Tag Archives: trails

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods

Some time ago I was watching some elk as they scampered up a 45 degree slope. They climbed that mountain as easy as I walk across my living room. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have 4WD like those elk?” Well, we can, or at least we can come close if we pick up a pair of trekking poles and learn to use them.

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

Trekking poles, for the uninitiated, are cousins to ski poles. Like ski poles, they’re used in tandem. And again like ski poles, they take strain off essential body parts like knees. I’ve used trekking poles for about 10 years, although I suppose I looked pretty silly in the beginning; back in the day very few people used them. A few of the other hikers I encountered at the time even smiled and asked about my use of “ski poles.” They can laugh if they want, but at 70 years of age I’m still tramping around the outback. And my knees are still holding up. Many are the problems that can afflict aging knees, but some of the relief I’ve experienced, I believe, can be attributed to my use of trekking poles.

I started using trekking poles when I reach The Big 6-0, and my knees were starting to complain. They stopped whining so much when I started using trekking poles. Although my primary purpose was to take some pressure off my aging knees, I’ve found lots of other benefits – 

  • They give me better balance.  I don’t have watch my feet all the time, which allows me to look around and enjoy the scenery (or spot more game if I am hunting).
  • They make ascending and descending slippery steep slopes safer and easier, especially when trekking off-trail. I look at trekking poles as preventative medicine.
  • If the brush is wet, a trekking pole makes a good bush whacker to knock off excess moisture before pressing through (another trick in this regard is to avoid being the first person in line when hiking with others. Let the other nimrod be the first to push through the brush and get soaked).
  • Trekking poles come in handy when crossing streams. When wade fishing, I remove the baskets and attach one of my trekking poles to a retractable tether and clip the tether to my wading belt. Bingo: a wading staff.
  • I’ve used mine on occasion as tent or tarp poles. Why pack extra weight? Comes back to the backpacker’s rallying cry: “Everything must have more than one use.”
  • My pair of carbon fiber trekking poles weighs in at less than 15 ounces. Accessories include rubber feet, mud, and snow baskets. I use the attached carbide tips for extra grip on the trail, but slip on the rubber feet for stealth when hunting. The mud baskets are good for, well, mud, and the snow baskets allow the use of trekking poles for snowshoeing.

At first the use of trekking poles might seem a little strange to some folks, but think about it: Hikers and backpackers have a long tradition of picking up a walking stick at a trailhead. In fact, I’ve often seen walking sticks stacked at trailheads as if to say, “Use me then return me here for someone else when you’re done.” Trekking poles are just the next step in the evolution of hiking, backpacking, and hunting aids. The final step is pack goats, but that’s another subject.

Interested? A good pair of carbon fiber trekking poles can be had for under $150. You can find trekking poles for sale online and at many outdoor recreation brick-and-mortar outlets. You can actually get into them pretty inexpensively, but like anything else you get what you pay for. Check out the standbys such as Amazon, Wally World, and REI. In my opinion you don’t need the kind with shock-absorbing springs that are designed to offer cushioning on downhill slopes. I think this feature is a nice touch, but in my view it just adds weight and another mechanical device that can fail.

Trekking poles? Try ‘em. You’ll might like ‘em. Mikey does.

If You Don’t, Who Will?

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

One of the things I really appreciate about Montana is that we don’t make laws to protect people from themselves. For example, if you want to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, it’s your business and perfectly legal. You’re free to spill your brains all over the highway if you like. After all, they’re YOUR brains. Where I live, as long as you have a sewer and electrical permit, your abode need be nothing more than a tarpaper shack.

The beauty of Montana is that you can do whatever you want. But that’s also the ugly thing about Montana: people do whatever they want. Which is fine, unless your neighbor has a dead car collection.

