Return to Hiking the Best in the West: Absoroka Range/ Montana

I’m staying along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, at the western foot of the Absorokas, considered one of the greatest mountain ranges in North America. The peaks are unusually rugged, and tower up to 10,000 feet in elevation. This part of the range is considered part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, complete with bald eagles, black bears, and the iconic grizzlies
This morning, my future (tomorrow) daughter-in-law Stephanie, guided a group consisting of my son Arlo, his partner Alanna, and me up the 11-mile-round-trip Pine Creek Lake Trail. The book 100 Great Day Hikes Around Bozeman and the Greater Yellowstone describe this trail as follows: “Pine Creek Lake is arguably one the best destination hikes in southwest Montana.”
We were not disappointed, as this was world class hiking.
As usual, I have logged the data from the trip. Here’s the map:

The hikeIt was a 10.9 mile round trip hike, where we gained 3,952 feet of elevation in the 5.4 miles up to Pine Creek Lake, a spectacular setting. 

What’s unique about hiking in the west are the switchbacks, which greatly assist the hiker in moving steadily along the considerable elevation gains on these mountain trails. In my home state of Maine, the uphills are unrelenting.
photo 3

When we reached the lake it was still cold out and although it was a perfect invite for a quick dip, no one jumped in.

We were content to sit in awe and stare.  Snow patches were still lingering in the shadows. 

Pine Creek Lake

I am truly blessed to be here today with my family. I love his bunch of doers, who are always ready and able for any adventure that presents itself.

Flashback to today’s date in 2013

I’m in Montana again for a week!

It feels so good to be here- mostly due to waking up to 43 degrees outside our room here at the Lewis and Clark Motel.  I am so pleased to be out of the heat and humidity in maine this week.

It snowed last night in the Gallatins.  The Beartooth Highway was closed as well.  I see snow capping the mountains outside my window.


This morning, my consciousness harkened back to wondering where I was on this exact date in 2013, when I was moving north along the Continental Divide Trail. Here’s the entry from that date. It’s from the Wind River Range in Wyoming, where we were dodging wolves, grizzlies, and being lost.

Uncle Tom’s 2013 Continental Divide Trail Journal, Part of Trail Journals’ Backpacking and Hiking Journals.

Scott Jurek vs. Baxter State Park: Next Move?  

Here’s Scott Jurek’s blog post about his Baxter State Park experience. 

Scott writes that he was issued three summonses while hiking in the Park. On this blog post, Scott accepted responsibility for any rules that he may have broken, however, he is  yet to be fined.  My take is that Jurek may not even be guilty at all, may be guilty a little bit, or may be guilty a lot .  It depends on how he addresses the summons to court.

A Baxter summons does not automatically result in a fine, at least it didn’t in another well- publicized incident that occurred on Katahdin in 2007.

I wrote about the episode on my 2007 website. Here are selections from that entry:

In October of 2007, my friend Rufus Hellendale told me the following story. Rufus was highly skilled at paragliding, and had traveled in and out of Maine climbing mountains and hills with his 35 pound paraglider in his backpack . He launched off many of the highest cliffs and overlooks in the State, but neither Rufus, nor anyone else, had ever launched off Katahdin .

That changed on June 16, 2007.

On that day, Rufus and Christopher Kroot headed up the Appalachian Trail at 2:00 AM. Each hauled their 35’ wingspan dacron paraglider up the Hunt (AT) trail to the Tableland, just above the 2,000 foot granite face that points to the south, near Thoreau Spring, overlooking Millinocket. They were up there by 6 AM.  They managed to pull themselves and those heavy loads up the iron rungs as they negotiated the boulder fields that led to the Gateway. They waited until 9 AM, when the the granite face was sufficiently heated from the sun to generate a thermal effect to create the requisite 5- 10 MPH speed that was required in order to fly.

Krute went first, running down and then launching off the steep lip until he was airborne, and Rufus followed quickly. Both spent 40 minutes in the air, sailing over toward The Owl. They eventually steered toward a favorable landing spot across the perimeter road near Katahdin Stream Campground where they safely landed at the edge of a bog, on a solid piece of ground, where they emerged with dry feet.

