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Volume 2.4


WINTER 2010/2011

WINTER 2010/11

16 30 40

CHUTE TO THRILL An epic Montana contest rewards skiers who climb to the top

COLD SIX Mountaineer Jason Robertson had a deadly to-do list: climb all of Glacier’s 10,000-footers in winter

SNOW PACK Being a rookie in the grueling Race to the Sky is for the dogs

Cover photo by Yogesh Simpson


Grub 38


Warm bones to get you sauced


8 Head Trip 44

Head Lines 11 Montanans say “Ski Afghanistan!” New lifts greet skiers Parkour gets off the ground

Maverick Mountain’s fresh tracks and hot water

Head Out 48 Your winter recreation calendar

Head Light 22 Head Gear 51

Singing the blues

A Bozeman ski maker’s amazing ride

Head Shots 24 Our readers’ best

The Crux 58 Wild Things 36

The wild starry nights that live within

Wolves at the door



Matt Gibson Lynne Foland Amy Linn Chad Harder Carolyn Bartlett Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis

Matt Holloway, Perri Knize, Ari LeVaux, Rob Loveman, Alex Sakariassen, Yogesh Simpson, Aaron Teasdale


Please recycle this magazine

Jason Wiener Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Tami Johnson, Rhonda Urbanski, Chris Melton, Sasha Perrin, Teal Kenny, Alecia Goff Lorie Rustvold

317 S. Orange St.• Missoula, MT 59801 406-543-6609 • Fax 406-543-4367

Montana Headwall (ISSN 2151-1799) is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2010 by Independent Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or in part is forbidden except by permission of Independent Publishing, Inc. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. And yeah, we’re having fun.

Chad Harder

omebody would inevitably be the first to scale all of Glacier National Park’s 10,000-foot peaks in winter. But it was not inevitable that it would be accomplished in such an impressive fashion (see “Cold Six” on page 30). Whitefish cabinetmaker Jason Robertson summited all six mountains alone, without support or protection, covering tortuous distances and braving frozen vertical faces with exposures that would terrify most of us on a perfect August afternoon, much less a bitter February morning after a 15-mile approach in the dark. Robertson’s achievement stands out as a landmark of Montana mountaineering, not just because of its extreme difficulty, but because his radical solo method left so little margin for error. As a demonstration of confidence, courage, and extraordinary focus, it practically defies comprehension, leaving us in awe—and with a new, hairraising awareness of our potential. Bodies without weakness. Minds without doubt. Inspired by adventurers like Robertson, we seek countless ways to push our limits and master our sur-



roundings in order to discover new, eye-opening experiences. In “Snow Pack,” (page 40) Rob Loveman tests his mettle as a musher in the grueling, 350-mile Race To the Sky. Yogesh Simpson dares the steeps of Moonlight Basin’s Headwaters terrain in “Chute to Thrill,” (page 16) and Headwall photo editor Chad Harder rocks some Patagonia baggies at Elkhorn Hot Springs in “Going Maverick” (page 44). Hey, everybody has different challenges to overcome. It’s fitting though, that this issue closes with Perri Knize’s meditation on the dimming impulse to press as we grow older (“Wilderness Lifeline,” page 58). At some point, there’s no escaping our own skin, which can be a comfort. And the mountains, more reassuring still, endure even our most glorious gestures with their dominion unperturbed, providing inspiration of an entirely other order. You can’t climb to heaven. But you might envision it beyond the next crest. Matt Gibson Editor-In-Chief

Chad Harder

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Rob Loveman

A Mississippi native who moved to Montana for the wilderness, Holloway spent four summers in Glacier National Park as a backcountry ranger and permit writer. He has published fiction in The Whitefish Review and nonfiction in A View Inside Glacier National Park: 100 Years, 100 Stories; he has also written for Big Sky Journal and Montana Magazine. Holloway now teaches English at the Independent High School in Whitefish. He lives with his wife and daughter in Columbia Falls.

From the day Loveman brought home Siberian huskies Dawn and Tenaya, Tenaya was off like a shot whenever she had a chance. To get the girls onto snow without losing them, Loveman turned to mushing in 1999. Since then the nuclear physicist has logged more than 5,000 miles via dogsled, including 370 miles on the Iditarod trail. When he’s not tending his kennel—which has grown to 22 dogs—Loveman pursues mountaineering, rock climbing and backcountry skiing.


Knize first came to Montana in 1983 to work as a Forest Service wilderness guard. Her essays on the outdoors and environmental policy have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Backpacker, Skiing and other publications. She is the author of Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey (, the story of her misadventures among the world’s piano fanatics. The book was named an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times and made the Washington Post “Best of 2008” list. She lives in Missoula with her husband and a backpacking mastiff, Ben.

Matt Holloway


Montana Headwall

Page 8 Winter 2010 / 2011

Yo g e s h S i m p s o n Simpson moved to Montana in 2001 to pursue postgraduate studies in cold smoke at the University of Bridger Bowl. He went on to earn a master’s degree in photojournalism at the University of Montana in Missoula and worked as the photo editor at the Missoula Independent before trying out the tropics as the managing editor of The Molokai Dispatch in Hawaii. The frequent Headwall contributor has since returned to Bozeman to be closer to big mountains.

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Montana Headwall

Page 9 2010 / 2011

HEAD LINES Laurie Ashley


Montana couple discovers virgin slopes in Afghanistan Montanans Chad Dear and Laurie Ashley wrapped up an epic 45-day ski season in June 2010 by shredding 2,460 vertical feet of sun-beaten corn—in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. Over the course of the winter, the two had skied everything from powder to crust in the country better known for fresh conflicts than fresh tracks. A 15,000-foot ascent through the Koh-e-Baba mountains of western Bamyan Province seemed a fitting coda for what most people would consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Dear and Ashley, however, the day—while lovely—marked the end of nearly five months of research document-

ing the lines, aspects, conditions and dangers of Bamyan skiing for the throngs of tourists they hope will eventually descend on this peaceful region in an otherwise war-torn country. Their weeks on the snow and corn—known as barf-e-brinj, or “rice snow,” to the locals—provide the backbone for Ski Afghanistan: A Backcountry Guide to Bamyan and Band-eAmir. The guidebook, sponsored by the Bamyan Ecotourism Program and the Aga Khan Development Network, an international nonprofit working in Asia and Africa, is due out in 2011. “The reality right now is that only the craziest of Montanans is really going to Montana Headwall

consider making a ski trip to Bamyan,” Ashley said in a recent email interview from her new residence in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. “But it’s totally possible. And probably not that much riskier than driving Highway 93 late on a Friday night.”

The only known chairlift in Afghanistan operated near Kabul in the 1960s.

(The U.S. State Department agrees that it is indeed possible for Americans to travel to the Afghan capital of Kabul via commercial flights, but “no part of Afghanistan

Page 11 Winter 2010 / 2011


should be considered immune from violence,” the agency warns.) The mountains in Bamyan Province, whose capital, Bamyan, boasts 62,000 residents, are a far cry from home. Ashley, a Montana native, grew up skiing areas like Whitefish Mountain Resort, and after Dear moved to the state in 2003, the two haunted popular local ranges like the Bitterroots. They moved to Afghanistan in late 2009 to work on land and natural resource management for various nongovernmental organizations. The Ski Afghanistan project began as extracurricular work for the Aga Khan Foundation, but became a full-time gig for the two in February 2010. The couple believes ski tourism could someday complement summer travel to the historic region, home of the fabled Silk Road. Visitors in former days came to see the giant Buddhas of Bamyan, but the relics were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001. The challenges of researching the guidebook, meanwhile, weren’t quite

Montana Headwall

Laurie Ashley

what the average American would expect. While the country continues to suffer from poor infrastructure and political instability, Ashley insists she and Dear were more concerned with matters familiar to skiers in less embattled backcountry. “Avalanches were our biggest concern,” Ashley says. “Once our road back to town was blocked by a huge slide. The car

Page 12 Winter 2010 / 2011

was up there for the three weeks it took people in the surrounding villages to dig out the road by hand. There’s no search and rescue and little to no emergency care. So being responsible in the backcountry was more important than ever.” Ashley adds that she and Dear did hear gunfire once, but it turned out to be a group of local hunters. Bamyan Province


Three Montana ski areas have uplifting news is “very opposed to the Taliban,” she says. When Afghanistan does find peace, “the people of Bamyan are ready to welcome skiers to their mountains.” The costs for carving sick turns in the Koh-e-Baba range are quite high, though. Flights alone can cost upwards of $2,000, and international travel firms charge more than $1,500 for nine-day ski packages, excluding airfare, visas, insurance or equipment. For now, Ashley says she and Dear have set their sights on a much closer target—expats stuck in government compounds in Kabul. “Most people had never seen skis before,” Ashley says of the local villagers. “We got some skis donated and had four pairs made locally by carpenters in the bazaar. During the New Year celebration (March 21, in Afghanistan) we had a big ski competition and had about 100 Afghans up on skis. It was chaos and super fun. Hopefully it will catch on.” Alex Sakariassen

kitty toys, requiring lift closures for This winter, Montana skiers and snowboarders can look forward to a bet- safety reasons—and occasionally flipping empty chairs over the cable. ter ride at three of the state’s ski areas. The new Bridger lift should be able Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Discovery in to run in winds of up to 40 miles per Philipsburg and Teton Pass near hour. Having a dependable ride will Choteau are offering new lifts and also ensure that ski patrollers can makeovers for the 2010-2011 season. reach Bridger’s renowned ridge to do Bridger Bowl’s main lift, the 46year-old Bridger chair, is being replaced with a swanky modDiscovery is poised to develop a second base area ern triple chair, and the siminear Philipsburg served by the new Silver Chief lift, larly decrepit Deer Park lift but it still needs approval to build the road. has been removed. The new Bridger lift will offer a loading avalanche control that "gets the rest of zone located slightly downhill from the area open,” Elliott says. the old one, providing easier access At Discovery, the Silver Chief triple from the Deer Park Chalet. Skiers will chair will expand the skiable acreage unload in the same spot as before. General Manager Randy Elliott says on the backside of the area by at least 300 acres. The 1,000 vertical feet of the change promises more reliable newly accessible intermediate terrain is access to the upper mountain by reducprimarily below the Granite lift, located ing the number of shutdowns due to at 6,480 feet on Rumsey Mountain. high winds and mechanical troubles. Strong gusts at the Bowl could bat Continued on next page around the old 80-pound chairs like

