Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I am in the process of planning and training for a trip back to the Bob in August of 17

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex consist of  the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wilderness areas. As a wilderness area no  motorized or mechanical equipment including bicycles are allowed.  That is to say travel is by foot, or horseback.  The area consist of about 2 million acres of land.  It is located in North West Montana and boarders Glacier National Park. Commonly called the “BOB” it is prime Grizzly Bear habitat and has the largest population of  Grizzly in the lower 48.  

Jack & Deacon
Last look at the BearTop Lookout !

Day One

Actually, day one was two days ago when I started the long drive from
Farmington Missouri to the trail head here in Western Montana. I’m
finally at the Gates Park trail head, northwest of the small town of
Choteau. I took off from my house at 10:30 pm and I drove 27 hours.  I
then pulled over at a small county park in Eastern Montana and took a 3
hour nap.  I again started driving west at 4:30am and went 166 miles
before I saw any other traffic on the road. Traffic is sparse, wild
life is not.  I was completely unprepared for “jack rabbits”. Those
things are as big as a small dog and can cover a huge distance in short
order.  I have seen whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope, and turkeys.
Yes, of all things, shortly after sunrise I had two large hens with a
number of polts cross the road in front of me.  I’ll have to ask my
turkey expert, John Spurgin, as to the specifics about Montana turkeys.
After much roaming around on gravel roads I have found the appropriate
location to spend the night.  Going to have a quick bite, spend the next
hour looking at a detailed map of the area, and get some much needed

So… it is now daylight (almost) and I’m standing at the trail head. I
have on my shoulders via my Swiss Gear Backpack all that I need to
survive for the next 6 nights.  Sleep wasn’t something that came
easily to me, and if my math is correct, I have had 6 hours of it (sleep)
in the past 72 hours. Oh, well.  My goal is to be in the BearTop lookout
by late evening.  Hopefully  having coffee with my friend

9 a.m. The total distance I need to travel to get to the top of this
darn pass is only about 3 miles.  And yet, here I am, 2 ½ hours into the
climb and I’m still not able to identify exactly how this trail gets
to the pass. I do believe that I can see the pass, so I guess that, at
least, is good news! (Why on earth… did I think I could do this…why didn’t
I try this at age 32 not at age 52?)  This has been so much more
difficult than I thought it would be. Most of the unanticipated
difficulty I tend to blame on my backpack which is much too heavy…Lesson
learned early…come to a complete stop, and stabilize self, before
looking up at the mountain. The extreme angles, added weight on my back,
and the elevation makes for a real favorable environment to take a fall.
Given that my nickname is “Grace”, I really don’t need additional
assistance in taking a header.

12:30 p.m. Ok… so I’m finally here.  I can see for miles to my East
and to the West.  As a matter of fact I can clearly see the Chinese Wall
to the west, and if my memory is correct, as a crow flies that would be a
distance of about 15 miles.  At this location in the middle of
Headquarters Pass, I have a constant wind from the west at 25 mph.  It is
a dry wind.  I have crossed several sets of bear tracks; good news is
that it was only tracks. Now for the bad news…I can see the trail that
leads me down along Headquarters Creek…it goes on for miles. I can see
my trail as it crosses the bowl several thousand feet below my current
location and it looks like something an ant would make.  This is going
to be a very long afternoon…

This is looking west

2:30 pm.  Having been without water for most of the last two hours, I
have made it to the Dryden Creek cutoff which crosses Headquarters Creek
and takes me south to the cutoff for the BearTop trail.  I did see two
other backpackers, a young couple with a dog (that had her own back pack)
named Bell.  Bell and company were on the way out.  It would appear that
the trip out is much easier than coming in.  I also found it really
interesting that Bell had red boots on her front feet.  I find myself
sitting in Headquarters Creek (yes, literally sitting in the creek)
pumping water directly through my water filter into my mouth. I would
estimate that I have had at least 2 liters of fluid.  After washing the

accumulated salt off my skin, changing socks and foot gear, filling 
up containers, I’m ready to push on.(doing this alone is just stupid)

3 p.m. I’m now on the Dryden cutoff trail, with water bottle and
camelback full.  The bad news is that 3.5 liters of water adds
additional weight to my already heavy pack. The good news is that the
trail is mostly level running to the south along the base of the
mountain.  Not much of a challenge in way of elevation, which is good.
It seems that I have been going up extreme grades or down relative sharp
grades all day.  Now I’m at least able to walk on the level for a

4:30 p.m. I’m on my way up the BearTop trail. Again, something that
Bill had said at the last moment we spoke stuck in my consciousness and
proved to be valuable in calling my attention to a much concealed turn
in the trail. As such, I’m in agreement with map and GPS that I’m on
the appropriate trail and moving generally in the correct direction.
The notion has occurred to me that I have not urinated since 6:15 this
morning, even as I continue to drink large volumes of water. With the low
humidity I don’t really notice my fluid loss in terms of sweat, as it
evaporates as soon as a drop hits my skin, which causes the accumulation
of salt that I spoke of earlier.  And when I speak of low relative
humidity I’m talking single digits.  The weather radio out of Great
 was predicting a humidity of 8 – 15 % for today.  I also have
just found a very fresh bear track.  This track is larger than the last
set, I’m still thinking black bear but it really could be a young

Pic,of a Bear Track on the Trail

5 p.m. I had to set my tent up on the side of this darn mountain and
off-load some extra weight.  Actually; as fatigued as I am, I still
don’t think I can make the climb up with the weight that I’m
still carrying??? I have eliminated all that I can, and I’m down to
the minimum of survival items.  My hope is to run into Bill and have him
take some of the remaining essentials.  Also I find myself once again
without water.  (if I had tried this at 32 I’d done something really
stupid and never made it out of the wilderness) Ok, I’ve done something
really stupid and I’m officially in trouble.  I would gage my
dehydration at moderately severe, perhaps even severe, and my fatigue
level is severe.

6 p.m. I found a small spring that I was able to pump fresh water from.
 I again resisted the urge to drink directly from the spring and have
successfully filtered another 3.5 liters of cold mountain water.  In
addition I went through another 2 liters of water while I’m sitting
here.  I have made a decision to do 3 more switchbacks up this mountain.
 If I don’t run into Bill by that time I’m going to call it quits
and head down to my tent before it gets dark.  I’ll fix me something
to eat and spend the night resting, rehydrating…then I’ll get a fresh
start tomorrow.

