You’re taking me WHERE?

It’s amazing to me, still, in spite of that last quarter mile. It’s one of those things that catches people’s attention, even though they might not try it themselves. It could be the act itself or the timing. Regardless, I’m still in awe. It was our vacation Day #3, the reason for this trip, and it was FABULOUS.

We hike in Oregon on a regular basis, and over the past few years, we’ve seen several old fire towers; in fact, The Husband likes to choose our hikes based on whether there’s a tower up top. Returning to a certain spot in Montana had long been on his bucket list but I didn’t hear about it until more recently. At first I thought, “What are the chances?” He learned last year that someone there organizes hikes of this very area, including Mt. Henry. By the time he found out, it was too late to plan a trip.

Well. He’s never been one to give up.

While in college The Husband was the lookout in a fire tower one summer–about seven miles from the Canadian border–for three weeks. It was a summer job with the Forest Service for which he came all the way from Pennsylvania. The destination: Mt. Henry,  Montana (P.O. Box: In The Sticks). Nearest town area: Yaak.

Mt Henry_1969_Bruce and the two who drove to Montana
Montana bound

The eye wear takes us back a bit as does the car, but that’s another post. Answering a Penn State ad, these adventuresome college boys headed west. They were 20 years old and the year was 1968.

This year’s vacation location turned out to be Montana. We were going to see The Husband’s fire tower atop Mt. Henry. Wondering where Yaak is located, I checked a few maps and see it is quite close to the Canadian border. Do you see Yaak in the center near the top?

WA Idaho MT map of 2017 vacation areasHere’s a closer view below. The top red X is Yaak, the bottom red X is Sylvanite. The Ranger Station back then–where he lived when not in the tower, when he worked on the roads–was located in Sylvanite. The arrow points to Mt. Henry. The horizontal line near the top is the border, and the area is in the Kootenai National Forest.

Yaak and Sylvanite and Mt Henry in Kootenai Nat Forest

We looked for the Ranger Station in Sylvanite and found a few remnants:

And, finally, Mt. Henry is on the right of this map and Yaak at the bottom.

Yaak and Mt Henry mapThe reason for this trip: to see the fire tower where The Husband worked in 1968. The hike: eight and a half miles.

July 29, 2017; the day was finally here. We rose early and had breakfast at The Dirty Shame Saloon. You read that correctly (and, while the Yaak dining choices are few, it didn’t disappoint. Click the link to see Chef Floyd’s plate-sized huckleberry pancakes).

After breakfast, we met in front of the Yaak, Mercantile (across the street from The Dirty Shame) at 9:00 a.m.–we were Mel, Edwin, Jessie, Amy, Heidi, The Husband, and myself. Oh, and Juan, Heidi’s dog–to caravan to the trail head. After meeting everyone, I had a really good feeling about this hike. I felt energized. I was very glad we decided to go.

mt henry_sign at trail head I used to backpack and hike and run for exercise. Crabby knees and achy feet now slow me down, but I refuse to sit home and watch life pass me by. With brand new custom inserts, I was ready.

And, nervous. When The Husband was here in 1968, he came across a mama bear and her three cubs ON THIS VERY TRAIL. I’d heard this story many times, and, while he knew to back away and did so without incident, it can go horribly wrong. We reviewed bear safety before the hike, but I was still nervous.

It was with trepidation that I hit the trail, but to my delight, no more than 10 minutes in, I realized something that blew my fears out of the water. We were seven and a half (there is safety in numbers), we were chatty (bears don’t like noise), and three of us had bear spray (no guarantee but I felt a helluva lot better having it). Once I relaxed about our furry neighbors, I was able to enjoy this beautiful hike. I could sense I was with a fabulous group of people and I wanted to get to know them. I hung on to that good feeling. And, oh, what a beautiful area.

Mt Henry lake_July 29 2017
part way up, the hillside opened to this view
mt henry trail
lots of bear grass not in bloom
Mt Henry hike_July 29 2017 (24)
making our way
mt henry_bluebell type all along the way
lavender cheer along the trail

Several rests were much appreciated.

Mt Henry hike_July 29 2017 (22)
Amy and Edwin
mt henry amy heading back down trail
Amy in the bear grass

Part way up we found the most delightful lake.

Mt Henry Lake_July 29
Mt Henry lake
Mt Henry hike_July 29 2017
the top of that ridge is where we were headed

Here is that same ridge 49 years earlier, and a view of the lake from the ridge top.

As we hiked along I was quite impressed by the passion I heard from my hiking companions. Passion for the environment, that is. Several of them, maybe most, are part of a group, work for a group, or volunteer with a group whose aim is to protect and preserve the Montana wilderness. I happily hiked along, kept an eye out for bears, but smiled as we ascended, impressed by their passion, knowing this land is in good hands.

mt henry saying goodbyeBefore I realized it we were near the top. I knew the last quarter mile would be steep, but didn’t know the hike was rated “difficult.” I so appreciate the team effort in the group to stay together. These people are caring hikers and I smile now to think of their good hearts.

We hike on a regular basis. I have done “difficult” hikes. The final ascent was a challenge, but once I found a tree and dehydrated myself, and once we began to see portions of the tower–THE REASON FOR THIS TRIP–I could not contain my excitement. I paced myself and kept moving. I would see that tower, I would go inside, I would see the look on The Husband’s face, 49 years later.

mt henry lookout from trail top
and, there it is
Mt Henry hike_July 29
The Husband at Mt. Henry lookout tower, 2017

It was impressively breathtaking and worth every single step, now and then:

Mt Henry hike_

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The door was “secured” with a loose board, so, we took advantage:

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A bit windy up top, Jessie had to spot Mel so Mel could get the next photos of Bruce and I up top:

mt henry_jessie spotting mel as was quite windy

And, while up top, I spied Edwin enjoying the view:

mt henry_edwin enjoying the viewHere is the tower in 2017 and in 1968:

He did it; he made his way back 49 years later. He accomplished something he’d been wanting to do for a long time. It was a fabulous day on many levels. While up top, we lounged on the rocks for lunch, took a rest, and wandered to absorb the view. I took off my socks and boots, just because. And, of course, photos of each other:

And the best part: GROUP SHOTS!!!

