Location: Madison Buffalo Jump, Montana
By: Erik C. Anderson
A day spent cresting Madison Buffalo Jump, the scenic state park area between Three Forks and Belgrade, south of I-90. It seems like a great way to spend part of my spring break.
Of course in April, it wasn’t supposed to snow.
I know a Montana forecast — regardless of what the “weatherman” predicts — is for perpetual snow. I was raised in Montana, schooled in Montana and have experienced my fair share of spring Montana snowstorms.
Despite the menacing weather, my mother, father, and their other son (my mom’s half-German shepard, half-black lab, Eero) and I decide to simultaneously risk it while building the lactic acid in our quads as we scaled the ridge up to the peak elevation of 4,482 feet of the 638-acre buffalo jump.
Normally, this is a basic hike. You know, follow the trail, left-foot-right-foot, close your eyes and you’re there, or something like that. This all would be true except that on this day the entire landscape is blanketed with a snowy down comforter.
While a little bit of snow never hurt anyone, it makes navigating trails infinitely more difficult. We begin our excursion rather simply, following the footprints of some other sap trekking in the snow. The trail drifts through what I imagine is normally grassland populated by little more than the chirps of covert, mysterious meadowlarks hiding somewhere in the whiteness. The path of the unknown traveller leads us parallel to the jump, which causes my father’s patience to melt.
“This way,” he says pointing to steep terrain up to the jump.
“Oh, where are your exploratory genes,” my mother replies. She’s dead set on following some wanderer’s trail wherever it may go, which — several hundred yards of snow-covered meadow later — ends up being a barbwire fence. Somewhere, Lewis and Clark are shaking their heads.
Reversing our hike’s course means I’m promoted from caboose to conductor and now control our adventure’s pace and fate — full steam ahead.
We backtrack through the fledgling evergreens toward the previous plains until we see another “path,” or what looks like a path, but the sun glaring off the snow makes identifying anything a crapshoot. But I make the call and the ascent begins. It is five minutes of driving my legs into a foot of snow, climbing toward the top of the jump.
At the top, I get to take in the stunning views of the Madison River valley — piled under pounds and pounds of powder — in solitude. Soon my parents and pup catch up with me at the edge of the jump. The view is glorious.