Photo Gallery | Gratitude as Mount Jumbo’s South Zone Reopens


Mount Jumbo is a sublime hump of grass and pine, the shortest mountain on Missoula’s skyline yet somehow its most debonair.

It begs to be climbed, and as anyone who’s gained its glorious rolling-meadow of a summit can attest, what started as a hike transforms into a whistling skip and eventually an arms-out, bellowing yodel.

But from December 1 to March 15, Jumbo’s summit goes silent, save the mews and grunts of elk and mule deer. These animals gain sole proprietorship over the mountain’s upper reaches in an effort to preserve the fat on their flanks, as opposed to the peak’s usual duty as a place to burn the fat off our own.

Some in Missoula begrudge this closure during winters of paltry snow when barely an elk can be seen foraging. Yet for the past two winters, anyone paying attention will have noticed dozens of these stout-looking beasts plying the native grasses above.

It’s become instinctual these last few months to crane my neck in search of them while driving my boys to school, humbled by Jumbo’s generosity toward these animals.

And I already feel like Jumbo is family.

I’ve watched my boys play hide-and-seek among the mayhem of yellow balsamroot blossoms on its saddle in May. As infants, I carried them in a baby-pack from our home in East Missoula over the top and down to Cherry Street. We’ve celebrated birthdays there and named three big ponderosa pines along the Spine Trail.

But those elk and deer know this mountain in a way I can’t imagine. They depend on it for their very survival while I simply bask in its beauty.

In 1996, the same year I moved here for college, a citizen-approved open space bond provided $2 million to purchase the majority of this marvelous mountain, bolstered by $1.5 million raised by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, Five Valleys Land Trust, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and local residents.

The lands north of Jumbo’s saddle don’t open until May 1, but as of today, we can all once again enjoy the main mass of Jumbo.

Let’s never take her for granted.




Get more of Montana’s great outdoors with some of Paul’s other posts, 2011′s Top 20 Montana Outdoor Photos and How to Lose a Staring Contest with an Elk, or visit his blog archive.


Paul Queneau is an avid outdoor recreationist, naturalist, and hunter. He works as conservation editor of Bugle Magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he writes about, photographs, edits, and films wildlife. See and read more of his work on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website and Paul’s photo portfolio.