Jailhouse Ruin

This has to be what fear looks like.  

Walking down Bullet Canyon things would have opened up, a wide sandy plain thick with fat pinon and juniper trees, a tight band of tall cottonwoods and willows snaking along the dry wash.  The north wall opens into a series of budding side canyons, that run back for perhaps half a mile before you are up at the end of the slickrock and talus against 400 foot cliffs.  These canyons have deep overhangs at their heads, bays whose bottoms are never touched by rain or snow, and hardly by the wind, but face south and are high enough to be flooded by sun on even the shortest day of the year.  An ideal place to spend the winter.  

The point between two of those bays has a particularly deep set of ledges bedded into weaknesses at the base of the cliffs.  The apex of the turn from one canyon to another has an obvious stone and mortar wall tucked into it, an ancient stick poking straight out downcanyon, hinting at a far more elaborate and transitory structure during its prime almost 1000 years ago.  Closer examination reveals a gap between that wall and the cliff, through which a human can crawl, and access the walls beyond.  The jailhouse itself sits below these ledge rooms, invisible while you are seated above.  Small, oblong, slanted windows break the ledge walls at regular intervals, providing a narrow view of the rock slabs leading to the jailhouse.  Can we call them anything other than arrow slits?  They’re aimed with rude, jarring immediacy down to the approach slopes, places anyone wanting to approach (or leave) the jailhouse would have no choice but to cross.  And as if to further argue back against any thesis that this was not a defensive, defendable structure, you have the face.


Painted at the height of a standing modern human’s head, the face (and the swirling, multicolored disc 20 feet to the left) are pointed such that anyone walking down the canyon could never miss them.  I struggle to grasp a plainer message of watchfulness, defensiveness, perhaps of hostility.


Further down canyon, in Grand Gulch proper, I had seen many ruins built up in near impossible locations.  Rooms set into ledges, like the one at jailhouse, but high up near the canyon top.  Places built with rocks and mortar, places easy to see but difficult to get to, and impossible to sneak towards, places whose approach today would seemingly demand a rope or ladder.  Places where you wonder how on earth they gathered the water mixing mortar would have required.  Places whose effort, or both construction and getting to and from, would have made them rather less then friendly to everyday life, when that life involved tending corn in floodplains and stalking bighorns and deer with stone arrowheads.  

Today we know, or think we know, that these canyons were the late fringe of the civilization that blossomed in more logical places, like Mesa Verde, closer to the mountains, to more predictable water and presumably to more consistent hunting.  These people were also linked to the less logical, from a subsistence perspective, Chaco Canyon.  The historical weight and, from a modern perspective, mystery of Chaco and its inhabitants still vibrates the air when you visit.  Relative to the harsh, innocuous environment the buildings seems massive.  The rockwork, a millenia later, is still fine.  Do some study and you learn that the great kivas were roofed with timbers that must have weighed hundreds of pounds and had to have been carried 50 or more miles from the nearest such forests.  We also know, or think we know, that this civilization dispersed and fell apart in violence.  Our vague modern certainty is that survivors fled to places like Cedar Mesa, and brought their scars and paranoia with them.  It makes for a colored, if compelling, reading of a place like jailhouse ruin.


Grand Juan Honaker logistics

This is a logical extension of classic loop we traveled five years ago; down the Honaker trail, packraft the San Juan River to Grand Gulch, and hike that and some association of side canyons back to the mesa top.  Riding a bike from any of those trailheads down the highway and Moki dugway to the Honaker trailhead is an enjoyable and expeditious way to shuttle with only one car.  In my case, I left my bike at the Bullet Canyon trailhead, which made for a 26 mile bike shuttle.

