Crazy Canyon

Publisher’s Note: Over the next few weeks Make It Missoula will be publishing the writings of University of Montana students enrolled in Nadia White’s autumn semester 2014 Adventure Writing class. Each student was assigned a Missoula area trail to explore and write about. Read more about Nadia White, this assignment, and the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Adventure Writing class. Enjoy!


Rising above the homesick blues

I was sitting on a log at the Crazy Canyon trailhead, soaking in the warm sun as it filtered through the pine tree canopy. I could feel my body slowly being  energized by the natural vitamin D. It felt good. I took a deep breath of the fresh air, slowly drawing in, Pftooooo… and releasing, Ahhhhh. I was happy to be back in the woods about to climb a mountain, an activity much more accessible and frequent in my hometown of Sitka, Alaska.

As I listened to the sounds around me I became aware of how different this forest was from my forest at home.  The abundance of snapping and rattling startled me. I didn’t know anything about the trees or vegetation here and didn’t realize until then how much I missed the consistently damp, green forest floor I was used to. I was homesick.

I realized I wasn’t only missing my family and my home. I was missing my woods, the Tongass National Forest, the temperate rainforest encasing my little island town in Southeast Alaska.


I watched as couples with shiny, snazzy mountain bikes arrived and prepared to ride. At home, it took two minutes to bike to the Cross Trail. My bike was constantly covered with mud and spruce and hemlock needles. I could literally walk out my door and across the street and be in the seemingly endless woods. I hardly ever drove to a trailhead, because there was trail access so close to my house. I missed that opportunity. The ride up Pattee Canyon to access this trail had taken a while and been more of a grind than I’d expected.

After a granola bar, I decided I should pick my chin up and get hiking. This was a new place with new opportunities and experiences to explore.

Clare_MM_CricketMost of the trail took me through a lovely pine forest. It was nice to be in the shade, because the sun was hot. Every once in a while, the canopy opened up and the brilliant, blue sky, that seemed almost fake, like a sky blue crayon, was revealed. I was exploring by myself for the first time in a new place and unusually aware of my surroundings. I spent about 10 minutes crouched down, photographing a grasshopper I followed until it stopped jumping and rested on a rock. It was very still, but the little strands of tan grass kept getting in the way. I had to find the best angle, working hard to limit sudden movements. By the end, I felt that we were friends.

I could feel myself becoming more comfortable with the trail and feeling more optimistic. I passed a lovely mountain ash with cherry red berries, a tree I was very familiar with from home. Everyone I passed along the trail smiled and said, “hello.” Everyone does that on the trails back home, too. The more I opened myself up, I discovered more things that were like small pieces of home. Nearing the top of Mount Sentinel, I realized I was experiencing the much-loved, intimate adrenaline rush of almost reaching a mountain top. It surprised me.

A 360-degree view of Missoula and the surrounding mountains greeted me at the summit. There was a cool breeze on top and many other hikers. Snacking on crackers and hummus, I found myself smiling inside, discovering something I’d been doubting since I’d been in Missoula. I can be happy here. I can find ways to experience many of the same feelings I do back home.


Although there wasn’t a familiar view of towering jagged peaks or an endless ocean dotted with fishing boats, it was beautiful in its own way. I found it hard to leave. Homework seemed extra undesirable. On the way back, sun low in the sky, I realized I hadn’t been content in my new life because I didn’t get off campus enough. I’d been too wrapped up with doubt, stuck in my comfort zone. I wasn’t experiencing the feelings I missed because I wasn’t finding ways to tap into them. Now I know that I can feel them no matter where life takes me.

Crazy Canyon


Click to go to interactive map

Round Trip Length: 5.8 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 1,258 feet

Trail Difficulty: Moderate, briefly difficult at the end.

Trail Surface: Packed dirt single and double track.

If you’re looking for an alternative way up Mount Sentinel with far less traffic than the M trail, this is for you. The trail is actually a road, but no motorized vehicles are allowed, so you’ll only meet mountain bikers and other hikers. Most of it is a gradual climb through the trees. The last quarter mile is quite steep, but worth it, because you’ll be greeted with a fantastic 360 degree view of the Missoula Valley, Rattlesnake Mountains, and Lolo Peak.


Clare_MM_SelfieLione Clare was born and raised in the small island town of Sitka, Alaska. She enjoys nature, climbing mountains, and landscape photography; dancing, playing music, tea, and munching on graham crackers with Nutella. She is studying Resource Conservation and Journalism in order to pursue her dream of becoming an environmental photojournalist.