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Volume 1.2

AUG.–SEPT. 2009


AUG.–SEPT. 2009

Montana Headwall

Page 3 August–September 2009

Missoula triathlon pros Linsey Corbin and Jennifer Luebke aspire to go the distance


HITTING THE PLATEAU George Ochenski finds subtle pleasures in the Beartooths

BALLAD OF THE MIRANDA JANE Josh Mahan survives high water on the Selway


Wild Things 34


Members of the corps


Glacier’s bugcatchers

Grub 36


Buggin’ out on pan-seared trout

Head Lines 11 Head Trip 38

50 miles of freedom Bear with us Surf the wild 'bago Givin' fish the finger Stairway to Heaven Power to the paddlers

Journey through the Gates

Head Out 48 Recreation calendar

Head Gear 51 Head Light 24 Illuminating the dark side

Micro light Petzl e+LITE MoonSaddle bike seat Surly’s Big Dummy cargo bike

Head Shots 25 The Crux 58

Our readers’ best photos

Setting sail atop Mount Jumbo



Matthew Frank, Skylar Browning Amy Linn Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Carolyn Bartlett, Tami Johnson, Steven Kirst, Chris Melton, Miriam Mick, Hannah Smith, Scott Woodall Lorie Rustvold

Please recycle this magazine

Chad Harder

Matt Gibson Lynne Foland Chad Harder Peter Kearns Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis

317 S. Orange St.• Missoula, MT 59801 406-543-6609 • Fax 406-543-4367

Montana Headwall is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2009 by Independent Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or in part is forbidden except by permission of Independent Publishing, Inc. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. And yeah, we’re having fun.

16 30 43




f Montana Headwall has you stoked, it’s not an accident. Passionate people have spent considerable energy putting up inspiring lines for you to enjoy. Building each issue requires something akin to planning an expedition. We pick objectives, button down the logistics, keep an eye on the budget, and most importantly, rope up with partners we can count on to help us plant the flag, or at least avoid dying in the effort. And yes— in case you’re wondering—an adventure like Headwall presents multiple hazards. Luckily, we’ve got a solid corps plotting the route and humping the load. It all starts with Managing Editor Chad Harder. If it’s steep and high, Harder dreams of climbing it in summer and skiing it in winter—or vice versa. A hardcore elk hunter and rope swing addict, he gets out all year long—and has an infectiously good time doing it. He is also a first-class photographer with an aptitude for the English language. Harder’s the perfect guy to lead Headwall, and we’re lucky to have him. Backing him up, Outside magazine veteran Amy Linn polishes the editorial copy until you can eat off it. A vigilant defender of precision and clarity, Linn renders

Montana Headwall

everything we do better, and saves everybody involved with Headwall from embarrassing themselves in front of you. Regular contributors Aaron Teasdale, Andy Smetanka and Ari LeVaux round out the editorial roster, each of them uniquely qualified to break verbal trail for us along the way. Teasdale’s a cycling junkie, avid skier and all-round gear nut who runs with the big dogs in the magazine business. Last year his account of a six-day ride around Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley won the Society of American Travel Writers award for “Best Article on Adventure Travel.” Smetanka, a filmmaker and artist who currently labors as caretaker of Missoula’s historic Moon-Randolph Homestead, cut his teeth as the Missoula Independent’s arts editor, earning a reputation for his sharp pen and staggering command of wildly obscure trivia. LeVaux, an avid hunter, locavore and outdoorsman, usually looks like he just emerged from two weeks in the backcountry. His food column “Flash in the Pan” has been appearing in newspapers from Missoula to Memphis for more than six years. Many others, of course, help us along the way,

Page 6 August–September 2009

including all the folks in production, sales and circulation—savvy sherpas helping to carry us to our publishing pinnacle, and together forming a formidable party. With two issues under our belt, we’re still learning our way around, and that’s definitely part of the pleasure. Montana’s got a huge, world-class playground to explore, and even with our hardy crew, we’ll never get to all of it. We’d welcome some friendly advice to help us find our way. So drop us a line to tell us what you think about Headwall and how we can make the magazine even better. We’ll appreciate the directions. See you on the trail. Matt Gibson Editor-In-Chief

Chad Harder


Lynne Foland A recent Montana transplant and recovering couch potato, Foland quests to experience as much of the Montana mystique as possible. With her remaining time, she’s either chasing her three-year-old son Brody or herding the staffs of the Missoula Independent and Montana Headwall as the general manager for both pubs.

Ali Gadbow After seeking her fortune on both coasts, Gadbow has happily resettled in her hometown, where she writes for several websites and the Missoula Independent. Gadbow also works on film locations as a production and camera assistant, and is slowly learning how to swim in a wetsuit.

Josh Mahan When not boating 1,500-mile sections of the Colorado River and dodging 200-round barrages of live fire from its banks near the Mexican border, Mahan works as an environmental journalist and editor. He recently coauthored Treespiker: From Earth First! to Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action, scheduled for release from St. Martin’s Press on Sept. 28.

George Ochenski An award-winning writer and accomplished alpinist, Ochenski has pioneered ski traverses across Montana’s mountain ranges, ice-climbed frozen waterfalls, and enjoyed plenty of stormridden tent time on major expeditions to Alaska. Ochenski continues to ski, climb and fish the high and wild places where nature, in all her glory, still calls the shots.

Ari LeVaux

Jeremy N. Smith

LeVaux writes “Flash in the Pan,” a syndicated weekly food column that has appeared in more than 500 newspapers. As a former instructor at the University of Montana in Missoula, LeVaux led student groups to Brazil, Bhutan, and Cuba to study agriculture and food. An avid hunter, skier and hiker, He excels at camp cooking, although he will admit his favorite food is fake mayo.

Smith’s work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, Montana Magazine, and High Country News. You can read his tales about the outdoors and other subjects at

N Ò othing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride” ~ John F. Kennedy

399 McCarthy Loop Hamilton, MT 59840 (406) 363-2662 Montana Headwall

Page 8 August–September 2009

Felt • Yeti • Ventana Turner • Raleigh • KHS


Music Gifts Jewelry Body Mind Spirit 237 Blaine

Missoula, MT



Drobnik of Bozeman—seen here approaching the halfway point—finished second among women with a time of 12 hours 31 minutes and 23 seconds. On the men’s side, James Rucker of Spokane set a new course record, crossing the finish line with a time of 8:55:24. —Yogesh Simpson


eventy-four racers scampered into the Gallatin Mountain Range’s high country for the Devil’s Backbone 50-mile run on July 11. Participants encountered a variety of distractions, from bear cubs and elk to a steep snowfield on the Hyalite Peak headwall that required a 180-foot fixed rope to aid in its crossing. Zanna

Yogesh Simpson


The griz next door

Last summer, wildlife biologists in Drummond trapped a sweet-toothed grizzly after the bear chomped on beehives, and in recent years grizzlies have been spotted near Anaconda, Stevensville, the Ninemile, Clinton, Ovando and Idaho’s Silver Valley. Plot these sightings on a map and one thing is clear: the massive animals are bearing down on Missoula. Biologically, these wandering bears represent a reassuring trend: the great bears, under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, are reclaiming historic habitat where they haven’t been spotted for a half-century. According to Wildlife Management Specialist Jamie Jonkel with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the expansion of their range will occur slowly and unpredictably, with lone males randomly exploring new country as they seek unoccupied turf. “More matriarch females are surviving,” Jonkel says. “And those females are producing young who take on a portion of their mother’s home range and also expand outward a little further.” Jonkel says it’s only a matter of time before they start poking around Missoula. “We’ve had grizzlies in the Rattlesnake,” he says. “Thank goodness none of them have figured out what garbage is.” To ensure it stays that way, FWP—and groups like the Defenders of Wildlife and the Blackfoot Challenge—are working to guarantee that humans in the grizzlies’ path do their best to limit attractants like food and trash. “We like to remind people that any issues that come up with sanitation related to black bears would of course be relevant to grizzly bears as well,” says FWP wildlife biologist

Ray Vinkey. “Treat any bear habitat in western Montana as if there is a potential for an encounter with a grizzly.” In Glacier National Park, where grizzlies abound, rangers cite visitors for leaving even unused water bottles unattended. Here in Missoula, city managers are considering an ordinance requiring bearproof garbage containers on the city’s urban fringe, but Jonkel doesn’t see strict, Glacier-style regulations coming to Missoula any time soon. He does acknowledge that several agencies, including FWP, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Bureau of Land Management are “thinking of enacting food orders.” “Glacier is extreme,” Jonkel says, “but they’re dealing with gobs of people. We’ll never get to that level in the forest, but down the road as western Montana turns into a Seattle, things could change.” Jesse Froehling


He didn’t plan it this way, but “Fatty’s” campsite at the Limber Pine Campground near Beartooth Pass turns out to be perfect for ’bago surfing. (Fatty’s a nickname, as you might have


Surfing the wild ’bago

guessed, because ’bago surfing isn’t exactly legal.) The campground’s loop road brushes past Fatty’s tent site on the north end and rolls through the campground before circling back past the southern edge. Importantly, two stop signs separate the campground from the Beartooth Highway and beyond.

Sketching in his notebook and sipping coffee beneath a bright morning sun, Fatty perks up when a pickup truck, towing a Winnebago travel trailer, turns slowly into view. “Somebody needs to ride that ’bago!” he hollers. “You gonna show us?” a friend challenges. Fatty doesn’t hesitate. He drops his sketchbook and takes off toward the lumbering land yacht at a dead sprint, grabbing onto the moving trailer’s ladder just as it rolls out of view. A minute later, the truck and trailer appear again, with Fatty on top of the ’bago, crouched in his best pipeline shredder pose. The elderly driver—bewildered at the sight of Fatty’s friends doubled over in laughter—slows to a crawl. Fatty sees his chance, deftly shimmies down the ladder and casually strolls back to his coffee. Relatively unknown in Montana, Fatty says ’bago surfing is integral to cutting one’s teeth in the infamous lowbagger rock climbing community at California’s Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, the sport was forever immortalized in 1979 when climbers put up a 5.10a line called “Ride a Wild ’Bago.”

