Summer is a time for camping, hiking and just enjoying the outdoors as a whole. It is good for the mind, body and soul. What better place to enjoy it than a designated wilderness area? Thanks to some recently redefined wilderness boundaries, this year’s Veterans Outreach Program from the Montana Wilderness Association in partnership with The United States Forest Service, found it’s Veterans and significant others out enjoying some of Montana’s best on their first outing of the summer. The program is free of charge and their goal is to get Veterans and their families out experiencing peaceful, wild places. My husband heads up the program and I was glad to get to go along.
We started out by camping at Wood Lake and doing a couple small hikes right from the campground. Some beautiful sights were to be had only minutes from the sleeping bags. We saw unique rock formations, beautiful crystal clear springs, bald eagles and some vibrant butterflies. We were just wetting our appetites for the big hike the next day. The others set up their tents and my husband and I laid out our sleeping bags for a night under the stars. After some good conversation around the fire we hit the sack.
Early morning light and bird songs met our drowsy eyes as my husband prepared some epic blueberry pancakes over the fire. We ate with purpose knowing the food would be a welcome nugget in our stomachs once we started our climb up Patrol Mountain. With our gear packed up we drove the short distance to the trailhead and started out. I was chilly as we made our way through the valley floor to the river crossing. I knew I would be hot later so I relished and welcomed the chills and didn’t try to keep them from reaching my bones. As we gingerly worked our way down the fern covered trail, I was mentally preparing for the river crossing. I knew it would be cold and possibly slippery as well. Once arriving at the rivers edge we took off our shoes and socks and held them high. My husband gave me his hiking pole to help me keep my balance on the way across. As soon as my feet hit the water the reality of how cold it was caused instant cramping. The pole was very welcomed as it gave me much added stability. I walked across with my cold feet acting more like worthless stumps in their frozen state. Amazingly, after only standing outside the water for a minute my feet actually felt quite refreshed. We all made it across without trouble and laced back up.
From here the trail turned from the small valley and began a relentless ascent. We gained 2730 feet of elevation in 5.6 miles. The entire way was beautiful and the workout on the legs and lungs was priceless. We knew a lookout awaited us at the top of the mountain and when we neared it we broke out of the eastern slope and were instantly hit with a breathtaking wind and vista. It is as if you peeked over the top of the world not knowing there was anything there. It literally took my breath away. The colors that greeted me were unique and the patterns, reefs and rock formations traversing the magnificent miles of land below were simply mesmerizing. We made it the final few hundred feet and sat down on the top of the world.
360 degrees in all directions was the view of a lifetime just sitting there timeless. The wind was cold and wonderful. The air was fresher than Easter morning. We spent some time catching our breath and taking pictures, they never fail to pale in comparison to the glory that your eye can capture. You really need to see it for yourself to be able to fully appreciate the grandeur. Suddenly my husband made an incredible spot down a neighboring glacial pathway. Something alive was down there but with the naked eye it was impossible to make out what it was. A set of Vortex binoculars soon provided the perfect solution to that problem and our eyes feasted on the rare sight of three wild grizzly bears. A sow and her two cubs were at play among the snow patches. We watched them for a long time, taking turns with the binoculars. These bears were the icing on the cake so to speak.
Eventually we made the trek back down the 5 miles of fresh wilderness wonder. The recent passing of the Montana made bill, The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, made this hike a little bit more special. Now we were walking through an area that we knew would not only be a special memory for us but could be a special memory for our children and generations to come. This area was very recently unprotected but was now designated wilderness. It made me happy to think that the views and the smells would remain untouched and pure. There is nothing like recreating in truly wild places.
We have organizations like the Montana Wilderness Association to thank for their valiant dedication to these lands. Brian Sybert, the executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, recently stated in a local, news article that, “MWA played a unique role in crafting and passing the Heritage Act. Since setting up shop in Choteau in 2004, we’ve dedicated staff and volunteers to the job of listening to ranchers, hunters, anglers, outfitters, guides, local business owners, tribal members and public officials, and helping them find common ground around their shared love of the Front. The Heritage Act was built on that common ground.” We as hunters need to be involved in whatever ways we can and share our voice for the protection of the rugged places we count on for the sanctuary of our valued wildlife. I came away from this wilderness experience a little bit more in awe of what wilderness is and a little bit more devoted to keeping it safe. If we all come together, a “little bit” can go a long way.