Montana Headwall

Page 13 Winter 2010 / 2011

Chad Harder

Ski areas The base of Silver Chief is also strategically positioned to serve as an additional base area if the resort eventually succeeds in opening a new access road from Philipsburg. The road is “a key piece, in terms of being able to tie the whole mountain together," says Ciche Pitcher, Discovery’s vice president of resort operations. But skiers shouldn’t count on seeing it any time soon; the project is currently shelved due to opposition. Pitcher says there are enough obstacles to make it impossible to even speculate on a timeline. In July, New Zealand entrepreneur Tom Wood snatched up Teton Pass Ski Resort for $270,000 and commenced heaping money into the operation. The Choteau area attraction had been shut down last ski season, but it now reopens with a remodeled lodge, a new Poma lift that accesses 11 new runs, and a boost in size from 115 to 320 skiable acres. Other improvements include a terrain park and “carpet conveyor” for the bunny slope. The future could be whiter for another ski area, as well: Lookout Pass on the Montana-Idaho border has submitted a 20-year plan to the U.S. Forest Service that would add eight new lifts and 2,000 acres to the terrain. If all goes as planned, the area would expand over two additional peaks. Yogesh Simpson Montana Headwall

Page 14 Winter 2010 / 2011

OBSTACLE ALLUSIONS If you happen across springy high school kids leaping and flipping over walls, stairwells, and other obstacles around Missoula, don’t worry, they’re not overdosing on Red Bull. They’re practicing parkour. A free-form sport that gets its name from the French word for “course” or “route,” parkour (pronounced “par-core”) involves running, jumping, climbing and using all manner of acrobatic trickery to move across urban landscapes with top efficiency and speed. Practicing at the University of Montana, 16-year-olds Michael Graef, pictured, and Kent Johns started in 2008 after seeing jaw-dropping clips of parkour founder David Belle on YouTube. They’ve since founded the Missoula Parkour Group (, which counts 70 members and offers twice-weekly classes at Missoula’s Mismo Gymnastics, one for kids and one for all ages. Similar cadres are meeting in Helena, Butte and Bozeman. While parkour philosophers stress freedom, expression, and the overcoming of fear and other mental obstacles, Graef sums it up in less lofty terms: “It’s a great way stay active, get fit, and have fun.” Aaron Teasdale

Aaron Teasdale

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permittee of Lolo National Forest, Seeley Lake Ranger District

Montana Headwall

Page 15 Winter 2010 / 2011

t’s 7:30 in the morning and I’m in the Headwaters Grille at the base of Moonlight Basin talking to Chris Rennau, a twentysomething Bozemanite with shaggy hair, hip glasses and lime green pants. “I started picking out my line about a week ago. Guinea-pigged it,” he says. “I’m gonna throw a front flip off a 30footer I call Chunky Monkey, and then over to the Lily Pad to a double-stager.” By the time he gets to “guinea-pigged it,” my suspicions are confirmed. I am totally out of my league. I’m signed up to compete with Rennau in the ski resort’s fifth annual Headwaters Spring Runoff event, but my illusions of actually being competitive are fading fast. The double-stager, I find out, involves skiing off a 10-foot cliff onto a hanging snowfield and off a 25-foot cliff just below it. “It’s horrifying. I’m never doing it again after today,” says Rennau. The competition is broken into two parts. First we hike with skis on our backs up 800 vertical feet to the top of the Headwaters lift, which accesses the long ridge leading up to Lone Peak.


Then we ski down one of the chutes for a single “freeride” that’s judged on line, control, fluidity, technique and aggressiveness. I consider myself a competent skier and I’ve skied the Headwaters chutes a handful of times. But I haven’t guineapigged anything, and I’ve never even heard the term double-stager before this morning. I look around to size up the rest of the competition. At the table next to me, a 10-year-old named Zach Cone rests his chin on his folded hands and intently studies the map from his registration packet. The black-and-white photo overlaid with ski runs shows the chutes in all their steep, rocky glory. He seems undaunted when I ask him about his line. “I’ll try and hit all the powder spots I can,” he says, envisioning a straightforward run. I want to be in his division. As the 56 other competitors finish checking in and getting their race bibs, a cadre of red-coated ski patrollers congregates around event organizer Michelle Jondahl. Outside the lodge, conditions seem pretty mild—the temperature is in the mid-twenties with light snow falling.

The Headwaters ridge, however, is cloaked in a darker mantle, and after a few minutes of intense discussion Jondahl stands on a chair to inform the crowd of eager athletes that the event might need to be postponed. Temps are significantly colder on the ridge and the wind is gusting up to 50

The juniors are in the first division

watch a 7-year-old almost get blown off his feet before collapsing over the finish line and bursting into tears. after me, and I

miles per hour, she announces. With the upper third of the headwall socked in, the judges 1,000 feet below in the Stillwater Bowl won’t be able to see the competitors. But after getting some feedback from the crowd, Michelle decides to greenlight the hike this morning and postpone the freeride stage until tomorrow, when the forecast looks better.

THE HIKE An hour later I’m at the top of the Six Shooter lift looking up at what was described in the registration packet as a “pre-set boot-pack”—basically a stairway of steps in the snow packed down by the generous folks on the ski patrol. But the patroller currently kicking steps 100 feet up the hillside is barely visible through the blowing flakes, and his tracks have all but disappeared. Since I am photographing this thing I have the brilliant idea of suggesting I go first so I can get shots of everyone fol-

top of the hike and barfed, I was so exhausted,” says Helen Lynn. “I’ll just have to be jammin’ out and hope for the best.” “I got to the

lowing in my wake. I send my camera up the Headwaters lift with one of the organizers, shed my down jacket and strap my skis to my pack. By the time I get the nod from the girl with the stopwatch and take my first steps up the hill, the boot-pack is completely blown in. Steep hikes are part of my almost-daily routine at my home ski area, Bridger Bowl, so I was thinking I might get a leg up in this portion of the competition. But it takes two to three kicks to carve a single step in the shin-

deep to knee-high powder, and I can hear the clock ticking away. The wind is blowing hardest atop the ridge; my face stings from being pelted by icy granules of snow. I cross the finish line in just over 20 minutes, which I later learn is a full seven minutes behind the fastest hiker, Luke Koerten from Bozeman. I grab my camera from the tiny lift shack, layer up and step back into the blizzard. A steady train of hikers emerges from the whiteout, some running in that stuttering way only possible in ski boots, others staggering like zombies. The juniors are in the first division to hike after me, and I watch a 7-year-old almost get blown off his feet before collapsing over the finish line and bursting into tears. The decision to postpone the second half of the event is starting to seem like a great idea. When the hike is over I learn that the ski patrol has closed the Headwaters ridge for the rest of the day. I won’t get a chance to guinea-pig my line, but at least all the snow piling up will be untouched for tomorrow.

THE FREERIDE The energy in the Headwaters Grille on Sunday morning is amped up considerably. Twelve inches of new snow fell in the last 48 hours, the resort staff says. Ski patrol director Randy Spence walks in red-faced and jovial, and I ask him if all the wind from the day before has affected the skiing.

“It’s not punchy,” Spence says, matter-of-factly. “It’s between cream cheese and pound cake. It’s 6 degrees and no wind at all.” Everyone I talk to is relieved to have the hike out of the way and excited about the fresh snow preserved in the chutes. “I got to the top of the hike and barfed, I was so exhausted,” says Helen Lynn, one of the nine women competing. “And they roped off the terrain, so it should be good. I’ll just have to be jammin’ out and hope for the best.” Up on the Headwaters ridge, with Lone Peak looming to the west, the competitors start to congregate at the top of their chosen runs. The sky is big and blue with sporadic clouds spitting flurries. At the judges’ tent, disc jockeys from Bozeman’s KISS FM spin Top 40 hits as the riders start ticking off their lines. The new snow inspires courage and it looks like no one is holding back. The sky has cleared completely when Chris Rennau hits the double-stager. He looks composed setting up between some small trees, sticks the landing in the hanging snowfield, comes off the second cliff clean, but drifts sideways in the air and disappears in a cloud of snow at the bottom. The crowd loves it. Rennau skis to the finish. Now it’s my turn. I’m standing at the top of my run, a chute called Rock Creek. I’m the last remaining competitor and fully expecting the two days of stockpiled powder to be chopped into crumbs. Continued on page 54

HEAD LIGHT by Chad Harder

Blue light special Photo hues you can use Photograph a scene where bright sunlight shines on a snowy landscape and you’ll get brilliant hues that register across the entire color spectrum, from deep blues, yellows and reds to the whitest whites. Shoot that same scene under a cloudy sky and the colors become drab and muted. You’ll also notice the shift when you gaze across large bodies of water, since different skies make them either amazingly blue or dark and foreboding. The snow-covered stump on this page, for example, was photographed on a brilliantly sunny day without a single cloud in the sky. So why the bluish cast? Even though it was sunny, the stump rested in the shade. With no direct sunlight, the scene was lit solely by the blue sky, essentially a blue light that casts its hue across the entire landscape.

