Claire Stowe: Apart vs. A Part

Claire Blog PhotoToday we met with Lou Bruno an older man who lives in East Glacier who shared his story of becoming involved with different Montana organizations and making a change. Lou joked about how when he was a young adult he didn’t even really know what the difference between a Democrat and Republican meant. I really related to this, while I feel like I understand the main differences today, there was definitely a time just a few years ago where politics and the government felt abstract and ambiguous to me. Whenever people say that we need to make a change or stop something from happening I’ve always kind of thought to myself oh the government needs to do that, and I’m not really a part of the government– that’s something outside my power.


Although Lou didn’t know much about politics, much less how he fit into them, he did know that he loved the land and environment around him. Then one day he heard about a proposed oil and gas lease to land in Badger-Two Medicine, the wilderness land right in his backyard. This brought such a strong reaction to him to protect the land. He didn’t know what to do, but he ended up forming a group with other people who felt just as desperate and called themselves the Badger-Two Medicine Alliance. One of his friends suggested he attend a Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) meeting, so he did. He felt nervous at first because he didn’t know anyone there, but also inspired because he really connected with what the people were saying and new he wanted to be a part of it. Three years later he became president of MWA, and a part of the organization for 30 plus years.


From his involvement in these organizations he discovered that there are public processes in place that we can actually attend, learn from, and let our voices be heard. When he went to the public meeting about the proposed oil and gas lease he felt frustrated because it didn’t seem like they were actually listening to the people, they were just doing it as a show. However once he got involved in these bigger organizations he could begin to actually make a difference and be heard. To me this was really valuable to hear because while I have a vague understanding of these processes and I never thought I would actually attend something like a public meeting because what difference could I make? Hearing his experience made me realize that it’s actually not that hard to get involved and there is hope to actually make a change.


Lou also encouraged us to find what we were good are or a skill we are confident in and use that to our advantage. This was also very reassuring because I’ve definitely felt overwhelmed by all of the things that could be done in order to make changes. He finished his talk with a call to action to us as young adults to get involved in the democratic process, to believe in it and let it help us. He told us the best thing we can do is find what we are passionate, confident, and good at and then use those skills


Biking “home” (back to camp) from Lou’s house a weight seemed to be lifted off my shoulders and there was a drive in my pedaling. I didn’t realize how stuck I felt before hearing this. Before it constantly felt like in order to make a change I had to do everything, or big things. Now I realized that the government isn’t something outside or above me, it is something all of us are and can be a part of; we just have to learn how to utilize it.


Madie Horton: Keep Jumbo Wild


As I walked through ponderosa pine covered forests, on top of glacial moraines, through snow, and along boulders the size of cars, I began to understand why Jumbo is a place people want to protect. Mount Jumbo and the Jumbo Valley are located in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains. This range is located in the Ktunaxa Nations traditional territory. I will never forget spending the week on this wild landscape, but the thing I will remember most is the woman I met before our backpack. Her name is Meredith Hamstead and she has been working for nearly two decades to “Keep Jumbo Wild.” Why does Jumbo need to be kept wild? Good question!

Oberto Oberti and Glacier Resorts Ltd have proposed to turn Jumbo Mountain into a new ski resort. The resort would offer year round glacial skiing. If all goes to plan, the resort will be home to 6,000 villas, 250 townhouses, and over 1,000 condos. The resort is expected to entertain two to three thousand visitors a day in peak season.

There are just a few problems with this new proposition. The first one is that this area holds great cultural and spiritual significance for the Ktunaxa people. They believe that the grizzly bear spirit resides there. The grizzly moved to the mountains to make room for them when they arrived, so the Ktunaxa feel a great sense of stewardship towards the species.

The other problem with building a ski resort on Mt. Jumbo is that the area is an important corridor for these grizzlies. The ski resort would land right in the middle of the corridor and fragment the bear population. This would result in inbreeding and a multitude of other negative effects. The resort denies these impacts. Visit the Jumbo Glacier Resort website and you’ll see a tab of information dedicated to explaining why grizzlies aren’t at risk in the area, as well as a petition against the Minister of Environment.

Alright, back to Meredith. She lives in Invermere, the town right at the base of where the resort would be. She has worked tirelessly to protect the Jumbo area from development. She has attended city council meetings, staged protests, and made sure her voice has been heard.

When Meredith talked about Jumbo, she said it “makes her feel a certain way that she can’t even put into words.” This deep connection to Jumbo is why she feels such a driving need to protect it. Invermere is her “place” and she stressed the significance of finding your own “place” and working to better it. She urged us to immerse fully in the community, reciprocate, and do all you can to make the changes you want to see. It was refreshing to hear her say that no matter where you live, how big it is and how small you may seem, that you can make a difference.

