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Monday, December 28, 2015

Beaumont, Texas and Grandma Jane

Jane Walles, 88 years old.
On the pages of this blog, I present a certain side of myself. My outdoor adventures and travel are a primary focus, but I also try to bring my inner-world into the mix. I've heard the criticism, particularly from people of my generation, that those of us who use social media (facebook, blogs, etc.) present a biased image of ourselves to the world. It's hard to argue against that point-of-view. This blog, for example, is much more of an affirmation of certain aspects of who I am than it is a balanced picture. In my defense, a blog that presented such a balanced picture would be boring at best. That said, if I broaden my definition of adventure to encompass those experiences of life that force me to dig deep and look within, perhaps I can write interestingly about more things. 

In that vein, one of the most challenging responsibilities that I have right now is overseeing (with the help of others) the care of my grandmother, who is 88 and bed-ridden in a nursing home in Beaumont, Texas. It's a difficult situation on a number of fronts. First and foremost, she lives so far away, and to see her requires a long trip: a round-trip flight from MSO to Houston plus a round-trip drive from Houston to Beaumont. Second, my father was her only child, and he is no longer with us, so Kadin and I are her closest remaining relatives. As such, she remains eager to see us both, and so we each have been visiting her twice per year (I just returned from a visit). In fact, it seems that she's merged Kadin, my dad, and I into one person. Which brings me to the last thing: she has dementia and so the visits are unpredictable and sometimes difficult.

A brief biography: Jane was born and raised in Miles City, Montana. Her father, William Leavitt, was a lawyer and Montana State legislator. He hailed from the East, got his law degree at U. Michigan, and drew straws with his best friend in law school to see who would take which of two jobs: one in Montana and one in New Mexico. Amazing to think that I wouldn't be writing this today if those straws were drawn differently! Jane's mother Emily, on the other hand, was born and raised in Miles City. Jane had many fascinating stories of growing up in Miles City in the 30's and 40's, some of which involved (literally) cowboys and Indians. After some years of college, she married my grandfather Barney in her early 20's and soon after had my father Scott. Barney and Jane raised my father in Billings, and then after Dad left for college, they moved to Texas, so that Barney could join in a business partnership with his brother Blythe. Within a few years after they had moved, Barney was murdered. Jane decided to stay in Texas until the shooter was found, which never happened. However she eventually ended up meeting her second husband Homer, a true character and southerner to the bone, and with whom she was with until he died five (or so) years ago. While I was growing up in Butte, Jane would visit Montana once a year, for two weeks. I always greatly looked forward to those visits, as she would bring presents, and we would always go out for at least one fancy steak dinner. However, she was really there to see my father: they would spend most of her visit smoking, talking, drinking cocktails in the evening, and playing cribbage. In an amazingly tragic coincidence, my father was also murdered in 1999, so Jane has seen a lot of tragedy in her life. However, she is also the most resilient person I know. Giving up is not in her make-up: she is a fighter and a survivor, right up to today. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Staying Close to Home: Charity Peak and University Mountain

On top of Charity Peak with Pudge closing his eyes into the wind and the Missions as a backdrop.
The end of the fall semester is always a challenging time for me. A frenetic late-summer and fall leads to November's dark, cold, and slow. By the time the end of the semester is at hand, it never fails that I find myself dragging, both physically and mentally. Perhaps it's true that we need these ebbs and flows, but the ebbs are still a challenge. I'm currently reading a biography of Montaigne, who wrote the famous 'Essays' in the 1500's. He would say to strive to stay even and not let the highs or the lows take you with them. This is a Buddhist tenet as well and is sound advice that I strive to follow, but getting out for a few hours on a sunny day sure helps. 

On my birthday, December 5th, I went for a hike and summitted Charity Peak, which is the big mound just to the west of Evaro. To get there, at the top of Evaro Hill, Highway 93 turns slowly left at the Evaro town site and the northbound two-lane turns to a single lane. At this point you'll take a near-immediate left, and the road you'll be on goes pretty high up onto the flanks of Charity Peak. Drive as far as you like and hike the remainder. I started at around 4500 feet. See my GPS route here.
The Charity Peak summit cairn.
The Mission Mountains from Chairty Peak.
Pudge and the Rattlesnake.
Then on the 15th, after a hectic morning of meetings to end what was a hectic semester, and before catching an evening flight to Las Vegas for work, I hiked University Mountain, which is about three hours round trip from the UM campus. I love this hike in winter, as you can get real solitude within a 1.5 hour walk from the edge of town. After two days in Vegas, it's on to Texas to visit my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home in Beaumont. I'll return on the 21st. After the clear cold air I breathed on University Mountain, I feel ready for the trip.
University Mountain, near the summit.

