Holiday recipe: Venison camp stew

Why is this a holiday recipe? Because it feeds lots of people good food with little prep time, and is a great hearty warming dish for trans-solstice in the northern hemisphere.

I’ve done this several times this month with venison shank and stew pieces from lower on each limb. Beef is a fine substitute. Bone in or out shank cuts are ideal, but a good, marbled, bone-in blade roast also works and can usually be found in most grocery stores. For a 2-3 gallon pot you want 2-4 pounds of meat with lots of connective tissue. Deer shanks, complete with all the tendons and silver skin, are perfect for this.

Cut the meat into big (4-6 oz) pieces. Thoroughly coat each piece in salt and garlic powder. Brown them in bacon grease, heated almost to the smoking point in a big, heavy stew pot or thick skillet. Cast iron is ideal here. In my book, the flavors of venison and bacon complement each other perfectly. Once the pieces are browned on all sides, add a liter of stock (vegetable is best) and a full can/bottle of dark beer. Add at least one full chopped white onion, a bunch of chopped celery, a skinned and chopped parsnip or two, and lots of coarsely chopped garlic. Cube a half dozen red skin potatoes and add those too. Chuck in a couple heaping tablespoons of sage, and a tablespoon of oregano.

Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for at least 6 hours. Do not shortcut this part. Transferring the ingredients to a crock pot and leaving for the day is just fine.

45 minutes before serving, add a few chopped carrots, a can of cannelleni beans, and perhaps a bit of water as needed. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste.  Bring up to a healthy simmer. Serve with meaty slices of a meaty bread.

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On Christmas Day, I made this at our rental cabin up north beyond cell range. I stuffed the wood stove full, damped it all the way down, and left the pot on the stove as we went out skiing for 7 hours. On the way back I zipped ahead, completed the final prep, and hoped in the car to head back and save everyone else from the final half mile of double poling down an icy road. By the time we were all back in the cabin and changed out of ski gear, dinner was ready. It was perfect.

So perfect that I’m not going to write about it.  Our emerging tradition of winding down the year in a place which almost forces quietude was only enhanced by my parents and a friend joining us for four days.  Now I’m ready for next year.

IMG_2316Bowman Lake, 12/25/13.

Shut Down

I had to see for myself.

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Sadly, they were not joking around.
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I understand that with poaching and other shenanigans this is probably necessary, but it is nonetheless sad that one of the “essential functions” is keeping LE rangers on the job to keep people out.  It’s easy for most Americans to go about their lives largely ignoring the shutdown, but if we give ourselves enough time, there is bound to be something which hits us personally.  For me, and I would imagine many Westerners, it is public land.  Everyone rightfully likes to bitch about the particulars, but it’s only the true nuts who advocate doing away with them.  Public lands are America’s best idea, with National Parks as the training wheels, more supervision required, Disneyland version.  I do think the current debate is worth shutting down the government, but not being able to go into my park (especially during my favorite month, when the hordes are gone) bugs me on a petty, gut level.

Things I’ve Seen

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I can’t tell you about the things I’ve seen.

Peaks stretching to all horizons, matching clouds step for step, recollections hidden in each valley.

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Each memory fits with one next drainage over, be they years apart or decades.  Sit on a ridge another minute and more details come out of the shadows.  Names match to peaks, the influence of one experience to another.

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That one.  Last month knee deep, hauling a boat over beaver ponds.

That one.  Four years ago, seeing big lakes for the first time in the rain.

That one.  Fourteen years ago, when I was four feet tall and miles were longer.

Now I understand.

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Pieces and pieces

US rivers in the contiguous 48

Most readers here enjoy starting at maps. The above visual rendering of the rivers in the lower 48 is a good one for nostalgia, and the general aesthetic value of fact. A massive, scrollable version can be found here. Discussion of the technical aspects of the image-map, which is beyond me, can be found here.

I did an exceptionally useful mod to my Gossamer Gear Gorilla, which much improves its weight transfer for those occasions where you might be carrying well over 30 pounds.

An article of mine on minimalist footwear for shoulder season backpacking just went up on Toe Salad, which is a somewhat gross name for a good website on shoe-geekery.  Not anything I haven’t written before, but a short summation of all my ideas on the subject.

