Back to Mineral Peak

mineral 4       “Then you better get out there!” That is what I remember about the long ago conversation. Yesterday, while driving past the Sheep Mountain trail junction on the upper section of the Mineral Peak road, I was again seeing his book filled office along with train paraphernalia. I was a junior who had just transferred to the University of Montana from the East. John Wicks was my initial advisor in the Economics Department. Wicks was an interesting fellow who wore his hair short and had a deep, authoritarian like voice. A professor who did not lack confidence, that was for sure. He loved trains and to bird hunt. So, right off the bat, we hit it off talking about bird hunting. That remark from Wicks about “getting out there” followed a conversation about hiking high ridge lines and mountain tops in the fall in Montana – after something no doubt related to Econ classes.mineral 1       The impact a solid advisor can have on one can be pretty material. Once the trust has been established, of course. Like a personable coach, one who understands the athlete and has a knack for the sport itself. Eventually, the coach earns the respect of his players and, in some cases, the lessons may last a lifetime. Forest Grieves, in the Poly Sci. Dept, and Mike Kuplick, my senior year advisor in Econ., both were influential in a positive sense. Kuplick let me do an independent study on the economics of German Unification which had just occurred a few years prior. Grieves, fluent in German, had me writing book reports on, for example, Adenauer and the CDU my senior year. The paper for Kuplick resulted in a pretty lengthy work on the subject which I still have for some reason somewhere in a file. While bouncing up the still horrid (in sections) Mineral Peak road with my youngest son, Seth, yesterday, I thought about an Der Tagesspiegel article I came across recently discussing the fact that only now is the unification tax being considered for elimination. This to me is remarkable. There were those who thought the reunification of the East (October 3, 1990) would economically break the country. Now, consider what is being asked of Germany since the global financial meltdown in ’08/’09. Somehow, the country has economically and financially remained strong and vibrant, still paying taxes for the unification and now being expected to be principally responsible for financially holding up the Euro region as well. Somehow, politically, things thus far have held together. There are signs, however, of local political cracks developing. This can be seen throughout Europe as well. Germany’s present negative yields on their shorter maturities are a testament to the country’s financial acumen and common sense approach. Of course, things still have not yet played out fully and there’s probably more to be written in this regard. Germany faces many of the same issues other established economies face, though the country is relatively liberal in its immigration policy. Wise. Even with higher taxes and labor costs, the country has remained an export rock. Their education and apprenticeship methods, according to a recent article I read, are now being employed in the States. It’s enjoyable, a quarter of a century later considering such things with basic reflections while taking my son to a place I first grouse hunted when I moved to Montana, following a conversation with a now deceased advisor.mineral 6       When I last ventured to Mineral I was driving a blue Jeep Comanche pick-up. As a student, I had bought it used from a local dealer (now out of business). I had a broomstick holding up the interior fabric above the cab seats. The throttle occasionally stuck, which I’d given up on trying to fix as no one seemed able to do so locally. I’d work the clutch when this occurred, not allowing the full throttle to drive the vehicle hard forward. I got a few funny looks at the stop lights in Missoula when it would occasionally race. My college friends from Maine moonlighted in the logging and equipment fields during their upper class years. Forestry majors. One of them bought Toyo M55s for his Mazda pickup so I thought, “He must know what he’s doing,” and put a set on the jeep. These were common on the logging pickups in town and many hunters used them as they did clear snow and mud well; however, the key to their desirability was weight. If one did not have weight, the tires were like driving on round stones. They outlasted the jeep, but there were plenty of slippery moments along the way. I think, looking back, my friend had a lot of equipment in the back of his pickup. Yesterday, I was not sure if things were still the same on the old road or if somehow the road had been improved? Seth was playing games on his I-pad in the back with Wen while I solo navigated. This was a little annoying to me as kids miss out on seeing things while driving now-a-days; like elk, mule deer, bobcats, lions, owls, deep ruts, sharp rocks, oncoming traffic, logs sticking out on the passenger side that can poke out a headlight, the occasional raven or magpie, perhaps even grouse. However, I’ve learned to somewhat let it go and simply be amazed that he’s there at all. Sometimes this takes a lot of work today, engaging kids and encouraging them to do something out of the house – away from the X-Box or computers. Thank god for soccer or things might be lost, honestly.mineral 2       I reached a section where things were pretty bad. The ruts were deep, like break an axle deep, if the vehicle slipped into one. The small Tundra, an older access cab version, has high clearance so I decided to creep through and on up the drag. My son was oblivious all the while, simply rocking back and forth, playing his game and petting