Sometimes going slow makes sense, and stimulates the senses. Going slow means time to gently absorb the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of your surroundings. For the past week my senses were on full alert, almost approaching overload.
As I was growing up in Montana I spent most of my leisure time in Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Missouri River breaks, which runs east and west in the northern region. A trip this past week with my two sons to the Custer National Forest just north of Yellowstone National Park was a new experience. Six days of backpacking and mountain climbing was a great introduction to the Beartooth Wilderness and the Absaroka Range.
Absaroka is well known to be a Crow Indian name, often translated to mean "Sharptailed bird," the name the Crows gave themselves. Absaroka has survived on today's landscape, but the Crow name "Na piet say" has not. Meaning "the bear's tooth," Na piet say referred to a sharp snag that juts from the jaw of Beartooth Mountain in the eastern part of the range. Its unmistakable profile was seen on almost every mountain top as we crossed through the area.
The Beartooth Mountains, one of the best examples of exposed Archean rocks on earth, provide geologists with a unique laboratory for solving the puzzles of the earth's early events. Not only is most of the range a naked, uplifted block of Archean rocks, but these rocks are exposed vertically by the deep graciated canyons.
I was fortunate to spend parts of six days in the wilderness area, arriving at the trailhead last Friday evening and completing about a 45 mile trek by Wednesday morning. The canyon we hiked and climbed was known as East Rosebud Creek and it epitomizes the spectacular beauty of the Beartooth. Its soaring cliffs and roaring cascades, part of a topography reminiscent of Yosemite, gives cause that it is the most spectacular and beautiful back country I have every explored.
Almost from the beginning base level, which was only 4700 feet above sea level, the cliffs soar to dazzling heights. The most spectacular part of the exploration, which was around 11,000 feet just under the summit of Granite Peak, Montana's highest mountain, were the cascading waterfalls tumbling unrestrained from pool to pool over smooth ledges through alpine lakes.
We basically followed the creek up to the top. We reached the point where it irrigates above the timberline, where the pass to the high plateau is gentle, not headed by a rugged glacial cirque with impassable walls.
One of the greatest adventures was the day the boys and I headed off towards Medicine Lake, where we found a large glacier and scaled the side of the snow and ice to get back on track. The flow of the river was gentle, but as it gathered tributaries its speed increases power dramatically. Various campsite were at Dewey Lake, Rainbow Lake and Elk Lake, besides the Carin Lake, the highest lake, around 10,500, just under the majestic Granite Peak.
Although there were signs of wildlife we only encountered a pair of gentle rocky mountain goats, who seemed to enjoy our company at the top lake and would come within 10 feet from our tents.
The wild flowers were probably the most impressive I have ever witnessed. On the Beartooth Plateau, spring lasts all summer. The high elevation and the many protected north-facing cirques and slopes ensure that there are always wet meadows that recently emerged from the snow. The visual harvest of these meadows is a continuous splash of color, much of it from cushion plants: white flowering phlox and smelowskia, pink douglasia, dwarf alpine clover, sparkling blue alpine forget-me-nots, purple pasque flowers, yellow avens, and mountain buttercups.
Vacationing in the back country is always a treat and I have come to enjoy the quality time with my sons. We have been exploring the wilderness areas of the northwest for over 15 years and now the boys have grown up and are expert mountaineers, its nice to push the envelop some and expose dad to areas he would not otherwise have seen.
The slow pace of our hike, the time we took to enjoy the sights and sounds, the long talks we had while they were fishing the rivers and lakes have filled my memory bank with one of the most exciting vacations I have ever experienced.
Taking it slow was a very good thing.