Day 71: Elk Herd

We started the day with a visit from a bachelor herd of elk. They were spectacular with dark lustrous coats and growing racks. They came out in the clearing above our tent as we were packing up. They stopped looked at us in somewhat of a surprise and then gathered themselves and took off back into the woods. They were only about 50 feet from us but of course the whole encounter was over so quickly I could not get the camera out. 

Laying in the tent last night I was looking over our schedule for the next sections and I noticed that there was a problem with the estimated arrival date column. Some entries were not increasing from the previous one. I fixed this problem in the spreadsheet and we discovered that our completion date was now 18 days past the deadline date of us being back in Denver for September the 1st. This was a real blow as even though we had not expected to complete all sections of the trail this year we had hopped to make it to Canada and only have a couple of sections left in Colorado to complete.

We had some hard thinking to do. Should we skip a section so that we can get to Canada this year? Should we continue on until we are out of time and come back next year to hike to Canada or lastly, should we not go back to Colorado until we have finished later in September?

The last option was never a real consideration as we would have to bear the brunt of the wrath of our daughter for not being there on September the 1st. When Yeti told me that I would have to be the one who broke the news the decision was made.

In the end we have decided to hike on and see where we make it to. This option also lets us ease off the pace a bit, take more time each day just to sit and enjoy the places we are hiking, bugs permitting. We can now take some more time in towns if we want to. 

We will finish hiking in Helena we think and then fly back to Denver. Next year we will come back for three to four weeks and finish the trail and do some extra hiking in Glacier park. It works out well as we will have enough of the trail left to make it worth while but it is still a short enough time we can explore some other parts of the park we would have not gotten to and still met our September the first deadline. 
It took us most of the day hiking to finally settle on this plan and while we are both disappointed not to make it to Canada we are both starting to see it as the right plan for us. 

The hike this morning was easy walking along a relatively flat ridge of mountains. We were again accompanied by the swarm of mosquitoes and views in all directions. The mosquitoes were winning the competition for our attention which is a real shame as the Winds are spectacular. 

As we climbed over our high point for the day we were welcomed by the sight of a herd of about 100 cow elk with their calves. We stood as the cows sent out the calls of warning and the herd began to flow across the mountain. Some of the babies were being left behind and their mothers launched into their own calls. The herd split into two as cows at the front stopped and turned back to rejoin the slow cows and calves. The faster ones disappeared over the hill while the slower group moved over the ridge trying to follow the first group but not wanting to expose themselves fully to us. They watched us for a while and then turned and headed over the other ridge away from us. As we walked down the hill excitedly discussing our encounter we could hear the calls between each group from different sides of the trail. 

By afternoon we were descending and it seemed like the mosquitoes had retired for awhile. This does not mean there were not any it just means they were no longer a black wall in front of your face. We were still liberally using bug spray and Yeti was still in her bug net. 

As we came around a corner in the trail we ran into a large group of young hikers. They obviously had been told to move off the trail if they meet anyone as the word quickly passed along the line and they stood out of our way. They were a NOLS group out here for a month of wilderness education. They were carrying heavy packs, wearing heavy leather boots and clothing covering all skin. Most were wearing bug netting over their heads but still swatting at the mosquitoes. The instructors and a few of the kids started asking us questions and when we said we were hiking the CDT the instructor ask if we would tell the group about what that was. Yeti held a short lecture about the overall goal which was followed by a question and answer session. Yeti fired off a question to the group, “Are you having fun?”, no one said yes. We left feeling sorry for these kids that were going to spend a month in this bug infested wonderland without the relief of heading into town for even a short respite.

We found a camp site for the night on a slight rise with a wind blowing up the river valley. We hopped the wind would keep the mosquitoes to a minimum and at first it did. Soon however the stronger flyers had battled the wind and again they were thick around us. Eating consisted of getting a spoonful of food, quickly lifting your head net just above your mouth, shovelling the food in and dropping the netting. It was so unpleasant that not eating was almost better. Due to being in bear country we did not want to risk getting food smells in our tent so we had to battle the bugs or go hungry. 

Getting into the tent was also a challenge. Even diving through the door with as much haste as I could muster still resulted in 20 or so pesky blood suckers sharing our scared tent space and resulted in several minutes of chasing them around the inside of the tent to snuff their life out. 

Our tent is our only respite from the bug onslaught and it is taking its toll. Going to the toilet is a whole new level of bugs. As I squat I run my had over my exposed bum. It comes up black with dead bugs. This is turning into a nightmare and Yeti has it far worse than I do. We are holding in there, just.