Go get it

Tom catching Bill on film, last September.

We’re entering the golden period of the year, when days still stretch long enough for leisure and contemplation but the light in low and close enough to winter to provide good contrast.  Food for both photography and recollection.  I had cause to search through the autumnal blog archives the other day, which reminded me that the next 7 weeks is historically both an intellectually and adventurally productive time of year, for me.

And a good time for you all, the readers, to polish and post that entry in the trip report contest.  The entries have been going up slowly and surely, and there are quite a few out there who have mentioned their intention to enter, but have yet to do so.  So do so!  If it’s not posted by the end of next Friday it doesn’t count.

I think that I’ve been a reasonable example in the last month, as have others:

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It’s a hard thing to pull out the camera during those small, burdensome times.  Well done Mike.

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If you don’t know about the Bomb Flow boys, you probably should, certainly if you’re a boater.  While their antics are something I appreciate on only an academic level (I do not intend to do any boating the requires a roll, to say nothing of a rescue vest and full face, just as I don’t bike anything needing more than 4″ of travel or pads.), I learn quite a bit, and they have the talent both in front of and behind the camera (and good music) to push forward the futures of youtube.  I just hope they develop, and soon, beyond the kayak-porn/whitewater music video paradigm, and do some more storytelling.

There’s good stuff happening out there, be a part of it.

TR contest update

First two entries in the contest are in, and they’ve already set the bar high.

Dan Ransom did some hiking, and took some superlative photos, in the Uintas. (Only major range in the lower 48 which runs W-E.)

Josh Spice, of whose blog I was previously unaware, (finally) did a great trip in the western Hayes Range. Seeing the Wood valley again was memory-inducing. Read the background on Josh’s trip for the full picture. I hadn’t thought about hauling bikes along, but it might not suck too bad…

Looking forward to more, get at it!

The Future of Youtube

Not Youtube generally, but the corner of it in which I am most interested: first-person-made outdoor adventure videos.  They’ve revolutionized the outdoor industry.  Before, video of any quality at all required big gear, and this big teams and big money.  Now the best adventure video is increasingly on the leading edge of credibility (see the Camp 4 Collective in the previous link).  Having the adventurers tell their own story is in my eyes a positive development.

Camp 4 is still playing the commercial game, and my aesthetic heart is closer to more intimate, “pure” works. These videos are works of art and of storytelling, and insofar as I view art as primarily concerned with affective communication, those closest to the experience itself are best equipped to tell it.

Luc and Roman’s videos seem to tell us that the Aniakchak trip was a particularly moving one.

My own struggle with making videos, and the main reason I haven’t taken doing so very seriously for about 6 months, is that they seem to have a hard time going beyond outdoor-themed music videos. Pick a trip, do what you can with circumstance to catch it with the camera, pick a song, and fit the three together. What narrative intentionality exists is all too often vaguely emotive only, with salient details left for the reader to intuit from the tone of the music and editing.

Roman’s video above is especially timely in this respect. It has a narrative structure which doesn’t seem overly linear or didactic, and nonetheless plays at character development and intrapersonal growth. It might show a way in which many of us can raise our ambitions, game, and the quality of our work.

Dayhiking Debauchery

As I noted last weekend, I’m just not psyched to suffer yet. I had every intention of skipping the 25 dollar boat ride and walking the 8 miles of trail to Waterton town yesterday, but a measly 23 miles was enough walking to make me grateful to get off my feet.

Instead, I savored the quick and scenic boat ride, bonne equipe, and an evening of drinking beer and laughing to the point of tears. It was just right.

Quiet secrets

Pre-park artifact in Glacier NP.

I was all set to go down the South Fork of the Flathead this (for me 3-day) weekend.  Hiking, boating, fly fishing, and in sharp contrast to last year, warm weather.  Work got done last week, we bought a second car Thursday, and Friday afternoon I ran around, bought food, and got all packed up.  M was all set to wake up early to drop me off, but it just isn’t what I wanted to do.  We slept in, had a leisurely morning, and on Saturday I took the packraft, tenkara rod, and new-to-us car and went fishing.

Bull trout?  I caught Cutts and Brookies in the same small, steep stream.

