Afoot and Light-hearted, I Take to the Open Road

That blog title is a line from Walt Whitman, found in another book about walking I started reading called The Lost Art of Walking — The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism by Geoff Nicholson. I’ve only just started it and it’s amusing enough, certainly a lighter read than the Solnit book I finished recently (which I need to return to here, as I highlighted several more passages).

I’ve done a bunch of walking in the past week, and it has been divine. Again, as I’ve said before, there is no better means for me to get my head clear than getting out on a good walk or hike. I’ve basically done three decent hikes, all in similar but slightly different parts of the Rattlesnake Wilderness just outside Missoula. Last week I went out for about six miles, last Sunday I did an 8 mile jaunt, and last night I cranked out 10 miles. What follows are several pictures cobbled together from these three jaunts. I hope you like this kind of thing. . . .

     

The next four are different versions of the same shot, using my “regular” camera and a couple different settings using the RetroCamera ap on my cell phone.

          

Missoula, off in the distance.

     

Again, a couple different looks of the same scene.

     

This is just a trio from a group of about thirty deer I saw. No bears or mountain lions, though!

This is the conversation between Sid and I. He’d been bugging me for fast food, which I denied by telling him I’d just been to the grocery store. When I turned my phone back on after getting into coverage area. A couple more messages popped in. Teenagers . . . all they want is food and money!

The obligatory self portrait.

Russian Wilderness

I’ve been compelled by the wilds of Russia for some time now. This photo essay from a site called English Russia really provides some natural eye candy. Do check it out. Here are a couple pictures and captions that particularly caught my fancy.

People often try to find human features in animals, wild or domestic. In this picture a bear seems to admire the evening lake. In fact, it is sitting in a food coma, overeaten itself with salmon. It can’t eat anymore, it is even difficult to move, and fish still swims in the lake. The bear observes fish with satisfaction and happiness in its eyes.

 

Ha. Food coma. I’m familiar with that concept.

When one moves to live among wild nature, one gets to understanding that 2/3 of city life skills are of no use here. Simple things become vital: set the saw, start your snowmobile that stopped in the middle of snowy landscape, not to get lost in the wild nature.

This little photographic jaunt is going to make me bump my copy of Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia up on the TBR queue, for sure.

I love this kind of thing.

Hiking Ch-Paa-Qn Peak (Squaw Peak)

As summer was winding down, I realized I’d been pretty lame about getting out and doing many of the things I love to do most. We’d gotten so busy with other things that too many activities I’d written down at the beginning of the year to accomplish just hadn’t happened, and it was bumming me out. I think my mood was paying the price for it, not to mention my enthusiasm to accomplish other stuff. When I don’t get outdoors, my verve for living an active life suffers, and I turn surly. So I’ve been making a concerted effort to put in the time. I’m a bit backlogged in my posting about some of these outings, but over the next couple weeks I’m going to try and catch up.

Back on September 12th I resolved to climb the tallest peak in the area. I’ve lived in the shadow of Squaw Peak for much of my life. It looms over the Missoula valley at just a hair under 8000 feet. In this photo taken from The M overlooking Missoula you can see it way off in the distance.

It’s Indian name is Ch-Paa-Qn Peak. A few years ago there was some hubbub about renaming it; I think it is supposed to be called “Sleeping Woman Mountain” or something like that, but I don’t know that it’s ever caught on. The reason is “squaw” is considered by many to be a derogatory term, though there seems to be some debate about that. I’d certainly never call someone that, but I don’t know that a lifetime of knowing that mountain by a certain name could be changed by someone deciding I was supposed to call it something different now.

My parents live just below it, and the drive to the trailhead pretty much starts at the end of their driveway. I went up the evening of the hike with my mom to scout out where the trailhead actually is, as it had been close to twenty years since the last time I’d been up there. As we took the road up into the hills — a road I’d spent much time in my youth on foot, on horseback, and via snowmobile — the views that opened up were gorgeous. In this first shot (as always, click the image for a larger view), the pale green valley you see in the center of the frame, with the tree line, is where my folks live. The trees border Six Mile Creek, which runs right through their back yard.

This is a shot of Missoula off in the distance.

A little higher up, and zoomed in a little, is another shot overlooking where my folks live.

As one ascends to the top of the ridge, about 13 miles or so up, the descent down the north side is onto reservation land. This sign cracks me up. I don’t know that there is a metal sign in rural Montana that isn’t full of bullet holes.

