Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The biggest news of late: family season is over.  All the kids, adorable as they are, have left, and thank goodness.  Our numbers have gone from over 80 to 25-35.  For those of you who are teachers out there, think of it as taking two-thirds of the children out of your classrooms.

To celebrate, all of the employees had a bonfire and cooked ribs and pizza on the rocks around it, along with peanut butter s'mores, under a blanket of Montana stars.  Life does not get better than that.

Now I am looking to the fall and winter-my contract here us up the 31st of October, so I am on the job hunt again.  Right now there are two general areas on my radar: ski resorts in the West, and Costa Rica.

I could work at Big Sky, a ski area about 20 miles from my current location in Montana.  People here are bound to have connections, and there are a number of resorts.  Flying through cold smoke (what they call dry powder out here) and blazing x-country ski trails would certainly be sweet.  If I felt adventurous and a little crazy it is also possible to fly fish year-round out here, too.

Costa Rica is a dream of mine-to experience the laid back life, explore tropical forests, and learn to surf.  It is definitely possible, as people who speak English are valued down there, and it is a relatively rich, developed, and safe nation for Central America.  Looking online, there are numerous opportunities, ranging from work/trade arrangements to selling Segways and working at yoga retreats-all of which could be fun.  Compared to working in the US, it would be a little more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, but I suppose having something a little more unstructured could be good, and would challenge me.

As of now I am going to apply to jobs all over the place and see what happens.  Something will come up-that I am sure of, just as a trout will eventually rise to a fly after enough casts and the right one is presented.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ramshorn & the Beartooth Highway

Montana is full of places to explore, and this week I was lucky enough to see two amazing places in the same day-Ramshorn Peak and the Beartooth Highway.  In the morning I climbed Ramshorn peak (10,289 feet) with a friend.  The climb was relatively easy, and beautiful as usual.  The Indian paintbrushes along the path were a great bonus, along with the meadows of sunflowers.
We even saw some mountain goats at the top-about 20 yards away.  As soon as they saw us they scattered and absolutely tore down the mountain.
The view from the top was pretty excellent, as always.  How could you ever get tired of this?
We ran part of the way down, flying past meadows of sunflowers and zig-zaggin through winding forest paths, running as fast as our legs could go.  Step.  Step.  Leap over a rock.  Step.  Bounce off the side of the trail in order to take a turn at an angle.  Brake down a steep part.  Accelerate at the bottom.  Whoosh!

We call it technical trail running-if you have to be surefooted or else you will not make it.  One wrong foot placement in a rocky section can land you a twisted or broken ankle.  A slip on the mud can mean biting it hard.  Putting your weight on a loose rock could mean both.

I never want to run on flat sidewalks again.

The Beartooth Highway

In the 1930s someone decided it would be a good idea to build a highway through Beartooth pass in the middle of the Beartooth Mountains.  Then they said "wait, that's not challenging enough, let's build it over the mountains."  Well at least that is how I imagine it must have gone.  Perhaps they had leftover stimulus money they just needed to spend since it was built in the Great Depression.

Anyway, the highway goes over the mountains, zig-zagging up the side with countless switchbacks, and eventually reaches a top height of 10,947 feet.  At the top, the mountains actually turn into a grassy plateau of sorts.  I imagine it is the plane on which the Greek gods battle, seeing as it is the top of the world.
Just look at it.
If there is one thing I learned from our 322 mile road trip to the Beartooths, it is that I need to go back and do some hiking and exploring.

We ended our day by driving back through Yellowstone, encountering the classic buffalo jam, as an entire herd decided to cross a bridge in front of us.  Gotta love'em.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Only In Montana

Last week I found myself driving up the road to the ranch with three friends in the car and a headless rattlesnake hanging out the window.

In another story, on our way to this week's peak, Ramshorn, we literally had to drive through a herd of cattle on the road.  The cows were all kinds of confused as we slowly puttered along and they could not decide whether to go left, right, or just stand there and stare at us.  Cow-jam.

