On Monday, the day before the solstice, I pulled an 11-hour work shift in Big Sky. On the way home, Boots and I parked at the 35-mile an hour bridge in Gallatin Canyon. We left the truck at 7 p.m. and hiked the muddy river trail, watching brown rapids tousle and flush water downstream.
As we hiked the switchbacks my knees hurt, and I moved slowly. We scrambled into the sun at the base of Skyline Ridge, and I pulled on my climbing shoes. With the canyon in shadow and the Gallatin Tower dwarfed below, the ledge atop of Ashes of Stone was a sidewalk to heaven.
Moving up the first pitch of Skyline, I was rusty, doubtful. Clouds covered the sky, and I stretched, working out the kinks and creaks and remembering how to move after hours at my computer.
The river’s rush echoed, quiet and pervasive. I climbed down into the chimney. It was dank in there, and I moved methodically. At its top, I popped out the belly button-like hole between boulders into evening sunshine.
On the easy upper ridge, my body remembered the familiar terrain: the square cut edges, the movement, the subtle breeze. Sun reflected off a quartz crystal beneath my feet, and off a stack of mica embedded in perfect pink stone.
On the trail out, I was flush with endorphins, content. Red pine needles scattered thick among the talus smelled like dusty, dried pitch.
At dusk along the river, we passed a foul-smelling carcass in the woods. I touched the bear spray hanging from my pack’s waist belt, but really I was nervous about moose. There are always moose droppings in that area, and my old boss Charlie was once treed in the Gallatin for hours when he was searching for morels. I looked up at the tree trunks around me and imagined shimmying up one in desperation.
Boots bounded around in the mud, downfall and underbrush, one ear half flopped. The rushing water nearby made the evening feel wild, although headlights flew past the other side of the river at 50 miles an hour.