6:30 p.m. I found Bill.  It is with much encouragement that he gets me
to continue up this darn mountain. I told him several times that I’d
take a raincheck on accommodations for the night and he could expect me
tomorrow.  He pays no attention to this suggestion.  So onward we go. It
is a painful process, the accumulated effect of dehydration and fatigue
has made me very inefficient.  I must point out that I do find huge
emotional comfort being with Bill.  Having taken a significant amount of
the remaining weight from my pack, and proceeding in a very slow
deliberate pace, Bill is successful despite all of my complaining in
getting me to the BearTop lookout.

9 p.m. Oh, what a wonderful view this is.  Despite how awful I’m
feeling (headache, nausea, vertigo) this is just a breathtaking place to

10 p.m. I was able to eat a small amount of food earlier and continue
to recover from the fatigue and dehydration issues.  I’m not
completely sure why, but I guess I’m going to live after all.  I can
hardly wait to see the sunrise.

Sunset was a beauty.

11 p.m. Bed… More later..

….  I Love the “Bob”

Day 2.
06:30 All things considered I slept well last night.  I have spent the last several minutes doing a self assessment of my body.  After the punishment it took yesterday I was wondering if I was suffering any undiscovered morbidity.  I’m quite certain that I am going to loose 3 toenails.  I have another 2 that are in question.  Ankles, lower and upper legs are in good shape, my right knee is swollen and hot.  My upper and lower back is in good shape. It really feels good here on the floor.  Bill has started a fire and the lookout is warming up quickly.  The coffee smells great.  Things are good, if you like this kind of thing.  It’s just getting daylight and the mountains and Chinese Wall to the west of my location are covered in a wonderful mauve red.  The weather last evening was very windy.  This little lookout really shook. I would estimate the temp out as 35 F.  The plan for the day is to rest up a bit and then make a trip back down the mountain to reload my tent and other supplies that I off loaded yesterday.

Chinese Wall to the Left at about 15 miles

08:30 Breakfast is oatmeal pancakes.  I have added black olives to mine.  Bill and I take turns at the grill the food must be very good because neither of us are doing much talking.  I have a persistent dull headache and the most quiescent feeling of nausea.  Bill said that it is directly related to the altitude.  I have been glassing the prairie below us and I have identified some Elk.  It is truly another world here.  I feel so very blessed to be sitting here coffee in hand looking a mile or so at a large bull Elk.
Is this not the coolest thing.  I'm above the clouds
Just look at that !

1:30 p.m. I’ve shouldered my pack and I’m off down the mountain to take down my tent and repack all the stuff that I shook last evening.  I have only gone a short distance when I come across a horse rider who has one pack mule with him.  He is a Forrest Service worker that is delivering various supplies to the BearTop lookout. We talk about the wildlife in the area and I ask about any Grizzly Bear activity. He assures me that bears are in the immediate area.  He also tells me a story about defending himself (successfully) against a mountain lion attack last year with a 5 gallon bucket.  It is a genuine pleasure to visit with him.  He also kindly gives me some instruction as to what to do when meeting a rider on these narrow trails. Obviously I needed it! I’m very impressed with his instruction and teaching style.  I can since he is one of those individuals that I could learn a lot from about this wildlife area and how to stay safe while out and about.  I’m off down the trail now smarter that I was before.  As I approach the area of my tent I found myself in a very advantageous position relative to some Elk.  I ended up being about 25 yards from a large bull that was in the company of 5 or 6 cows. I say 5 or 6 cows because I was so fascinated by that huge animal that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the supporting cast of characters that he had with him.  Lesson learned, Huge…These critters are huge.

Elk Rub

3:30 All pack up and ready to go back up.  I’m feeling great.  The trip up is highlighted by a large mule dear doe. Despite the fact that I have a junk camera  I was able to get a decent picture of the critter. Later I stop at the spring that I found last evening and remember how much I needed the cold water that flowed from it.  It is a very small spring but it does have great water flow. For such a little “squirt” it sure was valuable to me.   Once I clear the tree line and I see the lookout, Bills dog “Deacon” was quietly looking down at me and watched my progress up the mountain. He is a trusty and loyal friend.  He and Bill just go together, looking up at him it would appear that this is his rock.

5:30 Overall it was everything I needed today.  I was able to reassure myself that in the absence of the dehydration and having adequate nutrition that fatigue was not going to be a problem. I’m quite certain that I did not set a new land speed record, but I did make good time down and back up.  It assure me that I’m good for the hike out tomorrow.  I plan to do some trout fishing in the north fork of the Sun River.  I’m going to set my tent up in the Gates Park area. Bill is going to follow me later.  Tuesday will be a 15 mile walk to the Chinese Wall. Things are looking real good. I do however find it difficult to believe that I’m going to hike off BearTop tomorrow, likely I’ll never be back.

Looking South From BearTop Lookout

….  I Love the “Bob”

Ok, I’ll be leaving BearTop lookout today.  I suppose it would be prudent to talk about the lookout for a minute.  On the top of a descriptive list of words about the lookout would be the word minimal.   The lookout measures 14 x 14, that is to say a total of 196 square feet.  The total square feet of the lookout scarcely out-numbers the total windowpanes the structure has.  I now know this because I have been counting them while laying on the floor as it gets light. I have come to agree with myself that the lookout has 177 individual windowpanes. For the last hour I've been listening to the wind blowing in from the north west and I’m hearing a peck, peck, peck…I have discovered that the sound comes from small snow pellets striking the windows. The temp out is in the mid to upper 20’s.  I actually smile knowing that it is going to be in the mid to upper 90's at home today, with lots of swimming pool activity.  I'm on a small but comfortable mat paralleling the southern wall.   On the difficult way up this mountain, the final approach to the lookout (after turning the corner of the last switchback) is from the south. The southern wall has a door (the only door) located in the extreme left corner. I remember the first time I saw that southern wall, what a wonderful sight that was!

The South Wall of the lookout

 When I unzip my sleeping bag I feel the chill sneaking past the same door.  Actually the chill could be from any of the walls, because the walls of the lookout from a height of approximately 4 foot to a level of 7 feet are 360 degree glass; thus the 177 windowpanes.  Remembering the primary function of a fire lookout, in addition to the word minimal…one would need to add "functionally efficient".  As I’m looking at the beginning of the new day, I am oddly reminded of the old saying that begins “man who lives is glass house shouldn’t…. ".  Inside the lookout on the west wall is Bill’s bed.  The bed is mounted on large clear glass insulators which are not unlike the insulators that you commonly saw on electric powerlines years ago. As I am sleeping on the floor I can just make out the insulators at the foot of the bed and Deacon, who is under the bed. Deacon's dark brown color blends into the early morning shadows and his overall shape is blurred. But let's get back to the glass insulators...Think Lightning...Overall the lightning protection really isn’t all that sophisticated. I’m not making this up…the BearTop lightning protection consists of the glass insulators on the bed and on a footstool, and large diameter cables that extend down deep into the rocky mountain from the roof of the lookout.  I didn’t have the heart to ask as to the efficiency or guarantee of protection from lightning. Actually, I'm thankful that we didn't have any storms the past 2 nights...I could just see me, Bill, and big ol' Deacon dog all on the bed.

