The Continental Divide Trail

High Desert Spring
Southern Montana/Idaho - July 1999
Salmon to Leadore

Saturday, July 17 - 15 miles

Cowbone Lake

We had a terrific stay in Salmon. Everyone was wonderful and we made many friends: Mike and Michelle, Dave and June, the leaders of the group, Linda and Winston from Texas, Catherine and Billy, and Kathryn from Salmon especially stand out, though everyone was great. I cried saying goodbye. We considered staying until the end of the month, helping with the project, but knew we would never finish the trail if we did. The week was pretty quiet for me. We ate lunch and dinner with the group. The women met after lunch for a brief devotion and prayers, then worked on craft projects ó mostly Christmas ornaments ó in the afternoon. I watched them and visited or read, since my hands are pretty useless right now. Supper was followed by an hour singing a lot of the old time hymns. It was a lot of fun. Jim helped with the construction. It was amazing how quickly the church has gone up. It will be a pretty church. The men worked on the roof, laying wooden shingles, despite 100į temperatures. Thatís devotion. Most of these people are sincere believers who walk the walk as well as witness openly to their faith. It gave Jim and me a lot to think about and pray about.

Today we got a ride back to the Divide from Bob and Sue Martin, a couple of church members. She organized all the cooking for the volunteers. He is a former Forest Service employee who knew the back roads well. We would have gotten very lost on our own. It was a long rough ride up. They dropped us on the Divide above Jahnke and Darkhorse Lakes. We have missed a small section of trail through here. It was too difficult getting back to where we left the trail from Salmon, so we went up to the Divide from the western side instead. From there, we bushwhacked a few miles to the trail at Goldstone Pass. We saw an old CDT marker on the Divide, which was odd since the trail was down in the valley with the lakes. Evidently, back in the Ď80s they were planning to put the CDT along the Divide, but they never built the connecting sections of trail. The walking was slow, though not all that difficult. I got nervous on the steep rocky bits, especially talus slopes. I need to replace my boots already. They are so dried out, from all the snow last month, they are painful to wear.

Looking west toward Idaho

A lot of the afternoon hiking was on easy trail through forest. The earlier part was best with open 9000' ridges and beautiful views. We had four or five brief showers and it was cool and cloudy much of the day, but we never got wet or cold. This area is actually very dry and dusty. It was a long way to our first water today - 14 miles. Since we didnít start hiking until 11:00, we didnít make camp until very late - 8:00, just before dark.

After so many days off the trail, it is hard to come back. I did little but eat and talk all week. Today was difficult. The pack felt very heavy and the change in altitude affected me so I couldnít breathe on the climbs. After all the good food weíve eaten this week, our pasta tastes pretty bland. Jim had lost 25 lbs. This week we both regained some weight.

It turns out that Jimís leg problem was a blood clot, not tendonitis. Kathryn was so concerned when I mentioned that his leg was red and inflamed she brought us to meet her husband, a local doctor, for an informal consultation. He said we neednít worry, but we should keep an eye on it, rest it as much as possible, and use heat and Motrin to reduce the swelling. Jim didnít rest much, but it did get better. My accident turned out to be a good thing for him. And, despite the pain, it was good for me in many ways. An odd blessing in disguise.


Jim: This is my side of the story about how we managed to spend nearly a week in Salmon, Idaho. This will be considerably longer than my usual entry. On Sunday afternoon we were climbing over the 9200-foot pass between Little Lake and Rock Island Lakes. The pass was snow-choked - as every other pass had been for the previous 5 weeks. The trail consisted of switchbacks up to the pass, but the switchbacks were covered by several feet of 'rotten' snow - meaning the snow was soft enough that walking on it meant post-holing.

We were working our way up the exposed rocks just below the pass when Ginny touched the 'wrong' rock and triggered a rock-slide. I was less than 10 feet in front of her and by the time I could get to her the snow, the rocks, Ginny and I - were all covered by bright-red arterial blood. One look at her finger told me that we were in trouble. The meat on the last joint of her middle finger had been sheared down to the bone and was attached by only a small flap of skin and muscle. My first thought was that she could bleed out, go into shock and die up there. The first thing was to stop the bleeding, so we tied it off with a bandanna. Next was to get her the last 100 feet up to the top of the pass (actually - off that rock face) to someplace where we could safely do some real first aid. I managed to get the bleeding stopped, put a pressure bandage on the finger and get some Tylenol into Ginny. It wasn't the best first aid job I've ever done, but it was apparently adequate. The next step was to get her off that mountain and to a hospital Ė much easier said than done. The closest trailhead was seven miles down the other side of that pass and there was a Forest Service campground another three miles beyond the trailhead. Worse - the descent was extremely steep, snow-choked, and at one point was a narrow, 45 degree snow chute for about ľ mile. After negotiating a descent - with one hand and a heavy pack - that was challenging for me with two hands, she then got to walk another five miles until we met some people.

A comment here - at no time through this whole ordeal did Ginny complain, whine, get hysterical or otherwise show anything but the highest level of courage. But we prayed a lot. I think I was far more afraid than she was. I'm proud of her.

