All posts by pocket@dmin

Music on Main

Downtown Low-Down

by Taylor Burlage

A local’s guide to downtown Bozeman.

Coming to a new place can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time away from home. But straying off campus is well worth the effort, so let us help you out. First, if you don’t have your own car, a personal chauffeur, or a friend willing to drive you places, you can always take the Streamline bus. With five different routes, you can get almost anywhere in Bozeman; and better yet, it’s free. Route maps can be found on page 76 of your Blue Light guide, so let’s hop on a bus and head downtown.

Alright, you made it. You have no idea where to start, but you do know that you’re hungry. For something cheap but tasty, hit up Naked Noodle or Taco del Sol. Feeling like organic food prepared in-house? Stop off at the downtown Co-op and grab some grub from the hot bar or deli—it ain’t cheap, but it’s healthy and delicious. Looking for a classic Montana meal? Ale Works or Copper are good places to start.

Naked Noodle, your one-stop shop for everything pasta.

Naked Noodle, your one-stop shop for everything pasta.

Now it’s time for some music. Back in your home city, you may have had some unbeatable music venues, but don’t write Bozeman off just yet. There’s a surprisingly robust music scene here, and it keeps getting better. New this year, the Rialto Theater is definitely up and coming here in the Bozone, offering acts from across the country in a classy, fun setting. Other locations include the Ellen Theatre (where you can catch plays, classic films, and other events, too), the Emerson Theater, and the Willson Auditorium for the symphony. Loads of other local venues cater to the 21-and-over crowd, and they have some great shows as well.

So now that you know where to eat and where the best music is, you just want to explore a little. On the east end of Main Street, the Bozeman Public Library is a great study spot situated right next to the beautiful Lindley Park. With loads of books, free Wi-Fi, and a coffee shop, you can basically live there six days a week.  Looking for music, or some quirky gifts? Cactus Records is where you want to be. Although it’s nice to check out books from the library, sometimes, you just gotta have one for yourself. In that case, head on down to Vargo’s (books and records) or the Country Bookshelf (just books). Both have tons of character and a wide selection of literature. Lastly, head to Sacks thrift store. Although there’s a plethora of thrift stores around town, Sacks is the most colorful. With great prices and excellent finds, thrift-shopping at Sacks is more like hunting for treasure.

The Bridgers looming over the Bozeman Public Library.

The Bridgers looming over the Bozeman Public Library.

Okay, you almost know downtown like the back of your hand, but not quite. You still don’t know where to get your outdoor gear! Odds are, you came to Bozeman at least partly (or mostly) for the recreational opportunities. First, stop by Second Wind Sports. We know that brand-new gear tends to be pricey. Luckily for you, Second Wind has some excellent options when it comes to lightly used gear of any kind. Ladies, head over to Girls Outdoors. With a wide selection of outdoor apparel, GO is a great option. For biking gear, there’s Owenhouse and Summit Bikes & Skis, and Schnee’s is the biggest all-around outdoor store downtown. Lastly, hit up Chalet Sports. Chalet provides top-of-the-line gear for reasonable prices, and the staff are super helpful. It’s worth a look, if only to admire the shiny new stuff.

Girls Outdoors storefront in downtown Bozeman.

Girls Outdoors storefront in downtown Bozeman.

That’s it. You’ve taken your first step towards becoming a full-fledged Bozemanite. Keep on exploring, in and outside of town, and be sure to pack your Blue Light guide along.

Woodward-Running-3

Acclimating to Altitude

By Wangmo Tenzing

Running through the pain. 

Like every other newcomer to Bozeman, I knew that things would be different—from the people and the atmosphere to college life and small-town culture. One thing I didn’t anticipate, however, was how the higher elevation would affect me. I grew up at sea level, and the 4,800-foot altitude change hit me the minute I stepped off the plane. Little did I know that this was just the beginning.

