For now, it's enough to know that the Canadian Flathead is a stomping ground for grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, mountain lions, and every kind of toothy creature that lived there when Columbus landed. But for years this sprawling nursery for everything wild has been under threat. Turns out it's rich in more than animal life and soaring mountains. First there were proposed coal mines, then coalbed methane, then gold mines. Things didn't look good.
I started heading up to the Flathead for adventures — and for stories that could help inspire people to demand its protection. Then, just yesterday, out of the blue, the B.C. government announced that they've decided not to allow mining or energy development in the valley.
To say that I'm jumping out of my underwear with excitement is an understatement. I'm rocketing out of my underwear until it's just a speck far, far below me and I realize, wow, it's really cold up here with no underwear, but I'm so excited it doesn't matter, so I just keep rocketing and rocketing.
In other words, I'm excited.
The Flathead, wildness itself, is being protected. It may be a small victory in a world desperately in need of big ones, but it gives me joy and hope. Which are always nice to have.
To celebrate the news, I'm sharing pictures from a day last summer when my friend Greg Peters and I rode our bicycles to the top of a mountain overlooking the headwaters of the Flathead River. A coal-mining corporation had proposed a massive mountaintop-removal mine there and the B.C. government was giving them a tacit green light. We wanted to see the mountain for ourselves before it was gone. So we loaded up backpacks with spartan camping gear and set off...
Met this porcupine along the way. He reminded me of the Lorax somehow. Like he was the guardian of the forest.
Navigating a maze of exploratory tracks cut by the mining company, we found our way to the mountaintop.
There are actually twin summits; one is behind Greg. The cleavage between the summits was spilling over with coal.
We hiked up to one of the summits for dinner. The view was head-spinning.
For the previous five days we'd been biking and packrafting in the valley bottom, so dinner was a nice chance to get a bigger look at the world we'd been exploring below.
The view from one summit to the other. Both would have been destroyed by the mine.
This is me. In my ultralightiest clothes. At first I tried to smile, but given that we were standing on a mountain that was in danger of being decapitated, it didn't feel like the right thing to do. So I decided to look serious instead. Very serious. Now that the mountain is saved, I wish I'd smiled.
I hiked up to the other peak and slept there, back to the ground, the Universe overhead. Just before I fell asleep, wolves howled in the valley below.
Took this at 2:00 a.m. Camera was resting on a hand-built column of rocks. That's the moon on the upper right. The orange light behind my pack is actually coming from the city of Calgary, about 150 miles distant.
Brightest stars I've ever seen. Lying there felt like floating through space.
This was taken just before sunrise. The distant mountains are in Montana and Glacier Park. The forested mountains along the ridge ahead would have been destroyed by the mine.
But thankfully, they won't be. Those mountains aren't going anywhere. We can still climb them. We can still ride bicycles down them. All the explorers and lovers of this place, and all of the magnificent animals that live there, can rejoice in the knowledge that the Flathead Valley is still one of the wildest wildernesses we have left.