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!


Sylvia K said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip! I found myself longing to be back in Montana!! Terrific photos!!

Secret Agent Woman said...

Very beautiful But. I can't believe you finally get some summer and then go looking for colder weather again! I LOVE it when it's 90!

Should Fish More said...

Those Cutts look red-fleshed, wonder what's their diet? The only lakes I've seen that have scuds and mysis shrimp.
Nice pics, Pat.

Veronica Wald said...

Ha, what a great post!

Peace :-)

Judy said...

Another wonderful hike in the mountains!!! Thank you!!!I love the ore samples!!!

Janie said...

You found a great place to hike, with beautiful views, some interesting geology from the old mine, and pretty wildflowers, too. Not to mention the tasty cutthroat trout.

troutbirder said...

All in all a wonderful exploring hike and camp out. I was particularly interested in the deep color of the shooting stars. Ours are mostly white and light lavender.

ZielonaMila said...

Fantastic expedition, beautiful places, beautiful photographs:) Greetings

BLD in MT said...

We've been hiking and camping a lot, but not backpack trips this year. Maybe still yet though! That mine was sure interesting! Even more so in person, I am sure!

Merri said...

that's IT! I'm moving to Montana! (not for the rainbow gathering but for the outdoors). Or Colorado.
I needed that hike. thanks for sharing!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

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