Back-packing worth the workOf all the fine times to be in the high country, there is none better than the month of August. Much of the snow has melted from the previous winter, or as much as is going to melt, the insects are mostly gone, and the fall snows haven’t yet arrived. It is a wonderful season to hike up a trail, climb into the country and “throw your eye around,” as an Athapaskan Indian guide once said to me in the upper Yukon.
Of all the fine times to be in the high country, there is none better than the month of August. Much of the snow has melted from the previous winter, or as much as is going to melt, the insects are mostly gone, and the fall snows haven’t yet arrived. It is a wonderful season to hike up a trail, climb into the country and “throw your eye around,” as an Athapaskan Indian guide once said to me in the upper Yukon.
As one who grew up on the northern plains, I never have liked the North Woods, the rainy boreal forest of the Northwest Coast, or the jungles of Southeast Asia. But I loved the high country from the first time I set foot in it in British Columbia when I was 18. Over the next 40-plus years I hiked, backpacked and hunted in mountain ranges from Arizona to Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and a hundred places in between.
I was a backpacker before backpacking became chic, and I wore out a Camp Trails pack-and-frame that I bought in the Marine Corps PX in 1971, carrying it in many places in the Washakie Wilderness and South Absaroka Wilderness in northwestern Wyoming, the Idaho Primitive Area, the Babine Mountains in B.C., and the Chugach Mountains in Alaska.
In the early ‘80s I bought a new Kelty pack-and-frame and carried that for hundreds of miles in dozens of places in the high West. It hangs on the wall in my garage today, a decent old pack but outdated as its owner. These days companies like Mystery Ranch of Bozeman, Mont., and Barney’s of Anchorage, Alaska, make marvelous if expensive packs that I wish I could have owned 40 years ago. (Pack-buyers beware of junky, Vietnamese-made packs sold by Cabelas.)
These days too, one can buy GPS units that tell you where you are on a topographic map, and show your way back to camp. As a “non-techie” I have no idea how to operate such a device, but I am pretty handy with a topo map and compass.
There is a magic to hiking up a trail and into new country. Often as not, I went alone because no one I knew in those days had any interest in backpacking a couple dozen miles. Later, Laurie became my partner and we backpacked into the high country in Wyoming and Montana.
I love the quiet of being alone in high country with only the sounds of wind in the trees and rushing water from a pure creek far below.
Late summer backpack trips allowed me to see all manner of wildlife from grizzly and black bears to bighorn sheep, mountains goats, elk and moose. One time in a high basin in Wyoming I awoke in a small tent to hear something rustling nearby. A mule deer doe was feeding just outside the tent flap. I was many miles from traffic, 400 hundred miles from the office, and away from all the unending nonsense of civilization.
One August many years ago I climbed into the petrified forest that stands above Frontier Creek in the South Absaroka Wilderness of Wyoming. A photo of an enormous, petrified stump that I took was later published in “Wyoming Wildlife” magazine while I was associate editor of that publication. Another time on another late summer backpacking excursion into the Washakie Wilderness of that same state, I located a petrified tree trunk lying high on Wiggins Peak. I am sure it is still there.
I remember drinking from icy springs and viewing spectacular country that is not visible from any roadway. The country is still there, protected under the Wilderness Act, for those with the ambition to don a pack and hike up a rocky trail to see it for themselves!