Today

We all use repetition to structure our lives.  Wearing the half-mask of routine, this is habit.  Draw with the straight line of intention, it becomes ritual. 

Ritual, axe edged with hope, splits the now equally between past and the future.  Habit, for all its unconscious-ness, does not lack for emotion, only awareness.

Since joining the world in community isolation the erosion of our rituals has been as a rock rolling out of a cutbank into a long pool; singular, and because of our less divided attention, full of portent. 

Friday afternoon my ritual walk downtown and back with the kids was as full of distraction as usual (top picture).  2 miles round trip, two errands, two hours.  Training, both adult and child, for future wild walks.  I explained why we could not go to the playground, why we had to stand 6 ice cream cones apart from others, why we couldn’t stay at the brewery for popcorn. 

This morning, Little Bear and I went for a bike ride.  Sunday mornings in our part of town are very quiet; the parking lots empty and rife for skill building.  Our ritual has been to stop at the apex of our route for doughnuts, a tangible reinforcement for channeled energy.  Today there was perhaps a bit less traffic than usual, and I explained the economics which had, sudden creeping and in plain sight, led the doughnut place and the bagel place to be closed. 

Kids don’t think of it as such, but now we all must be wondering what can change such that life will have to be reinvented.

Panic

This began two days ago as a hopefully un-trite post about how parks, mainly national, should not be closed during the current Coronavirus crisis.  I wanted to point out how both explicible and sad it was that Yellowstone closed Tuesday.  How parks, however grand, are generally in someones backyard.  Moab had an entirely reasonable request last week when they asked the Governor of Utah to shut down tourism, and how current Moab locals also have an entirely reasonable ability to be out in their greater yard.

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For my part, I left home in the dark this morning and skinned a few laps of our local ski hill.  The surface, ungroomed for almost two weeks how, hadn’t frozen solid yesterday evening, and was covered in two inches of light fresh.  The turns were exceptional, the sunrise and brisk wind enliving as for me only the touch of the wild can be.  I arrived home and continued the arduously ambiguous task of moving all the bargains and history and tenuous emotional bridging I’ve built in my office to the virtual world, and did so with a lightness, having reaffirmed that the world was only so writhingly mutable on a human scale.  Our president excepted, there shouldn’t be too many people on the planet with many illusions left about what it will take to manage this crisis.  Where the illusions remain seems to be in how long life may be altered.  And for that reason I think wild parks should, in the vast majority of cases, remain open.

I was not the only one at the hill at dawn.  A few folks had carpooled up, hiked (rather than skinned) the hill, and on their way down ducked into the terrain park for a few jumps, two things the hill had after the mandated closure asked people to not do.  There has reportedly been a drastic uptick in avalanches in the Colorado backcountry in the past few weeks.  Earlier this week, on a bike ride around town, I had to explain to Little Bear why we could not go play on the equipment which was in the spring sun swarming with other kids.  And this is why, apparently, we can’t have all the parks open during our duress.

This afternoon I was doing what so many have done recently, having a Zoom meeting with my colleagues, discussing how to keep translating our job into a new medium, when word came down that Montana was joining much of the rest of the world, with a shelter in place order.   Nothing stressed me more, until an hour later I tracked down the document itself, and read the clear exception for wide varieties of outdoor activities.  During that search, Little Bear looked over my shoulder, saw the above photo (from our hike this past weekend) and asked when we could go again.

My desire, and its urgency, is in this matter quite trite and thoroughly myopic.  But if this is trite, then almost anything is.  Living after all is made possible by being alive, but does not consistent of it.  Over the weeks to come we’re all going to become more intimate with this.

The Open 2020

I updated the information for the 2020 Bob Open just now.  Removing the mass start option seemed to be the most responsible solution for the uncertainty surrounding the virus.  This means that I encourage everyone for whom the circumstances in two months time make it safe to do the walk, be it the circumstances of ones family, community, or the extent one must travel.  Or in 6 weeks, if such a thing suits them better.  There is a robust snowpack up high, and it could well be a good year for an early May ski traverse.  I also emphatically encourage anyone for whom this trek seems a stretch to stay home this year.  All reasonable guesses point to the public systems in Montana being busy two months hence, making 2020 a poor year for the Open’s first rescue.

There has been much written in the past few weeks about how acceptable it may or may not be to go out and adventure, while Coronavirus is waiting to run through society.  In the last 9 days, since school and then much public business, was largely shut down in central Montana I’ve been so preoccupied with waiting, adapting, and then waiting again that a matter so far distant as the Open escaped me until today.  I’ve yet to form my own opinion, but have from the beginning been struck both by how socially entangled backcountry pursuits seemingly are, as well as how remote they are from the evident pillars of contemporary life.

