Sunday, September 22, 2019

Hiking Montana's Mt. Sentinel

Ok, time to rewind back to early June.  Heading home from South Dakota, I normally rush through the long 2-day drive.  But this year I took a break on my return trip and stopped in Missoula, Montana to spend time with my son.

Kim Williams Nature Trail along the Clark Fork River

Situated in a valley, Missoula is ringed by mountains.  Hiking opportunities abound - many boasting trailheads right inside the city limits.  With an entire day to spend together, my son suggested hiking the trails on Missoula's iconic Mt Sentinel. 

Cool looking mystery flowers

Mt Sentinel is a small mountain that rises directly east of the University of Montana's campus.  A large whitewashed concrete letter "M" occupies it's western face (the "M" of course placed in honor of the University).  Prominently viewed from all over town, the mountain and it's "M" are Missoula landmarks.

Arnica blooms lined the Hellgate Canyon Trail

A steep trail zig-zags 3/4 of a mile up Mt Sentinel's west face to access the "M."  It's a popular route for students, tourists, runners, and folks wanting a good workout.  Throughout the years my son attended college at the University I'd made several ascents of this trail.  But today my son had a different access route in mind. 

Taking a breather

An entire network of trails link Mt Sentinel with nearby mountains and natural areas.  My son suggested accessing Mt Sentinel via some of these trails.  We'd start out following the Kim Williams Nature trail, then climb up Hellgate Canyon via a trail of the same name.  Eventually this trail would intersect with Mt Sentinel's trail, which we'd follow to the top and then descend the opposite side.

Grand views of East Missoula and I-90

The morning of our planned hike, we awoke to heavy clouds and rain.  The day's forecast, which called for showers, didn't look promising.  But we're both from Oregon - what's a little rain?  After grabbing our rain jackets and pack covers my son drove to the east side of the University of Montana campus, the trailhead location.

Crazy Canyon sounds like my kinda place  :)

 Lucky for us, by the time we parked, the rain had let up.  Not one to waste a dry spell, my son and I quickly grabbed our backpacks and headed towards our starting point at the Kim Williams Nature Trail. 

Patiently waiting for mom to finish taking pictures...

The Kim Williams trail started out paved, but quickly transitioned into a gravel road paralleling the beautiful Clark Fork River.  Before long, my son and I had left the city behind and were walking beside this peaceful, forested waterway.  Birds chirped, and I spotted several varieties of colorful wildflowers.

Looking across the canyon to University Beacon Hill

The Hellgate Canyon trail junction was supposed to be a mile down the Kim Williams trail, but it wasn't marked, so we walked right it by the first time.  Luckily, my son quickly realized our oversight, and we didn't have to backtrack too much.

Nice patch of Indian Paintbrush

 Let the climbing begin!  The Hellgate Canyon trail rocketed steeply uphill.  My son didn't have any trouble, but I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to keep up.  Happily, there were lots of colorful wildflowers to distract me from my discomfort.  Copious amounts of sunny yellow arnica blooms lined our trail, brightening the forest floor.

Three shades of orange paintbrush!

The clouds began thickening again.  It appeared to be raining on an adjacent mountain.  I was getting concerned we'd get wet.  But the rain stayed north of us.  However, I thought I heard a distant thunder boom, which worried me immensely (last thing I wanted was to be high on a mountain during a lightening storm).  But my son denied hearing anything, so we continued our upward trek.

Balsamroot blooms

After a long climb, we finally arrived at the Mt Sentinel Trail junction.  And unlike our lower trail, this one was well-marked with a large wooden sign.  Noting a "Crazy Canyon trailhead" written on one side made me chuckle.  I'd love to hear how that canyon got it's name!

Flowers decorate this fallen tree

Only a half mile to the top of Mt Sentinel from here.  Piece of cake!  But this trail wound through some of the loveliest wildflower meadows.  Lupine, Indian paintbrush, yellow balsamroot all bloomed thickly on the forest floor.  My poor son had to do a lot of waiting for his mother while she attempted to photograph it all.

Flower-lined path

The Indian paintbrush here sported three different hues of orange - a dark orange, a medium (normal) orange color, and a light peach shade.  It was unusual and beautiful.

Flower-dazzled meadow

 But my son was eventually able to tear his camera-toting mother away from all the colorful meadows (reluctantly, I'll add!).

The best flower fields were right below the summit

The final trail to the top was a extremely steep trudge up a rocky road.  I didn't think I'd ever arrive, but suddenly up ahead my son stopped.  He'd made it to the summit.  I got this great shot of him taking in the view.

Mt Sentinel summit

And what a tremendous view it was!  Looking west, all of Missoula spread out below.  Despite cloudy skies, we could see for miles across the valley.


