The question

Last week I had the pleasure to be rained on, atop a broad mountain ridge.  Having driven several hours through plains reaching 100 degrees, I found on reaching the top that summer weather had come along with the early summer heat.  Stopped in the car by snow lingering in the trees, I assembled bike and backpack and pedaled up and along in a driving rain, sprinting, inasmuch as one ever could uphill carrying a 40 liter load, when the lightning count got short.  That evening I stayed indoors, watching the sun set over one range, while illuminating another I had never quite known to be in range.

The next day I wandered down a ridge, trying and failing to avoid the prodigious deadfall, and forded a cold creek.  There was a cliff just upstream, a fence just down, and the boulders were the size of ovens and tried to take my feet.  I’ve floated this creek twice before, and a third example has me no closer to correlating apparent conditions with flows.  On this occasion, with only a distant spangling of snow the creek was full, and eagerly crawled around the next bend.   Holes and waves grabbed and tugged, and previously simple plops had me wheelieing downstream, moves out of synch with what the creek had.  The biggest drops were, befitting the theme of this year, stuffed with wood.  In the canyon now, I had to drag my boat upstream, chest deep in thin eddies, to a spot with enough latitude to ferry across and climb a manky chute to the rim.  

KIMG0036 (2)

This creek, and this place, are phenomenal.  And in equal parts, ephemeral.  The season for floating is short.  The access is indistinct, and none of the ways in are short.  The setting is big, with a scale and a profusion of trees that flattens out the mountains and hides them in front of you, until you’re downclimbing through old growth spruce, kicking granite lumps down to the elk paths, or following up one of the fall line horse trails.  The place is, in short, one of those ranges whose incremental obscurity combines with scenery a few notches off of what we find most accessible, and keeps it unnoticed.  The lack of capitol letter designations, of the W and NP, helps.

The duality of name brand designation, and especially the associated marketing, has in the past decade established itself far too well.  Protection from resource extraction and development was as complicated as protection from tourist development a half century ago.  Protection from the information and attention economy has proven a task more difficult than either.  If the essence of the wild is, in brief, in novelty relative to human experience, how can we humans protect it from ourselves?

The easy answer is to shut up.  Documentation killing mystery is in the internet age as basic as one plus one.  And when it comes to the place here mentioned, I’ve mostly done that, though if I were truly committed to wouldn’t drop enough hints and photographs to easily guide those with a bit of knowledge.  The more complex answer has to do with the future, and the seeming inevitability of restrictions.  Across the west parks and forests have management and travel plans that have not been substantively updated in decades.  Added traffic is forcing this process, and making for updates that must be both sweeping and potentially radical.  Having no track record of a use like packrafting (or cycling) makes for a shortage of leverage when the time comes, and while hiding things from land managers which are new and potentially controversial can work well for a long time, increasingly is does not seem to be a sustainable approach.

I made my choice over 4 years ago, when I put the full(ish) version of the Crown guidebook up for sale.  Whether and how this will prove a good influence, long term, has yet to be decided.  And because of that I struggle; what level of conversation and documentation is most appropriate, long term, for other places?

7 Comments

  1. If I could have the past 15 years of my life back to do over again I’d probably have shared less detail than I did. That being said it’s rare a month goes by when someone doesn’t thank me for some piece of beta I wrote that helped get them out on a trip.

    As for this post, a single backlit fire tower, knowing it’s not “W” nor “NP” and that you drove several hours across the plains doesn’t provide me enough to know where you were. Not that you asked but I find your balance of sharing beta and keeping details to a minimum a good balance, Dave.

  2. When engaging in travel planning, or forest plans in general, established historic use is a meaningful consideration and one that is used to put things on, or leave things off the table.

    Take a local example in the form of a Wilderness Study Area – that being the Elkhorn WSA of Muskrat Creek. I feel pretty confident in saying that Muskrat Creek and its ridges will never be Wilderness due to the fact that mtn biking is by now an established historic use for that drainage.If seldom used, or if when used never advertised, that case may be harder to make.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t though, as my personal experience tells me there are thresholds of popularity where things go to hell for keeps. I’ve watched it happen in northern Jeff Co. I watch it now.

    The Beaverhead-Deerlodge has NO travel plan in place. This will not be the case much longer, or at least so they say, and so striking that balance of established use is something to consider.

    My own strategy : be honest about use where you think the juice is worth the squeeze, but always keep a stronghold of your own little-known-seldom-visited corners, just for you. Others may find them organically, but they are refuges for the mind and its sanity- whether you physically occupy them or not – maybe especially when they are just places that serve as blueprints for daydreams that exist over a distant ridge or range, while you sit in your office or kitchen or car.

    Sort of a rant without much of a point, but for me, without those little-known-seldom-visiteds, it may all be for nought.

  3. My own stash spot is a backcountry lake that I have visited annually for the past 9 years. The fishing isnt what it use to be but that’s only part of the reason we go there. We spread my old dog Hondo’s ashes on the peak overlooking the lake 9 years ago. I have always had it to myself or the company of my wife and or a few select friends that are sworn to silence. Every year near my birthday in August we make the trek to the trail head we use to access it. Every time we approach the trail head I cross my fingers hoping for no vehicles. I know the day will come when someone will be at the one and only real camp spot at the lake that I started grooming back in the early 90’s. Will this be the year?

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