly when I startled them by popping out from under a bushy
deadfall that was high enough for me to walk under without stooping. I
guess they were too busy flirting with each other to notice me

	All in all, Peggy and I only covered around five and a half miles of
the CDT's 3100. The rest of the crew did hike the rest of our roughly 14
mile section, but I'll leave it to them to comment on their experiences,
especially since I haven't had a chance to touch base since our return.
Although our personal contribution was minimal perhaps, there may still
be time for you to get involved in your own area - UAD II is scheduled
to run until August - so it's not too late to report on a few more
miles. And to get your own T-shirts and Power Bars, of course...


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