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Mountain High



Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize:

The first earnest hint of winter blasting through Hellgate Canyon this week brought with it an excellent opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to consider two words when updating their wardrobes with the latest in fall fashions—BLAZE ORANGE.

Yes, everything changes for woods lovers on Oct. 24, opening day of Montana’s deer and elk general hunting season. So track down a blaze orange vest, stocking cap and dog collar to help overzealous hunters be confident that you are NOT a worthy target. Or just hike in the relative safety of Missoula’s numerous urban jungles, like Greenough Park, Waterworks Hill or Mount Sentinel.

Missoula is almost peerless for its downtown-to-mountain walking distance, and throughout the year citizens take advantage of our steep eastern flank by using it as a neighborhood stairmaster. Throughout the day mountain climbers of all speeds grind their ways through the switchbacks to the “M” and straight to the summit for notable views of our fair city.

If you’re one of the thousands who like to explore Missoula’s nearby hills, consider bagging the stiff west face of Sentinel via a 1.75-mile scramble during the annual Mount Sentinel Hill Climb on Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. Registration for this $15 UM Triathlon team fund-raiser starts at 9:30 a.m. in the “M” parking lot, but you can e-mail for more info.

Frustrating, politically motivated maneuverings continue to define the ongoing legal battle over how many of which sorts of snowmobiles will be allowed into Yellowstone N.P. this winter—despite the fact that public comment, federal regulations and remarkably simple science all indicate that snowmobiles negatively affect park resources and visitor experiences. Still, Interior Secretary Gail Norton certified three new machines for use in the park last week, despite the fact that last year’s “certified” sleds were later shown to be out of compliance with federal regulations. In a telling train of logic, Norton continued her ongoing dismissal of the nonmotorized crowd, stating that Yellowstone winters are not enjoyable without the convenience of gas-powered machines.

“We must not forget that the parks are ours—to be cared for, yes, but also to be enjoyed,” Norton said in the statement.

To further the mess, the House Resources Committee used $68,081 in tax dollars last week to mail pro-snowmobile, pro-Bush literature to homes in Montana and elsewhere—despite the fact that using tax dollars on such mailings within 90 days of an election is, according to at least one U.S. representative, illegal.

The mailings state: “The House Resources Committee is working with President Bush to ensure that snowmobilers have access to our National Parks…[R]est assured that the House Resources Committee and the Bush Administration are working together to protect your right to ride.”

Then, on Oct. 15, a federal judge in Wyoming called a long-ignored Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in the park “prejudiced” and struck it down.

Policies from differing administrations and multiple regulatory agencies have created a most confusing web of regulations, but as it stands, the “final” version of the park’s snowmobile plan is expected to be out within a month. The plan will likely require Yellowstone sledheads to be led by commercial guides while in the park, and that all machines—720 per day—meet “best available technology” requirements.

Crosscountry skiers looking for a pristine Yellowstone experience free of blue smoke and incessant whining should note that the park’s West Entrance is closed to motorized, over-the-snow travel until Dec. 15.

And speaking of cold, the highest point in North America, Alaska’s Denali (or “Mount McKinley” if you prefer) sees thousands of mountaineers questing to attain its 20,320‘ summit every year. The weather window on this massif rarely blinks open, and the amount of preparation, work and investment involved tends to keep lesser mountaineers far away from its impressive ramparts.

In fact, less than 50 percent of wannabe-summiteers flown by ski-plane onto the base camp glacier ever breathe the thin summit air. The reasons are many: relentless 40-below temps, crushing winds, miles of thigh-deep slogging, 100-pound packs, elevation sickness or tent-bound boredom during weeklong storms. And while Montana’s mountain environs are not to be taken lightly, even on a good day Denali’s “dog route” is significantly more committing than what we find in Big Sky Country.

But you wouldn’t know that from listening to Missoula-based übermountaineer Darcy Chenoweth, who last summer hit a bluebird weather window and ski-traversed Alaska’s infamous peak. Somewhere near 99 percent of Denali climbers retreat off the mountain via their ascent route, but Chenoweth’s party took the popular West Ridge up, and then skied an obscure and, uh, “challenging” route down. Check out Chenoweth’s slideshow of this noteworthy feat at the Trailhead’s “Women’s Weekend” on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. Call 543-6966 for more info.

Then join internationally renowned ice climber Joe Josephson for a 35-year history of climbing the sickest ice throughout North America on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m., also at the Trailhead.

Despite recent assurances that the Rocky Mountain Front will be (at least temporarily) saved from drilling operations, the Native Forest Network continues to lead the charge against other forms of defacement in the area—in this case, unlawful ATV use. Join Cameron Naficy on Oct. 24 at the Summit trailhead near Marias Pass on Highway 2 for a five-mile hike into the Badger/Two Medicine region to document renegade motor vehicles. Call 542-7343 or log on to to register.

Or, closer to home, join Rocky Mountaineer Fred Schwanemann (542-7372) on Oct. 24 for an annual eight-mile hike through a nearby “no-hunt zone”—the Walman Trail in the Rattlesnake Rec Area.

The Sierra Club and the Society of American Foresters have joined forces to cut trees on 77 acres in a wildland interface area up Sawmill Gulch north of Missoula. Volunteers are needed to help with slashing and piling small diameter trees and brush on Oct. 23 at 10 a.m., meeting at the main Rattlesnake trailhead. Bring work gloves and clothes, rain gear and water; project organizers will feed the crew. E-mail for more beta.

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