Mountain High 

Unless you spent your summer avoiding the news, hiding under a rock and importing your oxygen from elsewhere, you might think that Glacier National Park has been reduced to an Armageddon of ashes. A daily plume of stories announcing road closures, business hardships and evacuations has created a perception that the park has been gravely damaged, and that the suffering might continue for years as a result of this fire season’s extensive burns. However, as the smoke settles and burnt acreage is tallied, park officials are noting that less than 15 percent of the land within the park’s borders was torched during this latest fire cycle.

A weekend of alpine scrambling in the no-longer-smoky park provided a bird’s eye view of thousands of acres of forest, many of them defined as existing within the “fire perimeters” of the 56,000-acre Roberts Fire and the 16,000-acre Trapper Fire. The firsthand panorama supported the park’s claims that even within the fire perimeters, forests and meadows have burnt in a mosaic of intensities, combining thoroughly charred, slightly burned and completely unburned vegetation into the green, black and brown patterns that the park has known intimately for millennia.

Fortunately, the clearing of the park’s skies coincides perfectly with National Public Lands Day, a “celebration of the national treasures we have in our public lands.” To honor America’s unparalleled land preservation system, the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other Department of the Interior bureaus are marking Sept. 20 as National Fee Free Day, on which we Americans will be given free entrance to our public lands. A commemorative pass—available only to folks entering during hours that the entrance booths are staffed on Saturday, Sept. 20—will allow for free access into the park for the week of Sept. 20–26.

Take note, however, that the pass does not waive fees for camping or other park services. Of course every day in the park can be Fee Free Day, as many underfunded park junkies have for years been giving slumbering rangers the slip by rising at dawn and beating them to the guard stations.

Closer to home, the Blodgett Canyon campground and trailhead “improvements” that have kept Hamilton’s backyard trailhead off-limits for weeks have been completed, and climbers, hikers and hunters are now permitted to return to the Bitterroot Valley’s most popular trailhead.

For those not yet in the know, there’s a new kind of bicycle out there that combines the burliness of a mountain bike with the geometry, weight and efficiency of a road bike. “Cyclocross” bike makers take the lightweight wheels, angles and proportions of a road bike, beef up the frame with heartier tubing and outfit it with knobby yet narrow tires. For many of Missoula’s ride-to-work cyclists, the design represents the best option for efficient but safe year-round commuting. The design also allows for moderately cautious riding on select mountain bike trails, although the stiff frames, lack of suspension, larger diameter wheels and less-than-ideal climbing position are best used on swifter, less technical rides. This means that cyclo-crossers regularly carry their bikes around obstacles that their well-suspended brethren eat for breakfast.

To satiate the need for singletrack speed, the Montana Bicycle Racing Association (MBRA) has organized two race series, the Missoula Wednesday Night Cross Series and the MBRA Cross Series.

The MBRA Cross Series will host 10 weekend races beginning on Oct. 4, while the Wednesday Series at Ft. Missoula runs Sept. 24 through Oct. 22. Races for both series cost $5, but contact Mike at for more info.

The New Rocky Mountaineers continue to follow their directive of getting folks into Montana’s wilds, this time leading a Sept. 27 rock climbing trip for all skill levels. Join Brady Warren (327-7840) as he leads and topropes a handful of routes near town, and be sure to bring a harness and rock shoes.

Or join NRM-er Luke Cassady (777-0190), also on Sept. 27, for an ascent of the (possibly snowy?) Ranger Peak, an 8,817’ hump deep in the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness near Stevensville. Non-climbers are welcome to push eight miles in and kick back on the shores of Big Creek Lake, while the big-lung types grind out summits.

Or join the Rocky Mountaineers’ Steve Schombel (721-4686) on Sept. 21 for a triple-summit day on the Reservation Divide above the Ninemile Valley. Open slopes, moderate elevation gains and great views of the Missions make this alpine stroll a pleasure, plus you’ll get an opposite-side view of the Peak Formerly Known as Squaw.

Get your posse o’ three together and run for Mary, Mother of God! Missoula’s Fall Festival Run Relay, a $45 5K or 1.5 mile race brought to you by Missoula Catholic Schools, runs from Rollins Field along the River Trail. Contact Maryann at 544-2168 for the rundown.

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