Total Miles: 1218.4
The trail beyond Benchmark Wilderness Ranch is not what you'd expect. As the Divide becomes sharper and more picturesque, the CDT opts not for its usual lofty place where it typically follows the physical contour of the Divide itself, but instead it descends and follows the course of rivers far below. Not that it's a bad thing as far as walking is concerned—the flat river miles make for quick time and pockets of views up into the rocky spires are enough to remind you of what you're surrounded by.
Almost immediately upon rejoining the CDT this morning, we left behind the Scapegoat Wilderness and entered the Bob Marshall Wilderness. “The Bob”, as it is affectionately known, is a highlight destination not only of the CDT but of the entire mountain West. With vast tracks of untouched wilderness on the doorstep of Glacier National Park, grizzly bear habitat, and the Continental Divide cleaving it in two, there’s a reason why it's been on my list of places to visit for so long.
When we got back on trail this morning, we were joined by the other two guests at the Ranch last night, Kiwi Legs and Shortcut, two women who have been hiking a very large section of the trail this year. Wrapping up their hike in a few short days, Shortcut was in the mood to get it over with already while Kiwi Legs had the warm smile and affect of someone who was completely at peace out here. Chatting away the first few miles of the day together, and then playing a day’s long game of leapfrog with them, it was wonderful to inject even a small dose of social life into what has been a decidedly non-social hike.
The secrets of The Bob are many, but the Chinese Wall is not one of them. Named, presumably, as a nod to the Great Wall of China, it is an escarpment hundreds of feet tall that runs for roughly 12 miles as the dramatic spine of the Divide. Following at its foot for miles, you get the sense that it's like a wall of the Grand Canyon that has simply been misplaced. With such a sight only 20 miles from the trailhead, the CDT looked about as well worn and heavily traveled as any stretch we've been on.
The autumn-like chill in the air from yesterday hung around to keep us company for another day, the kind of chill that ensures a runny nose from dawn til dusk. Small patches of blue sky would play peek-a-boo between the mostly gray clouds, but playing coy was all it ever did. Sitting down to cook dinner, it was the first time in a long time that we donned our down jackets to stay warm. Waiting for the water to boil, it was dead calm and our breath filled the air the way you see the breath of horses out to pasture on a winter’s day. Warm among the cold, a good day of hiking nearly behind us and ready to enjoy a hot dinner, it dawned on me what this feeling was: contentment.