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[CDT-L] Montana 98 (part 3)

Monday, August 3 - Reynolds Creek to Red Eagle Lake (14.3 miles) -
Ginny -    We had a mostly peaceful night except for the group of kids
running up the trail shouting to scare off the bears.  It was just
getting dark and we were already asleep.  This morning we woke up early
to sunshine and blue skies. We left camp about 8:15 and started by
passing several beautiful waterfalls, including St. Mary's and Virginia
Falls. There were several others along the way. St. Mary's River is
aqua, the Lake is beautiful shades of blue and green.  Going-to-the-Sun
Mountain was a focal point, with jagged peaks and a high glacier.  We
had occasional views of the lake, but not many.  The trail is badly
overgrown, with at least three years of tree growth in the trail. Knee
high seedlings were in the middle of the trail in places, and sometimes
bigger.  It wouldn't be passable by horses, that's for sure.  We stopped
in an open spot around noon to dry off our gear and ourselves. Our feet
are soaked from the wet ferns and weeds which are chest high.  The trail
is flat, but the going is very slow. Still - I'm happy. There is so much

        Later: It was a long slog through the weeds, but the views
lake were nice and the day ended with a nice swim in Red Eagle Lake
followed by a long sit on the beach in the sun looking across the lake
and up at the mountains we'll be climbing the next few days.  We can
hear and barely see another waterfall across the water.  Aside from the
flies, all is peaceful.  Our only wildlife today was a blue heron and a
couple of rabbits, though we saw deer, elk and wolf tracks.  Only saw
one backpacker, going the other way, until we reached Red Eagle Creek.=20
There are a few groups heading for the campground at  the other end of
the lake (there are two designated campgrounds here - we have the better
one at the foot of the lake.) Two guys were here when we arrived.  In
the sunshine, this is a very nice place to hang out.  The water is very
green.  St. Mary's Lake has an interesting spit that looks like a
barrier reef - just sand backed by a thin layer of bushes, maybe 25'
wide.  We heard traffic from the road across the lake occasionally, but
mostly it was a peaceful day.=20

        I'm a bit nervous about the next two days. This forest is really
dense.  Bushwhacking on overgrown trail is bad enough, off trail will be
really rough.  But it will be a bit like the early explorers found it.=20
Then there's the question of the "Norris Traverse" following the Divide
itself. I've looked at the mountains the book called climbable. None is
easy.  Most involve a few thousand feet climb straight up from the
valley floor, with a scree scramble at the top. Oh well, we'll see what

Jim -   Got to Red Eagle Lake a little early which, again, gave us a
chance to dry out the tent and our clothes and get cleaned up.  We
started the day with a couple of really nice waterfalls but after
Virginia  Falls the trail deteriorated rapidly.  It was really overgrown
most of the way along St Mary's  Lake.  There were only a couple places
where the view was even worth stopping for.  It was almost a relief to
turn away from the lake and cross over the ridge toward Red Eagle
Creek.  We took a break on the bluff above the creek and watched 2
separate groups headed up the trail toward Red Eagle  Lake.  We caught
the first group within a mile but never saw the second group  again -
they must have gone to the second campground. =20

        There was just one couple at the campground when we got there -
and Amy live in Minnesota and this was his introduction to backpacking.=20
She had gone to school in Bozeman and had done some backpacking before.=20
Other groups came  in later including 2 guys who were going to Oldman
Lake and then back out by way of Red Eagle Lake.  And then there was the
family group from Oklahoma - mother, father and son.  The son wanted to
go to Triple Divide Pass (and maybe climb Triple Divide Peak) the next
day, but I don't think they really understood what was involved - Triple
Divide Pass is an 8.5 mile, 2600' climb from Red Eagle Lake.  That would
make a 17-mile day.  Adding the peak would add at least 3 miles to the
day - each way.  I don't think they're really up to a 23 mile day. =20

        We sat on the beach and read for a while before dinner.  It was
good to
be still for a little while.  We could see part of the valley that we'll
be in tomorrow so I took some pictures of it and we spent some time with
the map and compass.  We're both really nervous about the next couple
days, but if we're gonna do the CDT next year then we might as well get
used to being on our own bushwhacking through the mountains like this
because we'll be doing a lot of it.  Dinner was early.  Again we had our
nightly deer visitation - also have a resident ground squirrel.  But
they don't seem to be bothering our gear. =20