WebOnly_IRoderer_Hikers2

Breathing was worst when exercising—especially aerobic exercises. Since Bozeman’s air is thinner, my lungs needed to work harder to perform. Gradually, however, my stamina grew so that I wasn’t gasping for breath every five minutes. With that behind me, I assumed I had completed the brunt of the work. I was wrong.

After spring semester, I left Bozeman for two months and upon returning, I was back to square one. I huffed and puffed—not the way Bozemanites do at Thanksgiving—and everything hurt when I exerted myself. When I ran, my speed plummeted to turtle-like 12-minute miles.

While daunting, this challenge had to be overcome—while in Bozeman, I planned to accomplish everything I could to the best of my ability. And after much effort, pain, and sobbing in the corner of my room, I finally have.

So here’s what I learned. If you’re like me, these tips should help you accelerate your acclimation to Bozeman’s higher elevation.

DavidTucker-BridgerRidge_001

1. Start small. Don’t expect yourself to perform the way you did at sea level. Pushing yourself too hard can slow your progress.  Your body will take longer to recover, compromising your progress.

2. Try breathing exercises.  By developing a larger lung capacity, you’ll be able to take in more oxygen each time you breathe and therefore, you can exert yourself more.

3. Stay hydrated. Your body loses fluids faster at higher altitudes, so drink water or something with electrolytes. You might have to pee all the time, but that’s better than a headache.

4. Cross-train. Swim, bike, climb, hike, etc. This will increase your  lung capacity, making other activities easier.

5. Enjoy the pain. No, I’m not advocating masochism; just appreciate the pain you put yourself through for the things you love. Doesn’t it make you a little proud that you were able to grunt through the suffering and reap the rewards?

All in all, the most important thing is to enjoy whatever activity you’re doing, even if you can’t breathe while doing it—eventually, your lungs will adapt. That being said, make sure to take care of your body along the way, so that you can continue to enjoy your chosen outdoor sports. Regardless, be sure to get out there and explore some of Bozeman’s landscapes. You can always sob later.

Photo by Ian Roderer

Get Up & Go

by Luke Ebeling

Getting around town.

Let’s face it: the MSU campus is pretty nice, and maybe even partially why you decided to come to school here. So, when you live in a place where your bed, food, a duck pond, friends, classes, and even a gym are all within walking distance, it can be comfortable and easy to never leave. Not to mention plenty of students who live on campus leave their cars at home, or don’t want to pay for the gas to get their cars out of the parking lot.

However, only a couple minutes from campus is a plethora of things to see and do, both indoors and out. If you have limited transportation, here are some suggestions on how to get off campus and experience what’s around you.

New year means new clothes, hopefully reasonably priced.

The cheapest form of transportation: your own two feet.

Use Your Legs
God gave you them for a reason—use them to explore the world around you. I suggest wearing shoes, but if that ain’t your style, no sweat. If you live on campus, the Gallagator and the boulders along it are only a few minutes away, making it easy to get in some trail time or a quick climb. It’s also a just a short walk to Peets Hill or downtown.

Pedal Power
A bike is a great mode of transportation, especially in a place like Bozeman, where things are close and there’s little traffic. Also, it’s human-powered, so it’s good for the environment and your health. A bike is quick and efficient, and will get you a bit further than your feet will take you. Be sure to lock it up; scum that they are, bike thieves do exist, even in a relatively crime-free town like Bozeman.

Mooch a Ride
If you don’t have a car, it’s likely that one or more of your friends do, so hitch a ride. This is a great option for going a bit further than downtown, whether it’s to fish the Gallatin, hike in Hyalite, or ski at Bridger. Don’t be too much of a mooch, and pitch in for gas or spring for a beer. Otherwise, you risk losing your ride, not to mention your reputation.

Photo by Devon Lach

Ride the Short Bus
The Streamline bus system—Bozeman’s fleet of old-school yellow busses—runs all around Bozeman, and to Four Corners, Belgrade, even Livingston. Also, during winter they offer rides up to Bridger, so you can sleep on the way to or from the mountain. Don’t want to buy a bus ticket? Well, you’re in luck: it’s free. For more info or a bus schedule go to streamlinebus.com.

