by Nathan Boddy
For fifty years, the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana have been scaled, skied, hunted and traversed by a high mountain creature whose pseudonym says it all: “The Montana Mountain Goat.”
Mario Locatelli, local mountaineer and author, has not allowed his status as octogenarian to dampen his desire to share his stories. His forthcoming book, “From Italy to Hamilton,” only awaits final touches and production. With hopes that it will be available for purchase by late summer, Locatelli expressed that he is not selling the book for profit.
“I’m going to donate everything to the Salvation Army,” he says. “I’ve got plenty of money for the rest of my life.”
Mario Locatelli’s books aren’t the only way people in the Bitterroot know him. Having served for two decades in the Ravalli County Search and Rescue and spearheading the ‘Mountain Goat Marathon’ for charitable fundraising, Locatelli has played an integral role in exposing people to the splendor of the Montana high country. In the forward to Locatelli’s 2010 book, “Hiking With Mario in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains,” George Corn wrote, “It’s hard for me to think of the Bitterroots for very long without thinking of Mario.”
Mario Locatelli was born in northern Italy, one of 12 children. While he describes his mother as a “sweetheart,” he makes no pretense about his feelings for the abuse he endured at the hands of a very strict father. “I was afraid of him,” he says, adding, “He used to beat us if he’d catch us playing.” Nonetheless, it was his father’s dual citizenship that allowed Mario to immigrate to the United States in the year he turned 16.
Mario’s youth saw his migration northward through California and Oregon, doing a variety of labor jobs from agricultural to demolition. But it was a first ascent of Oregon’s Mt. Hood that gave him a taste for mountain landscapes.
“That was my first mountain and I realized I have what it takes to be a good climber,” he says. “I was already 40-some years old.”
It wasn’t long afterward, on a family trip to Montana in 1970, that he made up his mind to call Montana home. He explains that his wife at the time was unhappy following the move, and divorce soon followed. Looking for solace and a new lifestyle, Locatelli, “strapped on his boots and started hiking.”
Mario estimates that he has hiked “over two thousand miles” in the Bitterroot Mountains. “I have hiked every drainage and ridge and nearly every summit on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley.” He aided in the technical rescue of numerous citizens as a member of Ravalli County Search and Rescue, and even survived an avalanche himself in 1981. But the efforts he put forth to establish and operate the ‘Mountain Goat Marathon,’ seem to stand out. Perhaps that is on account of the money raised; nearly $30,000 over its thirteen-year run. Funds were distributed to a variety of causes and entities including Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, United Veterans Council, the Don Mackey Memorial and the Corvallis Library. The race itself ran the inhospitable ridge line to the north of Lost Horse Creek, starting at the far west end and descending toward the valley floor.
“Usually I brought up the rear,” says Locatelli. “I donated quite a bit of money to Life Flight to keep them in our corner. But we were really fortunate. We only had two broken fingers.”
While Locatelli’s fundraising efforts may have been for others, he has certainly had an eye toward his own achievements as well. His trademark maneuver atop multiple global high spots has been the headstand, a way to put his feet just a bit higher than other climbers.
“In ’04 I was the oldest person to climb McKinley in Alaska,” he says. “I was 71 and a half.” When asked if his record has been beaten, he replied with a notable amount of chagrin, “There was a guy from Anchorage who was 78, but he had his buddy pack all his stuff.”