Tuesday, August 4 - Red Eagle Lake to Red Eagle basin (7.5 miles) -
Ginny:    I am utterly exhausted and frustrated. Crev=E9e, =E9nerv=E9e,=20
=E9cras=E9e and emerd=E9e.  Our plan was simple - 3 miles on good trail,
followed by six miles on old unmaintained trail, deer trail and no trail
to the top of the valley, then four miles of walking the Divide followed
by eight miles of good trail - a simple two day jaunt.  The weather is
beautiful - warm and clear and sunny.  Unfortunately, things didn't work
out as planned.  We found the old trail, then lost it, then found it,
then lost it - over and over again.  We followed lots of elk trails up
the valley, crossed the stream several times (once almost waist deep)
finally stopped for lunch around 2:00 near a big waterfall on a side
stream.  We felt we were making progress, slowly but surely. Some
frustration because every time the trail forked (at every blowdown), we
seemed to take the wrong fork and lost the trail again. Anyhow, we
finally reached the head of the valley (the lower valley) and found out
why they probably abandoned the trail 50 years ago. Into the basin falls
a beautiful big 1000' waterfall. At the bottom are beaver ponds,
surrounded by willows.  The willows extend across the basin and 2/3 of
the way up the slope. We spent an hour trying to get through/around the
beaver ponds and channels, crossing the dams, wading in mucky mud,
jumping from willow to willow, then we tried to go up the hill and got
caught in a wall of solid 10-15 foot high willows. We would go up and
down and back and forth. Occasionally we would find clear trail, but
never enough to get us up the hill.  From below we could see the old
trail switchbacking steeply up, but once in the bushes we could see
nothing and our progress was non-existent.  We were really lucky not to
get seriously injured as we climbed under and over the web of branches.=20
Finally we gave up.  We were exhausted, it was a steep climb if we did
ever find the real trail, and once at the top it would be two more miles
across the meadows, and who knows what kind of shape they're in!  As
tired as we are, it just wasn't possible.  We kept trying, this way and
that, over and over, but got nowhere.  Jim's style and mine are
different, and it shows with this kind of bushwhacking. I tend to just
charge forward, figuring that as long as it's in the right direction, if
I try hard enough and keep moving, I'll eventually get where I'm going.=20
Jim is an engineer - he likes to sit back, think things through, look at
the maps again, reconsider the situation, and then move.  We sometimes
drive each other crazy, but we each got our turn to try to get through.
Sometimes my way works, sometimes his does, sometimes neither does.=20
Lesson for the day - sometimes stubbornness isn't enough.  Anyhow, we
descended to the valley above the beaver ponds near the waterfall. We
found a lumpy flat spot with some trees nearby to hang our food. We left
most of it at the lake, lightening our load as much as possible by
leaving behind stove, pot, fuel etc.  (Let's just hope it's still there
when we get back.)  As we were setting up the tent, a huge bull elk with
full velvety antlers came over the rise from the stream beyond. He was
some put out to see us there in his bedding area.  We made so much noise
bushwhacking we saw no other animals, though there were elk tracks and
bear sign in plenty.

