Yes, I have.
The Chinese Wall is a tall, lengthy escarpment located in the Bob Marshall Wilderness 85 west of Great Falls. It is arguably Montana’s most impressive landform, so hikers from all over come to see it, most opting for the twelve-mile long section that looms over the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) – The photo above shows the northern half of that section. However, getting to the place where the photo was taken requires a 21-mile walk from the Benchmark Trailhead, so for many hikers the wall remains a fantasy. In fact the question I get asked most often is “Have you ever been to the Chinese Wall?”. Thanks to my daughter Amy, I can now give an affirmative response to that question.
Amy took the week off hoping we could do a point to point hike on a different portion of the CDT. However, we were worried about smoke from wildfires and extreme heat, plus we weren’t sure how Amy’s dog (TJ) would respond to his first multi-day backpacking adventure, especially one with sparse water sources. So, instead we decided to do an out-and-back hike to the Chinese Wall that would give us options, allowing us to make adjustments if things went south.
Things went much better than expected. The air quality was decent, it was warm but not hot, there was very little wind, water resources were plentiful, and TJ had the time of his life. But perhaps the most pleasant surprise was how strong we felt. We covered 60 miles in three days, including 30 on the final day – I didn’t know I could do that! Amy and I have shared some great father-daughter adventures over the years but this might be the best one (so far). Read on to see how the trip played out, or skip to the photo tour now. (photo tour)
Tuesday (21 miles).
We made the 108-mile drive from Helena to the Benchmark Trailhhead and started hiking at 9 am. We wanted to follow the CDT as far as the pass below Cliff Mountain (21 miles) but reserved the right to stop and camp along the way, 10-15 miles in. That 21st mile was tough but we reached the pass at 7 pm. So far, so good.
Wednesday (9 miles).
Our reward for doing the 21 miles on Tuesday was that we got to see the wall illuminated by the morning light – a constant and spectacular presence as we hiked the next 6 miles. Our target was My Lake, just a few miles beyond the scenic 6-mile stretch – again, we gave ourselves the option of not going all the way to the lake. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk beneath the wall and easily made the 9-mile hike to the lake, arriving early that afternoon, leaving plenty of time to set up camp, nap, swim, nap, eat, nap, etc. It was a very relaxing, restful afternoon and evening.
Thursday (30 miles).
Our plan was to start back toward Benchmark on the same trail, thinking we would hike 15 miles, camp along the trail, and then finish the final 15 miles on Friday morning. Nine miles into the day we lunched at the pass below Cliff Mountain – the place we camped Tuesday night. Feeling great, we decided that hiking all the way to Benchmark was a possibility but reserved the option of camping along the way. We strolled into the Benchmark Trailhead shortly after 8 pm, twelve hours after leaving My Lake. My OnX app read 29.97 miles, so I walked past my car until the app registered 30.00 miles. It was a fun achievement, and a nice finish to an excellent adventure!
- Photo Tour of the three-day, two-night Chinese Wall adventure
Tuesday – Thursday – August 3-5, 2021.
- Topo map of the Benchmark – Chinese Wall area
Zoom in or out, scroll around.
- The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation
Active wilderness stewardship.
- Who was Bob Marshall?
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.