The Ninemile Vortex

Posted on Posted in Outdoor Adventures, The M.U.P. Files

We got this awesome email from Paul Parsons here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Paul replaced Rob at Trout Unlimited, and sent this great update on Rob’s old stomping grounds fixing streams in the Ninemile Valley just west of Missoula in Montana.  We appreciate hearing the news, and were glad to here no wolves died during the vortex experience.

The upper Ninemile vortex caught up with me and deflated my pickle truck tire. And the spare. At the end of the day, sitting at mile marker 18 with two flats and a bed full of beautiful Ninemile landscape rock I started the walk out headed for the Pontrelli mansion.

I had spent the afternoon with Amy Sacry and a mini excavator digging around in the floodplain and piles looking for clues. Fortunately they found several indicators showing what they believe to be the remnant floodplain elevation. Most of the piles consist of sandy loams and cobbles. Great news for reconstructing the floodplain. John Muhlfield was also cruising around and had some great ideas for Sawpit. Part of me wishes we were going to construction this year.

So with John, Amy and the mini-ex headed down the road in front of me I thought I would stop and gather some rock I had spotted earlier in the day. I not so quickly filled my truck bed with colorful, moss covered rocks. Satisfied with my haul I discovered my front tire had a nice sharp rock poking through the tread. Unloaded the deflated spare and quickly thought, “what a great night for a walk down the Ninemile”. Turned my back on the sorry looking pickle truck and put boots to dirt.

After crossing Pine Creek around mile marker 13, I heard a truck coming down the road. I looked up the road into the sun and stuck out my thumb; dude jammed on the brakes and dusted me out. He pushed the passenger door open and smiled a toothy grin, minus some teeth. It took me awhile to take it all in. In the passenger seat rested a nicely honed homemade hatchet, a pistol and taking up most of the cab was beautiful black powder rifle. After making eye contact with the guy I looked down to see he was wearing only a loin cloth and buckskin moccasins. The loin cloth was loose fitting at best.

The guy asked me “where ya headed or are ya just out for a hike?” while he was sliding the pistol, hatchet and Last of the Mohicans DVD towards himself to make room. I told him I was almost to my destination but took him up on his offer to give me a ride. As we drove he told me of the day’s bear hunt and how he likes the experience of buckskin and black powder. All I could think of was trying to navigate over and through the thick Ninemile blowdown with only a loin cloth protecting my dangledown.

Midway through a sentence describing his sneak on a black bear through thick blowdown, I interrupted with “that’s a wolf” he interrupted my quick interruption with “that sum-a-bitch” and reached for his pistol. Maybe he was reaching for his hatchet or Last of the Mohicans DVD. I’m not quite sure as it all happened so quickly. The wolf came within 10 yards of the truck. He wasn’t a particularly handsome wolf, grey with black ears and running with his tail between his legs. I had never seen wolf behavior like that before and I almost felt sorry for it. Run more stoically and faster I thought, this guy is gonna throw a hatchet at you.

With wolf season over two months ago, the guy realized that I was in the truck with him. Might have been a dead wolf otherwise. We were both jacked with energy but maybe for different reasons and continued bouncing down the dusty road. He approached Pontrelli’s driveway and let me out. I thanked him and told him good luck with the rest of bear season. As he drove off, I stood on the side of the Ninemile road for a brief moment. Not quite stunned but in a fog thinking did that shit really just happen?

I was hoping for a continuation of surrealness to end the evening. Not much luck there. Dave wasn’t home and his compound was locked tight. With no phone and the sun looking lower than I’d hoped for I was sitting on the porch wondering if Pontrelli was the type of guy to hide a key. I heard a truck coming down the valley from far away. Thinking traffic is light and this might be my last chance to catch a ride out, I grabbed my backpack and sprinted down the driveway towards the road only to see a mega diesel truck with a gooseneck trailer roar by. Shit. Missed it. And I was getting hungry.

I started the walk again and soon a guy in an old Audi turbo was flying down the road. He was watching the turkeys in the timber on the hill and blew right past my outstretched thumb. He must have seen me at the last second because he stopped and backed up nearly as fast as he had blown by me. He also asked where I need to go or if I was just out for a hike. I told him I was just at Dave’s house to try to use a phone. He knew Dave and offered to drive me all the way to Missoula. Then he realized the guy with the mega diesel, aka his buddy, was headed to the Bitterroot. So the turbo came into play and we caught the guy with the gooseneck. I hopped in with him and shortly found myself standing on the side of Reserve Street.

Looking towards the M and knowing my little home was near the base of Mt. Sentinel I put boots to pavement. Missoula seemed smaller than ever and I was semi-excited to see how long it would take me to walk from Reserve to Tremont Street. Three generous rides and one wolf was all it took to get home.


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