Mount Jumbo – Daylight Turns to Dark, Marvel Fades to Fear

Publisher’s Note: Make It Missoula is 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!


Our eyes locked. He reared back and then quickly struck the ground with his hooves, like he was revving his engine, looking to fight. He was ready to go, but was I? I stood there in darkness, frozen, motionless, terrified as sweat trickled down the side of my neck.

Hours earlier I had been perched on top of Mount Jumbo, alone but not scared. I was no more than 15 minutes away from my dorm but for some reason I felt hours away. I spent a while exploring the maze of trails etched on the mountainside. I sat and read scripture and excerpts from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” and it seemed I could see across the valley and into my own heart. A smile stretched from one side of my mouth to the other. I was learning so much about myself and my creator that I stood in complete awe of His creation. The cicadas’ symphony rippled along the mountain side and the sweet smell of pine trees infiltrated my system. I could have sat there for days if only the scenery was frozen in place. Pastel colors engulfed the horizon and spilled across the sky. I was somewhere else, somewhere deep in my soul.


As the light fled the sky I got up from the patted down blue bunchgrass and dusted off my legs. What had felt like minutes had been nearly three hours spent gazing across my open surroundings. My eyes bounced around trying to find my way back down the mountain as a swift breeze picked up and tickled the hairs on my neck. Dusty and dirty my grimy shoes moved down the mountain side. Every step I took offered a new sight to see, a new sound to hear, a new experience take in. Everything felt new to me. Just months ago I was in Minneapolis, my home town and a place familiar to me, but now I was in a place completely foreign to me and I would be here for the next four years. It was the start of a new chapter that was taking place, taking form, and taking over.

The sun no longer cast the scene in serenity, and darkness crept in. I made my way past the L, which sits in the middle of Mount Jumbo, and human faces began to pop out of shadows catching my eye like the red and white stripes in “Where’s Waldo.” I passed college students embracing on the mountainside, toasting with glasses of wine; parents with children attached to their hip; and a dog walking cluster of middle aged women.

I wandered the moderately smooth trail that spiraled and switched back and quickly neared the bottom of the slope. The trail captured the essence and beauty of Montana’s wildness from the University’s backyard.

Step. Step. Rustle. I looked up and stopped. I was no more than 100 feet from the pavement that would lead me back to the University. I didn’t flinch. Didn’t make a sound. Didn’t move a muscle. Something was in my way. It was a deer no more than 20 feet in front of me. I froze.


Usually I wouldn’t be afraid of a deer, but it was something about the darkness. In the daylight the sun brought life and freedom but in the dark there was mystery and fear. The darkness changed everything. Because of the darkness my stomach pinched. My throat choked. My heart raced. My jaw dropped. Because of the darkness, I was afraid.

I shuffled slowly toward the deer, sensing it would move as soon as I approached. One step. Nothing. Two steps. Not even a flinch. The third step was the worst of it all. His eyes pierced my soul and filled me with angst. He was ready to go, but was I? I did what any other six-one, 240-pound football player would do. I turned and ran.

I took off with urgency in the opposite direction of the deer, straying off of the trail and up onto a rocky part of the mountain. I stumbled recklessly up the rocky rise without any sense of what the deer was doing behind my back, trying to separate myself from the fearless deer. I hunched down behind a wiry tree and sat, motionless, expecting the worst.

Moments later, after I couldn’t wait any longer, I peered over my shoulder and saw that there was nothing to be scared of. The deer was gone. I let out a sigh of relief, yelped with happiness, braced my hands on my hips, and gasped for air. I was spent, but I was alone. I was free of the fear that had surged into me under the mystery of darkness. On my hike I had gazed into distant valleys, considered my future, and looked fear in the eye. And now, indeed, I was free to walk into my future.


Mount Jumbo Summit Via the L


Click on map to go to Google interactive map

Round Trip Distance: 1.5 to L; 1.8 miles to summit via L

Total Elevation Gain: 500 feet to L

Trail Difficulty: Moderate with some steep portions

Trail Surface: Uneven dirt and rock

Seasonal closure: The trail to the L is open year round, but beyond the L, Mount Jumbo trails are closed during the winter to protect wintering elk.

Nestled on the side of Mount Jumbo and a staple of the Missoula area, the Loyola Sacred Heart Catholic High School’s L trail offers breathtaking views of the Missoula and the Rattlesnake Valley and offers a a gleaming concrete “L” as a destination or mid-point goal.  Take a headlamp and climb right before sunset to catch one of the best sights in all of Missoula.

Getting There:

To reach the beginning of the L trailhead on Mount Jumbo if traveling by car, take the Van Buren Avenue exit from I-90. Continue north on Van Buren Avenue and take a right onto Cherry Street and proceed to the dead end and trailhead. By foot from campus, start at the Adams Center and head West on Campus Drive towards South Van Buren Street.  Continue over the bridge crossing the Clark Fork River. Cross Broadway at The Press Box and continue north on Van Buren Street to Cherry Street.


Mertes_MM_SelfieA native of “The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” Nicholas Reid Mertes is studying marketing at the University of Montana. A recent graduate of Edina High School in Edina, Minn., Nick enjoys playing saxophone, 90’s Nickelodeon TV shows, Disney World, serving in his community, and hanging out with his friends. His future plans include going wherever the wind takes him and opening up the world’s greatest pizzeria with his best friend.