National Parks; the future is still now

The national parks are crowded, or rather, they have been.  The pandemic reduced and altered visitation in potentially unexpected ways which are worth pondering.  Anecdotally, visitation is back close to or has exceeded the previous records, which were generally set in the latter half of the last decade.  This seems to be the COVID outdoor boom complimenting and exacerbating the already-in-progress parks and hiking boom, itself set in motion by the yet to be fully quantified combination of social media culture, industrial tourism, and urban malaise.

Glacier National Park has, this summer, been both an exception and an adherent to this trend.  This spring Glacier responded to government COVID policy, pandemic related staffing challenges, and the long standing crowding issues in the park with a ticketed entry and shuttle bus system.  Advanced tickets are required to go through either of the main park entrances between 0600 and 1700, and additional tickets are required to ride the shuttle buses which service Going to the Sun Road, and have historically made parking and point to point dayhikes easier to manage.  The number of total tickets made available in unclear, with the park claiming various numbers at various times, and suggesting the totals may be revised upwards as possible.  The caveat, which the park service was strident in advertising, has been that they did not anticipate parking shortages in popular areas to be much addressed by the tickets, rather they were attempting to prevent the cluster of last summer, when cars backed the .86 of a mile to the highway, with safety concerns requiring road closures

The tickets entry system appears to have exceeded expectations here.  M and I visited the park on a weekly basis from 2010 to 2016, when we lived in either Whitefish or Kalispell, and have never seen parking along the road as widely available as it has been in the past month.  Traffic in the park generally appears to be reduced, as well.  We’ve found mid-day weekend parking at Logan (not Logan’s) Pass on multiple occasions with less than 5 minutes of circling, ready parking at Sunrift Gorge at 1000 on a Sunday, and scored a campsite at Two Medicine having arrived just before noon on a Saturday.  Conclusive evidence this is not, but for me also far exceeds the threshold of the mere anecdote.  Rocky Mountain National Park implemented a broadly similar system this summer, and other parks with similar crowding and traffic issues, such as Arches, are considering it.

Glacier has been quite candid that the pandemic is simply the catalyst, or excuse, to put this into practice.  It is past time.  As I wrote four years ago, the park service has for decades been failing in its full mission, providing a volume of experiences increasingly lacking in quality and depth.  This is a global phenomenon, with places as diverse as Venice and New Zealand publicly debating how to make tourism a sustainable basis for their economies and ways of life.  The NPS’ mandate is not explicitly financial, but visitor management will be intimately tied to the policies and futures of the states and communities in which the parks reside.  No one, no one who can find a room or table that is, will prefer the Springdale, UT of today to the one of 15 years ago.  Crowding in the front country flattens the economy of a place into sameness, plain, efficient, reassuring, sameness.  The same crowding in the backcountry takes away, past a certain point, the unhuman novelty from which parks (and wild places, generally) get their appeal.

The question now is which way forward.  In Glacier, lots of people are protesting, about the inconvenience of more carefully planning their trip, of having to bend their schedules to that of anything else, or loosing money to the tourists that go somewhere more “free.”  This is the myopic American ideal of freedom, which can’t see out of its cloud well enough to avoid large trees.  My hope is that the NPS will continue their current path, and let the details evolve while the assumption of limited, higher quality visitation slowly becomes taken for granted.

Montana stream access law and use

The fact of increased outdoor recreation in Montana, prompted by the pandemic and ancillary effects, has yet to be fully established.  Compelling evidence has begun to accumulate, in things like real estate prices, hunting tag applications, and forest service cabin reservations.  What has already been firmly established is the appearance and assumption of increased recreation pressure, and one of the more notable impacts thus far has been increased signing along streams and rivers.  Because of this, and what I will call aggressive signage practice, it is worth examining Montana stream access law in detail.

One can read the law itself, which is remarkably concise and direct, here.  One can read an exhaustive and illuminating historical overview of the law here.  One can read a more concise and modern, political discussion of the history here.

