God, it’s hard to believe I’m only on Day 5. I’ve covered so much ground, seen so many things, downed so much beef jerky and granola, as well as micro-roasted coffee from all kinds of wonderful establishments.
Right now I’m in Zootown Brew in Missoula, MT, where the coffee is discounted if you purchase it before 9 AM. Parking in downtown Missoula was also free before 9 AM. Does this town just not like to get up early? Not that I’m complaining…
One of the bittersweet facts about my journey has been that I’ve gotten so many great recommendations for various parks, scenic byways, restaurants, etc. from various friends of mine and I just don’t have time to visit all of them. (That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the suggestions, though, so keep ’em coming!). However, yesterday I did follow up on a hiking tip from a friend who used to live in Bozeman.
Mount Blackmore is a peak about an hour south of Bozeman in the Gallatin National Forest. When I first entered the Gallatin Forest I slowed down to below the speed limit and then did something I almost never do in my car: I turned the music off. That’s how gorgeous the scenery was; I had to absorb it with as much of my senses as I could, leaving just enough left to navigate the car. For mile after mile, curve after curve one is surrounded by tall, timeless Douglas-firs that reach up into the heavens, with the gentle Gallatin river babbling just below.
When I first set out to conquer the Mount Blackmore hike I had little idea what I was in for. The person who gave me the tip is an experienced hiker; I am not. Like a fool I set out in the middle of the day when the sun was most punishing. I overloaded my backpack and didn’t pack enough water. What’s worse, the only shoes I had were a pair of Air Jordan sneakers; perfect for many things but not hiking.
The trail consists of a 2.5 mile hike to the Blackmore Lake, followed by another 5.5 mile hike to the summit. The hike to the lake it fairly easygoing, one simply wanders along a rocky path until the lake appears almost out of nowhere:
I entered this beautiful clearing and immediately was glad I’d made the trip. I sat down on a log, read a book for a bit, and ate some homemade protein granola. I was completely alone. There were other hikers on the trial, but they were relatively few and far between. Almost all of them wore friendly smiles and approached with a “Howdy” or “How’s it going?”. And quite a few had dogs with them; I guess that’s a thing in Montana.
From there it was time to tackle the summit. 5.5 miles didn’t seem so bad on paper, but with a rocky trail, steep inclines and an elevation gain of 3,736 feet the trek can is quite beastly indeed. Early on I found I was running low on water. Luckily, I came across this little brook:
I filled up my two empty bottles and gulped the mountain water down. This may or may not be a safe thing to do, but the water tasted clean and refreshing. I hiked on with renewed vigor, not realizing just how much more trail lay ahead.
Onward and onward I marched down the narrow, rocky trail. I began to realize just how out of shape I was, and began to regret how much I’d neglected my legs when I worked out. The experience was similar to that of my drive into Bozeman the other day; my mind kept repeating, “Come on, I’ve got to be close… when’s this thing gonna end?”
What kept me going was the absolute majesty of everything that surrounded me. Everything from the Douglas-firs to the brook to the fields of flowers and the red cliffs and the mountain vistas which slowly began to emerge… the beauty was overwhelming. Every time I thought, “Wow, this can’t get any better,” it did. It was almost offensive, really.
Finally, after about three hours, I reached the summit.
Sweaty, aching, and halfway delirious I sat down and took in the heavenly glory.
While I was still catching my breath on the summit, I heard a “ding” from my backpack. Even deep in the mountains I my phone was still getting notifications. I remember the days when you couldn’t get service even in the small town of Northern Wisconsin. Kind of a dumb thing to be nostalgic about but still, I found it funny.
I was exhausted, lightheaded and my feet felt like rubber, but I had made it. And man, was it worth it. This was truly one of the best outdoor experiences of my life, and I was struck with the bittersweet realization that I was only scratching the surface of what this great wilderness has to offer.
On my way down I came across a man with one leg who was ascending the summit with a pair of hiking poles. Now THAT made me feel like a pussy…
All told I spent some 6 hours at Blackmore. I stumbled down to my car wondering if my legs would ever work again. I stopped at a pizza place called Buffalo Bump in Four Corners, just outside of Bozeman. I wolfed down a 12″ pie and listened to a server with a Boise State cap talk football with a couple of customers, who apparently were also from Boise. The server talked about the time when his team won the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and he started prank calling random numbers with an Oklahoma area code.
The pizza was delicious, but I probably shouldn’t have stopped. My lodging for the night was a campground in Hall, MT, a tiny town off of Highway 1 halfway between Butte and Missoula. Like the length of the hike I grossly underestimated how long it would take to get there, and I found myself racing against the sun.
Driving West in the hour before sunset is not fun. I had taken my contacts out which meant I couldn’t wear sunglasses, so I found myself struggling to block out that big bright behemoth and see the road clearly enough to navigate Montana’s steep hills and winding roads. At one point I came extremely close to hitting a deer. And all the while, just like yesterday, I lamented how sublime the landscape was and that I couldn’t slow down to admire it.
I made it into the Boulder Creek campsite just after sunset, with just enough light to pitch my tent. The campground is small and on Sunday night there were very few people. I set up right next to the creek…
It was a glorious camping experience. I slipped into my tent (which, despite its ugly exterior, is actually quite comfy on the inside), read my Nook for a bit and fell asleep to the sounds of the gently rushing water. In the middle of the night I slipped outside to take a piss and looked up to see the biggest, starriest sky I’d ever seen in my life. I stared for like 10 minutes, until my body was so cold I had to crawl back into the sleeping bag.
I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the stars; neither my phone nor my camcorder could have done it justice. Come out and see it yourself.
That’s all for now, ghostlings! See you in Seattle!