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Lost Trail Pass

August 11, Day 141, Mile 2578

I slept great. Griff was up making coffee as I packed up my tent. After granola and yogurt and a nectarine we drove back to where Griff had picked me up. 

I thanked Griff for the food and making the drive. It sure has been fun hanging out with him. 

Me and Griffs Camper

It was a nearly ideal morning for hiking over the Pass: few cars, a reasonable grade, and very cool temps. On Lemhi Pass, the Corps of Discovery had horses and an easy trail, here they had a brutal time of it and I had an easy road. 

At the top, Lost Trail Pass, three timelines of my life converged: 1998 when we jumped a fire on the Idaho side just before I broke my leg in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, 2008 when I stood here to hitch into Salmon for Continental Divide Trail supplies, and now on this pretty morning. 

After a good break at a picnic table I began the steady 7 mile descent into the Bitterroot  Valley along the headwaters of the river of the same name. I stopped at the store at Sula. 

“Are you a hiker?” The lady at the register asked. “Do you have a package?” I realized she thought I was a Continental a Divide Trail hiker. Many mail supply packages here. 

I was going to get some hot food and use the WIFI. Neither were available. With no cell phone coverage in the last couple of days I was hoping to use the WIFI. I did get some cold food and had a shady break so it was a good stop anyway. 

This was the area known as Ross’s Hole and the place L&C got more horses from the Salish or Flatheads. 

I put in 25 miles, and then two more miles to find a good camp spot, which turned out to be a grassy spot next to an abandoned spur road hidden by trees. I wrote up a journal entry but still have no way to send it. 

It was a good day. It seems strange to be back in Montana, but I’m still in the Columbia watershed. Colter

[see also my earlier post today]

Clark: September 2nd Monday 1805… at 8 miles left the roade on which we were pursuing and which leads over to the Missouri; and proceeded up a West fork without a roade proceded on thro thickets in which we were obliged to Cut a road, over rockey hill Sides where our horses were in pitial danger of Slipping to Ther certain distruction & up & Down Steep hills, where Several horses fell, Some turned over, and others Sliped down Steep hill Sides, one horse Crippeled & 2 gave out. with the greatest dificuelty risque &c. we made five miles & Encamped on The left Side of the Creek in a Small Stoney bottom after night Some time before the rear Came up, one Load left, about 2 miles back, the horse on which it was Carried Crippled…

Clark: September 4th Wednesday 1805 a verry cold morning every thing wet and frosed, we detained untill 8 oClock to thaw the covering for the baggage &c. &c. groun covered with Snow… prosued our Course down the Creek to the forks about 5 miles where we met a part of the Flat head nation of 33 Lodges about 80 men 400 Total and at least 500 horses, those people recved us friendly, threw white robes over our Sholders & Smoked in the pipes of peace, we Encamped with them & found them friendly… I was the first white man who ever wer on the waters of this river. 

Clark: September 5th Thursday 1805 a Cloudy morning we assembled the Chiefs & warriers… and requsted to purchase & exchange a fiew horses with them, in the Course of the day I purchased 11 horses & exchanged 7 for which we gave a fiew articles of merchendize. those people possess ellegant horses.—we made 4 Chiefs whome we gave meadels & a few Small articles…

 Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Mann Gulch, Gates of the Mountains

July 24, Day 123, Mile 2,243

As of this evening I have been on the Lewis and Clark Trail for four months. Today was an important day in other ways as well. 

My campsite last night was wonderful, deep ponderosa pine needles for a bed. What wasn’t so awesome was the very loud music coming across the water from somewhere. It stopped suddenly at midnight. 

It gets light earlier, seemingly, sleeping without a tent. The big pine protected me from the dew. All my clothes, except for my shoes, were dry. 

It was calm for a few minutes until a headwind arose. But, compared to the strong headwinds and powerful currents I have been dealing with, I flew across the water. 

At first I had the river completely to myself. Mule deer drank at the waters edges or in the meadows. Bighorn sheep fed in the cliffy areas. Eagles were so common they are hardly worth mentioning. 

At 9 AM I’d come 13 miles. Nearly as far as I’d come each of the last two days. Ahead towered The Gates of the Mountains. 

Approaching Gates of the Mountains

Here was the sign for Mann Gulch, the site of the worst disaster in smokejumper history, a place where 13 men lost their lives. Having been a career smokejumper, and having jumped Montana many times, this was an especially meaningful place to me. 

There was a good spot to land my kayak in the shade of the cliff. I grabbed my daypack and some water and headed up the gulch. 

After about 30 minutes I could see the first crosses high up on the slopes, slopes that burned so hot on that August, 1949 day that the vegetation hasn’t come close to recovering, burned tree trunks still standing here and there. 

As is typical with most wildland fire tragedies, fire got below them and blew up. All but three lost a race to the ridgeline, and safety. The foreman lit an escape fire and lay in the burned area, and survived while most of the others who failed to follow his example did not. Only two made the ridge in time. 

I’d forgotten how scattered the crosses were. I remembered how close some of the dead had come to making it out. It only took me about a minute to reach the ridge from the highest cross. It was all too easy to look at the steep topography and think about that dry forest on that record-hot day and imagine how it had all happened. 