Mt. Sentinel's summit sits at an elevation of 5,158 feet, nearly 2000 feet above the valley below.

Photo op with my son

There wasn't much to see at the summit itself, so my son and I hiked a short distance down the other side before posing for the obligatory "We made it" photo.

Descending the west side

Then.....what comes up must go down.  And down we went, descending another steep trail.  Good thing I brought my trekking poles, they saved my knees!

Lupine was everywhere!

But of course this trail had more floral distractions, in the form of lupine and larkspur.  Oh was the lupine thick and such a deep shade of purple!  My poor son had to wait for me once again.

Abandoned copper mine

My son led me through the wide-open grassy meadows of Mt Sentinel's west flanks.  With no trees, the views were tremendous.  We could see clouds gathering all around us, but so far none of the wet stuff had traveled to our location.  We passed by an old, long-abandoned copper mine, which I thought unusual to see so close to town.

I spied some bitterroot blooms!

Passing by a rocky outcrop, I noticed a few pink petals.  A dozen bitterroot flowers were pushing out from between the rocks.  Montana's state flower, their petals were a lovely shade of pink.  Rare to see - I was psyched to have discovered them.

Views for miles

As the trail descended through Mt Sentinel's grassy slopes, my son and I were treated to birds-eye views of the University of Montana's beautiful campus.  It was fun to point out the dorms he'd lived in, the campus quad, and the football stadium.  Go Griz!

University of Montana football stadium

The University's concrete "M" sits about halfway up Mt Sentinel's slopes.  As we approached this landmark, I noticed clouds to the north getting extremely dark.  It looked like rain was hovering over the adjacent mountain range.  Our dry weather luck was running out.

Bad weather moving in

Upon reaching the "M" I paused to snap a couple of photos, but lacking a wide-angle lens, they didn't come close to capturing the immense size of this letter. 

Extreme close up of the "M"

But a storm was definitely moving in, so after getting my images, I packed the camera away and hightailed it down the remainder of the trail.  The final photo I captured showed clouds lowering ominously over the valley.  Surprisingly, we met quite a few people going the other direction, either not aware or not caring about the approaching rain.

Racing the storm to the parking lot

Timing is everything - we just barely got inside my son's car when the heavens opened up.  It rained hard for the rest of the day.  Lucky us, we got our hike done during the only dry weather window.

It was fantastic to have a day to hike with my son.  Between me forgetting my gps, and his phone battery dying we weren't quite sure of the total mileage, but after consulting his hiking book, I'm going with about 7 miles and 2000 feet elevation gain.  And lots of wonderful memories.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mother of the Bride

I'm taking a break from hiking recaps and fast-forwarding to the present....

Sorry for my absence from blogland this month, it's been a whirlwind of activity.  A huge life event occurred last weekend - my daughter got married.

Gift table

Nearly a year and a half in the making, my super-organized daughter had everything planned to a "T."  She'd chosen a local winery for the ceremony and reception, hired a photographer, caterer, and DJ.  Since she and her husband-to-be loved card games, they chose a playing card theme, and meticulously gathered, bought, or created decorations that followed this concept.

The beautiful bride hoping for a break in the rain

The only thing she couldn't control - the weather.  Historically early September in Oregon is always sunny and dry.  We'd enjoyed three weeks of hot weather leading up to the big day.  But by midweek, a pesky 40% chance of rain popped up in the forecast.  The day before it grew to 80%.  Since an outdoor wedding was planned, my family all hoped the weatherman would be wrong.......

The wedding party

We awoke wedding day morning to cloudy, misty skies.  The hour-by-hour forecast didn't look promising, showing heavy midafternoon rain - just in time for the ceremony!  Although the option existed to hold wedding vows indoors, my daughter would have none of it.  She declared "I paid for a lawn wedding, and that's what I'm going to get." 

Flower girl

Dry skies prevailed during the morning rehearsal.  Someone joked that my daughter and her almost-husband should quickly get married before it started raining.  Several people told my daughter that it's good luck to have rain on your wedding day. (I certainly hope that's true!)

Lovely bridesmaids

All morning while the bride and her bridesmaids prepped hair and makeup, clouds began to thicken and the sky became darker.  My daughter had hoped to have her wedding photo shoot outside amongst the vineyard's beautifully landscaped fields.  Seeing the forecast, her photographer wisely suggested the winery's barrel room as a backup location.  Then, just in time for photographs, the heavens opened up.  Finally dressed and ready for photographs, my daughter asked her bridesmaids what the weather was doing.  No one spoke up.  Turning around and seeing sideways rain pounding against the window she cheerfully remarked, "Barrel room it is!"

