Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Archive for the ‘Montana’ Category

Thinking of Montana

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 3, 2008

The thing about grizzlies is, they scare me, black bears, the type we have east of the Mississippi really don’t give me the creeps, but grizzlies and their awesome abilities just freak me out. I was armed with a can of bear spray which I had just purchased for $50 in Red Lodge. It didn’t make me feel any safer, I felt like I was being stalked and the bears were watching me from high above perched up at some bear restaurant on a cliff while the chef another bear was sharpening his teeth and waiting for the kill. Maybe they were debating if I would need seasoning or not, maybe they were working out a price. Every time the wind blew, or a branch fell, or any other of the million sounds that emanate from the woods met my ears- I jumped.

I felt stupid with this bear spray which was just a feel good way of saying, large can of pepper spray that has a warning that “contents are under high pressure”, hey seltzer and deodorant have the same warning don’t they? I wished I had a shotgun or at least a .45 magnum or something, that would make me feel tough, it may not do anything in the case of a bear attack, they run 35 miles per hour and climb trees, but at least it made me “feel” safe.

I was hiking up a rocky trail in the middle of nowhere, the middle of nowhere being just outside the Beartooth Wilderness Area in south central Montana, just bordering the Wyoming border, if that actually helped you understand where I was on the United States map, I would love to meet you. Anyway, the weather could not have been more perfect, I had on shorts and a t-shirt, and I just started to feel my tzitzis sticking to my sweaty undershirt. I wasn’t stupid of course, and had packed a windproof fleece, a must for any person of the backcountry, as well as a siddur, some energy bars and 100 ounces of water. That is a bit much for a hike under 10 miles, but I am the type who reads way too many stories and books about folks who got lost or stuck and hadn’t packed enough to survive, so I over pack. Its bad because I over pack for shabbos as well, and always end up lugging this enormous bag of stuff besides my suit-bag always scaring my hosts when they think I misunderstood when they said “make yourself at home.”

I am entering this huge cut out of the ridge I am climbing up. From the parking lot, which was empty by the way, the wall of mountains looked like they were guarded by this gigantic rock face filled with trees and cliffs, I could see no streams and surely no way of getting through. I figured on a huge climb straight up and over, but luckily the trail builders had chosen the easy way an I was walking sideways up the huge ridge. Now I was facing a cut in the ridge, I could hear a swift moving creek somewhat below me, and its rumbles and quick peaks of white water gurgling over rocks and dead trees made me excited for its source. I knew its source was the two lakes I was hiking to, but had no idea what it would look like.

The trail leveled out and I began to walk pretty quickly on the hard packed earth. When I hike alone I always walk quickly, I do stop often to look around and enjoy my surroundings and sound like an old world preacher with the amount of wow-Baruch Hashems that are emitted from my mouth. The scenery was just starting to open up a bit and on the two sides of the cut that I was walking between I could see exposed rock. I was walking through a beautiful spruce forest and not much else was growing. I was relatively low, so it was semi-arid, the town of Red Lodge where I had gotten my bear spray was located at 5,555 feet so that was in the desert, I was at about 8,000 feet now and climbing.

As I climbed the forest became more lush and I noticed little colonies of wildflowers of pink and blue sprouting up every few minutes. Then I came to my first of many stream crossings. The stream was more of a trickle, but it provided me with such joy, water has this way of lighting up a hike, that’s probably why I do what they call “water hikes”, usually to lakes or waterfalls, most of the time they are too cold to swim in, but once in a while you can just jump right in, best part about it is you can utilize the lakes and streams as mikvahs, when no one is around, and no one ever is.

I crossed the scattered logs that had ben put down by past hikers so that peoples shoes should not get wet. That’s one of the things I love about hiking, the people, they are always so friendly and willing to lend a hand, give you some water or just have a friendly chat about anything. I always wear my yarmulke and tzitzis proudly when I hike, besides the fact that I have a philosophy that I do not hide who I am, even more so when I may meet another Jew by some chance. I have met other Jews on the trail or random places before, and would not have been possible if I had been wearing a baseball cap or my tzitzis had been tucked in.

I crested another hill and noticed that the valley I was walking in was coming to an end. I came to a grassy clearing that had some fire pits from past campers, most wilderness areas in the west restrict camp fires due to forest fires, but judging from the cinders on the wood, these fires had been recent, at least there were no empty beer cans lying around.

I walked passed the grassy clearing and through a thick stand of pine trees with a carpeted floor of pine needles. It felt like walking on a plush oriental rug, after walking up the hard packed rocky trail and I relished it for all of 3 minutes and then I was awed by a beautiful silvery lake. The water was completely still, save for a few small ripples where a stream was adding its contents to the beautiful masterpiece that lay before me. On the far side of the lake was a rock wall that stretched about 1000 feet straight up, it was made up of loose rock that appeared to be gravel from far away, this rock otherwise known as scree, and I knew better then to think it was merely small pieces of gray gravel-like rock, big chunks usually the size of cars were probably mixed in the rubble that had fallen down from the top which was blanketed in snow.

I continued on because I had saw on my topographical map that the next lake was much larger and surrounded by much more extreme scenery. I continued to walk and passed over the stream which was flowing into the small lake. I walked though a forest of shorter trees, I was almost above the tree line at 9,000 feet or so.

