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March 15, 2015

The Art of Changing Plans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the season started, my big adventure goal was to skijor into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and, hopefully, see the Chinese Wall.  Three days before my planned departure date, I checked out Gibson Reservoir, starting point for the trek.  I found no snow.  Moreover, given how little snow I saw, even on north facing slopes of nearby mountains, it would be a long way in before I would be on skis.  Add to that that, on my side of the Continental Divide, west of Rogers Pass, there was a lot of snow, and my plan changed to heading up Monture Creek. 

Prior to learning what the conditions were east of the divide, I had gone out breaking trail on a pair of four hour practice trips.  Modern GPS’s allowed me to choose routes that nobody had been on, totally untracked snow, but that would end on snowmobile trails and a quick exit.  Of course, there was the time that I had wandered a little in the wrong direction and tried correcting what I had done by using the compass on the GPS rather than just its map and location information.  Two circles and a figure eight later, I realized that there was a lag on the GPS compass direction read-out.  I bought a new compass, replacing the one I had had for more than 40 years, the next day. 

The circles aside, I wandered through snow that, surface to ground, nobody had touched.  The only difference between these trips and those in a true wilderness was much of the forest had been cleared recently by loggers.  Within a few miles of my home, I had perfect solitude. 

The other shakedown I did do, testing out the pulk and camping overnight, was at Lindberg Lake.  I had hoped to skijor into the Mission Peaks Wilderness, but all of the snow on the lake had a layer saturated by water, overflow.  I chose just to camp and keep the trip short. 

More than I realized at the time, cutting short the Lindberg Lake trip foreshadowed my trip up Monture Creek.  I turned around only five miles up Monture, far short of the sixteen that I had planned.  The pulk had worked great at Lindberg as well as some other testing I did near Seeley Lake, but was totally uncontrollable near any kind of a sideslope.  The creek itself had lots of open water, even in sections that didn’t have much of a grade, so I couldn’t follow it.  Away from the stream but off of the summer trail, there was a ton of downfall that would have made moving forward slow and tedious.  Unfortunately, a fair amount of the summer trail—it was mostly clear of downfall---followed the east side of the valley, and there were a lot of sideslopes.  On the way out, I came to the conclusion that the only way I could do these without the pulk going over the edge and threatening to take Gaiya, Prudhoe, and me with it, was walking the pulk and my gang separately. 

The camping itself, though, was beautiful.  The campsites were a lot of work---I pounded down the snow for over an hour, often sinking up to my thigh, to make a platform on which I could set up my tent and, at least, walk around it.  Leaning back on my Therma-Lounger, sleeping bag draped over my legs, and sipping hot orange Gatorade, cozy and comfortable, made that work more than worth it. 

I spent five days and four nights alone---just Gaiya, Prudhoe, and me, in winter wilderness.  Monture Creek is managed as a roadless area, a wilderness with a little w.  While camping at Lindberg Lake, I could see lights in houses that dotted the lakeshore.  Along Monture Creek, the only sign of humanity I had was from airplanes passing above me.  After two miles, all of the tracks belonged to me, my dogs, and wild animals.  I saw both moose and wolf tracks.  All of my previous snow camping trips, even those where I camped alone, there were always others’ ski or snowshoe tracks in the snow.  This trip was different. 

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had an attraction for cold and winter.  Perhaps, some part of the kid who grew up in Southern California felt deprived.  I don’t know.  I discovered snow camping as a Boy Scout before I turned 15.  As an adult, I learned that I enjoy both being alone as well as climbing, skiing, and mushing with others.  The joy of being with others is their company and conversation.  The joy of being alone is the satisfaction in being self-sufficient, even if only for a relatively short time, and meeting the challenges nature presents.  I camped by myself for five days in the winter in Montana’s Rocky Mountains.  The high point may have been sipping a hot drink while the world around me froze, rather than staring up at the Chinese Wall, but I still had one hell of a trip.

A link to my video from this trip can be found on my Videos page.

 

   
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