Illustration by Rob Rusignola

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Having squatted in the park for five months last year, Fatty is now a grizzled veteran of RV surfing. The objective, he says, is twofold: First, ride the ’bago as long as possible while always being alert to one’s surroundings. Note stop signs and any other slow spots where riders might find an opportunity to dismount. Stuck atop a fully-gassed travel trailer as it accelerates toward Cody would be a worst-case scenario. The second objective, Fatty says, is to ride unnoticed, because RVers are unlikely to share the same appreciation for the sport as their squatters. The same is likely true for campground hosts—and local sheriffs. But despite the risks inherent to hitching a ride on a quarter-million dollar camper, Fatty says new riders generally end up hooked on the sport. He tells the story of a young visitor to Joshua Tree, new to climbing and surfing alike, who in a few short months became a champion ’bago rider. “I’d say, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’” Fatty says. “And he’d say, ‘Rode four ’bagos today, and it’s not even breakfast.” Jesse Froehling


Give ’em the finger! A fluorescent yellow doohickey with a phallic profile dangles from Mark Stergios’ shirt pocket. Evoking Richard “Data” Wang, the gadgeteer from “The Goonies,” Stergios enthusiastically sticks his left thumb into the hollow polyurethane cylinder and yanks it away from his chest, as if holding the jaw of a trout. When he’s done, the attached retractor cord quickly zips it back. Stergios, a lifelong Missoula resident, invented the Fishin’ Finger to protect fishermen’s thumbs from even the toothiest of fish, inspired by his own scarred digit. Chad Harder “I pretty much dreamed this up because I’ve been fishing for 50 years,” Stergios says. “Every once in a while you land a really big one, and those big ones can have a mouthful of teeth. Even trout have little bristly, needlesharp teeth.” The beauty of it, he says, is you never need to take your eyes off the fish.

Montana Headwall

“You just stick your thumb in there, extend your arm, grab that fish by the lower jaw and hold him. Now you can set your rod down, take the fly out.” But the $15 made-inMissoula product—available at Bob Ward and Sons, Brady’s Sportsman’s Surplus and—isn’t selling well, Stergios laments. “And I’ll tell you why: It doesn’t look like anything. You have to see it work.” Stergios’ provisional patent on the Fishin’ Finger expired this spring, and he’s looking for an investor or two to help penetrate the lucrative but hard-to-enter fishing products market. Production is no problem—his Missoula-based manufacturer can produce 10,000 Fishin’ Fingers in a month—but Stergios needs to find enough scarred-thumb fishermen to buy them. “Too bad Billy Mays died,” Stergios says. “We need an infomercial on this.” Matthew Frank

Page 13 August–September 2009

of the basin before blasting across McDonald Creek, piling trees like Lincoln Logs on the other side of the valley. Few sightseeing tourists will likely even notice, but climbers with an eye toward the heights most certainly will. Why? Because Heaven’s Peak is inarguably the most dramatic peak visible on the Sun Road’s west side. Its snowfields dominate the western horizon en route to Logan Pass, enticing climbers with its striking summit on any and every blue-sky day. Like most of Glacier’s mountains, summitting this beast is no picnic. No trails cross any of its flanks, and more than 5,000 vertical feet separate the summit from the nearest access point. Regardless of the route chosen, summiteers face major obstacles, including a raging stream crossing, gripping exposure and an intensive day of route-finding through rugged terrain. But it’s the bushwhack that breaks most parties, repulsing well-equipped mountaineers as they hunch and crawl their way through sustained purgatorial thickets brutal even by park standards. To overcome this barrier and ascend in earnest, you need perseverance—or the hand of God.



Hand of God

Much has been made about the unprecedented avalanche that thundered off the Garden Wall on Glacier National Park’s west side earlier this year, a “Cat 5” slide that blew out two stretches of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Much less has been said about a similarly substantial slide rocking its way out of Heaven’s Peak’s southeast bowl last winter, although it crossed a section of the road, too. More importantly, it denuded acres of slope once covered with cursed brush, clearing climbing routes that once required a hellacious bushwhack. Massive slides are common in Glacier’s steep terrain, perennially bombarding the park’s valleys and delaying road-clearing crews on their annual push toward Logan Pass. As the plows work, skiers and climbers stand at the ready, eager for easy access to the high country. When new slides slow the crews even further, mountaineers share the frustration. But slides don’t just hinder, they can also assist. The white wall hurtling down Heaven’s Peak scoured the bottom third Chad Harder

Ibis + Cervelo + Pinarello + Felt Scott + Rocky Mountain + Titus

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104 O'Brien Avenue Whitefish Montana 406.862.5321 fast like pancakes Montana Headwall

Page 14 August–September 2009

Heaven’s Peak, Glacier National Park

Fortunately, God arrived in the form of that crushing slide, effectively obliterating the willow gauntlet and sweeping clear the summit’s most direct route. With the penance of the bushwhack removed, what once seemed impassable has morphed, temporarily, into an honest climb for experienced mountaineers. Like all good things, this too will end. The punishing willows are growing quickly, as they always do, ready to thwart all but the most determined souls. But with the river down and the ’shwhack briefly tamed, fit climbers in search of an angelic ascent have a real chance of making it to the top, via this newly-formed stairway to Heaven. To find the approach, drive, bike or walk two miles east of Avalanche Campground and locate a crossable section of creek. Then ford carefully—drownings are the park’s biggest killer—and begin looking for a route up into the basin. For all the mountain’s impressive exposure, the route isn’t technical, and requires no specialized gear. Once you’ve attained the upper basin, it’s a fun choose-your-ownadventure the entire way to the summit. Chad Harder

186 S. 3rd St. Hamilton 375-9555


Juicin’ the ’Bud

What a difference six inches makes. Hardcore creekers with a need for the steep and nasty spend springtime anxiously sitting in front of their computers, checking online U.S. Geological Survey streamflow measurements, awaiting the perfect torrent before dropping the gnarliest freshet. Nowhere in Montana has the timing been more critical than in the northeast side of the Beartooth Mountains, where West Rosebud Creek flows below PPL Montana’s Mystic Lake Dam. Here, six inches of water turns a quiet mountain stream into a rowdy, 2.5 mile stretch of raging class IV-V+ whitewater. “It’s a steep, shallow thing, and really fun,” says Mark Schaffer, a hydrologist and avid kayaker who participated in the initial flow studies. “It’s good continuous rock boating, but it’s only runnable for like a week and then it’s done.” Historically, the dam kept flows just below runnable levels at the beginning of the summer. But when spring snowmelt overtopped the dam and filled the creek,

1555 Liberty Lane #C Missoula 728-9545

boaters would jump at a narrow whitewater window that typically lasted only a few days. But this July, the nonprofit advocacy group American Whitewater, PPL Montana, and a handful of other interest groups hammered out an agreement that calls for dependable releases from a small reservoir below the dam to keep flows runnable on summer weekends following the pulse. The added juice will likely stretch the creek’s whitewater season by an average of three weeks a year. It’s a win-win situation, says Kevin Colburn, National Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. Boaters will have increased opportunity and PPL will suffer no power loss because the water has already been through the dam’s generator. Since the agreement has been incorporated into PPL Montana’s 40-year federal dam license renewal, the augmented flows are here to stay. “It’s a pretty elegant solution,” says Colburn. “It’s a subtle change to the flows that will have big recreational benefits.” Yogesh Simpson

702 S.W. Higgins Ave., Ste. B Missoula 721-9543

Chad Harder


t’s 7:30 a.m. on a chilly morning in early June, and the gates at Frenchtown Pond State Park are still locked. Shivering, the swimmers gaze over the gray pond and help each other squeeze into wetsuits. The rain let up an hour ago and a dreary mist lifts off the grass as sun reluctantly rises. This is Monday, a recovery day, so the swim will be easy— by their standards. Wading into the calm, 60-degree water, they set out at a steady pace. In less than a minute they’ve rounded the jellybean curve of the pond, the black arms of their wetsuits flashing above the water like Canada geese taking flight.


Chad Harder

Montana Headwall

Page 17 August–September 2009

run. Later that year she completed the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, while nursing a broken collarbone. “I go into every race expecting pain and discomfort,” the 28-year-old Corbin says. “I mean, who said doing an Ironman would be easy?” Corbin just makes it look easy. Two years into her pro, chatting in a coffee shop, fessional career she cemented her standing among the international triathlon ranks in a way that brings by finishing as the top American woman and fifth a as if some darting, overall at the 2008 Ironman World Championships, swooping securing her position as one of the top female triathletes continually spurs her to . in the world. Corbin’s swift ascent to world-class status has made her one of the bleeding where their wetsuits abrade very few professionals in the sport who their necks. makes enough money on races and Corbin is accustomed to pain and unimendorsements to comfortably support herpressed by the minor bloodshed. In 2006 self, and she does it all from Missoula—far she lost eight toenails during her first from sponsors, coaches, and elite profesIronman—a race that combines a 2.4-mile sional communities in places like San Diego swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile Professional triathlete Linsey Corbin is out in front, followed by her young protégé Jennifer Luebke and two male teammates— the four lapping the pond in tight formation. After 30 minutes they head toward the dock. Leaving the water, their chatter is an oddly cheery contemplation of a problem common to cold-water swimmers: anticipated

at rest Corbin seems alert to mind kestrel, part of her nature keep flying Even

Using a stationary, computer-controlled training bike, Corbin hides from the sun while sweating it out on a 90-degree day in June.

Chad Harder

Corbin and her training partners swim laps during a 6:30 a.m. session at the University of Montana’s Grizzly Pool.

and Boulder. With a supportive community of enthusiastic endurance athletes, Missoula offers its own distinct advantages and helps shape a training regimen that, while unorthodox, has rocketed her to the top tier of pro triathlon and made her a legitimate contender for the world championship. “People ask how I survive and train year-round here,” she says. “I have found a way to make it work.”