You need two separate permits for this loop; one for the river, and one for Grand Gulch.  Between November 1 and February 28 the later are unlimited and self-serve at trailhead kiosks.  During the warmer parts of spring and fall there is a 20 quota per trailhead, per day.  These can be reserved, online, 90 days out.  Looking through March and April of this year, availability is widespread, save for Kane Gulch and Bullet Canyon on April weekends.  San Juan permits are unlimited outside the lottery season, April 15 through May 15.  I had ~670 cfs (at Bluff) for this recent trip, which for a packraft was more than adequate, if notably slow once morning headwinds kicked up.  Looking at historic averages, I think this part of the San Juan is floatable year round, though isolated evidence of shelf ice suggests it might start to freeze up during the coldest depths of winter.


The top of Cedar Mesa is above 6000 feet, making snow in the upper sections not uncommon and potentially problematic, especially on north facing aspects.  Pictured above is the “crux” of Bullet Canyon, after 2 inches of snow fell the night before.  I went through around 3pm, after the midday sun had melted things down, and before the snow refroze and ceased to be sticky.  A few hours earlier or later would have made the going trickier, as the people and dog (!) ahead of me seemed to have found (zoom in for the flail tracks).  It is certainly possible that sections like this would have enough snow to be impassable without a rope and/or specialized experience.   That said, the river straddles 4000 feet and overall daytime temperatures during November and February are usually quite pleasant.  I did bring a drysuit, which made floating during 3 hours of steady rain tolerable.

At low flows the San Juan is mellow and accessible for almost any level of skill and any boat.  I brought my small boat to save weight on the hiking, which was a good choice.  The character of the river does change notably below Slickhorn Canyon, transitioning from a muddy mountain stream, with a gravel and cobble bottom and sequential riffle where you’d expect, to a true desert river with a sticky sand bottom.  Much like with the Dirty Devil or Little Missouri, the San Juan could be 50 yards wide with only a small floatable channel right against either bank.  I’ve long since passed the point where negotiating such things have novelty.


Grand Gulch itself is a unique canyon, and a somewhat odd companion to its neighbor, Slickhorn.  Slickhorn climbs steeply and moves through its phases fast; Grand Gulch is at least 4 times as long, climbs gradually (save at the very start and very end), and has a spectacular number of bends and abandoned meanders.  For varieties sake I couldn’t help climbing out the northern fork of Water Canyon and walking the plateau over to the Government Trail, which I took back into the canyon.  This was a highlight, both the rugged route finding and big views up top (one can see the Bear’s Ears, Monument Valley, Navajo mountain, and Mount Ellen all at once).  Grand Gulch from the Government Trail up to Bullet is remarkably uniform, with a 10 foot wide sand bottom windy between brushy banks with almost no breaks or obstacles.  There is a lot of cool canyon architecture and rock art to see in this stretch, but the scenery and walking impressed with their uniformity and general turgidity.  My legs were heavy after the Water Canyon excursion, and the day after, going past Dripping and Step Canyons, I had a struggle keeping in the moment and a generally positive mindset.

It is also worth highlighting that, due to limited visibility down amongst the trees and the lack of outstanding features, keeping track of your location/progress is more nuanced than usual in canyon country (that is, assuming I’m not the only backpacker left who avoids GPS).


I did find the scenery and walking up Bullet to be exceptional, a fitting highlight on which to end the trip.  The history here, to be addressed later, is absolutely something to return to, even if the additional floating and walking of Grand Gulch, relative to Slickhorn, does not make it the highest quality of additions.

Essential skills: garment side seams

A wee bit of sewing know-how is handy in the outdoor realm.  And not just for fixing stuff, though that is a subject I will get to over the next month, but for the slightly more advanced (conceptually, if not always skills-wise) realm of modifying gear.  Today we will confine ourselves to the introductory topic of altering the torso size of jackets and vests by taking in and (bonus points!) expanding the side seams.

