“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien
It’s a strange thing heading into the backcountry. First there’s the preparation, the planning, the packing. You have to think about where you’re going and what you’ll need – and don’t really need – because once you’re out there what you have on our back is everything you’ve got.
I had known I was going on the Xtreme Plein Air trip for a while, but for some reason I hadn’t thought about it that much. I did manage to remember to go shopping for some food last minute and throw some clothes in my pack, but that was about the extent of my preparation. So when I met the rest of the group at the trailhead to Little Spar Lake I wouldn’t say that I was mentally prepared to spend three days in the wilderness.
Strangely enough, I’ve discovered that I have ability to adapt to almost any environment so it didn’t take too many strides down the trail before I realized just what I was getting into. I was going backcountry camping with a bunch of artists and outdoor enthusiasts in one of the wildest places in Montana. YES!
And so the trip began, four artists, two outdoor enthusiasts, and one crazy intern were joined by three escorts to – in my personal opinion – the most beautiful lake in all of Montana: Little Spar Lake. We ate our lunches on the edges of a big rock, looking out at the patches of ice floating on the lake’s surface, and daring each other to jump in the frigid waters. We had barely begun our journey and I was already completely impressed.
We said goodbye to our escorts, Neil and Ann Wimberley and Daniele Puccinelli, and continued our expedition into the wilderness, this time off trail. Up we climbed, over rock, snow, and brush, following Mr. Sandy Compton to who knows where. And then we reached it, our camp! Talk about a view. We were on a chunk of stone that formed part of the ridge between two valleys. Mountains, snow covered ridges, forests, and lakes. I was in love.
We spent each night in that beautiful camp. Tents were scattered among large chunks of rocks and vibrant wildflowers. Our “kitchen” was on top of a stone cliff and our “living room” was another chunk of rock in which we constructed a number of stone benches around a fire ring. For a few days, this place became home.
Time is a funny thing when you’re out in the backcountry. We had no plan, no agenda, no schedule other then when we had to go back to the world. So when we found a wildflower we didn’t know we could stop, dig out our guidebooks, and flip through the pages searching for the delicate plant. We could hike up to Vertigo Ridge and look at Scotchman 2 and decide to climb it. We could take a different way home.
It is an amazing thing to hike in the wilderness. There a no trails except those left by elk and goats, no signs to point you in the right direction, just you and your companions. It is then that you realize that the human body is truly remarkable. The longer you spend out there the easier it becomes to move around. You’re strides become more sure, slopes that may have once seemed difficult are just another climb, stream crossings where you almost lost your balance previously become just a few easy steps. And this can happen in just a few short days. You learn to trust yourself out in the wild, and to trust your companions.
All and all it was a great trip, probably some of the best days I had spent in Montana. Certainly a time that I will never forget, with people I will always remember, in a wilderness that found it’s way into my heart.