When it comes to physically active and outdoor-minded folk, we all enjoy certain things in life. Some of us enjoy a relaxing day fishing, running a marathon, bagging that moose or deer to fill the freezer, or even just preferring outdoor labor as opposed to an office job. Some of us enjoy the warmth of summer and some of us enjoy the harshness of the winter cold. There is nothing wrong with any of the above. Sometimes I feel like we all get in little pissing matches as to which way of enjoyment might be better. And really, who cares.
I fall under the winter-lover category. Most of my family came from cold climates. The Swiss/German Alps, Scandinavia and Finland (following the reindeer herds across Siberia). I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing, but I’ve always been drawn to winter beauty. I mean, damn, we all settled in Minnesota, one of the coldest parts of North America. Maybe our blood just doesn’t thin out. Anyways, Montana in February I went.
This was one of the most memorable photo trips I have been on. As if it wasn’t cold enough in Minnesota, a midwinter expedition to Montana was on my agenda. I’m not overly fond of large quantities of people or really people for that matter. Especially when it comes to decompressing in the woods or wilderness where I really want to be left alone. I want silence. No human interaction and winter give that opportunity.
Winter camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and at Glacier National Park in the dead of winter was one of the most rewarding and also somewhat mentally challenging trips I’d been on at that point. The mountains dictate everything. Their brutality and constantly changing moods unleashed winter’s fury when I snowshoed and camped at St Mary Lake.
The winds were insane all day. Those famous downslope winds were blowing a legit blizzard down from the mountain peaks across a flat frozen lake right to where I was camping. The snow felt like I was a piece of metal in a sandblaster. I hunkered down. I was worried I would wake up buried in snow, digging my way out in the morning. But, that didn’t happen.
Coming down out of St Mary on 89 in the darkness before the sun came up was intense. A few trucks had spun out overnight and were half-buried in snowdrifts. My Subaru was blasting through easily 3 or 4 foot tall snowdrifts blowing into the middle of the road. The day finally came as I was entering the Browning and Blackfoot areas and reached a sense of safety, making my way back toward Minnesota with a stop in Williston ND to visit family.
Two nights camping in that environment was absolutely fantastic and with the right gear you can do it. Being uncomfortable or humbled by the weather makes it all worth it. Some things I would have done differently, every time I go out I learn more. The drama of winter in the northern Rockies is on another level. Just remember to respect it, because it can and will kill you. And I really don’t and wouldn’t recommend it to most.
I can’t wait to go back.