Mountain High 

Most of the year it’s easy to be an upstanding, responsible dog owner—one who cares responsibly for things both entering and exiting the canine. It’s pretty simple, really: buy decent food, keep an eye on all orifi and pick up waste whenever it’s deposited in a place where others might come across it. Simple, no?

Well, not exactly. Things get a lot trickier in the winter, when access to public lands becomes restricted or difficult and cold temperatures slow the rate at which fecal matter decomposes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Rattlesnake’s Woods Gulch.

Woods Gulch is the sole Rattlesnake trailhead open to our canine friends between Dec. 1 and Feb. 29, effectively bottlenecking Missoula dogs (and therefore dog droppings) that in other seasons are spread adequately between multiple trailheads, decomposing quickly in the intense sunlight of a Montana summer.

But by mid-winter, the Woods Gulch Trail becomes a pitched and icy tightrope strung precariously between endless piles of dog shit, making a slip on the ice well worth preventing. To make it worse, the draw is narrow and steeply banked, leaving few flat platforms for dogs anxious to drop off the morning dirt.

And thus a serious P.R. problem flares annually, with non-dog owners wondering how in the hell it could come to this—how literally hundreds of turd piles could be overlooked by so many dog owners lacking the accountability to clean up their own mess.

It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, too, for as you approach the pile, Mutt Mitt™ in hand and ready to extricate the excrement, you’ll find your dog’s pile nebulously blending into the piles of so many others. You could fill a dozen Mutt Mitts™ in a couple minutes, but the few who take the time to bend over typically just follow the steam to the freshie, taking only that for which they are responsible.

Compound this with the seasonal closures on Mount Jumbo and the potential for multiple-use conflict runs especially high in winter, a fact of which the Forest Service is well aware.

So to protect Missoula-area trails (and water supplies) from this influx of fecal matter (as well as for a multitude of other reasons) dogs are prohibited in all of the lower Rattlesnake through Feb. 29, and in the Spring Gulch drainage through May 15. Keep in mind that these fecal-free zones are greatly appreciated by the no-dog set, and many other options exist for wintertime dog walking.

Dogs, of course, are not the only challenge for the wide range of winter trail users—a diverse group whose very nature tends to leave them polarized. Cross-country skiers rely on unaltered ski tracks, and post-holers and snowshoers tend to muss the carefully manicured trails in a hurry. So the F.S. reminds us that groomed ski trails are “tracked” along the edges, and walkers (sans dogs) are encouraged to walk between, but not on, the tracks.

And speaking of potential conflicts, the Rattlesnake Recreation Area also has a healthy population of mountain lions, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has authorized a limited lion hunt that runs through Feb. 12, Mondays through Thursdays only. Wildcat hunters have been exempted since 1998 from certain leash, dog and firearms regulations during this time in order to reduce the number of lions living in the Lower Rattlesnake, although cat lovers might note that only one lion has been harvested each season.

Meanwhile, Blue Mountain Road is now closed to wheeled vehicles to clear the way for snowmobilers, hikers and skiers. Dog walkers should know that they are welcome everywhere at Blue Mountain without restriction EXCEPT McClay Flats, where canines must be leashed year-round to protect the birds and other critters who call that riparian area home.

Pattee Canyon is open to dog walkers without restriction EXCEPT for the groomed ski trails, parts of which cross the Pattee folf course. Folfers are encouraged to use the Blue Mountain course until the snow is gone, which usually occurs in March.

Multiple avalanche burials (but no deaths) were reported by the West Central Montana Avalanche Center this week, including a soft slab slide in the St. Regis Basin that buried and injured at least one snowmobiler. Heavy snow loads and unstable layers continue to define much of Montana’s backcountry, so be sure you’re prepared with proper gear, training and awareness before heading out. Also check out the WCMAC’s website,, for the latest in snow conditions, warnings and trip reports. Numerous classes will be offered at the University beginning next month, so stay tuned—we’ll fill you in on the details over the following weeks.

Put those backcountry smarts to work by joining the New Rocky Mountaineers as they head up Mollman Pass on Dec. 28. You can ski or snowshoe up to the 6,900-foot pass in the Mission Mountains (be sure to have a tribal recreation permit!) along a four-mile trail as it gains 3,100 feet of vert. There’s fine snow, big lakes, and a descent that will keep you howling for more. Call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 for more information.

The Rocky Mountaineers will hit the showshoes in the Lolo Creek drainage on Dec. 28 as they charge up the ridge on the Lee Creek Interpretive Trail. If the skies are clear there’ll be fine views of Lewis and Clark country. Fred Schwanemann (542-7372) leads the way.

Montana Snowbowl has been receiving regular (albeit small) dumps of snow, and longtime pass holders are saying that this is one of the best Decembers ever. As of press time, Snowbowl is reporting an inch of fresh on a 38-inch base at the summit. Discovery Basin has 34 inches up top with a “trace” of powder. Lost Trail and Silver Mountain both have 48 inches at their summits with just a trace of fresh. Blacktail Mountain has 40 inches with no new snow, while Big Mountain reports a 50-inch base, with nothing new.

Send your outdoor plans to:

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Speaking of Mountain High

Readers also liked…

More by Chad Harder

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Free Matinee

Free Matinee @ Missoula Public Library

Fourth and Second Wednesday of every month, 2 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation