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Sep 10 2015

Another “Sound of Music” Moment

The view from Garnet Mountain is what movies are made of

Exploring Montana, Featured

I have been living in Bozeman for more than ten years now and have continually eschewed hiking up Garnet Mountain for a variety of reasons: it’s too close to a highway and civilization, the last three-quarters of a mile is open to motorbikes and ATVs, there is no water along the route, the climb is too steep, etc., etc. I know, I sound like I am grasping at straws, but hey, you do what you have to. But I do like to see new things, so when our friends Kem and Mike from Big Sky contacted us about doing a hike somewhere between Bozeman and Big Sky, and my wife Susie suggested Garnet Mountain, I thought: no more excuses.

Garnet Mountain is located directly south of Storm Castle on the east side of Gallatin Canyon. Schedules and predicted weather forced us to do the hike on a Sunday, and I confessed being concerned about the hordes of people we might see, especially those using petroleum products rather than granola bars to fuel their way to the top. Nevertheless, we met our friends at the Storm Castle trailhead at the appointed time, hoisted our packs, crossed the creek (on a nice bridge), and started to climb immediately. The first couple of miles of the four-mile hike are in fairly thick lodgepole pine. I kept thinking: “Ah, this shade is gonna feel good late in the day when we come down.”

It had been several months since Susie and I had seen Kem and Mik, but the grade, nearly 700 feet per mile, tended to minimize the chit-chat, since I always talk a lot less when I am huffing and puffing uphill. (Maybe that is why people prefer to hike with me primarily in an uphill direction.) After a brief rest and snack break about 70 minutes into the climb, we broke out into a meadow, and I started to realize why Susie did not mind coming up here for a third time. The views were – to employ a much-overused word these days – awesome. Yeah, you could hear the highway a bit if you stopped and listened hard, but across the canyon, the Spanish Peaks were coming into view, and to me, they have always symbolized “The West.” I could say that I was stopping to photograph the views, but in truth, most of the pictures were really breath catchers.

Rounding a hillside, I could see Susie and Kem pulling away and then pointing. At the edge of some trees, they have flushed four grouse and one was still hanging around when Mike and I came by. The ladies then stopped at a trail junction, which begins the final, and steeper section of the climb. This stretch of trail is shared by all manner of mechanized travel. As a result, it suffers from a fair amount of erosion and is rough and rocky. Did I mention “steep?” Kem and Susie clearly had their mojo working, and were pulling away from Mike and me. First 50 yards, then 100, then 200 yards, and so on. My heavy breathing was interrupted by the putt-putt-putt of an ATV. The rider stopped to say hi, and we chatted briefly over the din of his engine.

After he took off, I realized the pause had afforded us the chance to slow down and drink in the amazing views. Finally, the grade lessened as we approached the summit watchtower, where the ladies had been awaiting their clearly less-fit companions. Oh, what a delight to see nearly the entire Gallatin Crest spread out to our east and southeast, to gander at the nearby Spanish Peaks to our west. As we sat down facing east for a long and welcome lunch break looking down on Storm Castle and Lava Lake, I couldn’t help but think that only thing missing from this scene was a young Julie Andrews throwing her arms to the sky and singing you know what.

- Roger Jenkins is president of MWA's Madison-Gallatin Chapter and, along with his wife Susie McDonald, a Wilderness Walks leader. You can follow Susie and his other adventures at twohikers.org.