As the new intern for FSPW, I am often asked the question: “Have you been to Montana or Idaho before?” The answer is simply no. Which means that when people ask me specifics about the Scotchman Peaks area I often get a blank look on my face as I try to process just where and what they are talking about. This weekend however, I got to really experience the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness firsthand. I spent three amazing days hiking in the beautiful mountains of Montana and Idaho.
The first hike I went on was led by Phil Hough and Deb Hunsicker and it was FSPW’s first volunteer-led hike of the season. As a group of strangers gathered in the Clark Fork Library parking lot, I wondered what exactly the day would bring. We hiked in among the towering cedars and pines and a group of strangers quickly developed into a group of people that realized they had something in common, a love for the outdoors. We traded stories, took photographs of the beautiful scenery, and just enjoyed each others company. Although we didn’t quite make it to Thunder Creek Falls, the hike was absolutely beautiful and rewarding. On the way back out we spent some time exploring an old beaver dam, a moss-covered cedar forest, and the creek we kept passing (and walking through). Time seemed to slow down, we took the time to explore anything that looked interesting, and the outside world seemed to fade away. It was a wonderfully relaxing day.
My second hike was a solo hike (Mom, stop freaking out!). I decided that I needed to see the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness from a higher elevation. At 6167 feet, Star Peak seems to be the perfect place. As I hiked up the old mining road to the Star Peak trailhead, I soon realized just how out of shape I was. But what views! I watched the Clark Fork River valley get smaller and smaller as I slowly made my way up the mountain side. I finally reached the trailhead and the grade quickly got a lot easier (that, or I had just gotten my hiking legs back).
I started to see patches of snow as I gained elevation, and I wonder just how much was on the top. It got harder and harder to follow the tread as the snow pack increased in depth and soon I was just following the stumps that were poking above the snow along the trail. Soon those disappeared as well. Decision time. I figured that I was about a mile (by trail) away from the top of Star Peak. I also figured that finding the peak wouldn’t be that difficult. All I had to do was go up. If I got lost, I could follow my footsteps back to the trail. So up the mountain I went. As the trees got progressively shorter and the snow pack got progressively deeper, I found myself wondering what exactly I was doing. However, I figured I had gone so far that it would be silly to turn back. Suddenly I spotted a building through the trees! I had made it to Star Peak lookout! The sky was clear, the wind was clam, and I could see for miles. “This,” I thought, “is why I came to Montana!”
My third hike was with a group of students, parents, and faculty from Carden Academy in Sandpoint. Sandy Compton was leading the group up “Practice Mountain.” We reached the trailhead and parents, kids, and one very excited dog spilled out of three vehicles and were introduced to Ms. Mitchell, the summer intern. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought. And it certainly was. Energy, energy, energy! There was so much of it, it was contagious! As Sandy showed the students different species of trees and answered all kinds of questions, I thought about how lucky these kids were to spend a day in the forest. The world is so big and there is so much to see! It was great to see parents and faculty that understood that learning can occur outside the classroom. It was also really encouraging to watch ten students following Sandy without hesitation up the side of Practice Mountain. These students were ready to take on anything! It was another beautiful and eye-opening day in the Scotchman Peaks. I realized just how lucky I am to be here.