Salmon Valley Baptist Church

Back to the story - Mike & Michelle Palmer and their son Zeb were the first people we'd seen in four days. They were out for a Sunday afternoon drive to explore the eastern side of the Bitterroots. When I flagged them down, we were still a mile from the Forest Service campground that we were headed for in an attempt to get help. But they took one look at my face and knew we were in trouble. When they were told what the problem was, they immediately turned the truck around, got us in and told us that they'd take us to the hospital in Hamilton, Montana - and that was 100 miles from where they picked us up. When we got to the hospital, they waited for us while Ginny was poked, prodded, X-rayed, cleaned, stitched, bandaged, etc. They went to Burger King and brought back food for us, and they offered to let us stay at the church that Mike pastors in Salmon, Idaho. Seems the church was in the middle of a building project with about 60 volunteers from all over the country (Tennessee, Ohio, Texas, etc.) working there for a month. They offered to feed us along with the volunteers and let us 'camp out' in the church as long as we needed. After some discussion, Ginny and I decided that we didn't have a lot of options and that there was more to this whole incident than 'coincidence'. So they drove us another 80 miles back to Salmon, put us up in one of the Sunday School rooms and pointed us to the shower (yeah, we needed that, too). This all happened on the second Sunday in July.

On Monday - and for the rest of the week - we took care of Ginny's finger, ate with the volunteers, participated in their activities and I joined the construction crew as an additional volunteer. I was a 'gofer' for that week. I had no tools and I'd promised Ginny to not mess with rotating machinery until the thruhike is complete - so there were a lot of things I couldn't do. But there were a lot of things I could do, too. So I did them - happily. And Ginny gradually got a little better Ė so we started planning to get back on the trail. What we didn't foresee was that during that week we'd develop a relationship with some of those people that would make it VERY difficult to leave. And that I think (NO - I know) will affect our lives in the future. This developed into a first-class spiritual experience. I won't expand on that except to say that anyone who believes this is all 'coincidence' hasn't been paying attention. We were touched by "Trail Magic" of the highest order - by those whose Christianity is real and alive and expresses the very best that one human being can offer another.

Ginny is back on the trail after an injury that that, for most people, would have instantly ended their thruhike. That is courage and determination. And I'm proud and happy to be married to the lady.

Sunday, July 18 - 17 miles

Summer at last

We had a nice morning, first on well-blazed trail through the woods, then up through open sage and meadows. There were good views and lots of flowers of all kinds: lupine, mariposa, wild geraniums, asters, etc. At Lemhi Pass, we did a 0.3 mile side trip to Sacajawea Camp ó a picnic area and part of the Lewis and Clark Trail ó to get water from the spring and have lunch. There were many people having Sunday picnics. My feet are killing me and I overdid it with my hand yesterday. I woke really sore, so we rigged a sling to help keep it immobile.

Mariposa lily

We ended up camped at a mosquito-infested meadow above a spring. The afternoon was easy walking but tough climbing on a jeep road along the Divide. The views were great: the snowy Lemhi Range to the west, the green Tendoy mountains to the east, and everywhere green hills. One climb was especially pretty with sunflowers and mariposa lilies lining the road. It was also a killer climb. We saw three deer and some cows. This is the first time weíve really run into them on the trail as the cattle have only been brought up to summer pasture in the past couple of weeks. This is the first time weíve seen fresh cow footprints in the spring. Yech! Thank God for water filters. There were lots of biting flies as we walked and grasshoppers underfoot. The day was warm and windy, with intermittent thunderclouds passing overhead, but so far weíve had no rain. I tried to wash up at the spring, but the mosquitos swarmed me. It will be an early night tonight. All in all, it was a good day. This land is beautiful, and I love walking along the Divide, looking out at the hills. We had a late start but managed to finish by 6:30 or so because the jeep road made for easy walking. We saw no jeeps, fortunately. One yesterday had us coughing road dust for 10 minutes.

Monday, July 19 - 16 miles to Wagonbox Spring

Snow in July

The morning was a good one following jeep tracks along the open ridge. Grass, flowers and beautiful views surrounded us. I felt on top of the world! We played chase with several herds of cows. At one point, a couple of bulls started bellowing and woke up a bull elk, who came to investigate. He trotted up the fenceline toward us, jumped the fence, went over to the cattle and started his own bugling. He was a pretty one with a big rack. That was the point where the track became a cross-country route ó steep and slow. There was supposed to be some new trail here, but so far Iíve seen no sign of it.

Curious elk

We followed jeep roads most of the afternoon, some along the Divide and some through meadows, sagebrush and clear-cuts. We saw a female elk near the top of Grizzly Mountain (but no bears) and lots of cows. It was pretty though. We criss-crossed the state-line fence going back and forth, over and under, from Montana to Idaho. Sometimes the fence is made of poles, sometimes barbed wire, and sometimes it is just an occasional metal marker set in the ground. There was a lot of climbing. Goat Mountain was the most notable feature. It is big and sheer on both sides. No trees, just talus. It is very dramatic. We went over one end across a rocky knob, over talus, then steeply down beside a rock slide to a small creek where we had lunch. Later on we could see our route to Bannock Pass for several miles as we wandered in grassland on a jeep road. It was pretty country. The trail is really badly marked though. There was no indication of where it left the jeep road, or where it rejoined it. It is hard to tell the difference between trail and cow path in here.

