My back aches, I have a blister the size of a gumball on my right heel, and I can't feel my legs from the knees down--but I'm exhilirated! Even as I sat for a half hour on the floor of my tiny shower here at the Refuge, letting scalding hot water rain down on my screaming muscles, I was exhilirated... awed... happy.
Today, Kate Kahn and I drove out to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area, north of Butte on Hwy 90. We left Basin at 8:30 a.m., and not many souls were out on the icy streets. It took us two hours to get there, and thirteen miles down rutted and snowy forest service roads, but we made it. We hiked about a half a mile to the trailhead, which was up at Storm Lake. There we ran into two men and their astonishingly small dog, who had only made it halfway around Storm Lake before turning back: they'd smelled what they thought was a carcass, and fearing bears or mountain lions, abandoned ship.
Normally, I like to heed the locals on matters like man-eaters. But we thanked them for the info, set off around the lake to see what was up (me, I'll admit it, with a big fat stone in hand). We kept getting a whiff of something that smelled like rot, but not like rotting animal, so we made a lot of noise and kept going. (Plus, this area is only supposed to be home to black bears, not grizzlies, which makes a heckuva difference.) We hiked up through the forest, over streams and along the trail until we started to climb switch-backs that became quickly snowy and deep. The higher we climbed, the more intense the views became: glacier-carved valleys of cottonwoods, aspens, Douglas firs, and snow, farther and farther below.
It was icy going for a while there, but some intrepid cross-country skier had created a semi-path for us, and someone in very large boots (his tracks eventually headed straight down the mountain... yikes) had left us deep snow-holes to step in. Finally we made it to the top: Storm Lake Pass. We ate lunch on some rocks nearby, with an incredible white-capped mountain view 360 degrees around. The sun was bright and warm, making the day a perfect one for hiking.
We made the decision to head out around the edge of the mountain and up to the Goat Flat, which is an alpine meadow where apparently mountain goats like to hang out. We kept our eyes peeled--especially when we saw lots of goat scat on the trail--but no luck. We'd almost made it around the slicing curve of the mountain to the Flat when we came up against a dangerous slide area of deep snow, and decided not to chance it. However, I noticed that though the mountainside to our right looked like it was covered in scree (lots of loose rocks), there were mushy, vegetative places that looked climb-able. So, with Kate watching from the trail I dropped my pack and made the climb to the top, and she quickly followed.
Thank goodness we did! Goat Flat was incredible, and at the top of the Pintler Mountains, which are part of a ridgeline in Montana that follows the Continental Divide Trail. You truly feel as if you're on the edge of the world. We could even see out onto the snow-capped peaks miles away that mark the boundary with Idaho. The sun was so warm that we could've sat there for hours without worry. What a world! But we knew we needed to head back (it had taken us three hours to get up there) before it started getting dark, which meant the temperature would certainly drop.
The way back down was much tougher: snowy spots in the trail had become icy. But we made it back to the trusty purple P.T. Cruiser (my decidedly sassy rental car). We headed for home, stopping in the town of Anaconda--which boasts a smelter chimney taller than the Washington Monument, and was founded by Marcus Daly (who sounds like a member of the Irish mafia to me)--to buy coffee, which we sorely needed. After the 8 mile hike plus mountainside scramble, we were pooped.
Yet another incredible day in southwestern Montana. I'm quickly falling in love with these rocky peaks, stoic Westerners, and wide-open days. If I didn't love Stuart more, I might stay and turn cowgirl.
(Photos to come....)
Next on the agenda: a possible weekend trip to Glacier, horseback riding, and hopefully a long soak in the nearby Boulder Hot Springs! And, of course, lots of writing....