INTERLUDE TWO: Perhaps I should attempt to define my concept of “Rambling”. I first used the term in an article I published in the late 1970’s in an article entitled Notes From a Solitary Mountain Rambler. The magazine which published the article is defunct…I can’t even recall the name of the company.
Recently, friend and fellow Rambler Paul Vertrees (Sawtooth on our message board) asked me to define rambling for an article he is writing. From the Word document I used to draft my reply to Paul here is what I wrote to him:
Paul, in answer to your questions:
1) Perhaps I did coin the word—the term—as a way to aptly describe “Rambling”. Here is what Rambling means to me…let’s see if the word is appropriate:
It means multi-day foot travel through mostly trail-less wilderness. There is an element of exploration…just poking around the area to see what’s there. All equipment, including shelter, is carried on one’s back. Much provisioning (if not all) is from the land—procured with gun and fishing tackle. The firearm also supplies protection—from both animals and errant humans—and is assumed to be of sufficient power to take on the area’s most challenging would-be predators. Rambling is living and living well—not just surviving—whilst exploring wild country. Self-reliantly. Alone, usually, but possibly with a kindred spirit or two. The goal is wielding the skill and fitness to enjoy magnificent country.
2) Speaking for myself, because such a lifestyle is in my DNA. And I suspect it lurks in the souls of other men; it’s simply covered up by overmuch civilization. Practicing the ancient arts of self-reliance in non-civilized country, on your own, gives a bone-deep satisfaction of manliness expressed well and truly. You are in the company of men like Lewis and Clark, and especially are reveling in the sheer and certain freedom prized above all else by the Mountain Men who rambled the same country I do.
3) The freedom I cite above is EARNED. Rambling is not for novices. As the rambling man is usually alone he is the sole decision maker of every action—or inaction—whilst on the ground. He is responsible for the placement of every footstep and accepts the consequences if it is faulty. His gear has been winnowed to what is really needed and is the best available for the goal of living well in the middle of nowhere. It will serve any eventuality of the location and the season. The discussion of appropriate gear is the subject of a complete essay…almost a course in itself. The most salient answer to your question is to advise the apprentice Rambler to get field experience. Get it safely in the beginning. Some car camps to practice fire building and try out backpack-grade shelters, sleep systems and so forth. Then begin close-in backpack trips with that gear. Go with an experienced mentor if you can; if not go alone. Just do it. Invest in serious gear upgrades as finances allow. The goal is to acquire the gear and the backcountry skills—and the subsequent confidence–to handle anything that can happen. When you do you can experience the backcountry wholly. It will have become your second home. And that is an abundant blessing. (Note: Re gear I can and should say that my invention of man-carryable wood stove heated shelters is right up there with comfortable backpacks and footgear as a boon to Rambling.)
4) Tough question, Paul. The self-sufficiency displayed by the Long Hunters and the Mountain Men was long term. Months and years! Hunting then was a means to the end of exploration and/or fur trading. Hunting, and angling, has changed. It is now a mission-in-itself, whether for trophy or meat. And for most of my long hunting life the general hunting public has not ventured into the backcountry with a pack on their back—intent on spending multiple days and nights up among their prey. I had hoped to help change that when I established Kifaru in 1997, building Hunting Packs and gear based on my Mountaineering pack building expertise at my first Company—Mountainsmith. I can report now that I am witnessing great growth in on-foot remote hunting. And, based on the experiences you and I have in rambling to remote fishing holes I see backpack fishing coming on strong as well. While backpack hunting and fishing is not exactly the same thing as Rambling—the longer-term staying capacity of living off the land is not a requirement as such—I can say it is at least implied. The folks who do it are at least capable of multi-day disconnecting from the Grid. And they ARE in possession of equipment to sustain provisions over longer term: fishing tackle and/or firearm or bow. There are more and more of such folk. As for men of my personal acquaintance who I am certain can truly “ramble” self-sufficiently over the long term I can cite: Paul Vertrees, Aron Snyder, Eric Lynn. There may be more, but I have SEEN that these men possess the combination of fieldcraft, fishing prowess and straight shooting to sustain themselves no matter what.
5) Tenkara is simply the lightest (which always matters when one carries “home” on one’s back) and most effective fishing system for high country Rambling. It works where no other system will in more cases than I would have thought. It provides supper from tiny “pockets” not accessible any other way. It deploys rapidly as well, an important factor when one is travelling and fetching dinner opportunistically along the way. The Tenkara system is so light and so effective it is ALWAYS worth having with you. One can never tell when unexpected pocket waters will yield Tenkara-fetched protein. It is decidedly Rambling-worthy gear.
6) One of my more memorable Rambles was many days on the North Slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska. September. The bugs were gone, and the landscape was a gloriously russet carpet of undulating low ridges. Staying atop the ridges was the way to travel as the low places were filled with wobbly hammocks of tundra. To the south was the beautiful Brooks Range itself. The short nights revealed dancing Northern Lights. I dined on grayling, ptarmigan and arctic hare for days and days. I shot the caribou I liked best and put the boned-out meat into one of the many deep sink-holes of frigid water dotting the landscape. There it remained while I enjoyed eating the above fare plus pounds of Alaskan blueberries. Eventually I packed camp and caribou rack and meat out. What a Ramble!
I recall many Rambles down the length of several of Colorado’s mountain ranges, contouring timberline. The practice of rambling along right at timberline puts one above the established trails—for the solitude as well as the route-finding satisfaction that goes along with true Rambling. Fishing in waters with no trails to them is a treat, and very productive. Small game abounds at this “edge” terrain too—from grouse and snowshoe hares to squirrels to ptarmigan. You’ll also find marmots, which comprise the best source of fat in the high country. And of course the views are spectacular.
I fondly remember many high country winter Rambles on skis. Pulling a pulk means many comforts and special treats can be taken. Other winter trips at lower elevations can be done afoot; one of my favorite versions is wandering across great swaths of high sagebrush/juniper country out in Western Colorado. Such country is filled with black tail jackrabbits (very large and very meaty), cottontail rabbits and mule deer. And usually no water sources; ergo, winter is THE time to go…there will always be enough snow patches behind the north side of sagebrush that can be melted for all the water one can possibly need. This is truly a treat—rambling where one puts the season to excellent use. And I stay warm in my wood-stove heated shelter. Everything I need is all around me!
And I suppose that last sentence is a powerful reason why I love Rambling so. Possessing the skill to recognize and use the resources to live and travel so well in the finest places on earth for those of us who love solitude and self-reliance is what Rambling is about.
Next: Rolling down to Roswell….