Here in Montana, you’re expected to police yourself which can have a huge negative impact on the environment if you’re a slob. For example, in Mineral County where I hang up my waders, there’s one game warden for all of the county. If I choose to hike into a mountain lake for some fishing, my odds of seeing that game warden are pretty slim. With nobody looking over my shoulder, the responsibility for being legal is mine. Should I decide to scoff the laws, I have to live with myself. As former basketball player and coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

I was reminded of this on a backpacking trip to an alpine lake. This lake offers a wonderful camping spot – or did, before it was trashed by some miscreants. The campfire ring contained some blackened tin cans. Someone had packed in a couple of cans of chili, then tried to burn the empty cans. Empty plastic water bottles defaced the place like pimples on a pretty girl’s face. Nearby I saw where a driftwood log had holes blasted in it by some firearm. I had to shake my head. Those empty cans of chili: Someone packed them in full; couldn’t they have packed them out empty? Same thing with those empty plastic water bottles: How much could they possibly weigh? A couple of grams each maybe? And then there was the piece of bullet-blasted driftwood. A gun range would have been a better choice for target practice, rather than explode the piece and quiet of this pristine place.

So it all comes down to the old adage: pack it in, pack it out, even if it means packing out someone else’s garbage. A little respect for the laws and environment doesn’t take away our pleasure; it adds to it. Let’s all do the right thing. Take home the garbage.

Sometimes You Win, and Sometimes You Lose

“Whitetail Buck Walking Tail Up” by ForestWander (http://www.forestwander.com/), licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 United States

Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m carrying a rifle or a fly rod. Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’m hunting a well-used deer trail or sneaking up on a fishy bit of water. It’s the same feeling every time.

It’s the feeling of anticipation. Will I meet up with the deer that left those tracks? Or is there a hungry fish beneath the surface of that water?

I was immersed in anticipation on a whitetail hunt last season as I cut across a patch of mature forest and intersected my favorite deer trail, a funnel along the edge of a thick tangle of replant that followed a logging operation of about 20 years ago. The deer trail roughly skirts a line between the mature forest and the regrowth. Visibility is sometimes limited to 20 feet. Consequently, hunting this trail is done more by sound than sight due to the thickness of the terrain. Although it’s tough hunting, over the years I’ve taken a number of nice bucks here.

So I was anticipating great things as I cut the deer trail and began sneaking along its length. I’d gone maybe 75 yards when I heard the pounding of running hooves on the trail just ahead of me. At this point the trail bends around an exceptionally brushy patch about 20’ away. I readied my rifle. Around the brush came a beautiful rutting buck running full bore just a foot or so behind a hot doe. The pair were on the trail and running straight toward me as I stood on the trail. I had maybe a second to shoot. As doe hunting is off the table in this area, I was forced to find a clear shot at the buck without hitting the doe. A head shot was out of the question, as his head was lowered and his nose was buried you-know-where. The result? I picked a shot and missed, then jumped off the trail before I got run over by a testosterone-fueled buck. Oh well, I thought, I’ve got another week of hunting ahead of me, so I’ve got plenty of time left to fill my tag.

Wrong: I came down with a bad bug the next day and spent the rest of the season sick, sick, sick. The result was I put no venison in my freezer last season.

But I refused to be discouraged. Life happens: Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. We never know what a day will bring, let alone the next hour. No sense wasting time wondering whether or not the thing that just happened to us was good or bad. Doesn’t matter. We don’t have time for that. We might have to accept defeat sometimes, but we don’t have to live at that address.

Your thoughts? I’d welcome your comment. Just tap/click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this blog.

Flyfisher’s Guide to NW Montana’s Mountain Lakes

How about taking your fly rod on a hike into Montana’s  backcountry and catching wild mountain trout? Or maybe you’d prefer  reading about it while relaxing in your recliner? Maybe you want to both read up and plan that self-guided fly fishing trip into the remote mountainous areas of the Last, Best Place?

If you find yourself in one of the above groups, (or somewhere between) you might enjoy my new book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes soon to be released in print by Wilderness Adventures Press. The first 40 or so pages contain valuable information for fly fishers from beginners to experts, including tackle info, backcountry navigation, guidance on how to rig up for backpacking, tips for camping in bear country, information about using goats as pack stock, and much more. The remainder of the book is dedicated to individual reports on some of the best mountain lakes of Northwest Montana, including driving directions, trail info, GPS coordinates, and best-in-class maps by Wilderness Adventures Press. You can sample it as an e-book online  at Amazon and Google Play, and purchase it there if you like. Or you can buy a signed print copy here.

The online samples will give you a peek at the first 40 or so pages, but I thought you also might want to see a sample lake report from the book. So with permission from the publisher, here ya go –

Trail Lake

GPS:  

Trailhead: 47.00634, -115.01147

Lake: 47.00603, -115.04137

Summary: Probably the best eastern brook mountain lake in Mineral County, Trail Lake covers about 12 fishy acres.