On our drive up, we saw a black bear on the road ahead, but he quickly disappeared before I could take a shot of him with my camera. After we located the trailhead, we drove back down the mountain. First thing the next morning I drove back out there and headed up for my hike. It was a gorgeous day — sunny and warm.

From the road across the top, one can see the peak looming ahead. Quite a different angle from below, eh?

Here’s the sign marking the trail; it’s only three miles to the base of the peak itself, and not such a bad hike, though steep in spots.

At times the trail was in deep shadow, with high brush on either side. I was armed with bear spray, but didn’t see anything more than some scat. I did hear an elk bugling way off in the distance. That was exciting.

2.5 miles later I had crested a long climb and emerged into an area less cloaked in trees. For about a half mile the trail kind of circles around. If you look through the trees in this first shot, you can see the peak in the background.

Suddenly, flashing through the trees I saw a large, pale canine shape. I was momentarily excited — could it be a wolf? If you ask some of the more ignorant local types, you would assume these hills to be crawling with Canis Lupis as they hungrily destroy all traces of elk, deer, livestock and scores of hapless children. But no, these turned out to be a trio of dogs with a couple humans accompanying them.

We met here at a crossroads where two other access trails from other areas join the one I took. They converge at this sign post, and from there the trail extends fairly steep to the base of the last couple hundred feet or so of peak.

Where that stretch of trail ends, the intrepid hiker must basically find a path over what amounts to a pile of rocks to reach the summit. This photo doesn’t do it justice, as it is steep and many of the rocks are quite large. I was on all but all fours at times, making my way up. It is a moderately difficult climb, but not too rigorous; just time consuming.

This is a large cairn right where the trail emerges from the forest. It is to help a hiker find their way back to the mouth of the trail back down after descending from the peak. There were also several faded orange streamers tied to trees; I tied an American flag bandanna I was carrying.

As this shot from the top of the peak shows, without some point of reference on the way back down, how one could easily become lost just finding the path after finding a way back down!

here are a couple cairns at the summit as well. And a stunning view in every direction that these photos simply do no justice to. I feel it’s almost pointless to even post them, but what the hell.

Here is a view looking Northeast. The mountains are the Mission Range. About mid-frame would be the hills that comprise The National Bison Range, one of my favorite places on the planet. If I turned slightly left, due north, way off in the distance would be Flathead Lake, and beyond that Glacier National Park and Canada.

Here is a look a little Southeast, with Missoula way off in the distance.

And here’s yours truly, perched atop the world.

After I took this photo I hauled my ass back down out of the mountains. It was a long, sweaty day, but worth it on a multitude of levels. I’m looking forward to getting back up there again. I know Julia wants to go too; don’t know if we’ll make it before the snow flies, but make it we will!

A Rapid Dash to Glacier

It’s not often we get three-day weekends together, and Julia and I didn’t really have anything special planned for this one. Selling her Donkey Girl stuff at the Saturday Market every week has taken a lot of mobility out of our summer, but it’s been for a good cause. So we decided Saturday afternoon that we would get up very early Sunday and drive up to Glacier National Park for the day. So that’s what we did! It’s only about 2.5 hours or so to get there, and the drive is just gorgeous pretty much all the way there, as the highway curves around the magnificent Flathead Lake.

We were on the road by 6 AM (on a Sunday?!), headed north. We hoped to get there early enough to see some wildlife. It promised to be a sunny day, as the morning was gorgeous, particularly as the sun was rising behind the Mission Mountains. We didn’t stop, but got into the park and headed straight up the Going to the Sun Road to the visitor’s center at Logan Pass. That road is quite a climb, with breathtaking views and vertigo-inducing depths over the edge of the very curvy, very narrow road.

They have these old restored shuttles you can actually ride in if you want; they leave from various campgrounds and visitor centers along the way up. One of these times I’d like to do that. They are pretty cool, and run on propane.

From the parking lot at the top we spied our first critters — several bighorn sheep were sunning themselves on the slopes not far away. I was able to zoom my camera in for a couple decent shots.

There was a bit of a wind, and it was chilly — I doubt it was even 40 degrees. Clouds were gathering and we weren’t really geared up for much of a hike, but we decided to set out along the Highline Trail anyway, just until we decided to turn around.

In the grasses bordering the trailhead there were a bunch of these little fellas dashing about and chowing down. Pretty sure this little bastard is a Columbian Ground Squirrel.

The clouds were rolling in, and the sun disappeared.

We had jackets, and I had my trail running shoes on, but Julia was in jeans and some Chuck Taylor knockoffs; not the best hiking gear. Game as always, though, she kept right on going and didn’t complain a single time, even when we had to cross watery stretches along the trail.

