Tuchuck Campground near Polebridge, MT
As I was fishing along the shore of Tuchuk Creek, I heard Maya, our dog, bark, and looked up to see a hiker crossing the small bridge above me. Our map didn’t have detailed information about the area, so I wandered up to the road to introduce myself, perhaps the hiker was more familiar with the area than I. “Hi! I have a question for you!” “Oh hi! Sorry for spooking your dog!” “No problem. Hey, I wanted to ask you a question.” “I hope the lance doesn’t scare you, it puts some people off.” “What?” I asked. Then, looking more closely at his walking stick, my eyes traveling from its butt to its tip, I saw what I hadn’t noticed before, a black six inch hunting knife blade notched into the top, held in place with electrical tape. “It scares a lot of people, but I was attacked once, so now I take it with me to be safe.” Now that he’d mentioned it, the hiker was a bit beat up with a more recent cut above the bridge of his nose, and older scars here and there. “No, really, it’s no problem,” I said wondering what the hiker had been attacked by as I checked out the rest of his accoutrements, a billy club in one back pocket, a filet knife in the other,. “Oh, good!” he said, relaxing a bit. “I saw a few grizzlies while I was out this weekend. Can never be too safe. I’m up here for the weekend preparing for huckleberry season.” Having exchanged pleasantries, I asked, (Roddy, we’ll call him), if he had come up the road from Fortine by any chance. He had, it turned out. He proceeded to assure me that we could make it over the mountain pass beyond the campground, and into town on our remaining quarter tank of gas. The following morning, still worried about the gas and the drive we headed out early without breakfast, or coffee. As we drove along, we saw whitetail deer, drove around trees that had fallen into the road, and got to see snow! As we climbed through the mountains, the rain that pelted our tent the night before slowly but surely turned into snow; in June! As the falling snow hit our car, the ground, and the surrounding trees it melted. The day before, the gang and I had talked about how the snow line, (the lowest altitude that a storm snows rather than rains), was different from a tree line, (the altitude above which trees don’t grow). Suddenly, seven year-old No. One hollered out, “The snow line, the snow line!” Looking up from the rock strewn, potholed dirt road we were slowly creeping up, I saw it. On the mountain, about two-hundred feet above us, snow was sticking to the pines jutting up from the side of the mountain. Only a day after learning about snow lines, there was one right beside us! … Tuchuck campground is not easy to reach. When we started out that morning from the Laughing Horse Inn near Swan Lake, MT we were actually headed somewhere else. The owner of the Inn had given me a conspiratorial wink, asked if I was up for a real adventure, and then suggested that we try Polebridge. As happens frequently when the gang and I are out and about, what the owner meant when she’d said ‘real adventure’ was ‘a real adventure—you know—for kids’. Consequently, when we arrived in Polebridge at about noon, we found ourselves surrounded by people waiting to hear live music that evening in a flat spot three miles from a resort and lodge in northern Montana. We’d envisioned a cool place to camp, or perhaps a rugged little cabin we could rent, not Austin on the Vale, so we grabbed a few snacks from a small general store and bakery before we toodled on through, heading further to the north. Our map told us there were two campgrounds we could reach a bit north and to the west of our present location. As we drove along pointed towards Canada—Polebridge is only about 15 miles from the Canadian border on North Fork Road—-we passed a pair of ICE agents out on patrol. A few miles later, we found our turnoff onto FS 114. Then, we didn’t see anyone until I ran into Roddy later that afternoon. The road went from gravel to gravely. Dodging small trees that had fallen into the road over the winter months, being careful to spot and avoid sharp broken off branches that might penetrate our tires, we passed the supposed location of the first campground. There were no signs, no turnoffs, no indications of its existence, so we kept going; headed, we hoped, for the second campground on our map. The forest had become a grey scruff punctuated by the black husks of pines burned in a recent fire. The road, now a dirt track terracing a steep hill was paved after a fashion, strewn with rocks fallen from the slopes above. Our progress slowed to a crawl as we dodged left and right, maneuvering around stones big enough to hit the Trooper’s oilpan while avoiding the road’s left edge where the hill tumbled down to a river a hundred feet below. As we plodded along, I noticed something, our notoriously inaccurate, sticky gas gauge had dipped down towards a quarter of a tank. Thankfully, about a mile later, the road was once again bordered by gloriously flat forest on either side. Rocks still had to be dodged, fallen trees circumnavigated, but the going was easier. Another mile and we finally saw the small sign for Tuchuck Campground. The campground while remote is beautiful, and free! The place sits in a fork formed by the meeting of two rivers. On the one side you can scramble over trees felled by a forest fire in the more distant past to a river whose currents tumble around small islands bridged to the shore by a latticework of fallen tree trunks and branches. It’s one of those places that makes you certain the trout are hungrily waiting for you if you could only get a hook into the pools protected by frmaing wooden detris. On the other side of the campground, a mere 100 meters or so away, the fire missed the surrounding forest altogether. It’s an easy walk to the rock-strewn shores of a diferent river. Mom-person and the gang had wandered there in search of intersting rocks. I’d headed further upstream in hopes of finding a good fishing spot. That’s where I met Roddy. There are ten or so tent sites populating a road that loops through the area. In the middle of the loop, set back just a bit into the trees, is a small latrine-style toilet housed in a buliding with no running water. Each campsite has a fire ring and a picnic table. All in all, the price is right, and the location and scenery are magnificent.