Total Miles: 231.5
While walking for hours on end each day, something I often think about is how much harder this would be if the trail didn’t exist at all. You can get a small taste for this during the occasional bushwhack or stretch where the trail essentially goes cross country with little to no markings. But I’m thinking bigger than that even—no trail, no markings, no forest service roads, just wide open wilderness where no one has been before. How long would it take to travel even 10 miles? It was a timely thought given where we’d be passing through this morning.
In 1805, the famed expedition of Lewis and Clark finally crossed the continental divide at a humble saddle in the range called Lemhi Pass. We took a brief detour a quarter mile off trail to a memorial campground dedicated to Sacajawea, the famed guide who led the intrepid explorers on their quest to travel the Missouri River upstream in the hopes of finding a water route that could connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In this unassuming spot, a small spring poured forth from the ground with no one around to notice it but us. What we soon learned was that we were collecting water from the very headwaters of the Missouri River.
In that moment, my mind tried to erase the trail, the road, the memorial—everything but the rocks, the water, the trees, and the grasses. What must the joy of that moment have been like? And what about the next moment, when the realization crystallized that this wasn’t a single ridge of mountains separating the great uncharted west from the east, but layers and layers of them stretching from the divide off into the unknown? Daunting doesn’t quite seem to cover it.
North of Lemhi pass, a steep climb mellowed into a stretch of the most idyllic trail we’ve had thus far, as it quietly rolled along through lodge pole forest silent except for the chirping of birds. Carpeting the forest floor beneath were thickets of bright yellow glacier lilies, their heads nodding toward the ground as if facing the sky would be vanity.
￼Not to be denied at least a small weather event even on this otherwise placid day beneath a subdued sky, a white puffy cumulus cloud drifting across the valley decided to show its sinister side. Pushing up against the range we now walked upon, orographic uplift turned the cloud dark and angry and the tantrum that followed came in the form of pea-sized hail raining down on us. That it came while we walked through a recently burned area of forest made it all the more striking and beautiful.