FORCE OF NATURE A hyper-energetic blonde, Corbin inhabits a compact frame that seems ideally suited for a sport designed to push competitors’ bodies to their limits, and her watchful eyes suggest the intense focus required to compete at sustained levels for hours on end. Even at rest, chatting in a coffee shop, Corbin seems alert in a way that brings to mind a kestrel, as if some darting, swooping part of her nature continually propels her to keep flying. Originally from Bend, Ore., Corbin attended college in California before moving to Missoula in 2000, where she fell in love with the town and with Chris Corbin, the man who would become her husband. She dabbled in downhill ski racing in high school, and also ran track and cross-country, but nothing in her youth foretold her rapid

Chad Harder


$100 Gift Card to The Trail Head, a GPS from Vann’s, and a subscription to Montana Headwall

Vann’s, The Trail Head and Montana Headwall present a Vann’s

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rise as a triathlete. In 2003, on a whim, she entered Missoula’s Grizzly Triathlon and won. Just three years later Corbin set a course record for her age group at the 2006 Wildflower Triathlon at Lake San Antonio, Calif., one of the largest and most prestigious races in the country. An amateur at the time, she was ineligible for the $3,000 prize her third-place finish would have earned, prompting her quick decision to go pro. Since then, Corbin has enjoyed renown as Missoula’s premier professional triathlete, a hero to the local multisport crowd and a favorite of the national press. “She has definite star quality,” says Brad Culp, editor of Triathlete magazine. “Linsey is one of those people that everyone likes. It’s hard not to. She comes off as an everyday country girl who just happens to be really fast at swimming, biking and running. Linsey is definitely

Mike Shipman

Despite losing two months of training to a nagging hamstring injury, Corbin finished second in the Ironman Boise 70.3. one athlete that we all look forward to seeing at the races.” Even fellow triathletes can be star-struck in her presence. Seattle age-grouper Phil Spencer joked on his blog that Corbin “demanded she get a photo” with him at this spring’s Grizzly Triathlon, though it’s presumable Spencer was the one begging for the snapshot. Corbin’s growing celebrity springs naturally from a competitive zeal that never shuts down, on or off the racecourse. When she isn’t putting in her 25 to 30 hours of weekly training—including a daily swim regimen, weekly distance runs and 100-mile bike rides—she’s likely maintaining her Web site, keeping up a steady correspondence with coaches, sponsors and reporters, or teaching clinics for the local triathlon club. If it weren’t for Montana’s icy winters, Corbin admits she’d struggle to keep her drive in check. “Winter is great for me—at least the first part—because it really forces me to take a break in my training and take a proper off-season,” Corbin says. “I have always wondered, if I lived

in Tucson or San Diego, what it would be like to train year-round. I think the injury and burnout rate would be pretty high for me.”

MONTANA STYLE From a triathlete’s perspective, Montana is a cold, harsh place for much of the year. Lakes and rivers never really warm, and snow often frustrates joggers and cyclists well into June. Despite less-than-ideal training conditions, Missoula sustains a thriving triathlon scene, and a number of impressive young athletes have emerged from the ranks of the local racing club, Team Stampede, which fostered Corbin’s raw talent as an amateur and remains a vital part of her life. In 1994, endurance athlete Matt Seeley and a handful of like-minded friends created the club as a nurturing ground for Missoula triathletes. Since then, Team Stampede has claimed four national club championships and propelled several members into professional racing.

mentality that we’ve been taught from other Missoula triathletes that you go big or you go home,” Corbin says. “There’s a

Early Stampeders earned a reputation for “just coming in and sleeping wherever,” Seeley says. “It was a different approach from those people who had a hotel and had to be in bed by nine o’clock.” But members of the scruffy Montana crew began to consistently finish in the top slots. Stampeders may appear easygoing, but in competition they’re fierce. “There’s a mentality that we’ve been taught from other Missoula triathletes that you go big or you go home,” Corbin says. “We’d always show up at Wildflower like a ragtag team on borrowed bikes, but we had an extremely strong work ethic. We would just go and kick everyone’s butt, passing people on $6,000 bikes [while] we’re not even clipped into our pedals.” With endorsements from the likes of Saucony and Clif Bar paying her travel and equipment expenses, Corbin has the freedom to live and train anywhere in the world. But she says she’s got a good thing going and plans to stick around. “Linsey is at a level where it’s tempting to be closer to coaches and sponsors,” says Seeley, who thinks her choice to stay in Missoula shows “she’s got a loyalty to the Montana scene.” In a nod to the Stampede tradition of grit, guts and good cheer in any situation, Corbin crosses all her finish lines wearing a cowboy hat, a practice begun by the original Montana Headwall

Page 21 August–September 2009

ROOKIE PRO JENNIFER LUEBKE: NO FRAGILE FLOWER Jennifer Luebke won the women’s Olympic distance competition at the Wildflower Triathlon in central California this spring, a high-profile victory that, like Corbin’s 2006 Wildflower performance, spurred her to turn pro. A soft-spoken Frenchtown native with a fresh-scrubbed face, Luebke has wide eyes and a shy smile that give her an air of sweetness and delicacy. But she’s an aggressive competitor and tougher than she looks. Most people thought she wouldn’t return to Wildflower after she left the course on a stretcher last year. The 2008 race had been going so well for Luebke that she neglected to eat or drink enough and bonked just a mile from the finish. “I ended up passing out while I was running,” she says, laughing. “They found me pretty much face down in the dirt.” In her first professional race, the Ironman Boise 70.3 in June, Luebke brought home a 16th-place finish—a strong showing, though out of the money. But she’ll get plenty more chances. Gentle but determined and only 23 years old, she’s a mere babe by triathlon standards, with plenty of time to develop into a world beater. In the meantime, she’ll pay her dues. Like many others in the sport, Luebke juggles a rigorous training schedule with a passel of part-time jobs: coaching eighth-grade swimmers, assisting at an

Stampeders. An instantly recognizable accessory, the hat distinguishes Corbin from a crowd of nearly identical toned and ponytailed women, and tells the world she’s proud to be Montana-made. “Nothing compares to coming home to my great training partners, friends, and [husband] Chris, of course,” Corbin says. “I have been to a lot of places in the last four years, and it is pretty hard to find a place where you can leave your front door and only hit two traffic lights and then be able to ride for four to six hours.”

FINITE FOCUS Rarely do amateur triathletes compete for anything more than a T-shirt, and even the best athletes still devote years of hard work before moving to the pro class and competing for purses ranging from $500 to more than

Mike Shipman

interior design firm, working as a nanny for a 5-year-old, and “random tutoring” for high school students. “It keeps me sane,” Luebke says of the sport. “No matter how busy I am I always make time to do something [active]. Otherwise I’m extremely cranky.” —Ali Gadbow

$200,000 for winning the world championship in Hawaii. Even at the upper echelon very few pros earn enough from racing to quit their day jobs. Seeley—“a true triathlon legend” in Corbin’s words—continued to teach mathematics at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo during his nearly 10 years of professional racing. Corbin may prove to be an exception. Three years into her pro career she’s earning enough to spend her days training rather than working a shift, and she owns 11 bikes, including a high-tech, hyper-specialized triathlon bike that costs $10,000. The single-purpose machine is a far cry from her first racing bike. “When I first started I used a borrowed bike,” Corbin says. “It was my husband’s— well, boyfriend at the time—and then, over time, as I got better I got nicer equipment.”

With few other accessible swimming opportunities, racers hit Frenchtown Pond in the early morning for open water swimming practice.

Choice gear may give pros an edge, but above all, winning an Ironman requires mental discipline. A wandering mind can throw you off your game, allow negative thoughts to eat at your confidence, or cause race-ending errors—like failing to eat enough. The secret to success, Corbin says, is to develop “finite focus.” Only one thing should be on a racer’s mind, and that’s the next immediate task in the race. “If you think about the whole thing it’s pretty overwhelming,” Corbin says. “On the marathon, for sure, just think about one mile at a time. You can’t Continued on page 54

Chad Harder

HEAD LIGHT by Chad Harder

Illuminating the dark side We’d been underground just 20 minutes when an assembly of inverted icicles more than 5 feet tall blocked our path. This otherworldly discovery clearly warranted a photograph, but how can you illuminate crystalline stalagmites in an inky cave, with only a pair of headlamps? Start by setting your camera on a tripod and selecting the longest manual exposure available. Many point-andshoot models have a maximum shutter length of 15 seconds; Canon’s popular digital Rebel tops out at 30. Either is plenty of time for “painting with light.”

Argenta Cave, near Dillon.

Now, fire your shutter and start “painting” your subject with your headlamp. Avoid shining the light from behind the tripod, because side-lighting adds texture and shadow to your image—and makes it look pro, too. Experiment with duration and intensity of light, and try different lamps—LEDs appear purple next to yellowish tungsten bulbs. Continue playing until the image matches your vision. As long as you have a tripod and darkness, this technique is simple, easy and fun. Just grab a headlamp and tap into your inner Picasso.


A lone hang glider prepares for a September launch from the summit of Mount Sentinel. 1/125 sec @ / f16. Michael Schweizer

Montana Headwall

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HEAD SHOTS Glacier National Park’s Baring Creek continues its relentless carving of Sunrift Gorge. 1/15 sec @ f/13. Ralph Thornton

Descending rotten limestone toward the Riddle Lakes Basin after climbing the southwest ridge of Gray Wolf Peak. 1/160 sec @ / f11. Morgen Lanning

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HEAD SHOTS Hikers make their way through the waterfalls cascading from Mount Jackson as they climb toward Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park. 1/125 sec @ f/11. John Thompson

Angler Rick Rosenthal casts for trout on Yellowstone National Park’s namesake river. 1/500 sec @ f/5.6. Colin Ruggiero

The staff of Montana Headwall knows you’re out there, having wicked adventures and documenting your exploits photographically. Problem is, even excellent images often get dumped onto a hard drive, never again seeing the light of day. We’re ready to fix this tragedy by dedicating a few pages of every issue to our readers’ best photos. The criteria are simple: go outside, play hard, and take a bunch of pictures. Then send your best to Include your name, where you shot it, the names of all people pictured and the technical beta like shutter speed and aperture. We’ll take it from there. Now get outside and start shooting.

