Week two is now behind me out here in Montana and so far my time here is going fairly fast. I don’t remember Denver going this quickly in the first couple of weeks, and I don’t think Santa Fe did either. I’m sure things will slow down a little bit, but so far I’m really liking Montana. I’ll be curious to see if my sentiments stay the same throughout my tenure here as my opinion of Denver sort of slipped as the summer carried on. But for right now – which in many ways is all that matters – I’m really enjoying it, other than this persistent cough I’ve developed (hopefully it’s not bronchitis, but it does seem to slowly be getting better).
The weather has been mostly amazing thus far, and the sky is clear blue around 90% of the time. I did finally have a few mountain thunderstorms, which was one of the things I love about being near mountains.
What I haven’t loved has been this crazy heat wave we’ve been in. Locals have told me that it hasn’t been this hot during June in at least 20+ years, and several of the days have had record breaking temperatures.
The good news is that it’s not humid heat, but still, when it gets to be above 90 degrees that is pretty rough even with low humiture.
Of course even with the heat, it’s still great weather to be outdoors in, so long as you aren’t being super active. So I’ve spent a good bit of time chilling in my little picnic area.
Work, however, continues to be anything but chill. Things are still very busy, and at this point I think we’ve officially moved into “hectic” territory. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the other intern won’t be here until the end of June, so I’m getting a lot more work on my desk than would otherwise be normal. The second dilemma is that I just happened to plop into the office during a busy period. So yeah, it’s good because it makes the days zoom along, but it’s bad because it stresses me out.
Of course one cool thing about having a lot of work to do, is that some of that stuff ends up being really cool. Case in point: last week I got to go to a hearing in Helena (MT capital) in front of my very first judge. While one of the attorneys was there, it was me doing the talking on our behalf. The opponent was a utility company which was essentially trying to fight renewable energy. So, I was more than a bit nervous, not only because it was my first time in front of a judge – it turned out to be a panel of judges, not just a judge, but also because I was going to be arguing against a utility company’s hired counsel. That said, the panel wasn’t as hostile as we were anticipating and, to be frank, the utility company’s lawyers just weren’t that great – or rather, maybe they were good and I was just better than expected. Either way, I got compliments for my performance. We don’t know if we “won” yet, and probably won’t until this
Tuesday [the day this gets posted]. [Edit: I was wrong, the deliberations aren’t until Thursday.]
However, win or lose, one thing I really liked was the drive up to Helena. Sure, it was cool seeing the scenery, which included elk, antelopes, and distant showers:
But it was more about those last minute preparations – asking each other questions, flipping through cases and administrative records, trying to figure out what we could from the opaque material the utility company had sent us. Plus, we were driving up in all old beat-up car – classic public interest lawyer – and it was just the two of us versus MT’s largest utility provider. It felt “right,” which is weird since it’s not like I’ve done it before and by all means the odds were stacked against us, but we drove along regardless – and to say that we were really the only two people in the room trying to improve access to renewable energy would not have been a stretch. But I really liked it, there was just this really cool feeling to being the “little guy” representing a group of people who can’t afford a firm, so they go to a non-profit to fight a utility company. Then, pulling up in the old car and seeing the utility lawyers hoping out of a Mercedes, a Lexus, and a BMW just made us even more archetypal. I was an awesome feeling that I didn’t really get while working for the Department of Justice, and really not even for New Mexico (though I was also representing the “little man” in New Mexico – I was kind of fighting the state I was working for, lol).
On the way home we got some more storms, but the mood was not melancholy in the car, not one bit.
I didn’t get home until almost 7pm that night, but my doorbunny was waiting for me, ever faithful ever true.
This past weekend I managed to get to the dirt road during my run.
I honestly have major doubts that I will reach the foothills before summer is over, but hey, progress is progress. I actually ran outside more this past week because towards the end of the week things cooled off a bit, but also because the nice indoor treadmill I’d been using started to act wonky and almost made me fall while running over 5mph (trust me that is a bigger problem that it might sound like in text). Of course when my landlord looked at it it worked just fine, so I think the treadmill is haunted and wants to kill me. I’m up in the air as to whether I will continue to use it, it’s a very nice treadmill and it doesn’t hurt my legs like the road does, but I’d prefer not to get smashed through the wall.
Tristen and I also took advantage of the weekend to get in not only one, but two hikes. The first was the “Triple Tree” trail on Saturday, which was only about 25 minutes away from home, which is much closer than Lava Lake.
I’m not sure of the story behind the “Triple Tree” name, as the trailhead most definitely doesn’t have any trees around it.
Though most trails out here require that you be on the lookout for bears, this one has a sign right near the start of the trail that talks about how the bears come down for berries. Valentino goes crazy over berries (bear-ries?) so I already knew that bears couldn’t resist them.
The first part of the trail moves through an open field. If it wasn’t obvious from the tracks bikes are also welcome on this trail.
Once you’re across the field the trail dips down into a wooded area.
This area is cool (temperature wise) and fully covered, it was also damp – but not muddy.
While down in this little grove of aspen trees, you cross over Limestone Creek twice.
Once through the grove you pass into another meadow area.
You then crest a knoll, and from there you can see the hills you are about to be heading into.
After that you cross Lime Stone creek two more times, and then the trail opens up once more before you really get into the woods.
According the signs, bear, elk, moose, mountain lions, and deer are not uncommon on the trail. Of those moose are undoubtedly the most dangerous.
