Bushwhacking

Relaxing after a long bushwhack
Soaking in the Backcountry

We called it the Valley of the Dinosaurs mostly because of the monstrous rock formations that were scattered all around. Besides just overwhelming the high mountain valley with their size, they breathed a strange sort of life into the area that had convinced me from early on that the whole place was on the move. I could never pick out any one thing that caused me to think that—it was more like a general, overwhelming and deep in the gut feeling that had me convinced. I was consumed by the place’s pure and simple beauty and a feeling that the whole area was way more alive than me from the very first time I blundered into it. Through the years, I took every opportunity to return and while the physical cost of getting there was never cheap- without fail, it was always worth it.

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Place Names

The names of places……

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Valley of the Monks, Copper Canyon

The various names that are attached to places are intriguing. Some that they acquire are obvious, since they either reflect some sort of location characteristic or simply commemorate an individual who was important to the place. But, others not quite so. Regardless of how or why, the names all tell a story in a few short words—some less straight-forward than others, but each worthy of knowing. Here’s a few such stories that I’ve heard. Listen, and maybe you will, too………………..

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Winter Camping in Montana

Winter camping and cross country skiing in Glacier National Park.

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Winter-like Camping

It was mostly naivety that got the three of us to where we were to begin with. That and my Ford pickup. A thousand or so miles of driving had taken us from Texas and up into Montana’s Glacier National Park, where we planned to live out our dreams of winter camping and cross country skiing. Since it was January, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, except for the two Park Rangers manning the Polebridge Ranger Station (where we entered the park)  and the plethora of wildlife still out and about, such as elk and Gray Wolves.

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The Solo Storm

A stormy evening in the mountains…….

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Lightning was striking everywhere and each time it did, there was a bright flash immediately followed by the almost deafening crash of thunder. When it’d first started, I figured it was time to do something, although I didn’t. But once the bolts started lighting up individual trees, I sprang into action.

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Treble Hook in the Eye

A treble hook catches an eyelid in the backcountry.

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Controlled Fishing Chaos

Thankfully, we only got a few miles up the Middle Fork Trail, before we stopped and set-up our first night’s camp. As it turned out, the whole treble hook situation would’ve been way more complicated had we gone further that first day.

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Elk

A herd of elk in the Colorado high country

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The Colorado Rockies

There must’ve been close to 100 elk filling the valley below me, and I was astounded. I didn’t want to do anything to call attention to myself, so just sat there quietly peering over the boulder from afar. It was some sort of luck or fate that put me in that right place and at the right time, because I certainly hadn’t been thinking about it as I I’d climbed toward the top of yet another ridge.

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Candy Bars on Mt. Hunter

Indigestion on Alaska’s Mt Hunter.

Climbers out on the Kahiltna Glacier near Mt. Hunter
The Kahiltna Glacier near Mt. Hunter

I now concede the fact that it was undoubtedly the five candy bars I ate in celebration of successfully getting across the avalanche debris field that caused the distress. I should’ve known better, but for a variety of reasons, it’d seemed like a good thing to do at the time. At least, I reasoned once back at home, the whole thing had taught me a good lesson.

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The Handlebar

A broken mountain bike handlebar in the Colorado backcountry leads to an interesting fix.

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Mountain biking the Colorado Trail

It was a long downhill and flowed well. I’d ridden it before and knew that even though we were going down the valley toward Lost Park, I needed to pedal most of the way, in order to keep my speed up. That particular section of the Colorado Trail keeps dropping slightly and slowly for miles as it winds its way down the mostly open Craig Creek drainage and since I’d ridden it before, I knew that it’d be fast, fun and effortless, save for the pedaling. Sure, there were plenty of obstacles all along the way- loose, unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed out ruts, but only a few consistently tricky spots, all of which occurred where side creeks, thick with willows, came in. While the trail obstacles could be dealt with by using vigilance and technique, the creek crossings required something a little more. With their mud, roots, big rocks and water, they were simply best done on foot. Despite all of the downsides, it was Rocky Mountain mountain biking at its best.

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Lost and Found

“You’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”

Mountain biking the Silver Trail
Getting directions on the Silver Trail

At that point, we were probably some 20 miles from the last little outpost of a town we’d been through, but were theoretically about to come to another. Jerry had the best maps of the area available loaded onto his gps, but it only told us where we were in relation to the relatively paltry data it was loaded with. The realization that we might actually be the first people ever out in that part of Copper Canyon trying to figure out and quantify where the hell things went, among other things, left me with the feeling of simply being overwhelmed. The old adage of, “garbage in, garbage out” came to mind and was soon followed by the vision of a web page that simply said “no data available”. I was momentarily despondent as I looked at the convergence of three trails, all of which seemed to head up toward the top of a wrong ridge. Just as we were each desperately searching for any sort of clues about it all, I was saved, once again, by the quote- “you’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are”.

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Lost, but not Forgotten

Where did Garrett go? A misplaced backpacker out in the Wind River Range backcountry.

DSC07056If all went as planned, we’d get to our campsite by late afternoon, which would give us plenty of daylight for setting up the tents, organizing gear and even resting some before cooking supper. Our backpacks were heavy, but being mostly young and fit, by lunch we’d already covered well over half of the 15 miles planned for the day. At just a little after 1 o’clock, we crossed the Roaring Fork and stopped on the other side to change out of our river shoes and eat our midday meal of tuna, crackers and gorp. Among other things, the stop also provided a nice break from the uphill grind we’d been on for several hours.

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