Normally I’m pretty adverse to keep secrets, but with fishing it seems a bit more appropriate.  I’ll just say that this creek is hard to fish.  This time of year it’s steep, clear,  and cold.  Its bottom is primarily big, slick, foot grabbing cobbles, and on this late water year there’s still almost enough water to make it packraftable (at a high level of difficulty), thus you can’t wade across just anywhere.  The lush hardwood forest along the banks make bushwacking in from the shore tough, and hang over to snag backcasts.  I lost a lot of tippet and half a dozen brown elk caddis flies yesterday.  The fish are small, strike hard and quickly, and live in tiny mid-stream eddies and under big, complex log piles.  I spent two hours fishing up along 100 yards of creek, bringing a couple dozen 4 to 12 inch trout to hand.

It’s my favorite sort of fishing to do.  And as a hint, this great creek in in Glacier NP, legal to fish (of course), and you’ll need a boat or a long walk to access it.  That’s all I’m saying.

Danni Coffman near Triple Divide Pass.  M photo.

I rolled into West Glacier late Saturday afternoon, looking for iced coffee.  A fortuitous text from Danni had me attending a trail fundraiser, sitting in the grass under the sun, and drinking lots of beer.  An excellent Bavarian Pilsner reaffirmed my opinion that Blackfoot is the best brewery in Montana, at the moment.  (Even if they’re located in a river basin on the other side of the divide from their namesake.)  One thing led to another, and M and I joined Danni and Angie on a hike in Glacier yesterday.  More superlative weather, great company, fat marmots, and prolific wildflowers made for a great day.  We walked from Cut Bank to St. Mary via Triple Divide and the Red Eagle Creek trail, and though my feet got sore faster than they should (still not recovered from the classic!) the lovely quasi-tundra meadows in the last few miles were a pleasant surprise which nicely finished a wonderfully varied hike.

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Even though the weather and conditions would have been absolutely ideal, not going into the South Fork was the right thing to do.  Beyond being, still, tired from the classic, I just didn’t want to be out alone this weekend.  Some times my work makes me want to run away and hide from humanity, but after days like Friday (when a client who had been making profound progress relapsed, spectacularly) when the frailty of human life and the lengths and depths to which interpersonal trauma can run is made to me all too obvious, I need to be around others.  And on that count, this weekend was ideal.


The 2011 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is done.  I teamed up on route with fellow rookie Paige Brady, and in spite of a storm Monday night that sent us back to wait overnight under a spruce tree for better weather, we finished in second overall at 3 days, 12 hours, and 20 minutes.

The real story is Luc Mehl, John Sykes, Tyler Johnson, and Todd Kasteler, whose glacier route will hold up well in the ranks of race legends.  Perhaps more remarkably, Luc hauled a Canon 7D and created this video:

More next week, when I’m home with photos on the hard drive and more of a chance to process it all.

Tuesday videos

After a fairly uneventful weekend (skiing, packrafting, my friend’s (Greek!) wedding in Whitefish, prep for the classic, even some mountain biking), here’s what I find today:

The MMT boys continue to deliver:

Adam didn’t die. For which I am glad (feeds well into last weeks “don’t fuck with rivers” theme):

10 months of skiing

First day of skiing this season was late October.  As of today, we’re still going strong.

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Jewel has good corn early, and is remarkably un-suncupped.

The silt plume in Flathead Lake is pretty impressive.

Black Lake is still frozen almost totally solid, and the parking lot at Camp Misery is under a good 6 feet of snow.  On the walk out I had to explain to some confused hikers that it’d be awhile until jeans and loafers would be appropriate Jewel attire.

Revisiting the shadow

Lake McDonald.

Apologies for the dramatic title; and while shadows (for once present, as this weekend is not overcast and rainy) played a prominent role in this latest trip, I am primarily speaking about that concept of the shadow found in one of my favorite poems.

It took far too long, and far too much agony, to decide on a trip this time.  Yes, conditions are making life complex, and most of the trips I had in mind for this time of year are for various reasons not so possible, but I live where I do.  When I lived in Ohio or Iowa such indecision was acceptable; here it is not.  Eventually, and with much, much patience on M’s part, I decided on three days of meanderings on foot and packraft, from Apgar north to the border and back.  No snow, plenty of walking, good training.

Training is of course the main reason for my nervous indecision.  In three weeks and a few hours from right now I’ll be starting the classic, and given the unknowns I’d be foolish if I weren’t worried about the integrity of my preparations.  At the same time, it could be quite the spoiler to let things go adrift at this point, due to fear of failure.  I did come home a day early, but my feet hurt and my at the same time my legs feel fresh, all of which adds up to a good sign.  Not only do I need to be physically strong in three weeks, with enough but too much training between then and now, as well as enough but not too much rest (given how hard some of these trips have been on tendons and ligaments, resting is not the simplest of topics), I need to be mentally prepared.  There will be fear and intimidation, but if I go into the race with the right frame of mind I know things will go well.

