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Summer Hikes: Part I

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Our happy group on the summit of Mt. Roberts
Our happy group on the summit of Mt. Roberts

Ah, what a summer it’s been so far. My goal this year as a newly retired person is to get outside and do something active every day, rain or shine. At first I had this crazy idea that I would be skiing, climbing mountains and hiking ridges for hours every day. I was hammering each day like it was my “day off”, trying to get in as much activity as I could. But since I’m not 20 years old anymore that didn’t last long, and I was forced to slow down a bit when I hit the figurative wall. So I scaled back and now I’m happy to just be outside daily, not necessarily doing something “big”.  Sometimes I go for an easy walk or bike ride, bird watching, photographing, kayaking, fishing, or berry picking. And then every so often, I throw in an adventure.

Three hikes I’ve done this summer are squarely in my adventure category and all of them are classic ridge hikes. The first was the Gastineau – Roberts – Sheep traverse, which I’ve written about previously. The idea to do that particular ridge came when our neighbor mentioned that his visiting nephews wanted to hike that route before they left, but he did not want them to go by themselves. So he recruited his crazy neighbors.

That turned out to be one of the most fun days of the summer for us. We quickly warmed up to Riley (a 17 year old high school senior and varsity basketball player from Wisconsin), and Jimmy (an elementary school teacher from Kalispell, Montana). Jimmy is a veteran of long mountain hikes, and he kept us enthralled with tales of crazy mountain adventures for at least the first two hours climbing up to Mt. Gastineau.

When you go hiking with someone you’ve never hiked with before, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Sometimes I feel like a priest or a bartender, listening to someone else’s life story, with all of their attendant family/spouse/work problems. But with Jimmy, I was delightfully entertained and amazed by his stories of hiking hundreds of miles through remote mountain terrain, often with very little planning and minimal gear. Riley was quiet at first, as a 17 year old boy will be with strangers. I knew from experience that would change as the day went on.

We enjoyed a pleasant hike up Mt. Gastineau, and then headed over to Mt. Roberts, picking up another hiker along the way. Peggy was visiting family in town and hiking alone this day. She had been contemplating continuing over to Roberts, but wasn’t sure of the route beyond there, so we invited her to join our group and promised her a lift back to her car. She showed herself to be a strong hiker, had no problem keeping pace with our lively group, and was extremely friendly and talkative. She even got Riley talking. She knew the area where Riley went to school and they discovered they had mutual friends in the high school sports world. I love the random, small world of the mountains and how it brings people together!

Up Mt. Roberts we went and over to Sheep Mt. Our new friend Peggy kept up a steady flow of questions about the route and our surroundings, keeping us busy as we gave her details of the area. I was amazed at her intense curiosity about everything she could see from our high vantage point. At the summit of Sheep Mt., we took a little time to photograph and celebrate the three peaks we had just climbed.  Then down the narrow ridge we trekked to the Sheep Creek power line, looking for the trail to the Sheep Creek valley. As we paused at the power line cabin, Peggy asked me, “What’s the plan from here?” I gazed at the brush below us as I ate an apple and thoughtfully replied, “Not get lost.” Peggy looked at me doubtfully, and I'm sure she was wondering if I really knew what I was doing. Luckily I did not embarrass myself in front of our visitors. We hit the route down to the forest trail dead on, not losing it for a moment, which I think is a first for me (don't tell Peggy).

Once we were on the main trail in the woods leading to the valley floor, Riley really opened up and started talking. All I had to do was ask him a question now and then, and the previously quiet teenager was chattering a mile a minute. I’ve experienced this before with young hikers – once they understand the hike is winding down and they have pretty much accomplished the hardest part, they seem to be flooded with energy and release it by saying just about anything that pops into their head.

Before we knew it the hike was over, everyone was shuttled to their cars, and we were hugging and exchanging email addresses and promising to send pictures to each other.

(To be continued)

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