I was in graduate school taking a winter term course on the state legislative process in January 2009, and got well side tracked from lobbying about sex offender treatment by the bridge bill controversy, a series of competing bills which ultimately was resolved by codifying access to waterways via any public road bridge.  Talking to Kendall Van Dyk, then state representative and now with the Montana Land Reliance, I didn’t really get it.  After years of floating and exploring Montana rivers and streams, I do get it.  In the Curran case (discussed below) the Montana Supreme Court stated that “…any surface waters that are capable of recreational use may be so used by the public without regard to streambed ownership or navigability for recreational purposes.”  This broad ruling is massively significant for the scope of present and future access it provides, but for many of the rivers and creeks in Montana, that access is significantly truncated without meaningful accessibility.  

The Dearborn River is an ideal example.  At top is Little Cloud, looking cute on the lower Dearborn this past weekend.  Virtually all of the Dearborn outside the Bob flows through private land, and because of Montana law, anyone can float, fish, and camp along it provided they do so below the ordinary high water mark.  Were it not for access from the 3 highway bridges, this ~50 mile stretch of river would not be accessible to the public.  The Dearborn was the river in question during the Curran case, which involved a rancher with extensive holding attempting to exclude public use within his property boundaries.  Fortunately, the supreme court used the case to establish very broad and deeply rooted stream access rights.KIMG0075 (2)

The picture above was taken the same day, along the Dearborn, about 3 miles before it empties into the Missouri.  It is the most egregious example of many I’ve seen the past month, of signage aggressively suggesting if not outright intruding into what is technically public ground, that is, ground below the ordinary high water mark.  In the past 12 months, be it along the Dearborn, North Fork of the Blackfoot, or North Fork of the Flathead, relatively high traffic rivers with patchwork private holdings have seen a significant increase in both signage, and in aggressive sign placement.  

Fortunately, there are easy fixes.  First, educate yourself on the law, and obey it.  Recognize that many rivers, like the Dearborn, aren’t going to have many appealing campsites truly below the high water mark.  Avoid being one of the majority of campers who push this limit.  Also recognize that many rivers, like the N Fork of the Flathead, won’t have many good camps below the high water mark when the water is in fact high.  At 9000 cfs options will be limited, so plan on camping on a patch of forest service land.  Second, report violations like the one above.  Fish and Wildlife can hear about what amounts to fisherperson harassment.  One can also, via the Montana Cadastral, look up the property owner and contact them directly to politely request legal and neighborly signage and fencing (the wire above is owned by Mr. Brady Vardemann, 12208 Greenwood Ave N Seattle WA).  

If the legal history of stream access in Montana has taught us nothing else, it is that nothing short of constant vigilance can guard against erosion of this right.

 

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.  

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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?

Trip meta-planning

There are a lot of backcountry trip planning resources out there, including plenty I’ve written myself.  It is something of a fashionable thing among those of us who know too much, and a good way for those who monetize content to avoid yet another version of that same article which features how to, the best, and at least 2 digits all in the title.

On the one hand this is good.  It is easy to forget how hard the obvious used to be; things like bringing enough but not too much food, or hiking uphill on a chilly, windy day without either sweating or getting cold.  Explaining the details of fundamentals, aka teaching, helps the teacher understand and not take dogma as rote.

On the other hand planning as logistics and gear selection is reductive, in most occasions.  You are not going on a trip to not be (too) cold, you are going on a trip to learn or facilitate or achieve some far more ephemeral thing.  Identifying that can go a long ways towards purity of purpose, which can make the trip itself more enjoyable.

To immediately argue with myself; moreso than with most things there is immense and irreducible virtues in the process of finding purpose in adventure out the long way.  I’ve long been adamant here that the big virtue of backcountry endeavors is the diminution of our personhood, in the ways it is subsumed in context.  For the 21st century soul this is often a deeply novel and disconcerting thing, something I mention to both normalize that anxiety as well as suggest that finding comfort in that vastness is as worthy an end as it is elusive.  Ambiguity is healthy here.

When I think about recent trips, this one stands out as one where I achieved great satisfaction from knowing my purpose well, and because I was able to adjust in the field to prioritize the parts of my original plan which lay closest to my goal.  The day of that trip I recall with least fondness, the second, was entirely on trail and given over to making miles, after the initial paddle that morning.  Going into the trip I knew that big miles was not a way to my primary goal, nor was it something I was well prepared for.  I don’t regret that day of walking, because it set me up so well for days 3 and 4, which were very much on purpose.  The whole experience has endured as a lesson in sacrificing ambition for focus, something which is ever more difficult to do when the stakes and specialness of a trip are high.

