With 450 miles still to go to the Canadian border, it’s starting to feel like autumn is really setting in! Is this just a cold snap, soon to be followed by an Indian summer (as one lady told us) or will winter be following on shortly after, making for some cold miserable hiking? Time will tell …
We’ve certainly seen some pretty low temperatures over the last few days, hiking through the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness with Mithrandir. Our first full day on trail after coming out of Darby was warm enough, as we slogged through burnt out forests at relatively low elevations. But the next two days took us up and over high passes, and the wind was absolutely freezing!
But hiking in bright sunshine and cold wind through high mountains is one of my favourite things in life, and Friday’s hike was just exhilarating. We had 25 miles to go and four passes to get over – Pintler Pass (1300 feet of ascent), Rainbow Pass (1300 feet again), Warren Lake Pass (1200 feet of ascent) and Cutaway Pass (1700 feet of ascent). This kind of hiking does get you fit! Each time it was a hot sweaty slog up, chilly break on top, and a steep plunge down again into forest, fuelled by frequent stops for cereal bars, trail mix (smoked almonds, dried cranberries and M&Ms) and lots of Oreos.
Yesterday (Saturday) was an easier day with just two passes to get over. On the second one, at Goat Flats, we headed off on the Anaconda cut-off, a popular shortcut which saves a few days of hiking on the official route. Never mind the onset of autumn, we have a plane to catch in six weeks’ time and we want to finish this trail!!!
Luckily the Anaconda route took us through some stunning mountain scenery, before dropping down to some lakes and on down to the highway.
With a ten mile highway walk into town ahead of us, and being unsure of where we would find public access land on which to camp along the highway, we stopped in a patch of forestry service land, and set our alarm for 5.30am. With nowhere suitable to pitch our tent without fear of damaging it, we spread out our mats and cowboy camped, with a view of pine trees and stars as we settled down to sleep.
When the alarm went off this morning, it was still dark with just a glimmer of light in the sky to the east. Although we had been warm enough (just!) in our sleeping bags, my tiny thermometer showed the temperature to be about -5°C, and the water in my Platypus tube was frozen. We dressed quickly in just about all the clothes we had with us, packed up and marched along the road into Anaconda. By the time we got into town, it was over 20°C!
After yet another fantastic cooked breakfast (burrito for Neil, omelette and hash browns for me, ham, eggs and a huge waffle for Mithrandir) and lots of coffee, the hunt was on for a place to stay. Our trail information told us the Celtic House Inn was cheap, so that’s where we went. Our last cheap motel was truly awful, so I was wary, but this place is great! We were welcomed by an elderly lady called Alice, who showed us into the bar downstairs. Sadly it’s closed today, but it’s a proper Victorian-era railway town bar, previously a bordello, with ornate plaster ceiling, tiled floor and turn-of-the-(last)-century bar. And IPA and Guinness on tap. We’re hoping Mithrandir can use his powers of charm and persuasion to get Alice to sell us some pints!