Hyalite area, Montana.

Streaming Service

by the editors

A fishing guide for the attendees of Trout U.

Ever wonder why Montana State is nicknamed Trout U? Because the Bozeman area’s got some of the best trout water in the world, that’s why. You have the privilege of taking classes less than an hour from three blue-ribbon trout streams, and dozens of other fishing options. From alpine lakes in the backcountry to valley streams near town, MSU truly is an angler’s paradise.

If you’re new to the sport or new to the area, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of the Cast fishing guide. This local publication is full of everything you need to know about fishing in southwest Montana, from matching the hatch to how to get geared up. Once you have your bearings, you need only head to the river. With a little practice—and patience—you’ll be catching your limit in no time. Here’s some basic information to get you started.

The ultimate getaway.

The ultimate getaway.

Essential Gear

Walk into any outdoor store or fly shop, and the quantity, diversity, and variation—not to mention prices—of fishing gear can be overwhelming. Luckily, it’s not all essential to having fun and catching fish. A good all-around setup will keep you casting and catching all season, without breaking the bank.

For fly fishing, you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet. A good 9-foot, 5-weight, fast-action rod should handle everything from lightweight dry flies to heavier streamers. Match it with a 5-weight reel and a WF5 (weight-forward 5-weight) fly line. A 9-foot 5X leader and a range of tippet material, from 2X-6X, should accommodate most scenarios. Confused yet? Don’t worry; it makes sense once it’s all in your hands.

 

Every summer day is a good day for fly fishing.

Every day is a good day for fishing.

 

Next, get yourself some waders and wading boots, especially if you plan to fish in late fall, winter, and/or early spring. Be sure to use a wading belt so your waders don’t fill with water in the event of a plunge. Polarized sunglasses are great for spotting fish, although they can be expensive and are certainly not required.

Organize your flies in a fly box or sleeve; bring nippers for trimming line, floatant to keep your dry flies on top of the water, and pliers or forceps to removing hooks. Pack it all into a small chest-pack, butt-pack, or vest to keep it organized.

 

Brown trout, Yellowstone River

Brown trout, Yellowstone River

Where to Go

Hyalite Creek
The road to Hyalite Reservoir follows this creek and there are plenty of pullouts. Small rainbow trout are plentiful, and a well-presented dry fly will almost certainly entice a strike. For slightly larger fish, head up to the reservoir.

Gallatin River
The valley’s namesake waterway is a great option, thanks to its abundant public access, proximity to town, and high numbers of fish. Whether you fish the upper river in Gallatin Canyon or the lower section out in the valley, taking the time to walk a little ways from your car provides solitude and better fishing. The lower stretch holds larger fish and can provide good dry-fly fishing, especially on cloudy days. Cameron Bridge, Axtell Bridge, and Williams Bridge are all great starting points. Further south, Hwy. 191 follows the river through the canyon on the way to Big Sky and numerous pullouts access the river.

Beartrap Canyon.

Bear Trap Canyon.

 

Lower Madison River / Bear Trap Canyon
Head west and reach the picturesque Bear Trap in less than 30 minutes. From the trailhead, hike along the east side of the river to access nearly eight miles of pocket-water, deep holes, and weedbeds. Generally speaking, this section of river is not known as a dry-fly haven, and it’s not the easiest place to learn how to properly drift an artificial fly. But if you’re after a big brown, the Madison’s your spot. Strip big, ugly streamers like a zonker, double bunny, or wool-head sculpin.

Events

The fishing calendar is full January through December, but certain events stand out. From film festivals to fly-tying clinics, there’s always something for the trout enthusiast. Below are a few highlights; for more, check out Outside Bozeman’s event calendar.

Wednesdays
Fly-tying – Big Sky. Every Wednesday evening, all year long, the pros at Gallatin River Guides teach a fly-tying class. The atmosphere is informal, so whether you’ve tied flies before or not, it’s a great opportunity to work on your skills. Details here.

