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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.”

Bridger Mountains, Bridger Ridge, Outside Bozeman

From Baldy to Broken

by Luke Ebeling

It’s been two weeks since I had surgery on my ankle following a rock climbing accident. I’m sitting on the couch with my left foot elevated with a couple pillows, thinking about my removal from the outdoors, a place that has—since moving to Bozeman a few years ago—become, much like coffee, an integral part of my daily routine.

A definitively broken ankle

A definitively broken ankle

With months before I’ll be back out running up Hyalite or ascending routes at Natural Bridge, I’ve spent a good amount of time recounting outdoor exploits, such as my first time running Baldy Mountain

It was a Sunday morning when I stepped out of my apartment, stretching my quads before setting off on a run. That’s when Baldy caught my eye. I had never run it, but I was looking to run ten miles—nearly the same distance as the round trip from top to bottom. So naturally I grabbed a small running bottle, hopped in the truck, and headed towards the mountains.

Trail running in the Bridger Mountains

Trail running in the Bridger Mountains

Upon arrival at the trailhead, I read the temperature gauge before taking off: 87 degrees. It was going to be a hot one, but I didn’t think much of it. By the time I reached the painted rocks of the M I was sweating as the sun beat down on me, but I was more focused on the view and working to eat up more trail under my shoes.

Trail, M, Baldy, trail running

The view from the trail.

Just over halfway to the summit, after passing only one other runner, I was nearly out of water. I began to feel my muscles tightening and my throat drying in the rising temperature. It was now nearly mid-day.

Soon, my thirst had overcome my self-control, and I had gone through what little  water I had left. I figured I wouldn’t need much water on the way down anyway. At the summit, I thought little of the headache from the dehydration, and instead focused my eyes on the green hills surrounding Bozeman, looking down on the city I had come to call home.

I took a few minutes to look through the letters to old and gone friends, the geocache, and small trinkets at the top of the peak in the blue ammo box. One last look at the view, and I set off back down the trail.

Just off of the summit I passed the same runner from the way up. We exchanged cordial waves, and both lamented our lack of water for such a hot day in the wind and sun before we continued in our respective directions. I was starting to hurt from the lack of water, and thinking of little else.

By the time I passed the M, I had stopped sweating—a sign that I was getting dangerously close to suffering a heatstroke. At this point, the only thing keeping me from stopping and taking a seat was knowing how close the truck was.

After what felt more like thirty miles than ten, I reached the parking lot. At the truck, I dropped the tailgate, desperately reaching for the emergency water jug I keep in the bed. I filled my small bottle—once, twice, then three times—sucking down tepid water. Somewhere around my fifth bottle, I began coming back to life, and just as I did, the runner I passed earlier walked slowly away from the trailhead.

The backup water

The backup water

I jumped up, mustering more energy than I thought I had remaining, and snatched his bottle out of his hand. Soon as I handed it back to him, he downed it as quickly as I had. We repeated the process a few more times before any words were exchanged. Soon, we were sitting on the tailgate, laughing and sipping warm water from our small running bottles.

We laughed about our lack of liquid, how the heat took us by surprise, and how many times we had run Baldy—both admitting it was our first. Once we both felt sufficiently hydrated to drive back into town, I put away the water, shut the tailgate, and we went our separate ways.

Since moving here for school, it seems as though some part of every day is spent outside—running, climbing, skiing, hiking, or biking. Normally, I don’t think much on it, it’s just something I do, an integral part of each day. Lately, sitting on the couch with a broken ankle has forced me to reflect. I’ve realized it isn’t just about me and my goals, or something that I do day after day, but instead it’s about the people who share the same experiences, and taking the time to laugh at yourself and push your limits, although preferably with more water.

SethDailey_Bozeman -

Farewell, for now.

Well, you’ve made it through another year of school. Through long nights of homework, endless lectures, and all of the crap that comes with seeking a higher education. Luckily for you, MSU is nestled smack-dab in the middle of one of the most diverse areas loaded with recreational opportunities.

PeterPonca_GallatinCanyon

This is, indeed, unique. You are a part of a dwindling demographic of people who have the ability, and the privilege to walk out the front door, and be in the mountains in 15 minutes. In the words of John Muir, “thousands of nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” This is highly applicable to students, especially in this digital age. When we become inundated with homework, with obligations, and with the resulting stress, the mountains are our sanctuary, and if they aren’t to you, then they should be. An afternoon climb up Gallatin Tower is the catharsis required to get you through a project. A paddle in your hands, and House Rock down the river mimics the grueling exams you took this week, but the payoff is immediate, and the reward is tangible.

