Chapter 2: Cumuloprecipitus

Law 1 of a 5-day camp: don’t leave HQ without a full bottle of whiskey.

Highest priority on this summer’s bucket list, a bear sighting, was accomplished before the soles hit the dirt. As Ben and I were riding out to the East Fork parking lot two black bears necessitated a brake slamming and feverish jostle to grab cameras. There was a reason Yogi and Boo-Boo were hanging around at just under 6000 feet, we’d find out why in the days to come.

At 46 degrees North, the sun lingers in the skies considerably longer throughout the summer, allowing us to leave Philipsburg at 6, reach the trailhead by 7, and have camp set up by 8:30. Night 1 was Carpp Lake; the same campsite I had been a few nights prior.

The goal for day 2 was to hike into Johnson Lake and meet up with Laura and Pelej. The rest of the week would be a slow backtrack to the parking lot from there. Climb the ridge, descend the ridge, clomp through the basin, curse the loitering snow mounds, regain elevation, stumble over scree fields, wish you had hiking boots, damn your running shoes, clear your nose, break the levee of your sinuses, try and stem the flood with every paper product in your possession, arrive at the lake. Just a 7 mile walk in the park.

Some dark cumulonimbus forced a scramble to get the tarp up and dry wood assembled for rapid oxidation. Big, fat orbs of dihydrogen oxide began to smack the ground and saturate terra firma. The sky had a leaky faucet and we were the ants that could only run about between showers. Our two compadres had forgotten their tent, forcing them to bivouac under the tarp that night.

pit…pat…
pit…pat…
pitpat…pit
patpit pat pat pit pat PAT pit pat PAT PIT pat PIT PAT PATPATPATPITPITPATPIATPITPAIPTIPTIPATIPAIT
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH
Eyes opened to a pitch black stage with an intermittent, broken strobe light and horrible feedback booms reverberating in the surrounding yet invisible mountain half-stack amplifiers. The flashes lacerated unsuspecting pupils as the Anvil Clouds hammered at their instruments high in the troposphere. But the roving bards were soon gone, moving to the next ridges to tell their cacophonous stories. Mr. Hendrix would have been proud.

The morning was spent drying out from the previous night’s rumble and we split from Laura and Pelej to head to Edith lake. Dry hike, wet camp. We were greeted by the Anvil’s more taciturn cousins, The Sprinkles, they didn’t give us a show as maniacal as the night before but were pesky enough making fire creation much more tedious. This lake held much more opportunity from the pescatarian perspective and there was a group of Oncorhynchus mykiss enjoying a relatively protected inlet closed to the lake by an assortment of logs. Attempts with the spinner only yielded a crop of lake salad, the fly rod landed a decently gilled specimen. It received the coal treatment with a round of just-add-water mashed spuds.

Spigot on, spigot off, spigot on, spigot off. The shelter of nylon and polyester remained impermeable to the meteorological whims.

Now the hike into Tamarack lake. A previous pass provided looks at prodigious snowpack; a repeat that running shoes would not enjoy. Let the posthole commence. 1 good step, 2 good step, sink. 1 good step, sink. Sink. SINK. SINK. Tolerance threshold at the brink. The slog continues… but what’s this? A miracle! The campsite is frost free and blue skies! Quick, assemble the shelters! Raise the tarp! Start the fire before the next barrage of hail!

Another lean-to afternoon breathing enough campfire smoke equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. Aquatic life is even better here, compadre Ben wrangles two fine trucha for the fire. Fingertips are so burnt that I might consider a career change given the lack of fingerprints.

Final day, rocket out of there. Steady drenching rain. Don’t care. We’ve got car fever.

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Chapter 1: The Scouting

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I’m not against roughing-it, but I’m not going to make myself completely miserable if there’s no need.

Ben, a friend who I’ve gone many an excursion with in the Anaconda-Pintler wilderness, arrived back in town last Sunday and by the next morning we had formed a plan to hike Senate. We took into account the large mass of neon colors seen on the weather.gov site and decided this would be the best choice as the cabin would provide us more enjoyable accommodation relative to the one-ply polyester and fiberglass used by nomads of today.