The staff of Montana Headwall knows you’re out there, having wicked adventures and documenting your exploits photographically. Problem is, even excellent images often get dumped onto a hard drive, never again seeing the light of day. We’re ready to fix this tragedy by dedicating a few pages of every issue to our readers’ best photos.

The effect is harder to identify in snowy scenes than with lakes, at least with the naked eye. That’s because our eyes constantly compensate for different light sources—discarding the green appearance of fluorescent lighting, for instance. This essentially makes the bluish cast appear to be minimal—until your camera records it perfectly as-is. If it’s the look you want, don’t change a thing. But if you want a true white in your snowy pictures, try tweaking your camera’s white balance. This adjustment—common even among point-andshoot cameras—will discard the blue hue and give you what you want. Some cameras execute it more effectively than others, so do some experimenting. Or let the blues sing.

The criteria are simple: go outside, play hard, and take a bunch of pictures. Then send your best to or log on to our website at for instructions to join our Flickr group. Include your name, the location pictured, and the names of all people shown. We’ll take it from there.

Dave Bell

Skiers approach Sapphire Col in Canada’s Glacier National Park.


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Montana Headwall

Page 25 Winter 2010 / 2011

John Meyer

Ice climbers start up Winter Dance in Hyalite Canyon.


Chuck Munson

A view of morning clouds over Red Mountain from the Helena National Forest.

Jason Robertson

t was early afternoon and a light wind nosed across the round, snow-covered summit of Mount Cleveland, the tallest peak in Glacier National Park. The bright winter sun hung high above the south shoulder of the mountain, and in every direction waves of smaller peaks whitecapped their way to the horizon. Just over the edge of the summit and a mile straight down, the deep, glaciercarved valley of the Waterton River stretched until it bumped against the Continental Divide, its headwaters draining the heart of the park. Frozen lakes dotted the valley like pearls beaded on a silver string of creek. The views couldn’t have been better. But for 32-year-old mountaineer Jason Robertson, a cabinetmaker from Whitefish, there was no pause on top. No pictures. No basking in the halcyon sun. Just the crunch of snow under his boots as he turned a slow one-eighty and began retracing his steps back down the mountain. His mind focused on 1,500 feet of particularly dangerous avalanche


terrain in the middle of the mountain: the crux of the trip. Warming temps were turning the already-rotten snow to a heavy mixture that sank around his legs like quicksand, and the route below him was a straight drop down the spine of a steep buttress. With every second of direct sun, the time-bomb of snow ticked closer toward thundering loose. If he hadn’t spent 12 continuous hours skiing and scrambling and elbowing to the top—if the snow around him weren’t a cemetery of sorts for climbers who’d died here—he might have stopped for a while to celebrate. His half-minute on top of 10,466-foot Mount Cleveland had made him the first person ever to climb all six of Glacier’s 10,000-foot peaks in winter, a feat that took him almost a decade and countless frozen expeditions into the most remote parts of the park. All solo. And all while saving the biggest for last. Mount Cleveland. “But I was so worried about the conditions going back down that I didn’t even look at the time,” Robertson said.

Below: The lonely path to Kintla Peak Opposite: Looking west from the summit of Mount Siyeh


Jason Robertson

tallest mountain in Glacier and one of friend took him on an off-trail scramble When he’d summited 10,142-foot the most remote. It was his first official up to Sky Lake in the Two Medicine Mount Stimson—a difficult venture in 10,000-foot winter ascent. Valley, and he was hooked. He tagged summer, much less in January—his Two weeks later Robertson crawled friends had said, “Alright, are you gonna along on every climb going out of East the last hundred yards to the summit of Glacier and by the end of summer had do Cleveland?” When he made it to the Mount Siyeh, the wind gusting too hard stood on top of almost 30 mountains. top of Mount Siyeh, they said, “Are you to stand upright. It was his fifth attempt The idea of tackling all the 10,000gonna do Cleveland?” Then he reached in five years. foot peaks in winter originally came the top of Merritt, and Jackson, and Another five days later, Robertson Kintla, and they said, “Are you gonna do from a good climbing buddy who wantstood atop Mount Merritt in a whiteout ed to scale them together. But after sevCleveland?” of wind and snow. Then it was Jackson eral failed tries at coordinating a trip “Then I do Jackson, and it’s, ‘You nine days after that, leaving gonna’ do Cleveland?’ What only Kintla and Cleveland on can I say? It’s fuckin’ the list. Cleveland! It’s the Everest of The fact that a broad-shoulGlacier. It’s a monster,” Robertson threw and knees dered, soft-spoken Whitefish Robertson said. “Even people guy was devouring peaks in who don’t even climb know into the snow, he threw his Glacier didn’t exactly create a about that mountain. And in national buzz; it takes a 13the winter there’s no easy sideways, clawing – anything year-old on Everest to do that. way up it. It’s all avalanche The conquests didn’t shock danger.” to gain a few feet. Robertson’s friends and And now here he was. And cohorts, either. They expected there wasn’t even time to feel him to climb monster peaks in relieved. winter. It was who he was. Five people died trying to climb with him, Robertson struck out on his “Folks who have been to Glacier and Mount Cleveland in 1969 alone. own, preferring the freedom of solo have experienced the arduous Robertson thought about them as he travel. approaches and climbs to Glacier’s inched across the terrain and the snow The pivotal moment came when he 10,000-foot peaks have an appreciation melted around him. first climbed Kintla on December 12, for the mental fortitude and the physi“As much as they’re an inspiration, I 2004, in gnarly, winter conditions. cal toughness required of these trips,” also have to try and not be like them,” he Because it technically wasn’t winter yet, told himself. “I have to get down alive.” Robertson couldn’t tick Kintla off the list. said Kyle Johnson, the wilderness specialist for Glacier National Park. “To But the victory gave him confidence he pull this off during the winter months could succeed. adds a component that few are willing Five years passed. And on January obertson started climbing in the to challenge.” 21, 2009—his eleventh attempt in nine summer of 1997, when he was 18 The previous record of three winter years—Robertson finally kicked his way and working as a bartender at the 10,000-foot summits was held by Don to the top of Mount Stimson, the second Trailhead in East Glacier. One day a





Jason Robertson

Scharfe, owner of Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell, and included a first winter ascent of Mount Jackson in 1988. But none of those were solo climbs. “Climbing alone is a completely different medium, and much more of a challenge,” said Scharfe. “Any little accident can quickly become a major problem.” Robertson was chasing a different dream, Scharfe added. “Jason has his own style—hard charging and solo. Lots of confidence, too. He made climbing all these peaks a priority and went for it.” On January 30, 2010, Robertson made it back to Kintla, reaching the summit after a tiresome bushwhack up the wildfire-torched Red Medicine Bow drainage. He considers it the toughest and most technical climb of all the 10,000-footers. “The summit of Kintla was the best,” he described it on a day at home. His shoulder-length hair was tucked under a wool hat and he sat in front of a map of Glacier that had all his climbing routes penciled across it like strings of a great spider web. “I was focused and had been through some hard and nasty stuff on that trip—probably the steepest climbing on any of the peaks,” he said. “But the conditions were great and consistently got better and better all the way up.” Riding the excitement of Kintla, Robertson watched the weather and aimed at Cleveland the first chance he got.

ike many of Robertson’s adventures, the Cleveland day actually began in early morning—just after 1 a.m., February 23, at the foot of Waterton Lake, in Canada. The boarded-up buildings of the summer tourist haven sat quiet and desolate in the shadows, but the night sky spread starlit and clear overhead. After a final gear check, Robertson clicked into his skis, turned off his headlamp and, by the light of a half moon, began gliding toward the distant looming curtain of Cleveland, across the international border. To make it, he’d have to go 31 miles roundtrip.


Top: Robertson celebrates—briefly— atop Kintla Peak Middle: Broken rock and ice en route up Kintla Bottom: The view from the top Jason Robertson

could afford it.” Despite a stout headwind, the early His thoughts kept returning to the traveling across the lake was quick, and climbers who perished on the mountain. Robertson focused his attention on He’d read The White Death, by McKay avoiding thin patches in the ice. About Jenkins, which recounts how Jerry Kanzler, halfway, however, he misjudged a broad hole and the back of his left ski collapsed 18, of Columbia Falls; James Anderson, 18, of Bigfork; Mark Levitan, 20, of Helena; and into the water, the splash as sudden as his adrenaline-spiked response. Saved by Montana Tech friends, Ray Martin and Clare Pogreba, both 22, struck out the day after his forward momentum, Robertson pushed with his right ski and regained his pace. He cursed his mistake out loud. At the head of the lake Robertson caught the trail near the boat dock and followed it past the empty and padlocked ranger station into the Goat Haunt region. The place is a veritable Ewok forest—thick and wet, especially in summer, when the trail is a near-impenetrable tangle of thimbleberry, huckleberry, alder, cow parsnip, devil’s club and stinging nettles. Tall spruce and mammoth Doug firs droop overhead and hide the sun. Fortunately, there was an open spot where Robertson left the trail, the ground mostly a skein of Jason Robertson at home downed logs with enough snow to walk over them. Christmas to climb the sheer, vertical north As he climbed the three miles up the face of Cleveland. Months later, rescue crews winding Camp Creek basin, the last of discovered that the party had rerouted to the night began to dissolve. Austere the less-steep west bowl and were swept mountains surfaced in the light. away in an avalanche during the ascent. Robertson paused for a snack at the “I’ve read that book a lot of times,” tree line, but his mind was elsewhere, Robertson said. “Those guys always focused on snow conditions and trying