The "ring security man"

Luckily the venue had a huge porch overlooking the lawn, which became the de-facto studio for all group portraits.

Relaxing before the big event

The bride was stunning in her gown and the groom handsome in his suit and red Air Jordans.  The bridesmaids were gorgeous in their candy-apple red dresses, the groomsmen dashing in their black suits and red ties (and matching black Air Jordans!).  The flower girl, my niece, was the picture of cuteness.  The ring bearer, or "ring security man" was the son of one of my daughter's friends.  He was decked out in dark shades, name badge, and suitcase to keep the rings secure (however not one to trust a 3-year-old, the maid of honor and best man held the real rings).

Umbrellas up!

Fifteen minutes until "go time" we stood on the winery porch, sipping vino, watching torrents of water fall from the sky and drip off the roof.  It wasn't looking good.  Glancing at the wet chairs lined up on the lawn, I asked the wedding coordinator if someone could wipe them off just prior to the ceremony.  She ran into the kitchen and recruited the catering staff for the task.

Walk down the aisle

The appointed time came....and it was still raining, although not as intense.  The DJ/officiant decided to wait a few extra minutes just in case the weather changed.  But although slowing down, the rain didn't appear to show any sign of letting up.  Someone handed my hubby a red umbrella.  (Not sure where they found an umbrella in her wedding colors, but it was perfect.)  We'd waited long enough - time to start this wedding.  The show must go on! 

It was a wonderful (but wet) ceremony

My husband walked his daughter down the aisle wiping back tears.  She looked so beautiful.  Starting to choke up, I busied myself taking photos (yes, I brought a camera with me - I wasn't about to miss the front-row photo ops!)  Knowing my hubby and I are sensitive souls, prior to the wedding my daughter gifted us each handkerchiefs printed with the words "No ugly crying."  I tell, you she thought of everything!

Exchange of rings

The maid of honor was a trooper - not only did she hold my daughter's extremely heavy bouquet in one hand, she also positioned an umbrella over her head for the entire 10 minute ceremony.  What a great friend!

First kiss

It was a lovely ceremony, with custom vows and many references to cards and poker sprinkled in.  I wish I could remember some of the lines, but I've already totally forgotten them all.  Too bad someone didn't think to take a video of the nuptials.

Time to party!

Although it continued to precipitate the entire time, the rain was never very heavy and I didn't get too wet.  Not long after the first kiss and introduction of the new Mr. and Mrs, it tapered off into sprinkles.  But I was so into the ceremony I didn't even notice.  My hubby and I shed happy tears as our daughter and new son-in-law joyfully walked back down the aisle.  Let the party begin!

First dance

Taking advantage of this brief dry spell the wedding photographer whisked the newlyweds back outside for some vineyard pics.  Then my daughter and son-in-law made a triumphant entrance and commenced their first dance together as husband and wife.  (My son joked he was going to have the DJ play that Alanis Morrissette song titled "Ironic" - "it's like rain on your wedding day")

Daddy-daughter dance

Second on the agenda was the father-daughter dance.  My daughter and her dad have always been close and I got misty-eyed seeing them together on the dance floor.

Of course it cleared up an hour later....

After a few more dances, the DJ took a break for dinner.  We were served delicious food and more wine.  After eating I intended to visit with all of the guests, but time seemed to speed up and I felt like I really didn't see very many people nor have much of a conversation with anyone.

Shoe game (no peeking!)

The DJ called the newlyweds out onto the dance floor to play a game where the bride and groom held one of each of their shoes.  He asked them questions about each other (who is more likely to...?) and they had to answer by holding up the correct shoe.  It was a lot of fun to watch.

Best man speech

Then there were funny and sentimental speeches by the best man and maid of honor.

Maid of honor speech

Of course no wedding is complete without cake!  I absolutely loved the decorations on their wedding cake.  And when it came to feeding each other a slice, my daughter and son-in-law were very polite.

Cake tasting aftermath

During the customary bouquet toss, the DJ invited all the ladies, single or not out to the dance floor.  My daughter made several motions to throw her bouquet, and then at the last minute hustled over to the crowd and handed her bouquet to the flower girl.  So sweet!

The flower girls gets the bouquet

The evening passed by way too quickly and before I knew it, all the guests were leaving and people began cleaning up the venue.  Many hands made fast work, and everything was quickly packed into waiting cars.  The newly-married couple drove off to their honeymoon in the pouring rain (yes, it was raining once again!).

Parents of the bride

Despite the soggy forecast, a little rain didn't dampen our spirits on this special day!   I'm thrilled to have a son-in-law - my daughter's new husband is a smart, ambitious, enthusiastic young man that I adore.  Such a perfectly matched couple, I wish them many years of love and happiness.