Forest Service cabins of Montana

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You should know about the forest service cabins in Montana.  Retired patrol cabins, ranger stations, fire lookouts, and private residences which have gone into public hands, they’re one of the great secrets of public lands recreation in North America.

Why am I writing about these cabins now?  Because the Forest Services takes reservations a half year in advance, and summer is six months away.

Most cabins can be driven to, as can the vast majority of lookouts, making them ideal for rest or preparation at the start or end of a backcountry trip, destination for visiting friends or relatives, and most especially for a relaxed weekend away.  Or has been our case recently, pseudo-camping trips with an infant.  M and I have gone on a number of cabin trips intending to hike vigorously and see much of the surrounding area, but that never seems to work out.

These days I make a point to pack at least one good, thick book and plenty of luxury food, while M prefers to pack a jigsaw puzzle.  Little Bear, who has been to four cabins, has yet to express preferences beyond a few toys/objects for drool.  My favorite cabins and lookouts are therefore ones in cool locations and with pleasant facilities, that provide the correct mix of luxury and immersion in the wild.

Aside from reservations in advance, cabin trips require a modest amount of preparation and planning.  A handful have electricity, and running or at least pump water on site, but as a rule you can expect a pit toilet, and plan on bringing all your own water.  If you’re making, and more importantly doing dishes for, fancy meals I’d suggest a minimum of 2 gallons per person, per day.  If you need some extra containers, plastic kerosene jugs are watertight, fairly cheap, and the appropriate blue color.

Other things to bring on almost any cabin or lookout trip include slippers (especially in winter), plenty of coffee and tea, fresh batteries in your headlamp, a battery or propane powered lantern, and a good skillet.  Most cabins are well stocked with dishes and cutlery, and many have a nice selection of cast iron, but sometimes the skillets are a bit rough.  A saw and hatchet or axe in the vehicle are a good idea.  The later to cut out any deadfall which might try to block the road, the former as a backup.  Only once has the axe at a cabin been missing, but when you were planning on cooking on the woodstove, and can’t split wood, life gets complicated.  On that note, be sure to bring some newspaper for tinder, cabins are often short of this crucial commodity.

All the cabins and lookouts discussed below can be driven to with a passenger car and a reasonably skilled pilot, under summer conditions.  The other three seasons can be a whole different affair.  If in doubt call the local ranger district, and be conservative.  During our solstice visit to Ben Rover the normally well-plowed North Fork road was subject to a holiday lapse, and a half foot of new snow on our last night made the spur from the cabin back to the main road dicey for our little hatchback.  Only 8 psi dropped from the drive tires and decent skill on my part had us not getting stuck (though my parents in the 4×4 behind us would have shoved us out).

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If you’re visiting the west side of Glacier National Park, the Ben Rover cabin is highly recommended.  A little less than a mile from the Polebridge entrance station, a similar distance from the Polebridge Mercantile and Northern Lights Saloon, and around 100 meters from the North Fork of the Flathead River, the Ben is a great base for hiking, backpacking, boating, fishing, skiing, hunting, or just hanging out.  It has not very good mattresses for eight, a propane stove, oven, and lights, and a nicer kitchen and interior than many houses.  A 50 dollars a night it is in my book a total bargain.  The only reason we’ve only stayed there on two occasions is not that it’s only an hour from our house, it is that the Ben fills up early, year round.

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Challenge Cabin is another local favorite.  A winter-only rental, the location may not be prodigiously stunning, but it’s a nice cozy cabin with a moderate ski in that makes for an ideal beginner outing.  The parking area is regularly plowed and right off the highway, and the 7 miles in is all on a road which gets regular snowmachine traffic, and is even occasionally groomed.  The stovepipe was recently replaced, and now getting the cabin sauna-hot is very possible.  A small creek nearby means that in all but the coldest weather it is not necessary to melt snow.

