The young woman and her fiancé set off on their hike north of the Continental Divide Trail, apparently married with hopes for a happy future. But he soon irritated the slower pace of his simple beloved and ended up abandoning her.
It seems beauty and sorrow sometimes walk hand in hand on the country’s most remarkable hiking trails: the Continental Divide Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Yet Continental Divide Trail hikers who have passed through Anaconda-Deer Lodge County in recent years have more often expressed admiration, wonder, and gratitude. Many shared their appreciation with handwritten notes in the Anaconda Trail Society’s hiker’s cabin guestbook at Washoe Park. Most entries have been signed with trail names.
Some were NoBo (northbound). Some were SoBo.
Approximately 65 miles of trail crosses the backbone of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, which offers solitude, snowy landscapes, abundant wildlife, cirques, waterfalls and tarns.
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Some hikers came across wet, tired, wobbly Anaconda looking for a break from the often rough trail. To them, the no-frills backpacker cabin felt like the Ritz-Carlton.
“We came from Seward, Alaska to SoBo the CDT because we’ve been dreaming and hoping for it for over a decade,” Let’s Go wrote. “We’re here and it’s fantastic. Huge gratitude to Anaconda and the Anaconda Trail Society for this place of respite and refueling.”
The CDT extends approximately 3,100 miles along the continental divide between the borders of Canada and Mexico. In June 2019, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition designated Anaconda as a CTD gateway community. Other designated individuals in Montana include Lincoln, Helena and Butte.
Not everyone welcomes backpacking visitors who leave the trail for a stay at Anaconda after days without soap or water. Yet other residents view them as tangible proof of Smelter City’s transition from an industrial town to a community renowned for its proximity to recreational riches. These residents give you a warm welcome.
“Hikers on the Continental Divide Trail are often wrong,” said Adam Vauthier, executive director of Discover Anaconda.
“Often we hear the stories of the smelly hikers who inhabit our grocery stores, our brewery and our post office,” he said. “However, most of these hikers have jobs that allow them to take the time to hike all or most of the trail.”
Generally thrifty hikers spend money in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, and many become ambassadors for the area.
A SoBo solo hiker wrote, “I am totally blown away by your generosity and how cool Anaconda is. I would love to come back to this wonderful city in the future.”
Diesel, head of SoBo, wrote, “Anaconda is the best town I’ve been to. Two people spontaneously got out of their car to offer me help.
“It’s an exciting time at Anaconda,” Vauthier said. “We are seeing population and economic growth for the first time since the smelter closed (in 1980). Visitors and new residents enjoy Anaconda’s immense outdoor recreation opportunities.
Decades ago, people moved to Anaconda to work at the Anaconda Company copper smelter. Those who arrived during boom times were called “boomers”.
Today, many of the newcomers to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County have been drawn to the area’s recreational opportunities – hiking, fishing, skiing, boating, horseback riding, snowmobiling, hunting and more. Some were predeceased by relatives.
That was true for Matt Johnson and Emily Adams, who opened Anaconda Bicycles in April.
And that was true for Steve and Marsha Hill, who opened Pintler’s Portal Hostel in Anaconda in August 2021 after a substantial investment in a building that once housed a Masonic lodge. The inn is wedged between a liquor store and a hardware store.
Some long-distance hikers take breaks from thin sleeping pads, headlamps, tiny camping stoves and tents planted on rocky ground and head to the hostel.
The 11-room, 38-bed hostel is just a short walk from Main Street. Her modest exterior hides a grand interior, with lockable unisex showers, lockable unisex bathroom stalls, a commercial kitchen, laundry room, spacious common areas and more.
The heartbroken bride found refuge, comfort and support there.
For a time, the grieving woman isolated herself in her room at Pintler’s Portal. Steve said he, Marsha and the staff heard frequent bouts of tears. He said they tried to respect her privacy but eventually suggested it might be okay for her to get out of her room. For a time she helped paint at the inn.
The Hills live west of Anaconda and can escape the role of hosts when their well of extroversion runs out.
Nonetheless, Steve said meeting interesting people outside of CDT was one of his favorite things about running the hostel.
“They are fascinating to talk to,” he said.
A NoBo couple in their 60s stopped while hiking the often rocky and difficult trail. Another seemingly devoted hiker displayed a tattoo on one thigh of the CDT route, Steve said.
In the end, he and his fiancé’s now free wife teamed up to march north as a platonic couple. Steve said she was hesitant to hike alone and the tattooed hiker seemed like a nice guy.
In the days when the snow buries CDT, Pintler’s Portal has been home to a women’s basketball team, an Alaskan women’s ski team, a Swedish family and many more. Guests came from Kenya, China, Indonesia, Romania, Iraq, Ukraine, Germany, Belgium, France, Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa and the Philippines .
Travelers can rent a bed, rent a room, or rent the entire property. Passing hikers can pay $20 to gain five hours of access to Wi-Fi, showers and towels, kitchen, and laundry.
Staff include Hallie Zolynski, who handles recreational programming and other duties, Lisa Hlavaty, whose duties include lodging, reservations, and facility maintenance and cleaning, and Kryshelle Wittner, who coordinates social media and marketing.
Steve Hill is 69 years old. Marsha is 63 years old. They have three daughters and a son. Steve, a geologist, retired from a consulting firm specializing in environmental sites and remediation technologies. Marsha ran a business that sought consensus-based decision-making on unreliable and high-conflict issues.
During a brainstorming session over a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve 2019, the couple agreed that the area offered remarkable recreational opportunities. And the idea of a hostel was born.
They purchased the Old Masonic Lodge in October 2020, began construction on January 1, 2021, and opened on August 16, 2021.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” Steve said with a smile.
The installation appears to be immaculate, and reviewers have commented on the cleanliness of Pintler’s portal.
A few blocks away, the Hiker’s Hut offers hikers free Wi-Fi, loaner bikes, lockers, a small fridge and small microwave, and storm shelter, courtesy of the Anaconda Trail Society.
Gratitude for these little luxuries bubbles up like a Yellowstone fondue. One hiker, who has apparently also hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, wrote in August 2019, “In all of my Triple Crown I have yet to see or experience a community supported hiking resource like this. -this.
Vauthier said he and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Chief Executive Bill Everett are committed to supporting and growing a diverse economy.
“Anaconda is currently experiencing growth in healthcare, tourism, manufacturing and retail,” Vauthier said. “Tourism will remain an important part of Anaconda’s economy in the future.”