The person calling in the report to the 911 Center said that she heard, what she thought, was a whistle being blown over and over high up the trail to Jewel Basin in the Swan Mountains. The 911 Center dispatched Search and Rescue.
Let me set the scene. It’s spring in Northwest Montana, at least it is where most people live. Birds were singing, I have cut the grass – I wouldn’t call it a lawn- and it was almost seventy degrees and sunny. My snowplow was safely stored next to the garage with dandelions sprouting around it. The person calling in the report though wasn’t in the valley, she had driven and hiked into the Swan Mountains to, what is in the summer, a busy trailhead. The Jewel Basin Road winds its way up and up over a seven-mile forest service road to a trailhead called Camp Misery. No, I have no idea how Camp Misery got its name. Maybe a blog for another day.
The valley may be growing grass and flowers but the mountains are still snow covered. In fact, I now know there is at least four feet of snow still up there. It seemed odd loading avalanche beacons, snow shoes and skis into the truck while wearing tee-shirts. Approximately a mile and a half from the trailhead was as far as we could drive in with the side-by-sides. Even the tracked vehicle wasn’t going any further.
We slogged on foot up the road sinking into the snow and blowing a whistle as we went. We figured if the stranded person had been blowing a whistle, as reported, they would answer. We spread out looking for fresh tracks on the side of the trail as we marched higher. We found fresh tracks. No, not human tracks, most likely wolf tracks. I wondered if bear spray works on wolves. If it didn’t, I figured I would have to somehow run faster than the other searchers. Problem was they were all younger, some much younger, than me.
For almost two hours we looked both on and off trail. We blew the whistle. We listened. Then, we heard a sort of whistling sound.
“What was that,” my colleague asked.
“A bird,” I said.
“Sounds like a whistle,” my colleague said.
We had the Sheriff’s deputy contact the reporting party. “How long have you lived here?”
“Oh, we just moved a month or so ago from Florida. No, I’ve never hiked in the mountains before.”
It did sort of sound like a whistle. What do you think?