Tent Life from West to East

White River National Forest- a cook tent

            I graduated from 3 programs at The Colorado Outdoor Adventure Guide School (https://guideschool.com/) and worked for a short time for the school’s owner. It was October and the snow had begun to fall on the Grand Mesa and Battlement Mesa where my adventures were located. That particular adventure may have been ending, but as Robert Earl Keen says, “The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends”. Before my introduction to the world of Rocky Mountain outfitters and guiding, I was living on a ranch with a family on a mesa in south west Colorado. The woman who I was dating at the time said that she was putting the teepee up that we were living in and moving back into the house with her son, but that I could keep camping if I wanted to.

            On my way home to the ranch, I stopped at the Cabela’s store in Grand Junction, CO. I was very excited to be purchasing the (Cabela’s Big Horn III Tent – Swan Hikes) tent that I had dreamed about for a few years. The old man who grabbed a cart for me shared in my glee at my new home. It was nice to be standing there with a fellow outdoorsman who was happy for me. Although a store employee, he was not making a commission, he works at Cabela’s because the outdoors is his passion. We talked for a bit as I also picked out my new Colorado Mesa Stove. The store employee told me about a Cabela’s tent that he had recently purchased. It was a great day for an outdoorsman with a paycheck in hand.

http://www.rustyartist.com

            When I got back to the ranch, everyone was excited. The ranch hand and the foreman’s brother-in-law and nephew came down to help me set it up. Once it was set, I added a mattress, portable wire armoire, some black and yellow totes from Home Depot, rugs, and then off to work. It was October and I had no firewood. There was a couple down the road who had a lot of wood that was starting to rot. There was also a lot of pine that they would not burn in their house. I spent days going back and forth in my light, short-bed truck picking up 3 or 4 cords of wood to get me through the winter. Soon, the snow would have everything covered up.

            I stacked the wood on the north west side of the tent to protect it from the cold winds that blow across the Mesa. On the other side was a stand of scrub oak that made a nice wind block. The family that I lived with, regularly had people come to camp and had made tent pads. It was the perfect spot. The rugs on the floor and my Cabela’s 0-degree flannel and canvas sleeping bag helped to take the edge off of the freezing cold.

            It was lonely when I was camping by myself. I still took pride in the fact that I was trying to live outside through a Colorado winter at 9,000 feet elevation. I had been working at 10,000 feet. There is a big difference that 1000 feet can make. The foreman of the ranch had become my EX-girlfriend, but I continued living there because I got along with the family. I was part of the circle. That was nice, because I greatly respected her father who I learned a lot from. I am very grateful to her and her family. Never-the-less, an ex-girlfriend is an ex-girlfriend and I felt the need to get away.

            In January, I moved across the state to a small mountain town on the front range. I was couch surfing at high elevation, but spent some nights sleeping in a mine shaft, because my new room-mate, a stranger, was doing some things that did not groove with my conscience. Around the same time that I met him, I began dating another woman who wanted to move, but needed a room-mate. We got an apartment in the city together and broke up a month later, which was right on time, because I did not like living in the city.

            I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted to be outside and that I did not want to settle down anywhere. Before I bought the fancy tent, I was going to do a winter hike of the Appalachian Trail, but my ex-girlfriends father convinced me to stay with them and wait until Spring for such a journey. Most of my stuff was still on the ranch. I took the tent down, but was unable to pull it up due to the frozen ground. My friends at the ranch used the tractor to pull the stakes out of the ground and I met with them down in Montrose to get it. It would have been difficult for me to get a 2-wheel drive box truck up that Mesa. It was a scary drive taking a box truck across the frozen continental divide twice. I drove straight through a winter storm front that had my booty puckered like all-get-out! Hah!

            I made the 2000-mile journey home to a storage unit in Georgia, packed my backpack and got dropped off at Amicalola Falls State Park on April 1st 2019 and began hiking north. I didn’t know how far I would go. All I knew was that I could not sit still. Before heading out, I sent my resume’ out to several Rocky Mountain outfitters hoping for employment as a camp cook. I thought that I would hike to Pennsylvania and then turn around and walk back to Georgia, unless I got hired, in which case I would go west again. I got dropped off at the top of the falls and set out on the busy approach trail. To read about my hike, please start here: The Walk-A-Bout Continues – Swan Hikes. Thanks for reading!

Application To Employ A Camp Cook

I have worked for three different Western Big Game and Fishing Outfits in different capacities for three seasons. I also learned a little in guide school about the business. These outfitters, who are often unique and colorful individuals, have a lot of difficulty keeping employees. They usually chalk it up to it being “hard work” as though they are the only people in the country who know what hard work is.

