Sheep Peak and Wisherd Ridge

Wisherd Ridge Late June 2014“Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip!” The sound echoed through the forest’s dense upper Lodgepole stands. It was loud enough to easily be heard over the soft classical music that was playing through the headphones. I pulled the bud out of the left ear, however, and looked through the trees down the snow and pine needle covered trail. Standing alone in the distance was the small grey silhouette with pointed ears, head cocked looking back up the trail at the fellow who had interrupted his tranquil afternoon. “Marshall is looking after me,” I thought to myself as I continued running down the trail between Blue Point and Sheep Mountain. It was a strange thought, but to me made perfect sense. As I ran, my feet sank between three to six inches into the somewhat solid old snow drifts which covered the trail in this section and had been made hard from the higher spring temperatures during the daytime coupled with still cooler temperature during the evenings. Marshall occasionally brought up Coyotes during our coffee sessions at the Break or other coffee joints in Missoula when we got together each week. I thought of the Native American writings and tales, weaving the wise methods of Coyotes into their cultures over the years through personification. Marshall had a soft spot for the Native Americans as well. In Yellowstone and Glacier he photographed the Coyotes and seemed to have a sympathetic slant regarding their plight as the Wolves, he noted, were hard on Coyotes.513 Btwn Blue and Sheep
        “A friend is someone who one trusts as one trusts one’s self,” I found myself thinking of Seneca’s quote as I jogged along. This is a pretty high standard. I was going to mention at Marshall’s service that as one goes through life he will probably only be able to count such individuals on one hand. Following nearly a quarter of a century of coffee visits, this seemed to have occurred. I missed the funeral due to Todd’s soccer tournament in Billings. Marshall was a wit. A man of humor as well. High standards and integrity loomed large. He is greatly missed.
        Earlier this year I had mentioned to our daughter Erin that at some point this spring I would see if I could run up to Sheep Peak and back down. There was no reason for this, other than that over the years I had developed a significant affinity for the place, having cycled up there often and having named a former online journal somewhat after the place – Missoula Sheepheads. I’d never attempted to run trail 513 from the Rattlesnake Trailhead to the summit. Actually, not being a runner, I’d never run in the Rattlesnake period. I felt descending the East Fork would be the way to go, not being quite as jarring on the joints coming down. However this time of year, glancing up at Stuart and Point Six, I had a feeling snow would complicate things and the East Fork typically in June still has a lot of dead fall across its wilderness trail. I had jogged numerous times up to the Beacon above the University of Montana and occasionally on the pavement throughout the valley as well. I am NOT a fast runner, which suits me fine as what’s the point anyway? Eventually, one is going to get from point A to point B. Doing so in an anaerobic state has the feel of vanity. This is not to take away from the occasional competitive events, but over the years I’ve come to realize such a perpetual state is not productive. If only more folks simply took walks with their dogs.
        The run up the trail was uneventful until just below Blue Point, where snow became an issue. This was where I had turned around on the mountain bike a week or so prior. It was also where I met Willy, another cyclist who had climbed the lower section below me and caught up as I stood at the snow line, looking into the Rattlesnake Wilderness. All of the June flowers were along the trail. Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, Bear Grass, Arrowleaf Balsamroot and so forth. Beautiful. There were numerous women cyclist descending the lower section of the trail as well and a few below Blue. “The female species is more deadly than the male,” I thought of Kipling to myself while a lady descended just above a treacherous switchback, quickly followed by what almost could have gone for a Siberian Husky or Malamute pup. “Did my friend already come by?” She asked as we passed one another. “Yep, nice job,” I replied. “Pretty grueling,” or something like that, she said. She was the last person I saw on the ascent. I do not ride the trails with my Labrador. Descents are too hard on dogs.
        Blue Point was snow covered as mentioned above. Other than the Coyote and a few Whitetail deer I noted little activity in the darkness below the canopy of the forest. While running on the snow, I thought of a time I had ridden through this section alone at close to midnight, while snow covered as well. The headlamp reflected off of the snow and illuminated the darkness. That evening there also happened to have been a full moon. It was part of an informal exercise someone put together each fall crossing over many sections high above Missoula. In sections below Wisherd Ridge the sun was pretty brutal, reflecting off of the snow and burning my face. Remember glacier glasses? I never seem to see them around any longer, but I thought of the leather going around their rims as I ran through this section. I could have used a pair. I recalled as a young teenager wearing the glasses high above Kaprun, Austria, training on the glaciers in the middle of July. I think it was a Bob Beattie organized job that my wonderful parents let me take advantage of. A lucky youth.Sheep Mountain Peak
        It’s almost July, yet there is still plenty of snow in the higher elevation. Realizing the open areas were being warmed by the sun, I felt I probably still had a chance of making the peak. When I reached Wisherd, I noted this was the case and ran off and on the trail across the scree and snow fields finally reaching Sheep. One day only have I actually seen Big Horn Sheep on this peak and it was right as I surfaced through the trees above Wisherd. A small group quickly ran off the hill, down towards the Blackfoot Valley staying at the edge of the tree line. This memory seems to surface each time I’m coming through the area.East Fork Rattlesnake
        On top, I hiked below the rock wall which was once maybe a lookout and sat on a cliff above the East Fork. I looked deeply into the Rattlesnake, the lower corridor with Wrangle and the others lingering above. Still this time of year one can catch small waterfalls above the upper corridor. I looked at bald Mineral Peak and also far off into the Mission Range. I drank a highly diluted electrolyte concoction from the pack hose and moved back to the Blackfoot side of the summit. The valley floor was gorgeous as usual, contrasting brown fields in the valley with the greenery of the trees and grasses above and the snow on Wisherd. I took photographs with my phone. There was a Ladybug colony in the lookout’s rocks. I had never seen anything like it. Thick layers of red Ladybugs looked almost like a natural mortar between the wall’s stones. There was a pleasant breeze; however, soon the soaked cotton shirt began to get cold and I headed back down. I chose the same Marshall Canyon route I’d ascended due to snow in the other section.IMG_20140621_164832
        The run down was pretty jarring given the roots and rocks, but things held together pretty well. I chalk up the ability to withstand such things to the occasional ergometer pulls which help the lower back’s muscles and strengthens the general core. Simple low intensity jobs now and then. On the lower section above a ford where Three Pines, a popular mountain bike trail, intersects, I tripped on a small rock and fell forward on both hands. The only such episode of the day, fortunately. Just below this I yelled at a small black bear to get out of the trail. I’d been looking down the trail instead of at the ground. This was surprising as I had just told myself to look down at the trail to not trip again. The bear was startled and quickly ran into the forest above the route. Shorty thereafter a lady walking her Elkhound came up the trail and I mentioned to watch above the trail. She seemed indifferent. Bears are pretty common in the Rattlesnake. The Thimbleberry bushes are thick above the Woods Trailhead and are blooming at the moment. It will not be long before the red fruit is available for the bears and hikers as well.

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