For generations, ranchers have practiced the art of skin grafting orphan lambs and calves onto new moms who often aren’t receptive to the idea of an additional or new offspring to take care of. When a lamb dies, its cape (the skin, hide and wool) is cut and peeled away from its body in a way that creates a coat or vest-like garment. This is then fitted to an orphan lamb to be grafted back to a ewe whose lamb died. Confused? It makes more sense when you’re in the lambing barn making decisions for the overall good of the flock and watching it play out.
“Why am I here?” was the question that drifted hazily around my over caffeinated, but sleep deprived mind as I fought fatigue, bone-chilling cold and the emotional instability that comes from spending all night in a lambing shed with 1,1100 ewes, 3 teenage daughters and an ornery dog. Continue Reading
“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.
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