Pudge and the Missoula Valley on the way back down.
Again on the way down, Pudge and Mt. Sentinel.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Staying Close to Home: Woody and Blue Mountains

Pudge looking over Missoula from Blue Mountain Trail.
Mission and Rattlesnake Mountains.
Since the snow started falling and the cold weather has settled in, my drive to bag high peaks has waned. This fall was a particularly long one for good weather and high country travel. But with weekly cyclocross and kickball on top of peak bagging, I was worn down come late October. November has been a much more relaxed month, at least outside of work, with weekends at home, and much less activity. Nonetheless, I've continued to get out to bag some low summits around Missoula. Last weekend was Woody Mountain, on a very enjoyable loop from Marshall Canyon. You can find the GPS track here. This weekend, I bagged Blue Mountain, from the first switchback beyond the 'motorcycle trail head' (or Hayes Point) up Blue Mountain Road. The hike to the summit from there is a local favorite for me, at eight miles RT with fantastic views of Missoula, the Rattlesnake, and the Mission Mountains. This is a perfect time of year to do it -- there's snow, but not so much that you need snow shoes -- but the road closes on December 1, so you'll have to bike up to the start from now until Spring.
Looking south from Woody Mountain
Looking west from Woody.
Pudge and Lolo Peak from Blue Mountain.
Pudge letting off steam on Blue Mountain, the Missions visible in the distance.
Blue Mountain, looking east, with the Bitterroot Valley on the right. 
Looking north, Missions in the distance.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Quick Trip to Bozeman: Baldy Mountain, Alex, and Norris Hot Springs

Looking north along the Bridger crest from the first Baldy 'summit'. The true summit is the third bump further along the ridge.
Last weekend I took a solo trip to Bozeman, stopping in Butte Friday night to see my Mom and to make an appearance for my uncle's 70th birthday. Then it was on to Bozeman on Saturday, where I met with a research colleague in the morning and then climbed Baldy Mountain while waiting for Alex's schedule to open up in the afternoon. Baldy is the furthest southern summit on the Bridger Ridge and the first peak north along the ridge from the M parking lot. Baldy has three false summits, coming from the south, before you reach the true summit (see the above photo). I had always thought that the first of these was Baldy - there's even a summit register there - but the high point is nearly a mile further on. The hike took me about 5 hours round trip, which was perfect. Once down, Alex and his girl friend Lindsay were ready to get together. We had dinner, and then after coffee and breakfast in the morning, followed by a quick trip out to Bob Ward's to see Alex's place of employment, I hit the road, taking a detour to Norris Hot Springs along the way.  
Looking east at the Crazies.

Looking southeast at the Absoroka.

Bozeman from the ridge.

Another shot of the Absoroka.

Taking the long way home so as to hit Norris Hot Springs.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Two Late-Season Outings: Big Hole Lookout and the Rattlesnake Wilderness Boundary

Big Hole Lookout: Jen lounging, Ellie in the shade, and Baldy Mountain in the distance.
One of the most beautiful days of the entire year was Saturday October 17. It was a bluebird day and was warm, but the sun's direct rays were soft. There are only a handful of such days in a year, and it was a gift to have one on a weekend. Even more of a gift was that Ellie woke up wanting to do something with Jen and I, so we cancelled our plans to do a long mountain bike ride and instead went with Ellie down to the Plains, Montana area for a hike. Last year at about this time we went to the same area and climbed Baldy Mountain on a similarly spectacular fall day. There are a number of great family friendly hikes near Plains and Thompson Falls. There's also a good ice cream parlor in Plains, and Quinn's Hot Springs nearby for a soak on the way home, making for a full and pleasurable day. 

This year we opted to hike to Big Hole Lookout, which I learned about because Big Hole Peak (about 1/8th of a mile from the lookout) is one of Montana's 143 peaks with 2000 or more feet of prominence. It's a bit of a drive to the trail head, but on a beautiful day, who cares? I highly recommend the hike for families. It's probably about 3 miles to the lookout with not much elevation gain for a summit hike; you gain most of the elevation on the drive to the trail head.       
A closer shot of Ellie and Big Hole Lookout.
Pudge looking off toward Big Hold Lookout from Big Hole Peak.
The next day, with the weekend winding down, Jen and I decided at the last minute to ride up the Stuart Peak Trail to the Rattlesnake Wilderness boundary. This is a ride neither or us had done, so it felt good to get it in before the snow flies. It was a great ride, and we got back to the trail head just as the last cars were leaving and dark was descending, for a very full weekend indeed.
Jen on the near endless climb to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Boundary on the Stuart Peak Trail.
Jen showing good cornering technique with Missoula Valley in the background.