Garment fit is not a matter to be taken lightly.  Sub-optimal fit makes pieces less thermally efficient, less cohesive while layering, and more annoying (flapping in the wind. etc).  If you have a body type or fit preferences which fall outside the norm, your are generally stuck with either just getting by, or perhaps shopping around to find a company whose patterning might better suit you, a potentially protracted and expensive procedure which is by no means a sure thing.  Modifying garment fit is a surefire way to address this issue.   I don’t have this problem, as I generally fit just fine in anything labeled medium, though sleeve length and hood size are both often a bit lacking.  My favorite application of altering torso fit is, rather, to alter garments which aren’t my size that I have managed to purchase for cheap.  In either case techniques are the same.

For the past few months I’ve been exploring a Patagonia Stretch Terre Planing hoody as a replacement for my BD Alpine Start windshell.  The Terre has promise in this area, with one glaring flaw in the voluminous torso size.  Mid-waist circumference (in medium) is 3.5 inches more than the Alpine Start, which is itself on the generous side of something meant to go over a midlayer or two, but not allow too much heat loss via flappage.  The Terre is meant for ocean sports, and presumably the added volume is to fit over a kiteboarding harness, but given the otherwise excellent fit (long arms and torso, excellent hood) something needed to be done.  Thankfully the Terre has what most jackets and vest have; vertical seams up the center of each side right under the nadir of the underarm.

The mod is basic: measure (several times), do your math right, turn the jacket inside out, sew a vertical seam up parallel to each existing seam to take the desired amount in (taper up to the arm pit in the last ~2″), trim the excess (to a 1/2″ to 3/8″ seam allowance), singe the fabric edges, then turn the garment back right side out, fold the seam over, the fell (i.e. sew flat) parallel to your new seam to hold the excess in place and add strength.  The Terre fabric is thinnish and stretchy, with this later characteristic making stress on individual seam holes more acute as I’m sewing with non-stretch thread.  Felling the seam is a good call with such fabrics, or with fabrics like fleece who often don’t hold on to seams as well as more unified products.  The end result, shown at top, doesn’t need to be super pretty or exact, just straight enough, and tight.  Get the fit right and you’ll forget about the mod and go about your outdoor life.

Extra effort is in order when things like hem cinch cords have to be relocated.  If the cord tunnel goes all around the hem, you’ll have to pull that seam out, do the above, then resew the tunnel without sewing the cord into the seam or anything similarly silly.  In the case of the Terre to tunnel ended at the middle seam, so I felled it forward (towards the zipper) to make things easier.  I had to relocate the little anchor loop for the cord lock, something I put off until I was felling the seam.  With the seam locked in it was easy to just stuff a little fabric loop into the fell and triple pass along the way.

It is less probable that you’ll want to take a whole jacket in all the way up the sleeves, but the same procedure can in theory be used here.  It is more complex, as cuffs are usually more complicated to take apart and put back together, and sleeve patterning is less likely to feature a straight seam off which to benchmark.  I am much more likely to pin when taking in a sleeve, as the amount you’ll be reducing tends to vary, and the margin for error is far less (as a percentage of the whole).


Adding girth is more complicated, but possible via essentially the same process.  My favorite example is this early 90s ish Patagonia vest I found 2 years ago in a Butte thrift store for 50 cents.  It’s a small, and I while I could technically wear it function and style demanded it be big enough to layer over something like a heavy fleece.  The tricky parts were color matching the salmon fleece inside the collar (came close after 40 minutes in Joannes), splitting the sides in a non-messy way (the outer shell is some kind of monolithic poly WPB laminate, with ~80 grams/meter Polarguard and a taffeta liner), and dealing with the drawcord cinch around the arms holes.  In this case I sewed the whole sandwich of materials shut, then sewed the fleece strips to each before felling as mentioned above.  I punted on extending the cinch sleeves across the fleece panels, as that wasn’t really necessary to preserve function.  A nice bonus here is that a pair of jacket sleeves always has enough length to make side panel additions.  A few years ago I found a woman’s large Nano Air jacket for $10, older, but in very fine shape.  This one I could not really wear at all, so after a bit of playing around I cut off the sleeves, sewed the arm holes shut, and added 4″ wide panels to each side, giving me a functional vest for 10 bucks and 45 minutes of enjoyable futzing.