This is looking out the North wall. Bills bed is to the far left.  His desk with book collection and the base station radio and mobile talkie.  The Colman lantern is for after dark reading.  The hanging map is on hinges and fold up to the left of the picture out of the way.  Behind the map is the wood burning stove.  Note the fire finder with one of his weather instruments setting on the topographic map in the right foreground.

The northern wall is predominantly occupied with a work desk and a two way radio, the radio being a most important item to accomplish the assigned job of the lookout. Bill had shipped out several hard cover books to read over the summer.  The books (a rather eclectic collection of material) are arraigned on the desk next to the radio.  He keeps very meticulous notes on all radio conversations recorded by hand in a spiral bound notebook.  Reading these notes, it quickly becomes obvious how much more he does than simply look for smoke.

Bill at work with the north wall in front of him.  His bed is by the west wall. Note that the large map is folded up out of the way.  He has wood in and ready for a cold morning.  His ever trusty spiral pad on the desk.  Sticky notes on windows are various reminders…I took liberty and read one and it referenced a cardinal baseball game and time.  

He is the traffic director and location keeper of several teams of people wondering about on the “floor” of the Bob.  I see where he checks various teams in such as “Bear DNA team”, “Lynx DNA team”, “Weed Eradication team” , and the ever popular “Serial Killer team”.  These teams are doing activities in the wilderness and Bill keeps track of where they are and radio relays information for them.  He puts them to bed so to speak when they radio him in the evening and inform him that they are going to be camped at a specific location. Then, equally alert, he receives messages from the various teams the next morning that they are now on the move and plan to get to another specific location by dark. I don’t know if he has actually met all of these individuals, but it is apparent that they enjoy his humor and infectious laugh.  The radio vernacular he uses with these folks is very casual. At one point he even mentions that I’m a visitor in the lookout today and I receive welcoming “hello, Jack!”. The electrical power for the radio comes from an arrangement of batteries that are kept charged by solar panels.   The corner of the north and east wall is the location of a very efficient “barrow stove”.  Bill fires the stove with wood that he cuts and hauls by hand. I can attest to how fast the morning chill is taken out of the lookout using only a few small sticks of wood.  The east wall is occupied with a small propane stove and propane icebox.  The propane, as with all supplies, is brought up by mule string in moderate sized tanks.

From left, Wood stove propane stove, refrigerator and rainbow (rainbow is optional)

The south wall (the wall that has the door) is also the area used for storage of canned goods and other items. As I indicated the total area is small but very effective. Just slightly off the center of the room is a tall table that has a flat, round object mounted on top of it.  The round object has two sighting brackets, and the surface paralleling the floor has a topographic map fixed to it.  I have learned that it is called an "Osborne Fire Finder". Evidently it was invented in 1913.....yep, by Mr. Osborne!

Bill and the Osborne Fire Finder

 From the looks of this one it could be the original fire finder. It is actually an alidade that is used to determine a directional azimuth to a source of smoke.  In practice, Bill would turn the fire finder until smoke is in the sighting brackets and this would give him a compass direction (azimuth) that would be radioed to the fire command center.  Looking at the topography on the attached map may give additional clues as to a more exact location of the fire along the determined azimuth. As an example after giving some study of the map and glassing the area around the smoke Bill could report using important official fire radio type talk “the smoke signal is located just to the south of Biggs Mountain” and in the immediate vicinity of Blue-Gum Gulch”  So, this is the place that I have rested and enjoyed the company of Friend Bill for the past 2 nights.

Me Taking Off From The BearTop

Without being here it is impossible to realize just how isolated you are. As I stand and look around, I am reminded that I’m miles from the nearest gravel road.  I could set off a major explosion and no one would hear it.  By horseback it takes two days to get supplies up to the lookout from the gravel road. When I leave here and walk west to the Chinese Wall I’ll even be farther from civilization. 

Isolated BearTop Lookout

 So….I now find myself looking back at the BearTop Lookout from the first switchback.  It is likely that I’ll never be here again. So down the trail I’ll go, shouldering a full pack and feeling lucky to have had the opportunity to spend the time at the lookout.  It doesn’t take long to remember that it’s no walk in the park going down these extreme angles, and I have several miles of steep switchbacks to complete over the next few hours. But at this time, I have trout on my mind. If all goes as planned, I'll end up today at the North Fork of the Sun River eating trout.  Each day I am allowed to keep only 3, and only one fish greater than 20 inches.  In this area it is also acceptable to keep cutthroat trout.  It is generally understood that the trout stand no chance against my angling skills.
Thats me a few switchbacks down

Bill and Deacon working hard…looking to the west.  I don’t envy too many people, I certainly couldn’t name anybody I’d trade places with.  However; this guy…? What a heck of a guy. Thanks for having me. God be with you Bill, Godspeed

Bill and the BearTop..."we'll leave the lights on for you"

I guess I’ve been walking along daydreaming about trout fishing, when suddenly I see  something moving in the same direction that I am going. It’s two switchbacks below me, something HUGE and brown. I quickly and quietly make myself very small and keep watch.  The wind is in my favor as it is to my back and slightly up hill.  Not having the best hearing any longer (not having any hearing if you ask my wife) I am surprised at how much noise is being made by whatever I saw. As I think about this I remember all the logs on headquarters pass trail that were ripped open by bears. I’m reasonably sure that is exactly what I’m hearing. I’m very surprised that whatever is down there hasn’t spooked yet, because I’m very sure that the blood surging around in head is making such an outrageous amount of noise that someone parked at the gravel road I spoke of  could easily hear it.  Unconsciously, I have moved my bear spray to my left hand...

