Monthly Archives: September 2017

East Glacier, MT to Chief Mountain, Canada

It is done.

 

On Sept 7th, 2017, I walked into Canada and completed my hike of the Continental Divide Trail, and the Triple Crown.

 

I was lucky to be joined for this special day by my love and biggest supporter, Will. Thank you for always believing in me.  I am so blessed to have your energy and support in my life.

 

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So.. you are probably wondering why I’m not at Waterton in my photo.

 

I’ll get to that.

 

I left East Glacier with perfect blue skies.  I thought “All the fires are behind me.  This will be smooth sailing.”

 

I was so completely and utterly wrong.  The CDT wasn’t done with me.  It had one more surprise adventure.

 

I had an epic stretch from East Glacier to Many Glacier. The trail was absolutely stunning and I felt like I was flying.  It was some of the best hiking I had ever experienced.  I felt completely high on life and unstoppable.

 

All of that changed the day I left Many Glacier.  I climbed up Swiftcurrent Pass and was shocked at the amount of smoke that greeted me on the other side.  I stopped to visit Granite Park Chalet and almost wanted to cry.  It felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  I proceeded north on the Highline Trail and couldn’t help but notice how thick the smoke was getting.  It kept getting worse.

 

Something was wrong.  I turned my phone on.. and that’s when I got a text that said “Waterton is closed.”

 

Wait…  What!?

 

It felt like someone had pulled my heart out of my chest.  I was 25 miles away.  How closed?  Could I somehow make it though?  Was there a new fire up there?  I got enough reception to see that Goat Haunt to Waterton was closed for fires.  There was no way for me to walk into Canada that way.

 

I called Will and explained the issue.  He called a ranger who confirmed it.  I was NOT to cross the border there.

 

I briefly thought of night-hiking it anyway.. ninja style!  But, that sounded stupid and dangerous.  Plus those border agents have a history of handing out $5,000 tickets to CDT hikers who break rules. I shouldn’t make stupid, emotional decisions.

 

I immediately knew my next best option.

 

Finish the Highline Trail, go up Stony Indian Pass, cruise by Glen Lake, and hit Canada on the other side of the park at Chief Mountain.

 

My feet were in.  My feet are always up for anything insane…  But my mind couldn’t handle it.

 

I was in shock.

 

It wasn’t the finish I wanted.  I had endured so much suffering for a lakeshore finish at Waterton.. Was this a sick joke?

 

I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.

 

There was no other option.   I had to keep going.  My mind struggled as my feet kept pushing us forward.  They took complete control and I followed helplessly behind them.

 

At that moment, I saw a figure emerge from the smoke coming towards me.  I knew who she was by her silhouette.  She was a 76 year old woman who I had met earlier on trail.  She was up here in Glacier finishing her Triple Crown.  We recognized each other and stopped to talk trail.  We chatted about the lack of views, trail closures, and the constant fires in Montana.  But yet, even in my sadness, I was inspired by her.   As she walked away, I watched her figure disappear into the smoke.

 

This is what makes hiking special. It isn’t about a photo near a lake.  It’s about the people you meet along the way.  And sometimes, in a blue moon, you meet someone who completely shatters any preconceived ideas you have on what is possible.

 

I smiled and tried to imagine myself at 76.  I hoped I would still be kicking ass like this lady.

 

My emotions softened, and I kept going.  I scared off 2 grizzly bears, walked until dark and camped in the “food area” of Mokowanis Junction.

 

I woke early and looked around my campsite.  The last time I was here, I watched a man roll into camp who had just done a 20-miler.  And then he dropped the words “I am an AT thru-hiker”.  I remember staring at him in awe and thinking “How can I become you??”

 

I packed my gear up, tossed on my pack, and headed out.  A lot had happened in the last 5 years. I didn’t become him.  I became my own person.

 

I pushed the last 13 miles to Canada and made it before noon.

 

Will met for the last few miles to the border.  I walked into Canada, got my passport stamped, and took photos at the monument.

