Anaconda to Helena was an 80 mile section of the CDT that I would complete in 3 days. The area was picturesque but not as dramatic as the Pintler Mountains. The elevation in the area was between 6,200 to 7,400 feet and some of the vistas were clouded with smoke.
The trail followed the ridge line and I encountered rolling mountain hillsides with patches of forest and mountain meadows. Prior to starting the Anaconda route, I spent a zero day in Missoula at Natalie’s house. She took good care of me. She made numerous baked goods and made sure that my appetite was satisfied.
Natalie was in the midst of planning her Freshman Program that she started last year at the University of Montana. She developed a program that offers all incoming freshman, regardless of their major, the opportunity to experience the wilderness of Montana through a four day backpacking trip. Last year she had 40 freshman sign up for the program. This year she had 70 students register. There is a considerable amount of planning involved from food preparation, to permits, educating group leaders, transportation, etc. It reminded me of all the work Karen and Natalie did getting me ready for my journey.
I got to eat dinner the night before and breakfast the following morning with the group of students before they departed for their adventure. It was nice to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the students. There were 10 groups of 7 students with a leader. Most of the leaders were previous students of Natalie’s Wilderness and Civilization Program. One group was going to the Pintler Range so they returned me to the Anaconda Trailhead so I could continue with my hike.
The circumstances are different, but this experience reminded me of the Big City Mountaineer Program and the importance it plays in the lives of those at risk kids who are fortunate to have a wilderness experience with hopes of improving their life and future.