Outpost of Adventure

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, downtown Kalispell's Rocky Mountain Outfitter remains a hub for explorers

By Tristan Scott

There are degrees of satisfaction that characterize any epic mountain adventure, and for me their full spectrum tends to emerge Monday morning after a weekend wrung so completely dry of potential that a narcotic haze hangs over the experience.

By now the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation and imagination that took hold Friday evening while poring over maps and sorting gear has worn off, and in the rearview of my memory the allure of a snooze button in the pre-dawn stillness of Saturday morning seems like a trifling indulgence.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

Ben Franklin’s aphorism rings especially true now, yawning at the workaday routine, whereas 48 hours ago the first cup of coffee was kicking in and a Wizard-of-Oz revelation snapped into focus, a Technicolor moment where everything is illuminated and the world lies in wait.

We hurriedly topped off water bottles, squirreled away sandwiches and tinned fish, and double-checked that all the requisite equipment was situated in all the corresponding cavities of backpacks fit snugly against fresh shoulders.

And then we were off, padding down dusty trails and charging through gnarled stands of mountain alder; loping across high-alpine basins and wading through seas of wildflowers; hammering down scree-filled gullies and climbing labyrinthine ribs of brilliant red rock; unlocking ledge-systems and chimneys leading up to glacial lakes turned a milky blue by mineral-rich silt.

Racing the sun back to the ice chest at the car, we devoured cheeseburgers and pie before toppling onto an unmade bed and reaching for the cool side of the pillow, the anticipation of tomorrow’s adventures already welling up inside.

By Monday morning the scope of the adventure is almost too much to comprehend, and the degrees of satisfaction begin to blur into a single memory molecule.

But just down the street from our newspaper office sits another venue of adventure where weekend warriors can tease out the strands of their journeys and unpack the odyssey, recording it in the annals of oral history.

For 40 years, an outdoors sports store called Rocky Mountain Outfitter has been the go-to outpost for exploring the wilds of Northwest Montana, and its owner, Don Scharfe, is the unofficial curator of the region’s mountaineering lore.

Scharfe has summited many of the highest mountains throughout the Rocky Mountains and Europe. He has toured the backcountry frontier and hiked the spine of the Continental Divide.

In doing so, he has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the region’s peaks and drainages, and he freely shares any beta that could help a fellow explorer.

Due in part to his affection for other explorers and their habits, Scharfe has sustained a small store through national recessions and local downturns. He survived a business exodus to the burgeoning north side of town and adapted to the rise of Internet commerce.

What Scharfe opened in 1976 as a simple shop offering gear and equipment has become a beloved mainstay and trusted institution for generations of explorers, who not only outfit their backpacks and climbing racks, but also hone their mountain sense.

Scharfe’s friendly staff of mountain mavens is always game to swap tales from the backcountry, and no matter the scope of your weekend odyssey, you’re sure to derive another degree of satisfaction from a stop at this outpost of adventure.

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