Using the cabin as our HQ, we started off for Ivanhoe lake. The beginning of the hike had us traversing a north-facing slope with snow covering more ground than there was bare, losing the trail for a good bit before re-gaining our bearings. The lake was a stark contrast to the conditions of a year before. The water level was at least 20 feel higher and half of if still had a sheet of ice. A few casts with a spinner yielded nothing but popsicles. We trudged through the slush back to the cabin, stoked the fire, and began drying our shoes for the next day’s hike.

Tuesday morning met us with a fresh 5 inches of snow. What else to expect from a Montana summer above 7500 feet? Most of the morning was spend lazily completing crossword puzzles from a September 2004 Montana Post newspaper before summoning enough stupidity to climb Senate mountain in running shoes. By the time we had completed a third of the hike my feet had become completely soaked. Tackling the remaining 200 vertical feet off trail was merely a game of trial and error to see if your next step would place you on 6 inches of nice hard packed ice crust or plunge your leg through 3 feet of slush. A nice warm cabin at the end of the march was a very nice thought to keep in mind.

A Wednesday birthday necessitated our return to Philipsburg, but I was back out the following day to Kaiser lake. On Friday I wanted to scout-out a trail of which I had previously only known a very small portion. I stashed my heavy equipment in my tarp and only packed my day-sack with a few key items for an ultralight hike/run. About 4 miles in I was convinced this path was just a point A to point B, boring, vista-less route and turned around to run the same 4 hum-drum miles back.

For the solstice I did a quick one-night camp on Carpp lake. The cerulean skies and glass water provided some spectacular photo opportunities of Warren peak. A thunderstorm came through on the hike down and there were moments when I could only count a few seconds between the lightning and clap of thunder.

This week’s weather should prove to be a bit more hospitable and allow for some longer multi-night excursions.

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Forest Chronicles: Chapter 0

The first few weeks of being back in Montana were not necessarily according  to plan, but allowed for me to get my head back in the game.

I had been expecting to spend a few days in Pburg and then head out on a short camp to some familiar lakes. A buddy of mine was heading out of town to visit family. He had a dog, it needed to be watched, thus I became useful.

Days were mostly spent walking local trails, running to build cardio, and drinking to rebuild Montana-grade tolerance. Of course, to build that tolerance I must go to the bar, and once there I met this year’s summer interns. A fine crop of motivated kids indeed. It is a heavy and slightly astringent reality that these would have been the same group under my watch had shit not hit the fan like it had. To show young fries the spectacular wilderness of the Last Great Place was the most enjoyable part of my duties as a lodge manager.

5 years ago when I came out to Montana I was left awestruck. I was one of these kids I see now, kicking brass and ready to get out in there. The innocent stupidity of running around a place such as Glacier National park in jesus sneakers and hydrating with a flask of Jack was never forgotten. In many ways I still am just as stupid. Hell, I still hydrate with whiskey, but my respect for this place is something that has continually grown.

Chances are great that I’ll still be showing the 2014 crew some of my secret spots. It’s nice to know that even though I’ve been blackballed from my former residence, they can’t kick me out of it’s better half.

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It was a one armed man

“And I says ‘This here winter is going to be rough, by the end of it we’re going to see some people heading out of here’. Sure enough, I was right.”

It feels like the end of a feel-good 80’s movie:

Screen fades to black and synth music comes on] Karlie ended up in at a hula bar in Hawai’i [flash picture of cocktail wielding woman whirling flaming poi balls, fade to black] … Jaime finally finished his book on non-state actors in the international realm [man triumphantly holding up tome of a thesis heavy enough to break the back of a small animal/ multiple children, fade to black] … Clarice decided to patent her mixology for instant UTI relief to wild fanfare in the feminist community [flash to another cocktail wielding woman surrounded by other women sporting crew-cuts in a Portland bookstore, fade to black] … and as for me… well I’ve just been biding my time with the wilderness.

Too much has taken place since January, the most notable of which was being laid off and evicted within 5 days of each other.

The winter really kicked it into high gear once February started. The snowstorms became commonplace and turned the landscape into a skiier/snowboarder heaven. Unfortunately, I had surgery for deQuervain’s release on my hand and wasn’t allowed to do much physical activity.

