Halfmoon Pass. Big Snowy Mountains. The sign said one mile, but it was definitely more than that. Thinking like I’d never make it, I was surprised to reach the pass in the end. Amazed, our group looked down upon a basin lined with snow-capped rocky peaks, but more impressively, the golden prairie shown at the end of the drainage. Only a day and a half ago, we’d been on the other side of the island mountain range speaking with a local snowmobile enthusiast in Lewistown, Montana. This leader in the snowmobile community expressed his deep love for these mountains and the joys of accessing them with his machine. In the next few days we explored what it means to recreate in an access controversial area.
For a 24 hour period, each member of our small group set off on foot to spend a night alone. Completely self-reliant, I set up my shelter and made a fire to stay warm. With no one to talk too, my mind was left to ponder the wildness of my surroundings. How would I feel if an ATV roared up the drainage, a group of singing students came along the path, or if I was surrounded by piles of horse poop and muddy trails leftover by a horse packing train? I was grateful for the time that I wasn’t and went to sleep enjoying the sound of the cold wind billowing through the trees.
On the hike along the ridge under Greathouse Peak, back towards Halfmoon Pass, I felt overwhelmed by a mixture of awe, excitement and humility that the scene around me inspired; this could be an experience everyone could benefit from. For those less inclined to foot travel, horse packing can stand as an alternative to see the same area. Wilderness doesn’t have to be just for those people willing to backpack out. The wild can be found in other ways and accessed in different forms.
Waking up to snow, I could hardly recognize my campsite with a layer of four to five inches of snow covered everything. I questioned why I was out there camping when I could have snowmobiled into the area with ease. Although the roar of a snowmobile conflicts with the reasons we might come out here, the snow shows how the challenges of winter access might be overcome. For older generations, trouble getting around might hinder access to the mountains, but snowmobiles allow the experience to be shared.
Hiking out of the Big Snowy Mountains, I couldn’t blame the horse-packers or snowmobile clubs for wanting to maintain access to this area. The feelings inspired in me are worth fighting for from any side of the issue. Everyone seems to be looking for their own “wilderness” experience, but how do we balance the interests of all the groups involved?