Climbing alone is a completely different

Ditching his gear for an ultra-light shot at the summit, Robertson wedged his poles, skis and pack in the small nook of a cliff. He left his camera behind. The battery had died, there was no use carrying it. Then, with only two ice axes and crampons, he started post-holing up the steep, unconsolidated snow. Nothing held under boot or axe. Robertson threw elbows and knees into the snow, he threw his axes sideways, digging, clawing—anything to gain a few feet. It was like climbing a conveyor belt of sand. To make matters worse, the sun arced over the spine of Cleveland, and within minutes the snow began warming. It was getting deeper, too. With every step he was suddenly chest-high; it was almost impossible to move. Running out of options, Robertson aimed for the few exposed rocks, trying for something, anything, solid underfoot. The rocks were considerMatt Holloway ably less taxing to climb and, just like that, it wasn’t so bad again. Until half an hour later when a thin snow bridge near one rock collapsed and sent Robertson falling into a head-high bergschrund, a gap between rock and glacial ice. Unscathed, but cursing himself a second time that day, he clambered out and kept climbing.

medium, and much more of a

challenge. Any little accident can quickly become a major problem. to gauge when the west face of Cleveland would see direct sunlight. Not for a few more hours, he thought. What worried him most was the likelihood that everything would go to hell in a flash when the sun finally did hit this aspect of the mountain. It was already 31 degrees, and only going to get warmer. Robertson knew he was climbing on borrowed time. He pushed on. If he could somehow make it to the top he’d need to rush down as fast as possible. The snow might still be stable. Maybe. “I didn’t want to waste five seconds that day,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I Montana Headwall

inspired me. They were young and they were doing it. They put in a lot of big climbs—the first winter ascent of Wilbur, for instance. I thought about them the whole time I was on the mountain.” Robertson’s route skirted below the open west bowl of the 1969 tragedy and instead zigzagged up the southwest buttress, where travel was good and the snow held stable until just below 8,000 feet. There his worries about bad conditions began to come true. Out of nowhere, a thin crust appeared above nearly bottomless and grainy snow. It was too sketchy to cut across on skis anymore.

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The rocks soon disappeared; the snow became rotten and even more worthless. With no choice left but to climb on his shins, Robertson labored up the next 400 feet at a painfully slow pace. Finally, at around 9,000 feet, the snow began to firm up. Robertson kicked in easy steps and the ice axes held like fence posts. The climbing was quick. Robertson cruised the summit ridge for a half-mile until he finally crested the round apex of Cleveland. “I thought about it a bunch of times, what it might be like to be up there,” he said. He was speaking at his home the

day after the climb, and he was exhausted. He paused for long spells between speaking, still spooked by how easily everything could have turned bad, by how easily he could have died. “It seemed like it’d be this joyous occasion,” he said. “A celebration. The views were spectacular. But once again, they were null and void in my mind, because if I didn’t get down it didn’t matter. “Cleveland has an aura to it,” he added. “More than anything, I was not looking forward to going back through that heinous snowpack. All I could think was, ‘One step at a time. Don’t break any snow that’s not already broken.’” Fifteen hundred feet later, Robertson took a deep breath and sat down for a rest at the crevice holding his skis and pack.

WHO NEEDS ROPES? Climbing Mount Cleveland in the dead of winter didn’t give Jason Robertson a lot of time to kick back and drink in the views. To do that, he returned to the peak in August after an early morning ascent of Merritt, summiting both 10,000-footers in the same day. He counts almost 190 other park summits on his list, including: – Mount St. Nicholas (9,376) four times solo, without ropes – St. Nick and Mount Doody (8,640) in the same day, also without ropes – Five summits of Mount Wilbur (9,321) – Summits of Kinnerly Peak (9,944), Vulture Peak (9,638), and Blackfoot Mountain (9,574)

—Matt Holloway

“There’s always a point on a mountain when I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief,” he said. “If I play my cards right the rest of the way down and don’t do anything stupid, I’m fine. Past the real dangers of the mountain. On Cleveland, that point was when I got back to my gear. Not to mention I was excited for a good ski down. “Really, that’s when I got super happy about the whole thing. That’s when I started to celebrate.” Once back on the trail, it didn’t take long to reach the ranger station complex and the head of the lake. Just like the night before, the wind poured out of the mountains, spilling north, but this time, it blew at his back, a soft hand pushing him toward the warm cab of his truck. Toward home and a shower. Toward food and Continued on page 55 Montana Headwall

Page 35 Winter 2010 / 2011


Canis lupus is one dog we love to hate orget about the tusked beast in the classic “blind men and the elephant” story. If ever there was a creature that could be described by six people in six completely different ways, it’s canis lupus. The gray wolf—hated, feared, loved, and portrayed on endless coffee mugs—has been a controversial presence in North America for hundreds of years, since the time colonists first heard its howls in the night. Predisposed by centuries of wolf conflicts in the old country, early settlers purely hated the animals; cattlemen liked them even less. Between the 1860s and 1930s, gray wolves in the Lower 48 were baited, trapped, set on fire, drawn and quartered, shot and poisoned to near extinction. In less lobophobic times 55 million years ago, the carnivore emerged from the same family that spawned raccoons, bears and weasels. It evolved into the world’s biggest wild canine and farthestroaming land mammal, with territories as large as 1,000 square miles. Wolves once thrived across the entire Northern Hemisphere, including the Arabian Peninsula and parts of India. By the 6th century B.C., the Greeks wanted them dead. The thickfurred predators ate livestock, occasionally killed people, including small children, and in rare cases fed on the human dead. Serfs in 10th century England paid off fines in wolf tongues; the Scottish burned entire forests to eradicate packs. By the 17th century the world had Little Red Riding Hood (a tale about sexual predators, if nothing else). Romulus and Remus may have been raised by wolves; Kevin Costner danced with them, but our ancestors execrated them. What does this have to do with elephants? The blind men in the parable touch different parts of the pachyderm: The man with the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the man groping a leg says the elephant is like a pillar, and so on. Modern-day wolf researchers describe similar parts of the whole. Norwegian scientists, for example, investigated wolf attacks on humans over the centuries and found that the incidents were exceedingly rare, chiefly involving wolves that were rabid or had lost their fear of people. A tragic example of the latter happened last March, when a 32-year-old woman jogging in rural Alaska became the nation’s first known wild wolf fatality in modern times. And yet wolves are among our least dangerous predators. In India, tigers kill as many as 1,000 people a year—wolves barely killed that many in 200 years worldwide. The debate closer to home involves not human deaths, but the elk variety. Before the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, about 19,000 elk in northern Yellowstone lazed on riverbanks and ate young willows,


aspens, cottonwoods and underbrush, researchers say. They stripped the park of vegetation, robbed other creatures of shade and nesting spots, binged on beaver fodder (preventing beavers from creating wetlands), and caused erosion that clouded streams with sediment. Trout disappeared. So did fly fishermen and tourist dollars. Wolves restored the eco-balance and the local economy, researchers report. Elk got more vigilant; they grazed for shorter periods, moved more often and hid in forests. They also lost weight, suffered a hormone imbalance and had fewer calves, a third camp argues. The northern Yellowstone herd last winter numbered about 6,100, a 65 percent decline. Elk numbers in other zones have also plummeted. Hunters have not been happy. But maybe most people could be, if they stepped back for the panoramic view. Wolves do love elk, but that’s not the only meat on their menu. Last year, a fairly typical one, Yellowstone Wolf Project staffers tracked down 365 wolf kills inside the park and found that 302 were elk, followed by 19 bison, 17 deer, 6 other wolves, 4 antelope, 3 coyotes, 2 red foxes, 1 moose, 1 bighorn sheep, 1 Canada goose, 1 bald eagle, and a few unknowns. Some elk problems, meanwhile, are the two-footed variety. In August 2010, Idaho Fish and Game released the results of a fouryear elk survival study, the agency’s largest, in which biologists monitored 500 adult female elk in 11 zones to see which predators were the leading cause of death. Wolves were the biggest killers in three zones; mountain lions matched or bested wolves in two zones. Hunters took top honors in six zones. Idaho’s overall elk population dropped by 20 percent, or from 125,000 to about 100,000, after wolves appeared. But the declines didn’t happen everywhere, the report noted. In some spots, elk were so numerous they were “causing trouble for landowners.” Montana elk are similarly beaten down in spots, popping up in others, and stable in between. The wild canids have made an impact, but so have wildfires, harsh weather, noxious weeds, roads and subdivisions, hunting, mountain lions, coyotes and bears. Wolves aren’t invulnerable, either. When they’re not killed by people they’re wiped out by cars, other wolves, injuries, distemper, mange and malnutrition. Healthy elk, deer and other ungulates can outrun them. Fewer than one in ten moose pursuits end in a kill. Wolves thus like to target the weakest links, and wolf them down. They might howl afterward, but not at the moon. The creatures are not possessed. But maybe we are.

