On a damp, gray Friday afternoon, the second day of our camping trip to the Yaak Valley, my girlfriend Renie and I sought some painless diversion. The fishing had been slow, and the light drizzle doused our enthusiasm for an ambitious hike. We decided on an easy walk to Vinal Lake, just a short drive north of the valley's namesake "town."
We strolled a quiet mile along a trail of matted pine straw before arriving at a modest pond sitting in a shallow trough against a low, forested ridge. On a far bank, a neglected boat lay upside down in the brush. Closer to us, a loon silently cruised the dark, cold water. We watched it dive, then reappear unpredictably as far as 50 yards away. After each plunge, we would try to guess where it would surface next. Minutes passed, and a light rain began to fall. Renie and I huddled under our umbrella with our shoulders pressed together, scanning the water and anticipating the loon's next emergence. Tiny ripples from countless raindrops expanded in delicate circles across the lake. And the hush—not a silence, but a steady whisper of weather—carried my thoughts away.
Such are the pleasures of the Yaak, a place so splendid in its isolation, the dimples of rain on an otherwise ordinary pond leave a deep impression.
Hidden in the far northwestern corner of Montana, the Yaak Valley arcs through heavily timbered mountains between the Purcell Range in Canada and the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness near Libby. Leaving from Missoula, we spent six leisurely hours on the road, cruising past Noxon before heading north through the gorgeous Bull River Valley on Montana Highway 56.
Lured by the promise of giants, we stopped along the way at the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area for an enchanted picnic among towering old-growth trees, some that have stood there for centuries and measure more than 8 feet in diameter. While any pebble plucked absentmindedly from the nearby creek bed would be vastly more ancient, something about the living cathedral at Ross Creek alters the perception of time. A day, a season, a year ...what do they matter in the life of such titans?