I also wrote an account of how the Bob Open came to be for Gossamer Gear.

Lastly, in preparation for the fast-approaching elk and deer season, I painted the stocks of both my Remington 700 and our new Handi rifle.  Both were boring black plastic and needed a more inspiring presentation.  Aluma Hyde II in OD green got the job done.

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A nice matte finish.  Aluma Hyde isn’t primarily meant for plastic, and thus the aggressive heat setting which most sources seem to recommend (i.e. baking in an oven for a few hours) is not appropriate.  I followed the factory directions, cleaning thoroughly and doing a series of thin coats with brief heat application between each.  We don’t own a heat gun or hair dryer, so I waved a lit MSR Pocket Rocket under each item for a minute or two as they hunt suspended on wires in our open garage.  This worked well.  To finish things off, and avoid the weeks long air cure Aluma Hyde entails, I suspended the items in front of our open oven, with the oven set on 200.  Using the bits of wire left over from painting, I hung the stocks from the handles of skillets on the range.  A kettle full of water worked as a counterweight.  A few hours, and another week of curing in the safe after assembly, did the trick.

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Aesthetic only, but I like it.  As they say, there are many others like them, but these rifles are mine.

The Remington is a stock SPS in .30-06, with a 3×9 Leupold, and a prefit Pachmyr recoil pad (which also lengthened the LOP a bit).  At 8 pounds all up, it’s the elk gun.  The H&R is a compact .243, to which we added an aftermarket adult-sized buttstock.  The result is a nice compact 20 inch barrel and factory iron sights.  It’s the deer gun.

The Flathead at Flood

All three forks of the Flathead have been setting all time records for five straight days, after the warm snap from last week built to a crescendo of melt over the weekend.  It’s a remarkable thing to see, the relatively placid river M and I floated at around 3000 cfs 10 days ago swollen eight times over.  I spent some time this afternoon sitting in strategic spots, watching and listening.

My original plan had been to ride and hike down 5 miles of old road to the point above the confluence of the Middle and North Forks.  That plan lasted 300 yards until I reached the 1/2 mile of the road which was flooded.  I rode, then pushed once it got hub deep.  The 30 yards or so before the bridge over a side creek which floods every year looked about waist deep, with a strong current forced up into the tributary by the speed of the Flathead.  It was a cool sight.  Hopefully things go down a bit before the Bob Open, flows like this will cramp everyones style.

The capture and flight of Joe Cosley

Joe Cosley was one of Glacier Parks original rangers.  He had been a trapper in the area prior to the founding in 1910, and thus a natural choice.  Cosley must have remained a rough character; while on his first trip around the park in the winter of 1913 Norton Pearl noted that Cosley’s cabin was so dirty that Pearl would have built a better home for his dog.  Like at least several of the original rangers he continued to trap and supplement his income, quite illegal, and was eventually fired.  Cosley continued to poach, mainly in his now well-established stomping ground of the Belly River.  The middle section of the Belly, below the confluence of the upper Belly and Mokowanis Rivers (and the ranger station), is flat and slow, perfect habitat for beavers.

In May of 1929, Joe Heimes caught and arrested Cosley in the Belly, a story which to this day remains prominent in park and regional legend.  What follows are Heimes’ logbook entries from those days in May.

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Heimes’ entries mostly jive with the legend as I’d heard it before.  He caught Cosley, took him to what is now West Glacier (Belton then), Cosely was tried, fined, and let go and/or bailed out by a friend.  The subtext is that this state of affairs was not entirely to the park services liking.  What ensued was a race for further evidence; with Heimes taking the train to East Glacier (Glacier Park in the above entries), a car to the park border at what is now northern Babb, and a horse in to the Belly over Gable Pass.  Cosley, according to legend, was loaned a pair of snowshoes and given a ride to the end of the road in the McDonald Valley, hiking and snowshoeing over the Continental Divide.  Whoever made it first would gain possession of Cosley’s gear and stash of furs.  If Cosley could grab them and escape to Canada he would avoid further trouble and sell the pelts for a decent sum.  If Heimes made it first he would have evidence to further prosecute Cosley.