Taylor Phillips-Ecotour Adventures

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GRUB by Ari LeVaux

hen people speak of “stocking up” they often refer to gathering provisions to survive the winter—putting pickles and jam in jars, drying tomatoes, freezing chunks of deer meat, to name a few. These are the makings of what the wise call a “third-world, first class” diet. Few items epitomize this hybrid better than stock itself. Made from the humblest of ingredients—bones, usually—a good stock dramatically elevates the quality of the final product, be it French onion soup, mushroom risotto or huevos rancheros. Beyond the benefits of great taste, making stock also puts good use to the bones of that elk, deer or antelope you bagged during hunting season. But first, a few basics: Unlike soup or broth, stock isn’t something to sip au naturel. Instead, it’s an enriching agent that adds flavor to a multitude of soups and other dishes (including some that are decidedly un-souplike). In some cases, stock is made with fish heads, chicken backs, veggies or mushrooms. When made from mammal bones, however, stock is known as brown sauce. Prosaic as it might sound, brown sauce is the gateway to demiglace, a gold standard in French cuisine—the glistening accompaniment makes all things taste and feel better in your mouth. Young bones are best for brown stock because they have more collagen, a connective tissue that melts when properly heated, giving the liquid a full, creamy feel when hot. Younger marrow is also more active at produc-


ing red and white blood cells that add complexity. Recipes for classic brown stock typically call for veal bones, but calf, elk or fawn bones work just fine. For optimum results, make your stock with long bones, like femurs. If you’re processing game at home, use a bone saw to cut 2-inch rounds; if you’re buying the bones, have the meat guy carve them down to size. Put the bones in a roasting pan in a 300-degree oven for two to three hours, until golden brown. Remove the bones from the oven, strip off any clinging meat or fat, and rub them with tomato paste. Roast them for another 20 minutes, checking often to make sure the tomato paste doesn’t burn. Then take the bones out of the pan and put them in a large, empty pot. Pour the fat from the pan. Then put the pan on the stove over medium heat and pour red wine into it to deglaze it, capturing the flavors. As the wine boils in the pan, use a spatula to scrape and suspend the fond—the bits of goodness stuck to the bottom—and pour the resulting mixture into the pot with the bones. Add a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and enough water to cover everything. Cook very slowly for 12–24 hours, keeping the bones covered with water. You don’t want the stock to boil, because that will make it cloudy in both sight and taste. Instead, keep it at the “lazy bubble” stage, the point at which a single bubble lets go from the bottom every three to four seconds. Although it goes against my every instinct to do this, it’s also important to

skim the fat after about 12 hours of cooking. That’s to make sure the stock’s creaminess comes from the melted collagen alone. The easiest way to get the fat out is to let the stock cool to room temperature and put it in the fridge overnight. By morning the fat will be floating in a solid raft that’s easy to remove. Finally, reheat the stock back to the lazy bubble stage. Turn the oven to 350 and dry roast (in the oven, sans oil) a mixture that’s equal parts celery, carrot and onion—a mirepoix, since we’re having French class today. For two pounds of bones, use roughly a bunch of carrots, half a celery head, and two onions. Stir the veggies frequently for even cooking. When they’re golden, add them to the stock and cook for three hours, maintaining the lazy bubble. Strain out the bones and mirepoix. Pour the finished liquid into jars. If you wish, save the soggy mirepoix for a snack—but be warned, the veggies have already given most of their body and soul to the stock. Refrigerated, stock will last about a week. For longer storage, freeze it in plastic (to avoid busted glass). If you want smaller portions, freeze it in ice cube trays and keep the cubes in bags or plastic containers. Then, when you want to make a little fried rice, or a pan of huckleberry sauce to go on a steak, or some pad thai, you’ll be ready. And after a blissful day on the slopes, or when the mercury drops so low your expletives freeze as you hurl them, your stock’s virtues will reveal themselves in bone-warming ways. The winter will be worth savoring. Chad Harder

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Montana Headwall

Page 39 Winter 2010 / 2011

HEAD TRIP by Rob Loveman

Tom Robertson

look at the eight dogs left on my team: Shoshone, Jake, Jag, Otter, Gonja, Tanner, Tok and Sima. It’s mid-afternoon, and we’re all resting at the Seeley Lake checkpoint. We’ve made it through the easy legs of the race. We’re about to run the hard ones. I miss the four dogs I’ve dropped. The team has done several 80-mile runs on trails just across the highway, so they have the training to make the 100mile round trip to Owl Creek and back. At least, that’s what I hope. The conditioning runs were with a dozen dogs, and it’s a lot easier for 12 to pull a sled than eight. I know the team can handle the distance. I’m just not sure about the load. The big question, though, is whether to blow through the Owl Creek checkpoint or stop and rest. Stopping would cost a lot of time. But if I push the dogs too hard, they’ll quit and my race will be over. The options rattle in my mind as we pull away from Seeley Lake at 8 p.m., the


Montana Headwall

dogs fresh after their 10-hour break. I’m not as lucky. Through nobody’s fault but my own I snagged only about three hours of sleep over the previous two nights, thanks to chummy conversation with other mushers instead of resting. Running at night tires mushers no matter how much sleep they get. Headlamps create a tunnel world. Eyes strain to see what the beam illuminates. The sled runners make a soft, hypnotic sound as they move through the snow, and the dogs make almost no sound at all. I fight it, but I can’t keep my eyes open. The same thing happened this morning, sledding from White Tail Ranch to Seeley Lake, but it passed quickly with the coming of daylight. This time, daylight is hours away. I give the whoa command. Almost 200 miles into the race, the dogs are happy to stop. I have at least some expectation that other racers will pass, so I make sure to pull over and keep the

Page 40 Winter 2010 / 2011

path clear when I set both snow hooks, a musher’s version of anchors. The dogs quickly curl up side by side along the length of the gang line. By midnight, the temperature drops to single digits and snow falls lightly. With my back against the sled, I slump my head forward and sleep for a blessed 45 minutes. Then I get up, feed and water the dogs, pack up, pull the snow hooks and give the hike command. I have no hope of winning the race or even coming close. I am a rookie. I’ve dropped four dogs. I just hope to finish.

he Race to the Sky is one of the toughest and most scenic longdistance dogsled races in the lower 48, traversing 350 miles of the rugged Rocky Mountains surrounding the Seeley-Swan Valley. Every February, competing teams run 100 miles a day or more, pulling sleds laden with 60 pounds of gear and


bearded, long-haired checker. Randy is to lay down. The seven dogs remaining about 170 pounds of musher in condialso an expert machinist and welder, will now be hauling his 45 pounds along tions ranging from blizzards and suband the snow hooks he makes are used with me, the gear and the sled. zero cold to midday heat and rain. by mushers throughout the world, But they’re game. We arrive at Seeley I’ve dreamed of being in a highincluding me. Lake at 4 p.m., 20 hours after we first set caliber race like this since 2003, when A few minutes pass. Maybe I’m too out. The run took longer than I’d hoped, I moved to Montana, built a kennel, sleep-deprived to think straight, but but given all of my mistakes, that’s okay. learned to run dogs and, in particular, nothing is telling me to stop. I ask Randy I won’t hang for at least another day. learned how to run distance races. But to help me turn the team around to start The dogs and I settle in for a nice ninethe Race to the Sky is way beyond anythe trip back. I’ll find out soon enough if hour rest before starting the final 72 thing that my dogs and I have ever I’ve hung myself with the choice. miles to Lincoln. attempted before. Most mushers complete a couple of 100- to 200-mile point-to-point races before trying a marathon like this one. s the sun clears the horizon, the uckleberry Pass looms at the end of Not me. My dogs and I have never run dogs and I climb the Owl Creek the race like a final exam before more than 85 miles without the comfort drainage to the ridge above. I welcome summer. The trail ascends 1,600 feet in of our familiar, warm beds. daylight and stow my headlamp. Heavy about six miles—not too steep by hiking What we’ve done instead is race in clouds float above the peaks, and light standards, but after about 330 miles it’s less demanding, two-day heats, where breaks through only occasionally. Everest for a dog team. I want to reach the trails are typically better groomed, For now, staying awake is not a prob- the summit by noon so we can avoid the the courses are 50 miles or less a predicted warm midday temperaday, and the dogs rest at night tures while climbing. Forty degrees inside covered kennels on the back Hey, guys, it’s all from might be comfortable for a musher, of a rig. Heat races are good fun, but it’s hell for sled dogs. but they lack the stuff that got me Sima’s dehydration and diarhere,” I tell the dogs, . into mushing in the first place: rhea force me to drop him from the adventure. team at Seeley Lake. He’s drinking But I’m . Yvon Chouinard defines advenand eating again after his rest in ture as something akin to going out the sled, but racing’s out of the and letting birds shit on your head. question. The Seeley-Swan Valley doesn’t hold a lot The remaining dogs and I start the lem. The team trots along slowly but of birds in winter, but running a team of last leg in total darkness, just after 1 a.m. steadily. All of them pull well except for Huskies for 350 continuous miles certainly Sima. A slack tug line tells me the diarThey hesitate a bit at the start. Some of presents opportunities for shit to happen. them aren’t pulling, but they eventually rhea I noticed earlier has gotten him I’ve now learned that firsthand. I’ve warm up, work out the kinks and find down. had to drop one dog because she wasn’t At our next break, Sima refuses water their rhythm. fast enough and another three because of and food. I pull up a fold of his skin and When they spot a snowshoe hare, the rookie errors. team breaks into a full run to chase it. I let go, observing how quickly it bounces The nine of us pull into Owl Creek, haven’t seen more than an easy lope out back. He’s clearly dehydrated. I realize I the 230-mile mark, just as dawn starts to of them since the stretch from Lincoln to should have started him on anti-diarrhea break. It’s decision time: Is the team fit White Tail Ranch two days ago. It’s meds sooner. Another rookie error. enough to pass up this opportunity for good to know they have something in We rest for a full hour rather than the rest and slog the hard 50 miles to the the gas tank. normal 20 minutes so I can see if he will next one? Am I? As we pass White Tail Ranch, at the drink. He doesn’t. To buy some time while I weigh the base of the long climb up to Huckleberry, I rearrange the gear—a royal pain— choices, I make small-talk with the I glimpse another team ahead. With the and make a spot in the sled bag for Sima



downhill happily wrong

Tom Robertson

Michael Bertrand

possibility of overtaking them—or helping them if they’re having problems—I push the dogs hard. We move at a good clip, but I never see the other contestant again. I find out later it was a random musher who wasn’t in the race. The hard push, however, helps us summit before noon. “Hey, guys, it’s all downhill from here,” I tell the dogs, happily. But I’m wrong. Several small climbs follow and the afternoon sun hammers us. The warmth makes the sled runners stick in the snow, and the going is painfully slow. I’d expected the last 15 miles to Lincoln to be a smooth, easy downhill. In fact, my mind had been fixed on it. Sensing my frustration, the dogs get distracted. They try to check out every sound in the woods, hoping it’s something they can hunt; they stop and examine spots to mark. The lousy snow

