The snow was deep, the mountain air cool, the ridge frighteningly steep in places and my sweat was pouring. Fresh mountain lion tracks in the snow and the bawling of the hounds ahead urged me on even as I wondered how smart it was to bring my 8-year old daughter along. One look at Sydney’s flushed cheeks and excited smile, though, dismissed that question and refocused me on the task at hand…catching up to the hounds that were bawling “treed” just up the canyon.
“A specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events, especially one that shows them in their true relations to one another.”
“… The ability to see things in a true relationship.”
The waning beam of my headlamp cut a dim swath through the inky blackness, making an already graduate level desent downright spooky at times. The horns and cape of a trophy bighorn ram added weight to my pack and purpose to this excursion. Soaked in sweat, despite the chill of the night air and fresh snow on the ground, I worked my way down off the mountain and into the grasp of chokingly thick willows.
Bouldering down the steep pitch while fighting willows took the last of the strength from my legs and I found myself face down next to the raging mountain stream I’d been walking in.
With my resolve on life support, I struggled back to my feet and joined my partner, to finish off the trek to camp. One o’clock in the morning found us concluding our inglorious return to a cold camp on a wispy second wind. Thirty minutes later, meat and hide hung high in the trees, a raging fire cut through the frosty air, dry clothes were donned, and water was boiling for our dehydrated dinners.
Life seemed doable again, even thrilling, as if there was no other place on earth I’d rather be. My perspective had changed for the better, allowing me to enjoy and appreciate the “now”. Throughout the 16 mile pack out to the trailhead, involving horse wrecks, 50 mph winds, bone chilling cold, and snow, my attitude waxed and waned, but my perspective never changed. This was the adventure of a lifetime, and I relished the opportunity to work through its struggles.
Fourteen miles into day one and I was spent. This was supposed to be an easy day; Make a quick trip into the backcountry, cache my tent, sleeping bag and a few other essentials for next weeks trip, then scout my way back out to the truck. Trashing my mountain bike on a snowy, frozen trail two hours before light cost me a lot of time, scored me a few bruises, and set the tone for the day. An hour later, after reading my topo map via headlamp, I headed up the wrong drainage for three miles before realizing my mistake. This cost me six miles of extra trekking with a heavy pack and ticked me off because I know better. The rest of the day completed the twenty-two mile grind, but I was able to stow my gear, and get back to the trailhead shortly before dark.
Despite the inauspicious start, I couldn’t wait to get rolling the following week. After months of conditioning, planning, sorting gear and scouting, the hunt was on!I left the trailhead with fellow backpacking crazy Jason Snyder at 11pm on Halloween night with six inches of new snow on the trail, wind-chill of -20, and fully loaded packs on our backs. The plan was to walk nine miles in during the night, set our camp, catch a few winks and be ready to hunt up high in the morning. The first couple hours of our trek were uneventful with the stars out in force and the moon bright enough to cast shadows through the forest, temporarily negating the need for head lamps.
When I made the left turn into the restaurant parking lot, the first thing I saw was a 5 year old girl dragging a garbage bag full of clothes. Close behind her was her younger brother with a similar bag and their mother pulling a beat up suitcase, with purpose, trying to get to the Rescue Mission “before it closed” for the night. After her husband took the car and abandoned them that day, the 3 of them gathered up all they had left of their worldly possessions, and were walking across town for help. Continue Reading
The idea of a winter backpacking adventure had borne so much promise, excitement, and intrigue while hatching the plans back home, next to a piping hot, cast iron wood stove with a steaming cup of Seattle’s finest at hand.
Two weeks later, hunkered in a flimsy tent, tied off with 550 cord to multiple trees, bracing against 50mph wind gusts carrying chill factors far below zero, the challenge was no longer theoretical, but palpable. In retrospect, I did almost everything wrong on that trip. I brought a tent that wasn’t up to the task, carried too much food and clothing, and learned the hard way how ineffective melting snow as a water source can be. However, I walked away from that first adventure with a desire to get it right and the sense of satisfaction that comes from passing Mother Nature’s impromptu, high consequence tests.
Several years and many trips later, I’m still no expert, but I’ve been deeply bitten by the cold weather camping bug, have the memories and scars to prove it, learn something new about myself and the process every trip and embrace the solitude and breathtaking scenery that comes with exploring the backcountry in Montana’s most unforgiving season. Sound like fun? Read on… Continue Reading