The mass start has always made for great fun, and as the survey demonstrated Memorial Day is popular both for the holiday and for the conditions.  My fear since the beginning has always been that the Open would be the victim of its own success.  The fulfillment it has given me, through the learning and achievement of others, has been extreme, but further disbanding what little organization exists has always been the sustainable future.  This year will tell all us fans of the Open what that might look like.

Things I’ve broken lately

Last month Little Bear and I went backpacking.  In and of itself this was not unusual, though it was the first time just the two of us had walked in to camp under a tarp.  It was noteworthy because it was February, and we were in shoes, walking over a inch of crusted snow and ice.  In sharp contrast to our first two winters here, this one has fulfilled our valleys reputation as an oasis of brightness.  Which I do not mind at all, as it gives the choice of driving east and hiking, or driving any other direction (including further east) and skiing.  It makes my life easy, and those with short legs easier still.

That afternoon we walked a few miles up a canyon, didn’t slip on the ice, explored a cave, and with a little futzing found a flat spot at last light.  Setting up our big tarp proved complicated, with almost desert-pure dirt frozen solid with the days melt.  On that, or on the many limestone cobbles, I broke a Groundhog, the first time in over a decade of using them.  That heightened the dis-ease of the evening, as Little Bear stood watching me hammer as the deep cold of the dark crept quickly down the hillside.  My fire skills remained sharp, and that warmth did what it has done for tens of thousands of years; put those only newly at ease out under the sky to sleep.  Once in his bag Little Bear’s eyes closed within seconds, and he slept for 12 hours.

The next weekend, as further evidence of our southwestesque winter, the Bear and I went on a bike ride.  It was snowing fast, but the flakes stuck to dry dirt and pavement and impacted traction not at all.  We made our way down to the bike park, and on our second run over the big rollers I felt a click, which I assumed was the basic drivetrain being cranky.  It was in fact my right pedal spindle cracking partway through, damage which completed itself a minute later when I went to spring up the hill at the start of the jump line.  My pedal detached completely, with my shoulder going into the handlebar and knee into the dirt.

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It had been a long time since I’d crashed that hard, on anything.  Sadly, it would not be the last such incident this month.  It had also been a long time, and by that I mean never, since I had bothered to regrease my pedals, or to replace the dust cap which on that pedal shook itself loose riding Little Creek 6 years ago.

Mechanical neglect was not to be blamed for my crash the weekend after, rather personal imprudence.  That same lack of big snow which has been so good for walking and biking in 2020 made the first big storm in months a matter of fervor at the local ski hill.  It also reminded me that resort pow is the most overhyped medium in outdoor recreation, as a foot of blower over icey bumps and rock mainly means you can’t see the potential obstacles.  So it was with me, and while looking to gap down to the cat track on my second run I stuffed a tip into a rock or stump and side slid down a short slope whose powder was a veneer over boulders.  If you were riding the right lift at the right time you might have seen my haste-induced poor form.  I nicked the arm of my fancy shell, broke the leash on my right ski (which it is supposed to do in a nasty fall), and bruised my whole left side in a way which made it hard to walk for the next three days.  I now realize I was quite lucky to not break any bones.

All of that is quite trivial compared to the last week, as Coronavirus precautions have broken the routines whose significance most of us had little cause to understand.  In Montana we have thus far felt a lesser impact than many.  I can still for instance drive 30 minutes and hike for laps at that same, now closed, ski area.  The volume of walking and jogging traffic past our house has neither increased nor decreased, with perhaps only a few fewer cars at the busy times.  Schools are closed for at least a few weeks, and likely longer, so we’re watching a colleagues son and I’m learning how to do therapy remotely.   It’s something our company ought to have had in the repertoire a while ago, so the silver lining of persistent uncertainty is new and unexpected skills, along with a hopefully enduring awareness of how much the innocuous runs our lives.  With bumps being unexpected, though perhaps less so in retrospect, I can only hope that this batch has run through.

Hunting the future

Exploring the underbelly of any subculture via internet forums is invariably equal parts fascinating and revolting.  Diving into the graininess of people at their most unfiltered teaches a lot, about a particular subject and about humanity generally.

If you dive not far into American hunting culture, you’ll become acquainted with the narrative of how liberal elites are engaged in a conspiracy to end the practice entirely.  The variations are several, and include a combination of wolf reintroduction, firearms restrictions, and overcrowding serving to, from a variety of angles, make hunting all but impossible to regularly practice, or so socially looked down upon that no kid or young adult will want to do it.  The sentiment is, in the end, one of many symptoms of the current generational and demographic sea change in the United States.  Hunting is in danger of dying out significantly in the next few decades.  The unpleasant fact is that hunters themselves and the policies they’ve grown up with and come to experience as background noise have given birth to most of the threats to hunting’s future.