The boss came late February after we had been pounded for weeks by snowstorms and Moose Lake Road had turned into one large snow drift. By the end of the week everyone was planning to enjoy a night of Mardi Gras festivities hosted by our Louisiana native and was itching to get off work. To make a long story much shorter and drama-less a car got stuck in a drift, the boss ordered us back, and we were essentially forced to spend the night on the ranch.

We faced temperatures of 10 below the following day, and driven by the desire for some fresh gumbo, the Michigander and myself decided that if the cars couldn’t make it, then it was time to hoof it. Act up or shut up. With the help of Stu and his snowmobile, the three of us hopscotched down the 11.6 miles of road. Two of us would ride on the machine while the third walked, then one person would come back for the straggler to advance a bit more down the stretch of iced and snow-drifted roadway. The worst was felt when riding the sled; 30 mph winds would whip exposed skin and it felt as if velcro straps were being plied from your face.

Two and a half hours later we were greeted by a rancher who helped us pull the downed truck out of a ditch and soon after we could see the plow burling through snowdrifts in our direction. We triumphantly strolled down the icy-road as Ms. Louisiana turned the corner, horn blaring and blue heeler turning cyclones in the back seat. Kurt Russell may have escaped from New York, but he had nothing on fortress Moose Lake Road.

A few weeks passed until another bomb was dropped upon us. The layoff of 4 senior staff and subsequent actions that removed most others. I refuse to embellish upon these events as they do not deserve any more fanfare… but I will give this:

Richard Kimball,
If you are reading this, for the sake of the organization that you founded and for the thousands of members who contribute monetarily, the interns who burn their retinas for 400 hours every summer, and the staff who pick up their lives to keep the gears oiled, step aside. Project Vote Smart will die with you. Please read the symptoms found in this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder’s_syndrome and hurriedly prescribe yourself some self-medication.

I have since been living between the couches of Philipsburg, home of Aunt Kris and Uncle Ray in Billings, drove back to Hermosa Beach, and returned to Philipsburg. There was hope of gaining employment at Montana State University in Bozeman but unfortunately that proposition dried up.

There’s probably a question on many of your minds right now to which I can provide an answer: No, I am not about to hit the road again with an outstretched thumb, as tempting as the proposition might be.

I will, however, be living in the wilderness of Montana. It might be difficult for some to comprehend, but for those who have ever truly loved a place, it is those who will understand my action. And I don’t mean “I visited Fondon and I loved it!” or “Mellowstone National Park was spectacular!”, not in the slightest. The love I’m speaking of includes the roughed edges, grit, and pain along with the rainbows and cerulean sky. You need to give back to that place as much as you take from it.

Hopefully I’ll be better about updating with the forest chronicles.

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From Fire to Ice

Wow, it’s been a while.

Well I’m happy to say that the flames (and drama) you saw from my last post were doused in a downpour that brought and inch of rain in a couple of hours. At the moment, that same ridge line is looking a lot more like it should given the current time of year. If only there could be a little more crystalized water on the ranch property itself could I be properly satisfied (rain in late December? c’mon).

Let’s recap, in the past half-year I’ve done a few other things:

A week after the rains came and gave the firefighters a huge help in controlling the fire, I was out hiking in the burnt out area. It was only after I came back that I leaned there was a $5000 fine for doing so.

National Forest Service finds and excuse to clear-cut.

National Forest Service finds an excuse to clear-cut.

Huge water basin used to feed the hoses a mile uphill.

Huge water basin used to feed the hoses a mile uphill.

Survey of the crispiness.

Survey of the crispiness.

Comin' to get ya.

Comin’ to get ya.

At least it wasn't too crowded at the campsite.

At least it wasn’t too crowded at the campsite.

And somehow still standing.

And somehow still standing.

The next couple of months were then spent preparing for winter. As with most things, I saw the challenge to help split this entire wood pile before  Old Man came for his visit. Alas, this ended up with my developing de Quervain’s Tenosinovitis, essentially an inflamed tendon that connects to my thumb that I will eventually get surgery for.

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Then there was a hike to Johnson lake.

From atop Pintler pass.

From atop Pintler pass.

The lake itself.

The lake itself.