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Casey knows a lot more than I do about lookouts in Montana, but my favorite out the few I’ve stayed in is Garver, without question.  By definition lookouts have good views, but the position of Garver Mountain makes these views better than most.  As a bonus, Garver still has its wood stove.  Just don’t try to build your fire in the oven compartment.

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If you’re at the Basin Station cabin early enough in the spring you might well see bison in the field out back, before the NPS and state wildlife comes along to haze then back into Yellowstone (the above photo is from the park, I forgot to get one of the cabin).  What Basin Station is, year round, is a charming and affordable (less than 10 dollars more a night than many campgrounds) place to stay a 10 minute drive from the park entrance.  It has bunks, a quality wood stove, and windows on three walls.  It does not get much better.

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Cabins and lookouts are a great resource.  They aren’t camping, but as family and Little Bear have shown us in the last year, some times camping is more than you want.  Cabins are a great gateway, and hopefully serve to get folks out in the wood who wouldn’t otherwise venture beyond hotels.  This being the case I hope the Forest Service continues and expands the cabin rental program, especially by adding more facilities beyond summer trailheads.  It would also be nice to the see the Park Service get involved.  Until that happens, get planning, and get your reservations in soon.

 

Dumb parent questions

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“Don’t you love him more than you thought you’d ever love anything?” is a question I’ve been asked a number of times since Little Bear was born.  At least as often as not by people who would never in any other context consider making any but the most banal inquires into my inner workings.  I usually limit my response to “Yes, I did.” as most of things I’d put after would be considered rude.  These include, but are not limited to, comments about my ability to read parenting and developmental psychology books and extrapolate how they might apply to me, and comments about the profundity and satisfaction I’ve found in a marriage which had a fairytale start and is more vibrant than ever 12 years later.

In truth, it is handy the LB is objectively as cute as he is, and in the last six weeks as demonstrative, because most of the time he remains a peculiar lump whose existence in the middle of my old life continues to recur, whose worth is largely academic, and whose virtues are mostly hypothetical.  A month ago he was enjoying a purple patch and the roses and unicorns of parenthood seemed quite real, but in the last fortnight travel and the vicissitudes of the baby mind have brought about a sleep regression which has shown parenting to be what it truly is: bullshit.

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Those friendly, idealistic questioners may be capable of a broader, more even-handed view than I am now.  More likely, they’re plus jolie d’etre honnete and incapable of admitting to anyone, including themselves, just what you loose when you have a kid.  If I had to Sophie’s Choice right now I’d keep M and give up LB, and I would not have to think about it for more than a second.

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This will of course change, and LB will continue to smile at me when I come home and be the adorable, agreeable object of attention when we go out to dinner.  He’ll continue to come along on adventures, giving us access to a new world within one of the old ones we held most dear.  I have every faith that all of this will come to pass and we’ll be a happy family for it.  I’ll try not to be anxious in the meantime, and will continue to fervently hope that the little bugger will sleep longer tonight.

 

2015 in 12 photos

January: hunting Chamois and Tahr in New Zealand
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February: backpacking the Heaphy Track

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March: early, early season packrafting on the South Fork of the Sun

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April: animals everywhere in the North Fork of the Sun

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May: my favorite route across the Bob, yet

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June: M is really, really pregnant; and it’s hot

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July: Little Bear arrives, a week late, and on M’s birthday (and I win a new packraft)

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August: we sleep less than we’re used to; eventually leaving the house gets less scary

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September: I kinda, sorta get better at hunting, and we have a gorgeous month of increasingly less-small hikes

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October: we drive from home to southern Utah, with Little Bear, in less than 24 hours and with minimal drama; we take him backpacking for the first time, and he sleeps for nine hours straight

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November: I find that deer hunting with an infant is totally possible

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December: life, at home and abroad, gets easier and more fun

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2015 in one sentence is easy; we took a spectacular hunting and backpacking trip to New Zealand, and then had and became accustomed to parenting our first child.

And some other nice stuff happened, too.

