When the Humans are Away
Backpacker|September - October 2021
Montana’s remote Crazy Mountains are a playground for more than just hikers.
By Erin Dockins

I’m not usually a worrier, but the animal dangers of this trip to the Crazy Mountains started to seem real when my hiking partners and I debated whether or not to bring the bear canister. “There will be trees to hang food. We don’t need it,” my dad said. I pointed out that anything over a dozen feet tall is rare at high alpine lakes in Montana, but our desire to not carry the awkward and heavy container overwhelmed that spark of logic.

It was early fall of 2012. My parents and I were planning to hike to a small but picturesque lake for a last quick trip before I started my junior year of high school the following week. The trailhead, marked by a tiny reflective marker miles of dirt road from the nearest human habitation, was remote even for the Northern Rockies.

As we started up the path, breathing hard under heavy packs on a brutal vertical predating any kind of trail grade standards, I found myself reflecting on the wild surroundings and my place in them. This time of year, dry grasses rustled in the meadows, but all was otherwise quiet. And then there was my family, noisily stomping our way up the mountain. I often feel like an interloper in nature when I go backpacking, and for good reason: Humans, even the most well-intentioned hikers, can disrupt fragile ecosystems and startle wildlife. I feel a bit guilty every time I accidentally spook a deer or chipmunk that would have otherwise just gone about its business, or trip into a patch of trailside flowers.

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