Jim -    And today started so well.  We got up and ate breakfast, then
packed  for the next couple days - no stove or pots, only part of our
clothes, took only cold food and dumped a lot of other gear.  Packs
probably weighed in at 15 pounds.  The first 3 miles were a cakewalk -
some ups and downs, but all on good trail and we were fresh and had
light packs.  Following the directions in the climbing book we thought
we found the old trail right after the second bridge, but it was just
the horse ford for the creek.  Finally found the old trail a half mile
up the hill and it led immediately down to one of the nastiest double
fords that I've seen in a while.  The stream wasn't fast but it was all
mud.  That was a boots-off ford.  We followed the old trail for a while,
then lost it, then found it again and followed it past a waterfall, then
lost it again when we got to a meadow.  Then we found the next ford, but
lost the trail on the other side.  And that's the way the day went.=20
Finally stopped for lunch  at 1400 near a  waterfall on the south side
of the main stream.  Pumped water, ate lunch, aired our feet and tried
to figure out where we were.  But we didn't really get confused until
after we broke out of the forest about an hour later and got tangled up
with the beaver dams.  That was just after we passed the broken water
filter in the middle of the trail.  Some previous hiker had obviously
given up their water filter to the grizzly so they could escape.  We got
into the beaver dams and then couldn't  get out - those things covered
most of the valley floor.  When we finally did get out, we went up the
north side of the valley - we could see some of the old switchbacks on
the northern headwall.  But trying to get there was a problem.  The
entire north side of the valley appeared to be covered by willows and we
couldn't seem to get above them, nor could we find the old trail below
them.  By this time it was 1930 and the sun had set in the valley
although it would still be light for another 2 hours.  At that point, it
was decision time - even if we found the old trail we didn't have time
to make the 1000+'climb, cross the 2 or 3 miles of meadows in the upper
basin and get to Red Eagle Pass before dark.  So we went back down to
the valley floor and lucked into a relatively flat spot between two
streambeds.  By this time we were both exhausted, frustrated  and
disappointed .  We were setting up the tent when I looked up and saw
this huge rack of antlers rising out of  one of the streambeds - and it
was followed by the rest of a really magnificent  bull elk.  I managed
to  tell Ginny to turn around and  look, but I didn't manage to get to
the camera  in time  to capture that "Kodak moment".    The look on that
elk's face was priceless - we were in his territory and, we think, in
his bed - and he was NOT happy about that.  But at least I didn't have
to fight him for it.  I've lost a fight with a bear (he got the food) -
I wouldn't  be happy about losing one with an elk too.  I did get one
picture of him - after he went back across the stream he turned around
and watched us for a couple seconds - I guess he wanted to make sure he
wasn't hallucinating - but I got a picture that probably won't show
anything worth taking a picture of.  The rest of the night was quiet -
no elk, no deer, no bears, no people, just a big almost-full moon. We
slept well even though we were at greater risk than at any other time
during our 11 days in the backcountry.   We knew there were bears there
- we'd found at least 2 dozen of their bedding areas in our wandering
through the willows.  We did get some really interesting and unique
pictures - of the back side of  some of the mountains (Split Mountain
for one) and of the waterfall that comes off Red Eagle  Glacier.  Not
many people get to see those. =20

Wednesday, August 5 - Red Eagle basin to Red Eagle Lake (7.5 miles) -
Ginny:    Back at the lake, sitting in the sun.  Today was not a lot
better than yesterday, though we avoided the hours of bushwhacking
through the willows, mostly.  We still had our share. We would follow
good trail for a while, then lose it at a blowdown. Best part was when
we decided to just follow the creek for a trail, following recent horse
tracks.  We walked in the water for about =BD mile - between ankle and
thigh deep.  The water was cool but not icy.  We had so many crossings
we were already soaked, so one more didn't hurt and it saved us some
time and energy bushwhacking.  We picked up the trail at a crossing we
recognized from yesterday (a tree still had the original metal blaze)
and had little trouble from there. We heard two waterfalls that we
didn't see. Saw lots of bear scat and some bear bedding areas, but no
bears.  Again lots of elk and deer tracks, but we are too noisy in this
dense wood to see any wildlife.=20

        I'm really disappointed that we weren't able to do what we had
with the Norris Traverse, but as tired as I am, a shorter day is
probably best.  We still have a lot of miles to go in the next few days,
and the two days of semi-bushwhacking took a lot out of me.  Of course,
it could be partly just that I missed my morning cup of coffee.  Still,
a nap and a swim both sound good - which shall I do first?  The wind is
really blowing this afternoon and the usually still, calm lake has some
definite waves.  I feel like I'm at the ocean.  No other people here
yet, but two days ago the other campers didn't arrive until pretty late.
It is only 6 miles from the St. Mary's trailhead, where most people
start this section - and a lot of them seem to start really late.  This
is a beautiful spot surrounded by interesting peaks - I am content.=20

Jim -    We were out early, but it still took us until 1500 to get back
to the main trail (Triple Divide Trail).  We found the old trail in the
valley almost immediately after breaking camp  and we followed it right
out of the valley with no problem whatever.  Looking back on it, there
were really 2 areas of willows, one in the valley and another up the
hill below the north headwall.  In between the two was an area which was
only partly overgrown - and the old trail ran right through the valley
in that zone.  If we'd had another day to explore  we'd have kept going
- I think we could have found the switchbacks and done the traverse, but
we were short on time and food and we were both frustrated with the
results of  yesterday.  On the way out we picked up the broken water
filter that we'd passed on the way in - proof of grizzly bear presence.=20
That was obvious because of the tooth marks  where he'd broken the
carbon canister.  The rest of the trip was long, but we managed to
follow the old trail for about half of the way out.  When we lost the
trail, we just started walking downstream (IN the stream) until we found
a trail crossing that we recognized, then we got back on the trail.  The
trail does NOT follow the route exactly as described in the Climbers
Guide.  There are more stream crossings than are indicated  by the
book. =20

