Summit of Thunderbolt Mountain-Helena NF, MT
Don’t be startled by the title of this post! I’m found now 😉 Today was by far the best day for scenery. No more 8-mile slogs down forest service roads (for now). This morning I walked by a few old mining claims, long since abandoned. All that remained were broken down wooden cabins and a huge pile of dirt with a pit or two. The trail took me up over a long stretch of grassy bald, similar to the ones in the Southern Appalachians, but more expansive and with views west across a wide valley to snowcapped peaks maybe 50 or so miles off.
The trouble began in an abandoned mining colony named Leadville. I was told that the going could be tricky. The map advised, “go right at the fork at the cabins. At the sign ‘Leadville,’ keep following the road to the right. Pass a rusty thing on your left-the road is there. The road will die & trail picks up.” I followed directions, turned right at the fork (no sign), passed a rusty thing, and headed downhill, looking for the old road. After 10 minutes downhill walking, I heard a rumbling in the distance, which revealed itself as a parade of 17 jeeps-part of a club. They ground their way past me, heading up to Leadville. I checked my map at this point, saw the ATV trail I was on, concluded I had gone too far/wrong way, and walked back uphill to Leadville. When I got there, the Jeep club was breaking for lunch. I was offered turkey and roast beef, as much as I wanted (give it all to me!) I modestly took one turkey and roast beef sandwich. best wrong way ever! After I ate, I scrutinized the map and looked closely at the rusty thing, makibg out traces of a road. I took the road. The road turned into very thin trail, brushy and unmaintained. It dead-ended in a meadow. Wrong way again.
I bushwacked back to Leadville where this time I encountered two locals on ATVs. I told them what I was looking for and the man said he wasn’t sure, but there was a road to Cottnwood Lake 10 minutes down the ATV road. Bingo! I walked back down the ATV road (a little farther this time) and found the turnout. It was nowhere NEAR the rusty thing. The map and the description were both wrong. Happens I guess…at least I got a tasty lunch!
Tonight I am camped atop Tunderbolt mtn. Great views all around up here, but very mosquitoey. Lucky I’m in a tent…getting sunburns on my arms–that rough Montana sun! Might get to Helena ahead of time and maybe I’ll get a haircut.