Daily Journal: Montana Winter Challenges

The last week has been one adventure after another in Busby YurtLife. An epic powder day led to a handful of snowmobile issues (Read: our primary access to the yurt digging itself into our road’s new massive snowbanks). I resorted to one mode of transport up that never breaks down. 

 
Meanwhile, Sean was busy cleaning out our chimney after the swinging temps blocked it entirely! He writes, “Yurt life = DIY. Maintenance on our chimney cap after record breaking snow and a freezing rain event. Over the past two days we have noticed our highly efficient stove was acting sluggish and backdrafting smoke into our living space. A sketchy ladder climb up the side of our chimney revealed a gummed up chimney cap caused by mixing hot fire gasses with cooled air and precipitation. A call into one of our chimney cleaning friends revealed the same situation for many other people across the valley. This photo reveals all the creosote that built up from this recent weather event on our chimney cap. I will now clean it all out before reinstalling. If you notice drafting issues - it is wise to seek out and resolve the problem immediately. Creosote buildup can lead to devastating and potentially deadly chimney fires!”
 
 

YurtLife as a Classroom — AIARE Level 1 Montana

Yurtlife just reached a new level. I (Mollie) completed my American Institute for AIARE Level 1 course this weekend, based out of the Great Northern Powder Guides local backcountry yurt! There’s nothing quite like classroom in the AM, field observations and a ski tour to follow, and good times with new friends in a yurt to cap off the evening. Bonus points to Mother Nature for keeping us safe but allowing us to see snow instabilities firsthand.

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Remote triggered D1 storm slab avalanche near Stryker MT. Glad to be traveling with smart folks, and grateful to learn from a safe distance.

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Daily Journal: Alpenglow in Glacier National Park

Our evening light at the yurt can be spectacular. I love how the alpenglow lasts longer and longer each day as we move closer to winter. This shot was taken from inside the living room of our yurt looking directly at Glacier National Park’s Mount Stimson - the second highest peak and one of the most remote and isolated peaks in the park. Termed one of the hardest major summits in the continental United States to climb from a standpoint of remoteness, effort, and non-technical challenge, it is a true monster that towers over this part of NW Montana. Hard to be uninspired by such raw beauty of Alpenglow in Glacier National Park. So humbled and thankful for moments such as this and to be re-grounded each day from the simple sight of it.

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Daily Journal: Northern Lights in Montana

This has been my latest northern lights viewing setup on the south end of our yurt looking up to the northern sky. It is one of many locations to catch a good solar storm on the property. Though the northern lights in Montana can be frequent for this area, clear night skies can be few and far between through the dark winter nights. 

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Thanksgiving Carving and the Smell of Home

As odd as this sounds, I can vividly remember the neck warmer I used to wear skiing in Wisconsin as a kid. The thick, black fleece would be damp with condensation, but somehow it would shield my rosy cheeks from the wind. With every inhale, I remember the scent of deep fried cheese curds and hot chocolate. 
 
To a non-Wisconsinite, I can see how that may sound questionable. 

 
But to anyone who knows Wisconsin, that smell is home. After a long day of plowing down stiff (likely icy) groomers with Biting Wind and Bone-Chilling Humidity along for the ride, there’s nothing quite like a hot cocoa/cheese curds après-ski snack that warms a Midwesterner’s soul. 

Growing up, those were some of my favorite memories with my family, both in the Midwest and on vacations out west; flying down the runs on my skis, tackling lots of blue squares and a few black diamonds with my cousins. Skiing - for me - was synonymous with family, friends, and fun. And the occasional hot tub.
 
Today, skiing serves the same purpose in my life. It connects me to my husband, my friends here in Montana and beyond… and fun? Well. If backcountry skiing 5 continents isn’t classified as fun, I don’t know what is. Skiing has surpassed a “hobby,” and has quite literally become my lifestyle.
 
My husband, Sean, and I flew to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving this year and my goal was to do another sort of carving for the November holiday. I intended to ski the runs I had skied as a kid at Granite Peak—widely known in Wisco as the king of all “mountains” in the area.
 
 
Located centrally in Wausau, the resort boasts 700 vertical feet across 410 acres, of which 265 is skiable terrain.
 
 
Having literally not stepped foot in the place since high school—which was 10+ years ago for those keeping track—I expected to be somewhat lost, not recognizing much. What I experienced was the opposite; although things are far more updated, I could still remember looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the base lodge. I could remember seeing the black diamond runs and challenging myself to try them despite my nerves. I could remember being so ridiculously cold going up the chairlift; and although the sun was shining during our visit in November, we still got a taste of that Midwest bite!
 
 
With fresh corduroy blanketing the main runs on that cold November Sunday, we enjoyed bluebird skies and minimal lift lines with a few friends from the area. As I leaned into wide, fast turns down each run, I could feel my inner teenager squeal with delight. As I tackled the black diamonds, I could feel the nerves of my younger self melt away. And perhaps most nostalgic of all was re-living the smell and taste of hot cocoa and deep fried cheese curds after a long day on the slopes. 
 
