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Mountain High



These days, Montanans are getting smoked out in a manner significantly less satisfying than when they were in college. Instead of being the result of a covertly cooked-up VW Microbus “hotbox,” the bloodshot eyes you’re seeing around town are the result of living at Ground Zero of What’s Burning in North America, 2003.

If you want to learn more, the Northern Rockies Interagency Center has installed a new toll-free phone line to immediately answer concerns you may have about the firestorm around us. Operators are sitting by from 6 a.m. to midnight daily, acting as a clearinghouse of information on road closures, evacuation schedules and fire behavior. Call (800) 781-3811 to extinguish any burning questions.

Or if you prefer your data online, they have an easy-to-navigate Web site with maps, forecasts and links to governmental sites related to fire. Just log on to

The Wildland Fire Protection and Education Team says that “flaming embers behave similar to blowing snow,” so look for smoldering embers in the same places that snowdrifts form around your house. For more info, visit

Up, up, up, up, up. That’s the name of the game at the 21st Annual Glacier Nordic Run, where the region’s finest mountain runners, walkers and hikers will hit The Big Mountain to compete in a wicked uphill on the infamous Danny On Memorial Trail on August 23. All proceeds support the non-profit Glacier Nordic Ski Team, so go get in line at The Chalet at 8 a.m. to make it so. Organizer Molly Bruce says the air is a whole lot better high up on the mountain, so contact her at (406) 862-8780 or log on to—and don’t forget your water bottle!

If you’ve been to a Montana trailhead recently, you know there is no shortage of outdoor enthusiasts exploring Montana’s wilds. We get up early, fill a pack with enough goodies to get us through a day outside and suck the marrow available to those wise enough to live in a state that is both “The Last Best Place” and the bottom of the economic barrel.

These two factors—a sluggish economy and undeveloped lands—allow Montana to remain the most unspoiled state in the Lower 48. Despite the obligatory bitching about low wages, we know that true wealth is more about quality of life than quantity of green paper. Still, with so many neighbors appreciating our wild backyards, you might be forgiven for taking the remaining wild for granted. Don’t.

As you read this, Bitterroot National Forest officials are considering loophole-ing the Wilderness Act of 1964 by using a helicopter to drop off a shed and motorboat 10 miles into the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) at Big Creek Lake.

As one of 18 dammed lakes in the SBW (none currently have, or allow, motorboats,) this precedent-setting project could lead to similar “improvements” elsewhere in the SBW, compromising the wilderness characteristics of the largest roadless area outside of Alaska.

If you hike, bike, ski, climb, paddle or in any way appreciate the wilds of your state, you now have an opportunity to do your part: Send your comments (include your name, address and phone number) on the project by August 25 to District Ranger Jeanne Higgins ( and let her know what the Forest Service can do with its dam improvements.

The Silver King Lookout is an excellent perch from which to observe any of several fires burning across the state, and this 7,771’ scenic overlook above Lincoln lies just over an hour from Missoula. Count on a refreshing wade across the Landers Fork to cool you off before climbing six miles above Indian Meadows, but call Rocky Mountaineer trip leader Lois Crepeau (728-5321) to confirm that the route and lookout are not yet closed—or charred.

The Grizzly Triathlon, held every spring at the University of Montana, draws its name from a University mascot. So don’t confuse this with the Grizzly Marathon, a burly marathon and half-marathon named after our state’s true national champion, Ursus arctos horribilis, or grizzly bear. This run takes place in the Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone along the Rocky Mountain Front, which, by the way, is also endangered. Runners will have the opportunity to see the full cornucopia of Montana’s large critter population, like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose and, yes, grizzly bears, although course officials are quick to point out that “The course will be well-monitored for runners’ safety.” The race is a combination of asphalt and gravel, and everyone who finishes gets a medal. Log on to or call (406) 466-3333 to register and check on air quality.

The 16th Annual Garden City Triathlon takes place at 8 a.m., August 23, at Frenchtown Pond. There are categories for teams and individuals, but you must sign up ahead of time, so call 542-9401 or log on to as soon as possible. The 1.5K lake swim is followed by a 40K bike ride (helmets and common sense required) and then a 10K run. After 15 years, competitors can count on a well-organized and fun race, with post-race food, drinks and raffle. Pray for some pre-race rain to clear the air and then call Miles Key at 542-9401 to get in the game.

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