Going SUL on the NCT

I love a challenge.  Even if that challenge is completely and totally contrived and pretty much no one else cares about the results of said challenge.  I also enjoy walking through the woods, sleeping outdoors, and subsisting using only a handful of necessary things.  As such the notion of the superultralight backpacking trip is right up my alley.  Take some lightweight gear, put it on a scale, and if it weighs in around five pounds or less then you’re doing it right.

We’ve had a family trip to visit my wife’s homeland in Northern Michigan on the calendar for a few months and at some point in time it occurred to me that I could easily throw one of my frameless rucks, a lightweight quilt, tarp, and basic sundries for a SUL backpacking kit in along with my carry-on with little to no difficulty.  So I mentioned to my wife that I thought a quick sub-24 hour trip on the North Country Trail nearby would be appreciated and she said, ‘why not’.  It is vacation after all.

MYOG pack and NCT sign

I spent some time looking over the NCT map to find a nice section.  Not too short so it wouldn’t be worthwhile, but not too long so that it would require more than one night.  I had day hiked some of the NCT while visiting the area on previous trips but wanted to see something completely different so I picked a spot, determined a drop off and pickup location and started spec’ing a gear list.

I get a big thrill out of putting all my gear on a scale, weighing it, and then trying to make it lighter.  Say what you will about trying to carry five pounds of gear or less, or three pounds of gear or less, or whatever threshold you might have, but I cherish the challenge.  And when planning a backpacking trip in the balmy Midwestern United States where roads and cell phone reception are prevalent you’d damn well better know I’m going to see about getting away with about as little stuff as I possibly can.

And so my spreadsheet with all the things I was going to bring added up to a smidge over three pounds and the clothing on my person about the same.  I mailed a mini BIC lighter, some matches, and a few cubes of Esbit stove fuel ahead to my mother-in-law’s house to avoid taking them on the plane (our family travels carry-on only ’cause we’re always packin’ light).

NCT blaze

We arrived in Northern Michigan to warm temperatures and on-and-off threats of rain but the night I was looking to camp remained clear in the forecast.  Th morning of my hike we spent a lovely few hours at the beach relaxing, swimming, and watching the kids play.  This was the same beach my wife and I were married at four years previous so it was a pretty joyous day.  That afternoon on the drive home we detoured a 1/2 hour out of the way onto a little, sandy two-track in the thick Michigan woods.  The North Country Trail Association in Michigan keeps a very tidy trail and sure enough down the road appeared a blue blaze and a parking spot in which, surprisingly, was another vehicle.

NCT signage

I did a quick parking lot shuffle changing out of my swimsuit and into hiking clothes, gave my wife and daughter a kiss, grabbed my pack and was very pleased to see a well-signed trailhead denoting distances both forward of my position as well as aft including the spot I was aiming to camp at about 7.5 miles up the trail.

I haven’t been on a backpacking trip at all this summer so when I hit the trail I was feeling like a million dollars.  It was around five o’clock in the evening and I although I had three or more hours of daylight I still knew it would be best to do some quick hiking.  Besides I love a very fast-paced hike over mildly hilly terrain and along well-groomed paths through knee-high ferns.  Due to travel restrictions I had left my trekking poles back in Montana but as I’d hoped, my mother-in-law, like any good Michigander had a stack of XC ski poles in the garage.  I found a set of old fiberglas Jarvinen poles that were quite light and airy and they ended up suiting me very well for the 16 or so miles I put down over the two days.

Those glorious Northwoods

Stretching my legs and settling into a nearly four mile per hour pace I immediately began to make good time.  My eyes, ears, and nose were operating just as quickly as I took in the sight of thick hardwood forest, low lying boggy sections and their dank, dark wood, gently rising hilly knobs, and then the view that would dominate the majority of the remainder of the hike, the first view of the Manistee River as seen from atop a steep, sandy bank.

First views of the river

I’m a shutterfly and my telephone’s camera was clicking wildly as I walked.  I was also using the GPS on the unit and although my moving average speed was close to four mph I lost about a 1/2 mph due to stopping and photographing plants, the trail, the river, and all of the aspects of hiking in the Midwest that I’ve missed so dearly since I moved away from Minnesota nearly ten years ago.

Sunlit two track

The trail made a handful of crossings of sandy backroads but I only encountered a few cars – and those were all off in the distance through the woods.  I came across one group of people who were standing atop one of the highest vistas of the entire hike, an open view of the surrounding landscape situated a hundred or so feet above the Manistee up an incredibly steep bank of sand.  We exchanged a few words but the light of the day was beginning to fade so I kept up my pace.  I couldn’t help but stop when I left that developed area and came to another clearing a bit farther down the trail to attempt to photograph the exceptional view of the distant Michigan landscape.

Stellar Midwest views

I took my phone out of airplane mode since I was on a high bench and noticed there was cell reception.  I took the opportunity to send off an “all’s okay” message to my wife before descending the trail down into the river valley where I was doubtful there’d be reception.  Sure enough the signal went away and I made my way to where an official NCT campsite was located along a small feeder creek.  The location was nice and flat, the creek flowing strong and clear, but the vegetation was dark, damp, and not conducive to a relaxing evening as the light faded nor for viewing the moon nor stars.  I quickly sucked down the remaining water I had in one of my water bottles, saving the 1/2 of the other for use while hiking further, and filled the other from the creek.  I had my Aquamira solution at hand and did the ol’ A+B drip drop dance, packed that bottle away, and hit the trail again.  I came across a few locals in a jeep and side by side just up and out of the dark creek draw.  I snuck past as they were having a nice time by the river and left the short section of road the trail was sharing and then back onto wooded singletrack.  I didn’t need to hike particularly far when I spotted a wide, low flat spot immediately adjacent to the river just a stone’s throw off the trail.  I schwacked down to it and found a small firepit and plenty of soft, flat ground where to set myself for the evening.

Golite poncho tarp

Traveling light means camping with nary a footprint.  Although I spent twelve hours at this spot I’d say when I left there it was in no worse shape that it was when I arrived.  It’s nice to be able to spend a good amount of time in a place and to be able to leave with very little trace of even being there.  I dumped the contents of my pack, grabbed my poncho tarp, stakes, and poles and set about finding the best combination of a flat spot that had good tree coverage should a rain decide to start overnight.  My poncho tarp is only five feet wide which means when pitched in an a-frame style is quite narrow.  I got it rigged up in no time and next started scanning trees in the area that looked the most comfortable for leaning against.  I found the perfect one that forked low to the ground, had a nice soft blob of moss in the fork, and just the right upward curve to fit my back, and provide a place to lean my head.  I set my little foam sleeping pad down in the curve and settled into an almost immediately comfortable position.

