Mountain High 

It’s official: Winter is over—quite the statement in a region where spring has been known to produce some of the year’s heaviest snows. Did I pen those words to tempt the weather gods into dumping 3 feet of snow onto our Garden City, already abloom with spring’s flower dresses? Maybe. There’s nothing quite like riding bottomless powder, not even a carefree 80-degree day of sitting beside the river. But now it’s time to put dreams of the perfect dump on the back shelf of the closet, next to your goggles, and grease up the bearings of your long board. (Whoo-wee, really pissing off those weather gods now.)

One way to unwind from winter’s chill is a to-the-bone soak in some of the world’s finest wilderness hot springs, Jerry Johnson, Weir and Stanley, located amongst the ancient cedars of Lochsa Country. Now’s a good time to beat the crowds. Spring break will clear out some of those hippies bathing their dreads for hours on end in your favorite pool; steelhead season is beginning to wane, sending the hook and sinker crowd packing; and the boaters have yet to descend (en masse) into the valley. Furthermore, high water has yet to conceal one of the finest pools, Jerry Johnson’s lower tub. Take a date, play in a hollow tree. (A recent trip to one of the springs revealed a hollow cedar with an opening barely big enough to wiggle into. I felt like my childhood hero Indiana Jones, surveying the scene with a lit match and finally crawling in boot-first to greet whatever troublesome animal might already be living in there. But the cedar was vacant, and once inside, the tree opened to 8 feet high, with room for four. Think of it as your own, private spring-side condo.) And since you’re headed that way, take your skis and ride what’s left of the snow up on Lolo Pass. The many side roads on the north side of Highway 12 allow for wonderful camping. There’s also the Lochsa Lodge with its rustic cabins and local color. Stock up before you leave Missoula. Though Lochsa Country is just over the hill, it’s worlds away.

OK students, tired of being pushed from class to class because some administrator has a list of perspectives for you to fill? Spring break is around the corner. And seriously, before you know it, it’ll be next fall—time to start planning the next semester, though you still struggle through this one. The acclaimed Wilderness and Civilization program is now taking applications for next year, and the deadline is April 1. The program is a unique course of study that mixes progressive classroom education with on-the-ground field trips throughout Western Montana, including a 10-day hike in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and a 10-day canoe trip down the Missouri River. Course work is interdisciplinary, drawing from literature, policy, art, biology, economics and Native American studies. The program emphasizes learning in the field and small class sizes. After two semesters with the same students, graduates will walk away with a Wilderness Studies minor. For information and applications, visit the website forestry.umt.edu/wc, or contact the Wilderness Institute at 243-5361 or by e-mailing wi@forestry.umt.edu.

Continuing on with its Winter Armchair Kayaking Adventure Series, Silver Moon Kayak Company will host a seminar on boat repair and maintenance now that it’s time to dust those cobwebs out of your keyhole. So if you’ve got a busted rudder cable, rotten deck rigging, leaky hatches or a gouge in your boat’s finish, take this class. Discussion will focus on what can go wrong, how to fix it, and how to lessen the chances of failure in the first place. The class is scheduled for Saturday, March 27, 10 a.m. until noon. The course fee is $15 and you must register in advance by calling 752-3794.

Time to return to Jumbo—the south side that is. The area south of the Saddle Trail opened March 15. North of that area is critical habitat for expectant elk mothers as they ready themselves for calving season and all the pesky duties (like keeping those calves out of predators’ jaws) that come with it. That section of the mountain will reopen on May 1.

Alert: If you see a helicopter lighting fires along the lower Blackfoot, it’s not al Qaeda. It’s simply the Bureau of Land Management conducting prescribed burns in an attempt to restore historic ponderosa forests with intermittent clearings. The burns will take three to six days to complete and will occur when favorable weather conditions allow.

Ready to take some time off of work? The New Rocky Mountaineers have something for you: a four-day backpack trip along the North Fork of the Jocko. This mission in the Mission Mountains will require some rock and snow climbing as participants bag peaks around Lost Sheep Basin, the site of their base camp. From base camp, climbers can hit North Jocko Peak, Blacktail Peak, Weather Peak, and an array of unnamed peaks. Dates of the trip are flexible, so call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 for more information.

Motorheads, bust out your motorcycles! It’s time for the Wild Hare Grand Prix in Anaconda. On Sunday, March 28, racers can compete against people with the same engine size, with the top category ranked at 231 cc or better. The program is happy to find a class for any racer. The course is five miles long, and proceeds from the event will go to benefit Anaconda’s food bank. Sign up starts at 7:30 a.m. with a $20 entry fee.

Send your outdoor news and views to jmahan@missoulanews.com.

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