Despite assurances from some Park personnel that their activity would not be illegal, both received a court summons some two weeks after their flight charging them with “ illegal parasailing “ in Baxter State Park, a charge that carried a fine of $200 for each. Rufus didn’t fight it, and sent in his money, but Chris challenged the rule, noting that what they were doing was paragliding, not parasailing. Parasailing is a different activity that is generally done over the water, where the glider is lifted into the air with the assistance of a powerboat. A parasail is different from a glider, which is an apparatus that requires the operator to be strapped into a rigid device.

On Jan. 23, 2008 Millinocket District Court Judge Kevin Stitham ruled that Christopher Kroot did not break Baxter State Park rules when he and Rufus  climbed Mount Katahdin in the early morning hours and used paragliders to launch from the Tablelands.

in 2007, the park rules stated: “No person shall fly, cause to be flown, or permit any model craft, hot air balloon or hang gliding device of any kind in the Park.” Kroot’s attorney, Richard Johnson of Lincoln, argued successfully that Kroot complied with the park rules because his aircraft was a paraglider, not a hang-gliding device. Here’s the compete writeup from the Bangor Daily News

Amazingly, the launch was recorded by a group of Canadians that were passing by the site, on their own summit hike to Baxter Peak.   

After the ruling, Baxter State Park went back to edit the rule book in order to add specific terms that make any sort of human gliding on or above the Park illegal.

PPS:  Rufus Hellendale, paid his $200, but then died accidentally on June 6, 2008, less than a year after he flew above Baxter State Park.  Rufus was just 53 years old. He had a freak fall from a ladder while he was alone, while pruning a fruit tree in the woods near his cabin. Rufus was a friend of mine. Rufus moved like a dancer, and had a slow but most unique and expressive movement of his arms and hands when he talked. I always enjoyed his unusual zest for the outdoors. We once talked about taking a road trip together out West to explore those wild open spaces.

Here’s a 2001 Bangor News article about my friend Rufus, who spent 40 minutes of the last year of his wonderful life flying above Baxter State Park like the wild ravens that are also drawn to the highest point in Maine.

PPPS:  Yesterday, I guided a client up and even more importantly, back down Katahdin. It was my eighteenth time up there.


You can be sure I followed all the rules.  A number of people who intended making it to the top decided to turn back today.  BSP has no interest in making things any easier for anyone.  It was a much longer day than I expected, as we rolled into Katahdin Stream Campground at 10:30 pm, guided by a couple tiny headlamps. I’ve never done a 15.5 hour day up there, but that’s what it took this time.  I was both surprised and pleased to see not a single light anywhere around site #17 when we reached our tents.   The campground was pitch dark and everyone else was in their tents or lean-tos.   We spoke softly as I primed and lit my Coleman white gas lantern and boiled up a little water to make supper on my Bushcooker LT1.   The silence, majesty, and hard-ass attitude to keep it wild here at Baxter is more and more to my liking as I get older.  I plan to act in a manner to keep things that way.  There was a 77 year old man that was still coming down behind me. He came in some time after midnight, on his own.  Nature doesn’t have motion-detecting lights to illuminate our path to keep us from getting hurt or lost.

It’s the real deal up here in Maine at BSP.

Baxter State Park’s backlash reflects larger issue?

It’s Party-on meets the Guardians of Wild time here in Maine.

photo from Runner's World
photo from Runner’s World

For the past week, there has been a heated and expansive  discussion on Facebook, Twitter, and  gear/outdoor adventure-related  blog/websites in response to the legal action that Maine’s Baxter State Park has initiated against Scott Jurek.  Jurek recently completed the fastest known supported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

In case you were engaged in focused partying in Barcelona over this past week (a location which is also in the process of beefing up it’s own regulations regarding celebratory behavior), here’s BSP’s initial post about the event, which as morphed 616 shares, and 717 comments to date on Facebook.

I live in Maine, am a dues paying member Friend Of Baxter State Park, and have put in as much as a week of my time volunteering for maintenance up on top of the Saddle Trail.  I generally hike there every year. Just last year I spent a week on a “thru-hike” of Baxter State Park.

I treasure BSP.  I have summited Katahdin 17 times, dating back to 1970.  At 20 years of age, I was stunned that I couldn’t just drive in there and start walking around. That’s when I first learned about the details list of The BSP Rules.  I am going to try and reach the top again in two days, and will be following all those rules when I am there.