Zelph beer can pot and BPL wing stove

I heated up a packet of ramen noodles and added part of a pouch of powdered sausage gravy.  This is a delicious backpacking dish that I think was shared with me by my former employer, Ryan J. at BPL.  I remember him mentioning it offhandedly to me as a quick and easy meal that you can find ingredients for at just about any grocery store and it’s stuck with me ever since.  I was using a free, long-handled ice cream spoon that I’d picked up at a soft serve place we’d visited a few nights before.  This was in an effort to further cut as much weight from my gear list as possible but it proved to have a flaw in that it became quite soft in the boiling water and was hard to eat with.  I may choose to not sacrifice the strength of my trusty titanium spoon the next time I attempt to camp with as minimal of gear as possible.

My spot

The spot I had found to sit was so comfortable that I decided to simply stay there as day turned to night.  The mosquitos had heightened their presence and the temperatures dropped slightly so I put on my windshirt, toque, and headnet but left my sleeping quilt in the pack.  I laid back against the tree and closed my eyes, falling asleep to the sound of water moving swiftly by in the Manistee just feet away from my position.  I slept nicely for an hour or two until the slight chill of the evening woke me and I decided to wrap up in my quilt.  The spot I was in remained comfortable and I found I was able to sleep on my back or either side conveniently using the mossy tree as a pillow.  The moon was one day waned (waxed?) past full and was distinctly framed above the river between the trees on either side.  It was so gorgeous that I couldn’t bring myself to fall back asleep right away but rather just sat staring, taking it all in.  The slight temp change had put the mosquitos to rest so I pulled the headnet up off my face and enjoyed the view until I finally fell back asleep.

I awoke sometime in the dead of the night to a large critter approaching camp.  It was making quick deep snorts of breath and pawing at the ground.  I expect it was probably a large deer but perhaps could have been a bear.  I’m not Midwest naturalist however so can’t be sure.  I shouted at it to let it know I already had this campsite taken and it begrudgingly responded.  It moved off in the opposite direction snorting and rooting at the earth but didn’t do so very quickly.  I continued to listen to it as it moved up the river bank and off into the woods far enough that I could drift back to sleep.

I awoke soon after dawn and participated in one of the other joys of the art of minimalist backcountry camping – the five minute camp cleanup.  Although I’d not slept under my tarp I had left it up in the event weather had come in so I walked over to take it down, and then gathered my other items which were all actually already in my backpack where I’d left them while I slept.  The whole process took six minutes.  I had thought I would simply hit the trail, hike a ways and then stop for coffee and granola but instead I sat back down in my trusty spot, took out my stove and stayed another hour sipping coffee and eating.

The steep banks of the Manistee

I had a planned pick up time of 11am and what I thought to be around eight or so miles of hiking so I knew that if I walked quickly I would have plenty of time to stop anytime I pleased for a photograph, to read any sign posts, or appreciate any views I’d encounter.  So that’s what I did.  I began to move quickly making my way along the river.  Much of the morning section was on a two-track shared by ATV traffic and although I didn’t see any there were plenty of signs of camping spots with the tell tale firepit full of empty cans of shitty beer and other detritus shot full of holes.

The sun rising up and over the trees along the Manistee and the trail leaving the sandy two track for more gorgeous singletrack carved lovingly by NCTA volunteers can sure put a smile on a hiker’s face.  As the sun rose over the treed banks it made for some beautiful light and given this was a weekday I saw no one for the entire morning, having the landscape all to myself.

Sunrise SUL selfie

I missed a crucial blue blaze depicting a spot where the trail made a sharp 90 degree turn and I walked up a very steep hill about a hundred feet and then farther along the top of the rim about a 1/4 mile without seeing any sign and on quickly degrading trail.  I could tell by my location that I’d rejoin the trail somewhere ahead if I forged on but I had been enjoying the trail tread the NCT volunteers have built so much that I instead decided to retrace my steps to find the trail.  This proved to be a good choice for the route they’d chosen to gain the ridge was in a spectacular draw of which had such a sublime character it would have been a shame to miss.

Gorgeous NCT tread

The remainder of the hiking day was truly exceptional as the trail remained high up on a sandy bluff above the Manistee.  Hiking through forests of birch and maple with a carpet of lush fern immediately around me with twenty-mile views of the Michigan forests expanding off to my right at wonderfully spaced open vistas would be hard to beat.  I hiked quickly but took in the sights and sounds around me with gratitude.

The Manistee River

I arrived at the end of the trail section about 15 minutes prior to my scheduled 11am pickup which was alongside a highway.  At this location there was another nicely done NCT sign with well defined distances back from where I’d come.  The section ahead of me which I would not be hiking this go around is on the highway for what appeared to be two or three miles North, East, and then South which I can only assume is due to access issues around a section of land.  The NCT is a pretty amazing patchwork of trail that stretches 4,000 some odd miles from New York to North Dakota.  To string together a footpath that distance is pretty amazing considering the multitude of land ownership along the way and as such it needs to be expected there will be little bumps like this as the trail follows a county or state right of way to avoid a piece of inaccessible land.

The Manistee River

I would highly recommend hiking sections of the NCT in the Traverse City area as the chapter of the NCT there cares very deeply about their section of trail.  I plan to further explore sections of it on future trips to the area but chose this one first due to it’s seeming lack of popularity all while having such a gorgeous location along the Manistee.

SUL gear

For those interested in such things a packing list for this trip can be seen here: https://lighterpack.com/r/3n6mwx

Do you have stories of the NCT in your state or perhaps right in Michigan? Drop a comment for me to read below.

Twelve Months, Twelve Photos 2016

As in past I have chosen to reflect upon the year behind me by choosing a photo from each month that I feel was a highlight.  It allows me to think on how the year played out and helps to set the stage for the year ahead.  Thanks to Dave C. for the idea of the “Twelve Months, Twelve Photos” concept – – it has become something I truly appreciate.

January: The month started off pretty great although my back – – which I had been suffering through much pain over for the past years – – proved to be nice in that I got out with one of my best backcountry partners for a nice day of pow at a not overly used b.c. zone.