Most recently, I did a 5 day work-for-stay at an Outfitters lodge in Wyoming. They had the same issues as many others. I was not attached to the job, it was just to give me a place to heal up and do something good for someone else. Seeing and hearing their issues inspired me to write an Application To Employ A Camp Cook. It is doubtful that any outfitters will read this, but if they do, hopefully their ego is smaller than their cowboy hat and they can gain some insight into why they go through 16 employees every season just to keep a few who end up staying the longest, but still leave the outfit early.

  • What size pots and pans do you have?
  • How many cooking surfaces are there and what kind? (Stove eyes, oven, grill, in town, in camp?)
  • What is your typical and max capacity of guests?
  • How many cooks do you typically go through in a season?
  • WHY?
  • How high is the turn-over in your other positions?
  • WHY??
  • If you don’t know why, then what makes you think you will have any luck with me?
  • Do you believe it is professional to speak disdainfully about the myriad of previous cooks you have had in the past to your current staff? Is it acceptable to speak about camp cooks in a low regard?
  • Do you believe that the quality of the ingredients affects the quality of the finished meal? Why?
  • Are you going to ask me to cook $25 dinner plates with $1 worth of ingredients? Will my ingredients all be from the Dollar General? Will I have any control over this?
  • Please provide a beginning inventory list if you are not willing to take my ingredient list for the meal plan you asked me to create.
  • Will I be provided with what I need or reimbursed for bringing my own tools and spices?
  • I cook with cast iron, especially in camp. Is this a problem with your packer? (If there is a problem then don’t hire me or keep your mouth shut.)
  • As the cook/camp manager will I be able to run the kitchen/camp how I need to (as is typically the case)?
  • If yes to the previous question, when I say or do something in the kitchen, such as: keeping people out while I work, or collecting the dishes myself so dirty cowboys don’t get your glasses greasy, will you tell me: “That’s not how we do things around here.” ?
  • Will you constantly tell me how your wife and mother do things? If so, why aren’t they filling the position?
  • Do you intend to hold my tips as ransom until the end of the season and steal them from me if I quit?
  • Do you intend to collect and “tax” my cash tips?
  • Which one is my horse and why?
  • Will my camp hand know how to start and maintain a fire? If he is also working with the animals, will I have to stop cooking to go out there and show him how to do his job? If so, will I be paid extra?
  • Will I have a permanent camp hand taking care of wood and water?
  • If not, will I be paid for doing the job of camp hand and cook?
  • Please list 3 references of cooks who would work for you again. (Who are not currently being paid by you)
  • Please list 3 references of other staff who would work for you again.
  • FINALLY, are you aware of this cowboy cook tradition that I follow: When a cowboy gets between the cook and the stove, you get two other cowboys to hold him down while the cook whips him with a pair of chaps or chinks?

The Wind River Range Parts III and IV

Hiking in the Wind River Ranger, North.

PART III (Continued from https://swanhikes.com/2020/05/24/the-wind-river-range-part-ii/)

I enjoyed, immensely, being in Cowpoke, Wyoming and The Wind River Range. Sometimes, I can still see the mountain range from Elkhart Park, and smell the aromatic, alpine air. The feeling of walking down the main strip in boots, vest, and hat, after coming down out of the mountains, has a way of making one feel like they have been transported to a modern, real life version of an old western film. Wyoming is “The Cowboy State”, and true to its name.

It is atypical to have any time off while working for a horse-packing/fly-fishing outfit. People normally work until the season is over. In Western Big Game Hunting and Fishing Outfits, if you work an entire season, you are almost a seasoned veteran due to high turn over.

The cooks cabin in town.

The first few weeks I worked there, I stayed in town in the bunk house and cooks cabin. I cooked inside the house while the crew prepared horse tack and trails. The company also had to rent 50 horses to add to their stock. Shoeing all the horses takes a lot of time. There is hard prep work that goes into getting ready for fishing season in the mountains. There is a 3 car garage with half of the building being the “Cook side”. There are freezers, shelves, and a work table. Canned and boxed foods line the shelves from floor to ceiling. The Sysco truck delivers trailer loads of food here. All of the cast iron and other pots and pans are on shelves or in large totes. Hundreds of broken plastic dishes, utensils, etc. littered the room. Water filters, stoves, and everything you can imagine for the camping trip of a lifetime lives inside. This is an OCD outdoor gear junkies dream…or nightmare if they weren’t up to organizing the mess.

