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Ten mile hike

June 22, 2015

June 21, 2015

Solstice. Gary Snyder’s poem listed some essentials for his children. “Stay together. Learn the flowers. Go light.”
Yesterday with a group: Lori, Grant, Cathy, Penny, and Steve, we hiked through an area just east of the Beartooth Range that had tens of wild bitterroot in bloom, wild clematis, death camus, arrow leaf balsam root (not many), forget-me-not, gentian, some in bloom, persiflage, penstemon, sage, chamomile (in the parking area), sticky geranium, roses, and many, many more wild plants that I can’t remember. I’ll mention the ones that come to mind later.
Grant showed us a rare and protected plant, perhaps 2 inches high, Shoshonea parvulum. Grant said it lives only in the Beartooths and the Pryor mountains. I crouched down, laid on the ground actually, and looked carefully. Its petite and downy length was said to resemble a carrot. I didn’t think so. It had complicated yellow flowers.
We saw orange lichen and puff ball mushrooms. Lupines (just a few). Cinquefoil (yellow. I thought they were buttercups). Wild roses. Like G.Snyder, I love to identify plants. I used the wild plants near the trail as an excuse to ask Lori their identity and to hike uphill slower and to rest because we gained 1,700 feet on an old switchback trail. I had a hard time with the climbing.
Lori is a healthcare professional so she asked me annoying open-ended questions. I hoped my brief terse answers would make her think I was a grumpy old guy and would fool her into thinking I was in better physical condition than I was. Perceptive, she probably was not fooled.
I stopped to use the bathroom as the others hiked ahead. I thought about bears. After I had finished burying my business, the other hikers watched me catch up to them when, lo! they saw a black bear trot across a meadow uphill from me, perhaps 400 yards across the draw from them. They said the bear was “black and distinctive.” Lori made a photograph with her smart telephone. The light made viewing the image somewhat tricky, but I saw a bear, all 4 legs, built like the Mercury Space Capsule, only bearlike and black. It had a large round butt, pointed snout near the ground. The tall brush by the trail kept me from seeing it. Some in our party saw a bear in the same meadow when we returned.
The tansy we walked on smelled deliciously sweet.
We hiked 10 miles. We were all boomers. One of us was near exhaustion, with blood blisters on his toes from the 5 mile downhill to the car. Home, I drove 4 blocks to a restaurant for supper of soup, burger and beer. I was in pain. Later I considered the consequences of turning over in bed, an effort. My toes felt like a row of painful bubbles. Today I am much better. In fact, we walked about a mile for ice cream down town. I had a single cone of espresso heath. I did not share it with my nephew’s daughter.
Surprised me that about half of the hike had been through the Sunlight Ranch. That’s where we saw the bitterroot flowers and a diverse lot of wildflowers. We saw one noxious weed, 2 bunches of early sprouted spotted napweed, which we pulled. Turns out Sunlight Ranch is immense and well-managed. I was surprised that Grant and Lori, our Montana Wilderness Association guides, did not talk about threats to that area. Well, it wasn’t wilderness, although about half of what we hiked on was BLM or Forest Service land. Grant did say that he opposed any chainsaws in the wilderness because of erosion of wilderness values. He said that any exceptions to the rules could, in a generation or two of such, result in too many.
We saw a grizzly paw print. Grant explained that the straight line and the claw marks made it probably that of a grizzly. All of us except P. had bear spray. I tempered my guilt (for being afraid of bears) and resolved never to use the spray on any black bears. We saw plenty of rocks that had been flipped, presumably by a bruin looking for grubs. I thought about bears. A lot. I did not see any trees that had been stripped of bark by a bear.
Lunch. We ate our sandwiches when we reached a treeless saddle with a great view of a geology lesson a mile or two away, on the east side of the wilderness. It looked like a mountain in cross section. We saw no other hikers, or even any recent human footprints. The area was good elk and grizzly habitat, with grassy expanses, timbered draws, and high timber with canyons and creeks. I don’t know what species of plant the tall brush was, but it wasn’t the kind in northern Idaho, alder I think, that takes over when an area is clearcut.
Water. P. and I were the ones without “camelback” packs and tubes for drinking. I had five 12-ounce plastic bottles and P. brought along 4. Just right for her, I ran out of water a bit early. All of us except Grant used trekking poles. All of us except P. wore boots. She wore running shoes and did quite well, except she stepped in mud that got her shoes dirty.
Weather. Perfect, mid-60s, partly cloudy.
Birds: mostly we heard, didn’t see. Grant saw a mountain bluebird. I heard a crow. We heard some other common sounds but I don’t remember what birds make them.
Small mammals. One dead vole on the trail. No squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits or mice.
One small snake retreated in nervous fashion. Looked like it went in reverse. Hard to tell. Grass.

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