Mt Henry_photos from Heidi_July 29
Karen, Bruce, Jessie, Heidi, Edwin, Mel holding Juan, Amy

Mt Henry_photos from HeidiWhile it was very tempting to stay, all good things must end. Besides, we knew we had something very appealing awaiting us down trail.

The trek down was just as lovely.

mt henry trail w heidi and juan
Karen, Heidi, and Juan

mt henry trail and bear grassWe each were ready for the cooling freshness of that beautiful lake; some swam, some dipped.

Mt Henry lakeShortly after, we reached the trail head once again, and, along with tired feet, I believe collectively refreshed and happy to have visited a gorgeous area and to have found new friends in these wonderful hikers. It was a dream come true for one and a beautiful hike for the rest. My cup is full.

Mt Henry group shot_courtesy Heidi

Mt Henry_photos from Heidi_
Mt. Henry, 2017

Thank you all, new friends, for a fabulous day.

Photo courtesy: Heidi J., who graciously shared her photos of the day. Heidi took the group shots at the top. Thank you, Heidi! ❤

Hike: Organized by Jessie. Thank you, Jessie. ❤

What a shame

Turns out, this year’s vacation in Yaak, Montana included a couple of unexpected but altogether charming places. On our first full day we saw the Yaak River Falls and the Kootenai River Falls, places one could easily call A Little Slice of Heaven. If you’d like, you can see photos of the Falls, this year and from 1968, here.

Why, you might ask, did we go to Yaak, Montana–in the middle of no where–for vacation? I’m getting there. Remember that charm I mentioned?

Take a peek inside the dining hall of the Yaak River Lodge.

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (38)If that’s not enough to help you digest breakfast, how about this:

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (36)I honestly hadn’t noticed the cats because (I was tired, and) the big black beast held me captive. I had to get a close up of those eyes (and those teeth).

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (37)Breakfast was served and we were not disappointed. The coffee, ready at 6 a.m., did not disappoint, either. Owners John and Dallas were most gracious hosts.

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (32)As I sat enjoying this wonderful meal–we didn’t have much of a dinner the night before so I was feeling quite satisfied–when I happened to look up, straight across the table.

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (35)There was another; I’d missed most of the smaller animals in the room aside from those most obvious.  Something told me I’d better start paying closer attention. I was in Montana, after all.

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Our room, the last one at the end of the hall, was so quiet one began to think everyone had left the planet. We live in the country, and we are used to quiet, but this? This was eerily quiet. And, just the ticket.

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (7)
in front of the lodge when we arrived

Yaak River Lodge_Yaak MT (8)The lodge is on the right and does not include the buildings on the left.

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Above are the grounds behind the lodge.

It was lovely and peaceful and quiet and refreshing–possibly a little scary in the dining hall–but well worth the time we spent here. About that dining experience: as explained by the owner, breakfast is served in the lodge during the week. On the weekends, they serve breakfast at the saloon (in Yaak, two miles down the road) also owned by John and Dallas. That meant that on Saturday–the day of the event that brought us to Montana–we had to eat breakfast at the saloon. The Dirty Shame Saloon.

I can’t say I’ve ever had breakfast in a saloon. I can’t recall the last time I was IN a saloon. Back home we call them bars; the last one I’d been to was when I was in college. We weren’t sure what to expect. Turns out, The Dirty Shame was a delightful breakfast experience.

We were the only customers. I really liked that. We had our own personal chef. Floyd is his name and he knows how to cook a pancake:

Yaak MT breakfast at the Dirty ShameNo ordinary pancakes, these were huckleberry pancakes, and they were fabulous. I never order pancakes in a restaurant, but Bruce nearly always does. I tried a couple bites. I ordered a ham and cheese omelet our first morning there–yes, we ate here twice–and scrambled eggs the second. Neither day did I leave hungry or disappointed. Floyd, you made two fabulous breakfasts. Thank you!

You may have noticed that they think big around here. Below is my second breakfast here, but note the butter. It is served by the slab for the pancakes.

Yaak breakfast at the Dirty ShameI was asked whether I’d like hazelnut or vanilla flavoring in my coffee. I declined and said, “No, just plain, thanks.” I meant black, but he thought I meant cream without flavor, and promptly brought out a half gallon carton of half and half and set it near my plate. They don’t mess around here; they aim to please. I thanked him and smiled.

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As I looked at the table and remembered where I was, I felt a little giggle inside that threatened to break the silence. As time and place are everything, I could only smile once again:

Dirty Shame Saloon breakfast_July 2017 (1)My orange juice was served in a plastic Coors cup.

The choices are few for food in Yaak; there is nothing else on the main road either way unless one is willing or able to drive to Troy or Libby, some distance. In Yaak proper, below, one must dine at The Dirty Shame, buy food at the Yaak Mercantile, or eat at the other saloon next to the mercantile. That’s it.

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As we finished our meal in the company of a darned good cook and a delightful host, I thought, what a (dirty) shame that more people don’t know about this place. I don’t know if we’ll ever be back, but if we return, I know where to get a fabulous huckleberry pancake.

Next post: Day #3 and the reason for this trip.

Until then, Cheers!