Location: Bannock Pass, SW Montana/Idaho Divide
N 44.80084 W 113.24089
Wetwo couples, two dogs sped 40 minutes through Grass Prairie to Bannock Pass, a 7,681-foot high grassy notch in the otherwise towering Beaverhead Mountains. At the pass, we geared up and headed east along a little-used two-track the sits directly atop the Montana/Idaho divide. The routecreated by rugged 4x4s and open to allconsists of mostly-two-track tread. Some of it is buttery smooth, fast and efficient; other parts are cluttered with jarring and unavoidable rocks. A fenceline parallels the route to the north, and a few shady north-facing slopes hold pockets of small conifers. But what really defines this ride is the tundra-esque landscapemicro flowers bursting from the stony soil everywhere, reaching toward a sky that goes on forever. Its oddly still, and quiet.
As hawks soar overhead, we crest a hill and spook an antelope. He quickly vanishes over a nearby knob in a puff of dust. A dozen cow elk await in the next basin, some of them with calves. They're wary, but move out slowly.They're soon gone into Idaho. We stop and regroup, quietly congratulating ourselves on the coup of seeing a cow-calf group.
We try to be still, hoping not to spook them further, but a cacophony of geese drowns us out or is it ducks? No, it's ELK, perhaps 100 head of cows and calves, chirping and mewing up a storm on a hillside perhaps a mile away. They've seen us on the crest, and are alerted to the small spooked herd running to regain the group. We watch them for 20 minutes and hear literally thousands of bugles, mews and calls. It drives the dogs crazy. After we get our fill of listening to elk we decide to roll on.
Our next objective, Deadman Pass, lies just ahead, four miles shy of our original objective: the 10,000-foot summit of an unnamed mountain. Having seen it covered in deep snow, we'd already given up on it, but we at least wanted to make it to the pass. Saddling up, we notice an uncommon reluctance in the dogs. Close inspections of their feet reveal that both dogs have ripped pads off both of their front feet and will no longer run, in fact they can barely walk.
So we bail, taking turns letting them limp and slinging the worse of the two through the shoulder straps of my Camelbacknot a recommended carrying technique on 50+ pound dogs, by the way. But eventually we arrive at her truck and call it a day, swearing that we'll come back when conditions are better. And without dogs.