February: The outdoor gear development company that had employed me since 2012 decided to switch it’s focus away from gear design and as such let the majority of it’s R&D staff go in 2016.  This was a pretty huge hit to the way of life that my family and I had begun to build for ourselves but at the same time was a chance for me to design and develop some of my own gear as I said goodbye to that place.  In good news, the person who was part of that company that I most respected has started his own company so go give them a follow.

March: Young Mae began to take her first steps in March.  It’s almost hard to think back on this now that she is running and jumping all over the place.

April: The aforementioned closing of doors of my previous employer has thusfar proved to be an amazing improvement to my livelihood.  I have taken up employment with a local solar electric design and install firm and am exceedingly happy with my new line of work.  Excellent autonomy within the company and a management that truly cares for and understands their workforce.  Not to mention a product that provides legitimate and undeniable value to society.

May: Exceptional, quality camping with good friends from all over the country.  We picked a zone that was relatively close to friends living in Bozeman, Seattle, Helena, and Salt Lake City and we all gathered for the Memorial Day weekend to relax, eat, drink, shoot, ride bikes, and be lazy next to the creek.  Wonderful!

June: June brought more awesome camping with very good friends, albeit this time much closer to home than in May.  A favorite destination just West of Bozeman found us relaxing around the campfire, shooting BB guns, and brapping Mason’s moto around the plentiful BLM land.

July: My wife and daughter made their way out of town so I ventured up to one of our favorite campsites for a night solo with the Land Cruiser.

August: More super, awesome, quality, family camping was had in August as we explored a new zone in Paradise Valley.  I expect to have more adventures here in the future.

September: This month found my hunting partner and I deep in the Absaroka’s for the HD 316 bc hunt.  Although we didn’t harvest anything I did have what has proven to be the most successful stalk of my short hunting career.

October: What an amazing little person Mae is becoming.  Torie photographed her in some beautiful clothes during the autumnal colors of October.  Such a precious child!

November: Our family visited Seattle and Bellingham during November and I snapped this photo of some of our best friend’s “kids”.  Charlotte will soon be Mae’s good buddy.  Ol’ Jax we learned was ailing in health and I knew that when I left him the scratch behind his ear and gruff, but loving words I spoke to him would probably be the last.  He has since passed on and I miss him as a former roommate and punching bag.  RIP, buddy.

December: Neither of us having meat in the freezer, my hunting partner and I headed up to the cold, windy, and barren lands of the Castle Mountains in hope of catching glimpse of a herd of elk on BMA land.  It was a gorgeous, sunny, relatively mild, and quality day, but alas, no elk were spotted.  As such we have pretty much put the period on the end of the sentence of our hunting season and will re-group and begin planning for next September.

2016 was a splendid year and although I didn’t get out on enough backpacking trips I was happy to continually introduce my daughter to the wonders of the great outdoors.  I look forward to a 2017 plentiful with camping excursions and outdoor enjoyment for all.  May you and yours experience the same.  What do you have planned for 2017?  Let me know in the comments.


An Overnight in Yellowstone National Park

Our daughter was born in January and our hopes for the summer were to get out camping as many times as we could to let her experience sleeping outside the home as the regular way of the life in our family.  We managed to spend something like 20 nights in our pop up camper trailer and a couple nights in a tent but these were all in the front country and we had not yet taken her backpacking


Going out on a low mileage but true wilderness backpacking trip was something we really wanted to do before the snow fell this Fall so even though it was the season opener for rifle hunting I decided to push that back a week and we gathered our gear for a trip into Yellowstone National Park.


Torie had Mae on her back in our vintage Tough Traveler kid pack as well as as much other gear as would fit in the lower storage section. Subsequently I was responsible for everything else and as such I borrowed the Kuiu Icon from the gear library at work in the 5200 cu. in. (85 liter) size.


We chose a campsite in the Canyon area of the park which is my favorite. The incredibly steep, sulfur-strewn canyon walls that sweep majestically down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River are about as impressive a site as I’ve seen anywhere. Our campsite was situated a few miles from “Artist Point” and the well-worn trail leading out to it followed the canyon rim closely for much of the journey.


We arrived at camp a few hours before sunset and with temperatures set to be near or below freezing overnight I immediately set about gathering and sawing wood for use in our tent wood stove.  Torie played with Mae while trying to get our sleeping gear set up as well so when night time did set in on us we’d have our shelter all set to go.


We cooked up a batch of couscous topped with a delicious pesto sauce served alongside sliced pepperoni and then washed it down with chocolate cookies and a few splashes of whiskey.  We brought along some organic pre-packaged food for Mae which, like pretty much everything we’ve ever fed her, she lapped up eagerly.


Nighttime falls early in these parts but I set about putting a warming fire into our little wood stove which is designed perfectly for our tipi (both are the awesome little cottage gear company, Titanium Goat).  Temperatures quickly reached the height of comfort and soon enough we were sitting around in short sleeves and no hat.


Mae awoke at around 2am giving a little cry and although she seemed plenty warm she was awake and not ready to fall immediately back to sleep.  I took the time to start up a new fire in the stove while Mom nursed our little one.  We stayed awake talking for about an hour until Mae was able to fall back asleep which lasted until 7:20 in the morning.


It was a brisk morning but a re-kindled fire in the wood stove followed by hot coffee and warm granola made for delightful times as the sun shone over the trees and onto the lake causing the ground frost and mist over the lake to simply sparkle.


We drove home at a leisurely pace taking the time to enjoy just how empty the park is at this time of year.  Some of the spots we stopped and enjoyed are typically buzzing with hundreds of tourists during the peak season and for us to be able to sit and enjoy a view for a solid 30 minutes while only seeing a handful of other people was really quite enjoyable.  Even the grizzly sightings we had to and from our trailhead had but a few cars stacked up at the site – something that in the summer could easily have turned into an hour-long traffic jam.  Not taking the simple pleasures of where you live for granted is a very important lesson, wouldn’t you say?


Sub-24 Hour Overnight Bikepacking in the Gallatin Mountains

I am the father of a seven month old so opportunities to get out into the backcountry are precious these days.  I don’t want to miss out on time with my baby and wife but I also don’t want to miss out on nights spent in the mountains either so last evening I threw my leg over the top tube of my bicycle at 18:00 and pedaled from town twelve miles up into the high foothills of the Gallatin Mountain Range arriving around 20:00.  I live only about a block from access to our town trail system and I chose a route that consisted of mostly trails and gravel road all the way to my camp requiring only three miles of riding the shoulder of a mid-speed asphalt road.