To protect Mt. Jumbo from development, Meredith and a group of non-profit environment lawyers have gone to court. The decision on whether or not Glacier Resorts is able to build will be reached within three to six months. I hope for the sake of locals, the Ktunaxa people, and animals inhabiting the area that it remains wild.

As I come to the end of my time with WRFI, I’ve been thinking about what I can bring home with me. Meredith’s advice of getting to know your community and trying to make the changed you want to see continues to ring in my ears. Marquette, Michigan (where I live), has a horrible trash and recycling program that needs improvement. When I get back home, I want to find out what I can do to make tangible changes in my community. Seeing how one passionate woman could make a big difference inspired me to want to make changes for the better in my own community, even if they aren’t “Jumbo-sized”.

Kit Collins: Revelations on the Ridge

Kit glasses at the front of the line

By now, I’d say that our group has pretty much reached pro-status when it comes to ridge walking. It started as a kind of frightening experience, but with every ridge I’ve become increasingly more confident with my footing and comfortable with the heights. This ridge in particular, which we summited on July 16th, may have offered the most beautiful panoramic view of them all. In the distance I could see glaciers, lakes, and even Jumbo Mountain.

After studying the topographic map and comparing it to the landscape, it became very clear that the glaciers surrounding us are, in fact, receding. Their outlines on the map were much larger than they are now in the present day. Also, I got to see first hand the mechanical weathering and abrasion that the massive force of the glaciers caused on the land beneath them. The rocks appeared to be rubbed smooth after years and years of the intense pressure from the icy masses above them. The lakes that convene at the base of the glaciers are called tarns. Their water is a spectacular shade of blue that’s caused by glacial flour, or the tossing around of silt and sediment brought down by the glaciers. It’s really an indescribable feeling to learn about these geographical features in a classroom and then to be able to actually experience them first hand in the wild with the rushing sounds of the waterfalls overtaking our attempt at total silence.

During this section of the course, I’ve been learning a lot about the proposed ski resort in Jumbo Valley and how it’s causing major divisions among the people of British Columbia and beyond. I can honestly say that having seen this breathtaking landscape, talking to members of the Ktunaxa Nation and various other locals, I am opposed to the development. The building of this resort heavily infringes upon Ktunaxa tradition and beliefs and goes against the values of a majority of the remaining local population. This area is really divine and the thought of a project of such a massive scale taking place here is truly disheartening. Seeing Jumbo Mountain from that ridge solidified my opinion on the matter, gave me a sense of great appreciation for all those who are fighting to protect this land, and inspired me to want to make a difference in defending my own public lands back home.

While we were sitting up on that ridge, a trifecta of amazing natural things happened. First, we saw a mountain goat about 500 yards away. Then a dust devil (basically a mini tornado of dirt) swirled through our group. And finally, a pika, which is a small mammal that resembles a rabbit and lives high in rocky, mountainous terrain, appeared in front of us! I’d never seen any of these things before, so I asked my instructors, “Is this what happens when you’re quiet in nature?” I’m a pretty loud person see, and I’ve never given myself the opportunity to enjoy the sounds of nature. So I made a deal with myself to really take in and appreciate my surroundings wherever I am.

This notion of observation and respect is based on the principles of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge). This section we’ve been exploring the history and concepts of local, place-based knowledge. When I leave this course, I think one of the biggest lessons that I’ll take back is our responsibility to the environment as humans. Being able to witness those three respective forces of nature on the ridge made me feel more in touch with my senses and made me wonder how I could thank the world for revealing its natural beauty to me. We could all benefit from listening to and learning from TEK because it teaches us the importance of relationships, respect, and reciprocity.

Sitting on that ridge helped me put my lessons into action and filled me with amazement and appreciation for the world around me; it was a sort of revelation. Mom if you’re reading this, you were right, I don’t want to leave the mountains.

Bree Paddock: Girls Gone Jumbo Wild


Between talks of “Keep Jumbo Wild” tattoos, endless Shrek references, and renditions of Abba’s finest, there are meaningful moments.  Moments that make me stop.  Moments that make me think, “This just changed my entire perspective in the span of a second.”  It seems to be a daily occurrence for me on this course.

We have ten days left.  Ten days to sing ourselves to the verge of passing out on every steep uphill, ten days to grab the trowel and take off running (because every poop out here is an emergency), ten days to kid ourselves we have enough time left.  Ten days.