        Again we got to Red Eagle Lake early enough to swim, dry out our
and spend some time reading and re-hydrating on the beach before
dinner.  Others started coming in about an hour after we got there, but
we had already claimed our old campsite.  There  was a family group with
mom and pop and 3 daughters whose main interest seemed to be fishing and
there were a couple girls who work at Many Glacier for the summer and
were out in the backcountry for their "weekend".    One of the perks of
working at the Park is the fantastic hiking available.  Another early
night. =20

Thursday, August 6.  Red Eagle Lake to Atlantic Creek (11.6 miles) -
Ginny:    Lunch by Hudson Bay Stream next to three waterfalls. We passed
another very nice one on the way up.  We have a big climb up ahead
(1600' in 1.6 miles!) and needed more water before the climb.  This was
such an inviting spot we couldn't resist a break.  The trail is
overgrown, but rather pretty with shoulder high wildflowers. It is a
sunny clear day with a cool breeze - Oh frabjous day! Perfect!  We keep
our eyes open for wildlife, but have seen nothing so far.  We just
missed a moose in the trees, according to some people heading the other
way.  It is so beautiful!=20

        Later: We didn't hike that far today, so we took our time
the views, taking pictures and sitting in the sun. We started late, took
long breaks, drank a lot (the dryness here requires a lot  more stops
than we are used to) and looked above for mountain goats and below for
bears. No luck today though. The climb to the pass was steep, but not
quite as bad as expected. The views were spectacular of Split Mountain,
Triple Divide Mountain, Norris Peak and little half frozen blue lakes
below.  The other side held a fantastically long waterfall into Medicine
Grizzly Lake and another pretty little dark blue lake in a hanging
valley above.  The descent was continuous - not steep, but rocky and
hard on toes and knees.  Jim tripped on a rock and landed hard on the
scree - at least it wasn't in the part with the 1000' drop. More scrapes
to add to the bumps and bruises we got bushwhacking. At Triple Divide
Pass we looked over at the peak that we would have descended if our
plans to do the Norris Traverse had worked out. Even taking the "easy"
route - it has a steep nasty little scree slope down to the bench below.
Maybe it is just as well that we didn't do it. I love heights, but this
loose shale is tricky.   It was hot since we were slabbing the hillside
above treeline, but a nice breeze made it bearable. Even Jim has a tan
from all this sunshine.  Our camp is above Atlantic Creek in the
spruce.  There are four sites - a family group is right next to us -
kids about 8-10 years old.  The sites are too close.=20

Jim -    Up and over Triple Divide Pass - and we got a good look at the
southern approach to Triple Divide Peak - a long traverse across a
couple high benches followed by a couple hundred feet of climbing  up a
scree slope to the upper meadows ---- and then you get to start the
climb up the southern ridge of Triple Divide.  Looks a lot less inviting
than we'd anticipated - doable, but not easy by any means. =20
All the way up to the pass we leapfrogged the two girls who work at
Many  Glacier and listened to them holler "Yo Bear" about every 15
seconds.  They take this bear  stuff seriously.  As well they should -
on the way up to the pass we passed several bear "diggings".  One of
them was 3 feet in diameter and about 3 feet deep.  I had a brain cramp
and didn't get a picture of that one, but I did get a picture of the
next one which was about half as big.  Lunch was at Hudson's Bay Creek -
so named because it really does feed the Hudson Bay drainage (Triple
Divide Peak is aptly named - it feeds the Atlantic, Pacific and Hudson
Bay drainages).  There was a group of 4 guys there - not much
conversation, but when they packed up and headed for Red Eagle Lake we
almost choked at the weight of their packs.  One of them must have been
carrying 80 pounds - and another actually staggered under the load as he
went down the trail. =20

        Then there was the long, long downhill to Atlantic Creek and the
campground.   When we got to the campground there was a young couple
asleep at one site and  a family group at the site next to us.  Never
got to know the young couple - I think they were there for fun and
games.  The family group was from Massachusetts - mom and pop and 2
kids.  They were headed for Morning Star Lake the next day and then
out.  Later - much later - a group came in and woke everyone up.=20
Didn't  sleep well - too much noise and I couldn't breathe right for
some reason.

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