Great Western Loop: Day 113 - 116: Eureka to Bonner's Ferry
Day 113: Growing concerns (30miles)
Initially I had planned to skip the next resupply option, Bonner's Ferry, ID, to save some time. Raising concerns and rumours about fire closures in East-Washington however, made me plan a stop after just another 3 days.
I left Eureka on a short notice. I had asked for a late checkout to update my blog, but that suddenly got overruled by the motel's owner, giving me just 30minutes to leave the place. In the end, this was quite a blessing for me, as it allowed me to make more miles.
Just after leaving Eureka several locals asked me if I was hiking the PNT and once again, I had to tell my story. The initial hike was easy and followed a walkway next to a highway for several hours. Only a short stop at the tiny village of Rexford allowed for some refreshments.
At 3pm I crossed the Koocanusa bridge, which made some weird and terrifying noises and challenged me with quite some wind.
Initially I had planned to stay at a trailhead just a mile from the bridge, but my early checkout, made me move on. The trail now climbed up into the mountains and challenged me with 3,500ft of elevation over just 4miles. Fortunately, I was able to hike most of it in the shade, as temperatures were in the high 90's again (35-38 degrees Celsius).
On top of the climb a nice lookout tower provides some great views, all the way back to the Koocanusa bridge and Eureka.
(A family rented the tower for an overnight stay)
(View on Koocanusa bridge and Eureka)
I continued for another few miles to the next reliable water source and pitched my tent nearby.
Day 114: Bad decision (30miles)
After a nice and sunny day with clear skies, day 114 was hazy and smokey again.
After a few miles I came to a junction and was provided with two options. A: climb another 1,500ft to a lookout tower and than into a valley, or B: take an alternate straight to the valley and save 3-4 miles.
Given the hazy sky and my overall laziness, I went for the alternate. Probably the worst decision ever.
The trail immediately started descending into the valley, but after 0.5miles I lost the trail. Nothing unusual so far and I was sure to pick up the trail quite soon again. Well...I didn't. The route on my app didn't match the actual conditions I was facing and there was no trail to be found, so I ended up bushwacking through the thickest forest imaginable. After another 0.5miles and probably one hour of hiking, I decided to bail and look for the nearest road. I made it to the old Turner Creek Rd, but that must have been decommissioned several years ago. It was unhikeable and overgrown with hundreds of trees. Even on this road, I had to fight myself through incredibly difficult terrain, that was tearing my gear apart. I lost my water bottle and ate several spiders in whose webs I was covered. Being utterly frustrated I left the road 1hour later and walked cross-country again. Fortunately I found the old and overgrown trail, that once was the alternate and which brought me back to the main route. Instead of saving one hour and some energy, I now had lost more than 2 hours and my water bottle, and was quite exhausted.
Interestingly enough...now, as I'm writing these lines, that alternate doesn't even exist anymore on the newest update of my navigation app, which I installed just a few minutes ago...
I was quite mad at myself for not turning around earlier, as I really wanted to make some more miles that day. After leaving the "alternate", the trail quickly improved again and I could catch up a bit, but ended up 5-7miles short of, what I have had in mind.
Day 115: Fiest and a ghost (40miles)
My goal for today was Fiest Creek Falls Resort, a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere, 37miles and 15,000ft (4,500m) of elevation from my campsite.
I knew I was up for a rough day and so I started early.
Yet again, it was very smokey and this time I could clearly smell the fires in Washington.
Later that day, the wind direction would change and provide some blue skies. For most of the day, I hiked like a zombie. Absolutely focused on my goal and completely zoned out.
(Layer of smoke and one smoke column barely visible in the very far distance)
I made it to the resort by 6:30pm and had a quick burger and a huckleberry sundae. While I was eating, the owner came around, asking about my trip. While I was reiterating my story, he looked confused and mentioned that he heard sth. similar just hours before, from another hiker.
That was interesting news to me. Since May I knew that another hiker, called MacGyver is also attempting the Great Western Loop counterclockwise. In May he had been a few days behind me, but I heard stories about him being a few days ahead of me, since my Giardia infection in Montana. It now looked like I had almost caught up to him.
However, this won't affect my hike. I just recently learned that one of two GWL clockwise hikers gave up and u think it is, because he pushed to hard, trying to keep upwith another hiker. I'll play it smart, listen to my body and hike at a pace that I feel comfortable with. This hike is not a race me vs. another hiker, it's a race against winter and against myself. That's what matters and if there's someone who is faster, he has my utmost respect, for I know how rough it is to tackle this incredible challenge.
After talking to the restaurant's owner, I also talked to a local girl, who had questions about the trail and than I hiked out for another 2 miles, to find a campsite
Day 116: Bonner's Ferry (16miles)
As always, the day started with almost 3,000ft of elevation up to Bussard Mt.
The climb was rather steep, but I really wanted to get to town, to study the latest news on the fires in Washington. Postings on the trail indicated that a small US agency had started closing some trail sections two days ago. I therefore desperately needed internet to check how that would affect my hike and if I was able to continue at all.
(Bad news; Dept. of natural resources (DNR) closed all trails in northeast and southeast Washington. Fortunately only a small portion of the trail is managed by the DNR)
The hike to the highway wasn't particularly rough, after making the initial climb in the morning. However, getting a ride to town was a bit harder. I expect leaving town might get difficult, especially with the border to Canada still closed, as there ain't much traffic going north.
Day 117: Bonner's Ferry zero (0miles)
I took a zero day in Bonner's Ferry, to plan the upcoming days and the hike into Washington. Most of the time, however I spent updating my blog for impatient people back in Germany ;-)
Unfortunately, even with a zero I still have to walk almost 3.5miles from my motel to the next supermarket and back...Well, at least the Post Office was close, where I picked up new shoes for the miles ahead.