Tom Robertson

continues to grab the sled runners, which at times brings them to a halt. Each time, I pull their butts up by the tug lines and yank while shouting, “Hike!” The dogs are working too hard for me to actually get angry, of course. I insist that we keep moving but apologize for telling them we were done climbing. They might not even vaguely understand what I’m saying, but telling them out loud makes me feel better, and seems to make them feel better, too. When I yell out the hike command, I see a bunch of tentative tail wags. We muddle forward in fits and starts. Finally, after what feels like 600 miles, we reach the marker that tells us to turn off the snowmobile trail onto a track that’s packed down for the race. The last five miles of trail into Lincoln is just wide enough for a dogsled or Montana Headwall

Page 42 Winter 2010 / 2011

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two as it winds through the trees. We slip in and out of shadows, trotting easily toward the finish line. Everything is good. Spent but relieved, I even say to nobody in particular, “I’m enjoying this!” I feel like I’ve scaled a mountain. Just like on a hard climb, the tension only lets up when a safe return is assured. And we’ve made it. The dogs and I managed to wipe off the inevitable bird shit and keep going, sometimes in spite of ourselves. Only a few miles of forest trail remain, like those last easy steps into camp. Mushers call this “sacred ground.” Jake has the lead. Otter and Shoshone are next. Then Jag and Gonja. Finally, Tanner and Tok follow at the wheel position. Jake still can’t keep himself from looking off to the side of the trail for something to hunt. But entering the homestretch, he steps up and the others pull behind him. I am totally in awe of these guys, my team. We’re all exhausted when we reach the finish. A couple of the younger dogs seem interested in continuing, but I surely am not. I get congratulations from the few staffers left to check my team and the one other that finishes behind me. My handler, Aaron, starts taking dogs off the gang line and attaching them to tie points on the truck. I help give each of them a bowl of cold, clear water. We load the gear and sled, and finally put the team back in the kennels. Happy in their boxes, the dogs drop off to sleep. And as Aaron drives home, so do I.

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Going Maverick

by Chad Harder


Lay fresh tracks and you can get in hot water


ncouraging 6-foot snowbanks line the road as we crest Chief Joseph Pass and drop into the Big Hole, eager for a day of what we hope will be empty slopes. It hadn’t been easy to roll past the snowblanketed Lost Trail Powder Mountain with skis in the rack—the place is a fave. But we’ve got a new destination to reach, complete with après-ski hot springs around the bend and, should it live up to its reputation, some lift-served untracked deep to sample. If what we’ve heard is true, Maverick Mountain might just become our new fave.

Pink clouds clog the Big Hole Valley as we descend into the frozen haze, and we see no signs of life—car, moose or otherwise—for the next 40 miles. That’s precisely what my friends and I have come for—not just an affordable weekend, but also something that feels a world away from Missoula. The one-two combo of Maverick and neighboring Elkhorn Hot Springs promises to fit the bill. The morning sun has burnt off most of the lowlying clouds by the time we drive past the bar and post office that qualify as the town of Polaris. An inch of hoar-

The crew looks for layers in the Beaverhead Mountains.

frost still coats the valley. We navigate the icy access road to Maverick and find the lot full—not with cars, but with dogs. Maybe these are the Maverick Mountain powderhounds we’ve heard about. Barely 20 vehicles are here, though, so we’re not feeling rushed. There should be plenty of dust-on-crust for everyone.

averick Mountain and Elkhorn Hot Springs are two of the few outposts in the Big Hole’s Grasshopper Valley, a long, dramatic expanse that cleaves the Pioneer Mountains from


north to south. In summer, it’s possible to reach the mountain and hot springs by traveling south from Wise River on the popular (and fully paved) Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. But deep snow closes the road to cars from Dec. 1 to May 15, leaving a high-country winter wonderland for intrepid cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. We’re here to ride chairs, however, and the weekend is prime time to do it. Like a number of mom ’n pop ski hills in Montana, Maverick loads skiers only four days a week, Thursday through Sunday. The three-day down-

Photos by Chad Harder

time often allows snow to accumulate, and local ski junkies arrange their schedules to make the most of the trackless deep. On this March day we’re not so lucky: Our visit coincides with the back end of a high-pressure system that’s kept Western Montana dry for weeks. And so it’s a groomer day, an ass-hauling combo of corduroy cruising interspersed with occasional puffs of crystalline hoar breaking across our boots. Fortunately for the early

As I

Maverick’s one chair, an older double, covers more than 2,000 vertical feet, but we still make short shrift of every blue, black and double-black run on the mountain. The runs are uncomplicated, mostly wide-open cruisers cut through lodgepole and punctuated with small tree islands. The grooming is clean but unremarkable; aside from the must-avoid zones of grassy scree, the runs become deliciously carve-able as the morning warms. By noon we’re getting antsy for a stiffer

dance from snow patch

to snow patch I wonder if the valley’s

namesake grasshopper refers to a technique required to get down dodgy parts of the mountain. birds, the mountain’s eastern exposure soaks up morning sunshine, softening the hardpack for our ski edges. After a few runs I ask a middleaged lifty to name his favorite run. He grins and tells me to check out a tree stash right off a double-diamond on the lower mountain called The Belly. “But make sure to bring the grass skis!” Turns out it’s good advice—The Belly is fun and interesting, although plenty of grassy stobs poke through the shallow, frosty snowpack. As I dance from snow patch to snow patch I wonder if the valley’s namesake grasshopper refers to a technique required to get down dodgy parts of the mountain. Montana Headwall

challenge, so we head off to explore a slack-country area of the mountain I heard about from a friend in Missoula. “There’s killer tree lines just out of bounds to north and northeast of the top,” he’d said, pointing at a map. Just follow Thin Air a ways, he’d said, and then duck into the woods. “You can’t miss the lines,” he’d insisted. Well, we miss them. No meadows, no openings, no tree shots. Just a shallow snowpack and dog hair lodgepole, closing in on us like a Death Star trash compactor. We traverse left, then right, searching for anything ski-able and yelling encouragingly when we find openings that don’t require Page 45 Winter 2010 / 2011

bushwhacking. Things remain grim until, an hour later, we find ourselves back at the base. We stumble into the mountain bar, completely done skiing and ready for a drink. Opening the door I’m immediately accosted by four friends up from Dillon for the weekend. They’re Maverick regulars, committed believers in the mountain’s remote flavor and its lift-served powder stash. They’re worried that our first time of “getting Mavericky” has been tainted by poor snow, and go on ad nauseam about how lucky they are to have a mountain almost to themselves. I could have told them they were wasting their breath—Maverick’s potential is obvious. If we’d come on a deep-snow day, the long and lonely straight-down-the-fallline runs would have given us plenty of time in the white room and everything we came for. I already know I’ll make a return trip. What I don’t know is that it’ll come sooner rather than later, thanks to a divorce settlement and an unexpected phone call. But that’s in the future. For now, I buy the next round and settle in to watch the rare skier blaze down the mountain and hit a kicker in front of the bar’s picture windows. The microbrews flow, but we don’t linger too long. We’ve got food and hot times ahead at Elkhorn Hot Springs, right up the road.


nlike the ski area, the Elkhorn parking lot is packed and the place is hopping. We check into a cabin and the six of us, plus our dogs, pile in and spread out. We consider going for a big meal at the resort’s restau-

rant, but an impressive impromptu potluck of cheese, crackers and wine erases the need. Satiated, we stroll the half-mile to the mineral springs. Elkhorn provides soakers with three options: an indoor grotto or “wet sauna,” and two outdoor pools. All are coed, and suits are required. The grotto, an intimate, rock-lined tub, runs at about 105 degrees. The outdoor options—a large swimming

pool and a smaller but hotter pool—range from 95 to 100 degrees. Happily, the water has none of the telltale sulphur odor associated with geothermal springs, but the big pool is entirely covered by a thin layer of unpleasant slime. Many guests test the water, ourselves included, but we don’t see anyone linger for more than a few minutes. The other pool is a stark contrast—toasty, and bobbing

with nearly two dozen attractive twenty- and thirty-somethings, with just a few kids here and there. Since there’s no bar, Elkhorn soakers bring their own alcohol, and apparently enjoy sharing with new friends. We keep it social for a few more dehydrating hours, then roll, a bit rummy, back to the cabin. Built nearly a century ago, Elkhorn’s historic structures are spacious, well worn and clearly accustomed to partying. We play rowdy drinking games into the morning, then stoke the wood stove—the cabin’s sole heat source—and head to bed. “Rustic” finger-sized gaps around the un-lockable door effectively keep the place from getting too stuffy. The morning dawns brilliant and blue, and golden rays pouring through the unshaded window roust us early—well, that and a pressing need to return to the daily grind in Missoula. We pack up and hit the resort’s complimentary hangover cure: a buffet breakfast of coffee, grits and eggs. If the snow comes, we all happily agree, it’s time for another shot at getting Mavericky.


ix days later I’m speeding across the Big Hole thanks to a John Wayne Bobbitt, ski parlance for “six inches on the ground in the morning.” Maverick is reporting eight inches of fresh, but a surprise call from Dillon quickly trumped the on-area option. A friend’s ex-wife hadn’t yet picked up the snowmobiles she’d won in their divorce settlement, and as far as he was concerned, a group of us should use them—or abuse them—as we pleased. We plan to meet at a trailhead on the snowy east-

ern flanks of the Beaverhead Range. Tempting options abound for sled-assisted skiers here, but the Dillon crew has drawn a bead on Rock Island Lakes basin, a high subalpine area just south of Homer Youngs Peak. At 10,621 feet, it’s the tallest in the range and regularly holds snow well into the summer, offering a brilliant backdrop from nearby lines. Our borrowed sleds for the day—two mid-80s SkiDoos—belch blue for a bit when we start them up but are soon idling smoothly. We quickly attach our skis and begin motoring up the deeply worn trail. Nine laborious miles later we break above the tree line and emerge into the spectacular basin. A few other sledding parties are zipping about, but we are the only skiers. We find an untracked but perfectly angled area, park our rides on the frozen lake,

and prepare to skin up the ridge to find a few face shots. Well-protected from wind and sun, the cold snow on the ridge’s northeast face is pleasant to ski and comfortingly stable. We take a few mellow laps, lounge in the alpine splendor and dream about three-day weekends. Before we’re ready, the sun slips behind the divide and the temperature plummets. We don our parkas, schuss back to the sleds and speed down the now-icy, rutted trail toward our rigs. Then it’s time to thank our friends and head back home. It’s been a great day, a great week, really, of exploring the Big Hole. We crest Lost Trail Pass happy and exhausted, but mostly thankful to be surrounded by so many new opportunities for adventure, and so many of them a few hours away. Now if we could just get control over the snowfall...