Someone had hung smokejumper wings from each marker. Some markers had other items: a hard hat, coins, a small memorial from family. 

David R. Navon’s Marker, Mann Gulch

David R. Navon, USFS Smokejumper, Lt., 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne. Jumped D-Day, Operation Market Garden, fought at The Bulge. Jumped Mann Gulch. 

The reflective mood of my lone hike up Mann Gulch was broken back at the river. A tour boat pulled up while the people listened to a short speech. Powerboats raced by. Around the corner was some of the very most spectacular scenery of the whole summer, incredible towering cliffs. But for me most of the magic was shattered by roaring boats screaming by me. 

After a few miles I left the boats behind, and a serene loneliness returned for a few miles.  Near Hauser Dam I began to see many bank fishermen. It looked like beautiful trout water. The current got faster and faster but I managed to paddle through it. 

“Where did you start, Beaver Creek?”

“St Louis.”

“St Louis!?” When I confirmed he wished me safe paddling and I wished him good fishing. 

At the pullout a 3 year old boy watched me strap the cart on my kayak with intense interest. When I started pulling it away he was thrilled. When I turned to look back he waved shyly. 

It was challenging to get down the very steep bank on the other side. I completely unloaded the boat to do so. 

It was a powerboat madhouse on the lake, everyone going full speed, many blaring loud music. 

When I hit 30 miles and spotted an idyllic camp spot I decided to call it a day. Roaring boats, pounding music and yelling drunks affected the ambiance until late evening, when nature ruled again. Colter

Lewis: …July 19th 1805 The Musquetoes are very troublesome to us as usual… this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of 1200 feet. every object here wears a dark and gloomy aspect. the towering and projecting rocks in many places seem ready to tumble on us… from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.

Lewis: July 20, 1805… I saw a black woodpecker today about the size of the lark woodpecker as black as a crow. I indevoured to get a shoot at it but could not. it is a distinct species of woodpecker; it has a long tail and flys a good deel like the jay bird. This morning Capt. Clark set out early and proceeded on through a valley leaving the river about six miles to his left; he fell in with an old Indian road which he pursued untill it struck the river about 18 miles from his camp of the last evening just above the entrance of a large creek which we call white paint Creek. the party were so much fortiegued with their march and their feet cut with the flint and perced with the prickly pears untill they had become so painfull that he proceeded but little further before he determined to encamp on the river and wait my arrival.—Capt. C. saw a smoke today up the valley of Pryor’s creek which was no doubt caused by the natives…

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

Hawks and Eagles

July 13, Day 112

A calf was loudly bawling nearby, long before dawn.

A mule deer buck watched from the edge of the willows as I rounded the first bend.

At first the current was fairly mild, but then it became more consistently strong, and I spent more and more time out of the kayak pulling upstream.

Something was floating in the water. Some dark foam? No, a young hawk, so freshly drowned I wondered if he might revive when I pulled him out. Just ahead were some high, dark bluffs. He likely died attempting his first flight.

Missouri River Bluffs

Four eagles, and some lurking magpies, fed on something at the edge of the water. They were reluctant to fly. It was a mule deer fawn.

Eagles feeding on fawn

I took a chance paddling up a side channel, enjoying an escape from the current. After a half mile it dead-ended completely. I got out to scout but there was no easy portage as I’d hoped. I retreated and had to fight my way up that same half mile in the main channel.

During breaks I’d check my progress and be surprised at how few miles I’d made, the result of the strong current, including passing some rapids, but also of a more relaxed pace.

I saw some fossils today, and some large thin slabs of slate.

Several thunder cells moved through. Most missed me but at least two didn’t. One pounded me with hard rain. I’d just put on my rain jacket and watched the driving rain bounce off the river. I thought about the photos I’ve been taking. I’m much more likely to take shots of reflections in calm water rather than dragging my kayak through tough current, or of s sunny day rather than s stormy day, mostly due to ease of photography.

It will be something like 31 miles from Fort Benton to the start of my portage, normally two easy days. It was clear, though, that it would be tough to make half of distance today, and the toughest miles of all would be the rapids just below Morony Dam. I’d want to start the long portage fairly refreshed and early in the day, so I’d shoot for three shorter days instead of two tough ones. Despite nearly 12 hours on the river, I only made about 14 miles.

I made camp next to the river and used my alcohol stove to cook up a hot meal of “Steak and Fajita” flavored rice.

Clark: June 13th Thursday 1805 a fair morning, Some dew this morning the Indian woman Verry sick I gave her a doste of Salts. … numbers of gees & goslings, the gees cannot fly at this Season—goose berries are ripe and in great abundance, the yellow Current is also Common, not yet ripe Killed a buffalow & Campd on the Lard Side near an old Indian fortified campy one man Sick & 3 with Swellings, the Indian woman verry Sick. Killed a goat & fraser 2 Buffalow The river verry rapid maney Sholes great nos of large Stones passed Some bluffs or low cliffts of Slate to day

Trip overview and route map with position updates:

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