ChrisEbeling_kayakMotion

Such is life around here. Whether you intended to or not, you’ve found yourself seeking a balance between school and the outdoors, striving always to get away from the hustle and bustle of campus in favor of a strong current, a new trail, or a favorite route. What’s more, you’ve made friends along the way. Friends who have come here seeking a similar dichotomy between school and the great outdoors, and through mutual adventurism have formed a unique bond. Because no matter how gnarly the route, how stunning the view, or how exhilarating these things can be, they are infinitely better in sharing them.   And now, it’s time to go. The semester ends today, and thousands of your peers will begin to stream out of Bozeman; some headed home, some headed for adventures across the world, and some… stay right here in Bozeman because against all odds, they have found a home in the rivers and streams, the stands of Douglas Fir, and the craggy snow capped monoliths that surround it. The only question is, what will you do?

Bridger Mountains, Bridger Ridge, Outside Bozeman

The MSU Pocket Guide wishes you an excellent summer regardless of what you do. Wherever you are, be sure to get out and explore the world around you. We will be making some changes over the summer to the guide, potentially going so far as to change the name, so keep your eyes peeled. Be sure to check in over the summer on our Facebook page and website to see how things are going, and we look forward to seeing you in the fall.

JonMcfarland_brown1

Spring Fishin’

by Connor Erickson

MSU’s Fly Fishing Club gives some tips for the spring season. 

Spring in Montana: the season where snow rears its ugly head every few days until June, and a time when the thought of getting out on the river tops all else. Spring fishing can be one of the most magical seasons ‘round these parts, and if you haven’t, you should probably get started. Here are some tips and tricks from the MSU Fly Fishing Club to get you going.

First, a few common terms to know:

Nymphing: Using subsurface imitations under a bobber.

Streamers: Patterns that imitate small fish or crayfish.

Redds: Areas of clean gravel where fish do the nasty.

Swing: In reference to the fly where it is cast across a current and allowed to catch the current and “swing” out.

Strip: Taking line in by hand.

Dead Drift: To ensure that flies are fished at the same speed as the. current.

Tungsten Putty: a malleable putty used to add weight to line.

Split Shot: Small fishing weights.

Next, lets talk about why you should stop making excuses and get out on the local water. The fish have had a long winter, and food has been scarce. As we get warmer days, the water temperature in the rivers will rise, triggering the emergence of insects as well as Rainbow spawn. Why is this important? Because, fish get more active and become easier to catch on the fly. It doesn’t take much. A good reason to start fishing is it provides a welcome break from the monotony of school, and gives you a great chance to enjoy the outdoors. Spring is a great time to fish as most people are still skiing or daydreaming about the prospect of coming here in the summer. If you want that honey hole all to yourself, now’s the time.

A different kind of spring rainbow

A different kind of spring rainbow

Now that you’re imagining open water and hungry fish, lets talk about what gear you’ll need. We’ll assume that you’ve got a fly rod setup and waders but if you don’t, head to Bozeman Family Fly and talk to Matt (the owner) who can hook you up with everything you need to get started. There is even a student discount.

Fishing Paradise Valley

Fishing Paradise Valley

For flies, it’s time of the year when it’s less daunting to get the selection right instead of looking at a box and wondering if trout even notice the difference. Pat’s Rubberlegs in black or olive fished 4-5’ below an indicator (also known as nymphing) with a midge trailer can be deadly. If that doesn’t work, try switching the midge out for the trusty ol’ San Juan Worm. Pro tip: if you’re not occasionally catching the bottom, you’re not deep enough. Don’t be afraid to add some tungsten putty or split shot. Wind too fierce? Take a Wooley Bugger and swing it across a fast current into slower water and slowly strip  it in. To keep your hands warm, use nitrile gloves as they’ll keep water out, and don’t be afraid to layer up as it’ll extend your day on the water.

A good ol' brownie

A good ol’ brownie

Don’t know where to start looking? We love to fish the mouth of Gallatin Canyon if we only have an afternoon to fish. Look for slower currents and drop offs. For a place a little further out, the upper Madison can yield great results at any fishing access above the West Fork. Please watch out for redds and do NOT fish or tread on them.

Montana State Fly Fishing Club is on Facebook. Come to one of our meetings where we can outfit you and take you out on the water!

ChrisEbeling_houseRock

Paddle On

by John Ward

MSU’s new kayaking club brings a film festival to Bozeman. 

The Whitewater Kayak Club at MSU, with help from the Wave Train Kayak Team and the Gallatin Whitewater Festival, is bringing the Paddling Film Festival to the Rialto in downtown Bozeman.

This spring is the Whitewater Kayak Club’s first semester; it serves as a resource for students to participate in the whitewater community, whether they’re just joining the sport or are experienced and are looking for a good group to get out with.  So far, they’ve been attending roll sessions and have their first trip coming up at the beginning of April, where they’ll join the University of Montana Kayak Club on the Lochsa River in Idaho. Hosting the Paddling Film Fest in Bozeman is their way to make a splash, get involved in the community, and raise money for future whitewater trips.

MATT LOWER MESA

The festival is an international adventure film tour which showcases the best paddlesports films of the year. From whitewater to paddleboarding to kayak fishing, the Paddling Film Festival has it all. It starts with submissions from filmmakers across the globe. This year there were over 190 submissions, and the Festival shows the best of the best.