I hunted deer in this zone thoroughly in the Fall and have explored this timber-cutting road system on skis in the winter as well so I knew generally where I wanted to make camp.  I came to a wide, flat pass but pushed on another mile to see if the next switchback would offer better views.  I decided it did not and turned around to return to the pass.  I left the road and headed to a rocky promontory that made up the Eastern part of the pass and set about making camp… well, more like I cracked a beer and enjoyed the view for a few minutes before making camp.




The view off to the SE through a gunsight set of peaks of the rugged Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness complex was sublime and I couldn’t help but gaze off into it thinking of past trips in that wild set of mountain ranges.  Opposite that view the lights from my town of Bozeman and the greater Gallatin Valley were beginning to twinkle.  The sun was setting to the West and the silhouette of the Tobacco Root Mountain Range drew my attention heavily.




Camp made I took off my shoes and those diaper-like cycling-specific under shorts and found a comfortable spot on some sun-warmed rocks.  The weather was delightful and I sat in my short sleeves until long after dark just taking in the view of the setting sun, the lights of town, and the slowly rising nearly-full moon.




Sleep came slowly as large critters banged through the woods near me.  Presumably just an elk or a deer but the notion a bear is hanging out near your camp is a hard one to ignore regardless of the fact I’ve spent hundreds of nights sleeping out in the wild.



I don’t know what time I fell asleep but I lay with the door of my simple shelter open and allowed my gaze to drift to the night sky.  The full moon made things very clear and the stars were alight with the twinkle ever-enhanced by being even just a few miles away from the light of the city.  I awoke at dawn, climbed out of my bag and scanned the distant hills for wildlife.  I will hunt this zone again this fall and seeing even just one critter on a nearby hillside was a pleasant sight.


My trusty Bushbuddy fired up a few cups of water and I had a cup of coffee in hand by 06:30.  While it brewed I broke camp and packed my gear back onto my bicycle.  I spent the evening leisurely soaking in the surroundings but my plan for the morning was to attempt to make it back home for arrival about the time my wife and daughter were awaking.  The beauty of a twelve mile climb on the way in is you know you’ve got a fast, twelve mile descent on the way back out.


I made it home by 08:00 just as my family was waking and my lovely wife had a second cup of coffee at the ready.  We made up a proper Saturday morning breakfast of bacon and eggs and now have the whole weekend still lies ahead of us.  Make the most of your minutes, hours, and days.  Enjoy the company of your family as well as your solitude.  I enjoy living in the moment, especially since each and every one of them equates to huge changes in the life of my little girl.  But at the same time I look forward with great interest in having the family join me in future micro-adventures.



Rock Creek – Crazy Mountains, Montana

The Crazy Range is a seldom visited range located in Southwest Montana between Billings and Bozeman. Geographically it is very distinct in that it is not interconnected with other ranges but instead stands alone. From the high peaks within its borders a view to the West is the sea of mountains that form the Rockies but turning East the view is of the seemingly endless American Plains.

I have explored into the Crazies but a scant few times and all within the SE corner (closest to my home). Getting there puts you on long stretches of gravel roads and it is very much located in the “real Montana” – more rancher than recreationalist. Our plan this summer was to check out at least a couple new zones so I put a trip into the Rock Creek drainage on our calendar.


The trail is a popular hunting access in the fall given the somewhat limited public access of the Crazies compared to the quality of game. It is also more popular to dirt bikes than backpackers and we encountered a few riders on our hike in. The trail is very, very rocky and we were pretty amazed at the kind of skill level required to navigate this trail behind the throttle.


The trail crosses a chunk of private land and in this section we had the exquisite opportunity of spotting a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear that I believe was a grizzly about a hundred yards off the trail. The bear was more interested in clawing apart logs probably in search of an insect snack than us but it did acknowledge our presence and we didn’t hang around too particularly long. After a short stint on a private road the trail crosses the swiftly-flowing Rock Creek and winds it’s way up the waterway. The valley is long and generally flat, only beginning to gain the major elevation to it’s headwaters in the very last few miles.


The climb is steep and the trail is faint due to the lack of motorbikes wishing to attempt this section and the otherwise low number of visitors. Faint trails are some of my favorites and it brings a sense of focus to an on-trail hike that can otherwise be lacking. We gained the top of this climb and although it was already August we were instantly transported into what is only early Spring in the alpine. Huge snowfields covered the landscape and in the sections that were melting the wildflowers popped with the brilliant color of fireworks.

A magnificent waterfall flowed out the headwaters and the creek ran rampant in braids over the lush and budding landscape. The actual headwaters up around the lake was more than likely a barren rocky expanse sans firewood and soft camping so we opted to pitch the tent here – knowing that we would fall asleep to the soothing rush of the water as it fell from the waterfall and moved swiftly past us in the creek.


A light rain began to fall so the shelter went up quickly as Torie inflated her sleeping mat for a quick nap. I took the opportunity to don my rainjacket, collect some firewood to keep dry under some trees and to photograph the waning alpenglow light as it twinkled behind the raindrops. The photos I’m sharing here today were some of the most brilliant color-wise I took all summer long. Not expecting the rain shower to last too long I prepared a warming fire for when Torie awoke and we wished to have dinner.

We enjoyed the evening, the stars coming out with absolute brilliance in a landscape completely devoid of artificial light. We slept comfortably and after a pleasant breakfast and coffee we picked our way back down the steep trail. On the way out along the creek we lingered in the swift ford to soothe our hot feet and upon reaching the highway and heading into Livingston we filled our bellies with requisite Mark’s In-and-Out burgers, fries, and malts. Another awesome Montana wilderness weekend was in the books.

Memories of a Fun Trip with Mike C!

Turn back the clock to August 2011. I was recently unemployed and couldn’t decide between hiking the CDT from Glacier to Yellowstone or spending a few weeks in the beautiful lake country of Northern Michigan where my girlfriend was stationed for the summer so I decided to pick a little bit of both before putting my nose to the grindstone to find another job.