The data is clear, assuming the Fish and Wildlife survey is sound; as the population of the US has increased the number of hunters have decreased, both as a percentage and in absolute terms.  In 2016 11,453,000 people in the US hunted.  The overwhelming majority were white men, with a heavy bias towards the 45-65 age group, and rural residents.  4% of the total US population hunted that year, which can be broken down to 3% of the urban population, and 13% of the rural population.  Including anglers, the total number of “extractive” wildlife sportspeople was in 2016 39.6 million.  Wildlife watchers, by contrast, numbered 86 million, though only 23.7 million of those did so “away from home” via specific outings 1 mile or more away from home.   Those wildlife watchers accounted for not quite half of the almost 157 billion dollars spent by all “wildlife related” recreation-ors.  Of particular interest, while that figure increased only a few billion from 2011 to 2016, the share of hunting expenses dropped from 36 to 26 billion, while the wildlife watching share increased from 59 to 76 billion.  The survey attributes most of the later increase to including photography equipment, and the former decrease to less money towards leasing private land for hunting, though hunting trip and equipment related expenses both trended downward markedly.

All of this is concerning for a number of reasons.  Most obviously, hunting is an aging pursuit, and for that and/or other reasons, eventually dying habit.  The most obvious issue emanating from that has nothing to do with hunting directly, and everything to do with the majority of wildlife funding on the state level coming from hunting license fees.  Fewer hunters buying fewer licenses, especially (in the western US) few out of state hunters, means much less money for wildlife management.  Those who are not hunters might be surprised at just how much more a nonresident will pay for the pleasure of hunting in another state. This table is dated but mostly still accurate, though Idaho and Wyoming both voted significant increases for the coming year, with Idaho directly acknowledging that increased fees are designed to keep a reduction in tag numbers (for elk, mostly) revenue neutral.  By way of example, by resident Montana Sportsman’s license (which includes fishing, upland bird hunting, general elk, deer, and bear) will this year cost me 77 dollars with the base hunting license and conservation license another 18 dollars.  A nonresident will pay $25 for the base licenses, and a cool $1046 for the deer and elk combo (which includes upland and fishing, but not black bear).  Montana is the most disparate in this area, but hardly in a different category.

The fairness of charging so much for people who live in other states to hunt what is often federal land is a circular world (though state’s rights to govern wildlife is well established as nearly absolute), and while I find the argument that the expense of out of state hunting puts the future of the pursuit in jeopardy (on both practical and PR levels) compelling, the supporting data is as of 2020 mixed at best.  What is certain is that the vast majority of wildlife management dollars, in states in the western US, come from a small (~1.3 million, total) pool of hunters who ever hunt out of state.  The fish and wildlife survey does not parse out region or demographics for out of state hunters, but it is easy to imagine an impending and precipitous drop in numbers, and thus, revenue.

The largest concern with hunting is that as license revenue begins to dry up, management decisions will become increasingly biased towards shorter term dollars, as opposed to longer term landscape health and integrity.  A few states, noteably Missouri, pay for wildlife management out of the general fund.  Which seems appropriate, especially if the above-mentioned trend of “nonextractive” wildlife recreation continues to grow.  This is the point where the backpack tax, a complement to Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson, comes into play.  P-R (hunting) and D-J (fishing) tax gear and directly fund conservation projects, and have over the years provided a certain buffer against political winds.  A backpack tax thus has virtues, and fits with the ethos of user fees which have since Gingrich become the norm in US public lands.  It also promises both a broader funding base for wildlife management and to capture a more complete share of those who “use” wildlife in a recreational capacity. Which just might, eventually, with a slow revolution in tags and access for urban folks, bring hunting back to a broader portion of society.

Marriage beyond Maslow

A fashionable consensus has formed in the past half-decade, amongst mental health professionals, sociologist and the like, that marriage in the United States has in my lifetime changed in a way which reinforces social stratification. The potent statistic is that between 1975 and 1979, an American with a high school education was 10% more likely to get married and then divorced than someone with a college degree. For the 1990-1994 cohort, that difference had increased to 30% (46 and 16 percent, respectively).

Eli Finkel, a psychology professor, has been one of the more prominent theorists here, with his simple and clear comparison between the purpose of marriage in American society since 1800 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs making him a compelling and digestible voice. In summary, the primarily agrarian US which predominated until the late 19th century created, drove, and sustained a type and view of marriage primarily concerned with the bottom two layers of Maslow’s pyramid. Namely, to providing basic material needs and physical safety. People tended to have many children, and often to keep their families near where they were born. The overwhelming majority of Americans were farmers, and the overwhelming majority of those who were not worked in some kind of intergenerational direct service business (general store, bar/pub/restaurant). As industrialization became the default in the early 20th century (America became majority urban right around the end of World War I), marriage shifted to what Finkel calls companionate marrriage. People had somewhat fewer children, often in an urban center apart from their parents. With less urgent and concrete economic imperatives places on family labor, marriage transitioned to being primarily about what Maslow calls love and belonging.

