I met Tom not long after I moved to Montana in 2002. He had worked a detail at the Department of Environmental Quality as a liaison for NRCS. There were more than several DEQ people who recommended that I meet Tom and see how he might be able to help in in my new role of developing total maximum daily loads. His knowledge of Montana creeks and streams, stream processes, and relationships with the agricultural community were well established in the water resource community. Tom knew natural resources, people, and how to build strong bridges between them all.
When I met him, we immediately recognized that we shared a lot in common. It was not long before we were making plans to ski together, to hike and climb together, to canoe, and share outdoor experiences. From work to play, we found ways to spend time and resources in ways to benefit water resources. He taught a course in Proper Functioning Condition that I was able to take. He provided stream assessment data for streams from the Sun and Teton to Big Spring Creek to DEQ to inform our stream restoration plans. He was active with the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and we shared a great time together at the Boone and Crockett Club on Dupuyer Creek at an MWCC workshop on stream/riparian condition. I think Tom was instrumental in having a speaker from Alberta, Canada at the meeting present a Canadian program on “streams and cows”, “cows and rivers” or a similar title. We did an early morning hike together looking for grizzly bear.
Our common love of moving through the land, in all seasons, under our own power, using our combined knowledge of the out-of-doors made our friendship special. Tom and I climbed Granite Peak in the Beartooth-Absaroka wilderness twice. The first time in 2004 we camped at beautiful Princess Lake, climbed massive boulders around Cold and Avalanche Lakes and got weathered off at the V-notch and snow bridge at about 12,300’. The second time we went over Froze-To-Death Plateau and camped in the scree. We summited before noon the next day, but spent very little time on top as weather was moving in fast from the west. We rappelled down a pitch as rain moved in and turned to snow (this was August, 2005). By the time we got past Tempest Mountain we were in a full white-out, and I’m convinced it was only because Tom had a GPS unit with our camp marked, that we were able to find our way back to camp. I kept wanting to head further east than north, but Tom kept us on track. Yes, Tom saved our asses. It snowed all evening. We ate snacks in the tent instead of dinner. We had about 6” of snow on the tent in the morning. Making our way across Froze-To-Death Plateau on snow over talus was a bitch, but we felt like we were bad-asses. Shit, we just climbed Granite Peak, 12,799 feet, the highest peak in Montana under gnarly conditions and were heading out!
We shared the joy of shredding soft snow, both up and down the mountains. Tom took me to Bridger Bowl and showed me the in-bounds and out-of- bounds snow stashes (I’ve only skied there with him). I invited him to come up to the Sunrise Hut in the Rampart Range above Golden, British Columbia. We spent a week skiing the backcountry, having been flown in by helicopter. We had a group of 10 skiers from Helena and Bozeman plus a “hut-master”. Snow conditions were unstable and we had to be pretty careful in selecting our routes. Over the radio morning check-in’s, we heard that a group in the next hut over from Sunrise had a guide, Robson Gmoser, who had his femur broken in an avalanche during the same week. About mid-week, one skier in our party triggered an avalanche that almost took out her husband. There were several of us in the group, including Tom and I who privately questioned their decision to ski that particular chute. Mark, the skier who skied out of the path of the avalanche, said it was like a huge herd of silent horses galloping by. The group dug snow pits and did stability tests the next morning right in the same area, slope and aspect and couldn’t get the snow to move. Sometimes it’s more intuition and experience than science. Most of our skiing on that trip was in the trees, although we spent one glorious day up above tree line touring ridges and skiing lower gradient bowls. Tom was, like me, prone to “erring” on the cautious side.
We did a fair number of ski tours with Kathleen and Fran, as their birthdays are pretty close together. We skied in Yellowstone National Park: Pebble Creek, Mammoth area, Tower junction, and Fawn Pass trails. One thrilling morning on our way to ski around Bunsen Peak we drove up on a pack of five wolves that had just come off of a kill. All had bloody muzzles and ran directly in front, not 20’, from the car. I think we were all looking back and watching our (ski) tails that morning.
I organized a canoe trip on the Missouri River Breaks from Coal Banks Landing to the Judith in August, 2009 that included Tom and Kathleen, Alan and Starla Rollo, Jeff and Vicki Tiberi, and Fran. We spent three nights and four days moving through the land, sharing time and stories, food and drink, and companionable silence. I remember a magnificent mayfly hatch at Slaughter Rapid the last evening, happy for the two log-constructed shelters at camp as we had a downpour, and some revelsome whisky drinking. On our last Saturday together, Tom and I had talked about wanting to do the lower stretch of the wild and scenic Missouri with the same companions.
On our last day together, driving up the Yellowstone, we saw incredible herds of white tail deer, mule deer and elk, along with a golden eagle, and lots of hawks. We talked about Donald Trump being an angry man. That Trump wants to make the US great again. Tom stated that he hadn’t gotten notice that the US wasn’t great, and wondered why a guy with so much money was angry. We both agreed that the general American public lack appreciation for the blessings we have. We talked work, the Yellowstone River manual he put so much effort in, where it might go next, NRCS personalities, DEQ’s reorganization. In the Park we several coyote and lots of bison, and in the Lamar Valley close to Silver Gate we watched a magnificent bull moose move through the deep snow, cross the road in front of us and move up the hillside.
It was a beautiful day with light snow coming down, and about 18oF when we took off to ski in the North Absaroka Wilderness, south of Cooke City towards Republic Pass. Tom took the lead as he’d been in the area before. We moved up the trail on telemark skis with skins, at first on a snowmobile packed trail. No need to talk as we’d had 3 hours to visit in the truck. We didn’t make any plans on the drive or on the trail. We were just looking forward to being outside alongside each other. Just moving through the county, quiet and comfortable. Got past the wilderness boundary and a bit later got passed by a younger couple, Lindsey and Peter. Tom making conversation, building bridges – “where you from?” “Red Lodge”, “What’s the snow like there?” etc…
That ended abruptly just after a quick drink and food break a little after noon. I had taken the lead (me: “let’s get going, my hands get cold quick” Tom: “I’ve got weird physiology… my hands and feet get cold”). We continued up following a new ski track up a steepening trail. I looked back and saw Tom. When I looked back again after a short time I noticed that Tom was no longer behind me – jacket removal? Pee break? … “Tom?” “Yo, Tom?” “Hey Tom!” No response. The rest was the opposite of wonderful as I anxiously headed back down the trail about 200 yards. This was followed by fear as I found Tom not moving, face down in the snow. My automatic response kicked in– survey scene, turn him over, shake him, establish condition, initiate CPR, etc… The worst was having to leave him.
Tom was a friend, a soul mate, a companion spirit and a teacher to me. Tom was a bridge builder and someone who gave the world so much more than he got. Montana’s resources have benefited from his gifts, and so have those who have known him. Thank you Tom.
We love you,
20 January, 2015