Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 19: Chief Joseph Trailhead to Schultz Saddle

Deb's restaurant served up huge, delicious breakfasts. We also received warnings about the thunderstorms predicted for later in the afternoon. With the forecast of high winds, dry thunderstorms, and possible hail following days of hot, dry weather, the locals are nervous of wildfires. One of the local women spoke about lightning striking her family's house and barn multiple times during a dry thunderstorm while growing up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

By the time we finished eating, packed up, and got back to the trail it was already mid-morning. Our trail wound through the Lost Trail Pass Cross Country ski area in the Bitterroot National Forest. Shortly after leaving the ski area, we passed a tall, handmade wooden ladder propped against a tree. The ladder appeared to go nowhere, but of course we had to stop and climb it anyway.

Lupine, paintbrush, and many other wildflowers carpeted the forest floor. Bright red runners from wild strawberry plants snaked across the trail. Orange and yellow butterflies flitted from one flower to the next, sometimes solo, sometimes spiraling in a tandem fluttery dance. 

Near Gibbons Pass, our trail brief overlapped with the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. There we read the sad history of the trail, which follows the route used by the Nez Perce as they fled their homeland in Oregon in a vain attempt to avoid further conflict and abuse. Lewis and Clark also once passed through this area. 

The heat gathered with the clouds all afternoon as we climbed over and around a snarled, tangle of downed burned trees. Thunder rumbled overhead, and we felt exposed, with only an open canopy of ghostly, burned trees to protect us. 

A slow drizzle dripped from the sky like a leaky faucet, creating a sauna-like effect as the moisture hit the hot ground. Too hot to don raingear, we just kept hiking. The rain quickly petered out. 

Lightning crashed against the next ridge as the storm closed in around us.  The sky opened and it began to pour.  We scuttled over slippery deadfall and brushed past rain-soaked baby pines, drenching our pants. 

We took advantage of a break in the storm to set up a hasty camp at Schultz Saddle. 

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