My canyon trip a few months ago is another, rather different example.  It did not have quite the same stakes in the planning of Isle Royale, simply due to travel distance, but I also knew that the Colorado Plateau is far enough away that this would be one of two, maybe three trips there this year.  I spent a lot of time in the lead up trying to maximize the route, to make it as rad and unique as possible.  In the end I let that ideal slide away, in favor of a route that was more known and logistically and conceptually simpler.  The primary goal of that trip was not, in the end, to push and expand my knowledge, skills, or experience, but to honor my 40th birthday in a way I knew I would never find wanting in retrospect (family divergence in birthday celebrations having been something M and I have struggled to consistently unite in our marriage).  On those grounds I succeeded, even if the route itself would not, for a variety of reasons, make my personal top 10 of Utah backpacks.

In the end, clarity of purpose not only makes backcountry trip planning simpler and the trips more satisfying, the practice itself is an invaluable act of self knowledge.

A trail quiz

First, a quiz: which of the following trails have seen human work and construction, and which never have?

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Second; animal trails are very important for backcountry walkers.  They always form the most efficient route from one place to another, the trick is finding enough of the animal mind to know what and where those places are.  Just the other week an elk trail took me to a major spring I never knew existed, despite having walked within a quarter mile of it on close to ten separate occasions.  That seemingly year-round water source reshuffles how I think about that particular nexus of ridges and canyons.  Geology moves water, water realigns animal activity, and some mix of both creates how humans came to see, know, and travel through wild landscapes.  It is a lot simpler, while tired and hot and counting the hours to an iced coffee, to leave the moment while walking a human trail.  Grades tend to be more predictable, footing more secure, routing more homogenous.  All of these have often been on the landscape so long that the antecedent influence of the landscape disappears.

This distinction will be an important one in 2021.  Visitation and general interest in the wild world was climbing in the decade prior to the pandemic.  Having the state of the world throw the virtues of being outside in ones face has, anecdotally and as far as the data can suggest, wrought a large and potentially lasting increase in outdoor engagement.  It has also, it would seem, provided both the time and the impetus for contemplating this part of our national landscape.  

It is easy to forget what Thoreau meant when we wrote “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Wildness here means, in brief, all that which is beyond the scope of human direction and imagination.  The more technocratic nature writers have, over the past 30 years, forgotten (or, I suggest while trying to withhold snideness, never gotten to know) the pragmatic side of wild places.  That regardless of lines we as humans draw on maps or in our laws, animals, plants, the landscape as a whole will continue to do as it wants, and if left largely alone in a big enough space, stay wild.  What each of us may find appealing is as Cronon says a “cultural invention,” but so is everything.  The basic subjectivity our any particular human experience with the wild does nothing to break up either the existence of the wild outside us, or it’s fundamental unknowability.

And that is, of course, the point.

Last, the answers: the first photo is a human trail, with the path cleared through the trees and cut logs being rather obvious; the second and third images are of the same elk trail, about a mile apart; the final image is on an official trail, but this particular stretch has not I think ever seen a tool.  The final three images were all carved by significant yearly elk traffic.  The bottom photo is within a major N-S running valley that is a major migration corridor.  There is only one logical place to put a trail in the alpine section of the valley.  The trail depicted in the middle two photos is ~4 miles long, and save for one steep hill could easily be ridden in a mountain bike.  It travels between a major water source and a series of sheltered south facing hillsides which form a significant bit of winter range for a small herd.  On the first photo, if you go back 200 years I reckon there was an elk, deer, and sheep trail right about where the current human path is cut, and these days I guess that many times more elk than humans walk it each calendar year.

The Maah Daah Hey

The US, and I imagine the world, needs more trails like this.  Strictly speaking the MDH has national park caliber scenery, as it passes through two units of a national park.  Theodore Roosevelt is an obscure national park, getting as many visits in a busy year as Glacier does in an average June, and probably wouldn’t have been designated at all had it not been so intimately associated with the most important conservationist in American history.  And that is the point.  The terrain of the Little Missouri badlands is subtle and immensely nuanced.  It is an easy place to overlook, and as the huge increase in gas pads and roads between this visit (in April 2019) and my first visit (October 2005) indicate, an easy place for the wild mind of the nation to forget, and by extension, neglect.  Long, immersive trails in other such locations would go a very long way towards fostering appreciation of and interaction with the many wild places that are still left, sandwiched between civilization.