Location: 17 miles south-southwest of the town of Superior

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Illinois Peak (for reference only—trail to Trail Lake not shown on topo map). USDA Forest Service map Lolo National Forest, Superior Ranger District; DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, page 52; Benchmark Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, page 61

Elevations:

Trailhead: 4,723 feet

Lake: 5,740 feet

Round-Trip Hike: 4.4 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the jackpot in this case was fat, feisty, eastern brook averaging 10 to 12 inches.

Knowing that mountain trout don’t usually get up early, I didn’t arrive at the trailhead and start my hike on a bright and lovely July morning until 11 a.m. The forecast was for light and variable winds and a sunny afternoon in the low 80s. Nice.

I took my time hiking in, enjoying my time on the trail just as much as the prospect of sampling a new lake. It was two p.m. by the time I arrived at Trail Lake, unpacked, and inflated my little boat. My hiking partner for the day had arrived at the lake before me and was already out on the lake fishing and catching fish. He kept hollering, “Got another one, Mike! Got another one! Hurry up and get out here!”

But I’m never in a hurry when I’m in the mountains. I want to savor every moment. So with my friend still hollering, “Got another one!” I found a comfortable perch on a log, shared a PBJ with my poodle, and had a cool drink.

After lunch, I rigged up double flies on my 3-weight with a size 16 green foam beetle and a size 14 Royal Wulff as the caboose. I walked my boat down to the lake shore and eased it into the lake. Just then a mayfly hatch exploded.

Suddenly there were mayflies everywhere: in the air, on the water, landing on my boat, my shirt, and my dog. I pulled out a fly box and searched for something to imitate the hatch. I found a size 16 Callibaetis (mayfly) spinner with a green thorax. The color wasn’t a match to the hatch, but the size was right on. Remembering that size is more important than color, I hurriedly clipped off the Royal Wulff, replaced it with the mayfly spinner, and shoved off.

My first two casts didn’t produce, but after that it was cheesecake. I had two takes in a row on the mayfly spinner, but I foul-hooked both fish. Thus began a lesson in flyfishing adaptability.

I removed the beetle, replaced it with the spinner for a one-fly setup, and settled my offering a few feet from shore. Trout were rising all around the fly, but they ignored the spinner. Try something different, I thought. I gave the fly line a little tug to sink the fly and started a slow, stripping retrieve. Fish on.

I landed and released the fish and figuring the fly was too slimed up to float, I decided to send it back to work. But after I double-hauled the line back out, the darn bug dried out and floated. No takers. Once again I tugged the line to sink the fly and repeated the slow retrieve. Bam. Fish on.

Okay, you idiots, I thought, you want it wet, I’ll give it to you wet. I retrieved the fly and clipped off the white spinner wings which were drying out and causing the fly to float. I sealed the deal by dousing the fly in sinkum.

I sent the fly back on the job with a smug smile. This time it sank. I repeated the retrieve. This time no fish. Another cast. No fish. Hmmm. I retrieved the line.

I sat in the boat thinking for a moment as a gentle breeze nudged me along the shore. What had I learned so far?

1. They want it wet.
2. They want the white.

I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments.

I clipped off the mutilated fly and tied on another identical to the first. After a good soak in sinkum, I sent the fly on mission. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. And so it went as long as the mayfly hatch lasted. Ahh…. Sometimes you just hit the jackpot.

Getting There

From Interstate 90 at the town of Superior, take Exit 47, travel east on FR 250, which is also named Diamond Match Road and later becomes Trout Creek Road. Continue about 17 miles from Superior to FR 7813 and turn right (north). At 1.9 miles, turn south (left) on FR 388. Follow FR 388 about 1 mile to the trailhead for Trail 256. The trailhead is not signed, but it starts just before you cross the bridge over the North Fork of Trout Creek.

Caution: That last mile on FR 388 is kind of nasty. You won’t need four-wheel drive, but forget it if you’re driving a Corvette.