New issue on newsstands in October! MONTANA HEAD WALL Volum e 1.2

AUG.–SEP T. 2009

AUG.–SE PT. 2009




by George Ochenski photos by Chad Harder


he rutted two-track ends at the crumbling ruins of a century-old mining site. Ancient rocks hemmed by rusted iron and black slag guard the entrance to the AbsarokaBeartooth Wilderness like a medieval tower. Our destination, however, lies far beyond the ruins left by early miners. We’ve come for Granite Peak, Montana’s highest mountain, hoping to scale a rarely-climbed route on its rock and ice draped flanks. Climbers have established many routes up Granite’s 12,799-foot summit, and my climbing partner Chad Harder and I have chosen the southwest couloir, one of the mountain’s most obscure. It’s only moderately technical, but the route’s arduous 16mile approach sways most climbers in favor of easier trails. Wary of the Beartooth Plateau’s notoriously fierce and fickle weather, and anticipating at least one down day, we’ve got enough food for a week. With the sun already low in the sky when we arrive at the trailhead, we stop just two miles up the trail at Lady of the Lake, a 42acre azure pool reflecting the surrounding slopes and distant peaks. We tuck into the pines at the far end of the lake, a perfect site with water on three sides and splendid views. While setting up the tent, we’re joined by several mule deer grazing without fear right in our camp. Watching quietly, we nearly miss the pine marten—a rare cat-sized member of the weasel family—as it scampers

toward us on a log, inspects our camp and quietly disappears into the brush. Minutes later, a large cow moose crashes through the brush, runs across a grassy opening and splashes through the lake’s meandering inlet. The moose keeps looking nervously behind her, and soon she vanishes into the trees. Just as she slips from sight, a huge grizzly bear explodes into view, swinging its enormous head from side to side and sniffing the air as it runs straight through the stream. Hot on the moose’s trail, the bear’s muscles and hide ripple as it charges toward its quarry. The bear melts into the darkening woods as darkness falls on our camp.

Above: Alpine asters stand tall in late summer snow. Below: Tarn of the tadpoles.

With a grizzly nearby hungry enough to pursue a full-grown moose, we keep the bear spray close at hand that night, just in case he stops by, looking for dessert. Out here, nature still calls the shots. Ravenous predators make their own rules, and we are definitely visitors—and rather small visitors at that.

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midges? But something is missing—the dead giveaway of concentric circles made by a rising fish. To our amazement, a closer look reveals the wakes actually track the thumbsized tadpoles of boreal toads. The range and habits of boreal toads in Montana remain somewhat unknown. They are found in alpine environments up to 11,500 feet of elevation. Like their relative, the Great Plains toad, these nocturnal amphibians breed in small water bodies. If the mature toads feed just a dozen times a year on insects, they have a chance to survive. Hunkered in our down parkas and fending off a howling blizzard, we wish the infant croakers luck. With no fish biting, we leave them to their fate and return to our camp for another trout-less dinner of freezedried mush, wondering aloud if we should be frying tadpoles instead.

There’s wonder aplenty in wilderness, and sometimes magic, too. Packing up camp the next morning, we begin climbing toward higher and rockier ground when a beautiful doe begins leading us up the trail. Never more than 40 yards in front of us, the doe stops regularly, looking back as if to make sure we are keeping up. For a mile or more we follow willingly as she continues through the pines, uncannily leading us toward our “The Spires” above Upper Aero Lake. objective. Entering a lush, wildflower-filled meadow well beyond the trail system, and we follow at the confluence of two rushing streams, she narrow, snow-covered game paths worn by stops and grazes contentedly. deer, elk, and bighorn sheep We leave her behind to find through rocky headwalls our way—hopefully to a laced with glistening waterWith , we leave the trout-filled lake with a fantasfalls. Eventually, even those tic campsite. thin paths vanish as we push tadpoles to their and return to our They say “behind every up onto the expansive, goldfly angler there’s a blackened en granite plateau. We finally skillet,” and since we’ve camp for another trout-less dinner of arrive at the shores of the lugged one along, pulling a slate-gray lake, 10,128 feet dinner trout or two from the , wondering aloud if above sea level. tiny, rock-bound glacial lake Here, the forest gives would really hit the spot. way to the true high alpine we should be . Scrambling down to its shore, country for which the I haven’t even chosen a fly Beartooth Plateau is famous. when the first flakes of a fierce snowstorm Gone are the tall pines, the lush greenery descending from the Beartooth Plateau rip Roughin’ it and abundant wildlife of the lower elevainto us. We’d soon learn that this was only the According to venerable Montana backtions. Instead, we find a world of stony first of many on the trip. packer Bill Schneider’s book Best Backpacking fangs and icy snow beneath the imposing Snow or not, we’re hungry for fish. I pull Vacations in the Northern Rockies, Rough Lake shoulders of Granite Peak, and we’re on my hood, and get to casting. I notice a got its name “because it’s rough getting there awestruck by its fearsome beauty. trailing wake on the lake’s surface. Perhaps a by any route.” Indeed, we found out for ourAfter scouting for a reasonably flat and prostunted alpine cutthroat, cruising for tiny selves: Schneider speaks truth. The lake lies tected campsite on the barren rocks, I again try my luck with the flyrod. Nothing in those bonechilling, crystalline waters will bite. Suddenly, clouds start swallowing the surrounding peaks. A howling squall rushes down from the flanks of Granite Peak, and I’m forced to give up. We scramble to pitch the tent in the teeth of the storm, barely sheltered by the solitary copse of tiny scrub pines, the only protection available from the driving, windblown snow. As the light begins to fade, we crawl inside the little tent, fire up the stove and eat

no fish biting fate

freeze-dried mush frying tadpoles instead

Charging through the meadow just 600 feet away from camp, a griz chases a cow moose.

another disappointing bag of freeze-dried glop. Outside our thin nylon shell, the storm rages. The clatter of wind-driven sleet against the fly settles into the subtle swish of blowing snow. We start doubting whether we’ll be able to make our summit attempt. Downing the last of our whiskey, we burrow into our thick down bags to sleep through the howling tempest. All night long the storm buffets the tent, and by the time we awaken, the season has clearly changed to winter. Deep drifts surround the tent. At dawn, a hole opens in the sky above us, illuminating a postcard view of an ice-covered wonderland, sprawling in all directions. The sharp black peaks hold a frosting of white, looking entirely like the bear teeth that give the range its name. Between storms, we eat breakfast, sip on hot coffee and begin loading our packs for a summit that has again vanished from view. We’re sensing, but not yet admitting, that Granite Peak, its summit still 3,000 feet above us in swirling clouds, will not be climbed on this trip. Nor will we be climbing any of the lesser peaks. Like Granite, they’re coated in verglas, a thin, nearly invisible layer of ice formed when snowmelt or rain falls on rock and freezes. It makes climbing virtually impossible because the ice is too thin to use crampons or ice axes, but far too slick for boots. Traveling on verglas is miserable—and dangerous—even on moderate terrain, and the ice has been responsible for many tragedies in mountaineering’s long history. The relentless weather shows no signs of improving, and we finally accept that our push for Montana’s highest point is over. “We tried,” Chad offers. “Couldn’t really have tried any harder. It’s just that it’s winter in September up here.” I nod. It’s true. Had the forces of nature cooperated, we were prepared. But with no reasonable possibility of crossing the remaining couple miles of rime-covered boulder fields, our attempt seems so futile, it’s funny. We laugh and fire up the stove for another round of thick, black coffee. No longer pressed for time, we relax and watch the low clouds churn past us. Beams of morning sunlight break through and paint the otherworldly plateau in a beautiful silver. It’s our silver lining, brought to us in a cloud.

Weighing our options for the return trip, we decide to scramble over a rocky ridge toward Aero Lakes. If possible, the route will turn our aborted summit bid into an aesthetic, looping hike through the wilderness, allowing us to explore new country on our way out. Shouldering our packs, we begin working our way up the ice-covered boulder fields surrounding Rough Lake, but soon, another fierce north wind punches us in the face, blinding us with yet more horizontal, driving snow. Realizing the futility of heading higher, we turn our backs to the blizzard and backtrack over the snow-covered miles that brought us into this rocky cirque. The wintery weather mellows the farther we

descend, and soon we arrive at the protected beauty of Lady of the Lake for our last night in the wild.

Finally, the fish We never attain the summit of Granite Peak, but a full-blown, week-long wilderness Continued on page 55

From top: Wilderness guide. Rough Lake gets blasted by another icy squall. Lady of the Lake.

Montana Headwall

Page 33 August–September 2009

Glacier’s bugcatchers

by Andy Smetanka


Sticking it to insects, one dewdrop at a time


s there a kid in the world whose eyes don’t light up at the mention of a carnivorous plant? I must have gone through five Venus flytraps growing up, those potted efforts found in the back of comic books amid ads for sea monkeys and X-ray glasses. Even the most reluctant young naturalist will warm to the idea of a plant that eats animals, standing the food chain on its head! The popular flytraps are native only to the Carolinas, but other vegetable carnivores are found in all 50 states. Montana has two basic types: bladderworts, which capture small aquatic organisms using osmosis-powered vacuum sacs, and sundews, which snag insects and other small invertebrates with specialized leaves sparkling with sticky mucilage reminiscent of dewdrops. Hence the common name sundew, and the botanical name Drosera, from the Greek word for the same thing.

Like all carnivorous plants, sundews evolved into bug-catchers to compensate for the nutrient-poor soils typical to the swampy environments they prefer. In Glacier National Park, sundews form thick, mossy mats in “fens,” essentially bog-like areas with low acidity soils—and no shortage of insects, either. To compensate for its poorly-developed root system, the sundew instead relies on its gracile, highly specialized leaves to acquire, from captured bugs, the nitrogen necessary for manufacturing proteins. One set of glands produces the sweetish mucilage and digestive enzymes while a second set absorbs the forthcoming “nutrient soup” of dissolved insect. Alas, sundews in Montana—and worldwide—are under increasing pressure as human activities encroach on their habitat. Carnivorous plant communities are fragile and intimately tied to specific locales, and once they’ve been removed from the landscape they have

proven nearly impossible to restore. That’s relevant to you, because while a single sundew couldn’t possibly put a dent in mosquito numbers, entire colonies of them clearly do. In one study, scientists found that a resident Drosera population snared as many as six million insects in its tiny tentacles, all in a two-acre bog. That sounds like six million reasons to make sure carnivorous plants are with us for years to come, and tells me that the best encounter with a rare sundew—and not only if you’re a bug— may be no encounter at all.

