My girlfriend Lynnea and I made a trip to a Forest Service cabin outside of Paradise Valley in MT. I made the reservation for two nights through recreation.gov for only $35 a night. There were many options for cabins in MT but this one met our desires: it was close to home, it was not too long of a hike, it had firewood stocked up, and it was located right on a beautiful meadow. I did not want us to be stuck in thick trees without a view. I also did not want us to be right on a popular snowmobile trail and hear the noise all day. The place we got was perfect. A 2 mile, bootpacked ski trail took us along an open hillside, showcasing the gorgeous mountain ranges 360 degrees around us. We struggled a bit at first, mostly because we did not pack lightweight, and the trail starts off a bit too steep for the skis. Another factor was that we are not skiers, we both snowboard and we felt awkward as hell on these skinny things. As we struggled along, trying not to fall, our full packs weighed heavy on our hips and shoulders and Zayla, the pup, seemed bored waiting for us to move along. She had places to be! The weather was great, a bit overcast the first day but not windy or cold and we gradually made our way over the rolling hills and into some trees.
Finally we caught glimpses of our destination. Sitting alone in a clearing was our tiny cabin and a wood shed next to it, complete with stacks of wood that were taller than my head. We entered in the combination to the lock, hoping to god it worked wondering what we would do if it did not, as the sun was now setting. Click click and we poked our heads in to see our glorious home for the next two nights. One small room with a dusty loft, a wood stove, an old table that folded out from the wall, two bunk beds, some chairs and some pots and pans. This is perfect. A short paragraph on the table told the story of this cabin. Built in 1906 for $179 at the time, this was the original Gallatin National Forest Station. Rangers would spend entire winters out here, chopping trees for warmth and melting snow for water, much like we were about to do. You can't help but wonder and fantasize what it was like back in those days, before the first World War, before the west was settled.
When I said earlier we did not pack light, I meant it. We soon broke out the bottle of whiskey, the bag of wine, the mango habanero sausages, the potato, onion, peppers, rice etc. That night we warmed the cold cabin up with the stove, put up some little battery powered christmas lights, and lit the propane lantern (we had to bring our own propane). It seemed strange to us that this place should be illuminated by this propane lantern when the propane canister itself had warnings all over it saying it should only be used in a properly ventilated space. After some time we both got pretty drowsy, and we didn't believe it was the whiskey already, so we extinguished the lantern and soon felt better again. Perhaps it was a placebo, or perhaps we almost unknowingly suffocated ourselves. One of the tasks I underestimated was melting snow for water. It takes forever! A huge pot of snow will melt into such a small amount of water. We pretty much had a pot of snow melting the entire time the stove was running. We are thirsty people.
We awoke the next morning to 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground and as the sun rose the storm quieted down. We slept in, staying in bed probably too long, but also cooking, which seemed to take a long time on the wood stove. Sipping hot toddies, eating hot breakfast, stoking the fire, and reading the log entries from previous guests was very enjoyable. The sky was still overcast and the warmth of the fire was hard to pull away from. Eventually we got all our gear on and stepped back on our clumsy skis for a little exploration. Ahh it was so much more fun cross country skiing without an enormous backpack on! We went out for what I estimate was a couple hours, never saw a single track in the fresh snow except ours, and came back to get a little campfire going in the fire ring outside the cabin. The wood in the shed was not for use in the fire pit, it was only for the stove inside the cabin, so gathering wood was a real doozy in all the snow. Eventually we got a big hot fire raging and the wine soon flowed like water. Cooking sausages over the flames, hearing the crackling of the wood, and listening to the snow-muted branches stir gently around us, we got pretty cozy. Much of the time we reminisced over our old friend Frankie who passed away and we discussed how much he would have enjoyed this experience. Eventually we extinguished the campfire and Lynnea and Zayla went to bed. The clouds were finally clearing and the moonlight was bouncing off the snow, making the setting too tempting to ignore. I took a solo ski trip around a short loop, took some long exposures of the night, and headed into bed.
The next day was sunny and wonderful. We were a bit saddened to leave this perfect nook, to pack our bags and carry all that weight again, though now considerably lighter without the whiskey and wine. There was a printed laminated checklist of cleaning duties on the wall. We cleaned as best as we could, taking care to preserve the beauty of this place. We didn't want to go back to reality, though I always get that sad feeling when trips come to an end. All the more inspiration to get us back out there. The ski back was much smoother and faster, however we both fell numerous times, while the trek out we never did. Getting back up was a pain in the ass that required unstrapping from the skis sometimes and taking off the backpack. Hitting the downill stretches that plagued us on our way out was a rush. I took a good facefirst tumble into a snowdrift, the weight of my pack flipping over my head. Lynnea wisely unstrapped from the skis and walked down. We made it to the car, and drove away, feeling a recharge of the soul. I think this will be a regular outing for us now.