August 30
Upper Gallatin River Cleanup – Big Sky. Before you get too bogged down in schoolwork, lend a helping hand to the good folks at the Gallatin River Task Force. Clean rivers mean healthy fish, and healthy fish mean good fishing. Details here.

August 31 – September 1
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival – Ennis. If you fish, odds are you’ll be spending lots of time in Ennis, a drinking town with a fishing problem about an hour west of Bozeman. Celebrate the end of summer with vendors from throughout the industry and activities including fly-tying demos, casting clinics, and more. Details here.

September 21-23
Trout Spey Days – West Yellowstone. Whether you’ve heard of spey casting or not, this event is sure to be intriguing. The legendary fly shop Big Sky Anglers hosts a weekend of classroom seminars and on-water clinics, all in the fishing hamlet of West Yellowstone, just outside the Park. Details here.

November 4
All waters close to fishing – Yellowstone National Park. After a long summer and a productive fall, it’s time to give the Park’s trout a break for the long winter ahead. They’ll be well-rested and hungry come spring. Details here.

February (Date TBD)
TroutFest Banquet – Bozeman. The Madison-Gallatin chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) hosts its annual fundraiser every February. The local TU chapter is instrumental in fighting for access, keeping rivers clean, and keeping trout healthy. Details here.

East Gallatin Recreation Area

Parks & Rec

by Nora Mabie

Where to park it in Bozeman.

Whether you’re looking to socialize with friends or enjoy some recreational alone-time, Bozeman’s incredible park system is the place to do it. These are some favorites, but the list doesn’t stop here.

Bogert Park has a spacious field and large pavilion, which makes it an ideal picnic spot. Not hungry? Get your feet wet in the creek, head over to the tennis courts to hit a few balls with a friend, watch an evening concert by the stage, or ice skate during winter.

Runners on top of Peets Hill.

Runners on top of Peets Hill.

Burke Park, also known as Peets Hill, is one of the best off-leash dog parks in Bozeman, so let your pooch gallivant while you walk, run, or ride the trail system. In the evenings, post up at one of the many benches for a breathtaking Bozeman sunset.

Got a problem that needs solving? Head to Depot Park and check out the boulder that challenges climbers with a variety of scenarios. This is one of several in-town boulders, so be sure to hit them all.

The East Gallatin Recreation Area is also a great picnic spot, especially on warm days. It features a sand beach, volleyball courts, a fishing platform, a climbing boulder, and horseshoe pits—plus a trail system that meanders over and along the East Gallatin River.

East Gallatin Recreation Area, formerly known as Bozeman Beach.

East Gallatin Recreation Area, formerly known as Bozeman Beach.

Kirk City Park has picnic tables, baseball fields, and basketball courts. It’s also home to the Bozeman Skate Park, so bring your board or bike.

Into disc golf? Rose Park has a great course, perfect for honing your skills before heading to more challenging locales like Battle Ridge in the Bridgers.

Westlake BMX Park is open year-round, so don’t hesitate to ride on the track or hit the dirt jumps whatever the weather (unless it’s raining). The park also hosts local races on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights throughout the fall season.

IRoderer_BaxterBlueLight-4

The Blue Light’s Blinking

by David Tucker

An introduction to becoming a Bozemanite.

My first winter in Bozeman, the blue light atop downtown’s Baxter Hotel blinked almost every day. In December, I didn’t know what the light meant; I just assumed it always blinked.

Then one day, a fellow Bridger Bowl ski instructor explained the light’s significance: every time the ski hill reports two or more inches of fresh snow, the light blinks.

It’s Bozeman’s invitation to powder.

A Bozeman winter under the Big Sky.

A Bozeman winter under the Big Sky.

Late at night, after catching a show or a bite downtown, I’d wander back to my car and see the light flashing. A smile would spread across my face. Anticipation would build inside me, excitement for soft turns and good times.

