Total Miles: 1183.4
After making a circuit around the airspace above our hammocks, it landed, and then perhaps not believing its eyes, took flight once again on the same circuit. Upon its second landing in the same spot, it swiveled and tilted its head almost out of disbelief, staring down at me lying in my hammock. Apparently this owl hadn't gotten the memo that we'd be invading her home for the night.
The warm day had given over to an almost chilly night, but the sun and blue sky were there again to waken us. Right from the moment we set foot back on the trail, we were climbing up over 8000 feet for what would be the final time in Montana. From that elevation and with nothing to obstruct the view, it was obvious that the trail was passing through a landscape that was rapidly changing from one of windswept grassy ridges to rocky and more angular peaks.
After reaching our high point for the day, the trail too would begin undergoing a transformation of its own. Leaving behind the high spine of the Divide, it descended far down from the barren high country and by late morning we instead were strolling along the banks of a small river among quiet stands of trees. At each water crossing, what struck us most was how crystal clear the water was, so much so that from a hundred feet in the air you'd still be able to make out every colorful rock beneath the surface.
While we meandered along the river on blissfully flat trail, we met two thru-hikers going southbound, the 12th and 13th we've met since we began the trail in June. Raindance and Chimp weren't just any thru-hikers though. Last week, they finished the CDT going northbound and minutes later simply turned themselves around 180 degrees to begin a southbound hike. Referred to as a “yo-yo”, the feat is exceedingly rare for obvious reasons, but they were an upbeat pair in good spirits and we stood and swapped stories for a bit in the shade of the forest.
Our first day in the Scapegoat Wilderness had been a good one, with a front row seat to what felt like a new and exciting landscape different from anything we've seen thus far. Unfortunately, as late afternoon gave way into evening, there was a far more familiar fingerprint on the land that we’ve grown weary seeing so much of: wildfire burns.
Cresting a low pass over which we expected to see nothing but green forest based on the USGS map, what we saw instead was nothing but death. Stretching for miles down the valley we now followed, as far as we could see the forest had been scorched clean, including a thousand feet or more up the surrounding slopes.
With the moon beginning to rise higher behind us and the light growing faint, it was time to either find a couple of trustworthy trees that had retained enough of their strength after death to hang our hammocks between or resign ourselves to a night on the ground. Just when we were about to give up, we found just the right trees without any others nearby threatening to fall should the wind pick up overnight. Lying here in what we've dubbed “death valley”, the wind has begun to swirl eliciting high-pitched shrieks from the dead trees around us as though they're reliving their nightmare all over again. Tomorrow, a lush and healthy forest could not come soon enough.