Chad Harder

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Montana Headwall

Page 35 August–September 2009

Frying high

by Ari LeVaux


Buggin’ out on pan-seared trout


onster bugs in Argentina taught me how to fish. Known as tábanos in their South American homeland, these ferocious bastards are as big and loud as June bugs, with armor-like shells and a very painful bite. With the airspeed of miniature tanks, they’re slow enough to snag mid-flight, or when you feel them chewing into your leg. A buddy and I were deep in the backcountry of northern Patagonia some years back when we found the bugs—or rather they found us—at our lakeside camp. Fortunately, my survival kit contained an emergency spool of fishing line and some basic tackle, and I quickly set about impaling captured tábanos. Stuck to the hook but still buzzing, I tossed them onto the lake and waited quietly. The trout were not so patient, and soon we had a row of lunkers flopping on the beach beside us. After a pleasant afternoon of baiting hooks and railing trout, I tried a spinning lure from my little kit. I tossed the spinner into the lake and pulled it in, hand over hand, careful to keep it spinning in the clear water. I was half-sorry to discover that spinners were even more attractive to the trout than the tortured tábanos. We hadn’t anticipated this kind of luck, and nothing in our packs seemed useful for cooking fish except salt, pepper and a pot, which we placed on the fire with a fish curled around its perimeter. Any attempt to flip the fish failed, and we ended up stirring around the disintegrating flesh until it turned into a perfect and absolutely delicious mess. Meanwhile, the tábano offensive refused to let up. Since they were no longer useful we turned up our slaps from stun to kill. Ten years and endless numbers of Montana trout later, my fishing skills have hardly progressed. Why? Because catching trout in remote and lightly-fished mountain lakes requires remarkably little skill. And Montana Headwall

Chad Harder

that’s why, after a decade of exploring Montana’s best alpine trout lakes, I’m loathe to enter trout country without my fishing gear—a cheap spinning rod with basic tackle that ran me just $30. Now, purists can rest assured that if I knew how to fly cast, I would. The gear weighs less, and in expert hands will slay more trout than spinners. But I’m not an expert, and spinners have suited me just fine. Of course, even skillful anglers get skunked, and an experienced camper knows to prepare for the stubborn (or smart) fish that refuses your charms. I always carry a few freeze-dried meals to fill my belly when fish aren’t. But pre-packaged meals are no substitute for trout, and if there’s room in my pack I’ll justify carrying the extra ounces of a lightweight fry pan. On fast ’n light scrambles, like up and beyond the Froze-to-Death-Plateau, a folded sheet of aluminum foil—one per meal— more than suffices.

Page 36 August–September 2009

Frying requires fat, and while some swear by butter, I pack safflower oil. It doesn’t melt in the pack and it takes the reckless heat of a Whisperlite stove or sloppy campfire without scalding. Limes are heavy but necessary, and when combined with a bare-bones backpacker spice kit of black pepper and salt (or garlic salt) they create the ultimate in minimalist fish-cooking kits. If you’re good with edible plants, consider adding some to your dish. Wild onions abound in many if not most of Montana’s alpine meadows and make a perfect companion to fresh fish. Chop and add them when the fish are almost done cooking. Mountain sorrel has a nice tart flavor that can substitute for lime, especially useful if you squeezed all your limes into last night’s gin and tonics. Toss in some young leaves and they’ll wilt like spinach. Backcountry chefs fortunate enough to have a pan can simply gut the fish and fry it in oil, adding spices at the end. Foil pouch cooks can just combine everything, including lime and/or water to keep it moist, and seal the pouch by carefully folding it over the fish and then folding the edges, too. Keep in mind that a blazing bonfire will burn right through foil, so let your cooking fire settle before building a coal bed slightly away from the flames. This allows your fish to cook to perfection, without burning or losing all the jus. The splendor of Montana’s backcountry can be as delicious as it is beautiful. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to get the wilderness into the pot. Feasting on alpine pescado before kicking back beneath the stars will help most any adventurer get closer to nature’s roots. Sure, there’s no Southern Cross high overhead, but Big Sky Country offers plenty of lucky stars to thank, and our lack of tábanos is a fine place to start.

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Gates of history

by Lynne Foland


Boat-touring Montana’s storied limestone cliffs ewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery traversed an incalculable number of spectacular landscapes on their famed cross-country journey. But few of the West’s panoramas impressed the explorers as much as the limestone cliffs soaring above a stretch of the Missouri River in an area known today as the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. In his July 19, 1805 journal entry, Lewis noted that the Corps had just “entered much the most remarkable clifts… these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the hight of 1200 feet.” Initially the cliffs appeared to completely block their progress, but the “gates” gradually seemed to open when approached, revealing the narrow passage ahead. “[F]rom the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the rocky mountains,” Lewis wrote. Capt. Meriwether Lewis and


William Clark may have been the first travelers to record the Gates’ splendor, but the area has a long history of human activity, as proven by the well-preserved pictographs still gracing the canvas of white limestone. The artistry of these early Montana painters is best viewed from the river, where commercial boat tours have guided curious tourists through the nearly six-mile stretch of water below the escarpments since 1886, when local rancher Judge Nicholas Hilger purchased a 55-foot stern-wheeler, christened it the Rose of Helena and began transporting the inquisitive masses through the Gates’ storied walls. The Gates of the Mountains Marina boat service has provided an unbeatable way to access the canyon ever since. From a launch on Holter Lake, the marina’s two boats, the Hilger Rose and the

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Full Scandium Frame, Six Inches Of Trail-Lovin' Travel Lynne Foland

Sacajawea II and her load of sightseers ply the Missouri River. Sacagawea II, carry up to 70 passengers on informative two-hour tours through the gorge. About an hour into the cruise, the boat stops at the Meriwether Picnic Area, a scenic spot to stretch the legs or head off on a trail leading into Mann Gulch, the site of one of the worst disasters in forest fire-fighting history. In 1949, a small 30acre blaze blew up and engulfed 2,000 acres in just 10 minutes, killing 12 smokejumpers and a ranger as it raced across the hillside. Sixty years later, the gulch continues to draw visitors seeking to learn about the fire and visit memorials honoring the men’s lives. The excellent trail leading from the picnic area rolls through scattered wildflowers and old-growth pines while climbing to a high ridge overlooking the gulch. This moderately strenuous, switchbacked route climbs about 1,000 vertical feet, providing impressive views of both the gulch and the Missouri’s sinuous path through the Gates. The hike to the ridge takes a couple hours roundtrip and, if you take the early cruise, you can easily catch a later boat back to the marina. But the firefighter memorials lie on the opposite side of the canyon, and visitors should know that trip takes an additional two hours. Either way, unless you want a night behind the gate to get a sense of the Corps of Discovery’s pioneering spirit, we recommend you check with your boat captain to ensure another launch is scheduled for that day. Otherwise, you can count on a long and lonely night among the fabled caves and “clifts,” Meriwether Lewis-style. Ancient limestone pocked with cool, dark caves harbors twisted formations with nicknames like The Rhinoceros, The Devil’s Slide and The Monster (pictured).

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Montana Headwall

Page 40 August–September 2009

Your keys to the Gates Required reading Make the most out of your trip to Mann Gulch by reading Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire before you arrive. Haunted by the events of the Mann Gulch fire, Maclean spent the last several years of his life rigorously researching the catastrophic events. The result of his obsession is a devastating account of the tragedy and its aftermath. For those inspired to read it after they tour the gulch, the book can be purchased at the Gates of the Mountains Marina.

Hot tip for hikers While the tour provides the easiest and most informative way to see the Gates and the Mann Gulch memorials, heartier travelers may elect to hike in from the Spring Gulch Trailhead, a picturesque 10-mile-ish journey through rugged, seldom-traveled terrain. Meadows along the way afford peerless views of the 28,560-acre Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area and the river gorge abutting it. To get to the trailhead, travel northeast of Helena on Highway 280 to York, turn west and drive eight miles to Nelson. Take another left, drive four miles and then take a right on Forest Road 1812. Follow FR 1812 for three bumpy miles to the trailhead.

Bedding down Plentiful camping opportunities surround the three nearby lakes—Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter—formed by the damming of the Missouri. Try site #39 at the Court Sheriff Campground on Canyon Ferry’s northeast shore. It’s hidden among trees and unusually private for these lakeside campgrounds. Interested in a dose of history with minimal exertion? Stay at the Bungalow B&B, a cedar log lodge listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built for a wealthy rancher in 1913 and designed by Robert Reamer (who also designed the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone), the Bungalow offers a handful of antique-decorated rooms set amid a peaceful mountain setting in Wolf Creek – about 30 minutes north of the Gates Marina. Call (406) 235-4276 for info or reservations. Sieben

Mann Gulch Candle Mt Cap Mt

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Montana Headwall

Page 41 August–September 2009

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Page 42 August–September 2009

Ballad of the Miranda Jane Hell and high water on the Selway River HEAD TRIP by Josh Mahan

Josh Mahan


he bear hunters are shooting gophers from their truck at the base of Nez Perce Pass when we arrive. It’s early May, and as long as snow still clogs the high pass, their notoriously burly rig provides early-season boaters like us with the only way to access the 47-mile stretch of the Selway River—one of the country’s premier whitewater runs—boiling on the other side. “You don’t need us,” one says, explaining that a Forest Service snowplow driver already punched through the the filter, last remaining snowbank. “What’s the river runthe ning?” I ask. “Three feet,” the man says, setting his rifle down. “You think she’ll jump?” “Nah, there’s not enough snow left up there,” he says. We don’t need to hear anything else. My boating partner Cory Ackerman and I head up and over the pass. On the other side of the hill lies an immense wilderness not yet tamed by concrete and wire. We are in the middle of the wildest, most remote area in the Lower 48. Only one route provides any access: the Magruder Corridor Road, which divides the 1.2 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

descent on the Selway River is highly regulated, and floaters face a 1-in-30 chance of securing a permit through the Four Rivers Lottery system. This early in the year, the permit system hasn’t yet begun and the Forest Service has yet to start patrolling. The river’s remote setting adds further risk, for even if we survive a shipwreck, we’ll be on our own. That means alone in the wilderness with only our booties, our dry suits and our misfortune. With much of the It’s so we take a pass on using Selway’s whitewater classified as Class IV, flips are not into dipping our water bottles uncommon. Experienced floaters know to bring some . Ackerman says he won’t run matches and a Clif bar alongside the requisite gear of pulhe can’t leys and carabiners in their lifejacket. And they should be willing to jog out, too, if necessary. The Selway’s water runs crystal-clear, Our boats rigged and ready for the percolating from high basins and filtering launch, we’re excited and ready for whatevthrough granite-lined streams all the way to er portages and challenges the river might the river. It’s so clean we take a pass on float our way. using the filter, dipping our water bottles directly into the river. Ackerman says he won’t run rivers he can’t drink. High and rising Cautiously optimistic when we arrive at The bear hunters didn’t think much the Paradise put-in, I can’t shake the feeling snow was hanging on in the high country. that we managed to reach one of the counBut it feels unusually warm, and whatever try’s premier wilderness whitewater runs remains will certainly be melting its way way too easily. During peak travel season, a down into the river. from the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church/ River of No Return Wilderness to the south. And we’re driving it. Thick herds of elk pepper hillsides amid fat ponderosa and cedar. The headwaters of the Selway, really just a rocky creek at this point, murmur a consistent tune at the valley’s bottom as the channel cuts its jagged path to the Clearwater River and beyond.


