Up and over our first big mountains

June 25, 2020

Destination: North fork of the Swan River Today's Miles: 16.60

Start Location: Guernsey Creek Trip Miles: 91.20

It’s tough to get up before the birds start singing but on this particular morning we did just that. Making short work of breaking camp we were on the trail before the sun’s rays met meadow.

We were enjoying the cool of the day skirting across the seam where the mountains meet the plains. Gradually we begin climbing, making our way in and out of several drainage. At one point a man startled me by saying "hi". He was camped just off the trail on a small flat spot above one of the drainage and was tough to see hidden in a small stand of trees.

At the Jefferson Trail we crossed the road and then the creek noting several nice camp spots with a few of them still occupied. This is where the ascent got serious. Our views were limited but we were winding our way up onto a ridge, pathway of sorts to the peaks looming above, we were so close to them we could not yet see.

The trees were dense and although we climbed rapidly the numerous switchbacks made the ascent manageable. At one point about halfway to the top we broke out on a bluff with a breathtakingly spectacular birds-eye view of Jefferson Lake far below.

Our first good views of the big peaks (Mt. Guyot and Bald Mountain) came into view as we broke above tree line. This coincided with our first real encounter with snow as there were several drifts in this area but we easily went over or around.

Taking a break, we gorged ourselves on the breathtaking views and appreciated the effort it took to get here. We were summiting the Front Range on our fifth day of hiking and it felt fabulous.

As we approach the summit of Georgia pass the views to the south stretched on forever. This was only surpassed by the gigantic mountain ranges unfolding on the other side when we popped over the top. The Colorado Trail would now join up with the Continental Divide Trail.

Stopping only long enough to take a few pictures we soaked up the endless views before beginning our descent. It would be several miles before our first camping and water opportunity at the middle fork of the Swan River.

We didn’t drop right away as I expected but crossed the side of the mountain for a good ways. Right before dropping down a steep ridge we heard many voices ahead and soon approached a long line of people seated right alongside the trail. At first I thought it was a trail crew but as we got closer I noticed the Boy Scout insignia.

Down the ridge we went capitalizing on cell service and stopping to book a room for the following night. The Boy Scouts passed us - then we passed them at the middle Fork of the Swan River. We continued on to the north fork of the Swan River passing a large dog kennel along the way. We heard it was a sled dog operation but I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

So many dogs housed in one place, the sheer numbers are astounding - there must have been hundreds of them! It was appropriately situated far from civilization because when all those dogs began causing a ruckus it sounded like something out of a horror movie. I was glad to move down the trail from the noise.

At the north fork we found several good camp spots and chose one for the night. It was only mid afternoon but we put in over 16 miles with an impressive elevation gain to boot. Between today’s efforts and tomorrow’s completion of section 6 we will have ascended over 5000 vertical feet since beginning the trail.

It felt good to have our camp spot picked out and we set up the tent and our beds before cooking up a pasta dish with a few add-ons. A quick soak in the icy water of the river and we were feeling refreshed.

Soon after we saw Chip and Sprout coming in to view. They looked around for a few minutes and picked a camp spot not far from ours. We were cooking more food when Chip came over for a visit. She said she had just received her nursing degree and that’s Sprout had been evacuated from her position with the Peace Corps in Miramar due to COVID-19.

They were a fun pair and soon had us in stitches laughing and carrying on about pooping in the woods - of all things. They were showing us the “buddy dump” where you go back to back and squat down with your buddy. They had obviously been working on this for a while because they jumped right into position together and it was hilarious.

Just a few moments earlier the Boy Scout troop we thought we’d left behind marched upon us in a orderly fashion and proceeded to set up camp right next to ours. It felt like we were in a movie it was so surreal. At first we were horrified, then entertained and sitting in our tent that evening we could hear some of the strangest yelling and vocalizing that defies easy description.

All in all they were good neighbors and settle down towards dusk. I'm glad the trail is never boring.

It was a very good day and we made new friends.