….  I Love the “Bob”

So, evening finds me on the East Bank (of the North Fork) of the Sun River.  This has been a wonderfully awesome day.  Beautiful blue skies, 75 degrees, no wind, about 12% relative humidity and yet….I’m not at all pleased with myself.  I’m kind of bummed out about not catching any trout.  That is to say I’m kind of bummed because I have not been able to catch my dinner! Yes, for reasons that I do not completely understand, I had planned to catch trout for my dinner tonight and to be completely honest; I was to eat fresh trout tomorrow night as well.  Silly me. I have literally beaten the water to froth and yet I stand here skunked! I have nothing to show for all my truly remarkable and brilliant efforts.  Yes, at this time I should be sautéing fresh trout in my outrageously expensive titanium frying pan.  Oh well, at worst I’ll use my outrageously expensive titanium frying pan to heat water up to reconstitute my powdered freeze dried mash potatoes, or heck perhaps I shall splurge and have reconstituted freeze dried fake eggs. Yummy!  Fortunately for me I seem to remember reading once or possibly someone told me this, that fresh mountain trout are actually overrated.  On a more pleasant note, I have enjoyed a bunch of fresh raspberries. While wading up the creek (pronounced crik) trying to avoid being injured by these dangerously huge schools of trout, the berries have been very accessible.  I have had no other brushes with death from Grizzly’s this afternoon, but I’ll tell you that the noise of the running water made me uncomfortable whilst fishing.  My father would have said that I spent all day “rubber-necking“, as I’d cast my line ( I must say I was dazzling in the presentation of bait), work the bait back to me, then I’d look left, look right, look behind me and start all over again if no threats were identified. As a matter of clarification to the reader, threats as identified by me while in the wilderness are is follows: Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolf and Wolverine. I’m not actually aware of any severe injuries caused by Wolverines but one of the wilderness rangers showed me a picture of one that was taken not to far from here and I decided that I’d rather not have an unpleasant encounter with one, if that could be avoided.
I just for the love of Pete can’t figure out where all the trout are.  I’m not outfitted perfect for mountain stream fishing however you would think that I could have foul hooked one by now.  This just galls me to no end. Really, we’re talking about trout, it’s not like they are the stealthiest fish ever, and how smart can they be??? In Missouri, they are farmed no different than catfish or crawdads.  If I seem to be in good humor, don’t be fooled. I’m feeling rather stodgy… and hungry…. and... everything.
Bill and I agreed that we would meet at half past the hour, so I think I’ll go back down to the area of the pack bridge. I’m thinking that with the ultra clear skies and full moon tonight I’ll consider doing some night fishing.
Actually my dismal luck started prior to the fishing, as I was coming off the BearTop, I ran into a little wildlife difficulty.  Actually it would be more accurate to say that I ran into some wildlife and that I made things difficult.  I was, for any number of completely logical reasons, convinced that I was within seconds of being lunch for a big ol’ Grizz. Then due to a sudden changing direction of wind, I had an explosion in front of me of half a dozen spike bull elk immediately followed by a secondary explosion of an additional 20 elk. Yes,  I had 25 elk, crashing about in seemingly random directions all at the same time.  One slick head came within 10 yards of me prior to abruptly turning to the east.  I really appreciated the fact that she didn’t step on me, however, I take exception to the fact that she had a very coy smile on her face as she crashed by.  If she had been a cartoon with a bubble caption it would have read “wonder why Elk make some humans catatonic and lose all body functions”.  So after that event it would appear that I’m suffering a severe credibility issue, my woodsy gravitas is all but gone.  I don’t quite understand how it takes place, but I can bet that by the time I got down the switchbacks the critters in and along Rock Creek had been given the word that I’m not any danger to them.  This deliberate character assassination initiated by the critters is swift and devastating. No self-respecting trout is going to be humiliated by being associated as a member of my allowed creel.  But all thing considered as they say out here, this may be the best day ever...if you like this kind of thing.
Gosh, I love the Bob!

Ok, I’m in my pup-tent and it’s 1a.m. I’m camped in a large meadow at Gates Park.  For people that know me well it’s not a surprise that I’d be awake at this hour.  My life long insomnia actually is convenient at times like this…I’m generally located on the east side of an large open area that runs deep to the north and south, with about 300 open yards to the west.  I’m lying on my back in a high tech (outrageously expensive) sleeping bag.  I have a sleeping mat below me, and the combination of the sleeping bag and the mat it is quite comfortable.  I have an orange headband covering my ears which is the only part of my body that has gotten chilled.  I have just checked the temperature on my handy dandy (and quite cheap) multi purpose instrument, (bear whistle, compass, and thermometer), now remember this is August, and the thermometer is reading 24 degrees.  It is so bright inside this tent you would have thought that I have set up under a large dusk to dawn light.  But the reality is that the light from the full moon in this high mountain meadow is bright enough that I can easily read print.  Much to the chagrin (annoyance) of the rest of my body, which is thoroughly enjoying the warmth and comfort of the sleeping bag, I’m in the process of unzipping things (sleeping bag, tent door) so I can take a look around.  Because this is such an isolated area there is no other sounds, so even the nylon zipper on the tent makes what seems to be an bizarre amount of noise.   A ginormous amount of moisture from condensation has frozen on the inside of the tent so it looks like its snowing on me as I finish opening the door.  My boots and shoes are setting under the rain fly for “protection“.  As I place my foot in my shoe I realize that I need to re-evaluate that plan as the inside of my shoe quickly become cold and moist. Be that as it may, with shoes on I pull myself out of the tent and slowly walk about 150 yards north. The view!!! oh my gosh, the view!  With full moon high in the sky just to the southeast of me I can see forever.  I could easily spot man or beast out several hundred yards.  As I look up to the west I can see the awesome Lookout Mountain.  I believe that it has an elevation of about 81 and a half hundred feet, (about that of BearTop), so at a distance of 4 miles it is a monster in the moonlight.  I instantly turn and look to the east.  BearTop is almost the same distance due east as Lookout Mountain is due west.  I wish I was an artist; as no camera is capable of recording the images that I see tonight. The Bob is exuding spectacular perfection, nothing flashy, but thrilling. The cold crisp air, the full moon, the absolute feeling of awe, combined together to create an outrageously wonderful effect.  I find myself in a flashflood of thoughts, an intense storm of emotions, and the unconditional benefactor of this awesome display of nature. Ten months ago I was wondering if I’d ever be able to enjoy the out of doors again.  Three months ago I never knew that this mountain sanctuary existed. And now, I’m fully exposed to what nature has to offer…I greedily take everything, I’m profoundly selfish!