I sit here perched on a rock, a glacier behind me and a range of snow-covered, jagged peaks in front, trying to reflect on one single experience that has stood out for me, but with this group of women, every moment is HILARIOUS.  The crazy, loud-mouthed sarcasm runs rampant in our group, just ask our instructors if you can get a word in over our voices.   We often joke that this section of our course is the “Girls’ Trip,” with all female instructors and students; you best believe we’ve taken advantage of silt glacier facials and liberating adventures.

This section out here in Jumbo, British Columbia, has definitely been the most influential thus far.  We’ve learned about the controversial Glacier Jumbo Ski Resort issue and whether this multi-million dollar eyesore on the landscape will be developed.  We’ve practiced self-defense (I’m basically on a Mulan level at this point) and we drummed and sang with children of the Ktunaxa Nation, all while being led and instructed by two of the most powerful and intelligent women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Surrounded by compassionate, self-aware women, it’s hard not to reflect on the growth that I feel like I’ve seen in myself.  I’m a pretty critical person.  I’m loud, argumentative, and sometimes a little too much to handle.  I like to think that I’m strong-willed; my mother would argue I’m stubborn.  Learning from Daisy and Katie (our instructors for this section) has taught me basic life lessons such as how to identify people’s values and find common ground with someone who has opposing views than me.  Having compassion and humility to understand a person’s belief so that I can have an effective discourse rather than get defensive and never find an actual solution is crucial if we want to enact change within our society.  To all the policy-makers out there, you better watch out.  I have a lot of compassion and I know how to use it.

For some, it’s difficult to find that humility and compassion.  Especially in our Western way of thinking, compassion and humility are hard to come by.  But there are other ways of thinking.  Traditional Ecological Knowledge, a way of knowing and living that many indigenous nations practice and a huge focal point of our course stems from principles of compassion and humility.  Knowing that everything and everyone has different values and backgrounds but recognizing what you have in common with them, being humble and knowing your place in the world; both of these redeeming qualities are absolutely necessary if I want to be able to reach as many people as possible and actually have a chance at fighting for what I believe in.

Thanks WRFI for providing me with the tools to access something I’ve had all along.  You’ve influenced me more than you’ll ever know.

Emily Quigg: Cooking in a Corridor

Emily's Blog Photo

After a cold and wet six-mile hike, there was nothing I wanted to do more than crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep. However, everyone still needed to eat. Of course that day my course job was to help cook dinner.

At home, I am more of a microwave chef. If all else fails I will just go to Wawa, a Pennsylvania gas station convenience store, and grab a hoagie. That being said, cooking is obviously not my strong suit. Luckily, on a WRFI course, there are two cooks each night so I wasn’t alone in my efforts. As I started chopping the bell peppers for Jambalaya, and the other cook started the stoves, I looked at the rain falling onto Bovin Lake and pondered what we learned in class that day.

An excerpt from the book, The Carnivore Way, by Cristina Eisenberg, explained the importance corridors have for large predators and how corridors are implemented in the environment. A corridor is a landscape that species move through to get to other habitats. For example, the goal of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, or Y2Y, is to connect core habitats that allow animals to move from one area to another. As I continued cooking dinner, I thought more specifically how the area we are in, The Castle Wildland Provincial Park, may act as a corridor.

The Castle was officially designated as a provincial park three years ago in 2015. The park had a three million dollar budget to implement a plan and add new features. The park’s management plan protects the wildlife and headwater region, respects and upholds the rights of Aboriginals in the park, and ensures recreational opportunities for the public. ATVs and other motorized vehicles were outlawed. Snowmobiles are still allowed and research is being done to assess their impact.

While making sure the rice didn’t burn and my hands didn’t freeze, I thought about the grizzly bears this corridor is important to. Grizzly bears need corridors to live and procreate successfully. Grizzly bears have a very low reproductive rate. Once cubs are born and reach maturity, the female cubs are philopatric, meaning they stay in their mother’s home range. However, male grizzly bears need 400- 1,000 square miles to roam during their lifetime to eat, hibernate, and, most importantly, to mate. Without the dispersal of male grizzlies, some populations of grizzlies could become isolated and prone to inbreeding.

Cooking dinner made me think of what the grizzlies might be eating out in the Castle. Grizzlies are omnivores, like humans, and munch on a variety of plants, animals, and nuts. Having to consume a lot of calories daily, grizzlies have been known to eat over 200 different species. Grizzlies are opportunistic hunters and often scavenge wolf kills for an easy meal, despite 80% of their diet being plants.  Without the Castle acting as a corridor for grizzlies, they might travel across roads and face devastating automobiles, venture into towns to find food, and struggle for survival. With the corridors in place, grizzlies can avoid roads and humans, forage for food, and have a better chance at survival.