Here’s a look at some of the films this year:

Doors open at 6pm on the evening of April 25th, and the show kicks off at 7. Tickets can be found online, and are also available at the Barn and Joe’s Parkway.

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If you’re interested in joining the club, or just want to stay up to date, join their Facebook group: Whitewater Kayak Club at MSU. Or shoot an email over to [email protected].

Unknown-WinterCamping

Cold and Quiet

By Emily Harris

Spring camping in the Park. 

Yellowstone has yawned herself awake and begun to shake free her winter blankets of snow and ice. Freshly thawed riverbanks swell with the promise of willow buds, hillsides whisper green, and that steadfast mountain chickadee has shivered through its last cold night and into the warm dawn of spring.

JimFranklin_Landscape-Flora (14)

This time of year, it becomes easy to wax poetic about the springtime splendors of Yellowstone. We all have a touch of the cabin fever, and while we pretend to be excited that it’s snowing again because “we need the moisture,” we really just want it to be green outside already. While a visit to Yellowstone to observe newborn bison frolicking in the mist of ancient geysers will certainly relieve some of these doldrums, an early-spring camping excursion requires checking weather forecasts, bringing multiple backup pairs of socks, and the knowledge that if you drink a hot, caffeinated beverage directly before bed to compensate for unplanned cold weather, you will be wide awake all night.

Springtime in Yellowstone is a study in the temperature ranges a human body can physically withstand. Expect everything to be frozen at daybreak—fingers, boots, snowshoe bindings, the sausages you intended to eat for breakfast. As the sun climbs above the horizon, the world begins to thaw. You’ll gradually weigh down your pack with extra layers and eventually strip to shirtsleeves. Snowshoes will end up being dead weight as you wade through flowing rivers of buffalo patties (which thaw faster than the ground around them).

PeterPonca-Snowshoeing_1

Yes, now is the season to visit Yellowstone. No mosquitoes, no traffic jams, and no question of whether the bears are still hibernating or out of their dens and really, really hungry—the extra burden of pepper spray is shouldered with neither doubt nor regret. And the two million summertime visitors to the Park have not gotten the memo… let’s keep it that way.

C2P-Soapbox-Derby-Logo

Man-Made Mountain Machines

by Taylor Burlage

A new brand of mountain racing in southwest Montana

Engineering students with an adrenaline addiction, your time has come. The 2nd Annual Creek to Peak Soap Box Derby, a competition in which teams build their own soapbox cars and shoot them down a steep hill riddled with obstacles, is just around the corner.

Creek to Peak, an outerwear company from Bozeman, started the derby last year after some beer-induced brainstorming by founder Frank Gazella Jr. in an effort to not only promote their brand, but to create a truly Montana competition. “Ultimately, we wanted an excuse to have some fun,” says Frank, “and after doing it once, I can tell you it’s an adrenaline rush. This is the only event in the country that does this. It’s super unique and it’s a great team-building event. It’s not just a competition but it’s also kind of a party in the outdoors.”

“The race itself was an absolute blast,” says Shayne Forsythe, driver for last year’s winning team, the Cake Eaters. “Each cart was totally different so it was a lot of fun to talk about everyone’s design choices.”

Shayne graduated from MSU with a BS and an MS in civil engineering, and that is what really piqued his interest in the derby— and ultimately won his team the race. “This is exactly the type of fun engineering students (and others, of course) can have when given the right motivation. Our build process started with some very lofty ideas that slowly morphed into a more achievable design that we put to the test the day of the race, and we had a ton of fun doing it.”

Soap Box-1

 

Creek to Peak hopes to eventually turn the derby in to a team-building event for students, and is currently looking for more support on campus. “There are loads of incentives to enter the race, especially for college kids,” says Frank.  “You’ll get the most comfy t-shirt you’ll ever wear, a stainless steal bottle opener, and 500 bucks for the first-place team. Not only this, but once you have a car built, you can enter any race as the years go by, building a legacy in the Soapbox Derby community.”

Frank is hoping to get 15 to 20 teams in the race this year. The more people who enter, the more prize money Creek to Peak can give away. They are also partnering with local outdoor-oriented companies such as Outside Bozeman  that will be donating other gifts and prizes for racers.

The basic rules are this: you need to be at least 14 years old, have a maximum of five people per team, and two people per car on race-day. The registration deadline is March 1, so hop to it.

“That’s pretty much it,” says Frank.  “Get out of the rut of doing the same thing, do something different, come enjoy some scenery and be able to say ‘yeah, one time I bombed down a hill in a tiny little car I made myself.’”

Full rules and regulations for the Derby can be found on the Creek to Peak website. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to keep up on the countdown to race day, and have some fun at this daredevil-meets-engineering-nerd contest.

Soapbox Derby Poster April 2018