Montana Idaho Border

We ended up camped two miles from Bannock Pass and the road into Leadore. We had planned to go into town, but we were tired and there is supposed to be little traffic at the pass. I donít mind, since a late arrival in town would just mean paying for two nights lodging instead of one. On the other hand, a shower and no mosquitos would be welcome. We have water from a cattle trough, a nice view of mountains to the east and south, and a nice flat area to sleep in.

We had a couple of sunshine sprinkles today. Last night when I woke to go to the bathroom, there were a billion stars above and I could see the Milky Way clearly. It was also sprinkling, though there were no obvious clouds. We have dark sky now; maybe it will rain again.

Jim: This was a mixed day Ė sunshine and rain. But it has to be good because the pain in my ankle has gotten immeasurably better. Thatís evident in our mileage Ė itís still not where it should be, but itís gotten better Ė and thereís a lot less pain involved. Wagonbox Spring is probably the worst mess that weíve seen the cows make yet on the trail. Iím sure weíll see more. Weíll probably spend tomorrow night in Leadore. Should be interesting to see how the reality matches what we saw on the video.

Southern Montana Lake

July 20 - 7 miles to Leadore

As we descended toward Bannock Pass, we saw three cars heading in the direction of Leadore. Our hopes were raised. Then we got to the dirt road at the pass - no cars. We could see for miles and there were no dust clouds approaching, so, being my usual impatient self, we started hiking toward town. It was two hours and 5 Ĺ miles before the first car came our way. Fortunately, it was a pickup and they stopped to give us a ride. We were ready.

Southern Montana

Then came a second check - the only motel in town is tiny and had no vacancies. The motelís three rooms were already taken by some BLM surveyors. However, across the street is an RV park with a shower. They have a very nice grassy patch with a view toward the mountains. Itís $1 per person plus $1 for the shower. We stayed there happily. The local bar owner also lets people camp on his lawn and thereís a park outside of town where people can camp for free, but who wants to walk that far? So we ate lunch, did laundry at the apartment building down the road, sorted through our mail and separated food to send on to Lima. We decided that 10 daysí food is just too heavy, so weíll break up this next stretch with a side trip to town. The hitch may be difficult, but carrying the extra weight is more difficult. We visited the library, looking for a computer, and were told that they were working on it, try again next year. After dinner we ate the delicious gingerbread that Amy sent us and sat enjoying the view. We saw a couple of people on horseback, leaving the bar. One was very drunk and could barely control his horse. We had a nice chat with Fred and Rochelle at the RV park, and the diner owner, as well as the owner of the grocery store. We are evidently quite recognizable as CDT hikers. (The smell is a dead giveaway!)

Ridge walking

Southern-Idaho/Montana people are different from those up north. There are more cowboys and miners, fewer tourists. You donít find micro-brew beers here, or espresso and cappuccino, the way you do up north in the tourist areas. Most of the people weíve met are very conservative. Iíve heard some different views on grazing, logging, mining, wolf and grizzly reintroduction, etc. Not Sierra Club views, thatís for sure. We just listen and encourage the speaker to continue. Iím here to learn. Many of those weíve met have moved here from other parts of the country because they appreciate the family and conservative values that are found here. It has been interesting talking to people. They have been really kind to us and friendly. Swallows are swooping overhead, gobbling mosquitos. Thank you birds! We saw three deer this morning. Two jumped a fence while the third snuck under. Later we saw another animal that might have been either elk or deer.


There was a hiker register at the Post Office: 1980 to 1999, all in one volume. That was fun to read. There arenít many of us out here. Dave was here a week ago, Dean and Maryann, a couple of section hikers, passed by 4 days ago, and Jason and Julian, the two whose letter we saw in Glacier, were here yesterday. One of them is ill with a stomach problem, so we may yet meet them. They went up the highway to the clinic in Salmon. Itís hard to condense a journey of this magnitude in one short register entry. We arenít the only ones to find the CDT a bigger challenge than expected. (Yesterday, according to Jimís altimeter, we climbed 10,000'.) In the past three days we have seen only one CDT marker, and that wasnít even on the trail. At junctions, there was nothing to indicate a turn or a spring. At least we have Jim Wolfís guidebook. Some try to hike without a guidebook. They spend a lot of time lost or unable to find the springs, which are sometimes well hidden. Why make life more difficult than necessary? The trail is already hard enough.

Jim: This was a mixed day Ė lazy but busy, once we got into town. After setting up the tent, we got a shower, then lunch, stopped at the Post Office and anyplace else that was open in town (itís a very small town), sorted our boxes, re-packed the food bags, read for a while, then did laundry, packed up the ice axes and other stuff to send to Kahley, went out for dinner ----- and finally, sat out watching and listening to the wildlife and watching the stars come out before going to sleep. Typical town stop Ė except that I didnít mention the number of times we raided the store for goodies.

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Created: Fri, 16 Jan 2004
Revised: 30 Sept 2016
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