You see, with such a high turn over rate in this industry, Outfitters often have people quitting or getting fired before the season is over. They seem to rarely have anyone left at the end of the season. Trying to break down camp and reorganize is a huge job. Usually, by the end of the season, everyone has quit and the outfitters are left to chunk everything in a corner until they can hire someone 7 months later to clean up their mess from last year.

For me, this is great! I love to organize and keep things that way. If you tell me that I am in charge of these things over here and no one else is supposed to bother any of it, my workspace will be immaculate. There is no need to micro manage me, because having owned businesses myself, I do well at managing myself. I work most efficiently when I understand the job at hand and am left alone to do the work. To my delight, that is exactly what this outfitter did while we were in town. They said, we need you to have this place organized, cleaned, and stocked within 3 weeks. In two weeks, everything was done. The outfit was satisfied with me.

The owner gave me the weekend off as a reward and even drove me to the wilderness. I was ecstatic to be going to the Bridger Wilderness in Greater Yellowstone, alone on a backpacking trip. He questioned me on survival topics and made sure I had what I needed. His wife admonished me not to break a leg, because the outfit needs a cook. I assured her that I would be fine. I was shown a wall map of the area and took a picture of it with my smart phone. He described the terrain to me and asked me to take a route for part of the way, that had no trail. He described a few trees, rocks, and topography to me. My backpacking trip was becoming a reconnaissance mission to see how the snow pack was, in the high country. My personal mission was to walk and acclimate to the elevation, making it a bonus for me that I was able to help out my employer and be entrusted with more responsibility.

On the way to my starting point, I had the most enjoyable conversation with my new boss. He is an “Old School” outfitter and has seen a lot. Something that makes him interesting is that he also has a wildlife biology degree. The amount of knowledge in his brain is impressive. I often wonder what makes highly intelligent people get stuck in ways that are no longer effective. Maybe age does it to us all.

He told me stories from the 1950’s in Utah and “The Winds”, as this swath of mountains is colloquially known. I heard stories of how he persevered through the years in the outdoors industry. Here was a man who had 60 years of experience in a certain field. A man who learned from even older outfitters. His stories had me on the edge of my seat and asking questions. He told me of difficult holidays with barely any food, as well as times of plenty. The dogged determination he had would be inspiring for any entrepreneur.

Early in this mans life, he had a cross country/ down hill ski lodge. There were partners who were no good. As is often the case with business partnerships, my former boss did all the work and put in his money and the other partner contributed money and drama. Ski slopes typically open just after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, it was a strange year with no snow. How was he going to feed his family and pay back creditors if there was no snow on the mountain?

He knew this local Italian guy who owned a lot of businesses in places like Vegas and New York. I understood the insinuation. The loan he took could cost him fingers and toes for being late. What better motivation does a man need?

He also took a loan from the grocery store for thousands of dollars worth of food. Surely there would be snow by December and people will want to hold parties at the lodge. Unfortunately, none came. The food spoiled. On Christmas Eve, this hard working man sat down to have a humble Christmas Eve dinner with his family. The emotion in his voice led me to believe that this was one of the most difficult times of his life. There was a knock at the door. It was his friend, Tom, the owner of the grocery store. His heart lifted, he thought Tom may have been there to bring a ham or dessert or something. Instead, Tom asked him to step outside and said there would be consequences if he was not paid back immediately. The young entrepreneur and father laughed with exhaustion. “Between you and the Italians, I just don’t care about your consequences. You will get paid when I make some money.” He slammed the door in his friends face and went back to his family.

Miraculously, there was snow. Everyone got their money soon after. Hard times turned to good. The seasons changed. 60 years later, he is still hanging on.

He dropped me off in the wilderness after pointing out some geographical features along the way and helping me learn the names of the peaks in “The Winds”. I was learning to identify every peak and pass from different angles. The first thing I did upon getting dropped off was pull out my compass, binoculars, and a photo of the map. Off I went, starting out at 8,000 feet elevation.

I followed the OHV road to the point where I would cut through the sage brush and make my way to a stand of burnt timber. Once I found the burnt timber, I hiked my way up a spur jutting off of the mountain. I made a live feed video on FaceBook while catching my breath. During the video, I found the horse trail that led to camp.

The horse trail.