I was ( and according to my wife continue to be) one of  the great unwashed who completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2007.

Me atop Katahdin in 2007
Me atop Katahdin in 2007

I was a member of MeGaTex, a group of 7 , who had our own celebration in the cold blowing mist and fog on September 16, some 5,268 feet in the sky.

Something is going to change, not just about what you can or can’t do in BSP, but about the whole AT experience.  Twice in the past 4 years, I have returned to Virginia for a week to backpack some of my favorite sections of the AT.

In 2014, I did not enjoy my last week as much, due to large doses of inconsiderate behavior that I experienced from other hikers on the trail.  Twice, I came upon one of the shelters at the end of the day, after a long day of hiking, expecting to settle in for night, only to find that shelter filled with over a dozen thru-hikers, most of who were unapologetically smoking cigarettes (Smoking hand-rolled tobacco is a recent thru-hiker trend on the AT.)  One of those guys sat right beside me and proceeded to boil up his dinner. He was too busy with too many things at once, and knocked a pot of boiling water into his lap. It then drenched my gear, including part of my sleeping bag.  He scalded his thigh, which I knew would result in  a second degree burn, but he shoofed off my recommendation for immediate treatment.  The group hung out there for two hours before they thankfully moved on and I was able to spread out my bedroll for the night.

I think about Scott Jurek and the extreme discomfort and heroic effort that it took for him to cover over 200 miles on his last 4 days on the AT as he approached Katahdin.  I rooted for him.  Scott also slept only 10 hours over his last 4 days. In the end, Scott had to be only marginally coherent and cognitively intact- how could it be otherwise ?  He was not capable of steering the Jurek ultramarathon machine at that moment,  and maybe nobody in his party was either.

But, you gotta have rules.  Baxter State Park has the most rules of anyplace that an AT hiker has to contend with, and that’s a problem to many hikers who has dreamed, sweated, fallen, and bruised themselves as they labor toward their final footsteps in the sky.

How does a place with a unique vision and mandate do with hundreds, and now possibly a thousand or more people who have lived the past half-year with no one telling them what to do ?  They have one or two last days of freedom before they re-enter the ” shower world” again.

The numbers on the AT are expected to balloon big-time for 2016.  Jurek’s media coverage is definitely pumping interest.

So is the recent release of Trail Magic, the new film about Grandma Gatewood, the 67 year old woman who was the first female to thru-hike the AT, back in 1957.

Grandma Gatewood
Grandma Gatewood

So is the long-awaited movie derived from Bill Bryson’s best-selling book A Walk in the Wood’s, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.   It comes out in September.

Discussions had already begun last year,  exploring the possibility that the Appalachian Trail may be re-routed around Katahdin and linked onto the International Appalachian Trail.

I’ll still going be able go up and go into Baxter State Park , due to living here in Maine, but others from places and even continents far away won’t find it easy to do so. They may not be able to stand on top of Katahdin to experience the most fitting end to their extended time out in the great forest.  It would be a sad conclusion for sure.

This clash between preservation of the wild versus big numbers of users, corporate footprints and media is not just playing out on on isolated granite massif in Maine Maine- it’s going on all over the world right now.  Check out today’s New York Times feature–>> – The Revolt Against Tourism.

Throwback Thursday- Continental Divide Trail- July 15, 2013

I have been able to spend 1-2 hours a day, each morning this summer, as I plod through  finishing a book about my 2013 CDT hike.  The process involves me editing  all my Trailjournal entries from that trip,  reviewing my walk via my map collection, as well as checking photos.

I am also doing additional research and background collection on historical data.  I am having a great time doing this each morning.  There is no way I am able to write later in the day.  I am fresh and coffeed up when the light is just starting each day.

Train and Dick Wizard on the CDT in northern Colorado
Train and Dick Wizard on the CDT in northern Colorado

Here’s my freshly revised entry from exactly two years ago, after a 28 mile day in northern Colorado, two days before crossing into Wyoming.


Ultrarunner Will Not Set Appalachian Trail Speed Record Alone – Beyond the Edge

Scott Jurek; Photograph by Luis Escobar
Scott Jurek; Photograph by Luis Escobar

Check out this super story from National Geographic:  Ultrarunner Will Not Set Appalachian Trail Speed Record Alone – Beyond the Edge.

