Mountain High 

Saturday, May 15 marks an annual watershed day in outdoor recreation for hikers across the state as Forest Service vehicles cruise the backroads in search of the elusive padlocked gate.

Many of the roads crisscrossing our backcountry are closed while covered in deep snow or runoff in order to minimize human disturbances. While they’re closed to the exhausting crowd, all closed roads stay open to non-motorized traffic, including skis, snowshoes, bicycles and walkers throughout the year.

For backcountry skiers in the winter, the closures don’t represent too much of a frustration. December snows drop low into most of Montana’s valleys and backcountry users tend to choose day trips over the tedious slogs and heavy obligations required of multi-day backcountry trips in the winter. Therefore, the upper Forest Service roads remain untracked during the cold months.

But then, every year, the days get longer, the snowline moves uphill, and late-season skiers are left with the option of either hiking extra vertical to get to their receding stashes of spring corn or having to closet their boards until the snows return.

For many snow addicts, waiting is simply not an option when looking to maximize the warm portion of Montana’s nine-month backcountry ski season. The same is true for climbers looking to tack on early-season climbs before the rocks are covered in mid-summer climbers. So come May 15, the Subarus are loaded and chomping at the bit, ready to zip up the freshly dried, newly opened access roads that lead toward the upper mountain turns and steep summit bids.

As nearly all of Montana is covered in a spider web of roads, the few closures the Forest Service does implement are chosen to protect location-specific characteristics. Elk winter range is a fine example, or soupy, off-camber and poorly constructed roads that are slowly sloughing off into downstream trout waters.

And yet, there are still those who complain about the closures, saying that their God-given freedoms are being violated. Two years ago a mouth breathing Flathead AM radio disc jockey put out a call to frustrated citizens to bash their way through or shoot the locks off of Forest Service barriers as part of “Gate Opening Days.”

For many, the shock jock’s call rang true: 82 percent of Flathead County is under federal management, and local hunters and hikers often feel that land management decisions are made by non-natives representing a value system vastly different from their own.

Whether you bash F.S. gates or G.S. gates, this weekend marks the beginning of easy-access summer scrambles, wildflower odysseys and quick ’n’ dirty spring skiing. And it sure beats the multi-hour trudge that blocks low-elevation folk from easily accessing the high and wild.

Speaking of high country, the New Rocky Mountaineers (Shannon Bolton, 273-2826) are looking to bag some big Bitterroot peaks this weekend, with a Saturday/Sunday outing into Como Peaks basin. Heading up the Little Rock Creek trail, the group will camp in the basin and choose which of five 9,000’+ peaks to climb on Sunday. The is a full-on adventure—rock and steep snow climbing skills will be required of all in the group, regardless of the route chosen.

Or you can join New Rocky Mountaineer Fred Rhoderick (549-5762) on Sunday, May 18, for a day of rock climbing for all abilities on the grippy limestone crags up Mulkey or Rattler Gulch. They’ll be top roping and lead climbing options available, but be sure to bring a harness, shoes and Swiss chocolate to share.

The 4th Annual U.S. Whitewater Open is being held May 16–18 at the Alberton Gorge’s spectator-friendly “Triple Bridges.” As of press time, the Clark Fork was raging and temps are forecast to be in the 70s all week—practically guaranteeing a spectacular “hole” for pro and amateur boaters alike to throw their sweetest whitewater moves. There’s demos on Friday, and competition on Saturday and Sunday, so contact steep creek film star (and Missoula homeboy) Seth Warren (370-6779) to get your aquatic cartwheelin’ beta.

Race up to Evaro on Saturday, May 17 for the Evaro Mountain Challenge. This 5K and 10K run or run/walk has gained a reputation for its challenging course and friendly spirit for all abilities. “Any dog who brings a runner gets a special reward,” and “Don’t wear your new white shoes,” reads the flyer, so call Bob Hayes (726-3695) to run like the wind.

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