I found an airline ticket out of Salt Lake City back to Michigan and planned my trip south from Bozeman. I planned to do a couple things between here and there in order to appease my hiking desires prior to spending quality time on Lake Michigan. I signed up for a Continental Divide Trail Alliance (read my Sep. 2011 trip report) volunteer trail building session in the Lionhead area of Gallatin National Forest. We spent a few days digging tread, re-building a failing culvert, and trimming overhead vegetation during the day and eating excellent grub and enjoying cold ones in the evening. I highly recommend a CDT or other volunteer project as it gets you to some beautiful country and gives you the opportunity to give back to the organizations that maintain the trails we know and love.

Conveniently located between my volunteering session outside of Yellowstone and the airport I was making my way toward in Salt Lake City is a sleepy little burg on the quiet Western front of the Tetons – Driggs, ID. Infamous “lighten up” NOLS instructor, graphic artist, and all around good guy Mike Clelland spends his days here and I pinged him on my way down to see if he’d be into an ultralight 24 hour jaunt up into the hills outside his home. I arrived in the afternoon and we threw together some grub and gear and drove a short little distance to one of Mike’s favorite trailheads just up the road from his house.



Mike and I instructed a few sessions of the Backpacking Light Wilderness Trekking School together in ’09 and I hadn’t seen him much since, nor gone camping with him. What a great time it was practicing what we preached purely for the enjoyment of the sport we loved. We packed really light with no shelters as the weather up near the Teton Crest was expected to be precip-free. We connected a couple trails together with a little off-trail jaunt with some of the finest craggy views the lower 48 has to offer. Our super light sleeping bags were enough to keep us warm until just a bit before dawn so we awoke from our sleep atop a large expanse of rock long before the sun crept up over the Grand Teton and high tailed it back down to the valley. Mike to get back to his freelance work and me to hit the road to SLC.



Michigan ended up being a total blast and a few years later I made that gal I was visiting my wife – so a trip there was well worth it!

A Successful and Rewarding Season of Hunting

My grandfather hunted deer before I was old enough to fully grasp the concept but it was not an activity that my family practiced into my childhood.   My father would take my brother and I to the sandpit to target practice with the family .22 so shooting at pop cans was about the extent of my hunting career until this fall.


My wife and I are now homeowners and in our backyard we’ve created a nice series of vegetable gardens. We participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and make a concerted effort to put healthy, local, and responsible eating choices at the forefront of our life.  My wife is far more a green thumb than I so I felt that being able to bring locally harvested meat to our table would be a worthy addition to our food needs.



I began my research early in the year, focusing first on educating myself about hunting rifles, ammunition, and hunting-specific gear.  I opted for a .308 caliber Tikka T3 rifle mounted with a Leupold Vx-2 3-9×40 scope on Warne rings.  For the rifle I fashioned a DIY sling and set out on multiple camping trips and a visit to the local range to sight it in at 100 yards.  I purchased a few hundred rounds of high quality surplus ammo and put a few dozen rounds down range in order to become proficient in it’s use and familiarize myself to it so using it would not be strange to me when it came time to get serious.



With new gear choices complete I set out to modify my North Face MG55 backpacking pack (a staple of my GNP trail crew days when 50lb. loads were not uncommon). It has a comfortable hip belt and shoulder straps, two aluminum stays, and with only a few hours of work I was able to cut off the pack bag, add a load shelf and a series of 1″ straps and buckles to accommodate both camping gear (inside drybags) as well as upwards a large amount of animal weight (I tested the pack up to 90 lbs).  On the front I employed a Hill People Gear Kit Bag which provides quick access to my binocular, energy bars, and other sundries.


The general rifle season isn’t until late Fall in Montana but I began spending weekends in possible hunting locations a month early trying to get a feel for where the deer live and possible spots I could get goods shots. I obviously love camping so these scouting trips were fun backpacking trips in gorgeous country that could hardly be considered work. On the side I was watching online videos teaching myself about field dressing animals, and reading up on advice from backcountry and frontcountry hunters alike.



The season opener finally arrived and I headed to a section of woods very close to my home in hopes that I would be able to harvest a truly local animal. I hiked the five miles to my selected spot after dark and upon arrival laid out my bivy, set my alarm for a pre-dawn wake-up and went to sleep. I was awake and in position 45 minutes prior to sunrise (the season officially opens 30 minutes prior to sunup). I spent the entire morning and early afternoon posted in a single location which I thought would be a good pass-through area for critters moving from one drainage to another. Unfortunately I saw only one creature that day and it was a fellow orange and camo-clad hunter. I moved down into one of the drainages late in the afternoon, found a very prominent game trail and a watering hole and posted myself up to sit for a few hours until sunset. Once again, I saw nothing. The story repeated itself the next morning as I sat at the same spot from the previous evening and then hunted my way down this trail-less valley slowly and quietly back toward my truck.




The following weekend I decided to head about 35 miles from town to another zone I had thoroughly researched through aerial photography. This location would allow me to drive my truck to within a mile of the creek and its surrounding hillside that I wished to hunt. This location allowed me to use my truck camping setup which is very comfortable but still required a couple miles walking to the zone, up the creek, and then back to the vehicle. Once again I was skunked for the whole weekend not even seeing a single animal.


I went out four weekends in a row only taking an evening or morning off here and there. Camping out most nights and trying to hunt as many of the dawn and dusk sessions as I could. Over the course of the entire season I consumed around 25 gallons of gasoline in traveling to various zones and I was beginning to feel like that kind of consumption didn’t add up to my goal for this activity to represent sustainable eating.



I had decided to return my focus to the zone close to my home for the remaining weekend of the season I didn’t already have scheduled with holiday commitments and begin heading there for evening and dawn sessions, returning home overnight. By this time of year sunset and sunrise are so far apart that camping requires you sit in the dark from five in the afternoon until nearly eight in the morning so I decided to my time was better spent at home.


I decided to hit the zone for a dusk session on a Friday after work. I had cut out a couple hours early and by 3:30pm I was in the woods, on my knee, rifle up to my eye with a spike whitetail buck in my sights at well under a 100 yards out. He was small-ish and although this was the first legal buck I’d seen in all my hunting so far I hesitated very shortly.   Short enough to give pause think about what it meant to kill him, but long enough for him to get behind enough trees and begin walking away from me out of sight and out of range. I spent the next 24 hours pondering this decision and whether I had made the right choice.



It began to snow on my hike out of the woods that evening and I wondered whether my season would end that week without a critter in our freezer. I came back at dawn the following morning and posted myself in a position where I expected the little guy I had seen the night before would come back up and out of the lowlands. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after sun-up he appeared 300 yards across the logging clear cut I was stationed at. He was outside the distance I was comfortable successfully targeting and shooting so I just watched him follow a game trail up and over a ridge and then I set out to stalk him just for the thrill of it – not really expecting to find him.