Top, Multi-purpose instrument, Bottom, Hook hone and knife sharpener
The lower part of the Meadow at Gates Park

I am pumped! Sleep will not be an option. I’ve just finished zipping up my sleeping bag.  I spent the last 90 minutes standing in the meadow.  I don’t know if I was memorized or hypnotized or what.  I just suddenly felt incredibly cold and made my way back to the tent.  My body is a powerhouse of emotion…While in the meadow I turned circle after circle…trying to listen to the soundless night.  I was hoping to hear a wolf howl or a big cat scream, but the only sound that came through the night was a stock bell.  I’m sure that it belonged to one of the mules that the park service uses. It was a single crisp tone, quiet but instantly recognizable.
I had absolutely no intention of staying outside that long, I was not dressed for the mid-20’s…I can finally feel the warmth coming into my feet and ears. I’m lying on my back with my headlamp and glasses on while scratching out words to describe how I feel. I’m trying to capture all the thoughts bouncing around in my head with my number 2 lead pencil. A pencil that is wrapped with several layers of duct tape (my emergency stock of tape) little do I know just how important that tape becomes in the next 48hours.

About 4 feet of Duct -Tape on my #2 lead pencil

SO…after a wonderful night even if it was largely sleepless, I’m excited about the walk out to the Chinese Wall today.  What an outrageously wonderful day!  It was only 19 when I crawled out of the tent, but the sun is bright and the sky is without so much as a smudge.  I feel absolutely great, I even contemplated doing a 2 mile run…which would translate down to the pack bridge and back…but It’s going to be a 15 miler today so I’m not going to do the run.  I have my now familiar large pack shouldered; however the good news is that I’m not carrying everything under the sun with me.  I have hooked up with Bill at the Gates Park Bunkhouse.  I am introduced to three Forest Service workers.  I had met one of the three as I was coming off of BearTop.  His name is Kibb and he is obviously the boss man.  One is a young woman named Julie, she is so comfortable being around these animals and working in this environment that she probably thought I was rude staring at her.  Her focus on the task at hand is accomplished with a comfortable and soothing mannerism.  The third member is a sinew looking transplanted kid from Wisconsin (a dedicated packer fan) named Nate. He has that physical stature that I wish I had. Between the three I’m sure lots of work gets accomplished.  It is explained to me that this is a daily routine.  The three will leave this area by horseback and go to a location where a maintenance task has been identified.  Then they will return to the bunkhouse tonight. The efficiency that they work at is amazing.  How anybody ever figured out how to load these pack animals is impressive. And if you would wonder if these animals are treated well I can answer that question without any reservation.  It is obvious that the care given to these pack animals would exceed any expectation.  I know it may sound strange but I get the feeling that the animals are excited to be loaded and are looking forward to the adventure of the day. 
 Nate and Julie on the trial
Even though the sky is completely clear and I suspect that we are under a high pressure dome weather wise, Bill is adamant that we take rain gear and a few other essentials with us, which is why I have my full pack.  The option would be to remove the top of my pack and use it as a “fanny or day pack” but I’m taking more stuff than a day pack would be able to accommodate.  Our initial track takes us across the large open meadow.  Interestingly enough the Western edge of this open area served as an airplane landing strip in the past (prior to designation of wilderness area).  When you look at the Gates Park area with the clever tool, Google Earth,(47degree 47' 28.53" N 112 degree 56'37.11" W) it actually still indicates a visible grass landing strip.  I am currently standing on the extreme southern end of the old airstrip and a large wooden area made by sheets of weather treated plywood that measures 16' by 24' has a large painted X across it.  Bill tells me that an identical sign is on the other end.  This indicates to pilots that the area is closed to all traffic.  Our journey takes us up the northern edge of a large drainage named “red shale”.  Our primary direction takes us just north of west.  Lookout Mountain is just to the West of us.  The water in the drainage is of significant volume and is swift.  We cross a number of smaller creeks feeding the primary drainage. 

Looking down at the Red Shale Drainage

I take advantage at few of these for fresh water. I have become very adept at using my filter. The forest service has constructed a number of foot bridges over these drainage areas which are actually quite nice as most of these are wide enough you can’t jump and you would necessarily be over boot top requiring frequent removal of your footwear.  However today I opted for tennis shoe so I could get these wet if I just had to.  I’m excited about this part of the trip.  I’m going to come back someday and do two full days along the wall.  I guess it would be logical to talk a little about the “Chinese Wall”.  It actually is magnificent.  If you Google “Chinese wall Montana” under Google images you get a number of beautiful, actually breathtaking, views of the wall.  This is actually part of the continental divide.  In this particular area of the divide the ground has heaved a 1000 feet in elevation. 


Several of the documents that I have read and people that I have spoken with tell me that the wall is best photographed at a distance, but real appreciation can also be had from the foot of the wall.  If you would Google, Moose Creek at the Chinese wall, you get a number of images that are at the head of Moose Creek drainage.  This is where I wanted to camp but the forest service has limited camping in this area to one mile East. It was being overused and even though it is a big disappointment I really understand and agree with the actions taken.  But being unsure as to how this would work out I’ve decided not to do the additional 30 miles that it would require….however, next time I come out I’m going to see that area of the wall.  We haven’t been moving long up the drainage when I saw something very large in the distance, I truly believe that it may have been a moose.  We stop and I glass the area for several minutes and never see anything however minutes later I hear something making one heck of a racket.  This trail is amazingly easy to navigate and we can cover a significant distance quite easily and quickly when the notion takes us. However that being said, Bill and I both manage to slip and fall to the ground one time each.  Most of the morning has been walking up elevation in generally open area.  However with about 3 miles remaining we enter a thickly overgrown alpine forest area.  The temperature once we are out of the sun drops significantly.  The moist trail here in this shaded area is covered with lots of deer and elk tracks.  Some of these tracks are huge.  Oh, and we have identified a number of wolf tracks.  Some of these seem large to me, but then again I’m not a wolf expert. The entire walk has been very enjoyable. During this stretch of the trail we are able to move making very little noise. It strikes me as we move silently that Bill and Dog Deacon are wonderful company.  At one point we stop in the shade and lean against a down piece of timber and eat half of our peanut butter sandwiches that Bill fixed earlier. That is to say I had half, it seems that his definition of “half” is somewhat more liberal (kind of like his political views) than mine.   Oh well, beggars shouldn’t note such things. I was also very amused on the way up the trail on how well trained Deacon is.  Bill can point at any drainage and say, “water up” and Deacon complies immediately jumping off trail and drinking the clear clean water.  Bill can also say “lay down” and Deacon sloshes his belly and chest in the cool water.  When we are in an area without water Bill can command “water up” and lean slightly over and Deacon can lap water running from the hose to Bills CamelBak. 

