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.
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
I know this is a a simple video… 16 seconds of nothing but drifting smoke on an occasionally gusting wind, that can be heard working it’s way through the trees and coffee getting blacker & gaining more flavor with each burbling perk in the pot. I think that’s why I like it; because it brings me right back to the high mountain lake I had backpacked into the night before I shot this video and the chill air of the morning as I waited impatiently for this pot to finish percolating.
Crazy how even now as I sit in my comfy chair at home, I can feel the heat from the dying coals of the driftwood fire and smell the combination of clear air, woodsmoke and cowboy coffee from that morning on the mountain.
It’s memories like this (and the dulling of the effort induced pain of the backpacking trip) that keep me up nights planning the next adventure and missing early mornings in the high country. Soon enough, the mountain peaks will shed a winters storehouse of snow, the passes will open, ice will thaw, trout will rise, and my coffeepot will earn another layer of campfire soot on the shores of a nameless lake.
I can’t wait! See you on the Mountain.
I could scarcely believe it when I checked the drawing results. After just 7 years of applying, I had drawn a coveted Montana mountain goat tag! Helping my odds of drawing dramatically was the fact that the hunting area began 22 miles from the nearest trailhead, deep in Bob Marshall Wilderness, requiring the services of an outfitter or a ton of miles backpacking. With limited resources, a stubborn Do It Yourself (DIY) streak, a willingness to learn and an unrealistically positive outlook stoked by hours of reading Cameron Hanes stories, I decided this would be the perfect indoctrination into the solo backcountry backpacking cult. Continue Reading