Friday, 27th September 2013
My friend and I took a late flight into Missoula on Thursday, and were collected by her parents at the airport. They are (currently) helping run a cabin & RV camp in Darby, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Missoula, and the owners most kindly offered up a cabin (for free!) to us to stay for the few nights we'd be visiting them. It was dark, but the night clear, and even with headlights we could see stars abounded in the Big Sky of Montana overhead as we drove to Darby.
Since we crawled into bed in the wee hours, we let ourselves sleep in a bit on Friday, as much as that is possible for the early birds we both are, her parents helped us decide on a trail for our weekend's overnight hike in the backwoods: Blodgett Canyon. Blodgett Canyon is a glacier-carved canyon in the Bitterroot Range (along the Idaho/Montana border) of the Bitterroot National Forest.
Prior to the trip, my friend and I had wrestled with the regret that we'd in Montana and not be seeing Glacier National Park (it being over 4 hours from where her parents were staying and only having a short 3-day-stay...it just wasn't the right time nor the right circumstances to see Glacier). However, the Bitterroot National Forest did not disappoint in any way, and if one is in the Missoula area...don't miss it.
Anyways, the trail head was in Hamilton, a 20-ish-minute drive from our cabin in Darby. We began hiking around noon. The weather was cloudy and the air cold but not bitterly so, and to be honest the chill just felt good. My friend and I love the cold and grey, but we rarely get anything but warm-and-sunshine where we live, so we welcomed a change in weather eagerly.
I was immediately made breathless by the contrast in colors of the scenery and the grandeur of the peaks. The mountains in this area are jagged, almost menacing in a curiosity-inspiring manner, and the pines grow much higher among them then what I am accustomed to in the Sierras.
My friends parents hiked with us to some waterfalls, about 3 hours in, and then my friend & I parted ways as storm clouds built, to find our home for our over-night stay. It began to rain a bit, and we kept on the move as the wind rose slightly so as not to get chilled. From the falls, the trail gets more lush, more over grown: a clear sign that most day hikers turn there. What is additionally amazing about this part of Montana (perhaps all parts of Montana) is that the scenery and flora of the woods changes quite dramatically as you twist and turn your way on backwoods trail. When we started, it felt like a Yogi Bear backdrop, but past the falls it harkened of FernGully. I was surprised by just how green the forests was throughout, with Hobbiton-like moss abounding everywhere due to the dampness of the rainy season and the mist that came off the falls and river that most of the trail parallels.
About an hour from the falls, at a trail crossing, we found a camp site that was enclosed by trees. It was (relatively) shielded from the wind, and felt noticeably warmer, so we dropped packs and set up camp there. As we did so, a ranger showed up on a horse, with another horse and mule in-tow. He confirmed our belief that we had selected a good camp spot, explaining that 2 miles further on we'd find snow on the ground. He suggested, that if we were up to it, we take a little day hike a mile onward to reach 7-mile Meadow, saying simply that it was a "nice view." With that, he quietly meandered on to another site up trail.
With our tent set up, we first attempted a different day hike we'd read of in a guide book. The trail got lost in the overgrowth, so we elected to go to the meadow the ranger mentioned instead. The rain began to intensify and we had a moment of hesitation before committing to go on. My friend had waterproof shoes but no waterproof pants, I had waterproof pants but not waterproof shoes, so together we were a perfect hiker, but as individuals we weren't exactly equipped for the elements. But, we were too curious about the meadow and not quite trail-tired to call it quits for the day, so we hiked on.
Goodness are we glad we did.
The meadow is sandwiched between two rising walls of peaks: an amphitheatre of granite layered with pine. Although it was rain falling where we stood in the valley, it was snow at the top of the mountain tops. This created an incredible chromatic effect: white peaks with an oddly bluish aura around, layered on top of a deep evergreen layer of pine trees, on top of a honey-colored grass valley where we stood. It was nothing short of majestic.
We stood there a while, could have stood there forever, breathing in the blessing it was to be reminded of our own smallness, to be accosted by the great artistry of our great God. The rain continued to gently fall, in the most pleasant of ways, but still: we were beginning to get whetted through. So we forced ourselves to return to our tent down-trail.