The Hike

For the most part, the trail follows the course of an old mining road. In fact, as I started the hike I asked myself, What’s a nice trail like you doing in a place like this? The trail ascended gradually until it crossed the North Fork of Trout Creek and then the switchbacks began. When I came to the switchbacks I asked myself, What’s a nice fisherman like you doing on a trail like this? However, the switchbacks marked the final ascent and only climbed about 0.25 mile to the lake.

Camping

There are a few very nice but primitive campsites at the lake.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ah, yes, the good, the bad and the ugly about living in rural Montana.

The good: You can do just about whatever you want.

The bad: People do just about whatever they want.

The ugly: There are a bunch of very ugly people living here who do just about whatever they want. The Old Turkey Hunter

The good: The bugs here are just about big enough to eat.

The bad: the bugs here are just about big enough to eat you.

The ugly: There are a bunch of big, ugly bugs living here who eat just about anyone they want.

Good, bad or ugly, there’s a lot to be liked about living in rural Montana.

  • My bank doesn’t have a lobby, but they know my name when I pull up to the drive up window.
  • Within minutes of leaving home, I can park my truck at a trailhead and know it won’t be vandalized when I return. However, I can find peace, quiet and solitude on my porch without ever leaving home.

The good: birds flitting everywhere.

The bad: bird poo everywhere.

The ugly: bird poo in my eye.

So tell me: what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about where you live? 

Necessity is the Mother of Pancakes

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camping spot near the shores of the mountain lake. As soon as we had camp set up, my backpacking buddy reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of white powder.

“Look what I brought!” he said. My friend Russ doesn’t do drugs, so without reservation I asked what was in the bag.

Russ smiled triumphantly. “Pancake mix!”

Russ and I both love pancakes so I smiled back. But I had to ask:

“Did you bring any butter?”

“No.”Pancakes

“Syrup?”

“No. But look at all the ripe huckleberries around here! We can add them to the batter and our pancakes will be awesome!”

“Hmm.” I said. “I love huckleberries but they’re rather tart. But I have an idea.”

I reached in my pack and pulled out a package of instant oatmeal, cinnamon and spice flavor. “In the morning, let’s try adding this to the batter and the huckleberry mixture. It should sweeten up the mix. Either we’ll have a new taste sensation or a blowout.”

The pancakes were awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I have to share the recipe with you. Pancake mix doesn’t weigh much, and neither does flavored instant oatmeal so they’re both light in the pack. If you don’t have ripe huckleberries available, you can bring along a little dried fruit, chop up it  and rehydrate it some before making your mix. Now then:

  • 1/2 c. huckleberries or rehydrated fruit of your choice.
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal, your choice of flavor.
  • About a c. of pancake mix.
  • Enough water to make a thick batter. You want it a little lumpy. Too thin? Add more pancake mix. Too thick? Add more water. Cook ’em up and enjoy. I ate mine with my fingers.

The result is like fruit scones. The instant oatmeal adds just enough sweetness and Russ noted that he didn’t experience the sugar rush/crash that he gets when he uses syrup.

A few days ago I made these at home for breakfast. I didn’t have a mountain lake nearby, but the pancakes tasted just as good!

Comments? Questions?

Way Out in the Outback

Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173
Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173

Do you R-E-A-L-L-Y want to get away from it all? I mean go way, way back and probably not see another hiker for miles and miles and miles?

Have I got a trail for you!

Trail 173 begins about  1/4 mile before Blacktail Creek Road ends (Forest Service Road 304). To get to Blacktail Creek Road, take the Superior Exit from I-90 (Exit 47).  If you exit from I-90 Westbound, turn left after exiting, continue about 1/4 mile to the stop sign and turn left and proceed under the Interstate. At the “T” turn right and continue about 1/2 mile to Blacktail Creek Road and turn left. If you exit from I-90 Eastbound, turn right off the exit and then right at the “T.”

Once at the trailhead, you’ll notice that the trail immediately jumps up but it gentles out shortly after. For the next half mile the trail meanders and crosses Thompson Creek twice. Shortly after crossing the creek for the second time, the trail turns North-Northwest and follows the course of Blacktail Creek uphill. After another 1/2 mile or so the trail generally traces a Westerly course, and can be followed for about eight miles until it intersects with Trail 152. Hike left (South-Southwest) on Trail 152. Follow Trail 152 about five miles and you’ll come to Trial 151. Trail 151 runs South and intersects with the Stateline National Recreation Trail after about another five miles. From this point, you can hike around eight miles Northwest until the trail intersects with Dry Creek Road (FS Road 342) or hike generally Southeast along the Stateline National Recreation Trail about seven miles to Cascade Pass and the Cedar Creek Road (FS Road 320).