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DECEMBER December 1 Avoid burial by snow when the University of Montana’s Outdoor Program and the West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation offer a free onehour Avalanche Awareness lecture, which covers avalanche safety tips and occurs at UM’s Urey North Underground Lecture Hall. Tumble to for details. December 5 Wear more than shorts during UM’s Health and Human Performance Freezer Burn, a 10-mile race and 5K run/walk that begins at the Frenchtown High School parking lot in Frenchtown. Grab a cool registration form at December 8 Be a trooper while skiing on fresh powder and shooting at targets during the National Guard Biathlon in West Yellowstone, which runs through Dec. 10 and is open to all skiers regardless of biathlon or shooting experience. Aim at

Chad Harder

December 19 Team up with your canine during the Rodeo Run Sled Dog Races in West Yellowstone, a two-day race fit for novices or Iditarod experts alike. Mush over to for info or call 646-4988. December 31 Run from that potential New Year’s Day hangover during Run Wild Missoula’s New Year’s Eve Run, a timed two-mile event at Missoula’s Peak Health & Wellness Center scheduled a few hours before the ball drops. Sprint to for info.

JANUARY January 1 You might need a few beers to warm up for the annual Flathead Lake Polar Bear Plunge, where you and several other swimsuit-clad folks can ring in the New Year with a cold dip in Flathead Lake outside the Raven Brew Pub in Woods Bay. Jump to for details or call 837-2836.

January 8 Get gliding on cross country skis or hit the trails in your snowshoes during Nordic Fest Winter Trails Day at the Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, an all-day family-friendly event at the ranch, which was recently named the top Nordic ski center in the country. Call 995-4670 or get the lowdown at Put holiday flab behind you at the Franklin’s Fat Ass 50K, a fun run at Headwaters Park in the Bozeman area that lets you run as many 5Ks as you want, weather permitting. Jog to for details. January 9 Get a new leash on life during the Flathead Sled Dog Days Race, which runs today and tomorrow just outside of Olney and includes a course through the Stillwater State Forest. Fetch more info at January 15 Carve the pow and snag a medal or a door prize during Bridger Bowl’s

Alpine and Telemark community race series, open to intermediate and advanced skiers of any age. Point your tips to or ring 586-1518. January 22 Make your mark during the Seeley Lake Challenge Biathlon, the highlight of the three-day Seeley Lake Area Winterfest. The race offers contests for greenhorns and seasoned racers alike (including a 10K ski race with 10 targets). Load up on info at or call 677-2880.

3.5-foot jumps. Hoof it to

Order a round on the house at or phone 560-0171.

Don’t chortle too hard or you might slip on an icy patch during the Snow Joke HalfMarathon, featuring one 13.1-mile lap around Seeley Lake on plowed roads. Registration is on race day only from 8:45 to 10:30 a.m. Get the punchline at

Say aloha to the Whitefish Mountain Resort’s annual Nate Chute Hawaiian Classic, a two-day event held in honor of a well-known local snowboarder that features a banked slalom competition plus a boardercross event that’s been called the biggest in the state. Proceeds go to a memorial fund for teens in need. Shred over to for details.

Prepare for flight as alpine skiers hit a jump that shoots them as far as 200 feet during the Snowbowl Cup Gelande

March 19 Who’s the best skier and snowboarder of them all? Find out

Perch with a cold one and try to lure the biggest fish during the Townsend Lions Club Perch Ice Fishing Derby, with team competitions and more at Canyon Ferry Lake. Take the bait at 266-5790. January 29 Embrace your badass-ness during the Skin to Win/Randonnee Festival, a mountaineering event at Bozeman’s Bridger Bowl Ski area where you climb and descend thousands of feet of steep terrain on a course that’s called “the best in North America.” Get the beta at or call 586-1518. All bets are on for the Moonlight Snowmobile Poker Run, a gambol near Lincoln that features 250 miles of groomed trails on your trusty snowmobile with the moon as your guide. Check out the deal by e-mailing or calling 362-3334. Chad Harder

Catch big air or just catch the show during Lost Trail Powder Mountain’s Slopestyle/Big Air Jubilation competition. Jump to for details.

Championship, which bestows winners with an $8,000 cash prize. Soar over to



during Snowbowl’s Best of the Bowl, a race at Grizzly Chute that judges alpine skiers, telemark skiers and snowboarders on speed and style. Size it up at

February 11 Watch in thrall of the wild as teams of mushers and canines embark on the Montana Race to the Sky, a 350-mile sled dog race that glides through Lincoln and the Swan Valley. Yee and haw to

March 5 Put your stretch pants to the test during the Yellowstone Rendezvous Race, offering six different cross country ski races on the Rendezvous Ski Trails in West Yellowstone. Check for the scoop.

March 26 Tell summer to bugger off during Lost Trail Powder Mountain’s Summer Sucks Skiesta Splash Down, a ski/snowboarding competition that’s open to shredders of all ages and styles. Catch the drift at

February 26 Let your favorite pony pull you along during the Big Hole Valley Winterfest/Skijoring competition in Wisdom, a two-day contest where horses, skiers and riders join forces to navigate a 900-foot course, including several

March 12 Don’t turn green during Anaconda’s annual St. Patrick’s Race, which takes place the Saturday before the holiday, complete with a three-mile or six-mile run. Buses leave at 10 a.m. from the Locker Room Bar.

March 27 Don’t get stuck during Snowbowl’s North Dakota Downhill, a “slide and glide” contest for skiers and snowboarders. Get down at

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by Aaron Teasdale

Aaron Teasdale


here are two things you should know about Eric Newman, the intense 25-year-old craftsman behind Montana’s first custom ski company. The first is that he really loves skiing or, as he puts it, “I’m completely offthe-wall fanatical about it.” The second is that he has the determination of a big mountain avalanche—once he makes up his mind to do something, nothing short of death or total dismemberment will stop him, and even that might not be enough. Understand these things and you will begin to grasp the improbable story behind Newman’s new Bozeman-based ski business, Seneca Boards. Seneca’s origins reach back to a decade ago when Newman first decided to try boiling his skis. Yes, boiling, like a witch over a steaming cauldron. Newman was a teenager at a Vermont ski-racing academy and his long skinny racing sticks weren’t getting the job done in the terrain park. The kid needed twin tips. So when his parents weren’t home, he stuck his racing skis in boiling water for an hour and propped them under a door overnight at a 45degree angle. Voila, homemade twin tips. His tinkering continued—sanding graphics off skis, etching his name in the bases and melting in a different color P-Tex—until he moved from his home in Massachusetts to Bozeman in 2004 for college (read: skiing) at Montana State University. It was around this time that he realized he wanted to do more than just modify someone else’s skis—he wanted to build his own. Enter the aforementioned avalanche-like resolve, because as Newman soon discovered, making skis is complicated. You don’t just grab a piece of wood and carve them out. He tried that first, of course, but then there were the bases, and the edges, and soon Newman realized that if he wanted to make skis with modern performance he needed to use composites and invest in a suite of tools. Building skis was going to take serious time and money. This is the point where most 20-year-olds say “screw it” and go buy a pair of K2s. Instead, Newman hit the books, spending countless hours in the MSU library reading about, as he puts it, “every type of wood, and elasticity, and composite.” He devoured books on skiing, woodworking and the benefits, both tangible and intangible, of making things by hand. It was during this time that he was hit with The Idea: If he was going to figure out how to make skis, he might as well make a business out of it. Even if his ambitions of becoming a sponsored skier came true, it would only last a few years. To realize his dream of a life in skiing, he needed something with longevity. In the winter of 2005, Newman, a college sophomore, rallied a group of friends to start a homegrown ski company. Unsurprisingly, most of them disappeared when it came time to put in work and cash. But one friend stepped up to help, another offered up his garage as a workspace, and Seneca was officially born. Before the crew could make skis, however, they needed a ski press, a metal-framed device powered by an air compressor that applies 25 tons of pressure to the sandwiched layers of a ski. After finding scrap steel beams at Pacific