“Because I choose to eat meat, I assume responsibility for acquiring it, rather than entrusting it to proxy executioners, processors, packagers, and distributors.” – Steven Rinella


I had followed his trail for a ways before losing it and then followed some new game trails I’d not seen before – not one to miss out on an opportunity for a new place to explore. I slowly hunted my way down these trails, back along the logging roads and then the final trail to my truck. The weekend was over and the following weekend was Thanksgiving. With friends from out of town arriving Wednesday night my days off from work were over and I braced myself that my first hunting season was about to close and I without a successful harvest.



I simply couldn’t give up just yet and I phoned my boss on Monday night requesting if he’d mind if I came in a few hours late on Tuesday. He agreed and I hit what I’d decided was the sweet spot to intersect one last time with the Whitetail Spike I’d now seen twice. I took what I’d learned in seeing him the first two times and posted myself up at sunrise in a clearing that I hoped was his exact route of travel for that morning.


At 8:15am I was glassing a clearcut when out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement. I quietly backed off the rifle safety, reminded myself to slow my breathing, brought the weapon and scope to my eye and began to follow him in my sights keeping target on the zone just behind his left shoulder. I was sitting atop a small knoll and he walked into the draw below me, out of sight for a few minutes. I worried he would walk up the hill toward me – scare, and run off. Instead, thankfully, he took to the opposite bank. The wind was in my favor and I sat still – scope affixed at the correct level – but he was facing away from me and not broadside – no good for a successful shot. He next turned to his left but at the same time put his shoulders behind a tree while he nibbled at brush. My heart was pounding but I was practicing a controlled breath and the scope was not shaking. I knew the time was imminent, that I would kill this animal and that he would provide my family a bounty for the coming year.




He took one step forward, exposing his sides from behind the tree and I did not hesitate. I waited only an instant for my brain to register that where my scope was aimed on his body was in fact the kill zone and I gently squeezed the trigger. His reaction was instantaneous as the bullet connected with him. He spun 180 degrees and bolted very quickly. I chambered another round just in case as I carefully watched where he went until I could no longer see his tail as it disappeared over a slight rise into some trees. Gathering my pack I put the rifle back on safe and proceeded to the point where the bullet had connected with him to begin tracking.  I fretfully hoped I had fired a killing shot that would end his life quickly and with little pain.



His tracks were easy to spot where he had been standing a few minutes previous. I followed them only a short distance and then began to spot blood. Following these spots and his tracks for only ten or 15 minutes I came upon him in a shrubby area about 200 meters from where I’d shot him.


I stood looking at him for a minute, in awe of the awesome power behind taking a life. But at the same time, I stood without guilt. I had thought over this subject for many months, what it means to kill and that as a meat eater it is not only a perfectly acceptable thing to do but also one of the few ways to be able to do so in good conscience.


To hunt and butcher an animal is to recognize that meat is not some abstract form of protein that springs into existence tightly wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. – Lily Raff McCaulou


I laid my hand on his chest, thanked him for what he had done for me, his hide still warm under my un-gloved palm. A slight rain has started to fall and it shook me from my awe and I put on my game face. I gathered my equipment, reviewed in my head the steps I would now need to perform the gutless method on my harvest and set to work.


It took me significantly longer than I expected for the overall process. I had fired my rifle at approximately 8:15am, had him on the ground and tracked by 8:30, but did not have my game bags full and my bounty loaded onto my backpack until 11:45am. I began the two mile hike out of the woods. My best estimation is that the meat, bones, head, plus my gear, pack, and rifle weighed between 60 and 70 lbs.  The going was slow on the icy and snowy ground and the two miles took me around a hour to cover.



The hunt complete there was still much work to be done. I packed the meat bags into my fridge at home and got to my job to finish out the work day. Afterwards, I hurried home and prepared our kitchen for more work. That night, as well as the next, and then one more afternoon a few days later my wife and I, as well as a friend helped prepare and clean both steak meat and the rest of the meat we’d grind into burger. The second night after the hunt I grilled four small bacon-wrapped backstrap steaks and my wife prepared roast broccoli and baked sweet potato. It was one of the most powerful meals of my life and I savored every bite of it.



A friend of a friend has a heavy-duty 220 amp meat grinder and I reserved a slot yesterday afternoon to grind up the majority of the meat into burger. The process took just shy of two hours from arrival to having everything wrapped and taped in butcher paper. Tonight I will invite the friends who helped with the cleaning over for dinner and we will savor plates of venison tacos.


The consumable costs:
$8 conservation license
$16 deer license
$87 gasoline

The rewards:
8 lbs. steak meat
25.25 lbs. burger meat

Cost/benefit analysis:
$111.00 / 33.25 lbs. meat = $3.33/lb


The Onset of Winter in the Mountains

Hiking into the mountains can be compared to going forward in time.  As you gain elevation into the hills it is like moving forward in the season.  Lower pressures and colder temperatures bring an earlier onset of each season and in mid-October it is not uncommon to fall asleep in autumn and wake up in winter.  Such was the case this past weekend at a high alpine camp I made on the East side of the Gallatin Range.



I am prepping for the upcoming deer hunting season and in keeping with due diligence I have been scouting possible zones where I hope to be successful in my hunt. I opted to gain a high alpine ridge via a trail, then make my way off the trail along the ridgeline to provide me a view to glass into multiple adjacent basins. I camped on a narrow, flat section of this ridgeline below a beautiful rocky peak. Although windy, if I had not researched the weather forecast the onslaught of snow that was to come could have been a near total surprise.




I arrived in the late afternoon, draped myself in my woobie and poncho atop my foam sit pad with snacks, water, and binocular to glass the basins below. Unfortunately into the lens appeared two other groups of hunters and no wildlife. The wind picked up so excessively that I quit glassing as the light faded and set about cutting enough firewood to warm me until darkness and a reasonable bedtime.



Mashed potatoes and a few slugs of bourbon in my belly, the dying embers of the fire, and the first flakes of falling snow pushed me into the warmth of my sleeping quilt inside my shelter. I had brought a snow-load worthy shelter but little did I know what kind of pummeling my ridgetop camp was to bring that night. The snow came in hard and the wind maintained itself until well into the night. I awoke many times to re-adjust a blown out tent stake and the trekking poles which hold up the shelters roof. The snow was still falling when I awoke before dawn with the intent to continue glassing for wildlife. The shelter walls sagged and caved but the roof remained strong.