Most importantly, modifying (and repairing) things feels more satisfying in this transient, hyper-consumerist age.

Montana Senate Bill 143

The Montana state legislature is a peculiar, somewhat anachronistic critter.  Meeting for 90 days every other year, our state still has true citizen legislators.  This often means they lack what might be called expertise in certain subjects, but it also means that they are generally very accessible and open to public feedback.

Montana being Montana, outdoor and especially hunting related legislation garners much interest.  SB 143 is an example of something which gathered momentum very quickly, and I was sad to miss out on the first committee hearing yesterday afternoon (currently being stuck at home due to one of my clients testing positive for COVID).  It is a terrible piece of legislation, that would follow the example of several other western states (New Mexico being the clearest example) by setting aside a significant pool of elk and deer tags for those non-residents who contract with a guide.  As I will detail below, I think this issue goes well beyond simple questions of outfitter preference, and for that reason is very timely.  Currently we’re in wait and see mode, as to whether the bill will make it out of committee, and if so, how the senate might vote.  You can track this, and access contact info for the committee folks here; and read the bill at the bottom of this page.

Dear members of the Fish and Game committee:

I am writing to object to much of Senate Bill 143.  As a Montana hunter and resident I believe both that favoring outfitters with draw allocations is not desirable nor in the states interest, and that doing so would move Montana hunting in an unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable direction.

As you are no doubt aware hunting in the western US is in the midst of something of a paradoxical crisis.  Nationally, the number of hunters has been declining for some time, with the eldest two generations currently representing an outsized percentage of hunters.  This begs the question of a steep decline in hunting and conservation revenue, due to how strongly many Fish and Game departments rely on tag sales, and how far Pittman-Robertson revenue is embedded nationally.  At the same time, hunting demand in western states such as Montana has increased, or at the very least deepened, with the interests of what we might call core hunters significantly accelerating demand for limited-entry hunts.  In Montana it seems that most if not all non-resident deer and elk hunting will be in that category soon, if not already.

Montana residents have consistently and for a long time favored opportunity in their game management.  Opportunity in the specific sense of long seasons and modest if any restrictions aside from season itself.  Non-resident hunters lack the same consistency of voice, but anecdotally it seems they value the same thing in their visits to Montana.  Being able to hunt where, when, and largely as they wish promotes the independence of spirit out of which our collective nostalgia for hunting and the outdoor springs, and is congruent with the egalitarian spirit of the North American model of wildlife conservation.

The cliff upon which hunting currently sits has to do with demand, and demand for a certain kind of hunting experience.    Making those ways of hunting, hunting in big wild landscapes, hunting for animals in close to their ancient context, more difficult to access will do damage to hunting that will not be felt for decades.  For aspirant hunters concerned with context and experience, diminished opportunity is an enormous barrier to entry.  Simply put, being able to both purchase expertise via an outfitter, as well as purchase the opportunity itself via increased draw odds creates a both economic and logistical barrier that will not serve hunting well into the future.


Dave Chenault

Helena, MT

Click to access SB0143.pdf

Green straps

We have a new packraft strap color; emerald, with tan buckle. The green is a hair more vibrant than pictured above, soothing, but extra-natural enough that it won’t disappear if dropped in the bushes. Rainbow will remain an option, and I have one set of gold straps still hanging around. We also added, after making a few on request over the past year, the AK strap; a full 30 inches longer than the standard strap for those exceptional loads.

Canny readers will also note that I snuck the Tamarisk product page, and custom pack page, on to the nav bar the other week. Tamarisks will be in stock when they are, but all the components are on the premises and I have already started piecing them together. The intention is the have ~15 go live at once. Once I have a better handle on that timeframe, I will add a few custom pack builds to the que.

