Editor's note: Today is the day for New Year's resolutions, and this outdoorsman's list could provide inspiration for others to get out and get moving in 2018. David Johnson, a retired Butte High School English teacher, has had a lifelong penchant for staying active, and that's clearly illustrated with his 2017 adventures:
I actually finished all the adventures I chose to begin in 2017. Fires, wind, bears — all worked in my favor, for once.
What is an adventure, anyway? At my age, 63, if I put on hiking boots and walk in the woods for an hour...that’s an adventure. If I put on tight-fitting spandex and a helmet and bicycle for an hour...that’s an adventure. Most of the time, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.
I list them least to best. I include these lighter treks after being inspired by a line from "Lonesome Dove": “The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things — like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”
I’m already making plans for 2018. It’s a good New Year's exercise, I think. What’s your top 10?
10. Jon’s Gulch Loop — Sage Brush Flats, southeast of Butte. This 2-mile hike starts with a big downhill and transitions into some nice aspen groves at the bottom. You can wear Tevas or running shoes. It’s a comfortable after-dinner hike. It was a big deal for me this year to finish the loop after being on crutches for three weeks.
9. Pipestone Pass to Second Vista — Pipestone Pass, Highway 2, southeast of Butte. This trail is another regular, not really an adventure, but it keeps me sane. In December, I tied a Christmas wreath to the trail sign and hoped some deer, dog, or porcupine didn't tear it up.
8. Out-and-Back Cycle to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, east of Whitehall. I guess a bike ride doesn’t qualify as a “trek,” but it’s just another way to move through the country. This round-trip ride was 50 miles (starting from Pipestone Pass) and took me around five hours. I was trying to get in shape for RATPOD, the annual 130-mile ride through the Pioneers in late June. You’d be surprised how dead Highway 2 is at 6:30 in the morning. I rode for 30 minutes without a car in sight.
7. Hike to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River — Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota. Just another short hike of 2 miles, but it was sort of neat to touch the source of the Mighty Mo. I had to carry some guy’s kayak for half a mile so he could paddle around the lake from which bubbles the spring water that eventually flows to the Gulf.
6. Four-Wheel Drive to Point Sublime — North Rim, Arizona. Now we’re getting into some serious adventure. My son drove my pickup. We followed three tricked-out backcountry Jeeps complete with 4-foot tire jacks mounted to the hoods, 5-gallon red metal gas cans ratcheted to the frames, and one guy who bailed halfway sitting dazed along the road. The trip is 40 miles round trip, but the view at the end is worthy of the name.
5. RATPOD — Dillon. I had always heard of this aggressive, fastidiously organized, one-day bicycle tour. Camp Mak-a-Dream (a camp for cancer survivors) runs it as a charity ride. I had a few friends who did it, but I don’t think they ever did it twice. Was I in for something over my head? I actually trained for the 130-mile ride that starts in Dillon, travels north to Wise River, and then through Divide and back south to Dillon. It was a bucket-list item for me, and I’m glad I was able to finish it. The meadows around Crystal Park and the huge downhill afterward were the highlights for me. However, after 11 hours in the saddle, I lay motionless on the lawn at the University of Montana Western campus for a good hour. Some other riders walking by probably thought I had stroked out.
4. Torrey Mountain summit (11,146 feet) — Start from Dinner Station Campground, north of Dillon. My friend Dave did this climb in winter and told me about the multiple false summits. He was right. You are fooled at least twice by the knobs poking up along the main ridge; you end up taking a breather and then setting off for the next one. It’s by no means a technical climb, but I had to outrun the afternoon storm that approached from the west. There was plenty of thunder, but I got off and into the trees just before the lightning cracked over the still water of Boot Lake to the south.
3. Snake Gulch — Jacob’s Lake, Arizona. This was a family hike that started early because of the impending 100-degree heat forecast later in the day. The highlight was some of the most impressive pictographs I had ever seen. They are not protected by glass or barbed-wire fences; they just sit there and stare out at you from their rocky cliffs from which they’ve sat for the past 1,000 years. They were painted and hammered there by ancient Anasazi tribes that were prolific throughout this northern part of Arizona and southeastern Utah. The hike itself was not at all serious -— in fact, it was downright flat. The remnants of this culture still preserved on the rock that a hiker could literally gawk at from inches away are the reasons this hike is rated so high.
2. Out-and-Back Canoe Trip to Lewis Lake/Shoshone Lake — Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. There is quite a bit of red tape on this trip, but it’s worth it. My gosh, you’re paddling on the largest freshwater lake without road access in the lower 48 states! It was sort of great not to be backpacking, because you can bring a cooler, lawn chairs, a big tent, and a regular coffee pot. The final mile up the Lewis River requires that you “line” your canoe up the swift water. Lining is tying a rope to the bow and pulling it against the current. It’s not an easy proposition, but the ride down is awesome. The campsites don’t allow fires, but if I’d had a fire, I would not have heard the loons calling in the shallows at dusk.
1. Sam’s Mesa/Twin Corral Backpack Loop — Hanksville, Utah. Yeah, I know, it’s not a Montana trip, but ain’t it great to be an American! This slick-rock, off-trail backpacking trip of 25 miles is easily one of my top all-time most beautiful — and one of my top toughest, too. It contained some of the most remote and lonesome desert landscape I have ever seen. Two-hundred foot rock pinnacles, a desert bighorn sheep, and silence so still that all I could hear was the ringing in my ears. Staring down 40- to 50-foot rock cliffs and knowing I had to down-climb them or turn around was the reason for my high-difficulty rating. I posted some comments concerning the difficulty on a website called backcountrypost.com. My comments prompted several seasoned veterans to chime in only minutes after posting. One guy (Thunderballs, I think) said that the hike wasn’t “that big a deal.” Oh well, maybe it’s my age creeping up on me!