Perhaps counterintuitively, Americans seeking companionate marriage married on average several years younger than their farmer grandparents. At least, men did. This trend sustained itself through to the 1950s, when age of (first) marriage for both US men and women bottomed out.  This age has steadily increased since, from 22 to 30 for men, and 20 to 28 for women.  Extending Finkel’s comparison, this has been evidence of the ascendance of the self-expressive marriage, in which Maslow’s needs for esteem and self-actualization is paramount.

Maslow famously predicted that around 2% of the general population would ever reach the top of his pyramid, which is not to say that these people would achieve self-actualization (which he did not conceptualize as a static state), but that few people would ever have the resources and wherewithall, in other words the luxury, of meeting their basic and secondary needs so thoroughly and consistently that self actualization would be an option.  And when speaking about marriage this is exactly the point; lower order needs are both contingent on cultural context, and something profoundly outside the sphere of the individual to influence.  And this in turn has been the subject of much recent intellectual hand-wringing (1); concerning the ways in which social expectations for marriage (reified in the media, among other places) has combined with the steady erosion of social supports since the 1950s to make the self-expressive, self-actualizing marriage something only frequently accessible to those whose upbringing has provided them, not necessarily with abundant financial resources, but with the trappings generally associated with them.

My generation is now, it is clear, destined to fall short of the previous couple in all significant financial markers: savings, earnings, home ownership.  What is not yet clear is how this will in turn influence the second order social effects of affluence and privilege.  Psychology is only just beginning to understand well enough to express how deep and long family history reaches into the present.  Not just trauma, but plain stress and unrest on the part of ones grandparents seems to have potentially compelling influence on a range of health outcomes and predispositions.  The growing class split in divorce rates is not simply attributable to less financial and family resources available to the generation in question, it is perhaps definitively influenced by how the cloudy confluence of upbringing and genetics has predisposed one to be able to (for instance) weather the various family crises which life makes inevitable, and which in turn fewer financial options make more common.  All of which thus, in turn, shows how the recent ark of history has reinforced and exaggerated social stratification.

Can the more ephemeral aspects of family and relational resilience be decoupled from economic destiny?  And can self-actualization, which can be rephrased as a less materially contingent form of happiness, be expanded and reimagined as something equally durable but less explicitly white and bourgeois?  It is easy for me, as someone rather close in life type and situation to Maslow himself, to read his description of self-actualization and find the overall idea rather friendly.  Assuming the same of too many others, in a 21st century America in the process of firmly moving beyond the melting pot, seems problematic at best.

Brooks argues, in the article cited below, that federal policy which has attempted to reinforce and prop up marriage has failed.  His critique of both political poles is scathing (2), and the answers, which Brooks largely punts on, are for an America still stuck in the last vestige of Reaganism profoundly uncomfortable: universal child care, obligatory and incentivized parental/caregiver leave, wealth taxation, a broad shift from moralistic to instrumentalist social policy, accompanied (paradoxically) by a broad moral shift in how individual worth is externally accounted for.  If as Maslow wrote in one of his late works the goal of identity is to transcend and thus erase itself, it is no wonder that American culture, still after 250 years grounded in the pioneer practical, will find such a thing hard to assimilate.

 

1: David Brooks’ recent tsunami of statistics in The Atlantic may not support all his conclusions, but is an admirable amalgamation of data:  “In 1970, the family structures of the rich and poor did not differ that greatly. Now there is a chasm between them. As of 2005, 85 percent of children born to upper-middle-class families were living with both biological parents when the mom was 40. Among working-class families, only 30 percent were…..if you are born into poverty and raised by your married parents, you have an 80 percent chance of climbing out of it. If you are born into poverty and raised by an unmarried mother, you have a 50 percent chance of remaining stuck.”

2:  Brooks; “…while social conservatives have a philosophy of family life they can’t operationalize, because it no longer is relevant, progressives have no philosophy of family life at all, because they don’t want to seem judgmental.”

Clouds of our own

I can find no direct evidence that Theodore Roosevelt  ever said that comparison is the thief of joy, but there is in the modern idiom a truthiness to it.  If he did say, or more likely write (he penned around 50 books and over 150,000 letters) that, I like to think he was speaking both about class and tax policy and about intrapersonal and social dynamics.  He was a man far ahead of his time (and indeed, our own) when it came to understanding how governments could reify structural inequalities.  He was also acutely, unusually sensitive, while being a conventional man of his time who generally declined to exposit his more personal emotions.  For all his bluster and exterior velocity he was profoundly aware of how envy could poison, from both within and without.