That’s our goal with this student guide: we want to invite you to enjoy Bozeman’s outdoor offerings. And not just the skiing, but the hiking, biking, climbing, hunting, fishing, and floating. Whether you’re here for four years or plan on staying a lifetime, we want you to take advantage of all Bozeman has to offer.

With this guide in-hand, you’ll gain entry into an exclusive world of outdoor adventure that has become the Bozeman way of life. But keep in mind: with that access comes responsibility. You’re obligated to look after these forests, rivers, mountains, and trails. Be stewards, and leave them as you found them, for the next generation of students.

Main Street, Bozeman.

Main Street, Bozeman.

In between outings, venture downtown and partake in Bozeman’s unique combination of small-town hospitality and big-city possibility. To soften the blow of those big-city-like prices, we’ve also packed this guide with dozens of cash-saving coupons, good for everything from two-for-one coffees to discounted dorm furniture. Save where you can, and spend the extra on a climbing trip or fly-fishing lessons.

So now that you’re here, accept the invitation. Take the guide, make plans, and follow through. The blue light will soon be blinking, and a smile will spread across your face. The anticipation will build and you’ll have the information you need to make the most of it.

Welcome to Bozeman.

PumaRunner_CrossTraining

Safety Smarts

by Ross Cascio

Safety tips for outdoor recreation.

According to the most recent report published by the Outdoor Foundation, 144 million people participated in outdoor recreation in 2016. Whether your choice of activity is going for a hike in a park, fishing at your favorite lake, or hunting in the woods, it’s important that you do what you can to prevent being a victim of a violent attack.

  • Tell a friend. Make sure to tell a family member, friend, or significant other where you’ll be and when to expect you home before heading out. This way if something seems amiss they will have all the information they need to inform the authorities. If you can, bring a buddy with you. There is always strength in numbers.
  • Pack the right gear. Packing the gear is important and so is making sure you have the essentials in case of an emergency. Portable chargers and a self-defense tool like pepper spray are great additions to your gear bag.
  • Basic skills. Before heading outdoors, it doesn’t hurt to know basic self-defense skills in case an assailant does approach you. The classes often teach body language and verbal skills that can also help deter a situation from escalating as well as physical skills to fend off an attack.
  • Listen to town gossip. It’s always fun and exciting to try out new spots for fishing, hiking, and hunting, but that can leave you vulnerable to attacks because you aren’t familiar with the area. Listen to what other outdoor enthusiasts think of certain spots and what the safe areas are. Online forums and blogs are also a great way to learn about new areas to explore and which ones to stay away from due to safety concerns.
  • Don’t turn your back. Try to pick spots that don’t leave you blind-sided. Most assailants choose to attack from behind because the victim obviously can’t see them and rarely hear them in time to react. If you do have areas that you can’t see, make sure to turn around every once in a while and scan the area.
  • Take in your surroundings. When you finally get to your favorite spot on the lake or in the woods make sure you scope out your surroundings and listen to your gut feeling. If something seems off or if a person is giving you bad vibes, pick up and head to the next location.

For more information, check out the Krav Maga website.

Black bear

Watchable Wildlife

by the editors

Animals of the Montana forests.

Montana is a wildlife hotbed. Unless you’re from the Serengeti, the wildlife-viewing opportunities around here probably surpass anything you’ve seen before. Any given hike can produce half a dozen megafauna sightings, and all the major species seen by Lewis and Clark are still around. Here are some of the usual suspects.

Deer
Hike, bike, run, or ride any mountain trail between Big Timber and Dillon, and you’ll likely see mule deer. Their ubiquity doesn’t make them any less impressive. These ungulates are built for mountain travel. Tell them apart from white-tailed deer by their black-tipped tails, donkey-like ears, and hopping gait. Whitetail tend to stick to the agricultural lowlands, and when spooked, their fluffy white tails flare straight up as they bound away.

