The 8 best campsites of 2014

Presented in chronological order, with no gesture made towards the impossible task of assigning preference.

IMG_2623February; upper St. Mary River, Glacier National Park

If you’ve hiked the trail between Gunsight Lake and St. Mary Falls you’ve passed right by this little meadow, probably without noticing the clearing in which I pitched the Lil’ Bug Out on this snowy, windy ski trip.  There are big views the opposite direction thanks to the river, though I chose this spot because it gave access to water and kept me away from the abundant deadfall in the old growth spruce forest which envelops the whole valley.  I knew a big storm was brewing, but the one I got exceeded expectations, and is probably the most severe weather I’ve ever camped in.  It didn’t make for big views, but I’ve seen those before, and the sensation of hunkering down as the rain, snow and wind lashed all right was gratifying and, ultimately, cozy.  I even slept well, and the freshly felled, huge tree 150 yards down the trail the next morning convinced me that camping amongst the windbreaks is not always the smart choice.

IMG_2951March; Olo Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park

Brendan and I were at the end of a long and trying second day of our week long figure-eight, and to our distress did not find water in the gravel of Olo when we finally picked a route down to the floor.  We had enough to make due for the night, but I knew we’d do much better in the hard days to come if we could truly rehydrate, refuel, and relax.  I walked to the edge of the house-sized chockstone which forms the first, 100 foot freehanging rap into the initial slot and saw water, so down we went.  Brendan had done his first canyoneering rappel the day before, and this one was as intimidating as they get for the size.  Plus I got the pullcord hung up on a flake, which after much yanking thankfully pulled off, rather than requiring me to prusik the rope in the gathering darkness.  With flawlessly clear weather we ended up camped on the gravel in a 15 foot wide, 200 foot deep, polished limestone slot next to a nice pool of clear water.  The stars, the still air, and the owls who came by later all made it the best camp of a trip full of fantastic, memorable spots.  Brendan has a more descriptive shot here, of breakfast the next morning.

IMG_3397April; North Fork of the Sun River, Bob Marshall Wilderness

I was eager to get after an early bear hunt, too early as it turned out, as I saw no bear sign whatsoever on this muddy trip.  Too cold yet for the fresh green vegetation which forms the majority of Bob Marshall bear diets, I assume.  I did get myself a gorgeous, clear, and very windy two days watching critters in the magic meadows of the Sun, including a successful wolf hunt on elk which took place in the background of the above photo about 20 minutes after I packed up the Solomid.  Seeing that is rare enough, seeing it 10 miles from the road was a privilege indeed.

IMG_0133June; Stoney Indian Lake, Glacier National Park

I hiked all day, through rain and mostly over snow, to get up to the campground which sits just of the sight to the left, at the foot of the lake.  The campground was still under 5-7 feet of snow, and I was left with the task of arranging my tarp out of the driving wind on the flattest piece of snow I could find.  I slept on my deflated packraft and stuck my empty pack into one end of the tarp to keep the rain out when the wind shifted, and took a long time to fall asleep with my body heat slowly drying damp clothes.  I was greeted the next morning with warm sun, a brilliant crampon crossing of Stoney Indian Pass, and the rare sight of Stoney Indian Lake full of avalanche.

DSC06000July; Danaher Creek, Bob Marshall Wilderness

Somehow between M and I the best photo we have of a truly great camp on Danaher Creek is this one, of the LBO and the stacked rocks necessary to pitch it.  After a long first day of hot hiking and fun rafting M, Luke, Spencer, and I were close to the confluence with Youngs Creek.  Ryan Jordan and Scouts had been down days earlier, and thanks to sat blogging we knew to expect a big wood portage.  We found it late, right before we lost the sun and the cold set in.  It had plenty of flat sand camping, good water, firewood, and a few fishing spots all close at hand.  When I roosted a big bull Moose out of the willows scoping the place out I knew we had good mojo, and called it a day.  I caught 4 fish with my first six casts, and we had a fantastic night roasting and eating them around the fire.  This trip, sharing a great loop in the Bob with folks mostly new to wilderness rafting, was one of my favorite trips of the year, and this camp was equal to all the good stuff which came before and after.

IMG_0580 2August; South Fork of the Flathead, Bob Marshall Wilderness

After I decided to cut my Bob traverse into just a South Fork trip, I had permission to fish all the good spots I had never stopped to fish, and camp in all the places I had always wanted to camp.  At the top of the list was this little sliver of sand between Bear Creek and Mid Creek, and I got to it just as a massive evening rainstorm moved in.  I let my fire tend to itself and retreated to my tarp, laying back and listening to rain pound down on the vegetation and water.  It relented eventually, and I was able to fry and eat my trout, sleep long and well to the music of the river, and move on the next day with one more thing checked off the list.

IMG_0829September; Big Horn Peak, Gallatin Mountains

It’s possible for a normal (read: not rich, and not lucky) hunter to go a lifetime without hunting sheep.  The pursuit has become fetishized, driving guiding rates to absurd levels and draw odds well below 1% just about everywhere.  Thankfully Montana still maintains a handful of districts around Yellowstone with a quota and (relatively) cheap over-the-counter tags.  Buying one was one of the better decisions I made this year.  Sheep hunting is venerated first because of it’s rarity (a vicious circle), and second because sheep tend to live in very cool country.  The huge, high volcanic mountains I hunted for those 2.5 days were quite unlike anything else I walked through in 2014.  Take my second camp as an example.  10 feet behind the Solomid is the Yellowstone Park boundary.  15 feet behind my back is a 2000 foot cliff.  The view from atop that cliff revealed mountain goats, elk, and eventually even a few sheep (ewes).  The sunrise on that utterly clear weekend was simply perfect, and the 10,000 foot meadow I camped in one of the most memorable places I’ve ever sunk a tent stake.

IMG_1097October; Crazy Jug Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park

I was nervous before this trip, having spent a lot of time and thought selecting a route which would give my mom a taste of true Grand Canyon backcountry without being excessively demanding.  Correctly extrapolating the abilities of others is not an easy thing to do when route planning, and I’ve missed the mark many times, but on this trip I nailed it.  The first day had been long and tough and went into darkness, but this patio had appeared by headlamp and I knew we had our ideal spot.  Running spring water, a flat surface, and clear sky, and tired folks made for lots of good sleep, and a great keystone image for a great trip.

2015 is close, so raise your beverage to all the great sites to come.

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7 thoughts on “The 8 best campsites of 2014

  1. Great campsites Dave, if you want other pics of that campsite let me know, I have a few more. They may not be an improvement though, al the best scenery was backlit.

  2. Pingback: How my favorite gear will die | Bedrock & Paradox

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