Scott Jurek’s Delorme tracker located him him in Monson last night at 10:45 PM .  He’s still there (tracker as of 5:45 Friday morning), so it appears that he might have slept for 5 hours or so.  Just yesterday Jurek had crossed the Kennebec River.  He has to be on the summit of Katahdin by 5:15 PM Sunday to beat Jennifer Pfarr Davis’ supported Appalachian Trail supported speed record.  Will he do it?

Whiteblaze thread here:  “OK, on my reckoning Scott needs to cover either 57.9 miles or 52.9 miles today (Friday) to get to Kokadjo-B or West Branch Ponds roads respectively.  So a big day ahead.  If he did 57.9 today, he’d almost be in striking range to finish with a single, ultra-distance effort starting on Saturday. However, a bit of sleep on Saturday night might be necessary for the final push up Katahdin. “

Scott’s Facebook page here.

Scott’s AT attempt on Instagram here.


Scott Jurek and the #AT Appalachian Trail #FKT

I bet he makes it. Great weather in Maine for the next few days. - Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

© Jurek

He needs no introduction; Scott Jurek is an icon in the sport of ultra running. He has won Hardrock 100, Spartathlon, Badwater 135, raced over 24 hours and of course he has won Western States an incredible 7 times in a row, 1999 – 2005.

Listen to my interview HERE and HERE

All Scott Jurek content HERE

In recent years, his running has almost taken a back seat. He shot to ‘more’ fame in Chris McDougall’s book, ‘Born to Run’ and then he released his own book, Eat and Run’ which gave an insight into his Vegan lifestyle, something he has adhered to since 1999.

I was fortunate to spend time with Scott when he came over to the UK, we even managed a run on the Lakeland 100 course which was followed with an impromptu meet and greet and book signing. (Guardian HERE)

For many (me included) we…

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Strava and Suffer Scores, at Six Months

Goals matter.  At least they do to me!

We’re half way through 2015. I have the data to prove it.  With an ever-present computer not far from our reach, it is relatively easy to get numbers.  For me, numbers count.

As of today, 2015s first 182 days, or 6 months and 0 days have passed. At the half-year mark I’ve put in 200 hours of biking, backpacking, walking, or even jogging some 144 times, where I’ve  covered 820.4 miles.

What’s up with that?

Strava has been extremely motivating to me just through tracking my exercise. For those of you that don’t know about Strava, it is a social network that allows smartphone and GPS users to map their rides, hikes, walks, and swims and compete against themselves and others.
I have been using the free version but for 2015, I ponied up for to Premium (at $59/year) in order to access the additional perks-like setting time or distance goals, and to be able to  track my progress week over week.

Here’s just one of their graphics:

2015 Half-time report
2015 Half-time report

For 2015, I took the suggestion of my son Lincoln, and set myself a goal of moderately exercising, at an average of an hour a day. As  useful as this app is, it still has it’s limiting quirks.  For example, it took me months to realize that Strava only aggregates cycling or running activities.  Walking, or backpacking are not activities that are  collected and analyzed (yet). I learned to lump all footwork as runs.

I continue to be surprised to see that even at my age, I continue to improve my fitness.  I have been able to reduce the times that  travel over “segments”, or sections of trail that other riders or runners have identified as places where they would like to have their own data accumulated, as well as seeing what others have accomplished on those same segments.  For example, I’ve set 56 personal records since January 1.

As if all this data weren’t enough, I just ran up another $16 per year to access the benefits of  Veloviewer, another program that takes Strava data and  adds additional analysis.  For example, Veoloviewer reached way back to 2011 and brought in ALL the data from every ride or hike that i’ve ever recorded and analyzed that in ways that I never even imagined, like this 3D graphic of this past Tuesday’s Rockland Bog Ride.

3D view of Rockland Bog ride
3D view of Rockland Bog ride

In another hour I’m headed out for a couple of hours with Craig to ride the trails around the Snow Bowl. You can bet that I’ll be bringing along my trusty Garmin eTrex30 GPS unit, and strapping on a heart rate monitor so that I can obtain Strava’s special “ Suffer Score”  for this ride.

Did I mention that it’s another beautiful day here in Maine ?
Setting a time goal has resulted in me being active and outside for an hour a day every day.