Mule Deer

Mule deer raise their heads from grazing.


Elk
While it’s rare to see elk on the trail, it does happen, especially if you hike in the sage-flecked meadows of Yellowstone Park. More likely, you’ll see huge herds on your way to and from the trailhead, often grouped on private land in the valleys, safe from hunters’ bullets. Dawn and dusk, fall, winter, and spring are the best times to spot elk, and Paradise and Madison valleys are both full of them.

A bull elk in velvet

A bull elk in velvet.


Birds of Prey
Eagles, falcons, and hawks enliven Montana’s big, blue sky, and fall is an excellent time to observe them in huge numbers. Many hawk species migrate along the Bridger Range in October, so hike up to the ridge and bust out the binos. Along our many rivers and streams, look for bald eagles, a formerly endangered species that has made a huge comeback. Out in the open fields, hawks and falcons perch on power poles and fencelines, looking for rodents scurrying through the grass.

A bald eagle sitting atop its perch.

A common sight along Montana’s rivers.


Canines
Foxes and coyotes are fairly common sights around these parts. They’re similar in size, but the former’s bright-orange coat makes it unmistakable. While folks new to town might see coyotes as majestic wildlife, many locals see them as a nuisance. Still, watching one lope across an open field as the sun sets on the mountains is a sight to behold. Wolves are far less common, especially outside Yellowstone Park. Inside the Park, if your goal is to see Canis lupus, head in early and follow the naturalist tour-guide vans. The Lamar Valley is a good bet.

A fox looks back after trodding through the snow.

A red fox sizing up the risk.


Small Mammals
Small critters get much less fanfare, but they’re worth mentioning. A few standouts are marmots, pikas, and gophers (aka, Richardson’s ground squirrels). Marmots are fairly common in the alpine, and you can find them by following their high-pitched chirps. Their call is a warning cry, and they’ll start screaming as soon as you’re on their radar. Pikas are far less common, and indeed, they’re in trouble, due to warming temps. They occupy large rock clusters and if you spot large splotches of white droppings, odds are a pika is inside. Gophers are the pigeons of southwest Montana. From spring through mid-summer, they’re everywhere and no local would fault you for picking off one or two with a pellet gun.

Small animal tracks through the snow.

Small animal tracks through the snow.


Ursines & Felines
The “coolest” animals are usually the toothiest. Around here, that means bears, cougars, bobcats, and lynx. Our area has good populations of grizzly and black bears, but odds of seeing a grizzly are pretty low outside of Yellowstone. Black bears are far more common. Tell them apart by the shape of their faces and the telltale hump above the griz’s shoulder. Bobcats are also fairly common, but far stealthier than bears. For one, they’re much smaller—about the size of a medium-sized dog—and they tend to stalk their prey silently, whereas bears are primarily scavengers, wandering around from smell to smell in search of their next meal. Cougars and lynx are extremely hard to see in the wild. Their stealth is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, and if you see one, count yourself among the lucky few.

Up close and personal with a mountain lion.

Up close and personal with a cougar.

Spanish Peaks

Peak Your Interest

by the editors

Four iconic mountains.

Mountains surround Bozeman. Look north, and you see the Bridgers; south and it’s the Gallatin Range; west, the Madisons and Tobacco Roots. With all that elevation, we wouldn’t fault you for getting a few peaks confused. But there are some that rise above the rest, and you should know them. Here are four.

Ross Peak
Look north toward the Bridgers from anywhere on the west side of town, and you’ll immediately be drawn to the bare rock jutting skyward from the range’s midsection. That’s Ross Peak, and while it isn’t the highest in the Bridgers, it is the most iconic. The naked rock begs to be climbed and can be summited without much technical effort. Get there from the Ross Pass trailhead on the east side of the range after bumping your way along a severely rutted-out Forest Service road.

