Wednesday, January 4, 2017

View of the Swan

The park where I lived while I was in Montana the past two years was perched on a mountain on one side of a long narrow valley. Past the expanse of development, the mountains on the opposite side stand tall above the valley floor. The Swan Range.
View across the valley of the Swan Range from the park
The park I was at is noted for the scenic overlook of this valley. On the first interpretive hike I led (about wildflowers), when we got to the overlook, one of the visitors pointed across to the mountain and asked, "What is the name of that peak over there?"

I had to reply, "I don't know but I'll find out."

And while it made me frustrated that she couldn’t she just ask about flowers, that question got me motivated. I actually went kind of overboard. Not only did I end up learning the names of all the peaks (which no one ever asked once I’d learned them), but I took it a step further and hiked many of the peaks and the length of the mountain range she pointed to, the Swan, in my two seasons in Montana.
First trip to the Swan in May of 2015. I was hooked from the start.
Last trip to the Swan in August of 2016.
What was really special about my Swan trips was seeing the seasons change, the snow melt, the flowers come out and then whither and go to seed. And seeing this change from year to year.
Early season
The Swan became that place that I could go when I was tired, sad, happy, or full of energy. It was reliable and served all purposes. Within 30 minutes of leaving work, I could be climbing and that was all that mattered. And I think that’s why I often didn’t write about many of my trips there. They were all mine.
View from my campsite on one of my solo trips that didn't make the blog
While it’s not as classically scenic as Glacier, I never tired of being able to see across the valley back to where I lived. Knowing geography of local area is important.  Maybe more important to me than scenery. A sense of place gives that inner calm.
Another sunrise over the Swan from the park that I called home for two years.
Watching the sunrise over the Swan every morning also served as a link between my days on and my days off. No matter what my day held in store, I tried to hold the view of the sunrise in my heart. Knowing that I had hiked those mountains the previous weekend, or would hike them in just a few days. Remembering that could carry me through anything.
Looking back across the valley from the Swan range.
Last summer, I started watching the moon rise above the Swan too. And we put on a full moon hike at the park and invited everyone to come out to watch the moon rise with us. It turned out to be our most successful program at the park. I was so excited that I could describe all the peaks and point out where the moon would appear.
Watching the moon rise with more people that I ever dreamed would join us
Explaining where the moon rise would happen (as viewed from the park's overlook)
Hello moon. Right where I knew you would be.
Rising more.
Watching the moon come up between 6 Mile Mountain (that I’d climbed) and Big Hawk (where I’d been swimming last year) filled me with such joy.
View from the summit of 6 Mile Mountain.
Having those connections, especially in remembering that very first hike I’d led, where I hadn’t known any of this, makes me smile. I had no idea where that question would take me!
Summit of Mt. Aenes.
In thinking about moving, I wonder what new places will speak to me, and where my trips will lead. How do you find new places that make you want to know their every peak and valley? What modivates you to get out on your days off?

For more about my hikes in the Swan, links here.


  1. "Knowing geography of local area is important" I agree! I loved looking at towns and the view below on the AT. It helps the mental map!

    1. Totally agree! That was one thing I miss about the AT too, that great perspective looking out onto the valleys.

  2. I was thinking the same today as we were climbing the hills around Whiskeytown Lake, asking each other the names of various peaks. I rarely write about Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, maybe because I've spent so much time there, but they are my haunts, my comfort zone. I need to know the lay of the land. I know at any minute I'm but a small dot but I want to know all the topography around me, especially places I haven't been. Today I climbed a mountain I drive by all the time but didn't know I could hike it . . . until today.

    1. That's awesome that you are still finding places to explore so close to home. I wonder if we don't write about places to home because they don't seem as important or if we don't want to give away our special spots and reveal where we go all the time.

      I finally wrote about it because I believe these close to home places are what shape me and I place such huge value in knowing places so well. That depth of understanding a place give profound insights and certainly makes me a better navigator and observer.