Steel, which also cut the pieces to size for them, Newman and his partner blew out (and returned to Wal-Mart) countless drills and bits in their attempt to bolt the beams together. When they finally completed the press—which Newman admits “was a miracle”—they turned their attention to calculating the parabolic equations and acquiring the expensive tools needed to build a perfectly calibrated mold for shaping ski curvature and camber. (Once the mold was done, most of the tools were carefully re-boxed and returned to Home Depot.) By January 2006 Newman giddily stood atop a run at Bridger Bowl on the first pair of skis he’d ever made. With a friend capturing the moment on video, Newman made a total of two turns before one ski shot away from him and down the mountain. He lifted his boot, trying to ignore the laughter from his videotaper—the binding was still attached. Turns out the epoxy that holds the ski together needs to be applied at exactly 180 degrees or it won’t hold binding screws. (Newman had no idea what temperature the epoxy was when they applied it, but he did know that it melted his partner’s brush shortly before the glue bucket burst into flames.) Similar but less incendiary follies followed over the next two years as Newman persisted in mastering the nuances of epoxies, fiberglass thickness and edge construction. “These were things we couldn’t just figure out on the Internet anymore,” he says. Just when Newman was finally getting it all together, everything fell apart. While competing in the 2008 Superpark competition at Big Sky, he mis-landed a 70-foot gap jump and crumpled badly. With multiple breaks in his sternum and various vertebrae, Newman’s life as he knew it was over. He dropped his classes. He lost his ski-building partner and his garage space. After eight months in a body brace, he was told he’d never ski again. The story could easily end there. “I rethought everything I was doing,” Newman says. But in the end he realized that giving up on skiing would be giving up on life. So it was that in late 2008, while he was focusing every iota of energy on physical therapy, someone approached him about building a pair of skis. Then another person asked. Then a dozen people. By that winter Newman was not only skiing again, he was cutting and planing skis in the back alley behind his house (and earning visits from police alerted by noise complaints). Seneca Boards was back. Newman has spent the time since then entering freeskiing competitions and refining his ski-making skills. In 2009 he made dozens of pairs of skis for Bozeman-area powder hounds as part of a year-long prototype study, and Lilly Deford, a 22-year-old MSU student who charges big lines at Bridger Bowl, confirms that Newman’s binding-ripping days are long past.

“I skied a pair of Senecas about 20 times last year and they were awesome in powder and crud,” she says. “They’re real burly—they could take abuse for sure.” Last spring, Newman joined MSU’s class of 2010, graduating with a degree in business management. And with a new manufacturing space in Belgrade (where he’s trading framing and finish work for rent), he’s officially launching Seneca Boards this winter. Though his original vision was to make purely custom skis, tailoring every ski to an individual, he’s since decided to broaden his focus in order to keep his business viable—and local. “There’s a huge market for custom skis, but in Montana people want skis that are affordable,” he says. To that end, Newman is offering stock Senecas in three models—big mountain, all mountain/powder, and park—with a choice of custom graphics for $500. Fully custom skis start at $1,000. Though he’s reluctant to give up a personal relationship with his customers—his original vision called for skiing with each one before making their boards—retail shops have started approaching him about carrying his brand. After working three jobs since graduation to save up money for the raw materials, he now plans to have Seneca skis in select Montana stores this winter or next. No matter which skis you buy from him, Newman says they’re a longterm investment that will outlast mass-produced products. “I can have better quality control than big companies because I’m making my skis by hand,” he says. “And I use higher quality materials that will last, so you can bring your skis back to me and I can refurbish them and restore the camber.” Building skis, restoring skis, hucking huge gaps on skis, and plowing through any obstacle in his way—this is Eric Newman, skiing fanatic. All he wants is to live the skiing life, and with his body strong again and Seneca Boards in demand, he’s well on his way.

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Runoff CONTINUED FROM PAGE 21 Like most of the Headwaters runs, the entrance to this one requires jump turns over shards of loose rock peppering the snow. Looking just past the entrance I’m surprised to see there are only a few tracks in the gut of the gully. The patroller posted on the ridge, waiting with a radio for the judges to give me the green light, confirms that only three other people have skied this line today. When I look down the precipitous 1,000-foot alley of snow-scarred rocks, my legs quiver a little and I have to remind myself what’s at stake. I couldn’t throw a front flip if I wanted to. I’m in no danger of winning anything. All I have to do is ski powder. This I know how to do, and I make roughly 12 turns down the whole headwall. The music fades away and I can only hear my own breathing. I slow down a little for the constrictions and make huge sweeping turns out into the sunny hanging powder fields. My freeride score is 38 out of a possible 100, but I couldn’t care less. It’s the best run I’ve had all season.

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Cold Six CONTINUED FROM PAGE 35 sleep. Toward the end of a climb that landed him in the record books. His new list of peaks to bag is all easy ones. “I just want to do some climbs that don’t make me sick to my stomach,” he said. He started almost as soon as he climbed Cleveland. He’s now climbed nearly 190 summits in the park, some of them without ropes, several of them on the same day. “It feels really good to have climbed all six, to have it done. It’s just something I’ve thought about for so long. So much time and energy,” he explained. “And none of it came easy. Even when the conditions were good, it’s still climbing 6,000 feet up a mountain after skiing in for 15 or 20 miles. “I don’t even care so much about being the first person to have done it. Whatever. To me it’s cool that I accomplished this thing that I thought about so many years ago,” he said. “Because when I first thought about it, it was just a dream.” The route to Siyeh

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Montana Headwall

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The Crux CONTINUED FROM PAGE 58 ow filled with deep, powdery drifts, we but I was exhilarated, too. I celebrated danced through our turns, made fresh the freezing beauty of the starry sky, tracks, then had a picnic in a whitebark even as I shivered. pine grove. All around us, flakes gathNow, in my fifties, I marvel not that ered into ever-higher berms, swirling my younger self courted danger, but that white against the black-green pines, this drive is gone. What happened to the aching desperation for nights out? Where under the hush of an opaque sky. We is the imperative to walk the ridgeline of risk? Last winter my husband, Oliver, We no longer and I celebrated our fourteenth anniversary by skiing a long stretch into the of our of the Continental Divide south of it is near enough, thanks; no Chief Joseph Pass. When we met, Oliver was the kind of skier who need to extend an . launched himself off cornices and traveled multiple days in the backcould not tell how near or distant anycountry to enjoy corn or powder under his telemark skis. Yet he wasn’t foolhardy: thing was. I felt deeply peaceful. “We could build a snow cave right he understood snow science, dug avathere,” Oliver said, pointing to a gully in lanche pits, wore a transceiver. The first the drifts. He sounded wistful; in our day we skied together in the high peaks younger years we might have spent the of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oliver whisnight out snugly buried in winter. But we tled opera arias as avalanches fell around had no plans to dig a cave or pitch a tent. us. Our fate together was sealed. We had a hot tub and a fireplace, flannel On this day we headed south from sheets and a log cabin waiting for us. Missoula in a blizzard. In an open mead-

“Do you want to sleep out?” I asked. “As little as possible,” he replied. To admit this aloud was a moment of reckoning. The old urgency for nights out was gone for us both. We kicked and glided back to the car well before light failed us. The mountains are no longer our proving ground, for we know ourselves now, and have nothing left to prove. We no longer seek to stare — into the face of our mortality—it is near enough, thanks; no need to extend an invitation. At this time of our lives, to simply be in the stillness and look at the trees, listen to the silence, feel the wetness of the flakes on our faces, enjoy the embrace of winter—this is enough. We seek communion, not a contest. We keep our limbs limber, breathe the good air and strengthen the bond between us. All those nights of our youth spent under an open sky live on inside us, a wellspring we can dip into whenever we wish. We need only look within.

seek to stare face mortality invitation

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THE CRUX by Perri Knize

Wilderness lifeline The starry nights out that bring light within


rom the trailhead parking lot I could still see the mountaintop well enough, but at six o’clock in the evening, daylight was fading fast. I grabbed my old Boy Scout-issue external frame pack, the one that had served me well the previous summer, when I’d worked in the Pintlers as a wilderness guard. In the top panel I put my Svea 123 stove and a Sigg bottle of white gas, insulating them from the cold with a wool sweater and a down vest. In the lower compartment went peanut butter sandwiches, gorp and Top Ramen. I rolled my threeseason sleeping bag inside a thin foam pad and snugged the cylinder to the top of the pack with two bungee cords. Matches, knife, compass—check. But no map. I can follow a trail up a mountain, I thought, impatiently, when I realized I was mapless. Too many months spent indoors in the city, too long a drive to the trailhead. Hell yes, I was impatient. This was March, and backpack-

Chad Harder

ing season was much too far away. Cabin fever—double check. Driven by a fierce imperative to be out, I had not even taken a moment to let someone know where I was going. The mountain, the trail and the terrain were all unfamiliar. My clothes and gear were not designed for winter camping, and I did not have a tent. But I deliberately did not think about this. Nights out. The words were a sensory command pulsing in my blood. I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my wooden staff and heaved the pack onto my shoulders. Into the harness. It felt good. I adjusted my headlamp, locked the van and set out for the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Cabot, four miles ahead—and 4,000 vertical feet above. The sky turned indigo and the first stars came out. I could see only a few paces ahead down the icy path. The packed snow was slick where the trail was steep, and grew rockier and more challenging as the night wore on.

Fear did flash through me as it grew later and colder. The trail began to seem endless. But I refused to think through what I was doing. Why was I hiking alone in the dead of night in ten feet of snow? I would never do something like this today, nearly three decades later. All I knew then, in my twenties, was that I needed the sky for a blanket, the constellations for my guides, and I could not wait for summer. I dismissed my fear of dying and used the adrenaline to pump my frozen legs forward. Risking my life, I now suspect, was exactly my purpose. I was testing my limits and my limbs, staring down my mortality, and in the process, defining myself. The wilderness was my proving ground. At 1 a.m., I reached a clearing under a vast, star-spangled blackness. Without the protection of the forest canopy, my body heat rapidly vaporized into the ether. I was exhausted, Continued on page 56

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Outdoor Adventure Under the Big Sky