Monday, July 22, 2013

The Beartooths

There is an anthology of works by Montana writers called 'The Last Best Place,' which has in turn led to become an nickname for the state, with its great swaths of wilderness and untamed land.  Places that humans may explore, but do not stay.  Places where bears, moose, and wolves hold title to the land.  Colorado, Michigan, and other landscapes have the potential to rival Montana's beauty, but have been overdeveloped.  Really, there is a cafe at the top of Pike's Peak?  Lame.  That is the territory of mountain goats and pika.  You have to earn that view!

One of these places, and my personal heaven on earth, is the Beartooths, a national forest just northeast of Yellowstone.  And let me tell you, it puts the 'high' in highway, topping out at 10,947 feet.  It is a landscape speckled with high alpine lakes swaddled by old growth forests, all perched atop a plateau of rock  that has been bent, crushed, and sculpted by glaciers.  Sitting right next to Yellowstone, it is the often overlooked little brother, and is mostly viewed from cars and bikes slithering along its tight switchbacks, leaving the woods juicily uncrowded and just waiting for me to sink my boots into them.

This past week I hiked up to the spine of the plateau, starting at the Clark's Fork trailhead, a 19 mile trek roundtrip.  Arriving Wednesday night, I had to abandon the idea of backpacking in part of the way due to thunderstorms, but in return had the chance to watch their dramatic effects from the safety of my car atop the highway.  The sunset was a top ten of all time for me.  Consider that a win.

Double rainbow!  Looks like you have to go swimming for the gold at the ends though.

The next morning broke clear with the sharp scent of sage brush greeting me.

On my ascent  up the trail I passed through new growth forests, burns, mosquito swamps, and ambling streams.  Near the top I hopped from lake to lake to the tip top, stopping to fish here and there along the way.

Aggressive 6-inch brook trout readily struck my mosquito fly, which only seemed fair after the mosquitoes almost ate me on the way up.  Is there a prettier fish?

Fossil Lake, perched just shy of 10,000 feet, yielded some Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, and then it was an easy descent along the same route, with some fishing along the way as well.

I took the long way home, going via Red Lodge and a four hour drive back to the ranch through rolling green hills with the Yellowstone River as a companion and the ever present mountains on the horizon.  The sunset over the was another winner, with a perfect orange silhouette of the Bridger Mountains that faded into yellow and then blue in the sky as the rolling hills turned to gold.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The West Boulder

Mountains, rivers, valleys.

Awe, adventures, vistas.

That, in a nutshell, is Montana.  Maybe corn kernel would be more appropriate since those were not even proper sentences and it was just the tiniest description of this landscape.  But then again Montana is not very proper either, so it fits.  Buttes jut out of the ground where you least expect them and mountain ranges stretch out all over the place like sleeping giants, making you travel around them so as not to disturb their slumber.  The glaciers packed up and fled so quickly they left boulders in the middle of fields, greatly inconveniencing farmers.  Bison and cows jam up the roadways and Mother Nature will piss rain on you any time she darn well pleases and then apologize five minutes later with some sunshine.  Maybe she's just a little bipolar.

I digress.

Every weekend I dive into a different part of the patchwork quilt of forests, stream beds, and peaks.  Thursday I took a gulp of air and then dove into the West Boulder, a drainage and so named stream just east of Livingston.  More accurately, I jumped in feet first, wet wading in just my bathing suit, looking to catch Mr. Trout.  It turns out Mr. Brown Trout and Mr. Whitefish were both home, as was their neighbor and sometimes friend, sometimes enemy (frenemy), Mr. Bear.  We all got along swimmingly.

While rigging up my pole (I had to hike in a mile or so, you see, and so had everything packed up) I noticed a log was moving on the other side of the stream.  Turns out that log was a small black bear, whose color would more accurately be likened to a golden brown loaf with a head that was baked a little darker than the rest.  Mr. Bear moseyed on down to the creek straight across from me, sniffed around, explored the brush a little doing his bear thing, and then rolled around in the water to cool off before moseying around some more and then heading up stream.

Where's Waldo?

Most of the time when a bear and a person meet up in the woods it ends up being like two little kids kissing...there is the 'encounter' and then one of them ends up running away and both want to pretend it never happened.  Well this time I think the bear just never noticed me between the roar of the rapids and his poor eyesight, so I was lucky enough to have a front row seat to his show.  Made my day.