Hunters are now pleased to have tracking snow in the North Fork River Valley. We have had two days where several inches of snow fell and, even with normal settling, there is a general covering of snow ranging from a couple of inches to half a foot, depending on where you hunt. That is in the river valley. In the mountains of the Whitefish Divide, it is a different story.
A North Fork resident drove his grader to Red Meadow Lake to rescue a vehicle stuck in the deep snow. That was on Wednesday. I donít know if the North Forker was in the Red Meadow area or if the stuck hunter hiked or hitched a ride to Moose Creek Road to find someone to help him. Apparently, the North Fork resident tried to pull him out of the ditch with his 4X4. When that did not work, he drove back home and got his grader. A lot of miles driven to rescue a hunter who had miscalculated his situation.
On Thursday, as I approached Red Meadow Drive, I noticed a man walking south. He was not wearing orange and appeared to be walking with some difficulty. He, too, had gotten stuck at Red Meadow Lake and had walked the 12 miles from the lake to the main North Fork Road without seeing anyone. He was looking for a phone to call friends to come pick him up. By this time it was nearly 5 p.m. and he said he needed a tow truck to get his pickup out. He would still have quite a hike to Polebridge to call, so I took him with me to Trail Creek, where he called to report he was OK and I gave him a ride to Columbia Falls, where his friends met him. I assume he was able to get his vehicle out the next day and I hope he had towing insurance. Tow trucks above Polebridge cost several hundred dollars.
These two incidents are not that uncommon on the North Fork after the first snow. Some folks think the Whitefish Divide doesnít get that much more snow than the valley floor. They are wrong. Trail Creek and Red Meadow may get as much as a foot of snow for every inch that falls at Polebridge. Almost everyone who gets stuck is not a North Forker, just someone out for a drive or road hunting.
Over the years, Lynn Ogle and I have helped more than a dozen who have been tricked by the deep snow. A couple have had to leave their vehicles until the next spring.
What baffles me is how ill-equipped some of these folks are. No chains, no shovel, no tow strap and, most times, not even an ax to cut a tree off the road.
If you must explore the backcountry in the late fall, drive a 4X4 with more than four inches of clearance and have chains, shovel, tow strap plus and ax or chain saw. You might save yourself a long walk at best. What do you think?
Larry Wilsonís North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.