the dog. I was reminiscing the whole time anyway. We were out of range for the Saturday classical music on NPR. Driving by the Sheep Mountain Trail junction had my mind floating off in that direction, where I used to frequently ride my mountain bike. I was glad the weather was pleasant, as I knew Seth would get a nice view of Sheep from the Lookout. We parked not too far below the upper gate. My last trip in, the gate did not exist and one was able to drive to the top. We took one old Remington Pump Twenty Gage that was Molly’s and some 7 1/2s. “This place used to be loaded with grouse, Seth,” I said trying to peak his interest a little. “I did not, however, see any on the way up,” I soberly followed up. “See these tracks? Someone drove their four wheeler around the gate,” I noted thinking this was not uncommon to see. The dog was happy to get out of the bouncy confinement of the back seat, but did not drink much water which I poured into a water bottle’s lower half which I had sliced to make a lightweight bowl. Seth decided to walk up the scree along the ridge which works its way to the top while I stayed a little lower, walking through huckleberry patches which had frozen on Thursday night during our first hard freeze this fall. The leaves had an odd brown on their outer rim and the fruit had become soft (but still quite edible). “Stay where you’re visible,” I said in a raised voice. I had pointed out a nifty little cliff not far from where we had parked the vehicle. I also wanted to, of course, know where my hunting partner was.old franklin flying       There were a few empty shells along the walk in and at the top of the mountain. We did pass one vehicle driving in near the Sheep junction. A bright red, shiny new truck with a fellow from somewhere down south. He had his window rolled down, sunglasses on and asked how we were doing as he waived us by. I had pulled over but he found a better spot on his end of the section. Otherwise, the place was quiet. On the lower Gold Creek road there must have been a dozen horse trailers that passed us heading to HWY 200. I was not sure if there was a rodeo going on at the Prim place, or what? Seth saw the tower at the top and we decided to go ahead and climb up to have a better look around. I went directly below him and directed things as we climbed the steep stairs. The lookout is in great condition with the steps and rails being sound. He wrote a short note in the log at the top and we took a few photographs. The dog ran around below, thankfully staying in the general vicinity and not attempting to follow us up the stairs. A vandal had thrown a rock through one of the windows, which had been boarded over. The entry area glass was not boarded. We slowly worked our way back down again with me below and both of us facing the steps like snails sticking to old boards. I took a photograph below one landing while someone took a seat..mineral 3       I pointed out all of the peaks in the distance. We looked at Snowbowl’s weather ball, below the upper Rattlesnake. “That’s what that is?” he quizzically inquired smiling. It was just a tiny dot on the distant mountain. We had a great view of Sheep, and also the Missions to the north. Lolo was to the south, which I pointed out as well. “You ride your bike over that?” he asked looking towards Sheep (below). “Lots of people do,” I said matter of factly. “I used to!” thinking it over, I quickly followed up realizing like shifting tides, things have indeed changed. “To get my ski legs, son. That is what riding in the mountains is all about – preparation for turning them down the hill.” We took a few more photos and decided to walk the road back to the truck for the dog’s benefit. She is getting older and the scree is tough going. “If we make it below those bad sections, we’ll stop and shoot some clay pigeons,” I said hoping to maintain an elevated level of enthusiasm during the latter part of the day. It was 6.30 or so and the weather had cooled noticeably as the sun began to work its way lower, below the distant mountains. We never saw a bird (upper photo from a past hunt), though walking in two larger birds did flush in the distance below the main road when we had first begun our trek. I was not sure if they were grouse, as I did not hear the typical beating of the wings during their flight and they did not seem as large as the typical Blue or Franklin.  Fortunately, I have numerous other more productive and simpler to access haunts.mineral 5       Heading down, someone rode shotgun and helped with the navigation. “Take it to the left, dad. Watch that one. I have no idea! You drove up that? No wonder I was half sick when we finally got up there…” so it went, winding our way out hoping not to blow a tire. I kept it in four wheel high (second gear or low…) during the upper section driving in and the same coming down. There really was only one section I’d categorize as “bad” and I figured we could always walk out to the Gold Creek road if need be. I had a conversation with my wife while walking down to the vehicle earlier, after having texted her a photo of the kid observing matters from the upper deck with his father’s binos. Tech, can’t get away from it.  We slowly crept out of the upper section and found a place to safely throw some clays. Seth managed to hit a few when I could get them to fly correctly. He was unable to get enough force to throw them for the old man, which was a good thing as I’m beyond rusty. He threw a few by hand and I missed them. “Good one!” I said smiling as he powdered one after many other attempts. “What do you say we call it a day and head home?” “That works for me,” the boy grinned as the dog barked inside the truck.

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