Josh Mahan


directly rivers drink.

I’ll be rowing my partner Ackerman’s 13-foot cat boat on its maiden voyage; he’ll be in his raft. I rig a makeshift wooden floor between the cat tubes and secure everything down with cam straps— everything except the river map. We’ll need that for the handful of bigger rapids we’ll be facing later in the day. I watch Ackerman launch, then I push off into the river. Instantly, the current grabs my cat, twisting my ferry angle and thrusting me downstream onto a boulder. The water hadn’t appeared this powerful, but just 30 feet from the launch I’m already fast on my way to a wrap or flip. I get right to it. The boat spins back down off the boulder, and I watch my map roll into the river, never to be seen again. Good thing I packed two. Josh Mahan Despite the swift water, the flow seems perfect for the small AIRE we hike up a trail toward a flat perch above cat. It responds like a sports car, deftly the river. Tipi depressions surrounded by maneuvering through the technical rock rings pock the ground. I imagine a Nez upper rapids and effortlessly dodging Perce village, situated here to harvest salmon logs and rocks. when they still ran strong. Primal wilderness Hot afternoon sun beats down as we pull still surrounds this ancient camp, uninhabitinto Goat Creek Camp, the classic first-day ed for dozens of miles in every direction. stop. A thick, shady forest welcomes us, and

Returning to the water’s edge, Ackerman is edgy. The river is rising, and fast. The bear hunters were wrong, and the feeder creeks are boiling with runoff by the time we reach Tony Point mid-morning the following day. Plenty of snow remained in the high country, and the unseasonable heat is bringing it down. Pulling into camp, we start to realize our predicament: we’re caught in the middle of one of the roughest whitewater canyons in the country, at flood stage. From our ever-shrinking beach, we watch wave after wave surge loudly against the banks. A noisy river is a dangerous river. We figure the level is approaching six feet. “I ran this river at seven feet once,� Ackerman says, finally. “It was one of the scariest runs I’ve ever done. Gave me nightmares. Still get chills thinking about it.� We had already scouted the next fourmile section of whitewater downstream, rapids known as Double Drop, Ladle, and Little Niagara, but we know the hydraulics are changing by the hour. Initially, Double



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Saturday & Sunday • August 29-30, 2009



Montana Headwall

Page 45 August–September 2009

Scouting Ladle. Josh Mahan

Rafting lore warns the longer you scout a His stern blocks the only passable route, the Drop’s entrance had appeared impenetrable, path I’m committed to. Our eyes meet rapid, the greater your chance of flipping. with a giant curler guarding the right side. briefly before we collide hard, forcing my We take 45 minutes to stare at Ladle. We spend 20 minutes debating how to best boat far right. I drop a pour-over backward “I like the center line,” I say. “I’ve run approach it. In the meantime, rapidly rising with one oar in hand. it before.” water has smoothed over the curler, leaving “Might make it,” I think, a glassy tongue at the entrance. before sinking into the pile and Settling in to camp, we’re flipping hard. painfully aware that Double Suddenly I’m underwater, Drop’s namesake holes— Rafting lore warns you immersed in the Selway’s turalready the size of school buses—are growing. We rest scout a the greater your chance of flipping. bulent, cool green. A cam strap dangles in front of my face. All uneasily, knowing the river to stare at Ladle. We take is quiet. The light dims. I grab will be swelling by the hour. the strap and hold tight, yearning for air but trying to The green zone anchor the boat out of the hole. No chance. “No, you want to run right,” Ackerman Come morning, the river foams with insists. “Better location for a rescue. If you flip The cat’s not ready. I am. I let go of the enough runoff to terrify even the veteran strap and the current pushes me to the in the center you’re going into Little Niagara, Ackerman, but we decide it’s not enough to surface. and you aren’t coming out.” justify abandoning gear and hiking out. So we I catch a breath and the world becomes We settle on the right line, even with its break camp, rig to flip and push off. noisy again, the water suddenly brisk. My four must-make moves. The plan includes First we run Double Drop, barely making heart racing, I swim hard for the right punching a massive drop and corresponding the pull left of the holes before getting pushed shore, hit a tight channel amid big boulbig wave before clipping into a giant hole and quickly through a raging Wa-Poots. The ders, plant a foot, and pop out onto the dancing through a maze of rocks. freight-train current slings us toward Ladle. rocks. I can see the cat still surfing the I come out of the first drop to find With a little luck we make it into a tiny eddy pour-over. My hat floats by, then a sandal. Ackerman’s boat surfing the monster hole. above the drop.

the longer

rapid, 45 minutes

Montana Headwall

Page 46 August–September 2009

Relieved, we lie in the frigid, swollen river, Eventually the hole releases its grip on the boat. letting it rock us hard against the boulders. It enters the main current and floats around the Finally, one of us stands, then the other, the corner into a long whitewater alley. water dripping off us more quickly than the Pulling myself from the rocks, I start running up the hillside to the trail. With my boat and gear realization that I’d just escaped with my life. The next rapid, beelining toward Miranda Jane, the Pacific, I stand sounds its presence alone in the just downstream. wilderness, sufferThe moment ing a Selway inspires Ackerman. boater’s worst Clearwater “Mahan,” he says, nightmare. Missoula River “you should name Out of the river Lochsa River this boat.” it’s blazingly hot. Lewiston Hamilton “I think it found Sweat soaks the Lowell its own name.” layers beneath my Nez Perce Pass “What’s that?” dry top. Suddenly Selway River “The Miranda Ackerman appears, Jane,” I say. “I’ll coming up to the stay here in this trail from his boat. Joe Weston eddy and set “Sorry about safety for you.” that, Mahan.” Ackerman agrees and trudges back upstream “We’ll talk later. Let’s go get that boat.” We to his craft. I sit in the eddy, poised for his boat run miles under a savage noonday sun until and grateful that I don’t have to leave this wilderwe eventually round a bend and spot it. No ness on foot. way should that cat be nudged up on the Miles of whitewater await us, and a houseshoreline, snagged by the tip of a partially sized whirlpool swirls at Miranda Jane’s submerged rock. But there it is—upside entrance. I dig a Clif bar from my vest. A haildown, but otherwise intact. We scramble storm moves in. down to the shoreline, grab the boat, and It’s everything I’ve come for. flip it over, salvaging our wreck.

Montana Headwall

Luck of the draw Should you decide to venture out on the Selway River between May 15 and July 31, you’ll need a permit through the Four Rivers Lottery system administered by the Forest Service. Off-season boaters can run the river without a permit, though conditions are rarely optimal. You can find applications for the lottery online at You’ll need to submit your application between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31. The application also works for the Middle Fork of the Salmon, Main Salmon, and Hell’s Canyon of the Snake. Commercial outfitters, including Three Rivers Rafting,, and ARTA,, also offer a limited number of trips, typically originating in either Missoula or Salmon, Idaho. Word to the wise: floating the Selway is an arduous undertaking. It is not a booze cruise and requires wilderness preparation.

Page 47 August–September 2009


AUGUST July 31-August 2 Rally your relay team of hardcore athletes, load ’em up on carbs and head to the Headwaters Relay, a grueling three-day team foot race that covers 232 miles of dirt trails and twotracks. This burly race revisits the Lewis and Clark route from Three Forks to Beaverhead Rock. Puking is discouraged but not unheard of. Learn more at August 1 Bi-curious? Then tap into your inner Aquaman during Aquathlon at Frenchtown Pond State Park. This biathlon for teams and individuals includes a 1,000meter swim and 5K run around the only public lake in the Missoula Valley. Learn more by emailing or calling Kayla at 531-3926. August 1 Clearly, the Boston Marathon must be special, but honestly, isn’t running on pavement through endless cityscapes a bit monotonous after say, mile one? Marathoners looking for less enervating scenery should consider Choteau’s Grizzly Marathon. Unlike the Boston, you’ll get killer views of the Rocky Mountain Front, a real risk of grizzly bears and climbs unlike anything the City of Champions has to offer. (Differentlyabled racers take note: officials emphasize that it’s “HIGHLY recommended that wheelchair racers not participate” due to extensive stretches of gravel.) If this still sounds fun, learn more at Finishers can qualify for the Boston although, after the Grizzly, it may feel a bit anticlimactic. August 1 Head east, badass jogger types, for the Elkhorn Endurance Race, a 50-mile trail run through “challenging terrain and incredible scenery.” Learn more at or by emailing