 

Then we went back to East Glacier and had lunch.  We shared stores of the CDT, and all the times it tried to kill us.  I felt so incredibly lucky to have him in that moment.  He completely understood me, and everything I had endured over the last 4 months.  There’s nothing better than dating a Triple Crowner… and then it hit me.

 

I was one too.  It didn’t happen like I planned, but I had done it.  I let that thought sink in and I finally understood.

 

The Triple Crown isn’t a plaque.  It isn’t even a photo by a lake.

 

It is my memories.  It is my life.

 

It has become me.
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Helena, MT to East Glacier, MT

Where do I even begin to write about the last section? Montana has been, by far, the hardest state I have ever experienced.  It was brutal physically and emotionally. I was so sick of having to fight everyday for miles.

I kept pushing, even when I didn’t want to push.

There was no other option.  Everyday, you wake up and push north. Everyday, you need to close the gap between you and Canada.

Leaving Helena, I learned of a fire reroute that I would hit in 1 day.  I ended up dropping down to walk on roads to get around the fire. Much of the trail in that section was smoke-filled and scary. I woke up to ash on my tent one morning, and the smoke gave me headaches. It was a horrible mess. I struggled and got hotel rooms in both Lincoln and Augusta to enjoy town luxuries like showers, food, wifi, phone calls, and Game of Thrones.

I tried to cheer myself up.  I would dream of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.  There was amazing trail coming up!  I started to say things like “I’m so ready to get Bob-ed.”

It wasn’t a dream come true.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness crushed me.

I had a great first day and camped below the Chinese Wall.  It was perfect and calm. I had no idea what was coming for me.  That night, a storm rolled in and the winds shook my tent for hours.  I didn’t know, but it was silently spreading fire all through the woods while I slept.  Overnight, small fires grew and grew, and covered mountains.

The next day, I set out on a popular alternate called Spotted Bear.  It was supposed to be stunning, and I was looking forward to it.  I hit the top of Switchback Pass, 18 miles into my alternate and saw fire destroying the valley below me.

My heart sank.

I checked my GPS and kept going when I realized that I was safe.  The fire was scary, but it was still a mile or two from the trail.  The trail would cross a ridge and descend into a fire-free valley on the other side.

The next day, when I made it back to the CDT, I met a ranger who was using ribbon to block off the trail.  The Spotted Bear alternate and the CDT south of me were both closed.  And then she said “Oh. There is another fire called the Crucifixation Fire 15 miles north on the CDT.  That is getting closed today too.”

My heart sank again.

She pulled out her map, drew out an alternate for me, and told me that the trail I was taking would be hard to follow.

That was an understatement.

I ended up finding myself on a trail that wasn’t maintained.  Frequently, I would lose it and end up wandering in circles, until I finally gave up and bushwhacked my way forward.  I kept thinking: I am alone and lost in the middle of nowhere… What if I break my ankle or …?

I had to stop the negative thinking.  I told myself: Acorn, You are 1/2 Amazon warrior princess and 1/2 batshit insane.  You will make it through this.

I struggled my way forward.  Sometimes, I literally just walked down a creek.  Sometimes, I found trail, and sometimes, I bushwhacked and tried my best to follow my map. It was a mess.


I finally made it back to the CDT at 7pm. I looked around and could see flames engulfing the horizon.  I glanced at my legs covered in scratches, mud, and blood and simply whispered “Thank you.  We are safe.”

Seeing flames yet again scared me.  I couldn’t take it anymore. I hiked past dark, until I made it to a ranger cabin staffed with firefighters.  I camped there, and in the dark, I could see the orange flames lighting up the sky.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought:  I’m not scared of bears anymore.  There are far more dangerous things that lurk in the woods.

By the time I made it to East Glacier, my thoughts were toxic.  The last stretch had poisioned me.

I needed to clear my mind.  All of this negativity was in the past.  I was a CDT hiker in Glacier.   Only about 100 miles stood between me and Canada.  I waited until my mind and soul were pure.

And then, I was ready.

I did the same ritual I’ve done hundreds of times…  I slid my arms into my shoulder straps and clipped my hip-belt.

And then I walked out.

North.

To Canada.
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