Back to the rattlesnake.  Last week on one of the rides our head wrangler caught sight of a rattlesnake-a creature that is nothing but dangerous to horses and people on the ranch alike.  While most people would just give it a wide berth and let it be unless they had, say, a gun, he decided it would be more prudent to take it on with nothing more than rope and a knife. (my friend was hiking behind the ride and saw this all firsthand).  

First, he injured it with his rope, leaving a gash in the side of it as he whipped it.  Undeterred, the rattlesnake struck at him and stayed coiled up by the side of the road.  This called for a different tack-he threw a rock on top of its head, put his foot on there to pin it, and proceeded to cut its head off, along with the rattle to show the kids.  Oh and to help you picture this guy, he rocks a handlebar mustache-as if he needed to be more badass.  The body continued to writhe the whole time they remained in the area, and the head-without-a-body hissed and opened its mouth repeatedly as if to bite something.

So the next day my friend decided he wanted to make something out of the snake's skin.  On our way back from Electric Peak we stopped and picked up the headless body and he rolled down his window and hung onto it through that since it was still dripping blood.  He has hopes to make a wallet from it and  maybe an inlay for a belt buckle.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Electric Peak

Killer week.

Tuesday some of the Texans on staff smoked a couple of briskets and then there was an employee poker tournament (Texas hold 'em of course).  Boo-yah and thank you-what a great night.

Wednesday I participated in the one of the great pastimes of the Paradise Valley: floating the Yellowstone River.  We rented a raft on a perfect day-86º and sunny with a slight breeze-and floated down the river for the afternoon, drifting between snow-capped mountains and under clear blue skies.  The water was the perfect temperature to be refreshing, but not warm enough that you could stay in forever, as we alternated laying out and sipping beers and diving in the water to cool off.  The perfect remedy after a long week of work.

Thursday I got up at sunrise to head into Yellowstone.  Going into the park always means something fun is in store, which gets me excited.  This week seven of us-five staff and two guests-were on our way to climb Electric Peak, a moderate summit located at the northern border of the park.  It is a hike and climb combination, totaling 20 miles round trip with an elevation gain of over 3,600 feet to reach the 10,969 foot summit.
View from the trailhead.  There she blows!
One great thing about climbing peaks is that nature is behind at higher altitudes.  It was a flashback to see lupine, Indian paintbrushes, sticky geraniums, arnica, and all of the other flowers again.  Around Mountain Sky all of the wildflowers are pretty much done for the year, so it was a real treat for our eight-or-so mile hike to the base of the peak.  We were even lucky enough to see some sandhill cranes.

Then we got down to business and scaling Electric.
The final ascent.  Actual climbing was involved and a couple of places were pretty hairy-one misstep could have landed me in a world of hurt.  Luckily our whole party was as nimble as the bighorn sheep that inhabit the mountains, and we made it up safely.
The most rewarding part about climbing peaks is that you never fully appreciate the view until the top.  Sure you stop and take a breath or two here and there on the way up, and perhaps glance at the view for a minute, but you do not stop to take it all in.  As you get closer to the top, and the climb gets steeper with every step, each peek is better than the last, but they are only sneak previews of sorts.  You are winded and out of breath, and lactic acid is built up in your legs.  There is no time to process the beauty until you plant your feet on the peak and take a deep breath as you look around to take in 360º of mountains, valleys, forests, clouds, rivers, and skies, all laid out before you.  You feel as though you have conquered them by climbing the peak and they now belong to you.  You deserve this view.

The reward was well worth the four-and-a-half hours of hiking, climbing, and doing battle with mosquitoes.  You can see Gardiner at the very right side of the picture, nestled in the valley.  On the left side of the picture you can see the precarious ridge we traversed to reach the summit.
All in all it was a very satisfying weekend, and today I was not even sore.  Floating rivers and climbing peaks-life does not get much better than that!