Mountain High 

Western Montana bobs in the midst of an uneasy seasonal standoff.

We’ve pushed off from the shore, the inky river Styx tugging at the craft’s shallow keel. Our skeletal boatman poles his way out into the flow. He’s not much for conversation.
Nearing midstream, the shores of Hades appear warm and beckoning after the cold plunge through death’s door. Coins placed under our tongue by grieving relatives taste like lead, or copper, and upon their production, along with some mucus-of-the-dead, lie like sad fish in our palm.

Two coins, not three.

The boatman’s progress stops as he regards the shortage. Bone fingers drum on the pole as empty sockets glance from our hands to our faces and then to the distant shore.

The current tugs at our craft.

Days of blinding sun and toil in yards across the valley relent to rainy clouds and a hint of one last snow. Things are definitely in transition, but which way to go?

One option is to appease the powers of nature with a flesh sacrifice to the Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Bend your back to the task of laying weed-blocking mats on the banks of Pattee Creek when you join Montana Trout for their volunteer weeding party at 1:30 PM on Thu., March 22, at Elms Park, which is a few blocks west of Higgins Avenue on Pattee Creek Road. Call 542-7445.

The snow is melting, the slopes are turning greener, and there’s just no denying it anymore. Big Mountain puts on a happy face to announce the first annual Skier X (Cross) Event on Sat., March 24 and Sun., March 25. Registration for the four-person team competition begins at 8 AM each day, and prizes most certainly go to the most virtuous. This could be your last shot of the year for some imitation gold, so call 862-2911.

The Five Valleys Audubon Society does little to settle the winter vs. spring debate—they just want to check out birds. Join them on Sat., March 24, at 8 AM at the UM Field House parking lot or at 8:45 at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge to peep on the waterfowl and early migrants, who may clue you in as to exactly which season it is. Call 549-5632.

Along those same ornithological lines, Steve Schombel and family plan to head to Choteau’s Freezeout Lake for some time with the snow geese, and they’ve invited the Rocky Mountaineers and hangers-on to join them on Sat., March 24. You’ll stay in a motel, not necessarily hike or climb too much, and just enjoy the geese for a change. Call 721-4686.

Alternately, welcome spring with Missoulians on Bicycles, who embark on the Clinton Scramble on Sat., March 24, at 10 AM from the Eastgate shopping center. The 40-mile ride includes an option to feast at Poor Henry’s Bar in Clinton. Call 721-2112.

Or continue to deny the presence of spring with a splinter group of the Rocky Mountaineers by climbing East St. Mary’s Peak on Sat., March 24. Bring skis, snowshoes, crampons, an ice ax, avalanche gear, a tribal permit and low temperatures. And call 721-6384 or 240-7612.

With parka-clad sentimentalists seeking a few more hours of snow time in mind, the New Rocky Mountaineers have planned a Sat., March 24, ski/snowshoe trip to Mollman Pass, an enormous, snowy plateau tucked up in the Mission Mountains with lakes galore. Get your skis shined up, grab a stick of Juicyfruit and call 549-4769.

Turning our focus toward that far shore, to the warm, expansive days of spring, we mustn’t ignore this offering, from the Bitterroot-Mission Group of the Sierra Club: you are invited to explore the nighttime world of amphibians at Lake Como in the Bitterroot on Sat., March 24, at 5 PM. You’ll need waterproof boots—cleaned ahead of time to prevent water-borne disease transmission, yo—warm clothing and a flashlight. And don’t bring any companion animals. Call 531-5535.

Missoulians on Bicycles, having kicked the ass out of the Clinton Ramble, returns for more on Sun., March 25, with a trip to Glen’s Café for Famous Pie, which leaves at 10 AM from the 4-B’s on the corner of Brooks Avenue and Reserve Street. If the 40-mile trip to Florence and back beckons, call 251-5786.

If these options don’t seem to satisfy your need for vernal clarity, by all means, take the state of our progress through the seasons into your own hands. Form a cooperative group to petition your favorite pagan bunny for an early thaw this year. Ally yourself with a cult of tanning salon divas to erect a gigantic UV lamp on top of Mount Sentinel.

Or at the very least, wrap your lips around a few Susan B. Anthonys tonight before you turn in, just in case.
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