And so to the PUDs – the so-called Pointless Ups and Downs of the Montana-Idaho border.
Except they’re not pointless. Well, no more so than any other part of the trail anyway – and you could argue that hiking for the best part of six months is a pretty pointless exercise, but I would have to disagree with you, so let’s not have that debate!
Whatever, the ups and downs of the past five days have been mostly very enjoyable, in spite of some steep gradients and bad weather.
Leaving Lima on Saturday, we were both suffering the after-effects of a night spent in Peat’s Bar, where $1.50 beers and cook-your-own steaks made for a long night in interesting company. But as we made our way along undulating ridges, climbing higher and higher, we gradually forgot about how rubbish we felt and enjoyed wide views of the rolling landscape, the rounded shapes and steep hillsides reminding us of the “sleeping elephants” of the Howgill Fells, near to our hometown of Kendal.
But unlike the Howgill Fells, these mountains just kept going and going! Although we loved hiking along big ridges, it did make camping difficult, being exposed to the wind and with limited flat spaces for pitching a tent. So we were three days into this section before we got round to using our new tent – before that we spent two nights cowboy camping, spreading our sleeping bags on our foam pads under the stars. It wasn’t too cold (we wore most of our clothes inside our sleeping bags), and it was lovely to fall asleep with not a single artificial light in sight.
On our second full day out from trail, it was fantastic to run into Josie and River offering trail magic at the Sawmill trailhead, with their young pup Olive. We’d previously met Josie and Olive when they gave us a lift back to trail from West Yellowstone – I spent most of the journey with Olive sitting on my head, licking my face. It was great to see them again, and lovely to take a rest, sit in a proper chair and enjoy a cool beer – even if it did make the next ascent a bit harder!
So that day, we didn’t quite make our hoped-for target of 25 miles, but the next day we were determined to make up for it. We planned to get up and over a 10,000 metre pass before nightfall, but as we slogged up the final 200 metres in the early evening, with thunder rumbling ominously around us, we met Mithrandir coming back down towards us. The news wasn’t good – on top of the pass the winds were gusting strongly, with no shelter anywhere. So we decided to camp early, and hurriedly pitched our tent and got our dinner on the way. By the time dinner was ready, the sky was dark, lightning was flashing around us, and it was throwing down a mixture of rain and ice. We quickly scoffed down our noodles and retreated to our tent. It was certainly a good test for the tent and for Neil’s seam-sealing! We were pretty happy to be lying there in our sleeping bags watching the rain and hail hammering on the fly sheet, while being warm(ish) and dry.
But the next morning we felt less smug when we emerged from the tent at 6.30am, into thick fog and semi-darkness. For the next 3 hours navigation was pretty challenging, as we blundered about in the fog with Mithrandir trying to find the trail as it meandered about over ridges and through forests. A sunny respite around lunchtime allowed us to dry out our gear in the sunshine, but then it was back into the cloud for the rest of the day, with not much in the way of views to reward our efforts.
So we were pleased the next day when the clouds cleared out, and we got some good views from Elk Mountain. Mithrandir phoned the owner of the Leadore Inn to arrange a lift from Bannock Pass – as a remote pass on a dirt road, the chances of hitching a lift into Leadore were pretty small. But Mithrandir walks faster than us, and asked for a lift at 10.30am, leaving just 3 hours to cover the final 8 miles. Given our normal pace of 2.5 miles an hour, it was a quick sprint along an undulating ridge to try to get to the pass on time! But we made it, even managing to snatch a few photos of the spectacular temperature inversion along the way.
Then it was a short journey into the tiny town of Leadore for a very restorative breakfast of bacon, egg and hash browns in a great little cafe, with lashings of good coffee. We love hiking, but we love getting into town too!
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