Suddenly I stopped in my tracks, and just stared. I was on a field of sub alpine grasses and a few large boulders lay off to my side, but what lay in front of me was one of the nicest most awesome things I have ever seen. There was this perfectly clear glacial lake, in back of it was this amphitheater of rock, this mountain looked as if it were cut out and made to accept this lake in the middle. The mountains surrounding the lake appeared as if they jutted out of the lake itself, they were gray and filled with snow and large gray rocks. Green was scattered up the sides of them and at the very top they were covered in glaciers, the glaciers were all producing these magnificent waterfalls, the kind that look like tiny slivers of water, like a sink faucet, yet they were cascading hundreds of feet into this stream that would eventually widen and become a river as it plunged out of the mountains into the lowlands.

It was rather windy and I noticed that the clouds were thickening up. I took a bunch of pictures and then filmed myself to document my feelings of gratitude to Hashem and joy at being able to bask in all his glory and creations. I washed negel vasser in the lake and davened a most amazing kavanah filled mincha. Like always I wondered if I was the first to bring sparks of kedusha to this place of beauty in the middle of nowhere.

I then sat on a rock and just gazed at the mountains, glaciers, and the clear lake that was so clear you could see the rocks 100 yards out. I scanned the open hills with my binoculars for bears, ate an energy bar and started my hike back down.

As I was hiking passed the first lake I had come to, I met a man and his two little kids coming up the trail. They looked like they were going to pass out, I told them that the next lake was worth all of their pain, we chatted about the altitude sickness they were obviously suffering from and I went on my way. I had an advantage over anyone that flies into high altitude locations, in that by driving I had acclimated already. As you drive west you start to rise pretty long before you hit the Rockies, which spread from Northern Canada down to Mexico. Even the western end of Kansas is all 4,000 feet or more above sea level.

I headed down ever mindful of the bear threat and a little spooked by the sounds of the wilderness once again. I returned to my car and was sweating once again, it was getting dark so I decided to cook my dinner in the parking lot and find a place to camp afterwards. It really isn’t so smart to cook and camp in the same place, while in bear country. Bears have an incredible sense of smell, and can probably smell whatever you have been cooking, deodorant and toothpaste are also things you should not use while camping out in grizzly country.

For dinner I chose one of the Osem instant meals I had, unfortunately for the kosher crowd there have never been any good camping or hiking foods that are quick nutritious and easy to prepare. I have tried every self heated kosher meal and find they are too heavy to hike with and rather tasteless otherwise. I have tried many items, but in the end I find that the Osem meals in the bags are lightest and easiest for trips of any sort. They only take 15 minutes or less and provide you with a whole bunch of carbohydrates and protein, and fat which you undoubtedly need when exerting so much energy. Unfortunately they also come chock full of sodium and MSG, so I try not to eat them unless I feel very weak.

I fired up my compact camp stove and poured the contents of my meal into my pot of boiling water. I then consulted my map of the area and decided that I could camp anywhere I pleased. Sleeping on the road is always an issue especially if you want peace and quiet. Too commonly I find myself sleeping near highways and railroad tracks. I prefer free national forest primitive campgrounds, which have only spaces for your car and tent, but no toilet or garbage facilities.

I ate my meal out of the pot and gazed at the darkening canyon around me, I put on some pants because I could feel it getting cold and prepared my sleeping gear. The clouds had made me concerned and although they were scattered now I felt that I should sleep in my tent, I try and sleep tent-less as much as possible, because I love to gaze up at the stars, until you visit the west you will never see such stars I guarantee it, shooting stars are also very common.

I finished my food, washed my pot onto the sandy parking lot and started to drive on the dirt road to find a nice place to sleep. The dirt road was a four wheel drive type road and riddles with holes, and rocks. My car has four wheel drive and I was enjoying splashing through the mud and keeping it in second gear to prevent grinding my gears.

I saw a spot and pulled onto an even worse road, I checked the road ahead to see I wouldn’t get stuck, which is never fun and proceeded cautiously down this very steep hill to a spot by a roaring brook. Streams are great to sleep next to because they drown out the scary silence of night.

I backed my car under a stand of tall evergreens and set my tend up about 20 feet away. I thanked God for giving me a flat spot without roots or rocks. There is nothing quite like having to camp on bumpy ground, forcing you to wonder why you didn’t fork out the fifty bucks for a hotel room. My spot was perfect and in the fading light I turned on my headlamp and sat on a rock over looking the roaring stream with a pirkei avos in my lap.

After a half hour or so of learning I felt sleep coming to my eyes and davened a heartfelt maariv, and thanked Hashem for such a beautiful day and asked him to protect me from hungry bears that night. I was very scared, this would be my first time sleeping by myself in a back country setting. I have been all over the east by myself, but Montana was way different then Maine.

I slept soundly, but for the first hour or so I got really scared every time a tree squeaked in the wind. I davened to Hashem for safety and thought about the ironic situation that I was in, since the day was filled with love and fear. I thought of having both yeera and ahava for Hashem as I drifted into a fitful sleep.

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Posted in Hiking, Jews, Montana, Road Trips | 8 Comments »