Bill and Deacon take a minute to "Water-Up"
In short order it would be obvious even to the novice that Bill and Deacon have been down a many trail together.  As we move along and get within a mile or so of the wall we can start to see glimpses of it through the tree tops.  Got to admit it right here and now that my heart quickened a few beats with the first sighting.  As we clear the last of the trees the trail enters a bolder strung glade that is about 500 yards wide to the wall. When I was about 100 yards across the glade I drop my pack and actually lay down against it looking up at the wall.  I use my binoculars to glass the wall. Several of the documents indicated that goats could sometime be identified.  The sky continues to be completely clear and the sun is very warm.  I’m actually convinced that I must have dosed off for a minute or so, as Bill has called out for me to join him.
Bill calls for me to join him

He has traveled another 150 yards towards the wall and slightly to the North of my location. When I get to the spot he has stopped at I’m glad that moved.  This position gives a greater advantage looking up to the North and down to the South.  I again find myself lying on the ground with my head and shoulders propped up against my backpack. Bill is setting on a large squared off bolder and I can hear Deacon moving about.  The sun is in the western sky shining directly on me.  Because of the height of the wall and the position of the sun the shadows on the face of the wall and are visibly growing in length.  Interesting day, It started at 19 degrees and now I’m napping shirtless in shorts at the base of the great wall of the continental divide. Gosh I love the Bob.

It’s 4:30 a.m. I have my head lamp on and I’m working on my feet. I kind of got myself in a mess.  In a rather poor decision making process I decided to pack very light when we went out to the wall, including tennis shoes.  It worked out great until the trip back down to the Gates Park area.  Even though the grade isn’t dramatic it is all downhill.  The makeup of the trail is predominantly sharp rock and it didn’t take long for my downhill foot fall to cause significant injury to the bottoms of both feet.  The combination of the shear and sharp rock took its toll quickly. The last half of the trip was really uncomfortable.  Actually it was quite painful. With each step I knew what the resulting pain was going to be like.  I spent extra time when I could to stay off of the sharp rock and to really evaluate where each step was going to land. I also stopped once and changed socks.  I contemplated opening up the blisters but decided to wait and do that when I would be able to set up a cleaner environment.  This method of travel had one unexpected effect…It was because I was slightly off trail that I found a kill sight where a whitetail deer was taken by a mountain lion.  It was a first for me.  I’m standing over the remains of a significant size deer and lion tracks are in the dirt.  I was beginning to reach for my camera when the thought came to me that I best be moving down the trail to somewhat of a safe distance, after all I’m currently standing in the kitchen of a animal that I’m not embarrassed to admit, that I have placed on my dangerous animal list to be avoided if at all possible. I believe that it was the only time with injured feet that I “hobbled” with any speed.  The rest of the trip was beautiful and uneventful besides the discomfort of my feet. After I got back down to the Gates Park area I was kind of hobbling around and was offered some advice about my blisters.  Now what I’m about to tell you may sound like something that I would make up.  Initially I dismissed the suggestion completely. It was Julie, she told me various interventions that she has used or learned about regarding bad feet.  One of her observations was to place Duct Tape on the entire surface of the bottom of the foot.  The idea as she explained and paraphrased by me was that the sheering force of the step would be transferred from the boot to the surface of the tape and the energy would be significantly dissipated from the foot in general because the tape would slide inside the sock and protect the skin of the foot.  However after much thinking about the situation I came up with a different point of view.  This is where she works and lives, she also is very knowledgeable of the wilderness in general so my initial impression of the tape suggestion being completely crazy had to be reevaluated.  When I got things ready I opened up the huge blister on both feet and took away as much of the skin as I could. Then I soaked both feet in very cold water.  I slept with the wounds open to air as I was after a drying effect. Although not completely successful I’m positive that I made the appropriate decision  So now at 5:00 a.m. I’m pulling on my cleanest pair of padded socks over my newly taped feet.  I spent several extra minutes of caution making sure that I had no creases to cause pressure points. I am still having some slight weeping from the injured deep tissue and it makes me wonder how the tape is going to work.  I wish I had some liquid adhesive, mental note to self, pack some next trip. I took my lighter and heated my safety-pin and burned a small puncture in the tape, my hope is that any additional tissue fluid will be able to excape through this hole. As I take my first few steps I’m encouraged.  Some discomfort but that feeling of walking on a hot marble in my boot is gone.  I lace my boots several times in an attempt to get the best effect.  I guess the real test will be realized over the next few hours.  I have about 12 or 13 miles to walk today with 10 miles being up a gradual gradient  and the last three miles essentially straight down. I’m going to get out early so I can be in front of a trail crew.  When I talked to the crew yesterday they had indicated that they would be going out the same trail. That way if I get stranded and need to camp a few extra days they can give Bill and Denise a call so everybody knows I’m ok; just letting my feet heal up.   I have food and I can set up in an area that water is plentiful.….I still love the Bob.

It is now 4pm and I am standing in the middle of Headquarters Pass.  I’m out-bound, and most likely I’ll never return here so I’m going to sit a spell.  My concern about how my feet were going to tolerate the trip today was for naught.  I have actually made great time. And because of the magical properties of duct tape, my feet are actually doing quite well. Having started out early I was moving up the East side of Headquarters creek as the fog was lifting.  By the time I got to the Dryden creek cutoff I was in one of those zones; moving without hesitation, quickly, quietly, very alert.  For the most part the only sound in the background was that of running water as it made its way to the North Fork of the Sun River, and the sound of my boots as they fell against the trail.  About 4 hours into my climb I stopped at a small un-named drainage coming from the north that was emptying into Headquarters creek.  I had some lunch and also took advantage of the location to refill my water supply.  As this was the last time I figured I’d be using my water filter system I took some extra time to dry the filter and I placed the pump in a more secure place inside my pack. For the last several days I have had the pump in a side pocket but that placement made it difficult for me to be able to access some of my other “stuff”.  I also employed my outrageously expensive titanium skillet to heat up water for one last cup of tea. The weather has been absolutely perfect again today. I’ve spent the last 20 minutes just relaxing and soaking up some sunshine. It’s 70ish degrees and the sky is so clear that the blueness seems to be almost artificial. I actually took a picture of the hillside framed with lots of open sky to help me remember the moment.  

