Montana Outdoors

February 25, 2011

Old homestead

Filed under: Winter — Tags: , — montucky @ 10:22 pm

Old homestead

I have to wonder, in the final analysis after everything has been counted, if the folks who lived here were behind us or far, far ahead.

February 23, 2011

Still winter

Filed under: Winter — Tags: — montucky @ 8:53 pm

The overnight snow was not heavy, but in some places on the driveway enough accumulated over the past few nights to keep the snow blower busy for awhile. By noon the temperature made it above freezing, the sun appeared briefly, and most of the light snow in the valley melted. An hour later, the mercury began a rapid retreat into that little bulb at the bottom of the thermometer where it will hide from the sub-zero temperature tonight, the wind started coming up and the snow started coming down. I put a light pack containing my camera gear into the Jeep along with our dog (who told me she really, really, really, really wanted to go {be careful what you wish for}) and turned up the road toward higher country in the Lolo National Forest.

Ten miles up the road, a thousand feet higher in elevation and several hundred years back in time we stopped for a short hike and I snapped a few photos for the first time in a week. The world was different there.

Old county road

Jones Ranch Road

Tracks in the snow


After a few miles on snowshoes, I will sleep well tonight.

February 19, 2011

Air, land and water

Filed under: Cherry Peak roadless area — Tags: , — montucky @ 1:00 am

Morning on Eddy Peak

Protect them as though your life depended on it.

February 15, 2011

Burnt Fork Pinnacle

On a clear, brisk morning in early October there was a light touch of frost at the trail head just off Forest Service Road 5498 in western Montana’s Coeur d’Alene Mountains : it would be an excellent day for a hike up to Burnt Fork Pinnacle, three miles up toward Reservation Divide on USFS trail 418 and inside the Reservation Divide roadless area.

Trail head for Burnt Fork Pinnacle

There is nothing extraordinary about the Pinnacle which sits about 2,400 feet above the Ninemile Valley at an altitude of just over 6,600 feet and 1,200 feet below Three lakes Peak, another couple of miles up the trail, but it, like many of the old fire lookout sites, is a part of the history of this region, and it in particular has an interesting old story tied to it.

About 20 miles southeast of the Pinnacle is the Ninemile Remount Depot which, in or around 1932 when the L-4 style cabin used as a lookout on the Pinnacle was built, was home to what was sometimes referred to as “a thousand mule cavalry” of mules. In those days the only means the Forest Service had for transporting heavy loads was on the backs of mules, and at Ninemile the Forest Service raised a Mammoth breed of mules by breeding Morgan horses with Jacks. They became the elite of pack stock, weighing around 1,700 pounds and capable of carrying up to 300 pounds on their pack saddles. The Ranger Station is still there on the grounds of the remount ranch which remains the winter home of the Forest Service mules and horses that are still used in this region in the summers.

(For those who are not familiar with the old L-4 type cabins used as lookouts, here is a photo of one that still remains on top of Big Hole Mountain, fifty miles west of Burnt Fork. The one on Burnt Fork Pinnacle was destroyed in 1950:)

Big Hole lookout cabinBig Hole Lookout cabin

Trail 418 is a reasonably good hiking trail and still quite suited for horse travel as well, winding through an old burn at the lower elevations

Lower part of trail to Burnt Fork Pinnacle

Lower part of trail to Burnt Fork Pinnacle

and some beautiful, grassy mountainsides as it ascends to the old lookout site.

Middle part of trail to Burnt Fork PinnacleL

Middle part of trail to Burnt Fork Pinnacle

Middle part of trail to Burnt Fork Pinnacle

Middle part of trail to Burnt Fork Pinnacle

Higher end of the trail to Burnt Fork innacle

From the higher regions of the trail, Squaw Peak, which was recently re-named Ch-paa-qn (pronounced “cha-pock-qwin”), can be seen to the east where it looks down on the Remount Depot from an altitude of 7,996 feet.


After three hours of pleasant hiking and a healthy climb of 2,400 feet, it was a pleasure to enjoy a sunny and leisurely lunch in a green and sheltered little saddle just above where the old cabin once stood,

Burnt Fork Pinnacle

study the higher country to the west,

West from Burnt Fork Pinnacle

Three Lakes Peak to the north,

Three Lakes Peak

the Bitterroot Mountains far to the south,

Bitterroot Mountains

and the Ninemile Valley to the southeast;

Ninemile Valley

and enjoy the recollection of this story about two greenhorn firewatchers who manned the lookout during one summer nearly eighty years ago:

Mike and Ellen were newlyweds who would be spending the summer in the cabin at Burnt Fork Pinnacle. When they left the Ninemile ranch for their 20 mile trip to the lookout with everything they needed tied to the pack saddle on a jenny, the ranch superintendent told them that they could entice the mule with a piece of candy if she balked along the way, and after a pound of candy she was following them just like a pet. He also instructed them that once the jenny was unloaded at the cabin they would simply have to head her back down the trail, give her a slap on the rump, and she would trot back on down to the ranch all by herself.

In these parts, weather conditions can change very quickly, even in early summer, and this time they did. By the time they arrived at the cabin, the weather had deteriorated into a regular old Montana blizzard with a very cold wind and blowing snow. Mike quickly unloaded the jenny, hustled everything inside the tiny glass house and built a cozy fire in the little stove. Stepping back outside, he pointed the jenny back down the trail and gave her a slap on her backside. She just stood there. When he went back inside to stoke up the fire, the snow-covered old mule walked up and just stared into the window with such a pitiful look that the greenhorns soon brought her into their already cramped quarters.

It was a tight fit that night in the 14 X 14 room, with Mike sleeping against one wall and Ellen against the other and a seventeen hundred pound mule curled up between. Next morning with a pat on the rump the mule, without further hesitation, went back home to Ninemile, all alone. (This story along with many other ones and some good locations and descriptions of the old lookouts is contained in the book Fire Lookouts of the Northwest by Ray Kresek).

February 11, 2011

Changing of the guard

Filed under: Spring, Winter — Tags: , , — montucky @ 11:35 pm

Cattail Pussy willow


Filed under: Winter — Tags: — montucky @ 12:21 am

Along the Flathead River before it joins the Clark Fork River, some twenty miles upriver from my home, there is a small ranch that does not have a road to it. Access to the ranch from the highway is by a small, old, car ferry in summer and an old hovercraft in winter.

Just downriver from my home there is a series of three rapids on the Clark Fork River.

Yesterday as I drove past the middle of the three rapids rapids I noticed a “shipwreck” just off the near shore. It seems that the old ferry had not been properly secured and for some reason had taken a solo journey downstream and was finally caught up on the rocks just below the head of the rapids.

I’m quite happy that I am not the one who must attempt to salvage it.

Old car ferry

Old car ferry

Old car ferry

Old car ferry

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