Cy Whitling recently wrote a nice piece over at Newschoolers, about a dynamic all but essential to my cohort of early Millenials; the decline and fall of the internet forum.  By his account “Instagram wants to create Internet “friendships” that are built on a toxic foundation of comparison. Sure, it’s possible to use the app in a better way, to make those real connections, but you’re fighting the algorithm to do so.”  This is something which is hard to argue, and I count myself lucky to have been born into just the right window, of people who went through high school without cell phones or email, but had the blossuming of online subgroups to be a guide through their 20s, and enough maturity and accumulated personhood by the time the oughts really got rolling to have turning off social as a realistic choice.  Opting out of institutionalized envy is a shitty choice when doing so is tired to social isolation; just ask my 14 year old clients about Snapchat and Tiktok.

The importance of curating one’s social landscape and thus, selecting the grounds for daily comparison, is well established in the literature.  It is also well established in history, with the number spinners and outright fakers in the history of (for instance) polar “exploration” going from deep within the 18th century right up to the present day.  Mr. Teasdale’s essay is worth reading in full, parable of both internal and external deception that it is, as well as a devastating (true) critique precisely because it is thorough and fair and almost pulls no dramatic punches in the process of showing us how to writer such a thing.  One has to pity Mr. O’Brady; for if the mere existence of a project that took so much effort, time, and money was only due to suppurating, inherently superannuated, suffocating comparison to those who had gone before, surely no air can be left for even the smallest joy.

A example, in short of how not to live ones life.  You don’t even have to tell us about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too, much

If you haven’t read Mark Sundeen’s Car Camping, you should.  The book, from 2000, appears to be out of print but readily available, and is worthwhile as both a fable of young adult purposeless and as a snapshot of Moab before the latest flood.  Sundeen reappeared recently, with an article in Outside about the Mighty 5 (2013) tourist campaign, and just how much industrial tourism in southern Utah has changed as a result.

The preponderance of obviousness here is as suffocating as the deer flies along the San Rafael in June.  Who doesn’t know about the recent trailhead quotas to hike Angel’s Landing?  About UDOT closing Arches when the entrance road filled all the way to the highway?  About how free and easy and beat down things were on river road was before there were any campgrounds?  Abbey predicted all this, well over half a century ago.  Abbey also predicted, in a less explicit but no less compelling way, how categorical the shift would need to be if we wanted to disentangle ourselves from ourselves and resolve the paradox of wilderness, by going beyond it.

Since the 1970s, when overnight wilderness visits as a percentage of overall visitors peaked (in most parks) the NPS has done nothing systemic to grapple with this.  Quantity of visitation has been put first, with attention to quality only paid when such is necessary to maintain quantity.  The Zion shuttle remains shocking in how much of an outlier it is in the 21st US park service, and in how crowded that park can still be, with Springdale this year putting in place regimented, pay parking throughout the 2 mile strip of shops, hotels, and little houses which makes up that town.  Along with Moab, it is the ideal, simple example of how tourism is not the answer to maintaining a livable and thus sustainably wild western US.

This is what Abbey was thinking when he wrote that “growth for growths sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”   The parks, and American in general, have yet to grapple with this.  Generalized to the upteenth degree, this question is why the US is having such a rough go of the 21st century, the growing, implicit realization that the status quo is not going to work for too much longer.  The instagramification of the outdoors has served to exaggerate this, to accelerate something like the Mighty 5 campaign beyond what that campaign might have done otherwise.  The specific problems are many.  For one, Utah parks (and indeed the whole Colorado Plateau) presents more of the weird and spectacular than any other landscape in the lower 48, if not the western hemisphere.  Who didn’t know about it before the Mighty 5 campaign?  The same people who, pre ‘gram, might well have avoided the whole stretch between Vegas and Glenwood Springs for being ugly and not having enough trees.

Information isn’t just representation in this sense, it is reification.  Billboards and social media create an image and by extension and in the memory, a thing.  People then go find that thing, ignorant perhaps for years or for ever of how much the method and the process define creation.  You can’t see anything from a car, after all.  And this is the lie of the ‘gram, showing a polished end as proof of a process, and thus of meaning, that we all inherently and necessarily assume without any evidence of existence.  It is the difference between the classical tourist and the resident, and while neither stereotype is definitive, the way the information age has pulled the gap between experience and entertainment so wide so fast merits action.

This is why Venice and Amsterdam and Queenstown are contemplating how to moderate tourism, though these days the debate too often equates quality with money.  This is why America has, in all its bumbling, hesitated to constrain the democracy of opportunity that comes (or used to come) with free and easy access to Parks by car.  Adding a reservation system, an idea Arches floated and then withdrew last year, substitutes the current meritocracy of patience for the meritocracy of planning.  This is why LNT has encouraged vague geotagging.  This is why, in my current axe, I want route databases scrubbed of maps and specifics, and all guidebook authors (including this one) to tread in each step cautious of how many years or decades or longer each footprint across the face of human experience will last.

