Monday, September 20, 2010

The High Country

The weather promised to heat up over the least that was what the local news station was advertising. Personally, I wasn't buying it. I had spent most of the day Friday standing waist deep in the Gallatin River and shivering while fishing to a great Baetis hatch. The sky was dark, the wind cold, and it was easy to imagine snowflakes drifting down at any time. By the time I was back home that evening, I had completely written off my weekend plans to backpack miles into the high country for some fishing and bird hunting. The late night news, however, still persisted with their optimistic report...there's no way I thought, and went to bed.

I didn't wake up early the next morning. I lazily strolled into the kitchen, and got my first view up at the mountains. The sky was bright blue, there was no fresh snow up high, and all of a sudden I felt stupid for not believing the local weatherman. Oh well, you can't blame a Montanan for being pessimistic about the weather...but now it was up to me to make up for lost time. As things stood, I wasn't in the best shape to hurry out the door. My gear was all neatly stowed away in scattered places throughout my home...this was going to take a little longer than I hoped. Backpack, check. Headlamp, check. Why didn't I do this last night? Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. The list slowly grew and eventually my pack stood there ready to go.

Toby finally swings by, we load up, and speed off. Toby can always be counted on for any adventure...but he needs to get previous written permission from his wife. Thankfully, she supported this trip and even let him bring along the family dog Coco for some "bird training." The parking lot at the trailhead was eerily empty as we came grinding in...I guess nobody believed the weather guy. By now, we were down to shorts and t-shirts as we headed into the Spanish Peaks Wilderness. The first miles promised to be a relatively easy warm-up for the final climb up to timberline. We casually chatted, the hiking felt good, but in the back of our heads we knew that pain was soon to come. It soon appeared in the form of 2,000+ feet of vertical gain that we had to overcome before nightfall. A little ways up I had to remind myself..this is fun. By the time we set-up camp that night it took a good portion of our whiskey supply before that phrase was mentioned again.

I can never sleep late while camping, I am always wide awake at first light. Why can't it be that easy to wake-up at home? The morning sunrise washed all fatigue away from my legs...for Toby it took a big mug of Starbucks Via, but we were both anxious to get on the move. These high timberline meadows are the prime habitat for the blue grouse, and we were hoping to find a few before the end of our trip. Coco led the way as we began to spread out and look for birds. Wings flapped, guns fired, and we managed to get a total of four grouse between us. For Coco, bird hunting was a new experience and she learned a lot. We arrived at one meadow and spotted two nice grouse in the grass. Unfortunately, Coco did too and went charging pell-mell after them causing them to flush too far out. Thankfully, blue grouse never fly that far and we were still able to pick up one of those birds.

We arrived back at the trailhead after slogging back through 80 degree heat. Two days ago, the temperature barely reached 50 degrees. Compared to when we arrived, the parking lot was packed to overflowing with vehicles...the word had finally got around that the weather was nice. This trip served to illustrate how tough it can be to make advance plans for camping in Montana. The weather is fickle to say the least, and one has to flexible and ready on short notice. Probably the best method I have found, is to make a list of a variety of trips and to pick an appropriate one depending on the current conditions. I also made a resolution to have my backpack basically pre-packed in the closet, but as I write this I am looking at camping equipment strewn around the floor. I doubt it will all get put away in the same place.


  1. Nice blog, Matt. You hit the blue jackpot--they're a bit scarce hereabouts this year (because of the cold wet spring, maybe).