Chad Harder

August 1 Finish off those malignancies once and for all by participating in the Red Lodge Climb to Conquer Cancer, a non-competitive but challenging walk amid the alpine splendor of Red Lodge Mountain Resort. The course runs halfway up the mountain, and water is provided. Get the lowdown on this hoedown by calling 800-252-5470. August 2 Those hankerin’ for a serious dose of runner’s high should hit the 2nd Annual Madison Marathon, the self-proclaimed highest elevation road marathon in the country. The race begins at 9,160 feet— that’s higher than Lolo Peak, people—and cruises along one of Montana’s premier backcountry byways, the Gravelly Range Road. Organizers offer only limited support, saying that “Runners should be prepared to carry some of their own water, food, gels, and whatever else they might need.” At that elevation, you might consider carrying bottled oxygen and sunscreen. Learn more at 682-5923 or August 2 The Foy’s to Herron Paddlethon in Kalispell gives non-swimmers a chance to give racing a tri, beginning with a 3-mile flatwater kayak (or canoe) followed by a 6-mile mountain bike ride and 4-mile trail run. The race benefits the Foys To Blacktail Project, a collaborative effort to secure a trail through what organizers call “the last piece of forested land near Kalispell.” The route, designed for horse riders, bikers, hikers, skiers and dog walkers, connects to Blacktail Mountain Resort. Contact Steve Muller at 261-9250 or to get in the game. August 7-9 In the market for a firearm? Savvy shoppers on the lookout for polished steel can avoid that pesky background check by heading to the Missoula Gun and Antique Show at the Adams Center. The event claims to be the oldest and largest gun show in Montana, with more than 800 vendor tables crammed full of antiques, rifles,

pistols, scopes, binoculars, ammo, knives, Indian artifacts and more. Arm yourself with more information by calling 549-4817. August 15 Beginning triathletes should head to the Seeley Lake Challenge Triathlon, an “entry level” sprint event welcoming all ages and abilities. Contestants will start with a 300-yard swim, then move to an all-paved 12-mile bike ride before finishing with a flat, 3.3mile run through some of Montana’s largest larch trees. Get the complete scoop at August 22 Climb up, up, up the front side of Whitefish Mountain during the annual Glacier Nordic Run, a challenging, mostlysingletrack race that raises funds for the mountain’s Junior Nordic Ski Program. For more info, contact guest services at August 22 Forget the good walk spoilt. If manicured courses have you tired of the game, head over Chief Joseph Pass for the Big Hole Cow Pasture Golf Tournament. This very Montana event doesn’t require a handicap—unless you think participating in a redneck golf cart parade suggests a sort of disability. Don’t forget the plaid pants, as prizes are awarded for the “Most Original Golf Attire,” as well as for best (and worst) male and female. This celebration goes down amid much fanfare in beautiful “downtown” Wisdom, but at events like this, everybody’s a winner. Call 689-3800 for the Hole story. August 29 Hey, families! Explore your celestial neighborhood with expert stargazer Thomas G. Satterly during Stargazing Under the Caverns Sky, a late-night program at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park that interprets the night sky with the help of not one, not two, but “several” telescopes. Participants are encouraged to come early to set up a campsite and to stay late the next day for the free pancake breakfast. Call 287-3541 to get oriented.

SEPTEMBER September 4-6 Ready to tie one on? Then head to the Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival to celebrate the art of the cast. Festival literature says it will “create a venue for fly fishermen to meet and share their wide variety of interests, skills, and concerns,” but anyone who’s hung around fly fishermen will know that’s familiar angler code for getting sunburned, drunk and passing out near the campfire. Call 6823148 and figure out who’s got the whiskey. September 4-6 You want kill mammoth? You throw spear? Then make like Ayla and come toss the atlatl—an 8,000-year-old spear-throwing weapon—at Ulm Pishkun State Park during the Annual Montana Atlatl Mammoth Hunt. Advanced participants will compete along a footpath where targets will challenge even those claiming ape-like strength, while beginning chuckers will arm themselves at the learning station. If you’re not getting a response from your smoke signals, try calling 866-2217 for more information. September 5 It’s opening day for archery hunters, and thousands of Montanans will head afield in hopes of filling their freezer with a healthy bounty of deer, elk and antelope. The archery season runs through Oct. 18, allowing the animals a one-week respite before rifle hunters enter the woods en masse on Oct. 25. September 6 Mountain bikers with a hankerin’ for huckleberries need to hit Whitefish Mountain Resort for their annual Huckleberry Hillclimb, a singletrack race that crawls the full 3,800 feet up the mountain’s frontside and then bombs back down (proving the existence of a just God). Bring your helmet, and a rigid container for huckleberries, and call the resort at 800-858-5439 for the rundown. September 12-13 Break out granddad’s ole lever action, .22, revolver and/or long range buffalo rifle for the annual Medicine Rocks Buffalo Shoot in Ekalaka. Contestants will take aim at metal silhouette targets set up as far as 800 yards away. “Designed to encourage shooting sports in general and period black powder shooting specifically,” say organizers

who encourage (but don’t require) period clothing of the high plains. Call the pioneers at 775-6705 and turn back the clock. September 12-13 Head to Lost Horse Canyon for the annual Lost Horse Climbing Festival and Boulder Bash. Sponsored by the Bitterroot Climbers’ Coalition, the festival serves in part to show the Forest Service just how important the canyon is to recreationalists, from climbers and hikers to hunters and anglers. The fun-filled weekend brought in more than 100 climbers last year, and will consist of a bouldering battle, a dyno comp, best costume contests and a raffle. Call 240-4948 for more information.

Christoph Ammann

September 12 Hey Ladies! Are you sick of following your overbearing steakbrain of a man into the woods while he talks down to you about all the outdoor activities he’s been doing for years? Well quit living your life sidesaddle and attend the Annual National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors event in Helena. Designed to provide “the opportunity to experience the thrill of outdoor activities [and] gain knowledge without fear of intimidation,” the festival features the arts of fishing, birding, paddling, self-defense and outdoor photography. Breakfast and lunch are included, so call Cheryl at 458-5078 and posse up. You go, girl! September 25 Rest your quadriceps this weekend and focus instead on the critical and oftneglected muscles in your forearm at Billings’ annual Ales for Trails race, a drinking contest that corrals more than 40 regional microbrews to raise serious money

for Billings’ impressive and growing region-wide trail system. So put down those dumbbells, pick up the phone and call 247-8637 to learn more about this event. September 26 Missoula’s precious few watering holes see heavy use all summer long, and civicminded types can do their part to keep them clean on “National Public Lands Day.” Volunteers are needed to pull litter from McCormick Park’s fishing pond and the ever-popular Blackfoot River. Meanwhile, those preferring adventure to volunteerism can celebrate the special day by heading to fee areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where, on this day only, folks can escape the annoyance of recreation access fees. Learn more about volunteer options at September 26 Now that the skeeters have died off and the hoards of RV-driving gapers have returned to their coastal megalopoli, Montana’s pedal-powered community can come out of the beetlekilled woodwork to ride the stunning Yellowstone Plateau in relative peace. Those looking for a guiding hand can join in on the annual Old Faithful Fall Cycle Tour, a 60-mile loop that rolls through geysers and other thermal features—as well as bison and elk. Note that weather is unpredictable at 7,000 feet and appropriate clothing is encouraged. Learn more about this scenic cycle through America’s first national park at 599-4465 or

OCTOBER October 23 Get into the game by dining on Montana’s wild bounty at the annual Hunters’ Feed and Wild Game Cook-Off in Ennis. This popular event began years ago as locals cleaned out their freezers in anticipation of the upcoming hunting season, but today it’s morphed into a massive feast and party in downtown for all “locals, neighbors and visiting hunters,” who vote on the best dish. Past favorites have included wild pheasant with dill sauce, deer fudge and elk chili delight. Contact the Ennis Chamber at 682-4388 or



Darked on no more HEAD GEAR

Daylight savings with the Petzl e+LITE

by Chad Harder Chad Harder

It’s 4 a.m., and our powerful lights are a dead giveaway. Moments before, a constellation of head-lamped international climbing parties was erratically rearranging itself on the glacier beneath us, but now they’re aligned, and beelining in our direction. We assume that each group of climbers shares our goal—to be the day’s first party to reach the base of the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Petzl e+LITE Spire, a route generally known by • $29 those who care as “The Best 5.8 in the World.” But as a party of three, we’ll likely climb slower than the others, so to gain some breathing room we reluctantly click off our lamps and finish the “easy” fifth-class approach by starlight. Had that old headlamp of mine possessed a “low” setting, I’d have been able to see the rock and still conceal our position from the interlopers. Instead, I have to switch it from “on” to “off.” Obviously, different settings on a headlamp have more uses than hiding from other climbing parties while racing across glaciers. They’re also valuable for reading without disturbing tentmates, or maintaining night vision outside your lamp’s glow. Low settings also preserve battery power, critical on longer, gear-intensive trips where

even the meager weight of AAA batteries warrants careful counting and sometimes requires leaving reserve power at home. Instead of going without, I reach for the Petzl e+LITE. This waterproof 28-gram(!) lamp weighs no more than two AAA batteries, while still sporting every feature a micro headlamp can offer— three high output LEDs for technical work and a low setting for camp chores. A built-in red bulb won’t blow your night vision when checking the star chart, and there’s an emergency flash setting in case you find yourself needing to signal for help. The elastic strap fits equally well over head, hat or helmet—and a built-in clip allows it to light up a tent. Unlike Energizer’s cheapo version, the 3 LED Headlight, (online, $19), the e+LITE’s switch can be handled with a mitt and won’t turn on without intent. But while the e+LITE serves certain tasks well, its diminutive size has inevitable shortcomings. Two miniscule CR2032 batteries supply the power, but run about a dollar apiece online. Sure, they’re light as a pea but tough to locate in say, Polebridge. They also weaken quickly, only blaring bright for their first half hour of use. Petzl says the “e” in “e+” stands for emergency, and the guaranteed one decade of unused battery life means this lamp is perfect for sitting in your pack, undisturbed and forgotten, for whatever duration you experience between epics. It’s less suited to long, tedious tasks, like repairing the trusses on your deck after the sun sets. But in a pinch, like when afternoon thunderstorms (or spandexed Europeans) threaten to quash your dreams of climbing twelve pitches of Bugaboo granite, the e+LITE is a perfect addition to your pack. Unlike the Euro climbing parties, you’ll never even know it’s there. Montana Headwall Page 51 August–September 2009

Seat of tranquility HEAD GEAR

Montana-based MoonSaddle’s revolutionary ride

by Chad Harder

The first thing our testing team noticed when we pulled the MoonSaddle out of its box was its minimalist design—a soft and slender half-moon of contoured black vinyl, cleanly mounted to bike seat rails. But our universal second impression was, “Wow, this thing really, really looks like a giant foam Super Mario mustache.” In an aggressive attempt to prevent the cycling-specific injuries of genital numbness and erectile dysfunction, the New Concepts Development Group—based in Hall, Mont.—has boldly redefined bicycle saddles as we know them. By removing the “nose” from the seat, company literature says, they’ve completely “eliminated pressure on the perineum.” All of our testers agreed that’s a good thing— at least while riding a bike—and researchers do, too. According to the September 2005 Journal of Sexual Medicine, an estimated five percent of men who ride bikes intensively develop at least moderate erectile dysfunction. “Cutaway seats” attempt to remedy the same problem, with varying degrees of success. Removing the entire nose, however, gives MoonSaddles a decisive advantage, providing effective protection for the sensitive bits of people recovering from prostate surgery or other groin-related injuries. Cyclists preferring an upright riding position will find the MoonSaddle comfortable for casual rides around town, but hardcore mountain bikers will likely notice the seat’s fatal flaw—abruptly. Because your rear is cradled by a half-moon extending 11 inches from hip to hip, there’s no sliding backward off the rear—a necessary technique to keep your center of gravity low when braking hard into a switchback or dropping into steep terrain. I recognized the peril on a Pattee Canyon hairpin that I’ve negotiated dozens of times. Coming in hot, I suddenly felt alarmingly exposed, my high center of gravity nearly pitching me over the handlebars. From then on I approached technical sections much more conservatively. Clearly, the MoonSaddle won’t suit the go-fast crowd, either. Bicycle seats have evolved for 150 years, and the standard design allows for maximum control while cranking out a high cadence, and allows riders to adjust their position for both control and comfort. But if pressure on your unmentionables has you wary about cycling at all, this design may be your ticket back into the bike lane. Our female tester summed it up well: “The MoonSaddle is perfect for riding downtown, or a picnic on the river path before going to get a Big Dipper cone.”