Over the period of this entire trip I have yet to see the vapor trail of a single jet contaminate the unblemished sky. I did see one small aircraft while I was on BearTop.  Bill recognized the plane and indicated it was someone he knew...Surprise!!  I’m not kidding; the guy knows all kinds of people.  Not just acquainted with, but knows them, and the names of their kids and dogs and various political views they have. While I was enjoying my lunch and tea, I was passed by the trail crew from Gates Park.  Unfortunately at the time I was dressed in a drab green that blended with my environment and I was sitting motionless (aka, taking a nap) against the rock wall of the gulch, As such the lead rider did not see me until I moved (because I suddenly woke up and darn near jumped out of my boots).  This sudden movement gave start to rider and horse.  Fortunately no harm was to be had as a competent rider and mature horse quickly sorted things out.  I made a note to myself that I should consider making my presence known way in advance of any other riders encountered to avoid this problem. Obviously this would be much easier to do in practice if I were to stay awake.  At the same time I would like to think being noticed early would likely reduce my chances of being shot. I’ve actually not spent much time with horses and pack animals, but I find them fascinating.  As the group passed the mule in the rear kept a keen eye on me as she went up the trail.  She was practically walking sideways, continually checking me out; I guess it was her job to make sure that I was not a danger.

She kept a Eye on me all the way up this leg of the trail...

Standing and dead fall Pine,  Also center left is the Gates Park Crew heading out.

Later in the afternoon I overtook the same crew as they worked a saw against a huge log. As I approached all the horses and pack animals became aware of my company and watched me as if it were an expected task.

As you can see from the pictures this entire canyon is full of dead standing timber.  The dead timber which is mostly pole size lodgepole pine is a result of the Gates Park Fire. This fire was first detected on July 11, 1988 and eventually burned over 53,000 acres. The burned Fescue grasslands recovered almost immediately however the timbered areas were not as lucky. As you can see after 22 year, hundreds of these bleached out pine still stand.  You may also notice that the pine never recovered as evidenced by lack of any new growth.  Time has taken a toll on the standing timber and it has decayed to the point that dead falls are common. I watched for several minutes as Kibb and Julie used a crosscut saw on a log before I moved on up the canyon. 

Working the crosscut saw...They sure had it going!

I’m not sure how often they do this, but I should remind you that no mechanical device (chainsaw) is allowed in the wilderness area.  I'm not any type of crosscut saw expert, but I can say that they were making steady progress.  It wasn’t the first time this group was using a crosscut saw.  It would be a stretch to say the saw was moving like a hot knife in butter, but it would be very safe to say that if I were to come off the bench and participate the effort would have been negatively impacted.  For the rest of the afternoon I fully expected to be overtaken once again by the crew before I made it here to the pass, but as it turned out, I did not see them again on the trail.  As I worked my way up the canyon I watched for a collection of Black Vultures, “Buzzards”. I saw a group on my way in which could indicate that they were feeding on a large animal (obviously dead).  It could be worth taking the time to bushwhack to their location on the outside chance that it may be something interesting.  I should have done this on my way in but after the punishment that I took getting over the Pass from the east I wasn’t very interested in any additional expenditure of energy. When you’re bushwhacking in an area like this it is very energy consuming. When I reached the “bowl” below Headquarters I took my time doing a little exploring, as I had no particular reason to be in a hurry, I was committed to just enjoy the afternoon.

Next to the last turn going up. Note how narrow it gets up here!

The wind in the center of this pass is at a constant significant speed from the west. I think it’s odd that there is no gust, just an unvarying gale of sorts.  I find myself not for the first time during this trip turning in a very slow circle; I want to take in all that I can.  At the same time I find it interesting that I’m not at all saddened that this trip is almost over.  I have 3 very sharp downhill miles to go and then I’ll be done.  This picture shows the trail I’m about to take as it heads off to the north.  It is the first leg of numerous cut backs. 

First leg going down the East side of Headquarters Pass
Yes I’m going downhill, but it doesn’t imply that it is going to be easy.  Down I have discovered, is most punishing on my feet and knees. And it is real easy to fall. Fortunately I’m in no rush. My plan is to stop at the first shelf down and make adjustments to my load. I have been going up all day and from experience I know that I’ll need to make a few adjustments to the way my pack is strapped on to go down.  It may not make any sense but the pack needs to rest differently depending if I’m going up a steep grade or down one.  I remember thinking on the way up that the shelf would be a good place to stop.  I’m guessing that it’s only about a half mile down the east side of this pass but it’s going to take me a while to get there.  One more look back to the west, one more picture of the Bob Marshal Wilderness sign, and I’m off. 

I’ve reached the first shelf and I must say that I am very impressed with the protective nature of the tape on the bottoms of my feet.  However I still had significant impact trauma to both of my big toes, but I guess it doesn’t really matter as both nails are beyond salvage already. Actually my right nail was burned in the wood stove at BearTop lookout.   While I was resting and readjusting my shoulder straps a pack-string of mules with one rider on horse came around the switchback.  The rider takes advantage of the natural shelf, dismounts, and begins to tighten up the tack on the mules.  I call out to him as to avoid any surprise like I had caused earlier.  The rider acknowledges me and informs me to stay put as another pack string is about 10-20 minutes behind him.  He didn’t really ask me to stay where I was, and it wasn’t really a dictum or order, it was just a statement.  He obviously knows more about this than I do and I’m not about to question the decorum.  After surveying what are unknown mysteries to me and evidently becoming satisfied that all is sound, he mounts his horse and something that I just can’t satisfactorily describe unfolds.  In a strange almost choreographed dance, the heavily loaded mules follow the horseman up the switchbacks. The synchronized movement, the sound of the hooves on the hard rock trail, the dust, and the breathing of these animals, it all comes together and creates a unique setting. It was something that I had never experienced, and something that was fairly special to see.  I’m at a loss as to the number of mules behind the horseman.  I was so interested in what was going on that I didn’t really take an actual count, (or take a darn picture).  It would be safe to say 12 or 13, several anyway. The trail is extremely narrow, at least by my standard, not a chance in heck that I’d ever try to ride up, worse yet, ride down, on horseback or mule. Just walking with this pack I’m not all that comfortable.  One misplaced step and things could become rather interesting in a heartbeat. The horseman is several years my senior but I’m sure I’d never be able to keep up with him.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the wilderness area and nobody would begin to question his authority on all things wild.  He is delivering supplies to the Forrest Service. This particular trip is one day in, sleep over night, and one day out.  As I understand his schedule he is only to repeat this again in the next 48 hours.  It is an interesting way to make a living.  I might add that I also find out later that individuals with his skills are very rare.  I feel lucky just to have been able to sit and watch him as he goes out of sight on the switchbacks leading up to Headquarters Pass.