That trip two years ago was a big deal.  It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head for over a decade, and is still unfinished.  It was the first big trip after a difficult winter acclimating to life as a parent of two kids, rather than one.  Due to fitness, I elected to walk rather than bike, and that slower pace, in theory less stylistic, made for a slower and more contemplative journey.  There isn’t much flat on the MDH, but even so the walking is easy and relaxing.  Floating the Little Mo is similarly simple right up to the edge of dullness, and thus all that trip I had hours to look and think, even more than usual on a solo backpack.

I’m looking forward to getting back, sometime.

Retirement

A few months ago I spent a day snowboarding.  It did not go as I had hoped.   The reversion to being a kid, and flailing on and off the lift and down the hill, was immediate.  I slid into trees, off on slope angles to where I did not want to go, caught an edge and crashed off of tiny rocks, and had the liftie run over and ask if I was ok, twice.  Whatever I’ve learned over the past 3 decades of mountain biking, climbing, skiing, boating, and backpacking blunted the fear of novelty and let me be aware of exactly how and why I was struggling in the moment, but it did not accelerate the learning process, at least not on day one.  Perhaps I’ve watched too many Jeremy Jones movies.  After a few days contemplation I made the decisive, and I think not hasty, call to retire from snowboarding after one day.  It took me long enough to feel competent skiing, and I am not exactly swimming in free time.   And for me, abundant time has always been requisite for learning any physical pursuit.

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I made the snowboard into a lawn couch, using some skis, cedar 2x4s from an old fence, and some juniper logs.  I’ve become especially enamored with the tight, kaleidoscopic grain of the Rocky Mountain Junipers which dot the ponderosa forests around here, and whose sandy, recalcitrant poise so easily echoes the same trees and their cousins, the Utah Juniper, down on the Colorado Plateau.  For aesthetic reasons, and because I was short plain boards that were long enough, I split one particularly tall and straight juniper log in half and built it into a shelf which now sits in the renovated mudroom, and holds a stack of totes which in turn hold the vital parts of our gear arsenal: climbing hardwear, ropes, and cooking kit in three bins on the floor, then a bin each for tents, pads, drysuits and bags, and then two bins each crammed with backpacks, before a final row of larger backpacks up against the ceiling.  It’s proved a expedient arrangement; get home from a trip, explode gear to dry and clean in the aisle between the shelves and the shoe bench, then put it all away without taking more than half a step.

I belabor this because, especially now as a family, we have a lot of interests, which means a lot of things which in the interest of efficiency need to stay separate but interlocking.  Car camping requires much of the same stuff as a week long backpack hunt; an overnight float trip many of the same things as a chilly afternoon at the bike park.  Flailing to find the right drybags is bad enough prepping for a solo trip.  If the small people are reluctant enough to get out the door, spending 20 minutes to find that tiny pair of black rainpants is simply not acceptable.  Time then isn’t just given over the skill building within the activity itself, the organization and logistics which make all of those activities possible requires a considerable, and ongoing, investment.  In this world new things do not come cheap, and the money to buy the stuff is, measured over years, the least of the concerns.

My mom recently retired, in the conventional sense, from over 40 years of being a psychotherapist.  They also recently closed on a house down the road, and are deep into conversations about what boat(s) will be required for this next phase of life.   It has been quite a few years since this trip, and my postscript summary has not changed; given the combination of ideal scenery, challenge, and execution, I cannot expect to ever have a better backpacking trip.  I could likely replicate the route, or the satisfaction, even the seamless experience on such all-encompassing terrain, and I have done all of those, quite a few times, but I don’t expect to outright exceed it.  At the time I wondered, rather idly, if I might retire from backpacking with satisfaction.  I’ve reached similar positions in climbing, mountain biking, and canyoneering, with a much reduced degree of mastery, and have been content to let them go.  In outdoor pursuits knowledge and experience persist, but fitness and the sharp edge which comes with submersion do not remain.