When you add on visiting family before leaving the country we were out of Montana for almost a month in Jan/Feb, and weather could not have highlighted the passed time more.  The two largest (and indeed only) storms of the winter bracketed the week before we left.  They made parking dicey, had cars getting stuck in the middle of the street downtown, and had us worried about delayed airlines schedules.  In our absence it hardly snowed at all, and only got warmer as February wore to a close.  The one multiday ski trip I attempted got cut short due to lack of snow, and I went nordic skiing exactly once.  There was skiing to be had in the high mountains well into June, but with the rivers up and trails dry hiking, mountain biking, and packrafting were far too tempting.  I once again struck out in my attempts to shoot a spring bear in the Bob, but the gorgeous sights I saw in lush and very empty places reaffirmed my conviction that sticking to ideals, however difficult, is the most satisfying way to hunt.  The route for the Bob Open proved to be the best yet; varied, aesthetic and long, with just enough adverse weather to make the crossing feel earned.  It easily jumped into my top 5 all-time list.

Summer proved to be a good one to for outdoor purposes largely miss, though strictly weather wise a bad one to be pregnant and then raise a newborn in.  June was suffocatingly hot, and the heat waves kept coming through July and August, until the inevitable fires got going and we had several memorable weeks when I worried about how long I could take Little Bear out for walks without harming his health.  The haze which was a feature for most of August well mimics the one which still envelopes my memory.  I can recall plenty of time late at night rocking Little Bear back to sleep, standing by the door and examining the Cairn map of the Bob Casey gave us; in the process quite inadvertently cementing that place in yet another way as one of my most significant landscapes on earth.

Our world clarified and grew along with the autumn, which proved to be long and gorgeous.  M’s parents came to visit and I got to go hunting, which was intense first and foremost because it was the first time I had not slept next to the little noisy lump in almost two months.  On the first trip I did not sleep through the night, but that was also because I brought a tiny tarp and the weather ended up worst than forecasted.  While the various trips further afield proved rewarding and instructive, hunting in the Bob was again the best.  Dead animal with smiling white man pictures are deservedly controversial, but I’m determined to claim them back, because joy won in accomplishment is appropriately represented in them.  My September deer hunt, where a plan perfectly executed with ideal luck had me back at the truck with a full pack within half a day of setting out, will always be a peak moment.

Reclaiming favorite parts of our old life would not begin in earnest until we had managed to take all of our new family on a road trip to backpack and camp, which we did in October, with far less stress than expected.  Our miles were modest, but when we got back home and our only regret was that our days entirely together were for a while at an end we felt that we had really accomplished something.  That sense of achievement has only grown since, right though the recent holiday season, which was the best I can recall in my life.  Not only does the evidence suggest that we can do this parenting thing, it seems that we’ll be able to do it sustainably and with a margin of error, we will in short be able to thrive.  And that is something to look forward to.

Why we chose a Double Duck

There are more expensive, more practical, as well as more blingy or more frequently used gifts, but from the day over 5 years ago, when I unwrapped my first, to today I’ve not found a more exciting thing to unbox than a new Alpacka raft. Our newly expanded family got a Double Duck for a collective gift this solstice season, and thanks to Alpacka’s new inventory system and the fact that we ordered a stock boat in a common color, we had it at our door four business days after ordering.

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The first goal for this boat was to be a family backpacking craft.  Having everyone in the same craft is not only lighter in the pack, but safer insofar as a squirming toddler goes.  The distant second goal was as a freighter, for hunting and bikerafting.

Alpacka currently offers three multi-person boats, so our decision was not at all obvious, especially with scant user feedback available on any of them.  The Gnu was discarded first; in regular fabric it is too heavy and bulky, and the Vectran was more than we cared to spend.  The Gnu also has a slightly shorter interior length, and the increased hull speed wasn’t a priority.  Between the Explorer 42 and the Double Duck the choice came down to lower weight and more interior room, provided by the later, and more durability and flotation (and presumably a slightly drier boat in whitewater) provided by the former.  I’ve run plenty of bony creeks and whitewater with my Scout over the past three years, and its lighter floor has proven more than adequate, so that and Erin and Hig’s family photos pushed us over the brink, and we bought the Duck.  The name and the cheaper price were welcome, but not decisive.