The best thing

A new packraft is the most exciting piece of gear.  As of two days ago we have four in the gear room, and have owned six in total.  Skis have an outer purity of purpose, but in practice this is circumscribed to a startling extent by how sucky traction devices are, and how contextual proper snowpack has become in the 21st century.  Bikes are similarly boxed in by needing prepared surfaces, most of whom (for either practical or juridical reasons) are shaped by human imagination.  Waterways, by definition, are not; and a boat that can easily travel on foot from one body of water to the next allows for the ideal blend of human agency and immersing us in how thoroughly environment creates us.

The new boat is an Explorer 42 from Alpacka, its place in the quiver a larger, more whitewater capable, and cargo fly equipped version of the Double Duck we purchased (also in the holiday sale) 5 years ago, when we were only preparing for a family life on the water, rather than today, figuring out just how much we can do with two young kids.  Based on a 30 minute evening test paddle, it is big, stable, and carries two kids and one adult with ease.  I’m very excited to push it in all matters of challenging water this year.

The only thing more exciting is having a president that isn’t a thug and a narcissist.  Cheers everyone.

Black Diamond Hilight review

I’ve used the 2 person Hilight quite a bit in the last year, with performance quite as I expected it to be, perhaps one or two things surprising. This makes for something of a dull write up; it is a quality tent, well conceived, with defined limits. There a few things that could be done better, but so long as one chooses it wisely, the Hilight will make for a good shelter.

Dimensions are the first concern, and really the only area where I think Black Diamond went wrong in the design. 82 inches is simply too short for anyone of average (5’8″ or more) height. I fit in the Hilight, sleeping diagonally when using it as a solo tent, which is how I imagine 90+ of people use it. That is fine, but I think it would make more sense to stretch it a bit, while making it narrower, perhaps even symmetrical. Rather than being 82 inches long, 42 inches wide at the foot, and 50 inches wide at the head, give it the 87 inch length of the Eldorado, and a uniform 48, 46, or even 44 inch width. Two people are going to be in full bivy/alpine mode using the Hilight anyway, so going halfway to providing comfortable room doesn’t seem logical, when a longer and narrower footprint would only be better for both a duo and a soloist.

I’ve been quite pleased with the performance of the Hilight. Snowshedding is a natural strength of little wedge tents like this one, with the near vertical lower walls, and while I (somewhat annoyingly) avoided big snow storms on trips this past, modest snowfalls sluff off unnoticed. I anticipate performance in heavier snows to be more than acceptable. Performance in wind is a bigger question with wedge, and with the Hilight especially, given the wing pole over the doors. In sustained 30-40 mph winds the Hilight has proven very stable, especially when the side guy points are used. It is a very quiet tent under these conditions, with impressively little movement. I look forward to testing it, the wing pole especially, in harsher conditions, but realistically those don’t happen very often. I’d currently take the Hilight most anywhere, anytime in the mountains and be comfortable that with reasonable sight selection and prep I’d do fine.

Ventilation and condensation, and mild weather performance generally, has been an area of unexpected strength and satisfaction. Seeking ease of pitch and total bug protection I took the Hilight on a weeklong packraft trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon, as well as on an early September elk hunting trip on the prairie badlands of eastern Montana. The former trip ended up being quite warm, somewhat rainy, and had a huge number of ticks. It was really nice to zip into my tent after an evening when I pulled half a dozen or more bloodsuckers off me, and nicer still to have good venting for a whole rainy evening and wake up with almost no condensation. The Middle Fork isn’t a humid environment, but on a permitted river tip one often camps out of necessity closer to the water than ideal moisture management would dictate, and in the Hilight this just wasn’t an issue, due to both the generous venting and the fabric. It was very warm on the elk hunt, and still buggy, which had me appreciating a full tent rather than a tarp, with a full panel of mesh I could leave open to the wind on nights that barely got into the 50s.

