Traveling Through Mountain Tundra
There is something serene and intoxicating about traveling
through mountain tundra, high above the trees. It is like entering
another land, far away from the busy life of the forest or city
that may be only a few miles away and a few thousand feet lower.
The grass and flowers seem so delicate,and yet stand there in
freezing winds, tough enough to come back for their brief season
each year. Below is a short story of a night spent up in the
mountain tundra, followed by a couple suggestions on where you
can more easily access the high country.
A Night on the Mountain Tundra
My wife Ana and I drove ten minutes out of town, and found
the dirt road that goes up to Storm Lake. We had been up to the
lake a month before, shortly after moving to Anaconda, Montana.
The road was pretty hard on the car, but we couldn't resist returning.
This time we were bringing backpacks, so we could hike up to
the tundra and stay the night.
When we arrived at the lake, there were a couple other cars,
but nobody in sight. The lake was sparkling in the sun, and the
mountains of the Anaconda-Pintler range rose up all around it.
It was quiet, and cooler here at 8,000 feet. We put on our packs
and started down the trail around the west side of the lake.
Twenty minutes later we were past the lake, and the trail steepened.
An hour of zig-zagging up the mountainside, and we finally
met another hiker. We stopped to talk briefly, and noticed the
handgun on his belt. This seems to be common in Montana. We have
seen guns on the hiking trails and in the bars, and the bank
tellers don't even blink when customers walk in wearing guns
(probably have their own). We didn't think to ask the hiker why
he had one.
We didn't find out until later that there are grizzlies in
the area here at times, something that some "experts,"
have denied. At least we had our freon horn to blast if we met
a bear, but then maybe that would just get the bear angry.
The trees end just before Storm Lake Pass, and the flowers
become small, but colorful and tougher than their delicate appearance
suggests. White, yellow and reds. Ana waited among the blossoms
patiently while I ran the five-minutes-that-became-twenty up
to the peak of Mount Tiny, not quite 10,000- feet high. I suppose
it is small compared to some of the surrounding mountains, but
it still seems almost rude to give a beautiful mountain a name
Later, up past goat meadow, Ana waited again while I scrambled
up the rocks to the top of Kurt Peak (also a foot or two below
10,000 feet). I couldn't find the route back down on the north
side where I came up, so I went back up part-way, then down the
west side and back north to the grassy slope where Ana was waiting.
Months later we realized how foolish it was to leave Ana alone.
Montana has some dangerous animals. About the time we were moving,
two teenage boys were attacked by a mountain lion on the hillside
just behind town. The fourteen-year-old fired his gun to scare
it off. It is worth noting that both boys were probably larger
than my gun-less wife. Fortunately, we didn't meet any bears
or cougars on this hiking trip, but Ana had other things to worry
Aliens on the Tundra
"I hear voices," she told me when we were in the
tent. Just mountain winds, I thought to myself. It was her first
time camping on the tundra, and in such an isolated place. I
assured her that there was nobody within ten miles of us, but
then she was worried about aliens landing in the meadow. Hey,
it would make a good landing site. Meanwhile, the wind was blowing
strong, threatening to shred the tent all night, and sounding
like the whispers or screams of ghosts. By morning the wind finally
relented, but it was well below freezing. It was time to get
Despite the cold that she hates so much, Ana couldn't help
but stop to take in the view as we crossed the high meadows on
our way home. Mountains, gray with rock, green with grass and
flowers, and painted with white patches of snow, were everywhere
we looked. Lakes sat in the valleys below, unvisited for weeks
at a time. We will be back there again, I think, although perhaps
with bear spray and alien repellent.
The Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness
Forty-five miles of the Continental Divide Trail go through
the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. Much of it is high up in the
mountain tundra.The other trails in the wilderness are never
heavily used, and you can easily find mountains and whole valleys
where you'll be the only human residents for as long as you stay.
It is difficult to get much information on the area, but you
can read a bit more about it at Wilderness.net.
Other Places to Travel through Mountain Tundra
Colorado has many places where you can drive up to the tundra.
Look for any passes on the map that are above ten-thousand feet,
and you'll probably find tundra there. If you want great hiking
above tree-line, Rocky Mountain National park is the place to
go. For more information, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park Website.
Glacier National Park in Montana also has wonderful trails
for day-hikes through the tundra. This is one of the most beautiful
parks on the planet. For more information, visit the Glacier National Park Website.
One of the best drives through the tundra is highway 212 from
the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park up and over
Beartooth pass and then into Montana. The road stays high above
the trees for a long stretch, and the views are fantastic.
Mountain Tundra Tips
If you plan to hike, or spend any time outside on the tundra,
take the following precautions:
*Dress warmly. I have been snowed on in August in southern Colorado.
*Bring water. The air is dry, and you'll be thirsty.
*Wear sunglasses. It is easy to damage your eyes in the thin
*Use sunblock. It is very easy to get a sunburn at high altitude.
*Tell somebody when you'll be back. It's easy to get lost in
the rolling mountain tundra.
*Follow trails, if possible, and otherwise try not to damage
the delicate environment.
* If traveling very far from home, you might also want to consider
Related Page: Montana Mountains