Not the best hikes, skis, or floats, but the best single isolated miles of travel. The ones which are worth a lot of potentially frustrating work to find. Presented in chronological order, with one photo and one mile for each month of 2014. For organizational and review purposes; January was a long time ago, and big and small memories both are worth recalling in detail.
My favorite mile of January was the frozen ice in the middle of the middle of Lake Sherburne, as M and I were headed back out after our overnight in Many Glacier. The ice was corrogated and cracked, coated at random with sastrugi, deep black, blue and white in alternate patches, and the wind was maching at a steady 60 mph. Fast enough to push us along at 3-10 mph, depending on the ice surface. M understandably found the experience disconcerting, so she rode her edges pretty hard, and thus found it tiring. Having done this sort of thing before, and being a more experienced skier, I enjoyed the free ride and the ability to sit back and relax in a setting and experience which is quite rare.
The best mile of February was the ridge east of Whitefish Mountain Resort on the long loop Amber, Lauren and I did out from the hill and back again. Perfect fresh powder, and a clear, blue, cold, and calm day made for fantastic skiing and a gorgeous skinning as we farmed the fingers of the ridge for turns.
March makes for both an easy and a hard choice; it is an obvious contest between the Redwall slots in 150 Mile Canyon and Scotty’s Hollow, but which? I’ll go with the meat of Scotty’s because the higher temperatures and exertion of the many fun obstacles to climb made the constant wetness comfortable, while in 150 we were on the edge of being cold the whole time. This is the prettiest and most fun section of slot canyon I’ve ever seen.
Come late April the ski hill shuts down, thanks to environmental regulations built into their lease from the Forest Service. The ski area makes our little town what it is, good and bad inextricable, but I like that this yearly event reminds them that their hegemony over the local economy and our public lands is not complete. It’s all the sweeter in a year like 2014, when the snowpack lingers deep and solid well into May, and April storms bring flawless powder laid out on empty slopes with huge views east into Glacier. One late, late April storm in particular brought together the best of winter and spring all at once, and the last bit of the hike up and descent down was my favorite mile of the month.
I have a lot of good memories tied up in Granite Park Chalet, and a quiet, solo visit via bike and skis in May is a favorite trip each year. A good way to guarantee you won’t see anyone the whole day is to go on a weekend where valley rain turns into mountain snow not long after you leave your bike and start the hike and skin up. It was a wet and chilly day, especially the bike descent, but the skiing was fantastic and ambiance of the spring landscape caught in the grip of one last snowstorm made the last mile up to the chalet the most memorable of the month.
The best part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open is always going somewhere you, and just about anyone else, would never go otherwise. Seeing the most remote parts of the Bob when they’re just shaking off the mantel of winter has become one of my most cherished experiences, and crossing Badger Pass on snowshoes fit the bill early this June. I’d never been their before, and with any hint at the trail (and indeed the creek) hidden under 10+ feet of snow, the crossing felt truly wild. These experiences are the closest we 21st century hikers can get to pre-Lewis and Clark wilderness, and those miles are thus always particularly precious.
I’d be hard pressed to pick and exact mile (and I don’t have a good photo of it), but my favorite mile of July was floating below Burnt Park down to the White River with M, Spencer, and Luke. We had survived our run-in with that log on that rapid in Burnt, the day was getting nice and warm, and the river was clear, fast, and perfectly gorgeous. At the midpoint of our loop we were just about as far from a road as one can get in the Bob, and doing so in ideal style. Floating the upper South Fork on a warm day at 5000 cfs is as good as being outdoors gets.
I’m cheating a little by counting the mile across the Sperry Glacier with my mom as August rather than September, but it was close and the combination of the rugged, otherworldly terrain, harsh weather, being having my mom along makes it a must-pick. More than anything, it was a world I had long wanted to show her, and doing so at last was satisfying.
Part of the reason I have to stretch the previous entry is that the first mile of the packout on my September deer hunt in the Bob is the most obvious answer to this question for any month the whole year. The terrain was tough, but not egregious, and the scenery was excellent, but not exceptional. What made that mile stick out so thoroughly was the satisfaction of bringing such a long project to completion, combined with the entirely new sensation of carrying a really heavy pack through tough terrain. The later miles, mostly on trail, hurt, but that mile I was so focused on the intricacy of moving up steep grass slopes without slipping, and down through talus and small cliffs without falling, that the weight would have gone unnoticed had it not been for how much that 80 pounds altered by gait and balance. It’s something I look forward to getting reacquainted with, and soon.
Picking one mile out of October is easy; the labyrinth that is the Tapeats Creek narrows upstream from Thunder River. The novelty, the cold clear water so out of place, and the dizzying bends make it utterly unique in my experience. Sometimes things just plain stand out, no matter how many miles you’ve hiked, and this was absolutely one of them.
I didn’t stop to take a picture of what has become my secret deer spot down in the Blackfoot, but I shot this doe a few hours after leaving the ridge and saddle where I’ve seen different huge bucks the last two years running (both times with my buck tag already filled). From a hiker’s eye it’s not an exceptional place, but as a hunter you can see that the ridge along the top of the short, steep, rugged, densely forested hills makes for an ideal hiding spot. Deer can take a short evening journey into the neighboring fields to get fat on wheat (I got a pint of pure lard off the back fat of this doe), and then retreat come morning to a sunny bed with both plenty of cover and very good views of most approach angles. I have other designs on my general season tag next year, but look forward to eventually drawing this doe tag again and returning to hunt a subtle, plain, but very cool spot. The center of that ridge is my favorite mile from November.
December hasn’t been a very active month, making the choice of the last mile up to upper Holland Lake with Casey and Travis another easy choice. The snow wasn’t quite there yet in volumes ideal for skiing, but the winter ambiance was in full effect. Looking back at the whole year, most of my favorite miles had a lot in common with this one; a combination of a spectacular big context with rich, fulfilling details, and a satisfying back-story. I’m looking forward to next year.