Thursday, August 7, 2014

Montana's Smoky Mountains

Ok, so the mountains we just hiked through are not actually called the Smoky's. That is still a very Southern phenomenon. But the Anaconda Pintlers were full of smoke the few days we went through them, slightly obscuring what could have been an incredible view.

We got back on trail just after noon on Saturday before my parents drove back to Flagstaff. We hiked through a cross country ski area, which I am sure we will be back to visit for a weekend get-a-way from Missoula, read even more Lewis and Clark/Nez Perce history at Gibbons Pass then hiked into our first few miles of burn area. The next day or so the trail wound through the skeletons of forests with only occasional respites in areas that had escaped the flames. We entered the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness and ate next to the beautiful Surprise Lake, then hiked through even more burn area. To make things worse the smoke from current fires somewhere in the northwest rolled in and cut visibity down to 5 or ten miles. We, mostly me, struggle mightily in such big burn areas and smoke haze sends me into another level of depression. We were still hiking high up on ridgelines, but looking down on tree carcasses is not quite as pleasing to the eye as blue lakes against a green carpet.

We did see and hear a good bit of pika activity in this area, which gave us something else to do. We are still taking gps data of all the pika evidence we come across for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. Their study is tracking the disappearance of pika habitat as scree fields turn into ovens at lower altitudes.

Finally after a day and a little we made it to the pretty part of the Wilderness. By Montana standards this was described to us as a small Wilderness area, which now explains the size of my omelet the other day. There must be a couple hundred miles of trails through the Pintlers that need exploring along with dozens of alpine lakes the would be great for an afternoon of reading. High peaks with intriguing spinal ridges greeted us after every climb (there was a lot of climbing). I had no idea this place existed and it has definitely been one of the greatest "little" mountain ranges of the hike.

Aside from the thieving night critters.

I'm going to blame marmots, but I suppose it could have been any number of sticky-fingered bandits with a taste for sweaty millinery. Marmots have just been our scapegoat since they overran our lunch spot above Copper Mountain last year. Anyway, the last night of this section we ended up hiking late due to a rainstorm and damp camped on an the edge of an incredible ridge overlooking a basin full of avalanche residue and grazing elk. What made for a beautiful camp also made for easy access to our tent for residents of scree fields. We spent much of the night listening to scampering paws and attempting to ward of the forays into the tent vestibule. We thought we were successful, but as we packed up I noticed my hat and sunglasses were missing. After looking around I saw them about 30 feet down the cliff face/embankment. I scrambled down only to recover my glasses and the remnants of my hat. I came up with several angrily creative (I thought) ways to punish marmots for the first few miles that day, but the trail called and we moved on to Anaconda.

By trail calling I mean to say the road called. Our miles into Anaconda finished with 9 on a hard packed dirt roadway and 12 or so on and near MT Highway 1. We made it in all right and are now holed up in a motel on the edge (i.e. there are no buildings east of us) of town for a day off. The town is an interesting place. The occupied houses and businesses are very well main tines with immaculate lawns and gardens, by are separated by multiethnic boarded up buildings. It's hard to tell if the old mining town is dying or coming back, though, since there is reconstruction going on everywhere. Either way it is eerie.

Next stop for us is Elliston, MT our friend Taylor is going to join us for a skip up to Glacier. But for now we have another pound of blueberries to eat.

Happy trails,

Track and Field

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