My eyes wandered from my fly as we floated along tall walls of old pine. The fishing had been stellar and with the evening sun just setting in it was time to enjoy the scenery and let the fish win a few. It was day 6 of 12 and we were deep in the backcountry on a summer fishing trip that we finally had made a reality.
It hadn’t been easy though. After a 30 mile pack in on horses we put together our boat and camp, and we were up first thing the next morning. After fishing upstream 5 miles we quickly scrambled back to camp to make it downriver before dark. What we thought would be an easy 5 mile float turned into an adventure as we pushed and pulled out boat down 5 miles of boulder filled water that our packer had said was floatable. He was obviously misinformed or misjudged the water level. The next three days we continued to drag the boat along the main river as many areas were too shallow to allow a boat over without some assistance. We also were exploring up to 8 miles of tributaries each day. It was work but the rewards made it all worth it as we caught cutthroat after cutthroat and even got into a few elusive bull trout.
Being prepared is key when the nearest dirt road is 30 miles away and then it’s another hour and a half till the closest main city. Spending almost two weeks in the backcountry is refreshing but also reminds you how fragile life can be when cut off from urban necessities. The following are some of our keys to staying safe and happy in the backcountry on your next trip.
#1 Have communication with the outside world.
If things go wrong this far from civilization you are going to want to be prepared. While a first aid kit will keep your bruises and cuts at bay, more life threatening injuries need a plan to get outside help. This ACR Personal Locator Beacon is key on trips such as this and is a great insurance policy for anyone going solo into the mountains no matter how far from the nearest road or person. This beacon allows you quickly send out a signal that alerts Search & Rescue of your location. 66-channel GPS guide rescuers to within 100 meters of your location. A simple testing method ensures your unit is functioning prior to trips, and it’s small enough to carry in a pocket.
#2 Utilize quality gear
Over the course of our trip we gained a greater sense of appreciation for quality gear. This list began with a quality boat suited for the water we would encounter. We used the NRS Clearwater Drifter for this trip and it’s inflatable design allowed it to pass over hundreds of rocks and multiple portages without skipping a bear.
It also had ample room to store all of our gear while we floated.
Quality footwear such as our Simms wading boots were essential and quality outerwear, eye protection, and tents kept life comfortable throughout the day. Another important piece was our YETI Cooler. This 75 liter cooler allowed us to keep perishable food for 10 days of our trip and made meals much more enjoyable. Enjoying a steak and a beer at the end of the day makes this piece worth the price tag.
There are no easy days in the backcountry when your covering country and quality gear of all kinds only makes life easier and more enjoyable allowing you to keep a smile on your face longer and take advantage of your time on the water.
#3 Keep the wild at bay
Wild places are home to wild animals. These animals are less habituated to humans and paths are more likely to cross between these inhabitants and humans. On our trip we were in grizzly country. An 800 pound bear can do some serious damage and being able to counter a charge could be a life changer.
We chose to take bear spray. While both a gun and bear spray have their positives and negatives, we chose bear spray due to it’s ease of use and the ability to be easily strapped to a backpack or wading belt. Regardless of what you choose, keep it handy and be able to use it efficiently. Things can happen quickly and being prepared for it will make a difference.
#4 Stay charged
On a trip like this it’s inevitable that you’re going to have devices that need battery power. From GPS units to headlamps to mini boom boxes it’s a fact that batteries are going to be used. Instead of trying to bring gobs and gobs of batteries and trying to estimate how many you’re going to need just use rechargeable batteries and charge them with a solar panel. On our trip we used the Goal Zero Guide 10 Solar Kit. This small solar panel can sit on the boat all day and charge up to 4AA batteries or any device that can take a charge through USB. You can also attach it to your backpack while hiking. This small piece of equipment kept our weight down and kept all of our devices functioning throughout the entire trip. This doesn’t mean don’t bring backups though. Always have two systems if possible. If our solar panel would have stopped working we had enough backups to sparingly run key devices such as GPS units the rest of the trip.
#5 Know where your at
When you have 40+ miles of main river to navigate and an extra 20 miles of tributaries, it’s necessary to be able to accurately tell where you are. Having a paper map is a must because it won’t fail you unless you lose it. Next we had two GPS units, the Garmin Oregon 600 and the GPSMAP 62stc. These were great for telling us where we were and allowed us to pre load waypoints and camp sites into each unit. This way we could keep pace during our 12 days and camp in ideal locations each night.
Finally we also had the Hunting GPS Maps application installed on two iPhones. This app allows you to cache satellite imagery and topo maps and be able to utilize them without any service. This was our first time venturing into the area and everything was new to us. Being able to look at satellite imagery gave us a rough idea of what types of water to anticipate and also allowed us to find good stretches of river on the tributaries.
Being able to recognize that a mile of river is going to be full of rocks and no deep pools saves us time as we can quickly skip it and be back into good water. When time is short and there is a lot of country to cover this app became very useful and kept us in the fish when exploring new water away from the boat.
We hope that this information is useful in some way on your next trip. Being prepared will definitely pay off when spending time in the backcountry and we hope your next trip is your best trip!
-Zack Boughton, Montana Wild