Inflating the boat at Apgar on Friday morning.

For me, the rules governing mental reserves are in this respect quite similar to those governing physical ones.  The size of my capacity is built up in a cyclical process which ebbs and flows ever upward, and can be surprisingly dynamic.  Huge gains can be had in a short time if things are properly balanced, and at the same time large holes can with ease be dug if mistakes are made.  In the end that’s why I came home early yesterday; I was only having so much fun, and in this case fun is more relevant than just fun.

Setting off.  Light and cloud were consistently extraordinary for the whole trip.

M and I woke up early and made it to Apgar by 730 Friday morning.  Lower Logging Lake had one spot available at the close of business Thursday, and I didn’t want to get scooped.  Mid-June is the start of tourist backpacking season in Glacier, and the prodigious snowpack is causing many parties to be rerouted into the relatively few spots without snow or problematic creek crossings.  Places like the Quartz Lakes and Belly River area have been busy lately.  I got my permit, and decided that paddling from Apgar to Fish Creek was more stylish than walking, so that’s what I did.  It reinforced, for the first of several times during the trip, that the primary benefit of packrafting in the lower 48 is not efficiency, as too many trails create faster options on foot, but rather being able to see the same areas in dramatically different ways.

Once I found a decent system, I was surprised and pleased to be able to fit three days of gear and the raft and paddle into my new Golite Jam.  Key to this was rolling the boat into a longer, thinner package.  Tarp and bug net go loose in the bottom of the pack, then raft on one side, blue dry sack (with quilt, socks, hats and fleece) and XS thermarest next to it.  Food on top. 

I took out at the ranger boat house, wended my way through the campground, and up the road towards Howe Ridge.

Low altitude beargrass is coming out now.

Howe Ridge proved to be a very enjoyable hike.  The southern third has been cleared this season, but the northern two-thirds has not seen a trail crew in quite some time.  (I believe Sam can tell us more.)  It all burned recently, and the ethereal skeletons-above green-below combined with a quiet and moderately challenging trail finding and footing to give a great experience.  Good training too, crawling over all the deadfall.  Only once did I get further than 10 feet away from the trail, but it required a lot of constant attention to find.

Lower Camas Creek ford.

Hoping back into maintained trail, and seeing people, was a bit jarring.  Glacier, for all it’s popularity, it a very lonely place for 9+ months out of the year.  The lower Camas trail had not been much walked however, due to the very proper warnings about the above ford.  Big cobbles on the bottom, too.  I bushwacked upstream to the base of the lake, inflated the boat, and did a lazy crossing.  I think you could go to the same place and find a place to wade (without swimming, maybe) safely.

Packraft’s eye view.

I hoofed it a few more miles downstream, with only elk and deer tracks along with one set of ranger footprints (gov-issue boots) to keep my company.  Lots of flowers and birds, generally spring turning rapidly to summer looking.  I inflated the boat and jumped back into the creek at the first opportunity, and even though the meandering ways were much slower than walking the trail out, it was worth it.  Flooded willows, open vistas, broods of Canada goslings on the move.  A great easy float.

Moods of road walking.

I still had miles of walking on the closed-to-cars Inside North Fork road, and some trails miles, to go.  It was 1800 by the time I packed up and got going, and the maths did not looks especially favorable  for not walking up the dense brush of Logging Creek at dusk.  Add that to hurting feet, monotonous walking, and mosquitoes and you have a ripe environment for the shadow.  Between the essence and descent indeed.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know Mr. Shadow well, and for me the battle is always to embrace the process without being a defiant slave to it.  In my younger, less-secure days (mostly as a climber) I tended to either give it entirely or do things I didn’t really want to do just to prove to myself that I was free from self-doubt and fear.  Neither is an especially happy path.  so I walked along on Friday night, enjoying the surroundings while at the same time stewing in all the reasons why doing this, then, now was silly.  All a moot point, I needed to make miles, find a place to camp, eat, and sleep.  I hadn’t finished pack until after midnight the previous night and woken early, and the combo was not doing my mood any favors.