Obviously, the through-hike route is for seasoned hikers or backpackers and you’ll want to arrange for a ride back to the point of beginning. Although the route isn’t overly steep most of the way (call it “moderate”), it’s a long, long way to its eventual end if you include the other trails in your itinerary.

However, one of the things I really like about Trail 173 is the lack of other hikers. As a bonus, you can go as near or far as you like. But if you’re like me, you just can’t resist another bend in the trail – until you realize it’s many miles back to the truck!

I purposely haven’t revealed everything about this hike; I’ve left some nice surprises for you.

Questions? Comments?  Click the “Comment” button just under the title of this post or email me: mike(at)mikeraether(.com).

Mineral County, Montana: An Outdoorsman’s Overview

I was stunned. It was abundantly more than I could ask or think.

When I arrived in heavily forested Mineral County in far Western Montana, one of the first things I did was spread out a USDA Forest Service map for the Superior Ranger District. As an outdoorsman, I wanted to learn about where I’d landed. What I discovered was an outdoorsman’s jaw dropper.

Bonanza Lake #1. Photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

First off, Mineral County is 87% publicly owned, and these public lands contain hundreds of miles of non motorized recreational trails. My new “back yard” was home to over 50 mountain lakes, most accessible only by trail and many with good to excellent trout fishing. All mine for the hiking.

And then there is the Clark Fork River with its many tributaries. The Clark Fork is big water that drains most of Western Montana. Although the Clark is overshadowed by the abundance of Montana’s blue ribbon trout waters, the Clark yields beautiful fish up to five pounds for those who learn how to fool ’em. The Clark’s tribs are fair to excellent fishing for brookies, cutts, ‘bows and sometimes big bull trout (be sure to check the regs).

Did I mention the hunting? No, not yet, but as some of you were wondering if I’d get there, here we go –

First, I have to deconstruct your thinking.

Montana in general is not the hunter’s paradise some make it out to be. There’s not a big game animal standing behind every tree or game birds flushing from every bush. Still, the hunting is pretty good, and there’s a certain romanticism connected with hunting in Montana. However, for sheer numbers, a hunter would be better off elsewhere.

But  back to Mineral County. I enjoy good hunting here and the proof is mounted on my walls. The hunting pressure is light if a hunter is willing to get back in the bush a quarter mile or so. Still, the mountains of Mineral County have been called “young men’s mountains” as they are steep and heavily forested. But a seasoned hunter knows that elk and deer don’t usually go straight up the mountain; they’re much smarter than that. They make trails. And a hunter who finds the game trails and uses them finds it much easier to get around the mountains. And he saves a lot of sweat and energy in the process.

Rivers, streams, mountains, lakes, trails, wildlife – yeah, I like it here. I also like sharing. By the way, how about sharing with me? What are your favorite things to do in the great outdoors? Or perhaps you have a question or suggestion?

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Great RV Campsite in St. Regis, Montana

Considering a vacation in Montana this year? Looking for a good campsite for your motor home or camp trailer with tons of outdoor opportunities right out the door of your RV?

Your Montana RV Campsite is Waiting for You

We have a single RV site available. Full hookups including power, water, sewer and garbage service, private setting, 360 degree of the mountains, and the best rates in the area! We also offer discounts for weekly and long term camping.

We’re located just 33 miles east of the Montana-Idaho border just off Interstate 90, and three miles north of St. Regis. Free fishing, hiking, backpacking, and hunting information. Mineral County (where we’re privileged to live) is 86 percent publicly owned – virtually all National Forest or State lands. Essentially an outdoor person’s playground! Miles and miles of trails, Forest Service roads, and over 50 mountain lakes to explore. Come and experience the “Overlooked Montana” and get away from the crowds!

Just give us a phone call at 406.649.0649 for all the details. Hope to see ya in Montana!

P.S.: If you just need some free info about area outdoor opportunities, call us! We love to share about our corner of Big Sky Country.

 

Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trials near St. Regis, Montana are Available to You