Loving Montana Over Labor Day Weekend

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Hiking, Sailing

Even though the fires make for good sunsets, they’re hell on throats and positive attitudes.  The Friday night before the long holiday weekend over Labor Day found Missoula wreathed in mood-dampening smoke.  We decided to get out of dodge.

Rob, Cassidy, and I took off Saturday to the northern Mission Mountains for an overnight backpack to Mollman Lakes.  We hiked in from the  Tribal Wilderness side, which is straight up (and I do mean straight) from the valley floor.  We drove the little red truck through the forest on a sort-of road, plowing over massive rocks and around cedar branches.

After 5 miles and 3,500 feet, we arrived at Mollman pass and gazed out at the craggy Mission cliffs, and two sinuous deep blue lakes spread out before us.  Our friend, Derek, was already there, and snagged the best campsite.  Three more friends rolled in an hour later.  The dogs were in heaven. One-night backpacks are awesome: our packs were less than 20 pounds, and it felt like we flew up the trail.  We saw a small black bear on a scree field, and plenty of bear poop on the trail.  We only passed two other groups (a regular thoroughfare, compared to most wilderness hikes in Montana): one group were acquaintances, and the other was a pack of Amish boyscouts hiking out from the lakes.

A full moon rose over the rocky cliffs as we joked around a campfire in the cold air at our 7,000-foot elevation.  After three hilarious tries, and two broken ropes, we managed to hang the ~50 pounds of food for 7 people and 2 dogs.

Our friends stayed in another night to fish and laze on rocks, while Rob and I hiked out and drove north another 40 miles to Flathead Lake and our sailboat.

The wind was whipping.   We made it to the east end of Wild Horse Island in record time, docking at a friend’s cabin for a quick happy hour visit.  From the dock, we pointed to Mollman Pass, rising sharply out of the lake to the south, and told them about our night in the woods.

Waving farewell at sunset, Rob and I had a quick sail to the protected Skeeko Bay.  We nestled our anchor in a free spot near shore, counting a record 14 boats already anchored for the night.  Party weekend.  About an hour later, as we were making pasta in the cabin, another friend—our slip neighbor at Dayton Yacht Harbor—hailed us from his stand-up paddleboard.  They’d anchored next to us, and he was shuttling their dog to shore for its evening pee.  I slept well, lulled and comfortable with the gentle rock in Skeeko’s protected anchorage.

We woke up with a hike, a swim, and some knot-tying practice in the cockpit.  Around noon, we headed back to the harbor to pick up another couple of friends (and a dog, of course), heading out for an afternoon of stand-up paddling, beers, swimming, and communal laughter.

All in all, another Montana Labor Day weekend spent exerting minimal labor and receiving much love from our community, our mountains, and our favorite lake.

Solo Backpack from Our Home to My Headwaters

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Hiking

Bear hangs in the wilderness are like anchors at sea — it’s what let’s me sleep comfortably in the middle of the woods.

I made this connection during a solo journey into the Rattlesnake Wilderness the first weekend in August.  Rob was busy driving a forklift and playing with power tools, helping our friends build a cabin in Southwestern Montana.  So, I seized the glorious summer weekend, threw some gear in a backpack, threw a trailer on my bike, and headed out the front door at 3pm after work.

I ride my mountain bike up 5 miles of pavement, and then 16 miles of bumpy trail along Rattlesnake Creek, towing my heavy pack.  Around 7pm, I reached the Wilderness boundary, locked the bike to fir tree, and strapped on my backpack.  I hiked up Wrangell Creek about 5 miles, and reached Little Lake, a gorgeous high mountain lake, just as night fell.  Which meant I had to HURRY to set up camp, make dinner, and then get dinner hung out of the reach of hungry bears and curious critters. 

For me, I have to hang a rope right away, so I know my food will be out of range of hungry bears.  That way I can sleep more soundly, especially when I’m all alone in the middle of the woods.  Plus, I suck at throwing, so I figure I should get the dreaded (but critical!) chore out of the way first.

I finally found a good snag halfway around Little Lake (high elevation areas = subalpine firs = tiny branches that don’t hold the weight of my hefty food bag).  Whew.  Food safe for the night.  I settled in my sleeping bag to read, and fell asleep as a lightening storm gave way to gentle rain in my cozy tent.

The next morning, after retrieving the food from it’s bear-proof spot, I decided to hike to the next lake, Glacier Lake.  The first day alone in the mountains I’m usually jumpy, clapping and singing to scare away lions, tigers, and bears (and moose).

But then I settle into the rhythm of silence. By day two and day three, I almost forget I’m not a part of the forest, and rarely make noise.  Maybe this is just because I feel slightly invincible by not getting killed on the way in.

On the second night, my comfort level was tested by 5 mountain goats that interrupted

the silence of sunset as the scrambled over a sheer cliff about 100 yards from my tent.  Awesome creatures.

On the hike out, I catalog what I forgot in my rush to leave my home for the headwaters of my backyard creek: a compass, a utensil (good thing twigs make good chopsticks), a bandana.  And what I was most glad to have with me: a fly rod, my bear hang rope, and a good book.

The reason I love backpacking–and sailing, for that matter–is that you must live in exactly that moment.  You’re only mission is to survive, to plan the next meal and find the next shelter.  There’s a beauty in that, a simplicity and a purpose that leaves me satisfied…and ready to do it all over again.



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