This year the snow has been deep and has closed all of the hiking trails, so when cabin fever forces you outside you seek out an alternate. Yesterday’s hike was on a snowmobile track that followed the west fork of Swamp Creek road. The track is quite firm, but stepping off of it puts you thigh-deep in snow. Still, it is better than no hike at all, and the forest is just a pretty as it is in summer (minus the ground plants and wildflowers).
After seeing a little blood on the snow along the trail, after following it for about a mile, we came to a large amount of blood in the snow just off the trail. Obviously an large animal had been shot there. Today I made a report of it to the local Game Warden and he will go there tomorrow to see if there is any forensic evidence that might tell him what transpired. Big game hunting is closed in the area except for Mountain Lion and I doubt that it was a place where someone might have encountered one. There were no distinguishable cat tracks, so I suspect poaching of a deer or elk was the cause of the blood trail. Maybe I will hear more or perhaps be asked to accompany the warden to the scene tomorrow.
Along a side road on our return I saw these ice falls in an area which, in the summer, produces some beautiful Saxifrage wildflowers. Not as pretty as the little blossoms, but still…
The Mission Mountain range runs north and south for about 30 miles through western Montana. Most of it is in the 74,000 acre Mission Mountains Wilderness Area. McDonald Peak is the highest point in the range at 9,280 feet, not especially high, but an awesome sight from the low valleys. (This photo was taken from an altitude of about 2600 feet along the lower Flathead River, about 25 miles away.)
Today we are experiencing the seventh or eighth influx of cold Arctic air of this winter into western Montana, the most that I can recall ever seeing. This morning the beauty of it seemed greatest in the trees. These photos were taken at -6º (F).
Today I went out to check on the Flathead River again to see what the ice was doing and this time drove up river another 5 – 6 miles. There were several sections of open water followed by other areas where it has ice bank-to-bank and it took the photo above of one of the open areas. On the way back I noticed some visitors on the ice shelf on the other side, some Tundra Swans which are fairly common here but always a delight to see.
About a week ago I posted a few pictures of a section the lower Flathead River as it began to freeze over. Yesterday I visited again after 10 days of sub-zero nights. There is an open channel through part of it, but in other places it is covered bank-to-bank with ice. The last few photos are closer looks at the ice cakes as they start to pile up. As the usual cycle of freezing and thawing proceeds, more ice will break loose from frozen areas upstream and add to the stacks of ice cakes in this location.