22 September 2013

Rocky Mountain Time: Summer 2013

It's been a busy summer here in my corner of Montana. I took a little vacation from blogging, but it wasn't because I had no material! Backpacking, family activities, camping with friends, trout fishing, and -- for the past few weeks -- bow hunting for elk have all made for a memorable summer. Rather than get into a long post or a number of smaller ones, I'll do a quick review.

A car camping/hiking trip to Glacier National Park was the highlight of summer. Daughter Emily was home with her friend Morgan (her first time camping in the West), and so a trip to the "Crown of the Continent" was a must. Glacier is just a few hours away and I wonder why we don't visit more often?

Sites include, Mountain Goats galore (along with other hikers galore taking photos of Mtn Goats...):

Some Bighorn Sheep here and there:

Mrs Rover and I on the trail to Virginia Falls:
Emily and Morgan paddle-boarding on MacDonald Lake, and trying out a tree domicile:


Friends Brent and Karina Patch visited in July (for the Montana Folk Festival), and we made time for a float on the Big Hole River:

Here are the kids, Adler and Kenia, taking on some "whitewater:"

Water levels held up well until early August. After that, heavy water use for irrigation by ranchers and endless hot sunny days (we barely saw a cloud, let alone rain, in July and August!) seriously dewatered the Big Hole River. The fishing was excellent while it lasted, though:

After last year's dearth of backpacking, I made up for it this year. Some solo trips, but also an outstanding group trip to West Goat Peak, the highest mountain in the Pintler Wilderness. I had forgotten how much fun it could be to backpack with a large group of experienced outdoors folks, not to mention treats such as black rum--Koolaid-snow cocktails:

Plenty of music too, this summer, including a marvelous range of international talent at the Montana Folk Festival, ranging from a Portuguese Fada singer:

To Alaskan First People (Raven dance!):

And Vietnamese performers on traditional bamboo instruments:

We also enjoyed an evening of labor songs with the Almanac Trail Singers (and some local friends including Amanda Curtis):

At the Oktoberfest, there were local favorites such as Garret Smith (on tuba) and friends:

And the Red Mountain Band:

And yes, now it's bow hunting season for elk. Looking for this guy:

But I'm not choosy and would be happy to fill the freezer with a nice year-and-a-half old cow:

 Over the past week, the weather has cooled and rain has come. This brought much needed relief to our rivers and burning forests, though it means we don't have any more of these outstanding sunsets (and sunrises) caused by the smoky air:

EcoRover out! 

11 July 2013

First Backpack Trip of the Year: Honesty in Nature

Historically, you could not get into the high country before July, and even then you expected to posthole your way through knee-deep drifts. The low snowpack and warm weather this year (thanks to global warming) sent me packing for the mountains, escaping the 90+ degree heat.

Well, it wasn't just the heat: one of the reasons I love the natural world is the sheer honesty of it: you either hook the trout that rises to your fly or you don't; you either succeed in starting the fire or you don't. There's more: bird song, noisy tumbling water, blooming wildflowers--you can observe and sometimes even participate in this, but it doesn't much matter if you are there or not (though of course you can "participate" in ways that are destructive). Even the dangers are simple and honest: the grizzly bear doesn't plan to attack you professionally because it doesn't like you, she simply wants to smack you around for threatening her cubs or perhaps kill and eat you as a lesson for the cubs in how to kill easy prey. Treacherous people or killer grizzlies? I'll take the bear any day!

I love the Alpine cirque I chose for my first trip this year. Speaking of bears, we hiked fast but could not help but pause to admire this year's luxuriant bloom of Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax): 

We drop into the basin from across a timbered, gently rounded ridge. Then you are greeted by the craggy peaks of the Continental Divide:

For me it's deeply thoughtful moment and a photo opp, but MollyTheDog knows the TRUE meaning of an old snowdrift on a hot summer day:

We got a late start on the day, arriving at our campsite (I could find the place blind-folded, I think) with just enough time to pitch the tent, build a small cooking fire, and enjoy twilight on a peaceful lake (serenaded by the humming of mosquitoes around our ears):

The morning dawned clear and bright. Upon my return to Butte, I learned the temperatures in my little city hit 95 degrees. In the mountains at 9,000 feet I doubt if it was warmer than 75. At any rate, I had a goal: years ago, on a peak bagging trip, I had passed an old mine (complete with cabin) and wanted to find it again. It was not hard to spot in this open, Alpine larch park at the base of the scree. See the pile of mine tailings in the center of this photo?:

Let's try a closer look:

The mine is at a contact zone between granite and some kind of metamorphic or volcanic rock. This results in mineralization through heat and water/steam:

No large quartz crystals that I found, but zoom in tight and they're awesome nonetheless:

Let's venture into a shallow mine face to see what they were after (Oh look! The miner's pick!):

Hmmm... this green color must mean copper and other metals:

Out in the light of day, the ore is very beautiful:

We made a few passes through the timber looking for the cabin, but I tired of navigating snowdrifts. It's early spring at 9,000 feet. On the several miles back to camp, I paused to admire the Pretty Shooting Stars (aka "Roosterheads"):

And a mixed bloom of White Marsh-marigolds (Caltha leptosepala, with the smoother leaves), somewhat larger Globeflowers (Trollius laxus, with the cleft, divided leaves), and tiny Spring Beauties (Claytonia lanceolata): 

Near camp, you can see stacked cordwood and fallen trees from a century ago, when contractors for the Anaconda Copper Company were ordered by President Teddy Roosevlet to cease and desist in stealing timber from public lands: 

In addition to copper ore, timber, and wildflowers, there is other treasure in the several lakes of this Alpine basin: 

They are eating caddisflies that crawl from their stony cases, float to surface on a bubble of air, and -- pausing just long enough to be snapped up in the jaws of a trout -- emerge as a flying creature: 

The fish? Lovely, jeweled cutthroat trout. They are relatively easy to catch: 

But I killed just two for my simple camp supper (eaten with a pot of rice): 

As I ate supper, I watched storm clouds building over the valley (viewed from my campsite to the notch in the trees that marks the lake outlet): 

Soon, a magnificent thunder storm came swooping over the Great Divide a few miles to the west, sending me to my tent. The next day, after a leisurely morning hike and a bit of fishing, I packed and hiked out, arriving in Butte to join a gang of family and friends to watch the big annual "July 4th Eve" (03 July) fireworks display: 

The next day, we all set off to visit the Rainbow Gathering, a national week-long gathering on public land. Welcome Home: the Rainbow Tribe celebrates peace, love, and oneness with nature. Yeah, retro-hippies in a sense, as you might think from this tie-dye shade shelter and tiny rock village

There were about 10,000 folks at the gathering. We Love You: at least half of them gathered in Skinner Meadow (a huge upland park a half-mile or more wide and a mile or more long) to hold hands and gently "ohm" their way to a crescendo marked by drumming, dancing, and more than a little nakedness (here's the ohm circle of peace)

Peace Out!