Finally made it.
Missoula Valley at dusk on the descent.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

South Heavenly Twin: Bitterroot Mountains

From the summit of South Heavenly Twin: the Big Creek drainage with Big Creek Lake in the shadows, Ranger Peak in the upper-right, and Sky Pilot on the left.
During the long spell or gorgeous weather over the past couple of weeks, I took a day and climbed South Heavenly Twin, which is just west of St. Mary Peak in the Bitterroot. This was a summit that had been high on my list of peaks to climb this year, but I'd always found a reason to do something different when an opportunity arose. I admit that I was a bit intimidated by it, as it looks difficult from a distance; see the next picture, taken from Glen Lake Peak last spring of the Heavenly Twin/St Mary ridge. 
The Heavenly Twins are the craggy twin summits on the left, with South Twin the one further to the right. St. Mary Peak is on the right.
I was surprised to find the climb straightforward, however, with nothing more than class 2+ near the summit, though you have to traverse around to the west face to keep things non-technical. Actually, this was a really nice, challenging fall hike. The most difficult part is the bushwhacking once you leave the Big Creek Trail at 4800 feet, heading north up a drainage that leads you to the southern flank of South Heavenly Twin. And also navigating a couple of the small waterfalls along this drainage, which were still only barely class 3 at worst. For my GPS route, see here.  
Looking south from South Heavenly Twin.
Looking north. North Heavenly Twin is in the foreground. Bass Peak, Stormy Joe, and St. Joseph's are in the distance.
Looking up the drainage toward South Heavenly in the morning light.

Looking down the same drainage a little bit later.
The southern flank of South Heavenly. My route took me up to the saddle just down from the summit cliffs. 
The same saddle a bit closer. 
Larch on the way out. For views from the summit. Look above.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Traversing the Rattlesnake

Kevin and Charlie walking the ridge from Mosquito Peak to Stuart Peak, in the distance.
It doesn't seem long ago that I was a poor and lowly graduate student. From 1996 to 2002 - with the exception of one lost year after my dad passed away - I spent my work days studying and teaching mathematics in Bozeman and Eugene, Oregon. Those were great years: we were poor, but enjoyed rich friendship and experiences. And to this day, some of my strongest friendships remain those that I forged while in graduate school, even if I don't see some of those guys very often.

Now that I'm settled, new friendships are rare, and even when they do form, they build more slowly and seem to be less intense. I'm not sure what the difference is. Perhaps it's that I have so much more responsibility and am more scattered, or that I no longer go through truly challenging experiences with a group of others. Whatever the case, life is different, and special, for the graduate student. 

This past weekend, I walked across the Rattlesnake Wilderness with my PhD student Kevin Joyce and his good friend and fellow UM Math PhD student Charlie Katerba. It was clear to me, after observing them through the day, that their's is a unique friendship of the type I described above. It's neat to see. 

The walk we did is one that I did with Matt Roscoe and Eric Leithe back in 2007 (see my description here). You start at the Finley Lakes trail head, which is relatively unknown and can be gotten to by turning east onto McClure Road south of Arlee, and then turning right about 3/4 mile later and driving to the end of the road. You follow trail (sometimes faint) to Upper Finley Lake and then angle southeast to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Divide. At this point you can see the gorgeous Sanders Lake, which is where you will meet the trail that takes you all the way to the Rattlesnake Trail Head. Along the way, we made slight detours to bag Mosquito and Stuart Peaks. The day was long, at 20 miles, but mostly on trail. In my view, this is one of the best outings around.  You can download my partial GPS here.    
Upper Finley Lake

Heading up to the Rattlesnake Divide. Upper Finley Lake is just visible below.
The view of Sanders Lake from the divide, 9am.
Heading down to Sanders Lake.
Some neat rock along the way.
Past Sanders Lake on our way to Mosquito Peak on the horizon.
Gaining Mosquito.
On the summit of Mosquito. McLeod Peak looms behind Charlie.
Another -- these guys are good friends. It brought back the strong friendships that I forged in grad school.
Walking the ridge south of Mosquito, with the Missoula Valley in the distance.

Some remote Rattlesnake lakes. At this point my camera batteries died.