Ross Peak at sunrise

Ross Peak at sunrise


Mount Blackmore
When your gaze drifts south, it will inevitably be arrested by the crown of Hyalite, Mount Blackmore. Resting squarely in the middle of the southern horizon, Blackmore holds the last light of the day, transitioning to a purple hue as the sun sets. Read about how it was named in the Summer 2017 issue of Outside Bozeman, then hike to the summit from the trailhead bearing its name, which begins up Hyalite Canyon just below the reservoir.

Mt. Blackmore as seen from Peet's Hill.

Mt. Blackmore as seen from Peets Hill


Gallatin Peak
Believe it or not, Gallatin Peak is not in the Gallatin Range, which is confusing. But it is an impressive peak indeed, standing tall in the southwestern skyline. As the ranking member of the Spanish Peaks, Gallatin sees a lot of traffic come summer, and even a few ski descents in the spring. Viewed from town, it’s the large triangular peak on the far-left side of the Spanish Peaks, which appear to loom above the mouth of Gallatin Canyon. There are several approaches for those hoping to climb the peak, including Spanish Creek, Indian Ridge, and Beehive Basin.

The Spanish Peaks

The Spanish Peaks


Hollowtop
While most iconic peaks are defined by, well, peaks, the Tobacco Roots’ resident superstar is hollow, as its name suggests. In fact, Hollowtop looks scooped out, like some mountaintop-removal coal mine in Appalachia. That’s because another peak, Jefferson, makes up the opposite side of this high-alpine bowl. Driving west on Norris Rd. to fish the Madison, you can’t mistake the twin peaks, and both can be climbed in a single day from the North Willow Creek trailhead.

Hollowtop

The Tobacco Roots

The "M" in full bloom

History of the “M”

by Kira Stoops

On any sunny day in Bozeman, the trailhead of the M will be packed with dozens of parked cars flooding onto Bridger Canyon Rd.—all holding families and students excited to hike the most iconic trail in town. While thousands have plodded to its mountainside perch at 7,000 feet,  few know the history of this colossal consonant and the enterprising class of students that created it over a century ago.

The sun shines on the M

The sun shines on the M

In the fall of 1915, MSU sophomores pledged to create a monument to the university. Drawing up a proposal and securing a U.S. Forest Service permit, 60 young men trudged up the southern end of the Bridgers and began the project. In one day, they carefully drew outlines for the 240’ x 160’ letter, pried rocks from the hillside, and carried them by hand to fill in the site. They returned to whitewash their masterpiece when the snow cleared the following spring.

From then on, whitewashing the M became a ritual for MSU freshmen. An honorary society of seven senior men, called the Septemviri, was established in 1920 to safeguard campus traditions. Alongside the sophomore unit called the Fangs, the two societies didn’t allow freshmen to date until the M had received its annual coat of lime.

Students whitewashing the M in 1939

Students whitewash the M in 1939

A women’s counterpart to the Fangs emerged, the SPURS, and eventually the two groups merged. (In 2006, they changed names once more to the more descriptive and humdrum “Student Alumni Association.”) Over time, the Fangs and the SPURS, alongside various athletic groups, gradually accepted responsibility for the upkeep of the M, returning annually to re-lime the letter and collect trash along its approach trails.

Still, by the late ’90s, the M needed more than another coat of paint. Led by the late Torleif Aasheim (former director of Montana Cooperative Extension Service and class of 1937), university employees, alumni, and community members organized a major restoration of the landmark. They raised $100,000, promptly redesigning and paving the trail’s parking lot, replacing fallen rock, and repairing and improving the trails.

Drone's eye view of the M

A drone’s eye view of the M

Recently, a new tradition launched at the refurbished M. Every year, before the first football game of the season, the Student Alumni Association now lights candles outlining the M, letting the symbol glow into the night. You can be part of the grand tradition of the M by being one of 100 students to put a fresh coat of paint in 2018, at “Rocking the M.”

The candle ceremony honors a caption from the 1918 MSU yearbook: “May the ‘M’ stand long as a symbol of our loyalty to Montana State and a reminder of what a united class can accomplish.”