Because the venting is so effective, and because resewing and sealing will be a bit of a job, I have yet to get around to cutting the top tunnel vent out. I remain convinced the big, dual flaps make it redundant, but have yet to actually conduct that experiment. Even if I can drop 6 ounces from the canopy, the Hilight is never going to be the choice for truly light and fast trips, unless they involve multiple nights camped on deep snow. Being able to stomp a platform, then use your poles to anchor one side and your skis the other makes this type of tent the clear choice for deep snow camping and ski mountaineering. I would like the corner stake loops to be just a hair bigger. The 104mm wide tails of my spring skis just barely do not fit, though adding cord loops is no big deal.

The accessorizing of the Hilight is something I appreciated every time I used it this past year. As mentioned in the initial post, the stakes are excellent. It is nice to not have to replace, or augment, the stock stakes of a new $400 tent. The guyline is also high quality, and reflective, something I appreciated deeply on the second night of the elk hunt, when darkness and a final futile stalk caught me 3 miles from my tent on a very dark night. I had pitched it atop a knoll precisely to manage this eventuality, but with no moon each knob and ridge becomes like the others, and in my very tired state I was really psyched when my headlamp picked up glowing cord across the coulee, especially as my stash of food and water was inside. In gnarly conditions one could use more cord, but one might well go years with the stock amount being entirely adequate.

There are a lot of lighter, in some cases drastically lighter, double wall tents newly on the market which pencil out as functionally very close to the Hilight. For a lot of users those options, with less robust fabrics, fussier pitches, and worse weather resistance, are probably a better option. I just like the Hilight, added weight be damned, because it is both (surprisingly) versatile, and because it has every appearance of lasting a decade or more. Shelter options are interesting, but I don’t find them especially sexy, and having the Hilight available to tick every non-family tent box I require is both a practical and aesthetic virtue.

On managing

Our town is wonderful for many reasons, not least of which is it being just east of the Continental Divide and right amongst the westernmost tendrils of the prairie. Proper contiguous mountains, with mountain snowpack, is right beyond the horizon, while our valley winter is often clear, brisk, and low snow. Sun has been more prominent than usual the past month, bleeding the sage and ponderosa forests dry and creating unusual conditions. I have one route further east, which I’ve been pondering for eight years or so, and the current hard and dry, cool but not cold conditions got me looking at maps last week and, as they often do, things fell together after hours of looking at the maps, and the clean, logical, and stylish way to go through that area was obvious. Some rushed gear prep, and I was ready to go, until the day before, when I woke with fatigue that didn’t dissipate through the morning, and for the past few days have been home with a cold, rather than out sleeping under the odd juniper or cottonwood.

It has been a long time since I’ve been sick; close to if not over a year. In light of the volume, sustained nature, and overall magnitude of the past year’s stress this is simply astounding. Writing it, now, sitting upstairs, looking out at snow tinkling down and recalling the toilet paper rush, stay at home order, learning to do my job all over again, and then the cascading case numbers, election and attempted coup, I wonder that I survived at all. Then I recall that humans generally survive things because they have no other palatable, actionable alternative, and that over the past year I have done a lot of things right.

The first thing I did back in the third week of March was jettison my morning workout schedule. All winter I had woken an hour before everyone else to carry a weighted pack around the neighborhood in the dark. More sleep, and more time with M after the kids had gone to bed, were both more important for stress management, and almost immediately I had enough spare time to ski and build stone walls in the yard, so physical exertion and time outside were not in shortcoming. This has remained the schedule to this day. Not good for the consistency of my aerobic fitness (something which, frankly, bugs my ego far more than it prevents me from doing things I would like to do), but very good for my head and our family integrity. M and I celebrated our 17th anniversary while in Utah this past October. We’ve always been good at experiencing intimacy and contentment while doing not much at all, something that has been invaluable during the many blank evenings this winter, when the weight of the heaving world had us capable of little but sitting and weighting for disparate parts of ourselves to catch up and stick themselves back on.