When dawn broke the visibility outside was such that glassing from the ridge was not going to provide results so I struck camp and decided to hike out via an offtrail route following the ridge I was on to see what sign of animal I could find while making my way back to the truck.



The country I traveled through exquisite. The fresh blanket of nearly a foot of snow hung heavy on the flora and the quietness that comes with such a blanket was silence that is music to my ears. I walked, tripped, slipped, and gracefully glissaded my way downhill keeping a keen eye out for critters.



Although my goal was to spot deer on this journey I did not come across any of the species and I may cross it off my list of places to consider coming for a hunt. I did have the glorious treat of coming across a large cow moose standing in a boggy section of the lowlands as I reached the valley bottom off the ridge. She turned and looked at me for a few seconds and nonchalantly walked away behind some trees and then up and off trail into the woods. I am always in awe when I have the chance to view these magnificent creatures.


The hunt continues.



Fifty Miles on the Pitchstone Plateau and along the Bechler River


A trip in the Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park has been on my bucket list for years.  I secured a permit encompassing a vast chunk of the SW corner of the park.  My itinerary was to traverse the Pitchstone Plateau, then head westward to the Bechler River Valley, following it northward to my end point in the Old Faithful geyser basin.  This would allow me to experience three vastly different ecosystems, camping one night in each.


I experienced beautiful moonrises, glorious sunrises, sunny afternoons, a seemingly endless thirty-six hours of continuous rain, mile after mile of both grassy savannah walking as well as mud and bog walking, a spectacular soak in one of the best backcountry hotsprings known to humankind, and hours of solo introspection and enjoyment.  The journey through this section of YNP is well worth a visit for someone looking to walk an all-trail route that has just enough an element of navigation and route finding challenge to keep things interesting but is still moderate enough to allow your thoughts to wander without consequence.


The route crosses numerous springs, streams, and rivers so water consumption planning is simple.  I inquired locally and with respected and trusted individuals regarding the fishing potential and fly choices.  I cast my line into three separate stream/river systems, each containing different species and although my luck and skill (lack of?) didn’t pan out, the joy and meditative qualities of tenkara fishing made the extra six ounces of gear well worth it.


Logistically the trip worked out exceptionally.  I left my car at the Pitchstone trailhead, hiked the loop, and grabbed an instantaneous hitchhike with an off duty park employee all the way back to my car at trip’s end.  Bike shuttling along the busy park roads is an option as well but would require planning a morning start to allow for the extra hours needed.  Hitchhiking can be a gamble but in this instance paid off exceptionally.


I decided to photograph the journey through wide shots of the landscape, trying to capture the essence of the different spaces I visited.  From the wide open, grassy savannah of the Pitchstone Plateau, to the woody and wet valleys of Mountain Ash Creek, to the boggy, misty and steamy Bechler River Valley, all zones had a unique character that was constantly bringing a smile to my face.

















Gravelly Range Overland

The name of this blog is “Going Places Quietly” and it’s intent is to highlight my wilderness treks whether they be on foot, splitboard, bicycle, or skis.  That being said my wife, friends, and I do a lot of car camping and the mini-expedition we set out on over Independence Day was so exceptionally beautiful that I felt the need to write about it here even though car travel isn’t normally considered a “quiet sport”.




My wife had told me a tale of a gravel road that traversed the spine of the Gravelly Mountain Range – a seldom visited range in SW Montana – and back in May I pinged a few folks to plan a long loop encompassing the entirety of the range with terrain varying from well-graded gravel to some slightly technical jeep trails.  With the Independence day holiday falling on a Friday the opportunity to hit the road Thursday night, grab a burger on the way and be into the Forest a bit after dark before the weekend really even began was a prime opportunity.


Burgers and beer at the Gravel Bar in Ennis followed by a necessary final fueling of the trucks and our intrepid group of leisure seekers left smooth asphalt for FS roads just as the sun was setting.  Headlights flipped on and our string of four rigs snaked along quality gravel through farmland and the slow climb up to our first camp high atop the gently sloping NE side of the range.  Our posse consisted of three Land Cruisers of various age and a custom Johnny Cash “One Piece at a Time” Jeep our friend Tom has been working on for years that combines a chassis from one year and a cab from another, along with a slew of other parts from other years.



We crossed the forest boundary and began looking for an acceptable camping site for the evening.  I had done much prior research in Google Earth and had a zone generally selected so we followed our GPS track, headlight ablaze on the road and trees alongside.  The lights of the small hamlet of Ennis made for a quaint scene to the NE and the impressive Madison Range to the East loomed in shadow of the twilight.  A tunnel of trees engulfed the road and soon after a small acreage of meadow brimming with Glacier Lilly opened up and I immediately pulled my FJ62 off the road knowing we’d found the perfect first camp.  The rest of our party followed suit and as the hour of 11pm approached we set about making our first camp.  Some were to sleep in their rigs, others put up tents.  I had camp ready first and quickly set about getting a proper campfire going.  Rain sprinkled us once or twice over the course of the next hour but we sat ’round the Ranger TV sipping cold beer and reveling in how great a vacation we were already off to.


Our Friday itinerary was simple; follow the Gravelly Range Road South for about 20 miles to the impressive Black Butte massif, find a camp and then set out to climb the peak.  Coffee was made, a variety of pancakes, bacon, and fruit was consumed at a leisurely pace, and rigs were packed.  We set out on the road through what was to be the first of  three days of supreme scenery.  The north-facing ridges held slithering slices of snow, the meadows were a carpet of wildflowers in a vast array of colors, and the horizon in all directions was a sea of peaks both jagged and smooth.




A friend was riding his dual sport motorcycle to meet us at Camp Two so we scouted around Black Butte to find our next home.  Nothing in the direct vicinity felt perfect so we left the main Gravelly Road and down Standard Creek Road a few miles until another lovely prairie of wildflowers revealed itself.  The Gravelly Range Road doesn’t see a large population of traffic but the Forest Service manages camping and requires motorized camping parties to stay at sites marked with a small sign.  The rules are loose regarding what you can do at the sites so we typically spread our rigs out across an area encompassing about an acre and all the sites we saw and stayed at were very nicely rehabbed and it was clear that those who visit the area respect it greatly.  Only one fire ring was at any of the sites and ruts and tire tracks were basically non existent.




