“Alone in the Wilderness” with Dick Proenneke

Richard Louis “Dick” Proenneke (May 4, 1916 – April 20, 2003) was an amateur naturalist who lived alone for nearly thirty years in the mountains of Alaska in a log cabin he had constructed by hand near the shore of Twin Lakes. Proenneke hunted, fished, raised and gathered his own food, and also had supplies flown in occasionally. He documented his activities in journals and on film, and also recorded valuable meteorological and natural data.

The following is the 57 minute self-made documentary shot by Mr. Proenneke entitled “Alone in the Wilderness”. This is one of my favorite pieces of wilderness living film and each time I watch it I am amazed and astounded at the vast set of skills, the motivation, and dedication that it took for someone to live off the land.

Dick’s cabin on Twin Lakes is now on the National Register of Historic Sites and is located within Lake Clark
National Park & Preserve in Alaska.

A Nice Day in the Snow

I’ve had my hands full with there being a very small, new addition to our family earlier this year but with family in town visiting to help out I took the opportunity to head for the hills.  Two friends and I left town around 6am and headed for a mountain trailhead about 40 minutes away.  We toured into a zone new to me, checked out a possible future camping zone we’d spied on satellite imagery and then rode a heavily tree’d face, avoiding cliffs as best as we could and then exited via a creek bottom back to the truck.  All in all we skinned and rode just over six miles and were out around four and a half hours.  The day was quite cold although sunny which made it an overall great day to be out in the woods riding cold, fresh pow.

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.

 

2014-hunt-blackmore

 

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.

 

2014-hunt-sam-with-rifle

 

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

2014-hunt-meat-on-table

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.

 

 

MYOG: Winter Splitboarding Day Trip Pack

I've been on a bit of a pack kick lately and sewed up two new ones in the course of about a month. I shared pictures of my "Franken-ruck" recently but what follows was a previous work.


It's a bit more detailed and includes a foam framesheet in a tight-fitting sleeve, a probe/shovel handle/saw pocket, a daisy chain on the front, two rows of PALS on the bottom, simple hip stabilizer belt, and hooking top closure mechanism.


Fabrics employed are 1000d Cordura (both coated and uncoated), 200d Cordura, VX-21, spinnaker, silnylon, and then various bits of webbing and other notions.


I've had this out for one long day in the backcountry with standard avalanche gear, ten essentials, et al and it absolutely swallows everything up. I carried my split in a-frame very comfortably (using ski strap at top tips).


I did not include a small organizer pocket inside nor do a lid for this pack and I could see that being a future update.


Weight is +/- 20 oz.
Volume is 37 liters up to the collar


ski-pack-back


ski-pack-front


ski-pack-side


Winter 2013 Snow Conditions

It’s refreshing and reassuring to read bits like this in the local avalanche report:

“In the last few years our snow has been more unstable than not and the danger rating Low rarely got used.  As a forecaster, writing Low for our entire area feels weird and unfamiliar, but our data and field trips have led us here.  We are not throwing caution to the wind, but to be honest, on our days off we are skiing lines, climbing routes and traveling in the backcountry like it’s a Low danger.”

– Doug Chabot, from the 2013-01-23 Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center daily bulletin

Ruck, Pulk, and Christmas Tree

Sam pulls a Christmas tree with his pulk sled and GORUCK GR1

Sam pulls a Christmas tree with his pulk sled and GORUCK GR1


It’s been many months since I’ve taken the time to write or share photographs about my adventures of this summer or fall and now, as we’ve solidly moved into winter here in Bozeman I felt like sharing about an outing my fiancee and I took this past weekend.  We loaded our workhorse of a pulk sled along with an axe, Swede saw, my GORUCK GR1 ruck, and a Christmas tree cutting permit into the back of the Landcruiser and headed up into the Hyalite region of the Gallatin National Forest to find our tree.