Another thing that was quickly cast off the essentials list was a few layers of essential daily order. Those who have been guests over the years know that we are not tidy people, and that has increased to an extent that would be appalling were the benefits of simpler headspace not so indispensable. In years past I’ve been fanatical about unpacking, organizing and maintenance, precisely because one can never predict when those perfect conditions just snap into place, and tweaking a modified bike drivetrain or regluing skins 48 hours before departure is far less than ideal. But, one of things I’ll carry out of 2020 is that things being less than ideal do not prevent just going and still thriving. A week before we put on the Salmon this May my drysuit had the same torn ankle gasket it had had for 18 months, and the latex booties I glued on worked well and proved an essential addition (until the seam tape inside the legs started delaminating after the third hot spring soak; those who have seen my old drysuit will not find that surprising).

My current fatigue is the logical outgrowth of 10 months running close to empty, something pushed over by the horror of January 6th. Stress and its children, anxiety and depression, are logical entities, but they do not work in a linear fashion, and their timeline is usually one that does not easily accommodate human impatience and apprehension. Indeed, this aspect of mental health is the first which comes to mind when I look for an example of how our self-referential, solipsistic quest to achieve definitive self-understanding through genetics will always come up short. There are no backwards facing answers to managing anxiety and depression. Managing symptoms day to day creates space, longer term, for both new habits and for resolution with the past. Sometimes that resolution comes through understanding, and sometimes it amounts to nothing more specific than a vague assurance that this uncomfortable part of ones personhood will remain in the shadows, a source of fear and pain, but at least predictable.

As a nation and a world we’re on the cusp of a dangerous time, with the vaccine campaign and departure of President Trump likely to provide a painful reminder that even the most momentous and deservedly anticipated events are, in moments of heightened need, all but guaranteed to fall short. No switch will click and tell us when things have returned to normal (emotionally an impossibility), or when to start seeking out old comforts and putting them back in to new lives. Perhaps proper leadership will create spaces for community spirit, that will in turn make moving on in life less defensive, more supported, and thus more likely to be properly deliberative (the denial embodied in knee-jerk “reopenings” early this summer would be an example of the exact opposite). But, in the US at least we have a pile of bad habits to undo, something that will not happen easily.

For my own part, looking down into the backyard as snow accumulation just starts to become visible, I have embodied evidence of both extremes. April was a good month for yard projects, as M and I appropriately sought grounding in one of the most direct and literal things we could control. I added lines to my hands in the process of that chainsawing, digging, and rock carrying, and both on me and on the ground the results should endure for a lifetime. I can also look out and see the mess which has accumulated through more recent inaction, and it is difficult in that mess to not see impatience for moving on. Things left undone are both evidence of a world pulled apart, as well as how well we did to hold it together under extraordinary circumstances. The most important thing is not loose either in the rush towards a more congenial future.

The next year

I did not much miss travel this past year.  Or, to be more precise, I was more than content with staying in Montana (two trips excepted), and ran out of both energy and creativity before I ran out of options.  As I think about 2021, my eye keeps coming back to the home state, and the many places I would still like to go, and the ways I might fit those trips into the next 12 months.  My resolution from the beginning of the pandemic has only grown stronger, after a summer of a few intensely memorable trips within a couple hundred miles of home.

So why not do more of those?

There is a mountain range near to town, which tends to hide in plain sight, and has some truly exceptional canyons and trails that very few human eyes ever see.  I’ve done a few trips there, each one having been exceptional, and while I’ve yet to settle on the exact route, something a little more extensive in early summer will be a priority.  I’ve made a reservation to spur me along towards that end.  I’ll share impressions when it happens, but never details, there being enough knows out in the world as is.

There are also a lot of rivers in Montana, with many hiding in plain sight once they put the mountains below the horizon.  Again I have no definitive plans, but with the smaller child getting big enough that backpacking will become ever more difficult, the boating phase of family development should be in full force this year.  We bought a canoe this past year, and have another packraft on the way in a few weeks, so we should use them a bunch.  On that note, a full Escalante float really ought to happen this year.

