04 January 2008

The Moulton Journal: Being Close to Nature on Montana's Finest Cross Country Ski Trails

My daughter, Emily Munday, looks forward to a ski outing or two when she is home from college in the winter. I can see why. In part, it is the physical experience of aerobic exercise in fresh, cold air. There is also a chance to commune with nature through quiet, muscle-powered locomotion--observing various tracks, laughing with the chattering pine squirrels, flushing the occasional grouse, watching the big cow moose that lives in the meadow below the parking lot, and knowing the niches where lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and Douglas-fir make their home. The Moulton ski trails greatly enhance this experience. They are narrow, winding, and vary constantly in grade. "Attention must be payed."

Here's Emily on Little Nipper:

Like all trails at Moulton, it takes its name from a mine or mining term. Nippers were the guys (often boys or young men) who sharpened tools and brought them to miners in locations throughout the mine. Because of their travels, they were also the "newspaper" of the mine. At The Moulton, Little Nipper is a delightful, intermediate loop for classical or skate skiing.

Here's Emily preparing to descend Widow Maker on the Big Nipper trail:

"Widow maker" had at least two meanings. It was a loose plate of rock on the roof of a drift or stope that might fall and crush a miner; and the term was also used for the pneumatic (compressed air-powered) drills that created clouds of dust that caused "miner's lung" or silicosis (also known as a Buzzy--the name for another Moulton trail). At The Moulton, it's part of the challenging Big Nipper loop--as indicated by the trail signs.

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) seem to prefer the spruce and willow habitat of Big Nipper. All but the ear tips and eyes turn white in winter, they are largely nocturnal, and so they are seldom seen. But their tracks are very distinctive, and the big feet help them travel over snow and elude predators such as coyotes whose feet punch through the snow:

One of the joys of hiking or skiing with Emily is that she notices things that most of us speed past or take for granted. Here, she pointed out the mouse that had been coming & going from its den beneath a rock:

Good luck back at college, Em. And bring back a few new bumper stickers for the Land Rover. The ones you decorated it with in high school are wearing a little thin:

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