As can be seen above, it will be more than big enough.  And it is both smaller packed and lighter than my new Yak (which has the considerable added bulk and weight of the cargo fly and WW deck).  The whitewater and cold weather capability of the mainline boats are impressive, and the new boats are impressively better in both respects than the old, but my favorite trips have always featured mellow floating, and the Duck should serve as a nice van-sized Scout for that.

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The Duck includes two seats, and standard lace-in rigging for the rear one.  I’ll glue in some floor plates for using sleeping pads as seats, using a different design than I did with the Scout, to avoid the bartacks become abrasion points between the floor and rocks.  I may also add another lash point to the rear, for strapping on a pack.  Other than that it’s just inflate and go, once boating season arrives.

But if the last week is any indication, it should be a good winter.

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Little Bear gets indoctrination

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And then we saw the moose.  Clouds had rolled in between 2am, when I went out to piss off the porch, and a little after 9am, when we left the cabin.  In the middle of the night the milky way had stretched from behind my shoulder out to down near my toes, my urine had frozen into ice in the space of seconds, and in 30 seconds of socks, underwear, and coat I was painfully cold.  By morning the crisp air had moderated, and Little Bears normal level of bundling seemed more than adequate.  I wore little, as the first miles back towards the road were uphill, and pulling a trailer of infant and cargo is good work.

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Had the moose not stood broadside at fist sight, bisected by a bare tree, I would never have seen it.  Even with us 500+ yards away its first reaction was to head uphill through the snow and out of sight, and it only stopped and took a few steps of curiosity back when I stopped moving and let loose my (lame) moose call.  What this big-for-Montana moose was doing in mid-December, up at 6000 feet, in a sparse forest between the two valleys which are routinely the coldest in the area, I cannot know.  Moose are second only to Grizzlies in their disregard for human sense, staying out late in wintery areas and postholing over passes in the spring, so they are not for me to speculate upon.  Moose incarnate something humans long ago forgot, if ever we knew it at all.

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I don’t know what Little Bear will know in 34 years, when he’s as old as I am now.  Maybe he’ll be a moose biologist, and a few generations of work back towards the woods will combine with realtime GPS trackers to give him what I today consider impossible knowledge.  Maybe he’ll be a banker or real estate agent, and a basketball player, and be challenging what I hold worthwhile more than he is as an infant, today.

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Because today I think being out in the wild world is more likely to teach him good things than just about anything else, aside from being with M and I as often as our sanity and the necessity of income allow.  Which is why we pushed things a bit, skiing in that afternoon and arriving at the cabin right at dark, then leaving first thing the next morning, with me back to work in the early afternoon.  He sleeps well and long most nights, but our collective reserve of energy is still thin enough that a bit more ambition puts us into parental debt that only a few nights of solid sleep can restore.

It was worth it.

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We learned quickly, a number of years ago, that forest service cabins trips, especially in winter, are not about a convenient base for exploring the surrounding area.  They’re about a journey through nice scenery which serves as prelude for a period of contemplation, reading, puzzle-doing, and sloth.

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Mission accomplished.

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4 months

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At the second snack stop Little Bear had a fit; screaming as often as breath would permit.  Was he hungry?  Cold?  Sick of being bounced over potholes and rocks in the bike trailer? Four month olds can’t answer these questions, not because they can’t talk but because they can’t parse concepts from emotions, so I was left to wrap him in two coats and rock him until he cried himself to sleep.  At that point I had a hand free to put my hood up and eat more, but he was still wearing both coats and after 20 still minutes the wind was beginning to cut deep.  How cold would you get for your son’s comfort?  A lot colder than this, so I let him nap on my lap for 5 minutes until his breathing was rapid and regular and I was almost certain I could buckle him into the chariot without waking.