Perhaps it is that backpacking is the ur skill for all backcountry disciplines.  Perhaps it is that walking is so basic, and physically the area in which I am most gifted.  Perhaps it is the gift of circumstance, that in the Northern Rockies backpacking is the best thing to do, particular when skiing or packrafting or hunting are spread on top.  Most likely it is that backpacking is the most fun of all of these, not in the whoop adrenaline sense of gravity power, but in the less common, enduring sense of variation beyond human determination that, for this reason, is never subject to boredom.  Having gone beyond mastery, and to a large degree beyond novelty, I find myself as much concerned with style and with monitoring the passage of time, revisiting old favorites, as I do with anything else.  And of course I have people around who need to see certain things.

I can’t imagine retiring.

Returning

Last week, in The Atlantic, Ellen Cushing wrote that “…the only thing better than being a genius in a pandemic is being intellectually unencumbered by mass grief.”   This has become the cliche du jour, that (essentially) after a year of official pandemichood in the US, we have all been changed in ways that we are only just becoming able to understand.  I have certainly found this to be the case; as I reread last week’s post I couldn’t help but notice the unusual (even for me!) number of typos and instances in which my brain, separate entity that it often is these days, decided to switch track mid-clause.   As I wrote last week, we’ve gotten this far in the pandemic relatively unscathed.  I’ve actually learned quite a lot, and am confident I’ll look back on the past year with trepidation and fondness, once a bit more comfort of distance is mine.  I am also confident that the fog of anxiety, which was so all-consuming a year ago, when we were figuring out how this was going to work, and this past autumn, when we were waiting to see just how bad things would get, has altered my thinking and functioning in ways that will never be fully fixable.

Friday, March 13th, was the last normal day of school for us.  It had been a good week, a busy week, full of purpose.  A sunny week, until Friday, when it snowed.  I went skiing with a client during the 6th grade field trip, excited that this young lady, whose life had in the past month revealed itself to me as marked by islands on hope amidst a grey ocean of trauma, was moving towards being able to build herself, towards giving herself convincing and sustaining evidence that she would be in control of her life and herself.  After lunch, we rode the big lift to the summit of the mountain and she fought her doubt back down.  Another client would, a month later and over Zoom, reveal his arm in a cast, a fracture sustained on that ski trip which had gone undiagnosed for weeks.   I will always remember leaving school that Friday, jovially wrapped in the ignorance I had pulled ever more tightly around myself in the month before, as the Europe showed the western hemisphere what it was in for, and M filled our freezer with food and our closet with yes, toilet paper.

Here in our middle schools we just squeaked in under the 1 year mark, returning to a somewhat normal schedule this week.   Middle schoolers have not had an easy time of it the past year, perhaps, as a class, they have been the worst off.  This years sixth graders got all of the academic demands, and more, of the move to middle school with almost none of the structural support, and none of the social inducements.  Seventh graders, and especially, eighth graders, are all to aware of what they are missing, and have been deep in mourning for some time.  I have deep theoretical and policy objections to middle schools as such, but putting that aside leaves the pragmatic fact of this deeply awkward developmental period being, insofar as our public schools are primary agents of socialization, predicated upon peers and socialization driving the process.  Middle schoolers struggle to find school relevant absent social exposure, and not just because lunch and social time is the sugar on the medicine of math and writing and sex ed.

On the other hand, 12 year olds are blessed with both a more plastic sense of the world, and being not yet inured to bullshit in the ways adulthood demands.  They are both more capable of moving on with change, and less likely to pass poor reality into the background as something to accept by ignoring.  I’ve been busy this school year, and have now refined using unspecified anxiety and depression as COVID-specific, insurance approved diagnosis.  Many of my clients, especially the newer ones, do best with understanding just how and why their lives are not ok right now, and that they will find it simplest to figure out how to accept, for the moment, the unacceptable.

Acceptance is not the same as forgetting, nor is it a passive process.  I’ve learned this year that streaming Fortnite or Minecraft is a perfectly adequate substitute for in person socialization, if done intentionally.  The same games, and especially the less inherently social ones, can just as or even more easily be numbing.  Regression to the bliss of elementary school, and pruning down ones life to the basics, are in the pandemic entirely healthy, so long as self-awareness becomes involved at some point.  So too increased sleep, though the line here between self-care and avoidance is pencil-line thin.