And on the subject of packrafting, there are still two major creeks in Glacier I have yet to float.  And I’m pretty certain that both of them will be very worthwhile.  Restrictions in the park this past year took both off the table, so there is a special urgency and poignancy to being able to get into those pieces of backcountry, one of whom is amongst the handful of named drainages in the park into which I have never set foot.  And on the subject of packrafting, a year with minimal socialization has me contemplating the privilege of being around likeminded folks.  Spending the summer solstice in the center of the universe with the relevant folks and as much beer as we dare to carry is an idea that won’t quite leave my head.


I am also hopeful of, finally, having some more packs go out the door.  Tamarisk 0.2, above, is headed out the door tomorrow.  While I did not intend to put a full year of testing into version 0.1, having the confidence that it both works so well across applications and that the individual components hold up so well is an unexpected luxury.  Mark 0.2 is a wee bit bigger (as requested) than 0.1, and than the production model will be.  It scales nicely, looks good, and carries (with the final alterations to the hipbelt) even better.

On that commercial note, I should mention that stock of gold packraft straps has grown quite thin after the holiday surge. 3 pairs, to be exact. Anyone who has been wedded to that color but not moved to act ought to do so now. Anyone with thoughts about what color should appear next, to compliment the rainbow (which will be stocked perpetually), do comment.

Dear Senator Daines..

I am writing you, this morning, in hopes that you will support and promulgate impeachment proceedings against our current President, Donald Trump. After the past two months it is, quite frankly, the very least you can do to make amends.

You carry significant, invisible burdens sir, of that I am well aware. Not only do you currently sit in Tom Walsh’s seat, Lee Metcalf’s seat, Max Baucus’ seat, you used to sit in Jeannette Rankin’s seat. Your place in history has largely taken from you the opportunity to come close to your predecessors in accomplishment. Instead, your career in congress seems likely to fall in line with those of your party colleagues Rick Hill, Conrad Burns, and Denny Rehberg, who if remembered with any specificity will be recalled for their graft and mediocrity. Demographics, and the cultural changes which accompany them, have placed mountain states in a subservient and defensive role. Guarding federal subsidies and rural culture is not illustrious work, something which surely at least partially excuses your thin record of legislative achievement over the past 7 years.

Your first senate election was a gimme, in light of Mr. Walsh’s resignation, after his plagiarism scandal. And it was presumably out of fear that, around a year ago, you hitched your wagon to the presidents. This worked, and it is my hope that the enhanced legitimacy which must come with having defeated a formidable opponent by a surprisingly large margin will allow you to act more freely as a senator.

Montana is at a crucial place as a state; moving towards securing a second congressperson, as well as an economic future which is beyond both extractive industry and tourism, and which preserves both the physical and mental landscape that makes it unique and desirable. While your public land bonafides are inconsistent, I take it at face value from your ads that you know how to shoot a rifle, and have abundant first hand evidence that big wild places are the most valuable and fragile material capitol that Montana will ever have. Preserving this, for my kids and your grandkids, amidst the crux of accelerating population growth, is a task the equal of Senator Walsh’s antitrust work, and of Senator Metcalf’s public lands work.

Which brings us to impeachment. I think it obvious to say that the inevitable crystalized into the present yesterday; President Trump has never been a Republican, he has only ever been for himself, and has been singularly ruthless (by any past standard in American politics) in choosing vehicles to further himself. This is anathema in a republic, precisely because the most democratic aspects tend to encourage immoderation and blatant myopia. Trumpism, as a nostalgic embodiment our the national id, will endure irrespective of what happens in the next several weeks. It is your responsibility, as an elected member of the explicitly less democratic branch of the legislature, to safeguard the future of America and facilitate the quickest and most definitive death for Trumpism that circumstances and history will allow. Baring the President from holding future elective office is the best way to do this. In a democracy the people are allowed to make poor choices, one of which may well prove to be electing you, if you continue to play the dangerous sycophant. In a republic elected representatives are allowed, and are indeed supposed to, steer the ship of state with an eye towards the horizon.

It is time sir, to grab the wheel. This window will not long remain open.