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Mountain High

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Every year, from mid-July through Oct. 1, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes close a portion of the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness to human travel within a “Special Management Zone.” This area is cordoned off from humans in order to prevent human/grizzly interactions as the grizzlies gorge themselves on a little-known but significant summer food source used by the region’s dwindling population of great bears.

Grizzly expert Chuck Jonkel estimates that a total of about 15 griz populate the range, a number that drops almost annually. In fact, an archer misidentified one of our remaining grizzlies as a black bear just this week and illegally shot it dead, continuing a tragic trend for one of Montana’s most misunderstood critters. But single killings are not the biggest threat to their survival—that would be habitat destruction on both sides of the range.

Lack of space keeps the bears high in the mountains, where they find literally tons of red-and-black ladybugs congregating every summer.

“That might seem like it’s not much of a food source,” says Jonkel, “but when they come six inches deep it can add up quick.”

With the re-opening of this critical habitat on Oct. 1, hikers and climbers are encouraged to follow bear country guidelines carefully, avoiding smelly stuff, watching for bear sign and keeping unattended food out of reach.

If this sounds a bit intimidating (or exciting), consider joining the New Rocky Mountaineers as they head deep into the restricted area this Oct. 4–5. On their two-day backpack, NRMers will attempt to climb the Mission’s highest mountain, the venerable 9,800’ McDonald Peak. Count on multiple lakes, some off-trail scrambling and Technicolor fall foliage. Winter can slam these massive peaks anytime now, so be prepared with enough warm gear to keep your hide toasty. Call Gerald Olbu (549-4769) to posse up.

Or if an on-trail, downhill adventure sounds more like your pace, join the Rocky Mountaineers on a long, scenic super-stroll through Glacier National Park, Oct. 3–5. The route will begin at Siyeh Bend, travel a few easy uphill miles through dense trees and then break out into a series of high alpine meadows that are cleared of trees every few years by massive avalanches. (The slide paths are highly visible here, complete with broken trees piled up from an avalanche blasting down the west face of Going-to-the-Sun Mountain two winters ago.) Then it’s a steady tromp over the mellow Piegan Pass, where excellent views give way to an easy-on-the-knees downhill through open country, waterfall views and, finally, dense forest and lakes all the way to Many Glacier. This is a one-way hike, with a very long shuttle and a possible overnight, so figure out arrangements ahead of time to get back to your rig. Steve Schombel (721-4686) leads the party, so call to let him know you’ll be a part of this invigorating trip.

Last week, this column mistakenly stated that a cabin maintained by the Rocky Mountaineers sits within the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness, when in fact the Wilderness boundary jogs east, south and then west around the cabin, effectively circumnavigating the structure by a distance as close as 0.3 miles. We regret the error.

It’s baaaaa-aaaaaaaack: the “slash bundler” demo-ed by the Bitterroot N.F. in August is returning to some of its previously stomped grounds to hold another public demonstration on Thursday, Oct. 2. The project is again sponsored by tax dollars and the generosity of slash bundler manufacturer John Deere/Timberjack.

You can view this machine of biomass removal (referred to as a “giant trash compactor for tree limbs and tops” in the press release) in action on Oct. 2 by meeting at the Super 1 Foods on Highway 93 near Stevensville, at 9 a.m. Be sure to bring water, food, boots, durable clothing and a hard hat if you have one. If you have any questions, contact Angela Farr (329-3650) for some clear-cut answers.

Missoulians on Bicycles hosts a race up Missoula’s closest ribbon of unrelenting blacktop to the top of Pattee Canyon. Cyclists will compete in the 27th Annual Western Montana Hill Climb Championships on Sunday, Oct. 5, and unlike other races, this one has a policy that all riders get a prize. Riders of all ages and abilities are enthusiastically encouraged to participate on this four-mile, 840’ vertical grind out of Missoula, the longest-running cycle race in the state. There are 16 age categories, as well as tandem, recumbent, high wheel, tricycle, unicycle and handcycle categories. Register ($1.00, or proof of club membership) at Big Sky Cyclery from 5–6 p.m. on Oct. 4, or race day at 7:30 a.m. (insider tip: register the night before the race, it’s way faster). There’s only room for 100 riders, and each competitor is asked to bring an “interesting” prize—in the past they’ve included home-baked cookies, frozen dog meat(?!), carpentry work and more. Contact gsiple@adv-cycling.org for more information.

The starter’s pistol for The Shack Fall Classic, (a 10-mile run, 5K run and 5K walk) is fired at Greenough Park’s covered picnic area at 11 a.m. on October 5. Entry fees run $15 advance/$18 race day, so call Robin Hamilton (549-9954) for the rundown.

Pray for snow, then send your outdoor rec schedule to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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