Experience doesn’t come easily, if by experience we mean something that sticks in the mind longer than the sun will take to set.  There are no shortcuts, and I do not think it is asking too much of the NPS and others, who by rights know as much, to be the guardians of process.  As humans we’ll take shortcuts, and try to use research and record to nail the novel on the first try.  Pity the day when it becomes too easy to not fail.

 

 

Great small game hunts of North America (2019 Hunting in review)

In 2019 I spent fewer days far afield, in the wilderness and on big destination hunts, than any year since I started hunting.  Nights in a tent backpacking while hunting were in single digits, which is a drastic reduction.  When I’ve written these year in hunting posts in the past my predominant recent conclusion has been to favor quality, by which I’ve meant big remote keystone trips, over quantity.  This year that just didn’t happen.  Or rather, I chose to prioritize non-hunting big trips.  Isle Royale took the late September place of a week chasing elk in the Bob, and a week in Utah over Thanksgiving took the place of prime mule deer rut hunting.  Fortunately, the quality and variety of hunting within a 30 minute drive of our front door is fantastic, and being able to have a relative few, quality and intense days chasing elk and deer, with minimal driving, made it a big game hunting season to remember right along with any other.

What I did do a lot of in 2019 was go squirrel and small game hunting.  Rightfully or otherwise, all squirrels, rabbits, and hares are in Montana classified as non-game species, meaning one can hunt them any day of the year.  This is convenient, especially in the eyes of a four year old who routinely requests episodes of Meat Eater, loves to shoot stumps and imaginary deer with his little fiberglass bow, and struggles to walk fast up big hills in the snow and cold.  The pace of small game hunting is a better fit, as is the regularity of the practice.  My primary hunting goal for 2020 is to no longer have much of a hunting season, and for it to rather be a regular, weekly practice.

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Hunting is a curious thing generally, in that so much time and energy can be put into preparation for so few days actually doing it.  Between spring bear and turkey, elk shoulder seasons, and the generous regular fall big game seasons one could theoretically hunt big game 8 months a year, though half that period is a more realistic prime time.  Most states in the west measure far less, to the point where in states like Arizona and Utah a hunter, despite all available planning and dedication, still might have a season in the field measured in weeks, rather than months.  This difference in volume makes the analogy between hunting and other potentially opportunity starved outdoor pursuits like skiing, whitewater boating and ice climbing a poor one.

Big game hunting is also in the midst of a crisis of opportunity.  It’s not clear that overall hunter numbers are increasing, but the knowledge economy and social media are reshaping what hunting, especially western hunting, will look like for the hard core.  While there is more than enough hunter opportunity in the west when taken as a whole, the focus on iconic species like sheep, and on trophy experiences in limited opportunity areas seems certain to continue to make these more and more difficult to attain.  All the more reason for me to be grateful about the abundant options available locally, because hunting big critters like elk and bison is just different, and perhaps inherently more profound, than smaller creatures, even deer.

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All of that said, hunting is still hunting, which is to say that it is a great and singular way to experience a landscape, as different from the rest as hiking is from mountain biking is from paddling.  My project, over the next few years, is to focus on small game hunting, specifically on the more experientially outstanding hunts available in the western US, on not just dedicating time to these, but on better exploring the aesthetic and spiritual things they have to offer.  Their is great irony in publicity, especially as an active alternative to big game options, which are expensive and potentially difficult to access precisely because the internet has made them easy to conceptualize and plan.  With destination small game hunting this difficulty cannot just be ignored, but like with publicizing a heinous bushwack or a scary backcountry river, the pool of probable applicants blunts the danger of fame.

That said, here is an incomplete list of small game hunts that promise to showcase wild places and creatures.  For the sake of discussion the game must be smaller than a turkey, native to the place it will be hunted, and exist well apart from excessively civilized landscapes.  They must in short provide as many of the virtues of the destination big game hunt as possible, while being cheaper and more logistically accessible.  A cheap or cheapish license and tag, no need for specialized packout gear, and being doable with a ~$150 singleshot shotgun are all great virtues for beginning and experienced hunters alike.

Kaibab Squirrel

All the (many!) virtues of squirrel hunting, in a particularly outstanding location and with the most unique squirrel species.  I finally did this one, and am psyched to go back.  Currently an Arizona nonres small game license is $20/day, with a season running from the first Friday in October through the end of the year.