As the meal began to come together, the other cook and I called everyone to climb out of their tents and their warm sleeping bag cocoons to gather under our rain tarp for dinner. We took a moment of silence before our meal as we do every night and in that moment I felt very lucky to be in such an amazing place for people and bears alike. In the end, the Jambalaya was a success and nobody was harmed in the process.

Shannon Lynch: My Happy Place

Shannon blog 1 photo

“Even when I’m a thousand miles away from my roots, I’m home.”

-Zac Brown Band

Growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey with not many things to do and always wanting to be elsewhere, it was hard to find a sense of place and home there. Since moving out West four years ago, I’ve moved three times, Colorado, Nevada, and now Montana—each place feeling more like home than the previous. I’m not quite sure if Montana is the place, but I’m okay with that, I have plenty left to explore.

Jumping into a six-week course that explored the Crown of the Continent, I was excited to get to know places I’d never been to. The Crown of the Continent includes northern Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia.  And I love it. Plans have changed on the fly—rerouted backpacking trips due to flooding and recent forest fires—but that’s okay, life is always changing things up.

School hasn’t been the easiest journey for me. I’m dyslexic and have reading and writing comprehension issues. This course is challenging. Getting up at 7 am, having class at 8, then tossing on a 60lb pack and hiking 7 miles to our next destination to then read 50 pages that night, can be tiring. But when I’m in nature learning clicks for me.

Walking through and learning about my surroundings suits me better than merely reading about it.  I came into this trip not knowing any tree species. Within two weeks, I can easily spot a Western Larch, Lodge-Pole Pine, White Bark Pine, Engelmann Spruce, and so on. I had never backpacked prior to this and three weeks in, I have my daily backpacking routine down, such as how to organize and fit my pack properly. It has been rewarding to see how far I’ve come academically and physically.  I feel a sense of pride of my accomplishments. This sense of pride has been boosting my mental health.

My mental health tends to drop in school since my way of learning doesn’t fit into the “traditional” educational system. My academic struggles are not fun to deal with and can be discouraging at times.  But an outdoor classroom doesn’t have the same distractions as an indoor one, such as a kid in front of you on his laptop watching Netflix or the girl texting on her phone having an argument with her boyfriend. The outdoor classroom may have a nosey chipmunk or an Osprey diving into the lake looking for breakfast. Many of these distractions provide teachable moments. Being able to sit at an alpine lake, enjoying its beauty and enjoying my reading is very calming because I’m absorbing more out here. This course has shown me that I can progress in school and my grades so far have been proving so.

One of our guest speakers, who teaches at the Blackfeet Community College, is also an advocate for experiential education.  She said that the Blackfeet value it for their growing process. As Helen said, “how can you be in it and not outside?” Words on paper can only do so much justice.

Really getting to know this place and the people in it has made it feel like home. Finding a sense of place in a country I’ve never been to is exciting. As we have learned in class, hundreds of species and different environments all have a connection together. As I learn more and explore new places, I find new connections to these places. I like the NorthFace tagline, “Never Stop Exploring”, and use it as a motto for myself. As I keep exploring on this course, it’s refreshing to be connected to new territories and call them home. I am satisfied knowing that “Even when I’m a thousand miles away from my roots, I’m home.”

Steve Schmidt: One Father’s Epiphany


To the fathers of eight exceptional young women:

You sent your girls off into the backcountry of Montana and Canada. I would have been nervous being a father of three adult girls myself.

We left two days after Father’s Day. I, like many of you, most likely did not get to enjoy our daughters’ company on that special day. Your girls may no longer live with you, but I assure you, you are with them. Walking these trails, I have heard countless times: ”my dad does this” or “my dad says that.

The girls, your girls, they dream of careers, question religions of the world, worry about finances, speak well about their families, and ponder possible love interests. The very same hopes, dreams, and concerns that you and I enjoyed as twenty-somethings leaning forward in life; they are eager!

From the time of Plato, higher learning has been about self-enlightenment – striving to be the best person one can be. Most colleges emphasize the academic, of course; however, the Wild Rockies Summer Semester is not bound to the academic enlightenment per se. Along with studying engaging, timely topics such as conservation biology, traditional ecological knowledge in the Rockies, and the history of Wilderness, we choose to push ourselves physically in pursuit of intellectual growth.

To all the fathers: the morals you spoke, instilled in them, and lived by, are the tools these girls carry into the backcountry – and into life. If you are overly concerned about them here in the wild, STOP! It is their turn! So rest easy, Dad, your little girls are Strong, Powerful, Women. With each stride forward on these backcountry trails, they step forward into their physical, intellectual, and feminine enlightenment.