Cosley’s trial was set for 1000 on May 10th.  Assume the trial lasted 2 hours, and it took a further 4-6 hours for someone to post his bond, lend him snowshoes, buy him a drink and a meal, and drive him to Lake McDonald lodge.  Assume that Heimes couldn’t catch a train to East Glacier until the morning of the 11th, and perhaps made it to Cosley’s camp by 0700 on the morning of the 12th (an impressive feat).  Cosley had a solid 36 hours to go what according to my calculations was about 30 miles.

Against a veteran traveler like Cosley Heimes didn’t have a chance.

The road may have gone further up McDonald at that time.  Even if it did not, even after a late winter the horse trail would have been clear of snow, albeit muddy, well past Packer’s Roost.  Easy terrain, over which a properly motivated Cosley could make close to 4 mph.  He would have been nearing Packers by dark.  In those days a horse trail went up Mineral Creek, making it an obvious choice.  Mineral is flood is pretty frightening, it’s a steep creek with a cobbled bottom, one of the few in the park I consider essentially uncrossable at high water.  It might have still been frozen up a bit at that time of year, and even if Cosley had to make a few detours to avoid some of the trail crossings this would have been decently fast travel.  He would have made it to near Ahern Creek by the wee hours of the 11th.

The crossing of Ahern Pass is the crux of Cosley’s journey.  The ascent from the west is steep just off Mineral Creek, but not enough to be a big deal.  The east side drop to Helen Lake is very steep, enough that with fresh snow avalanches are a concern, and with consolidated snow an ice axe is obligatory.  It is hard to say what conditions Cosley would have had.  In either case I imagine he reached Ahern Pass near dawn on the 11th, or perhaps he hunkered down lower, building a fire in the last spruce groves and taking a nap after the excitement of the previous days.  If there was fresh snow he’d want to cross early, before it warmed too much, but if there wasn’t he’d want to wait until things had softened up at least a bit.  In either case the game trails between Helen and Elizabeth Lakes (both reportedly named for Cosley’s paramours) would be largely snow free, and the trail below Elizabeth down to the ranger station easy going.  I doubt he worried too much about leaving footprints.  He likely reached his camp in the evening of the 11th, possibly much sooner, and was in Canada when the 12th was only a few hours old.

Cosley was 58 at the time of his flight across Glacier.  He stayed in Canada for the rest of his life, trapping into his 70s, and dying (reportedly of scurvy) in his winter cabin in the wilderness.

The Phinney Legend

He was twice world champion in the individual pursuit, before he was old enough to drink a beer. He finished fourth in the Olympic road race and time trial last August. He got second in the World’s time trial by 5 seconds last September. He is hilarious. His parents are both legendary American cyclists, and yesterday Taylor Phinney added to his own growing legend.

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Image by Cycling Graphs.

On a rainy day with 10,000 vertical feet of rollers and three laps on a hill which went to 27%, Taylor Phinney got dropped early, everyone else in his group quit, and he rode 120 kilometers solo only to finish outside the time cut.  That’s him at 38 minutes back. Afterwords he thought about how his dad, a Tour de France stage winner now battling Parkinson’s, would not have quit; so he kept riding. Even if it takes him more than a few years to win Paris-Roubaix he’ll be worth following.

Two things for the weekend

The Bombflow/whateverthey’recallingthemselves guys haven’t expanded out of their ‘yak porn style of composition, but you cannot fault them for lacking quality material. Watch the Stikine part of the latest episode for phenomenal footage.

Also, this trip report from Universal Klister makes for quality coffee accompaniment.

Satisfaction

We may not have any direct evidence of Fishers in the park yet, but a camera Nate and I set up last month did net a cool find.

Here’s me testing that site.

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One of the more enjoyable aspects of this years Fisher project, even more than the wolverine work last winter, has been going to corners of the park I would likely not otherwise visit. This particular camera is a mile above a not-very-well visited lake, on the edge of old growth forest and the willow and beaver infested valley bottom. It’s accessible in winter because the ponds are frozen. In summer the bushwack would be quite unappetizing.