Montana grouse trifecta

There are a number of places west of the Continental Divide in Montana where one might, with proper habitat selection and luck, see spruce, ruffed, and blue grouse in one day without having to drive or even walk enormously far.  The current daily bag limit of three grouse allows for exactly zero wiggle room in the ultimate Montana grouse project; shooting one of each species in a single day without traveling by car in between.  This is a time consuming project.  In years past, when I was able to put a lot of days into walking for grouse, I came close multiple times, shooting each 2x combination in a day at least once, and the most common combo of blue and ruffed in a day on 10 or more occasions.  The toughest part of this project is probably holding fire and not prematurely filling ones bag with blues, who seem to hold in family groups further into fall than the other two.

In Montana a nonres upland bird license is $110 or $50 for three days only ($15 general hunting license is needed in either case).  Grouse season runs September 1 through December 31.

Antelope Jackrabbit

Down in the Sonora in Arizona they have really big jackrabbits.  And the season runs all year.  And you can use (almost) whatever weapon you fancy.  Top of my list of small games hunts to-do.  Same $20/day small game license.

Himalayan Snowcock

Cheating a bit on this one, as these monster grouse were introduced to the Ruby Mountains back in the 1960s, when the native blue grouse were at a nadir.  These birds reportedly live in the true alpine, in one of the prettier mountain ranges in the lower 48.  The season is September 1 through November 30, you can shoot only two, and you need a $155 nonres Nevada license and a free Snowcock stamp to do it.

Desert lagomorph slam

In theory there are 3 lagomorphs to be found in the Colorado Plateau; cottontail rabbits, and white and black tailed jackrabbits.  Cottontail hunting in mid-elevation desert areas is a blast.  Find some moderately ledgy rimrock in the p-j forest and contour around looking close to the base of boulders and small cliffs.  Scoped .22 or tight choked 12 or 16 gauge work equally well.  In the right spot black tailed jacks can be right nearby in the flats.  I’ve never hunted white tails, but in theory one ought to be able to also find them somewhat nearby, at least in certain locations.  In Utah, jackrabbits can be hunted year-round without a license, while the cottontail season runs start of September through the end of February, with a nonres hunting license running either $65 a year or $32 for 3 days.  Shooting all three in a day would be quite the accomplishment, shooting all in a single 2-4 day trip still difficult.  Desert rabbit populations have in my experience been exceptional subject to boom and bust cycles, which makes predicting populations difficult from afar.  This slam should be doable in Colorado and Nevada, as well.

Colorado Beaver

Beaver is very tasty meat.  Most places getting it requires the labor of running a trapline in the middle of winter.  Colorado is weird (ha) and while it outlaws most of the traps traditionally used for beaver, it has a generous season (Oct 1-April 30), unlimited bag, and allows them to be hunted with a centerfire rifle of .23 or smaller caliber.  So you can take an autumnal, winter, or spring walk and snipe beaver.  Just bring waders or a packraft to guarantee retrieval.  I haven’t done this, and intend to some day.  Currently $17/day for a nonres, with additional days at $7.

Have to be plenty of other worthy small game adventures out there.  What you got?

A decade in the outdoors

7 things that happened in the past decade; equipment, trends, and the ways the two intersect to create human experience.

The Alpacka booty

The technological advancement of the decade is, for outdoor adventure, without question the packraft. 10 years ago the state of the art was the above. Today, boat shapes make that level of paddling accessible to intermediates. While pushing wilderness whitewater remains the future, especially in the context of landscape trips, modern packrafts are most often put to use making moderate moving water simpler and warmer, which is not a bad thing. Nonetheless, with so much of packraft energy being put into sidecountry and destination backcountry whitewater rather than technical traverses, it’s difficult to not conclude that packrafts haven’t yet justified their seed.  This next decade will tell us how much of a place packrafts, as a backcountry whitewater tool, have in the wider outdoor world.

The great bike divergence

A convergence of several trends have made the past decade an extraordinary one when it comes to bikes that will be ridden on dirt.  When I began working on this series a bit over 9 years ago there were only three “bikepacking” bag manufacturers.  Trans-Iowa was still alive and well and while that event had by 2011 birthed the ethos of modern gravel, the commercial side with pros and more saliently, specialty bikes, was in its infancy.  Allroad bikes are what road bikes for the masses should have been all along; mellow handling, a low gear down in the 20s, rock solid braking, room for a 2 inch tire.  Good on pavement, great on dirt, good enough on mild tech (or more if you’re skilled).  From the other side, these bikes can be coherently viewed as the true successors of early mountain bikes, in terms of both ability and versatility.

Mountain bikes themselves ought to better be called trail bikes, something made very clear by the last decade of development.  2014 gave us the Surly Krampus, and the rapidity with which 3 inch tires were shrunk for 650b rims, widely popularized, and then all-but discarded by the mainstream remains as impressive as it is curious.  The appeal of fat-lite is to the rider who regularly sees not-groomed off road terrain immediate.  For the groomed trail rider they are, apparently, too heavy and imprecise.  And this is I think the quick story of trail biking in the past decade; the move towards specialization, towards bike parks, towards flow trails, towards compartmentalizing and prioritizing downhill ability above all else.  I’ve read more than one commenter in the past week say that, in another 10 years, acoustic mountain bikes will be in the significant minority, especially in “destination” mountain bike spots.  Electric assists will send riders up the shuttle roads and trails, and big, heavy travel and geo will send the same bikes back down specially made gnar (or flow, which remains another word for easy-for-humans).