We all opted to simply loaf around most of the day, napping, taking the little Honda Trail 90 (carried on a hitch haul on the back of one of the Cruisers) for quick spins around, and target shooting pistols and rifles at a 50 yd target.  Rain came and went intermittently as is common when camped up near the high alpine so we opted to save a hike to the summit of Black Butte until the following morning.  Two of our party boiled up a massive vat of shrimp, potatoes, and corn on the cob which we ravenously devoured alongside copious cans of beer ’round the fire.


Day three dawned and the coffee flowed freely.  Our dual sport biker had arrived at the end of the previous day and he set out to thank us for carrying much of his gear in the trucks making his bike light and nimble by producing a feast of eggs and fresh veggies wrapped in tortillas.  After all were satiated with breakfast I put together a pound of hamburger patties for our Summit Cheeseburger attempt at Black Butte.  Camp packed up quickly and easily – the group of eight of us all working independently but efficiently at a remarkably similar pace – and we were on the road and to the base of the peak before 11am.







Sunscreen was applied, the fixins for cheeseburgers, a cold can of beer, rain jacket, and water bottle were in my pack and we set out offtrail toward our mountain.  Surprisingly we ran into a few other hikers out to climb the peak as well but they were a decade or two older than us and moving a bit slower so we said hello and continued up.  The climb was simple and directions were aided by previous climber’s cairns.  Only a small amount of snow covered the route which was easily bypassed and the going was smooth on a well worn social path.  We summited in glorious sunshine with views that ranged for many dozens of miles.  A slight haze, probably from a far-off forest fire clouded the horizon but the peaks of the Madison Range, Snowcrest Range, Greenhorn Range, Pintlar Range, Belts, and Tobacco Roots were striking and awe-inspiring.  We nommed cheeseburgers, posed for a photo, and enjoyed a cold beer, relaxed at 10,542 feet before setting back down to the rigs.







The drive that day was to be a long one and would include finishing the first leg of our trip – the Gravelly Ridge, followed by a slightly higher speed section of wide gravel along the Ruby River – the second leg of the trip, and the start into the technical third leg of the trip – a climb up and over a high pass.  The day was hot, but the breeze from atop the remaining miles of the Gravelly Range Road were heavenly.  The wildflowers were so exquisite that every single twist and turn or up and down section of the road created a new micro ecosystem for a different variety to thrive.  The colors across the landscape were simply alive.




Dropping steeply and quickly off the high ridge and into the dusty and dry Ruby River Valley was a bit shocking.  We sped up to keep the air moving and to get some miles under our tires as we needed to get North to our final camping destination.  We made good time and enjoyed the scenery of the Ruby River.  It provides exceptional Grayling fishing and there were many campsites set up alongside with dozens of fishers wading the cool waters.


We reached the Ruby Reservoir, drove a few miles of required asphalt before turning off the highway, crossing a telltale sign of good things to come – a cattle guard – and then turned our speed back down to more of a crawling pace as we made our way up Barton Gulch.  We had FRS walkie talkie radios with us and communication was back and forth as the rigs spread out aways down the canyon.  The group became separated when one of the rigs decided to overheat and another decided it’s lack of fuel injection on the steep slopes was problematic.  After some radio silence issues and not having the whole group together the leaders backtracked until we were all at the same spot giving the Land Cruiser some time to cool down.  Beers were popped, a box of cookies was passed around, and tunes were turned up for a little backwoods dance party session.  Regardless of some minimal mechanicals, the heat was subsiding as the afternoon turned into evening and everyone was in great spirits.




The next few miles of road were to be the most technical of the trip and everyone dialed the techy parts excellently.  The bike was out ahead followed by the two mechanically-prone rigs and the rear was trailed up by the remaining rigs.  We maintained constant radio comms this time around just to be sure.  Hubs were locked, 4wd was on, and the driving was sublime.  An abandoned mine halfway up provided for a photo op along with a few other hulks of buildings long forgotten.  The highlight of it all came as we crested the top of the pass and were treated to what would be our campsite for the evening – a glorious open area at 8500 ft complete with views to both the East and West with just the right amount of shade for the morning, and enough firewood for myriad evenings of relaxing.







The group fell into the routine of setting up camp.  Dinner and fire-making duties were performed without anyone asking anyone else.  A potluck of grub was laid out on the table and the dwindling beer supply went down can after can.  The alpenglow on the surrounding peaks was stunning and as we watched it fade away into night we were all beside ourselves with how gorgeous the place we live is.  We stayed up around the fire for awhile longer until tiredness overcame each of us at our own pace and then wandered off to our respective places to lay our head.




The morning dawned crisp, clear, and just the right amount of chilly.  We breakfasted on great chow with coffee and orange juice and pondered our maps for the final leg of the journey.  A last minute decision to take a route different than the one I had planned prior to the trip (a decision we would later regret but also made us decide to come back someday) and we set off on a steep jeep trail down into a side canyon toward the main draw of Alder Gulch.  It was a relatively short drive the rest of the way out Alder Gulch to the historic town of Virginia City – home to history’s largest silver placer mining operation.  The town was abuzz with tourists as we pulled our dusty rigs off the dirt for the last time and onto the pavement.





Our next destination was back to the town of Ennis and a visit to the local hamburger joint owned and operated by the area school teachers called the Sugar High.  We pulled in a couple minutes before they opened, got in line for cheeseburgers, fries, and malts which we leisurely ate in the shade alongside the restaurant.  The return trip back to Bozeman was leisurely and my wife and I even treated ourselves to the air conditioner in our FJ.  The drive is one we’ve made many times but is beautiful each and every and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  There was a bikini hatch happening on the Madison along the popular “booze cruise” stretch and in the heat of the afternoon a refreshing dip seemed pretty good but we kept on along and were hope at a reasonable hour to do some cleaning up and prepping for re-entry back into society on Monday.




This region is very vast and I expect we’ll return to visit some of it’s nooks and crannies on foot and on bicycle someday but as a primer, driving this large, primarily gravel loop was a stunning way to see the country.  Very few others were out and about and the camping was exquisite and plentiful.  My recommendation to follow our route or one similar is very high.  Big sky country indeed.




The GPS route of this trip can be found on the everytrail.com page, Gravelly Range Backcountry Drive – Montana.