Big people would do well to remember these lessons.  There will be lots of reasons to be tentative about our exit from the pandemic, and fear and failure and fear of change are, especially after a year spent swimming in ambiguity, just as reasonable as concern that lax behavior will bring about a resurgence in infections.

The B&P mentoring program

Donald Trump has shown, more starkly than almost anything else one could imagine, how deeply structural racial bias and discrimination has been and is, and how it remains in many or even most cases the pivot point for social power in the United States. After the past four years we know more about this, which is to say more about ourselves, than we would under any other circumstances.  Structural bias will in many cases erode away in the face of history, but very slowly, and with the potential for retrograde progress.  It is our responsibility to bend the curve of history, to help social justice along, in consistency and speed.

I’ve been guilty, for a long time, of thinking about wilderness ahistorically, as something which is a precondition for social justice.  I still think this is true, but all too often my assumptions have jumped from wilderness and wild pursuits being physically democratic, insofar as accessibility is concerned, to that accessibility being literally effective.  I grew up spending time outside with my family, going hiking and boating from a very early age.  It wasn’t until I started rock climbing at 12 that I felt ownership over my own learning in the outdoors, and that experience, supported by my family background (read; privilege) allowed me to move on and teach myself canyoneering, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, packrafting, and so forth.  Making the venue and information of and for a given wilderness pursuit accessible is one thing.  Making the self-certainty necessary to teach oneself out there in the wild is another.

That matter is something I would like to help address.

So I’m looking for mentees in 2021, for a small handful of people with aspirations for the backcountry whose background and situation will make achieving those goals more complicated than would be the case for someone like me.  I’m not placing definitive restrictions on the race, orientation, class, or ethnicity who I hope to work with here, but white men are not it.  Yes there has been a lot of attention given to minorities in the outdoors and to social justice within the industry, and a lot of that verbiage has been monolithic and cliched, but the broader point about social justice, that we are neither the agent or architects of the more profound influences on our lives, stands intact.  My hope and intention is to use my experience, something both created and expedited by the circumstances of my birth, to provide an analogous bit of assistance for folks whose place in history would not do the same.

What will this look like?  I don’t know, but am eager to go on a journey with a few folks and find out.  I envision folks having significant and extensive access to my time, over the phone or via Zoom, regarding their hopes, goals, and the personal and skill development they’ll need to get there.  If someone wants to climb the Grand Teton, for example, or packraft the Middle Fork of the Flathead, it is easy to write up a list of hard skills they’ll need to master.  It is less simple to even define the mental aspects and less tangible skills that will be equally essential.  Things like dealing with loneliness and fear; managing layers and bedding during a 48 hour rainstorm; finding a layering system that works to your tastes and physiology.  I envision my roll as having more to do with helping people figure out the most important questions, rather than the more basic process of defining answers.  Perhaps, schedules and COVID concerns allowing, some combination of us might be able to go on a trip, or a few.  If you are based in the vicinity of Helena, Montana, that convenience would allow for more instructional options.

So, if you fit the above criteria and have some adventure goals you think might dovetail well with my knowledge base, send an email to dave at bedrockandparadox dawt com, with Mentorship Application in the subject line, and tell me what your hopes are and how you think I would be effective in assisting you.  This last part is important.  Any reader who has been around a while should be quite familiar with my style, and I think I can assure everyone that my writing does a decent job of representing who I am as a person.  Like any teaching relationship, the person to person dynamic is as important as any more direct factor, and neither of us should waste each others time if it doesn’t seem like we would be a good fit.  That said, in applying I ask for no commitment save to me reading and you writing your words, each with care.

I have no basis for evaluating the interest, but I don’t envision the application period being open for long.  I will update in this post, and notify everyone via email.

Normal

This weekend Little Bear and I did something we hadn’t done for over a year; we made the drive down to Bozeman, hung out, ate good food, visited the dinosaur museum (aka the Museum of the Rockies), rode bikes, and went skiing.  We also made an unexpected, late drive back home through darkness and a few snow squalls after we found the road to the cabin unexpectedly drifted in, which made for a good opportunity to discuss flexibility and managing disappointment.  It was a very pleasant day, a reminder that in central Montana one can ride bikes on dirt and ski deep snow within a fairly short span of time and distance.  It was also an expansion of a world which has felt, logistically and more relevantly, psychologically, cloistered

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