Long haul backpacking in Northern Montana

10:57 a.m. on January 12, 2009 (EST)
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I'm saving up to take a 14 day backpacking trip into the Northern Territory of Montana. Any Advice on gear, equipment, food, to bring along the way would be greatly appreciated. I've only hiked and backpacked the Appalachian Mountains of Ga and Tn. There's a big differance between the two and would like some info on what to be expected on the terrian, wilflife of the area and personal protection. Thanks for your help.

5:44 p.m. on January 12, 2009 (EST)
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Hi AlphaDog, welcome to Trailspace.

I can't help you out with Montana, but It's nice to have another member from the Southeast.
I have been to Villa Rica a few times visiting friends.

2:47 p.m. on January 13, 2009 (EST)
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AlphaDog--

I'm a veteran of several trips to northern Montana--it's one of my favorite places in the world. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do when I'm up there.

Most of my time in the area has been focused on trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, just south of Glacier Nat. Park. The "Bob" is a fantastic area, with lots of opportunity for wildlife viewing, enjoying the scenery, etc. But it's most definitely wilderness.

Even just getting to the trailhead can be a bit of a job. since I have to fly into the area, I end up either hitching or paying for a ride to the trailhead--not insignificant, since the trip can be up to an hour or more one-way. Making some calls and planning here is important.

Once there, be prepared. There's a reason that's the Boy Scout motto. I've been deep in the Bob in August and ended up slogging through knee-deep snow. Yes, August. And yes, knee-deep. I've also been there when it's 96 degrees. Dealer's choice, I suppose.

Some trails are (reasonably) well-marked, but many are only modestly so, and some are completely unmarked and unmaintained. Some are just plain "un"--not even trails anymore. So being good with map and compass is a must.

And don't underestimate the terrain. Many, especially if they've been to the higher reaches of Colorado, look at Montana's mountains and say, "Pffft. Nine thousand feet? Is that all? I camped at 11,000 feet all week in RMNP." But it's still high enough to cause difficulty when hauling a pack over narrow, rocky trails, and the principles about being above treeline in the afternoon still apply. (Basically, don't do it if you can help it.) And for someone from Georgia, it's certainly gonna be a challenge looking for oxygen at times.

Finally, when it comes to wildlife, remember that northern Montana is grizzly country. There aren't huge numbers of them, but they are out there. While a black bear is quite a handful, a grizz is another matter entirely. One can scare off a black bear, especially as a group. I'd never try it with a grizz unless someone in the group is a crack shot and armed with enough firepower to bring down the bear in a big hurry should it come down to that. But even grizzlies don't like pepper spray, and so it's a good idea to have some ready at hand, and be facile in its use. And practice good anti-bear techniques like hanging food away from camp, etc. All of this is even more important in more heavily trafficked areas like Glacier Park, where bears are more habituated to humans. Also, be alert for mountain lions. Lions will attack humans, on occasion, but almost never if the humans are in a group. Finally, do not approach any large mammal. That moose may just look like a calendar cover shot waiting to happen, but if it's a momma with a calf, you could end up with said momma moose tap-dancing on your pancreas if you get too close for her comfort. And she's the one who's gonna decide.

Fire regulations in the area are often fairly liberal, but it's just easier, as well as safer, to use a stove for cooking in most cases. And of course practice LNT techniques.

Hope this begins being helpful for you. Best of luck with your trip.

8:43 a.m. on January 14, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks for the Info. I've called Glacier National Park and talked to one of the rangers and he basiclly told me the same thing. I've also talked to some folks over at Glacier Guide and they offer a 10 day backpacking trip for around a grand. I'm thinking about doing that seeing that I need to get aquanted with the terrain and wildlife of the area.

Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mnts I've encountered black bear, foxes, bob cats, and on occasion, believe it or not, black panthers. I've never seen one, but you know their sound when you hear it. I've learned over the years to respect the wildlife and give them the right of way, and most of the time they run away. Never had a animal charge at me yet. But at some point it's gonna happen, it's just the luck of the draw.

If you were planning this trip, what would be some of the musts that you would carry with you. I have the basics, first aide kit, backpack, tent, sleeping bag, food, cloths that sort of thing. It being Montana and me being a greenhorn to that area, what would you take to 'BE PREPARED"

Thanks again for the info

8:47 a.m. on January 14, 2009 (EST)
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I moved here about 3 yrs ago from Kennesaw. Got tired of all the traffic, but I think it followed me here. I grew up in Jasper and go back home every chance I get. Do alot of hiking up around Amacolola and Burnt Mnt. Just decided it's time for a change in the geography. Always wanted to go see the Blue Sky country and thats where I'm bound, and if push comes to shove, I just might make it my new home.

1:27 p.m. on January 15, 2009 (EST)
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If I could, I'd move up that direction myself. But other ties keep me where I am--in the Kansas City area. <sigh> Not exactly a mecca of wilderness. Anyhow....

As for suggestions for gear, I guess I'd start with the following:

Tent/shelter: Sturdy, reliable. If you consider going into the backcountry during the spring or fall, think about a four-season tent. I've been dumped on inside a three-season a few times, and done fine, but there've been a couple times where I'd have liked to have the added sureness of a bomb-proof tent.

Sleeping bag: A comfortable, warm one. A min. of a 20 deg bag is a must, and I usually carry a 0-5 deg down bag. One can always throw some off, but it's hard to add insulation.

Clothing: The layer principle. I always have a good fleece and something waterproof, along with at least mid-weight base available. And the best socks I can afford, with liners.

Boots: You have the idea, I'm sure.

First aid: The usual backcountry supplies. (When going into the backcountry for more than a week, I often carry along a bottle of a good broad-spectrum antibiotic. Talk to a well-informed doc about what might be a good choice.

Bear spray: A must, I now believe. Fifteen years ago, I didn't believe in the stuff, but I've become persuaded this is the best option for protection from a bear with whom you're having territorial or food-supply issues. And make sure you know how to use it.

Water filtration/treatment system. One that you know works, and with which you're comfortable. Even in the farthest backcountry, it's always safest to treat/filter water.

Survival kit: The ingredients of this sort of thing vary from person to person, but the idea itself is important. And always keep it at hand. Mine includes compass, flint/steel & fire starter, space blanket bivy, whistle, small knife, fishing line, hooks, & leaders, 60 ft nylon cord, small flashlight.

Firearms are not allowed in Nat. Parks. In backcountry outside the parks, they're of value only to those both willing and able to use them if need arises. I'll leave the rest of that to others to debate.

Final note: There are now options for carrying (at a price) personal locator beacons (PLBs) or devices like the SPOT, which allows one to send one of three-four canned messages to pre-determined email addresses or, in one case, essentially a 911 call. All done via satellite, with GPS coordinates sent for emergency calls. I don't yet carry one, but have seriously considered same. Cost is about $300 and up, but cheap if disaster strikes, I suppose.

That reminds me: It is vital that someone trustworthy be supplied with a clearly marked map of course/itinerary so that if you don't arrive when/where you should, help knows where to look.

Sorry if some of that is preaching to the choir. Kinda hard to know where to start/stop with that sort of thing.

Oh, by the way: Up in Montana, they call it "Big Sky Country". ;)

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