Until I had settled into Missoula for this past semester, I wasn’t entirely sure why Montana is called “Big Sky Country.” Yes, it seems self-explanatory, but isn’t the sky the same size everywhere? What actually makes this one “bigger” than another? In order to understand the reason, you must drive or hike through the base of any valley that drapes the state’s western landscape. The scenes are dramatic, as mountain chains are spread wide from each other while maintaining prominence across your periphery. Even the smaller mountains exert the “Big Sky” effect, themselves finding that golden ratio for maximal sky volume. You constantly feel as if you are being engulfed by a gargantuan bowl of air. The experience is sublime.
Those were my thoughts as I was driving, along with my friend Dan, to and from Missoula during these past couple of days. We took different routes each way, each one gracing us with a unique sky. Headed south, we were flanked to the west by Flathead Lake – where Dan had remarked that the scenery “feels like a dream” – and shadowed by breathtaking mountain peaks on our separate path home. Good luck buying a home in any of the hotspots here, though. Incoming celebrities and millionaires have skyrocketed housing prices, much to the dismay of the local populations.
The occasion for our leave from the park was a Dave Chapelle show in Missoula. We had first row tickets on the balcony, of which we were constantly slapping the railing of while laughing our asses off throughout the entire show. He’s still got it.
I have been on a few more hikes since my last post. I went on a thirteen-mile one to Trout Lake with a few co-worker-buds. The trailhead is just across the lake from Lake McDonald Lodge, and it starts off with a pretty demanding ascent through burned forest, which lacked shade and brought on profuse perspiration. This exploited but then eradicated my hangover. Once we had finally crested the ridge, we descended into a valley consisting of two aqua-colored lakes, Trout being one of them. They both appeared as very small bodies of water at their initial distance from our eyes, much to the dismay of Chef Tony, who was already withering over the fact that we were going to have to make the trip back up. But the views from our lunch spot at the lakeshore were special and well worth the haul. On our way back, just as we were making way from our destination, we found ourselves in the presence of a bear – as if the stress over our upcoming incline wasn’t enough. We heard a big cracking noise nearby and my bud Keith, who was leading our way down the trail, glanced over and caught a glimpse of the black bear’s face just as it was diving out of sight behind a fallen log. All I got to see was its back, which was barely visible along the top ridge of the log. It was hiding from us, and I wasn’t about to go over and tell him that everything was fine. We quickly stepped along and closed out a great day on the trail.
My buddy Joe, a bellman at the Lodge, and I went on a fairly demanding hike since Trout Lake. The trail is called the Quartz Lake Loop, and, luckily, I wasn’t as hungover for this one. Joe maintains a brisk pace, especially while climbing uphill. His resting heart rate is lower than average, which means that he keeps solid lung capacity once the going gets tough for the rest of us. He was a cross-country star – go figure – in high school.
Anyway, in around four-and-a-half hours, we covered more than thirteen miles, crested two ridges, and circled around three lakes. It was my most enjoyable hike as far as scenery is concerned. The hour-long drive on a dirt road to the trailhead added to the experience. We could smell the bear in the air, but saw not one.
I was lucky enough to have my parents visit during this past week. They stayed at the Village Inn, which is just down the road from where I work. And because of the dramatically low levels of snowfall during this past winter, much of the park was just made accessible via the Going to the Sun Road. The early opening was a surprise, and together we drove up to Logan Pass and were overcome by the stupefying roadside beauty. These are some of the biggest skies you will find anywhere, and I am very thankful that my parents have gotten to see why this park has been dubbed the “Crown of the America.” All around, it was a great visit.