Like a prehistoric behemoth reaching mud-stained claws to snatch errant hikers and shove them into its gaping maw, the uprooted tree made a menacing obstacle.
Who knew when it had toppled? Its exposed roots jutted toward the branch-strewn trail, and drying mud made the ground soft beneath our feet.
“I think we can get around it, just watch your step,” my husband said.
Edging forward, I said, “I’m sure glad I took that selfie before we started this hike.”
Derek paused and dropped the branch he’d been holding out of my way.
“You took a selfie? But I took a photo of you next to the sign at the trailhead.”
He’d told me to smile, but feeling contrary and eager to start the hike, I’d squinched my eyes shut and bared my teeth at him.
“Just think if we don’t make it out, that would have been the last photo our kids would have of their mom!”
I was teasing. Mostly. Our situation wasn’t dire, just a bit more challenging than we’d anticipated.
After 24 hours of luxuriating in the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs and eating sumptuous food at the resort’s restaurant, Harwood House, we were ready to burn some calories and take in some Montana scenery that didn’t involve questionable choices in swimwear.
The sprawling Lolo National Forest offers plenty of hiking opportunities, including Iron Mountain Trail No. 242, just a few miles from Quinn’s.
It’s deemed a moderate trail, and we’re moderate hikers. The initial grade proved a bit steep, and there wasn’t much of a view at first – just lots of greenery and pretty wildflowers neither of us could identify.
“Uh oh!” Derek muttered.
We’d turned a bend and found the trail littered with rocks. Carefully, we picked our way across the shifting stones.
Little rocks are more treacherous to footing than giant boulders. No one wants a romantic getaway to end with a sprained ankle or a trip to the emergency room.
Some enterprising individual had taken creative license with nature and stacked a small cairn near the overlook.
Onward and upward we pressed, and now the fallen tree and its detritus offered another possible roadblock.
“We could go back,” I said, doubtfully.
Derek surveyed the carnage.
“Nah, let’s at least try to get to the first viewpoint.”
So I carefully picked a path and he followed.
Minutes later, we reached the viewpoint and gazed down at the churning brownish waters of the Clark Fork River. Surrounded by mountains and pines, we wondered how our intrepid forebears had traversed the “road” with loaded wagons drawn by teams of horses or mules, hauling silver ore from the mine to the river far below.
Iron Mountain Road was in use until 1910, and must have originally been much wider than the trail we’d just traversed.
We could hear the distant hum of traffic on the highway hidden somewhere below us as we watched the river, swollen by recent rains, rolling in the distance. Pine branches danced in the slight breeze. A hawk wheeled silently in the sky above.
It felt good to take a break from watching our feet and watch Mother Nature instead.
The hike reminded me that it’s not always big obstacles that cause the most harm. Sometimes it’s the pesky little annoyances that trip me up and rob me of my equilibrium.
Because I work in a deadline-driven industry, I’m often guilty of keeping my head down, eyes on the project in front of me, only occasionally peering up to see what new task is around the bend.
That’s why it’s so important to sometimes simply stop. To rest. To take a deep breath, look up and enjoy the marvelous view.