After a bit of a hike into the woods the trail splits, though really it’s the terminus of a large loop, so regardless of which path you take, you’ll end up back at the same place. I am generally inclined to go right, and that is what the hiking guide my landlords let me borrow suggested, so I went right.
The trail really began to pick up some elevation at this point.
As I got higher up I started noticing quite a few wildflowers popping up near the trail.
As you get closer to the top of the trail, you get increasingly better views of Gallatin Valley beyond.
Near the summit there is pretty much an explosion of wildflowers.
The “summit” is technically a lower ridge on the northwest slope of Mount Ellis, and while it’s not a massive summit by any means, it still has wonderful views.
I think my favorite part of the top was the huge variety of wildflowers which extended about as far as the eye could see.
The other side of the loop – heading down in my instance – wasn’t as much of an incline (in most places anyways).
It also had a lot more dense undergrowth, rather than the larger timbers of the first half of the loop.
Eventually I came back to where the loop connects.
And from there you pretty much just retrace your steps, not that I minded.
In this next photo, if you look at that little grassy area – just right of center – at the top of the ridge, I’m pretty sure that is where the summit is that the trail takes you to. All in all it’s about a 4.5 mile hike.
That night when we got home a deer was waiting for us.
Tristen ate it.
Now, generally speaking my goal is to get in one hike per week. I realize that some weeks I won’t be able to make my goal, and that other weeks I’ll have time to do more than one hike (and my legs are also a consideration). This weekend was one weekend where the cooler temps were just too irresistible, so Tristen and I headed out for another trail on Sunday.
If you look closely in the above photo you’ll notice a giant “M” up on the mountainside. Unsurprisingly, this is known as the “M Trail.” The “M” is a massive collection of whitewashed rocks (which in later years have been painted to maintain the vivid white), which was constructed by Montana State University students all the way back in 1915 (and thus the “M” stands for “MSU”). The “M Trail,” also known as the “College M” is a easily accessible from Bozeman, and is only about a 15 minute drive from my house.
The limestone rocks and boulders used to construct the “M” itself were carried by hand from the surrounding mountainside and laid in position. The size of the “M” is pretty hard to judge without an actual visit to the mountainside, as it is two hundred and forty feet high and one hundred feet across the legs, with blocks measuring forty by ninety-six feet. Very impressive.
The trailhead was quite busy, which was a little surprising for 9:45am on a Sunday, but given that the weather was nice, I wasn’t too surprised. I had to park across the road.
The “M Trail” is actually just one loop in a series of loops in the area, and if you do the basic M loop, then it’s 1.7 miles. If you do the “extended” M loop, then it’s around 3 miles – and that was my desired route.
The loop also connects to the Bridger Ridge Trail, which is 24 miles long and goes all the way to the summit of Baldy Mountain (8,914′ up). Even the loop itself as some variance in it, as showcased by this sign.
Basically, if you go left its longer but easy, or if you go right its short and you get to know true misery. This seemed oddly familiar, and just like on Mt. Atalaya, I went with the difficult path.
I’ve always though that photos (or at least my photos) do a piss-poor job of showcasing trail inclines, and with the “M Trail” this is most definitely the case.
For example, this next photo doesn’t look too steep.
But out in the sun, with nothing but an endless incline in site, I felt like I was Sisyphus, sans boulder, plus dinosaur.
Of course the good news about gaining elevation quickly is that you also gain good views quickly.
At some points the trail was pretty much just a rock face, and not really a “trail.”
But just like the day before, the wildflowers were out in full force, which was amazing.
Plus, the views just kept getting better and better…
…as Tristen and I kept going up and up.
It was right around this point that I started to wonder where the M was.
I mean, the scenery was awesome.
But I’d been climbing for what felt like much longer than “0.5” miles.
So, I decided to stop and take out my trail guide and figure out what was going on. I hadn’t seen any other person in a bit either, which was weird because this is one of the heaviest trafficked trails in the area. As I figured things out Tristen climbed trees.
Eventually I figured out that I had somehow ended up on that Bridger Ridge Trail (yes the 24 mile long one – which I was most definitely not packing enough water or food for). So, I promptly turned around and headed back. Turns out I had gone way above and and beyond the “M Trail” by that point. I’m not sure how far, but it definitely was no longer a 3 mile hike for us.
We retraced our path and somehow came out above the M, I have no idea how since we’d never seen the M once we’d gotten a good ways up the initial trail.
We messed around at the M for a little bit, though it’s way to large to get into a single ground photo. Just Google “Montana State University M” if you want to see some aerial photos of it.
From there we took the easy route back down.
And Tristen of course took time to scout out his newest acquisition.
And he also took some time to be introspective, a good King must care for his mind as well as his (manly) body.
Though he wouldn’t admit it, I think Tristen liked the wildflowers just as much as I did (probably made him think of his brothers).
That said, he might have just been considering how he was going to conquer Bozeman.
From there the rest of the trail was just a mild decline through huge fields of wildflowers.
Though at one point we did find a little water cave that Tristen wanted to explore, but I wouldn’t let him because I’m mean.
So, all in all, it was yet another fun day of hiking. That first steep portion was pretty extreme, and since I missed the “M Trail” turnoff, I actually went up much higher than I needed to, which only added to the workout. Making matters worse, I had just spent the morning working my legs out at the gym, so my calves got a bit hammered. Still, at least it was a lot cooler than it had been!
Which is probably a good thing, because that steep portion probably exists in one of the seven layers of hell when it’s very hot outside.
After our hike Tristen and I went home and did some laundry and dishes and then just chilled, a good end to a busy weekend – which wraps us up for this check-in!
Until next time,