I was already resolved to not go up to Logging Creek.  Hiking in that kind of brush, at this time of year and that hour of the day, in Grizz country, it just silly.  This conviction was reinforced when, a half mile before Logging Creek, I heard a vigorous and pine-cone-loosening scramble from one of the Ponderosas off the road.  Too big to be a squirrel, perhaps a martin?  Nope, a black bear cub, recognizable by it’s cute little head sticking out in profile 70 feet up.  Damn it, where’s mom?!

I stopped, started yelling loudly, and put my head on a swivel.  No momma bear.  Hastily, I decided to creep forward and get outta there fast.  Then I noticed mom off in the woods 50 feet away, me exactly between her and baby.  That was stupid.  Never letting her get out of sight, I broke into a swift trot down the road.  She didn’t move a muscle, and I got off lucky.  Black bears aren’t as likely to be aggressive, but she was a big black bear, and I should have backed off a bit or at least waited to see if she appeared.  Of course as M pointed out last night by the time I noticed that cub she could have already been behind me.  That’s the third black bear in 13 months whose presence I’ve only noticed because of the scrambling of cubs climbing a tree.  Something to watch out for.

I should note that this miscalculation didn’t do much to improve my mood.

When I did reach LogginG Creek campground, I found out why the Inside road isn’t yet open.  The campground was entirely flooded by Logging Creek, as was an impressive amount of forest, and 150 meter of road I had to wade through.  Burrrr.  I continued on to Quartz Creek, also closed but not flooded.  The mosquitoes were out in force.  I was glad I brought a bug bivvy, made dinner by the creek to maximize the breeze, and fell asleep quickly.  Birds woke me up at 500, but I had placed my tarp in a shady spot and went back to sleep until 700.

The lower Quartz Lake bridge is quite the engineering feat.

The next morning was very pleasant.  Coffee and junk food for breakfast put me in a good mood, as did the scenic meadows heading up Quartz Creek.  I had one swift, crotch deep ford to do, but the gravel bottom made it pretty casual.  I was tempted to inflate the boat and hop back in at the above bridge, but decided to save that for another day, continue on to Bowman Lake, and head down to Polebridge, calling the trip a day early.  I was expending too much mental energy, and the glimpse I got of the huge North Fork the night before had me not so excited about floating it, as the third day plan was based around.

I should note that I’m quite the control freak, which is why moving water, especially fast moving water, is not my favorite thing.  Mountain biking and skiing only became fun when I developed enough skill in both to have reliable control.  I’m not there yet in a boat, if I can ever be on something like a swift early-summer creek.

The trails of Glacier go on forever.

Once I got within 2 miles of Bowman Lake I began seeing people every 200 meters.  It must be summer.

Can’t have too many Bowman pictures.

Swift-water fears aside, Bowman Creek looked too inviting.  I figured I might be able to float a third of it.  Views from the road and previous experience suggested that once it emerged into a burned area in the lower reaches the wood would make it un-fun and un-safe.

I didn’t make it quite that far.  I had some lovely, clear meanders, then the unvisited lower Bowman Lake (or perhaps Bowman Pond is better), then more nice meanders.  Then the banks steepened I was flying down over waves, dodging tress, and punching a diagonal hole before screaming into an eddy on the wrong side of the creek and pulling out.  A ferry across to the road side of the creek looked no good, with swift water and essentially no eddies.  So unwilling to run the creek at such a level or chance a sketchy ferry I pulled the pack off the boat, broke down and stashed the paddle, and bushwacked upstream to a good crossing.  Packing the boat required putting my headnet on, as did the bushwack to find the road.

Impressive elk shed.

I’m becoming disturbingly familiar with walking the Bowman Lake road.  At least I know the landmarks now, and had boated past the most wooded and thus mosquito-infested stretch.  The only unknown now was whether M had noticed my train of special spot messages (usually meant to denote a camp) and assumed it meant I wanted to return to basecamp (home).

Fortunately, the Polebridge Ranger Station has a pay phone, and I had brought a debit card (to buy snacks at the Polebridge Mercantile).  I quick voicemail insured my rescue, eventually.

I paused on the bridge to watch the river.



Said snacks: coke, beer, brat baked in a pastry (amazing!), Guacamole-bacon pastry (excellent!).

As it turns out M had picked up extra hours at work, so my voicemail was quite necessary.  After some very nice munching, beer drinking, and people and cloud watching from the bench on the store’s porch M called the store, and the gent working fetched me to the phone: I was to be rescued that day.  M arrived, we got dinner in Whitefish, and I slept in our bed last night.

It was yet another excellent trip with a satisfying end.  I think that when I look back on it this spring will be remembered fondly.