How a Trip to Montana's Backcountry Inspired a New Lifestyle

The stress of school and work life awaited me Monday, but for the moment, I was safe from these troubles in my new backcountry home.

A light rain polished spruce trees and stones, making the forest shimmer. Yellow Glacier Lilies sprouting from melted snow were the distinguishing element to the enchanting landscape. A bighorn sheep ewe and her lamb stood like statues on a rocky outcrop two miles into the trek. I followed the Deer Creek trail, where it first led through sage brush meadows, then ponderosa hillsides, dense spruce forests and steadily rising toward the treeless high country; all the elements of quintessential Big Sky Country.

From the booming small town of Bozeman, Montana, less than 30 miles away as the crow flies, the Spanish Peaks dominate the southern skyline, rising above its two neighboring mountain ranges. Where the other mountain-tops are carved into gentle slopes, the Spanish Peaks are jagged, extreme. These mountains are encompassed in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness: refuge of the grey wolf and grizzly bear.


I stared up at the peaks all winter, daydreaming about visiting them when the snow melted; the time finally came in June. As a new transplant to Montana from Kansas, the Spanish Peaks represented a symbol of new life for me - and in more ways than one. I had been a chain smoker and had lived a generally unhealthy life until I moved to the mountain west. Living in the mountains motivated me to streamline my life; to live fast and simple - sparing time for only the necessities. My first night on the trail, I camped below Table Mountain near Moon Lake, sleeping under a tarp.

The next day I was glad to have saved the climb up to the summit of Table Mountain at 9,800 feet, where I could enjoy the views in bright sunlight. A thin carpet of green grass covered a floor of jagged white rocks. Nearby, Wilson Peak and Jumbo Peak stood as impressive guards above the landscape. The Lava Lake basin lay just below me a thousand feet, dotted with moose bogs and trickling creeks of spring run-off. Everything looked so vibrant and green. I was relieved to discover that no amount of obsessive Google Earth scouting could compare to the overwhelming beauty of standing there in person. I spent the day exploring the high country, while my eyes feasted on distant basins that would have to wait for future ventures.

I descended toward Lava Lake, where I had originally planned to spend my last night. But nearing the end of my destination, I soon found myself engulfed in mobs of loud, tourist day-hikers. I did what any rational person would in that situation and immediately turned and retreated the way I came. I spent the final night of my weekend trek in solitude. The stress of school and work life awaited me Monday, but for the moment, I was safe from these troubles in my new backcountry home.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Adam Parkison

freelance writer - photographer - ultra runner- For 5 years, starting in 2008, I lived in the Central African Republic, spending much of my time in the wilderness of the Chinko river basin. Since that time, I have ex...