We saw several mountain goats as well, quite a distance up slope, and too far even for my camera’s zoom. We had binoculars with us, so we still got to check them out.

Before long the sleet was coming down pretty heavy. Parts of the trail have a good drop off the side; one stretch even has a cable anchored to the rock wall to hang onto if one needs to. I was negotiating down a little stair-like arrangement of rocks, looking up the path of some water for more wildlife, when a misstep landed me on my ass. My catlike reflexes saved me from falling over the cliff, though, and if Julia pointed and laughed she did so without me seeing it (lucky for her). I bonked my elbow pretty good; a lesser man would have lost the use of his arm, no doubt about it.

The sun came out in spots, then would disappear again. At times we could just barely see the surrounding peaks. It was a little eery, but also very cool.

There were quite a number of other folks out on the trail. Many of them were geared up for extensive backcountry hiking and camping, it appeared. Julia and I probably looked like the Clampetts out there. Then again, my jacket displayed the Patagonia logo, so maybe not. You know what’s kind of pathetic? I realized as I was thinking about it I was wearing Patagonia shoes, socks, chonies, shorts, and jacket. And a hat, but I’d left that in the truck. Hey, what can I say, I like their stuff and it lasts a long time. And before you even think about getting all lippy with me about being some kind of Patagonia fag, keep in mind that it is a Patagonia hat very similar to mine that Sylvester Stallone is wearing during a significant stretch of The Expendables.

So if you have a problem with my friggin’ gear choices, take it up with Sly, you dig?

All in all, we did maybe a modest three or four miles. We got back a little wet and chilled, and it was snowing/sleeting pretty hard — all the surroundings were covered with white. It was still a lot of fun, and we wonder why, given it’s so close, we don’t visit more often. We will certainly rectify that.

I hope everyone had a chance to have some fun and get some fresh air over the Labor Day Weekend as well!

Sunday, with Extra Sun

Yesterday we decided to set out and get some old fashioned recreation, something we probably don’t do enough of with everything else going on in our lives. We are fortunate in that there are so many beautiful alternatives essentially right out our back door. For example, for starters we decided we’d get the canoe on the water for the first time this year. On the way, Julia insisted on taking a picture of this big, fat Quarter Horse.

It takes a while to drop off the canoe, take a vehicle down and leave it at the takeout point, then drive the other vehicle back to the put-in spot, but it’s worth it. Where we decided to put in on the Bitterroot River is literally just five minutes from our house.

Then we were off and paddling and soaking up the rays from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes.

I love being on the river. Even though there were many other people out on inner tubes, it was still relaxing and felt like a getaway. We had stretches all to ourselves as well.

Hey, there’s a naked girl in the bow! And geese on the shore!

Well, she wasn’t really naked, it just looks that way. Nor was she relying on the wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off her. She was well lathered in sunscreen.

This trip — floating the Bitterroot until it joins the Clark Fork, then a little farther along — really isn’t a “wild” float. But it is a wild river, and it is exciting to see wildlife along the way. Birds zipping along just above the surface of the water. Herons along the shore, and osprey overhead. Sometimes fish jump. I love it all.

As always, click the pictures to see larger version. You’ll be able to see the fawn in the lower right of this one that much better!

Then there are other types of wildlife, like teenagers at McClay Bridge thronging the shore and jumping off the bridge into the water. I’ve done that before, when I was young. I used to come out here sometimes with my cousin, Casey.

This is the first time we’ve seen one of these assholes on this river. This guy was going too fast, blew by some tubers, and left a wake that would have swamped us if we hadn’t turned into it. Jackass. There was another power boat later, but that guy was at least respectful of the other people on the river.

After we got off the river and got home, I decided I wanted to hike up the M as well, even though it was still pretty damn hot out. Julia was game to give it a go; we didn’t even bother to take the time to unload the canoe.

Before long we were at the base of the trail, headed up. That first, long switchback is always the most difficult for me, it seems.

The moon was in the sky, watching our progress.

Almost to the top!

Here’s what the M looks like from the ground, in a picture taken earlier this year.

Here’s what it looks like right up close!

There weren’t that many other people on the trail, unlike on Friday when I climbed it.

The view from the top, and from points closer to the ground, was excellent as ever.

Hiking the M is more workout than pleasure stroll, but I still enjoy it. Like floating the river, it reminds me of how beautiful Missoula is, and how fortunate I am to live in this part of the country. At times in the past I know I’ve taken that for granted, but I sure hope I never do again!