Mountain High 

Ah, autumn!

No other season brings such abrupt visual change to Montana’s landscape as entire valleys fill with yellows and reds, mountain ranges don frosty white caps and our winterizing skin—well hidden beneath layers of wool and fleece—goes fish-belly white. The transformations are predictable, and more or less understood.

That’s not the case for a tributary of Yellowstone National Park’s Shoshone River, where a once crystal-clear mountain stream recently started running milky greenish-grey, much like glacial runoff. No glaciers are visible anywhere upstream, however, and scientists are left speculating about what is causing the change.

Has an upstream mining claim released effluent into the river? Mining operations have historically proven themselves quite successful at altering the color of streams in Montana. Are the region’s world-renowned geothermal features venting off-color water into the creek? The Yellowstone Plateau is the most active geothermal region in the world, sporting hundreds of geysers, fumaroles and silt-laden mud pots that could be filling the creek with sediment.

Stream biologists are not ruling anything out yet, but the most likely scenario is that subterranean glacial ice is melting, percolating into the creek and changing its color, although recent nearby mudslides and road construction might also play a factor. Regardless, scientists are not willing to leave this one unresolved and will, next spring, dump their own effluent into the river to better understand the shift in color. This “dye test” will theoretically help pinpoint the source of the murky water.

Elsewhere in the park, deep snows and freezing temperatures are coming on strong, and soon Yellowstone’s bison will head out of the park in search of shallower pastures. This year, as many as 25 bison will be killed by hunters as part of a newly approved hunt, marking the first time in more than a decade that civilians will join government agents in the act of shooting the lethargic, wintering beasts.

Bison hunt opponents argue that the plan is inherently flawed since the state refuses to recognize the native animals as “wildlife”—instead they are officially “a species in need of disease management,” and thus managed by Montana’s Department of Livestock.

Lacking wildlife status means lacking designated habitat, and until bison are granted the protections granted other game animals, activists say that any plan to hunt them is premature. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) disagrees, and will soon have sole authority to raise annual harvest quotas—at least one FWP commissioner has expressed a commitment to do just that in the future. Those interested in trying to score a highly coveted bison tag can call FWP at 542-5500.

Missoula’s skiers and snowboarders can start organizing their wintertime carpools to the ‘Bowl this weekend as the Annual Fall Sale and Open House takes place on Oct. 16 at Snowbowl’s Ski Shop from noon to 5 p.m. You can score old rental ski/snowboard gear at “rock” bottom prices, and start working on your winter drink quota at the Last Run Inn, too. Call Snowbowl’s telephone tree at 549-9777.

The Five Valleys Audubon Society is sponsoring a half-day field trip to the warm-water ponds at Smurfit-Stone Container to look for waterfowl, songbirds and raptors on Oct. 16. Interested birders can meet at the UM Adams Center parking lot at 8:30 a.m. or at the pulp mill’s main gate at 9 a.m. Call Larry Weeks (549-5632) to learn more. Missoula Parks and Rec is looking for volunteer trailblazers on Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as they build a trail accessing a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge across Rattlesnake Creek. Tools, transportation and dinner are provided, so get your work clothes on and call David Claman at 721-PARK to register, or just show up and walk in from the north end of Duncan Drive.

Gerald Olbu of the New Rocky Mountaineers will lead interested summiteers to the Anaconda/Pintler Wilderness Area for a scramble up the east face of Warren Peak on Oct. 17. This 12-mile roundtrip wanders past a string of scenic lakes before heading off-trail to the 10,453’ summit, with multiple route options developing through memorable sections of Class IV terrain. Be prepared for fall colors, cold fingers and rewarding exposure, and call Olbu (549-4769) for details.

Missoula Road and Track Club is hosting the Pumpkin Run to raise funds for the always-stocking Missoula Food Bank on Oct. 16. There’s a 1-mile, a 5K and a kids-only 400-meter race through the all-trail flatlands of Blue Mountain’s Maclay Flats. There’s no advance registration required, so show up at 9 a.m. with your running posse for races that start about an hour later. Call Ben Schmidt (542-1257) for more info.

The press releases are in, and apparently not one single recreation group is leading a small group of your friends up to the golden larch-filled ridgetops of the northern Bitterroots Oct. 16–17. That leaves the alpine splendor quietly empty and refreshingly clear for a group of your favorite human or canine companions. So pack enough clothing, food and camping gear to keep yourself warm and happy for two days of mountain weather. Leave a detailed itinerary with a close friend lest you fail to return on time, and call nobody for more information.

Pray for snow, and then send your outdoor recreation schedules to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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