In short, I’m not sure I want to be a part of the next decade of mountain biking.  Shying away from the broader challenge, from trails not specialized for two wheels, from climbing as much as circumstances allow, from travel at distance across a landscape, isn’t mountain biking as I have known and loved it.  Neither is dirt (road) touring, which is plainly the growth direction for capitol B bikepacking.  If the old Dial formula that roads are for cars, trails for bikes, and off-trail for feet is currently on life support, this coming decade will determine if it survives as anything beyond the fringe of the fringe.

Skimo

A decade ago Greg Hill was just a guy in Canada with questionable music and a wife who could presumably support him financially.  Then came the year of 2 million feet and the TLT 5 boot and a bunch of local races, and today ski gear is a hell of a lot lighter and better suited to a range of backcountry skiing.  The broader ski community is even tentatively embracing human powered alpine skiing as a way to both make money and grow skiing itself.  Win/win?  There doesn’t appear to yet be a clear uptick in avalanche deaths, so perhaps not.

FKTs

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A decade ago the term FKT had only barely begun to grow beyond its use, by one man from Boulder*, to catalogue his own extensive, formidable, and occasionally bizarre ultrarunning accomplishments.  Today, the term itself has become ubiquitous, and the website which birthed it polished and host to a big list of routes and their associated fastest known times.  I continue to have existential objections to the whole project, but as the decade has come to a close my objection has become more pointed.

The internet has made publishing routes so quick, and sharing them in detail so precise, that I begin to worry about both increased traffic in fragile areas, and the poverty of imagination that so many off-the-shelf options will breed.  As crowded as our outdoor world can occasionally be, inspiration and imagination remain the limiting factors.  A good thing and a bad one wrapped into one.

Clothing that breaths

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A decade ago active insulation wasn’t a thing, and 120 grams/meter wool was state of the art.  Today, we have the Nano Air (since July 2014), Alpha Direct, Polartec High Efficiency (above), light poly baselayers, and windshirts like the Alpine Start.  In other areas (shoes) development has been frustratingly circular, but the clothing we have day to day for the outdoors is exponentially better than 10 years ago.

The Neoair

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Comfort has long been, and remains, my least favorite word in the backpacking lexicon.  As a concept it is not only subjective, it is monumentally lame.

But the Neoair sure is comfortable.  By moving the bar on how much loft and comfort one could get from a given set of ounces, Thermarest reinvented the sleeping pad in the most significant fashion since their original inflatable.  A Neoair, and the various competitors and clones, allows side sleepers with hips at-home comfort, and allows those less picky to get away with sleeping on slickrock, wooden decking, and generally careless site selection.  Winter pack size shrinks a small but potentially crucial amount.  Like advances in clothing, the ripple effects are significant, and also like the above advances in sleeping pads stand out in the decade in which other sleeping gear was largely staid.

Laminate fabrics

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As a cuben skeptic I’m not going to give too much credit to DCF for providing much actual performance value, but with its enhanced sex appeal cuben has done more visible work than xpac in moving the conversation about performance fabrics and fabric performance shockingly close to the mainstream.  The need for laminate fabrics is currently vastly overstated in the mind of the enthusiast; for example I see no point in using them over PU in something like a fanny pack with a top zipper, the functional increase in weatherproofing just doesn’t exist.  Even for extreme use cases the value of a laminate pack fabric over good ole Cordura is far less than the overall value brought on in the past decade by the general increase in fabric awareness.  MSR completely revisited their tent fabrics, for instance, while PU/sil blends have become common.  Enthusiastic-level backpackers might actually know the difference between robic and nylon 6.6.  Once some of the fashion talk dies out or moves on I’m tentatively optimistic that a more sophisticated market, with more functional options, will remain.

Which is a nice concluding point to the decade as a whole.

 

*Bonus points to Mr. Burrell, associate of Mr. Bakwin, for writing the dumbest paragraph of the decade, as follows:

Packrafts. Ever since these were invented I’ve been avoiding them. They’re costly, heavy, and while some respectable adventurers use them, I’ve always thought they sort of looked like dorks. Like wearing rubber galoshes on a trail run. Like carrying a plastic lunch box with little bunnies on it during an ultra (OK, that one would actually be very cool). Kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards are sleek and slender, paradigms of hydraulic efficiency, are great sports I really like, but packrafts are basically glorified pool toys.