As I rest and wait for the next rider as was “suggested”, (ha) I reflect on the why and how I made this trip.  It’s been a wild ride for me over the past year.  Last November I underwent a 4 and a half hour surgery to hopefully liberate me of a fairly large amount of moderately aggressive prostate cancer.  The same disease that robbed my father of his life.  A death that was not at all pleasant.  I realized when I was diagnosed that I would never be able to go through what my dad did.  I’m not that brave and certainly not that strong or tough. Dad was a typical WWII kind of guy...he never complained, never showed any fear, he only worried about others.  He hung in as long as he could with a body that was riddled with metastatic disease. He was unconscious for the last 24 hours and even with the advances of modern day pain control I never was completely satisfied that we had him comfortable. With early diagnosis I took the option of a potential cure by way of a radical surgical procedure.  One could argue that the physical side effects that I have post-surgically are of my own doing, so be it! The status of my cancer? Yes, the cancer, on that I must wait and see, “be patient” as I am told.  I also get the following a lot; “You must live each day to the fullest” “Be thankful” “It could be worse” 

I have worked very hard to get in shape for this trip.  I was running 24 miles a week, and this past summer I averaged at least 70 miles a week on the bicycle. The surgically altered environment that my body operates in has me prone to sudden weight gains. I’m also prone to anxiety at the development of any new areas of discomfort for fear of metastatic disease.  But regardless of the eventual end, I’m more or less resolved to make the best of things.  Despite what others may say, Dj would tell you that this isn’t necessarily my nature; admittedly I’m a negative person on such matters. Luckily I really do have the endless support of my wife, family and friends.  The support was obvious the day of surgery, a significant portion of the waiting room at the hospital was filled with my family and friends including  guys that I had spent the last 25 years camping and fishing with, Guys that helped raise my kids, Guys that came because...just because.  It didn’t end with the hospital…my recovery at home was highlighted with frequent visits from friends that came to give Dj a break, (you’d think I was a whiner or something), or to bring me some reading material.  Lots of good stuff happened to me during my immediate recovery from a humanistic perspective. Lots of good stuff!  So here I sit, 1700 miles from home on a day more beautiful than I deserve.  I’m trying to “live each day to the fullest!” 

Gosh I love the Bob!

 It’s been a little over 10 minutes and I can hear the sound of the next pack string coming up the last switchback.  The Guide Packer emerges and is followed by several mules (Molly and Johns) and two other horse riders.  As the considerable dust settles I’m reminded that it’s like an invisible stop sign at this location as the guide packer has dismounted and has began the process of checking and adjusting the tack on the mules.  The mules are actually tied nose to tail and have supplies secured, I’m quite sure, by magic. This packer is younger than the one that was here earlier, however he moves with much the same rhythm.  This is interesting to me as I have no idea on earth as to what is specifically being done. In general the Packer systematically  adjusts the tack and physically / visually assesses each animal to determine current health status.  The other two riders stay mounted as this process takes place.  One is a very attractive lady.  Slim and western outfitted.  She is obviously comfortable on horse.  She speaks to me and after establishing that I’m outbound she asks how my trip has been.  The other rider is equally slim and western outfitted, or at least I thought so.  It turns out that he is an Australian.  On second look at his face partially shaded by the typical outback “cowboy hat”, I wonder why I didn’t pick up on that originally.  So what are the odds of being on an isolated shelf in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by steep slopes made of loose talus, and be within talking distance of an Aussie? Then add the coincidences that the supplies on this pack string are headed for BearTop lookout!  I smile at these random thoughts… I don’t share that I just left BearTop 4 days ago.  The only difference between this pack string and the first is that this one isn’t as big, and all the mules have a net covering nose and head.  I’m not even going to guess what that is all about; and there you have it.  Within a 10 minute period of time they are off.  I watch as they make the corner of the long switchback that starts to the north and I myself start my last hike of the trip.

It is fortunate that this all work out this way. I’m not sure what a person would do encountering these animals on the narrow trail.  As I said this trail is on a steep slope made of millions of loose boulders. Moving down off the trail to allow for passage would have been rather treacherous. It is very difficult to describe just how steep theses slopes are.  As it is I’m moving comfortably, slowly, carefully, I’m not in a rush but I’m making very good time.  I guess that I keep comparing this part of the trail to the painful process that I had coming in. The ever present “scree ” which is small broken rock that comes from these Crags, demands the best foot protection.  Something that I’m not likely to ever forget!  It also demands careful foot placement to avoid disastrous consequences. Crossing the water at the top of the falls requires some careful step placement to avoid water over my boot.   I resist the urge to remove my boots and soak my taped feet.  In just a few more minutes I’ll be out of the open rocky area and in the last bit of alpine forest.  The forested section of the trail is much softer and the temperature is at least 15 degrees cooler. Immediately recognizable is the quietness and the signs of wild life.  The switchbacks are not as sharp and the natural progression of the trail straightens out as it follows the South Fork of the Teton.  On my drive in I saw several guys’ downstream fishing for trout. I may just give it one more shot prior to leaving.  I can’t say that I am going to lose any sleep over not getting the pleasure of eating fresh mountain trout…but then again it would be nice. 
And before I knew it I was stepping out on the parking lot at the trail head.  The old green van patiently waiting me.  I offload my pack and make my way down to the Teton to splash off.  I do this without using any type of soap as people are real funny about protecting streams here.  Soaking my feet and knees in the river is like applying a huge ice pack.  What a wonderful sensation.  Now I need to peel this darn tape off my feet.  I must say that is an odd sensation. I set in the water till my feet and lower legs are kind of numb.  Back in the van I do have a gallon jug of plan water and one with added liquid dish soap.  When I get away from the watershed I’ll take the opportunity to get a good sponge bath at a campground, mostly now I really want to scrub my scalp, and I do so.  I had left two changes of clothing in the van and after wiping down with some diaper wipes I change into clean cotton clothing. As I’m just getting ready to leave I encounter the trail crew from Gates Park coming off the mountain.  I’m sure that they are looking forward to getting back to family and friends. It is without debate that they are experts, but I’m happy to have firsthand knowledge that this trip has ended well for them.

So what to do, what to do…As of this very second I have no actual plan on how my trip home is going to unfold. That is to say I have 17-18 hundred miles to travel and I have not any thought as to what route I’m taking.  What I do know is that after showering off at a campground I’m going into Choteau for some food, real food, hot and everything.  My clothing is much looser fitting and I’d guess that I’m down 7 – 10 pounds from when I started.  Then I’ll make a decision as to going south or to continue west back the way I came in.  I’ve been kicking around staying overnight in Cody and hitting medicine wheel on my way home.  It would add a solid 24 hours but Medicine wheel is still on my bucket list.