Sunday, August 14, 2016

The thing about Montana

The thing about Montana is that it is insanely beautiful.  I forget this constantly-- especially when I'm running errands or sitting at my computer at work.  Maybe this much beauty is too much to hold in one's tiny brain- it's bound to make one distracted or daydreamy.

But step out on the trail and Montana comes full force flooding into consciousness.  Fresh.
Bond Lake in the Swan Range of northwestern Montana
A 2,300 foot climb up the Bond Creek Trail to Bond Lake.  No one is around so I jump in.  Cool waters, fish jumping.  There is something about immersion in freezing waters that makes this landscape more comprehensible.  Or maybe it's just the brain slowing down in the cold.
Above Trinkus Lake
Going around blind corners, I hear my voice echoing across the entire valley as I announce my presence to possibly bears.  Deep, resonating, a powerful voice that means business.  I think back to the weak, quavering voice of my first few solo hikes in grizzly country.  This place has changed me.  Now I have a voice that penetrates around corners.
At the junction with the Wire Trail, there is much not-knowing.  Will the next few miles to the lake wear me out in this heat?  Do I have enough water to get me there/ will the lake be dry/ drinkable?  Will there be grizzlies?  Will the clouds bring a storm and if so will I be stuck high on a ridge in the lightening?  I weigh what I know with all the uncertainty of new territory.
Closer to sky.
The name of the next lake is “Crevice Lakes.”  I don’t know what crevice means when it comes to lakes but it sounds like something I’d like.  Time to move forward despite the uncertainty.  Don’t I have everything I could possibly need right here on my back?  Don’t I have the experience to go along with it?  Isn’t an open heart even more critical than all of that?

Strong legs carry me forward. Where they get their power, I never know.

I feel the heat in the form of light nausea at the pit of my stomach.  How far is the next lake?  Two miles in this heat seems endlessly far and I recheck my water supply to see if there is enough to spare to soak a bandana for my neck.  Then up ahead, an unexpect gift.
How is there still snow in July?  In this heat?
In mid-July!  Snow is packed into my hat cooling me off instantly. More snow goes down into my shirt— the melting water drips down cooling me twice.
Rocks cradle water
Rock spines slice through Crevice Lake
Sight is restored as the snow cools me down.  Breaking through the trees, the endless mountains with impossible angles stretch out.  Tears start to run down my checks.  Sometimes I can’t stand it all, this beautiful Montana landscape.  I shout my frustrations into the wind, “How can I ever leave you, Montana?”
Epic ridgewalking along spines of mountains, views stretching east and west
Mountains don't respond though.  There are no answers. It's up to me to make sense of all this.

The scent up here… not overly sweet, just… right. The Swan Range smells like the fitting end of a long beloved book- deliciously complex, satisfying, provoking.  I love this smell, I think.
Close up.
I wonder if this is how it goes with all wild mountain places.  Certainly I felt like this with the High Sierra.  But Montana- isn’t this more beautiful than even that?  Is it even right to compare?  What even is beauty?  What is it about the power of a place to make us gasp, to make us wonder?
Time to make camp
Then there is the slowly creeping evening light. Eager to go to bed in my hammock, but I have to wait and watch.  Bird dart and chase each other.  What if I fall asleep before all the colors turn?
Yellow hour
Pinks start to appear
Nearly there orange
I laugh because it matters not if I am hear to watch it or not.  It happens here, day after day, all of this.  Somehow that is comforting, knowing this continues to be here even when I'm back in town, even when I leave Montana.  This will all be here.  Maybe some of this will stay with me.  Maybe there is some of this that I will never forget because it has changed me so.  If not the beauty, then the scars this place has left.
Breathing it in.
Morning again
This trip will be my last solo in Montana.  I'm completing my second term with Montana State Parks Americorps.  I thought I'd stay here forever, but it's clear I have to leave now.  How can I possibly be anywhere else though!?!?  Guess I'll find out soon enough.

Trip information
Bond Creek Trail
Alpine Trail #7
Crevice Lake


  1. Aww, I'm sorry you have to leave. I hope you can find a permanent position in Montana for you to enjoy it for as long as you want.

    I do echo your can you love something else so much and then go somewhere else and find it soooo beautiful and wonder if it is better than the other place? It's hard to pick favorites.

    1. Oh I wish! I'm going to go back to applying once I get off the trail again this fall. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy hiking in grizzly-free areas. :)

  2. Awww. Sorry to miss you. I've been forwarding your posts to my daughter (17) who has taken my shining to outside play. I was toying with the idea of MT this month to holiday.

    1. Maybe I'll run into you somewhere else one of these days.

      I heard that fires just were starting up in MT, so keep an eye out and stay safe.