A Build on a Mountaintop

The first time we saw grass

“Is it possible to have that delivered?”

“Sure, what is your address?”

“Well, we don’t actually have an address, but we can give you a GPS pin. The road is a bit twisty and near a mountaintop.”

“Sorry, we can’t deliver to that location.”

It takes a special human to deliver to a mountaintop. I should note, we weren’t dealing with small deliveries. We had supply lists from our builder, giant blocks for our foundation, not to mention sourcing materials during a pandemic is no small feat.

We basically found Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Mike and His Magical Excavator
The operator’s name is actually Mike. I don’t know if his excavator is named Mary Anne though?


Rewind a bit. We started with a garage full of sonotubes and rebar. Don’t know what sonotubes are? I didn’t either. They’re huge. June 17, 2021 a truckload was delivered (from Stevensville) to our driveway in East Missoula. No deliveries to the GPS pin.

Stupid Rebar Coming Up Rainbows

These tubes were going to be filled with concrete (and this rebar) to create our foundation. The plan was to dig holes in the earth, 6ft deep, in a circle, insert tubes, & fill with concrete.

We rented a smaller excavator, no operator attached, to dig these holes. Thankfully our contractor was brave enough to take the “wheel.” It was important that the holes were six feet deep, so we could get below the frostline, preventing the foundation from shifting. We hit the water table well before that six foot mark. We were left without a plan and a garage full of useless sonotubes and rebar.

Tree Removal

But, don’t worry, we made the most of that “tiny” excavator rental. Remember those trees we needed to take down? We made a weekend of it. Our friends Heidi and Adam (and their kiddos) drove their bus up the mountain and spent Father’s Day taking down trees and hanging with us.

Trees Down Sovereign Lode
This one in particular blew my mind. Adam told us we didn’t need to move our storage tubs or the wood pile, he would strategically drop the tree between them. He did.


We had piles and piles of brush to burn. Trees are huge! We kicked on our county burn permit and lit it up. Thankfully that excavator was there to move brush and keep us safe. During this experience we got our first taste of the Honda Generator that we later purchased for ourselves. It was powering a pump, that we had sitting in the creek with a hose attached to it. I guess, we needed a pump too. In spite of the trials we encountered, we were learning so much about all of the tools/toys we’d need.

We dug trenches that would house our future solar, water and septic operations. Some of those didn’t survive the next round of excavation. We were still in need of a “foundation” for our yurt, so we made a new plan. That plan included excavating our circular pad, and strategic placement of close to 80, nearly 800 pound blocks.

Mike the Magical Excavator

This is where Mike pops into the story. He was introduced to us by one of our magical off-grid neighbors, whom we will forever be grateful for. I’m pretty certain Mike doesn’t think there are limitations to many things this world presents us with. You need someone just like that to transport your 800 lb blocks up the mountain. I believe he did it in 12 loads with this rad old truck.

He did it, right after he strategically flattened the earth, readying our build site for the future yurt.

I almost forgot about that gigantic pile of gravel. That was another success story. I was lucky to find an independent contractor to pick up and deliver two dump loads of gravel. That gravel will be spread around the earth, before the blocks are placed, to act as a drainage system for the moisture under the yurt site, remember we’re right beside a creek.

This is an earworm we listened to countless times when our twin nephews were younger.

One thing that Mike asked us, in passing, was what we’d like to have done with the dirt and rocks (*boulders*) he would need to move from the site. Um, right, we had no clue. Thankfully he’s a real smarty cakes, and he moved them and basically built us a road/parking lot. Some of those boulders he was shifting around were much bigger than the 800 lb blocks. And, it is important to mention he worked with so much grace, he was gentle and careful not to disturb when there wasn’t a need.

Minecraft Blocks

These are the blocks. Shane and I would sometimes take an evening drive up the mountain just to see what progress had been made that day. This particular evening we were delighted to see that moving these 800 lb blocks was even possible. Not only did he move them up the mountain, but he delicately placed them in stacks, that later JW and I filled with concrete, and we even used a little bit of that dang rebar.

If you’re curious about these blocks, we ordered them from Diversified Materials in Missoula. We were considering a less attractive concrete option before I found these gems. We are delighted for the ‘forever reminder’ of how much our family loves Minecraft.

In Minecraft land, we don’t have water or electricity, so the concrete was being mixed in a bucket and poured in the center of these blocks (they all had holes in the center). This step came after pounding some rebar into the earth within each block pile, for extra support. Here is a snip that fills you in a bit on how our process worked.

The blocks and concrete filling happened in September 2021.


Onto the beams. Do you know what a glulam is? I didn’t either. They are so big and heavy that ‘regular’ strong human muscles cannot move them more than a few inches. And, one of our glulams was more than 40 feet long. Mike (again, for the win) let us use his big machine to move them around, after he transported them more than 60 miles, and up the twisty mountain road for us.

Yurt Deets Coming Soon

We had a deadline to get the beams in place, so we could haul the SIPS floor up the mountain and piece it together. This project was riddled with puzzles, all of which we solved as they presented themselves. Being the planner that I am, sometimes waiting until we were at a standstill was hard for me. I felt like I could’ve had the pieces in place to move onto the next step, but that isn’t how everyone works. I found new patience, sort of. Looking back now, I honestly cannot believe we accomplished such a project in just a few months. We didn’t even order our yurt until April 2021.

The SIPS floor, which is an insulated yurt floor, will be in the next blog post. Prepare yourself for driving more huge things up the mountain, including a few UHaul trucks, one of which was 26 feet. Guess who got to drive? And, I will express my mad love for Shelter Designs, the company that built our yurt.

signing off, for now, with this special video from my alter ego

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