All in all, I ended up hiking about 10 miles and topped out at 10,000 feet elevation on a hill top. From the vantage point of a boulder sitting atop the hill, I was able to sit cross-legged for 45 minutes, lost in the wonderful beauty of the Wind River Range. I began to notice a mild headache and shortness of breath is why I initially sat down. High elevation begins at 7.500 feet. For me, symptoms of elevation sickness don’t show up until I hit 8,000 feet. At, 8,000 feet, my stamina weakens. At 9,000 feet and above, I can seem inebriated until I am able to acclimate. High elevation can be dangerous. People die and lose body parts, who have not properly acclimatized to the body working so much harder to provide it with oxygen and blood. Pulmonary edema is not a way that I would want to go out.

I have spent a lot of time alone. Many people do not seem to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is being alone and content. Loneliness is deprivation. I was missing my family, missing having a partner, and missing my Tramily (Trail + Family. LINK TO AT STORIES). Spending so much time traveling in rural areas and being in the wilderness, sometimes it is hard to meet anyone of a romantic interest. I had joined a dating site and had been emailing and texting this lady who was a world traveler, wildlife biology grad, and about to take on a job as a park ranger. Feeling the sting of loneliness, I pulled out my phone and saw that I still had service. We spoke for about an hour and I was trying to get her to come to Wyoming from a few hours away to go to the Mountain Man Rendezvous (more on that below). It was nice talking to her for a few weeks, but she moved further away to take a park ranger job the same weekend. We eventually fell off. It is hard to get to know someone new while working 18 to 21 hours a day.

I took pictures of the mountains with my smart phone through my Vortex binoculars. This acts as a great zoom and I was able to show my boss pictures of the snow on the peaks when he picked me up. I gave him his intel, thanked him for the opportunity, and went back to work the next day.

Part IV

Another notable weekend was that of the Mountain Man Rendezvous. Have you ever seen the movie The Mountain Men with Robert Redford? The scene with the large gathering and the men doing drunken stunts on horseback? That was the first Mountain Man Rendezvous, 150 years earlier. There I was, a modern mountain man, 150 years later, in the same mountains, riding down into town to socialize and trade.

The weekend was filled with parades, rodeos, native dancers, re-enactors, living history demonstrations, and “Traders Row” filled with canvas tents and merchants selling things like hand forged knives, old fashioned soda, animal furs, historical clothing, and hand made jewelry. Up the road, at the museum, there were living history demonstrations. I walked all around town and enjoyed myself. I bought a few gifts for my nieces and nephews at the museum. Also, I picked up some bone and obsidian blade knives that I gave to a stranger who showed me kindness, and one went to a friend.

The most fun of all, I had in my head. I had been reading Jim Bridger: Mountain Man, as I lived and worked in the wilderness that bears his name. At the same time, there was another wrangler/ camp hand that was my coworker, who I have not mentioned. This man, Big Jake, was a short sawed off New Englander who grew up trapping and riding, and made his way out west for seasonal work in the mountains. About the time that hunting season is over in the fall, trapping season begins for him in New England and he travels back east. He once lived in the Adirondaks as a nomad. Now he is practically semi-nomadic, migrating with the fishing, hunting, and fur seasons across this great country. To my knowledge he has no children and has never been married. He doesn’t want to be John Wayne. He wants to be who he is. A man who has fashioned himself after the mountain men of yesteryear, but only 50.

We spoke often about trapping, riding, and camp. He was an avid reader of histories and biographies, as well. For a couple of years, he even worked as a wilderness guide for a wilderness therapy program, something I would really like to be involved in. He was the second person I met who had experience in that field. Although, technically, he was not in a management role in the company, he was a mentor to me. He was a man, happy in his level of responsibility, who was more experienced than me. Yet he was my helper, when MY Boss would let him. Excellent help is a real commodity. I also learned from his manner. There were things he actually meant to teach me and things I learned from watching. The most valuable advice I ever got in a work or school situation was from an ex-girlfriend I can’t stand: “Learn everything they teach you. Also, pay attention to the things they AREN’T trying to teach you (to have a full understanding).” If I see a person who is my elder and they do things that I want to do. I watch them like a hawk. It was a blessing to meet that guy.

The whole time I had been fantasizing about buying some horses and riding from Wyoming down to Doc Campbells Post in the Gila Wilderness come autumn. It sounds crazy, but over the course of a month, I planned routes that would keep me out of the high country and able to resupply. Locals were keeping there eyes on horse sales for me. It would be an epic trip that I would still love to take. I have yet to get my partner on a horse, but she is excited to try.

Mt. Baldy.
Caught in a hail storm while walking down the street. I’m glad I had a hat and slicker on.

Cabela’s Big Horn III Tent

First set up on a mesa by the Uncompahgre National Forest.