He didn’t wake.  Not for the first 20 seconds, not for the next twenty minutes, as I turned squares into what was now a headwind to warm up.  Both feet and both hands were back, the car was a few easy landmarks away, and LB was still lolling asleep when I saw the mountain lion.

The dirt two track ran through willow and aspen thickets along the edge between the upper and lower flood plains, the older separated from the younger by a steep 50 foot bank.  The lion crested the dirt with a flick of its very long tail which could not be missed, 30 yards to the right.  Stopping seemed the right thing to do, so I squealed the BB7s and dismounted.  The lion flattened itself behind a log, and we stared at each other, 20 yards apart.  I didn’t quite yell, but I talked at it very loudly while walking the bike past and away, making sure the cat didn’t move, at all.  Out of sight I got back on and pedaled, fast, looking back often.  LB had woken up during the ordeal, but didn’t make a sound.

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All of which is to say that this parenting thing has become old hat, novelty subsumed in an ocean of inevitability.  We’ll go hunting and backpacking and mountain biking with him because he is part of us, the family, now.  I’m more tired on nights when he doesn’t sleep for eight solid hours, but only because he’s more likely to disrupt my REM.  Less regular sleep and hauling all manner of stuff for every occasion is simply what we do now, and by the time it isn’t M and I will be different enough people that we’ll be moving to another phase, rather than returning to an old one.

Fortunately having a baby isn’t, overall, as stressful or disruptive as I was led to believe.  We are lucky that LB sleeps well and is generally easy to please.  His persistent reticence with his bottle the only thing I can hold against him, even at my most stressed. We’re also fortunate, not lucky, that M and I both love and like each other, and every day we count it as wisdom that we took 11+ years to bring ourselves to this point.  If a magician could give us anything right now, we wouldn’t ask for a week away to ourselves, just more time the three of us not disrupted by work or anyone else.

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Previously not riding all the way from Polebridge to Kintla and back would have annoyed me, but when our sojourn was cut short by icy hills in the forest and not wanting to stress him too much (for a 19 pound kid bouncing in a trailer harness is hard exertion) I did not mind.  The northern rollers, shaded by old growth spruce, had been a question ever since we passed the road closed gate and found a half inch of crusty snow-ice, complete with griz and wolf tracks frozen deep.  So when we passed the patrol cabin on tenuous ice I was not surprised, and assumed we might stop at the next hill.  I was surprised when, 50 feet from the bottom, a coyote came down right at us and fell and slid 5 feet on its side in the process of swapping tail for nose and disappearing into the forest.  In my amusement I forgot to downshift, stalled, spun out on the ice, almost fell over when I put a foot down, and decided it was time to go back.  22 miles was plenty for both of us.

Good kid gear has been crucial and, thankfully, easy to come by.  The Chariot is as awesome as Eric said it was, and we haven’t even had the snow to take the wheels off, yet.  We got the double model, which with the infant sling installed leaves convenient room for a pack full of gear (or a rifle).  It does fit into our small hatchback, but everything has to come off.  We were able to hit two Patagonia outlets three times total over the past few months, which along with internet sales means that LB is well outfitted (until he outgrows the 6 month stuff).  The infant HiLoft Down coat is better than anything anyone could buy 20 years ago, and while stupid expensive at full retail has been invaluable for cold, windy days.  Otherwise fleece is more practical, easier to grip and better at absorbing drool.  The synchilla bunting suit, which has leg zips which allow for separate legs or one uniflipper, wins the most valuable award thus far, in large part because it allows for minimally disruptive diaper changes.  Unfortunately Patagonia seems to have taken it out of their rotation, replacing it with several suits which all use the one zipper, ankle to chin closure, something to be avoided in every clothing item and clearly not designed by a parent.

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Most exciting; LB now has the size, and close to enough head control, to ride in the backpack carrier.  The possibilities for this winter, and especially next spring and summer, are as big as our will and creativity allow them to be.  Everyone is looking forward to it.