MoonSaddle • $84 Montana Headwall

Chad Harder

Page 52 August–September 2009

One smart ride

Surly’s Big Dummy • $2,450

The Big Dummy’s design is based on an accessory called the Xtracycle, an add-on that can turn virtually any standard bicycle into a longbike. At $2,450 for a complete bike—or $1,050 for frame and fork— this Dummy isn’t cheap. But with Surly you get what you pay for, and with its wide handlebars, meaty tires, superstrong frame and powerful disc brakes, it will probably last as long as you do. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper than a new car, and a perfect design for those seeking serious internal-combustion-free living.

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by Aaron Teasdale

I have a dream, a dream that a bicycle called the Big Dummy will help me achieve. My dream is not one of those big or complicated dreams about world peace or ending global warming. No, my dream is small and simple; I want to pick someone up at the airport without a car. I’ll ride a bicycle out, somehow carrying a second bicycle on the back. I won’t mention how I got there. I’ll just meet my friend at the baggage claim, grab a suitcase and start walking toward the bikes. When we get there I’ll smile, toss the luggage onto my bike and say, “Let’s load up!” Constructed by esteemed bicycle maker Surly, the Big Dummy is a “longbike,” perfectly designed to turn my dream into a reality. About two feet longer than a normal bicycle, it features an ingenious load-carrying system that can be rigged to carry a variety of cargo, from groceries and kids to camping gear and kayaks. Yes, you can even haul bicycles on it by rigging a car-top bike-mount to it.


Surly’s longbike, the Big Dummy


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think, ‘I have to get off the bike and actually run 26 miles.’ No way. I would just stop.” A great attitude can’t prevent even the finest motor from breaking down occasionally. For two months this spring, a hamstring injury interrupted Corbin’s training. Returning to competition for the Boise 70.3 on June 13, she had doubts about her racing condition. Triathlons are run at a variety of distances, and Corbin usually excels at the longer ones, including the 70.3, or Half-Ironman. Would she still race as well after the injury? Corbin described her pre-race jitters in a June 16 blog entry. “Wednesday I packed for the race,” she wrote. “Wednesday afternoon I UNpacked for the race as I was unsure about competing. By Thursday morning I was RE-packed and on my way to Boise to race.” And race she did. A strong second-place finish behind Canadian Magali Tisseyre—an athlete Corbin calls “world-class”—gave her plenty of incentive heading into summer. Her competitive season culminates with three world championship events this fall: the Ford Ironman World Championships and the Xterra World Championships—both in Hawaii during October—then on to Clearwater, Fla., for the 70.3 World Championships on Nov. 14. “At the Ironman distance, [Corbin is] definitely among the top five women in the world,” says Triathlete editor Culp. “ She’s a contender to win just about every race she enters. The longer the race, the better her chances.” Corbin also has time on her side. She’s relatively young by triathlete standards, and may not reach her peak for several years. “I may not take a world title this year or next, but I think it is a possibility, and I am going to do my best to make it happen,” she says. “I don’t like to be beat, which is why I do this sport, because you keep going back again and again trying to improve.” Luebke (left) and Corbin pretend they're not freezing in Frenchtown Pond.

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Page 54 August–September 2009

Chad Harder

High and Wild CONTINUED FROM PAGE 33 trip without encountering another soul is satisfying consolation to our stormblasted bodies and weary feet. Tired and hungry, we’re comforted by the flowers and forests surrounding the lake. We gather wood and dry out our soggy gear over a blazing fire. Kicking back to rest, I notice the telltale rings made by fish on the rise and rush to get my flyrod. Pansized brook trout fill the lake, and they readily take my nymphs. Soon the frying pan brims with beautiful brookies, now turning golden brown in sizzling butter. We eat to our hearts’ content, sucking the delicious pink meat from the bones and licking our fingers. They taste good in the morning, too. Rising early, we find the brookies doing likewise, and soon we fill another pan, gobbling them down for breakfast. Then we break camp and hit the trail back to the car, civilization, and, oh yes, those brews we left in the cooler. A short mile from the lake, we come upon a huge heap that, upon Day six: A feast of fish instead of freeze-dried glop. careful inspection, proves to be the single largest pile of bear scat either of us has ever seen. The big bruin we had seen on the first night apparently remains in the area. It’s obvious from the pile that he’s been raiding the Storm Lakes stashes where squirrels hoard whitebark pine nuts, stealing the nutrientGranite Peak rich seeds to build the fat to take him 12,799 ft through a long winter’s rest. We Glacier Peak announce our presence, loudly, and Cairn Mt. continue down to the trailhead. We pass the abandoned mining refuse, pop Mt. Wilse the trunk and open the cooler. Six September days after leaving the rig, Upper Aero the Kettlehouse Cold Smokes are ice Lake Rough cold, a testament to the week’s earlyMt. Zimmer Lake winter weather. Lower Aero As for Granite Peak, well, it’s been Lake there a long time. It will be there in the future. Hopefully, so too will the masTrail 31 sive grizzly, the elusive marten, and the neighborly deer that—combined with the wild weather and startling Lady of Broadwater topography—make the Beartooth the Lake Lake Plateau not just the highest, but the wildest, around.

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Montana Headwall

Page 55 August–September 2009


“What happened?” I said. Ruth paused before answering. Her voice shook. “The wind changed,” she said. “He died, driven right into the mountain. All with his daughter there, watching.” In my family we’re social liberals, but physical conservatives. When I was a child, my parents read me the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, the father-son flyers who fashioned wings from feathers, twine and wax. “All look up, in absolute amazement, at those airborne above,” I remembered the words of the poet Ovid. “They must be gods!” Icarus, though, ignored his father’s warnings and climbed dangerously upward. “[He] soared higher, higher, drawn to the vast heaven, nearer the sun,” wrote Ovid. “And wax that held the wings melted in that

Chad Harder

fierce heat, and the bare arms beat up and down in air and … took hold of nothing.” I hung my head. “Ruth,” I said. “I’m so sorry.” That conversation was five years ago, and on summer days

since I’ve regularly looked up from my front steps, scanning the sky for the colorful crescent wings that mean people are flying. Paragliders still awe and amaze me even as I cringe at the thought of anyone becoming another Icarus. The

reward of flight is majesty. Late this spring I received from my parents a multihued parafoil kite. On nice evenings I walk, string and sail in hand, from my front door to the top of Mount Jumbo. My mood is humble. Flying a kite is not the same as flying; I risk nothing worse than knots. Yet atop, at the first strong wind, I stand on tiptoe and release the parafoil. The kite swings briskly to the left. It bobs. It weaves. I unfurl more and more string and up it flies. My spirit soars with it. Adding something of my own to the sky delights me. The way navigating a canoe around an unknown bend makes your heart race. The way pointing at a shooting star gives you shivers. Flying a kite, my feet touch the earth, but the heavens tug my arms. I do not rise. Neither, though, do I fall..

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Page 56 August–September 2009

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Montana Headwall

Page 57 August–September 2009

Of wings and prayers

by Jeremy N. Smith


Feet on the ground and flying omething was wrong with the man wearing the backpack. A second ago he’d stepped off the top of Mount Jumbo, 1,500 feet of bare air separating him from the valley. Above him flapped a violet, crescent-shaped sail. He must be a parachutist, I thought. Slowly, surely, he would drop. But the man failed to fall. Instead he rose, climbing to 5,000 feet, then 6,000. Weightless, he swung, turned and floated among his ethereal companions, birds and clouds. On the sidewalk below I was a speck to him, my house a tiny clod. Cars, congestion, what to eat—such concerns lay literally beneath him. As the man rose higher, so did my heart. He’s flying, I thought. But how? He was, I would learn later, a paraglider. Unlike airplanes and hang gliders, paragliders don’t rely on motors or fixed frames to become airborne. Instead, wind simply fills a parafoil’s pockets (called cells), inflating the fabric canopy into a rigid wing and enabling flight. This design allows the entire rig to be stuffed like a sleeping


bag into a backpack and carried up a mountain. Given the right conditions and proper training, one just unpacks, straps in and flies. Employing both prevailing winds and rising columns of warm air called thermals,

paraglider backpedal off the mountain and swoop upward into the sky. Beside him, a bald eagle hung on broad wings, making time in an adjacent thermal. We stood in silence and, I thought, common admiration

amazement, at those airborne above,” I remember the words of the poet Ovid. “They must be gods!” “All look up, in absolute

paragliders can stay aloft for hours and cover more than 100 miles. Toys “R” Us sells kites of the same design for less than $10, although the kites are of course smaller and leave the pilot grounded. It’s akin to the difference between training raptors and being one. I wanted to be one. But time also flies, and somehow two years came and went without takeoff. Then one sunny summer afternoon I found myself outside, sharing a view of the mountain with Ruth, a neighbor on my block. “Oh!” she said. “Look!” I followed her gaze to see a

and envy, until Ruth at last spoke. “It always makes me so sad to see those.” I looked down, at once serious. “Why?” I said. “Well, you wouldn’t know, but the gentleman who lived in your house before the people who were there before you, he used to do that flying thing all the time. He just loved it,” Ruth said. “He had a disabled daughter—she was in a wheelchair, I mean—and she wanted to see him fly up close. So he drove up the Mount Sentinel back road, set her down next to him, and then he took off.” Continued on page 56

Chad Harder

Montana Headwall  

Outdoor Adventure Under the Big Sky

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