Mountain High 

Continuing this year’s tragic pattern of Montana mountaineer deaths, two young Missoula mountaineers died after an avalanche knocked them off their route during an ice climb in the Madison Range on Oct. 31.

Nathaniel Stevens and Bryan Nelson, both 25, died after falling over consecutive 30-foot drops. The slide narrowly missed fellow climber Justin Elliott who had stopped to re-lace his boot and was behind his team.

The accident occurred at 9:30 a.m. during a windy, early-season storm that had built unstable slabs above the group.

Forest Service officials warn skiers, hikers, hunters and all other backcountry users that early-season snows often adhere poorly to mountain slopes, and that travel on or beneath snowy, high-angle slopes can be extremely dangerous.

The West Central Montana Avalanche Center—the Forest Service’s perennially underfunded but peerless online resource for checking snowpack conditions in Western Montana—won’t begin posting its web reports until sometime next month, but check in with them at:

Until then, check in with local outdoor gear shops for gossip and hard beta on existing conditions.

Snowbowl skiers and snowboarders should note that NOW is the time to buy season passes, as unlimited pass prices increase from $449 to $514 on Nov. 7. Student passes increase from $406 to $471 and weekday-only tickets rise from $289 to $344. Call the Snowbowl phonetree at 549-9777.

The debate on Montana’s elk populations continues to rage, and many people living around Yellowstone National Park believe that the 1995 reintroduction of wolves in the park is responsible for a massive drop in elk numbers. Indeed, a national study of elk populations in or near the park indicates the number has fallen from 19,045 to 8,335 animals in the past decade. But a recently published U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study says that bears kill vastly more elk calves than wolves.

This year’s report, the second in a three-year study, shows that 31 of the 44 calves monitored daily died, although only three were killed by wolves. Bears, on the other hand, killed 18, coyotes killed four, and a golden eagle killed one. Others died of unknown or nonpredatory causes.

Although researchers acknowledge that the study’s figures are not final and are limited in scope, they do line up nearly identically with last year’s numbers. The third year of the study will be complete in November 2005.

Join the Rocky Mountaineers for their monthly meeting at Pipestone Moutaineering at 7 p.m. Nov. 1O. Attendees will face a blizzard of information on the science and ecology of snow by The Nature Conservancy. It’s free and open to all, so show up with cookies or call Julie Warner (543-6508) for more info.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are heading to Trapper Peak Nov. 7, an avalanche-safe adventure to the highest peak in the Bitterroots. Trip leader Gerald Olbu says to expect snow and bitter winds on the summit, so prepare accordingly. Call Olbu at 549-4769 for more information, and don’t forget your “hunter’s orange!”

The Five Valleys Audubon Society is leading a half-day field trip Nov. 6 at Blue Mountain’s Maclay Flats, with birding aficionado Larry Weeks guiding the group around the loop trail and identifying birds along the way. Guest appearances by bald eagles, pygmy owls and migrating waterfowl are likely, so meet at the parking lot at 10 a.m. or call 549-5632 for more information.

Think you know someone who’s violating Montana’s hunting regulations? Call 1 (800) TIP-MONT to bust poachers and score rewards of up to $1,000 for stopping crimes involving wildlife. Write down all identifying information and call immediately to increase the likelihood of scoring the reward—and of the poacher being caught. Speaking of shooting animals, I was recently idling behind two trucks at Malfunction Junction, one a Dodge, one a Chevy. The Dodge had a sticker of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) pissing on a Chevrolet emblem; the Chevy also had a sticker of Calvin, but here he was kneeling and praying before a crucifix. It was captioned, “Dear God, please help me stop pissing on everything.”

Back on the other truck, near the massive exhaust pipe, was another sticker: “Looking for your cat? Try under my tires.”

Now, we’re obviously not supposed to run over cats, but if we follow the rules we can chase them down with dogs and shoot them, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).

“In order to reduce the mountain lion population in the area north of Missoula [hunters can] harvest 3–4 non-lactating adult female or sub-adult mountain lions,” states the agency.

This “very restricted” hunt—one houndsman at a time on weekdays only—will take place in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and is restricted to pistol shooters and archers.

If you’re looking to kill a cat, send your name, address, phone number and lion license number to FWP, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804 before Nov. 19, and they’ll be in touch.

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