Little Bear goes deer hunting

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I’d been running this outlandish idea through my head since before LB was born, and practicing for months. How to hunt deer with an infant in tow?

Two options were obvious, each with advantages and disadvantages. Carrying the baby in a sling, with a pack and rifle, was possible, but taking a shot would require seeing an animal, putting the pack down, putting a pad or jacket on the ground, putting LB on the pad, sneaking a safe distance away (far enough to not harm his hearing, close enough to keep the coyotes from stealing him) and take a shot. The advantage here is being able to go anywhere which didn’t involve excessive steepness, and back at the end of September I did what would have been a successful dry run on a 3×3 mule deer had it been rifle season and had I not already punched my general deer tag. The second option is pictured above, pushing LB in the chariot in stroller mode along dirt roads. By the time we got home from Utah the only deer tag I had left was the whitetail doe tag for the local valley, which made this second approach the way to go. We have a lot of whitetail deer in the Flathead, and in the few patches of public land they are both abundant and pressured hard. I put a lot of days into hunting this tag last fall, ultimately without success (I bailed to a backup area with easier hunting). The chariot is easy to push on even rough logging roads and horse tracks, and has a bomber brake which is quick to set with one foot.

Despite all that LB and I almost used option one with good success last week, hunting for a few hours late afternoon on the heals of a snow and rain storm. The air was heavy and damp, and with the deer having been bedded for most of the day they were both out moving and less able to hear and see.  On two occasions I was able to deposit LB carefully down in a mud-free spot, move off, and be within a few seconds of a good shot window.  I drove home in the dark thinking that the goofy plan might actually work.

The next day we were back, this time with the chariot.  5 minutes from the car a small doe crossed the road a hundred yards away in full flight.  The sun was out, the air was crisp, and we were both enjoying a nice afternoon walking logging roads.  LB napped a few times, but for the most part was wide-eyed, awake and silent bundled in layers of fleece and with my jacket tucked around him.  A little over an hour from the car, a deer appeared ahead, actually on the road, with us mostly hidden by a subtle dip and curve.  With the deer unaware of us it was a perfect opportunity.  I locked the chariot and crawled forward.  The pressure was on, with an opportunity better than any I had hoped for right in front of me.

So naturally I missed.  Twice.  From prone, at a deer facing me perhaps a hundred yards away.  I watched the doe bound up the hill, visually unscathed, and turned around to check on LB only to see a group on horseback a hundred yards back on the road.  I moved the stroller over to the side, sat in the dirt, and looked my placid son in the eyes as the horses passed and the realization that I had wasted a golden opportunity washed over me.  We went over and searched for blood, but I knew there would not be any.  The tracks left as the deer spun and jumped across the road and into the woods were plain in soft dirt.  Equally plain was the improbability of having a comparable opportunity again this year.

There was plenty of daylight left, so LB and I walked back a ways and walked out another road.  3 more deer disappeared back into the thick woods, leaving no chance for a shot.  The previous weekend I had come out early by myself, walking to this same spot in the full dark of morning, before blowing my setup right at first light when I decided I needed to move a bit to the left and spooked a deer right across the road.  It was still early in November, after all, and I had weeks left to fill this tag, be it by myself or with LB along.

The air got colder and I put on the vest LB which had been LB’s blanket, replacing it with a warmer jacket.  As we headed for home we crossed paths and exchanged a few words with an older gent on an ATV, who seemed amused that someone would be out hunting with an infant.

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As the poor picture shows, I did get a second chance.  Quite close to the car and quite close to dark, walking through an open area recently logged, the ground heavily obscured with small bushes and piles of slash, I saw a deer.  To be exact, I saw a part of a deer, a horizontal patch of grey/brown which a recently trained part of my brain saw as not just a stick.  Last fall I probably didn’t see 10 deer in similar situations.  This time the deer knew something was up there, but wasn’t overly concerned, and I gave myself plenty of time to move 40 feet forward of the sleeping Little Bear and get a good rest of my pack.  My rifle went off, and the deer twitched to the right and disappeared from view.

