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Mandy Mohler : Is a Montana Photographer that creates Fine Art Prints from her "Things Organized Neatly" installations of tools and collections. This blog highlights Behind-The-Scenes looks into the lives of local craftsmen and collectors, as well as adventures and art from her portrait studio.



Mandy Mohler

In the Summer of 2012, I was one of a few artists lucky enough to be granted permission to spend an extended stay at a U.S. Forest Service cabin in the Montana wilderness. An additional privilege, we were supplied with personal horse packers and their string of steeds to carry in enough items for comfortable living and liberal art making. This special residency was the ARTIST WILDERNESS CONNECTION. I shared my AWC residency with two amazing musicians, and was further joined by more musicians. We had such a phenomenal time collaborating together and creating art in the wilderness - away from it all. My experience was a game changer. I caught a fever for the wilderness and the magic of solitude.

After the AWC concluded, and the art show had come down, I felt the desire to go back into the woods. However, I also felt compelled to venture further. When I first hatched the idea of embarking on another wilderness art trip, I knew I wanted to challenge myself with true solitude, and many miles of adventure. I wanted this new journey to force me into uncharted water so that I might sink or swim.

I decided early on that rather than staying in a cabin for a duration of time, I wanted to attempt an A to B through hike. Having never been in the Bob Marshall Wilderness before, I needed some advice about key places to visit. Several employees and volunteers from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation were very helpful and gave me fantastic suggestions.

My planning began by looking at a map and deciding on entry, exit, and through points. After seeing images of the Bob online, I knew it was imperative that I visit Lake Levale and the Chinese Wall. I initially planned on incorporating Trilobite Lakes into my trip, but it would have extended my journey by an additional 30 or so miles.

Bob Marshall Wilderness Montana Solo Through Hike Goal Map Mandy Mohler

Mapping out exactly how many miles I would travel was tricky at first. I had a map that required me to guess trail mileage by counting squares. This was estimation at best. Upon recommendation, I purchased the North and South Bob Marshall Wilderness trail maps by Cairn Cartographics. These maps really saved me because I was able to determine an accurate trail mileage- which allowed me to plan my trip in a realistic way. It turns out I had grossly underestimated my distance by about half! Even cutting out Gooseberry Park and Trilobite Lakes, I still had a 94 mile hike ahead of me. Now that I had my route determined and the mileage calculated, I needed to prepare myself for the journey.

Mandy Mohler and Ben the Horse riding in Montana

To pull off a through hike of this nature, I decided it would be useful to have a single pack horse to help carry my gear. I have been riding horses for years, and am very comfortable working with horses in general. However, I wanted some additional information about packing a horse and managing it in camp. Tom, my father in law, notified me about June Burgau’s Backcountry Horse Packing class at FVCC.  June taught me how to pack and tie a mantie, balance a load, tie a quiver of knots, and how to hang a high line for a horse. She instilled wisdom about camp tools, food options and leave no trace ethics. I was excited about her enthusiasm and confidence in my trip. Her positive attitude was very encouraging.

Later on, I was introduced to Greg Schatz and his wife Deborah. They are members of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and have extensive field experience. Over the course of several phone conversations, Greg kindly shared his knowledge and advice for the trip: where to camp, who to call, what to bring. After these conversations and some extensive map research, I felt as if I could already visualize my journey and what I would encounter.

Being that I had never been solo back country camping before, I felt it wise to go on a practice overnight trip with Ben the horse, to see if there were any kinks that needed ironing out while I was still near home. I decided to hike the six miles up to Bond Lake in the Swan Range. This was a great opportunity for me to select my gear and practice balancing its weight in the pannier saddle bags. It turns out that the gear required for a single night is the same for a 10-day trip aside from food and fuel quantities.

Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, Solo Trek

On this overnight trip with Ben, I was able to successfully tie a high line and hang my food in a tree for the first time. This was fantastic practice in time management. It is imperative to be organized and efficient in the backcountry, especially if you plan to move your camp every day.

This trip was also great practice for me psychologically- of just being alone in the woods. I slept fairly restlessly that night- partly because of the Super Moon shining like headlights into my tent.

Upon completion of my Bond Lake practice run, I felt confident that I could survive this trip. I knew that Ben trusted me and I trusted him. All I needed to do was to pre-visualize my journey, imagine every possible scenario I could encounter, and be prepared for that.

When preparing for my hike, I opted to start a little Kickstarter Campaign to help me gather some video capture equipment. It was important to me to document my adventure in a visual way – so as to share my experience, and hopefully inspire others.  I was overwhelmed by the response and support I received from the community. I am so thankful for everyone that reached out to me.

Additionally, I was fortunate to make new friends through this. The lovely Leah (who previously I had never met) found my Kickstarter post on Facebook, thought it looked interesting and offered to lend me some of her personal photography equipment for my trip. I was so overwhelmed by her generosity.

A close friend Darin, lent me his bear pistol and let me fire off a few practice rounds in his back yard. A sweet lady Darla volunteered to make all of the dehydrated meals for my trip, and my mother-in-law Jan also chipped in with an enormous amount of homemade dehydrated fruit. My father-in-law Tom not only allowed me to take his horse Ben deep into the backcountry, but supplied me with packing equipment, a truck and trailer.

To everyone that shared of themselves so generously to make this journey happen : THANK YOU.

To be continued....   PART 2 : PACKING UP AND HEADING OUT

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