Welcome Creek Wilderness – our spring-time challenge in a strange and wonderful little corner of the Montana back country world, just off the blue ribbon trout stream, Rock Creek. We should have thought it through a little more, but just needed to get out and do a nearby trail. So Evie and I threw our three little furry friends, Tina, Koda, and Lucy (miniature Pomeranians) in the van. We loaded up our 13 year old boy (told him we were heading for the Welcome Creek Wilderness Cafe), and headed east up I-90, 20 miles from Missoula to the Rock Creek exit.
You head south at the Rock Creek exit on a paved road, winding your way up stream. It’s a beautiful Montana back-country drive up Rock Creek canyon. The pavement ends around 11 miles up, and a narrow dirt road leads another 3 miles to the parking area for Welcome Creek Trail #225
The madcap adventures began there. The trail leads from the parking area across a wonderful suspension “swinging” bridge over Rock Creek Across the bridge, taking a right turn, the trail follows down Rock Creek about a quarter mile, turns left and heads up the narrow Welcome Creek side canyon. Sounds pretty straight forward. Right off, the poms, apparently dying for a drink, diverted our attention to getting them down to Rock Creek’s edge for a drink of fresh river water.
Back on the trail again, we found our son had already disappeared up the trail – a positive if you’re encouraging an independent spirit and gusto for hitting the trail for your child. A parents dream gone bad when finding a fork in the trail at that first quarter mile, right after having to cross the raging springtime torrent of Welcome Creek on a narrow log bridge. Which way did he go? Was he lost in the forests of Montana!
We had hiked that trail with him a couple of times before, so hoped he managed the log bridge and vaguely knew to take the left turn up Welcome Creek. Our 13 year old, Geno, with delays, ADHD, and motor problems functions around an 8 to 10 year range, and is not wilderness guide material at this point. We took the Welcome Creek turn, and herded the wild eyed poms up the trail, calling repeatedly for Geno. To our surprise and delight, we promptly ran into him, heading back down the trail. He had concluded he had covered enough trail and it was time to go back – all of a half mile on the trail.
Convincing Geno to continue further up the trail with us, we proceeded on this foolhardy adventure. We herded a band of hounds that were over and under and tangled in everything,along with a young man with limitations to his motor abilities. Taking a turn for the wilder, we rounded a corner and discovered a jungle. The trail was piled high with tree trunks and brush where fallen timber had not been cleared for spring. I had never encountered such a jumbled mess on a trail before..
Regardless, I refused to yield. Maybe this was an isolated jumble along the trail and it straightens out just around the next corner. We pressed onward. The crazy little dogs, too small to climb over many of the logs, had to each be ferried over. We then discovered Geno’s incredibly limited motor ability required helping him climb up onto and over log after log. You just don’t realize those limitations as he ambles along relatively level terrain for years. No doubt more training out in the forest, climbing hills, and over logs and rocks is in order. But we pressed onward!
Struggling under the last tree across the trail, the fallen timber mess finally ended. By then everyone was ready to stop off for lunch at that great Welcome Creek Wilderness Cafe – perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just the way we like ‘em. Settling into a spectacular old growth forest grove, lunch was on – as the first raindrops hit!
Montana in June is often wet in a good year, and the weather had forecast rain. We were driven to get out and do a trail, regardless. But now the rain, the unruly poms, the massive log jamb on the trail, and the kiddo so physically challenged – the fun takes on a ridiculous scale. Following a hasty lunch, Evie, Geno and the maniacal poms hit the return trail – enough was enough. With my pack outfitted with raingear, I was compelled to do the next mile regardless of the torrential downpour.
A wonderful winding rocky trail follows right next to Welcome Creek. Long stretches of the trail follow the base of massive rock slides covered with mosses like scenes from a fairy land. Pushing on in the downpour another mile, the weekend spring training trail run was accomplished despite the weather and the faltering, stumbling beginnings. Finally conceding that the trek would be an ongoing soggy slog through tall ferns, grass and brush along the trail, even I turned back
Back at the trailhead 45 minutes later, soaked to the skin, I discovered the crew all snug and taking a snooze in the dry comfort of the van. They too had been caught in the downpour but managed to dry out in the meantime. Surprisingly good spirits prevailed in light of the ridiculous challenges thrown at us, and we hit the highway back to Missoula.