Now the genius of my hunting with baby plans got complicated.  The shot had felt dead on, and I was pretty sure I’d find a dead deer within a short distance of the spot by the tall aspens, but I couldn’t get the stroller far off the road through all the garbage on the ground, and didn’t want the burden of carrying a baby while worrying about administering a follow up shot.

LB had not woken up due to the shot, and I could get the chariot well off the road and him within easy sight, so I locked the stroller and left the sleeping baby behind as I made my way 80 yards back into the woods.  The deer was laying right were I shot it, spined.  I quickly put another bullet through the head, reflecting that no shot should be taken for granted, and that the deer must have been on the verge of running off.  Now I could go retrieve LB and figure out the easiest way to get the deer and us back home as simply as possible.

The hunter on the ATV saw the stroller, empty, and stopped to check on us.  Seeing my headlamp off in the distance he made his way through the tripwire forest, and found me changing a diaper.  Bemused and happy, he asked if he could hold and comfort the fussing (doubtlessly hungry) baby while I finished gutting the deer, then generously helped me drag the deer back to the road, put it on his rig, and motored it the last half mile back to my car.  All the interactions I’ve had with hunters in the field this fall have been excellent, and this one, for obvious reasons, was especially precious and welcome.

Little Bear won’t remember this, regardless of when or if he becomes a hunter, but he’ll benefit from the early childhood hours out developing his senses in the woods, and every day I’ll benefit from one more adventure more multifaceted than anything I could conceive 12 months ago.

Twelve

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Twelve years ago that morning we had been in a hotel in Vegas, me flipping through the Yellow Pages and calling wedding chapels at 9 in the morning.  Twelve years later we were in a tent under the ponderosas back from the rim near Bryce Canyon, sun coming up slowly on a cold and clear morning.  After his own breakfast, I slid Little Bear out across the pine needles to help me make coffee and give M another 45 minutes of sleep.

We had been worried about camping on this trip, as due to weather, lassitude, and fear of bears he hadn’t spent a night in a tent, at all.  LB exceeded our expectations each and every night camping, setting a personal best of 9 continuous hours of sleep during his first night backpacking.  Wrapped in a fleece hoody, fleece hunting, and the fleece and Climashield sleeping bag I made for him temps down a little below freezing were not just tolerable, he seemed to enjoy them.

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That morning we had a hike planned, and the first outright cerulean forecast of the trip, but we were also on baby time and had the wisdom of five days of road tripping to give us patience.  We spent a bit of time in the visitor center staring at bright lights, and I got us second breakfast in frozen burritos from the camp store when we went into a marathon mid-morning feed at the trailhead.  Eventually all things will stay on schedule, and eventually we were off.

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The previous days of hiking had made it clear that LB had outgrown the rear facing sling carry we’d been relying on since birth.  He got frustrated not being able to look ahead, and was too big and had too much leg power to make the sling carry stable.  Surprisingly I nailed the tension for the new, forward carry on the first try, and it proved to be a big hit.  Pictures cannot capture the enthusiastic limb waving which ensued and went on for the first few hours.

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It is easy to overlook Bryce because the popular trails are so crowded, Ruby’s is so ugly, and even the more remote trails are never very far from a road, but none of that makes the scenery any less worthwhile.  The trails in Bryce were built with no utility in mind save tourists, initially on horseback, so they are all well graded, well groomed, and tend to serpentine through the landscape maximizing scenic potential with only modest regard for getting from A to B in any manner of good time.  In short, very fun meandering.  We had also been reminded, by our utterly trailless backpack with the heavy kid, that good trails are occasionally very welcome.

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Hiking in the wrap has always been the most reliable sleep-inducer for Little Bear.  The visual stimulus of facing forward, and having more active neurons to put the view to use, kept him very awake for a long time, but he eventually gave in to the rhythm.