Followed by a climb to the highest peak in the Anaconda-Pintler wilderness. West Goat peak is not super impressive at 10,793 feet, but the fact that it’s summitted by probably no more than 20 people a year makes it feel that much closer to true wilderness.

Navigating our way.

Navigating our way.

Dinner

Dinner

Descending to the Lost Lakes.

Descending to the Lost Lakes.

If only I were a better photographer.

If only I were a better photographer.

We'll save that for later.

We’ll save that for later.

Grouse stew. Colon included.

Grouse stew. Colon included.

Not a bad alarm clock.

Not a bad alarm clock.

Double the sun.

Double the sun.

After spending the night at one of the most picturesque places I’ve slept in a good while, the all day hiking expedition that followed did a wonderful number on my vertebrae as we clambered over some terrain that could have ended, how shall I put it… badly.

Panorama from West Goat peak. The tallest of the Pintlers.

Panorama from West Goat peak. The tallest of the Pintlers.

The wrong way down, via cliff.

The wrong way down, via cliff.

Ben happy to be alive. I took the route to the right.

Ben happy to be alive. I took the route to the right.

Hour 10 of 12.

Hour 10 of 12.

This didn’t stop a late summer excursion up Warren peak (second tallest in the Pintlers) in which we proceeded to get lost and had to bushwack down… again.

Last snow-less picture of the year.

Last snow-less picture of the year.

I've never descended Warren without going off-trail.

I’ve never descended Warren without going off-trail.

Then fall came with some rains and it was time for brew season.

Vanilla whiskey porter in the works.

Vanilla whiskey porter in the works.

A typical autumnal bonfire.

Much more controlled than the one in August.

Much more controlled than the one in August.

Our first snow of the season came late September. It would continue teasing me with it’s petty snow/rain until just about now.

Biggest snow of the season so far, September 26.

Biggest snow of the season so far, September 26.

The dogs seemed to enjoy it.

The dogs seemed to enjoy it.

A trip to DC was in order to visit some former colleagues who had moved onto more urban environments, and when temperatures hovered between 0 and -20 for a week early December, I learned that running outside was a very unpleasant experience.

For the moment it’s back to the daily grind and searching out fresh powder while I await the influx of “winterns” to the ranch.

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Keeping up with the times

Hey all!

I promise I’m working on a new post, but in the meantime, I’ve added a widget that links to my Instagram account on the right hand side of this page. Now, those of you who are bored enough can follow a bit of what I do in the daily Montana grind!

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Fire update

Just a few of yesterday’s blow-outs.

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Fireworks

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State of the Ranch

It’s been a moon or two since my last real update here from Montana. The weather has warmed considerably since April/May and the white has turned from brown to a lush green aided considerably by the late May rains. On top of this, the group of summer interns started coming mid May and has converted the quiet wilderness into a happening place. Granted, they’re on their way out now, and as we just evacuated the place due to a fire, things are quiet again.

A few things I’ve done/ been doing.

In late March I went out to Yellowstone with some old English teaching co-workers from Chile. I usually dislike this National Park as it’s simply a tourist trap in the summer, but going back country camping in the winter left me with a positive opinion of the park.

Bear guard.

Bear guard.

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Morning steaks.

Morning steaks.

Yellowstone the way it was found. Person-less.

Yellowstone the way it was found. Person-less.

Rock climb from time to time.

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Camp a bit.

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Hike a bit.

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Warren Peak. 10,400 or so feet.

Parties in Pburg.

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And at the moment, avoiding getting burned. A forest fire started about 5 miles from us from lightning and grew pretty rapidly. We’re not in harm’s way but the problem is the road we take to get here might be hit. We “evacuated” the interns off the ranch (minus one who decided to stick it out) and they will be staying in Philipsburg. Some might be crashing on the floors of various staff members while others will likely occupy the high school gym. Don’t worry about me, we’re situated in a good spot with a meadow, lake, and a few fire crews. I’ll keep you updated as long as the fire doesn’t burn down the power lines.

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Thursday afternoon.

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Sunday at noon.

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Sunday at 4.

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Another look back

http://sarkspot.blogspot.com/2011/08/get-your-rocks-off.html

To think this was almost 2 years ago…

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