Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Day 34: Trailside Camp to Ridge Above Stemple Pass

The free range cows mooed and bellowed loudly as they moved through the woods near our camp. Fingers of filtered sunlight reached our tent through the trees. Piles of white, foggy clouds like mounds of cotton candy filled the valley below. 

We smelled Dana Spring before we reached it. The bloated carcass of a drowned squirrel lay next to the tank. We gingerly lifted the lid and found two more bloated, drowned squirrels at the bottom of the tank of water. Nope. Not drinking that.

Just after the spring we met Mike and Keri, two northbound section hikers who weren't willing to drink the water from Dana Spring either. Mike had hiked down into a nearby valley, and was rewarded for his efforts with clean, cold water just 40 minutes (round trip) off trail. 

Just before Black Mountain we saw two familiar faces: Otter and Smudge. We met Otter on the long, hot dirt road walk through Wyoming's basin last summer. We hadn't previously met Smudge, but she is supported by Groceries, who helped rescue and return Sierra's stuffed monkey Maple when he got lost last year. They are both hiking southbound this year. We had fun catching up with them before hiking on in our separate directions. We also met Flamingo later in the day.

Our trail followed the ridges, climbing up one steep, grassy hill after another. Clouds of butterflies flitted from one bright yellow flower to the next as we passed. 

After rationing our water all day, we were relieved to reach a fresh water spring near Poorman Creek Road. Yellow and magenta monkey flowers lined the sides of the spring. Cold, clear water gurgled and bubbled as it pushed its way through the soft soil. Several small rabbits munched leaves and grass near the water, reluctantly hopping away as I approached. 

A father and his grown son rode up on dirt bikes as we were packing up. The father had just mountain biked the Montana section of the Tour Divide route, and we enjoyed swapping stories. 

The setting sun bathed our ridge in a golden glow as we hiked our final mile to a ridgetop camp near Mike and Keri (the only night we've camped near other hikers other than in a campground).  Mountains stretched endlessly in every direction. Hiking into the pink and orange sunset was a beautiful way to end the day, but I struggled to hang the food in the waning light. 

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