Total Miles: 260.2
Compromise. Deviation from the desired. Challenging concepts that we all struggle to face and to come to terms with from time to time. Peter, the father of my high school girlfriend once told me, after listening to my story of beating a retreat and abandoning an attempt to summit a peak: “The difference between a mountaineer and a fool, is that a mountaineer knows when to turn back.” I’m certain in the moment it wasn’t exactly the advice that my bruised 20-year-old ego wanted to hear, but the wisdom of it rings just as true today in my memory as it did back then.
In nearly every scenario I can possible fathom, everyone’s interest is best served if ego is served last, and when the ink of history is dry, opening yourself up to a new plan is really about letting go of the attachment to the original one. Today was an exercise in letting go of the plan we had for the next two and a half days.
On the heels of a tiring snow slog, new problems were now staring us in the face. Separating us from our next planned resupply stop 60 miles to the north was not only another 30 miles of snow travel, but drastically different weather to cover them under. Gone would be the sun-drenched 70-degree weather. Taking its place? Three days of temperatures 30 to 40 degrees colder, with nothing but rain and snow to keep them company, all while dramatically hardening the soft snow conditions we’d “enjoyed.” Given the pace to which we’d been slowed by the navigation and snow travel yesterday under perfect conditions, marching forward into the reality we knew would be waiting for us brought Peter’s words echoing from the recesses of my memory. It was time to untether ego, watch it drift into the distance and make a new plan.
The town of Jackson, Montana sitting less than 20 miles to the East made for an obvious choice to exit the divide, ride out the worst of the weather in the coming days and make the necessary adjustments to our plans. Finding one bar of cell service from a height of land on the trail, Rick from the one hotel in town offered to drive out and give us a lift into town from a trailhead a mere 3 miles off the CDT. Getting there was the next challenge.
The oft-overlooked byproduct of a rapidly diminishing snowpack is that all of that water has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the system of drainages that the trail must traverse as it rises and falls along the contours of the divide. Bridges are a real luxury. Without them, you’re in for a wet (and cold) fording of whatever might be in front of you. That’s where we found ourselves this morning, staring at a frothing white creek. Perhaps only 15 feet across, the water raced by without a bridge—manmade or otherwise—either upstream or downstream. Such a humble distance to cross, but with a depth just shy of my waist, it took all four of us linked arm in arm to safely cross in the span of only a couple of heart pounding minutes. Stating the obvious here: water is an impressive force, and by far the most dangerous of the objective hazards you’re likely to encounter on a long distance hike.
With the icy fords safely behind, off we went pointing our steps down a side trail and turning our backs to the CDT. The building clouds that portended the weather to come followed close on our heels even as we drove down from the mountains in the safety of Rick’s truck. The population of Jackson would soon temporarily swell to 40, the next chess move waiting to be made.