We have tall ceilings in our apartment so we set out to find a 10+ foot tree that had nice symmetry, even branch spacing, and the right height.  We drove a snowy forest service road off the main paved road for a mile or so until we came a zone we felt would have the right tree.  We then set out pulling the pulk sled strapped to the GR1 and walked about a mile and a quarter in a circle marking potential trees using a GPS app on my smartphone.  After walking the loop we settled on the best of three trees we liked and set out to chop ‘er down.


Sam chopping on a Subalpine Fir

Sam chopping on a Subalpine Fir


I did the face cut with my axe and then came in for the back cut with my less-than-sharp Swede saw (I tend to buy things from thriftstores).  After felling the tree we loaded it up onto my Otter sled complete with a DIY pulk system I built last year and pulled it up a nice, steep hill to the waiting Landcruiser.


1990 Toyota Landcruiser FJ62 with Christmas Tree atop Roof

1990 Toyota Landcruiser FJ62 with Christmas Tree atop Roof


We took the backroads home so we could drive nice and slow to avoid desiccating the trunk anymore than necessary.  That evening we invited friends over for Elk fajitas, beers, and an ornament hanging session.

 

 

 

SuperUltraHeavy Winter Trip

The United States Forest Service has a series of cabins, fire lookouts, and other shelters available for rental at a nominal cost all over the country. In SW Montana there is a LOT of federal land and therefore there are a LOT of these rental cabins. Navigate your way to recreation.gov to see for yourself.

######

Spanish Creek Cabin

######

A couple weekends ago my lady, a friend of hers, and myself put some winter gear into a big ol’ Otter Sled (designed to normally be pulled behind a snow machine) that I hand fashioned into a pulk and set off for a four mile ski to the Spanish Creek Cabin in the Northern Madison Range of the Gallatin National Forest.  I was prototyping a pulk system that I will ultimately build onto my Mad River Rocket sled using a far lighter and better performing system.  I plan to cover this in more detail in a later post.

######

SuperUltraHeavy Pulk System

######

As you can see in the above photo weight was of absolutely NO CONCERN whatsoever.  I set three Rubbermaid tubs on the floor in the living room and told the ladies that if it fit into the tub I’d pull it in the pulk.  Water, food, sleeping bags, pillows, books, wine, beer, slippers, warm clothing, you name it – it all went in.  They each wore a small backpack with the day’s water and food in it and I wore a pack that I put my sleeping bag into (simply to give it some shape).  I attached the pulk with a couple carabiners and set off through the sticky snow.

######

The hike into the cabin is along an asphalt road that is not plowed in winter so the gradient is very mellow.  The area is very windblown however and given the low snow levels of the season there were many portions that contained exposed asphalt.  About a 1/4 mile into the ski I removed my skis, placed them onto the pulk and walked for about two miles over asphalt, hardpacked ice/snow, and through minimal drifts.  At about the two or 2.5 mile mark the snow levels increased and I was able to ski with the load behind me.

######

The system I was prototyping for the pulk uses a commonly-known method of two five foot lengths of PVC pipe crossed in an “x” pattern and connected to the hipbelt of the pack.  I ran lengths of rope through the PVC pipe for this prototype but the final version will not use rope.  The “x” pattern tracked behind me on uphills and downhills very, very well.  It did roll over on my twice when I was attempting some sidehills that were simply too steep.  I estimate however than in my upcoming design the load will ride much lower (aka no more spacious Rubbermaid tubs) and will therefore allow me to attempt steeper slopes with a lower center of balance.

######

This was also the first overnighter I took using the Madshus Epoch skis I procured this year.  In the past years all of my backcountry travel has either been on snowshoes or via my splitboard but I have been entertaining the idea of using a set of skis that would allow me to focus on making miles quickly and easily on trips where descending wasn’t the primary focus (as with splitboarding).  I chose the Epochs because they allow for excellent edging and control in offtrail as well as groomed trail situations.  To complement the ski I went with a vintage three-pin Rotefella Telemark binding and the Rossignol BCX11 boot.

######

Madshus Epoch skis, Rotefella 3-pin binders

######

Rainier

######