See also: https://swanhikes.com/2021/04/04/tent-life-from-west-to-east/

After, my friend took her tee-pee down that we had been staying in all summer and moved back inside like a sane person when winter strikes at 9,000 feet, I bought the Bighorn III to continue camping. I bought this tent in late autumn of 2018 and pitched it on a mesa at 9,000 feet elevation in South Western Colorado. I lived in it from October to January. It was taken down in January, but because the snow was deep and everything was frozen, the fabric was left on the ground, covered up with a tarp. Later in the spring, the stakes were pulled up with a skid steer. It was put in storage for a year. Currently, it is being used in the Georgia woods and has been set up for two months. There is a bit of a leak at the middle top seam, but I have a tarp over it for a quick fix.

In Colorado, when I first bought the tent, I did not know that I needed the ember protector that costs an extra $100. I thought that if it was really needed, that it would come with the tent. I found out after my first fire when I discovered 6 pinholes from embers. This was very disheartening after spending $1,000 plus on a tent. I was using a Colorado Mesa Stove. The tent was positioned so that the smoke would predominantly blow away from the tent and not across it. I also had a stack of 3 cord of wood in between the strongest wind direction and the tent.

I lived in the tent full time for three months. Inside of it was a wire armoire, a double mattress, 3 totes, Colorado Mesa wood stove, a camp chair, and some rugs. Often times, I would wake up and there would be two or three feet of fresh snow. In the evenings, I would get a fire going in the wood stove and keep it going until bed time. This would be plenty warm. Before bed, I would stack the stove full of wood. It would get hot enough inside the tent that I would be sleeping with just my feet inside of my Cabela Outfitters 0 degree sleeping bag. In the middle of the night, the stove would go out and it would get chilly. After stepping out to pee, I would be thankful for my tent and jump back in my sleeping bag and sleep nice and sound until morning. In the morning, it would be VERY cold. This is where a Mr. Buddy heater is super handy. I would turn it on and get back in my sleeping bag while the Mr. Buddy would go to work taking the edge off the coldness. Then I would set it at my feet while I built a new fire in the stove and turn the Mr. Buddy heater off before I light my new fire.

I feel like the issues I had with this tent were user error, except for the ember protector not being included with the tent. This has been a great tent and I am glad that I have it. Soon, I will be repairing the pin holes and leaky seam and will write an article about that. Maybe even a video. Happy Trails!

UPDATE on 3/27/2021:
This tent is currently in the garage. We used it for 6 months in the woods of Georgia. We then took it to New Hampshire. We stayed in the White Mountain National Forest for 2 weeks and then moved it up to Maine, where we lived in it for another three months. While using this tent in the east, I think it is best to keep a tarp over the top of it. We did finally patch the holes with the patch kit that came with the tent. It was not any trouble.

In my opinion, the tent was designed for use in dry climates like Colorado. With a name like Big Horn, that makes sense. I can’t afford to have two separate large tents like this for different climates. This is my go-to expedition tent and if I am in a wet environment, I use a lot of tarps.

Early December
I like the option to unzip the floor in the stove area and be able to zip it up in the summer when the stove is not in use.

Cabela's

Cabela’s Big Horn™ III Tent

  • Sturdy enough to take on extreme conditions
  • XTC fabric repels rain and snow with ease
  • Heavy-duty steel frame ensures support
  • Hexagonal design maximizes interior space
  • Three large multiple-panel windows
  • Zippered opening in the sewn-in floor for a stove

This is a new and improved version of our already popular Big Horn II tent, and we made it sturdy enough to take on extreme conditions encountered on extreme adventures. It’s a roomy single-wall tent made of XTC fabric that repels rain and snow with ease, and is tough enough to handle harsh foul weather. A heavy-duty steel frame ensures support to withstand wind and precipitation. The tent measures 12 ft. x 14 ft. with an 8’6″ roof tapering to 5’6″ sidewalls. The hexagonal design offers room for cots, gear and a stove around the sides while leaving the middle area open. We moved the stove area to keep the wall near the stove cooler. Three large multiple-panel windows include zippered covers, a clear-vinyl zip-out window and a mesh screen. There are three fold-down shelves that have mesh cup holders. There’s a sidewall stove jack, a storm flap and a heat-resistant insert, as well as a zippered opening in the sewn-in floor for a stove. The inverted “V” door is outfitted with a heavy-duty zipper. Includes 12″ steel stakes, guy ropes and zippered storage bag. The stakes weigh 11 lbs. Tent and frame weight is 72 lbs. Imported.

Painted by http://www.rustyartist.com

https://www.cabelas.com/product/Cabelas-Big-Horn-III-Tent/727636.uts