Hiking and Living the West Kootenai

“I live in the woods. It’s about as remote as you can get in the Lower Forty-eight. There’s no phone or electricity throughout much of this valley in Northwest Montana… Much of it has been logged savagely but there are still some dark coves, dark forests left. That’s where we like to spend our time. It’s different, up here. We live at the edge of the United States-Canada border and at the edge of the Idaho-Montana border as well. Animals from the Pacific Northwest overlap here and live together with those from the Northern Rockies: wolves, grizzlies, woodland caribou, sturgeon, giant owls and eagles. Trees from both regions occur here- cedars, hemlock, spruce, fir, pine, aspen, ash, alder, tamarack. It’s almost all federal land, yet there’s not a single acre of protected wilderness.” Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

 

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Spring is arriving in the West Kootenai and I suppose we can guess that I’ve survived my first Montana winter. The locals say it’s been mild and my snowshoes are still in their box so I guess that’s true. Winter here was much less a challenge than winter in Nebraska with 20 head of horses on the blizzarding plains, wind blowing 40 and temps at -30. It is different here. The days have a rhythm all their own. It’s the kind of quiet here that one can’t fathom back where I started in Columbus, Ohio. Nebraska was rural and sometimes quiet, but this is the frontier. The area has less than 6 people per square mile. On this side of the reservoir is Montana’s oldest Amish community so you are more likely to hear hooves clip clopping down the road than a car.

The heartbeat of my little one room log cabin is the woodstove. All things of the day begin and end here.

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Daytime is for attempting to navigate the thousands of acres of forest that surround me. This is much more challenging than I expected. This forest is uncharted, unmarked and the only way in is to brave old, mostly unnumbered logging roads. Usually I intend to simply go back the way I came but end up half-lost before I find the Blazer. Once I get to the Blazer then I just have to worry about flat tires and catastrophic breakdowns that would leave me stranded in some part of the forest where no one ever goes with two ten-week old puppies.

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I have discovered that while spring has arrived at my cabin, if I drive upward in any direction there is still enough snow to get stuck. There was one road I made it about 14 miles switching back and forth upward until I got the blazer stuck. I had to inch back and forth trying not to slip off the side of the mountain, get unstuck, turned around and back down where the snow was gone. I have explained this to co-workers and Amish. They all have a good laugh and tell me I can’t get across to the Yaak or up to ten lakes until June. One co-worker looked sort of terrified about my adventuring alone up here. He made me a list of things I need

  • Swiss Army Knife
  • .45 with plenty of ammo
  • folding saw
  • fire sticks
  • blanket
  • water bottle
  • non-perishable food
  • flashlight
  • candles
  • coffee can
  • compass

I had one day of shooting a .45 and I can shoot the same spot several times. The only trouble is that spot is nowhere near where I was aiming. How is a compass going to help me if I don’t even know which direction I came from?

Despite often having to turn around, sometimes getting lost and the natural fear that I will run smack dab into a grizzly with nothing but a can of bear spray; the exploration of Montana is the highlight of this life.

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“Our friend Nancy, who has an eye for the woods, says she first made a guess that we would stay- that we would fit with this place – when she saw us driving back and forth with a sedan stuffed full of firewood, sparks roostertailing behind us in the dusk, hurrying to get our wood before winter. Before the world disappeared beneath the snow, before Canada slipped over us like an avalanche; like the curve of a breaking wave, a typhoon of snow.” -Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

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“Even for hermits, there are limits. Still, we try to push those limits. We try to see how long we can go without having to go into town.” -Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

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