Unfortunately, it as only 1730 by the time we got back. And even after dinner we were at 1830 at best. Daylight abounded, but we didn't have an option to hike any more that day given the weather and the limitations of our gear. It was slightly maddening to us both, since we typically like to feel moderately destroyed on the physical-fatigue scale when hiking, and are typically in a fever to "see as much as we can!" when traveling. But, we tried to remind ourselves that sometimes it is best, and what God calls us to, to do less and absorb the wonder of the beauty of nature more.
We tried to go to sleep around 1900/2000 but it was too early, so somewhere around midnight we woke up an had a 2 hour conversation played over the backdrop of rain pattering on our tent roof. Hard to beat it.
As a quick aside, before we went to bed, we heard the sound of a faun crying for it's mother. At least, that is what we thought it was after we ruled out "bear growl." It was an eerie, haunting sounds of sorrowful woe. Then we realized that it was the sound of the shifting weight of trees, of wet bark being shifted past each other in the wind. It continued all night in a regular rhythm and in the morning, when the wind had died down, it was gone. It had become so familiar that I regretted the absence.
Saturday, 28 September 2013
We awoke to rain. And we weren't at all sad about it. We luxuriated in the sound of it a bit before deciding to pack up and head out. Hiking through the forest in the rain is one of my favorite life experiences. Rain truly transforms the woods in a way perhaps unexpected. Everything glistens and feels new. The rain creates a symphony of it's own, the tune of drops on different surfaces (bark, leave, soil) becomes a instrument of it's own. The smell of damp earth is intoxicating. The sight of rain falling ahead, as bits of sunlight peak through passing clouds overhead, is a sight more mesmerizing than fireworks could ever hope to be.
We were soggy-socked and damp around the edges by the time her parents collected us at the trail head (noonish?), but could not have been more content. We got some coffee in Hamilton before heading 'home' to Darby for a homemade lunch of brisket, portobello mushrooms, and fried apples. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazily napping and watching random documentaries on the "Discovery Channel" before a homemade dinner of lasagna, salad, and rhubarb shortcake.
Sunday, 29 September 2013
We awoke to rain. But rain in a different tune since it was on a cabin roof instead of a tent roof. I went on a short job out in the wet, since it is my favorite sort of run to take. Then we had a belated-birthday breakfast for my friend of her mom's famous "caramel puffs"... after a single bight I interrupted the currently conversation of the table with praise in awe at the deliciousness of it (and made sure to get the recipe). From the table, we had a view of fog-hidden peaks which was initially disappointing since we couldn't see the mountains, but then I found to be quite pleasant because it made me focus on the intricacy of the trees.
Around 1330 we headed back to Missoula, to meet up with one of my friend's girlfriends who lived in the area. And from there, we headed to the airport.
We thought our adventure had ended...but alas. Our flight left about 20 minutes late from Missoula. We flew in a headwind all the way to Seattle, the turbulence leaving both of us on the nauseous side. The result effect left us with a mere 25 minutes to catch our flight. Rain poured down in classic Seattle fashion as we waited plane-side to collect our packs from our first-leg puddle-jumper. We grabbed them as quick as we could and sprinted off in a desperate attempt to do all we could to catch our connection, but also being pretty okay with the possibility of being "sleepless in Seattle" for a night.
It was a long sprint through Terminal D, before running down several flights of stairs to get to the tram that would shuttle us to Terminal N. In cinematic fashion, the tram doors were beginning to close as we reached it, sneaking in just in time. As we wheezed to catch our breath, frightening and irritating all those in the tram car with us, we checked the time: 10 minutes left. When the doors open, we ran up 3 more flights of stairs, and then got to our gate, joining the final group of boarding passengers: so long to you Seattle (until next time).
Although a short trip, and in most ways barely a taste of the vast place, we both concluded that we had left a bit of ourselves in Montana...a bit we would have to come retrieve one day in the future. It was a refreshing comfort to see that there are still places left in the United States that are still open, left wild.