We had also learned that for him being carried in the wrap was real work, therefore we brought along the ridgerest and every big person break for sitting was accompanied by an infant break for laying flat, wiggling, and staring at ones feet.

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Seven miles can take most of the day this way, and with our late start the shadows were growing the wind getting cold by the time we arrived at the final uphill.  Of course this is when he had a huge crap which got out the diaper and soiled his clothes and the wrap.  An immediate wet wipe pitstop in a cold place did not put him in a good mood, which I fixed as best I could by carrying him up the last mile.  Which given his 80th+ percentile dash to 3 months old is good exercise for everyone now.

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LB genuinely prefers to be outside hiking around, but doing it near home or a 17 hour drive away is to him still quite immaterial.  For us it was invaluable; we proved that we could do it, and do it well with a minimum of struggling.  I’ve done dayhikes with more miles than we hiked that whole week, but I don’t mind the difference.  Continuing to cover the west with my soon-to-be washed away tracks lacks the interest and challenge that bringing him along for a few miles does.  And every day I am grateful that I have such a good partner for it.

Little Bear rides the wind

R0010902We still haven’t taken Little Bear backpacking, which I feel bad about. He’s proven to be a good sleeper, but still fusses and cries unpredictably and fairly often, especially during nighttime diaper changes.   Frankly, I still can’t get it out of my head what a fantastic predator call his wailing is, and thus we’ve been sticking to dayhiking only.  But that will change soon.

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DSC09565The Moby wrap proved to be too slow to rig and way too hot for anything above freezing.  The Vatanai is faster to use, comfortable, and secure, but the cotton fabric soaks up sweat and after a few hours on me gets a bit nasty (and is not sustainable for overnights).  I made a copy of the Vatanai out of a thin, tightly woven and low stretch 100% rayon I found at Joanne’s (shown above), and while getting even shoulder pressure is tougher than with the thicker Vatanai, this seems like the way to go.

In either case, carrying a 14 pound infant on your front is a workout, and makes 12 mile dayhikes much more strenuous than than a pack 2-3 times as heavy.

R001074812 miles is our longer outing yet, out and back to visit artifacts from LB’s namesake before the ranger station was locked for the winter.

R0010868LB loves walking, and reliably falls asleep after 20 minutes.  When he wakes up he enjoys cooing at the wind and play of shadows in the trees, and so long as he is bundled properly seems to prefer a good stiff 15+ mph breeze.

Layering under the wrap took a bit of learning, and requires fast drying layers a bit on the light side, with pockets placed so he doesn’t have a zipper pull in his chin when he falls asleep against me.  The XXL windshell I bought to go over both of use hasn’t been used too often, but is effective and was a good idea.

R0010813As cute as his down jacket is, fleece is better for getting drooled on and is less slippery in the wrap and on a coat or pad when being changed.  The Patagonia fleece bunting is fantastic for sleeping, with easy access for diapers.

R0010973R0010909Lookout trips have been valuable tests for the real thing.  The first time, back in early September, he slept very poorly.  A few days ago in the Yaak, he slept just as well as he might at home, and even went back to sleep after a diaper change without feeding.

R0010960The most important practice is, naturally, for us.  These outings are a lot more stressful not just because we have another living being to caretake, but because of the many added things we cannot well control.  40 minute feedings along the side of the road as evening grows alarmingly close are good for building patience and a detachment from particulars which I’ve largely avoided cultivating.  Presumably it will come in very handy in a few more years.

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Little Bear goes to Granite Park

R0010531Some places are a big deal.

R0010594Even after his best (longest) night of sleep yet, it is still really easy to stay home and avoid the dis-ease that comes with doing anything new.

But that’s not very fun.

DSC09529What used to be a simple and rather prosaic, if exceptionally scenic, dayhike is now a somewhat daunting task.  And a much more fulfilling and enjoyable (and with a 13+ pound infant in a wrap, strenuous) one.

R0010555We still haven’t taken him backpacking, but that’s hopefully very soon.  Every day is new and nothing can be taken for granted.

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