And to me? That combination of good company, powdery slopes and tasty snacks (along with the palpable anticipation of a Sunday night Green Bay Packer game) signifies home.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Daily Journal: Yurt Living at its Best

From a few weeks ago…Staying up past 2 am for a strong solar storm because it was highly likely of viewing northern lights over our yurt. Instead, a layer of high clouds rolled in on a forecasted clear night, snuffing out any showing of the lights. Nonetheless, our dog Glacier and I enjoyed each other’s company in the cold Montana night listening to one of our local resident owls hoot in a tree surrounding our little round home.

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Daily Journal: Our Blaze King Off the Grid Yurt Wood Stove

You may be noticing something a little bit different in our yurt. For those that don’t — we replaced our Rocket Mass Heater with an extremely efficient wood stove by Blaze King. Our new stove also has a 30 hour burn time which is huge for yurt living! We switched stoves as we found that we needed a much larger mass for our Rocket Mass Heater and that it was not ideal for our current yurt setup. It would be great in another setting such as a greenhouse, shop, or a place that can provide a much larger mass (thus it is now for sale). Sad to see it go but stoked on our new heat source! 

Daily Journal: Prepping Yurt Life for Winter

With each trip home, we will fill our utility sled behind the snowmobile with our remaining firewood and transport it to our wood shed, allowing the wood to season for quality spring burning. We now have full winter conditions up at our yurt and can only access our round home with skis/splitboard or snowmobile until late spring. This now marks a new point to our life off the grid adventure as we learn to transition with the seasons.

JUST GO: Meet Chris and Caitlin Williams

One of the best parts about yurt life is the people we’ve met along this journey. 

A few months ago, after staying the night in Missoula for a movie premiere, Sean and I met up with Chris Williams, per an introduction from our friend, Hayes (owner of Shelter Designs Yurts). Chris, 27, is a producer of the show Mountain Men on History Channel. Yes—that badass show where the guys live in the wilderness and fend for themselves and their family against wolves, grizzlies, mountain lions and all sorts of crazy situations… that Mountain Men. 

Chris and his wife, Caitlin (a 24-year-old Montana native, who is studying at the University of Montana School of Law) are working toward making their own yurt-life a reality. They currently call Missoula home, with their two pups Schuck Handsome—a 6-year-old sweet, gentle Shiloh Shepherd, and Rumble Mountain, an 11-month-old Tasmanian devil Shiloh Shepherd.

Aside from the fact that we love talking yurts with people, we love hanging out with dog people, and Sean absolutely loves the show, Mountain Men, we had such a good time trading stories with Chris that we wanted to showcase his lifestyle with Caitlin. The pair was just married on July 20th this year, and I believe there is so much to learn from these ambitious newlyweds. 

Meet Chris and Caitlin:

Tell us the short story of how you came to be together.
I (Chris) hosted a Halloween party at my house, and Caitlin found out about it through mutual friends, although we didn’t know each other officially yet. I was in charge of the costume contest, and Caitlin showed up dressed as the BP oil spill, wearing a huge black trash bag with paper fish floating belly-up taped all over it.

I was smitten, and she was the contest winner.

We dated briefly, but then Caitlin shipped off to Scotland for six months to study abroad. We kept in touch by sharing photos and stories of our lives from opposite ends of the globe. When Caitlin was back stateside and staying with family in Massachusetts, I flew to see her and spent the week at her beach house. We made things official when I asked, “Will you finally be my girlfriend already?!” After that week at the beach, I started saving for an engagement ring. The rest is history. 

Best adventure you’ve ever been on together?

As cliché as it sounds, I (Chris) would say our wedding has been the best adventure we have been on together.

None of our backpacking trips or outings could compare to the roller coaster of emotion and excitement that comes with planning a big party with all of the best people in our lives. We decided to hold the wedding in Plymouth, Massachusetts where most of Caitlin’s family lives, so we planned the wedding from 3,000 miles away in Missoula. Of course, my dog Schuck had to be in the wedding, so my brother Curtis flew in from California and drove with me from Montana to Massachusetts with Schuck along for the ride. Once we arrived, it was a perfectly executed series of parties and dinners with friends and family. The wedding day itself was phenomenal. After the wedding, Caitlin and I had the five-day drive back to Montana to decompress, talk about the REAL adventure ahead, and enjoy the road.

Best adventure separately:
Chris: I would have to say my time spent in the world of sled dogs. A photo assignment in college led me to a local musher. After an afternoon spent taking photos and meeting the dogs, the musher offered me a job tending to the kennel and training the teams. I did this part-time for over a year before he asked if I could come with him to Alaska to help with his first Iditarod race. I temporarily dropped out of school and disappeared for a few winter months as we drove through Canada, training the sled dogs and gearing up for the race. I ran the “follow sled” for the ceremonial start through Anchorage, then once the actual race started, I stayed behind to receive and care for the team as they trickled in via bush plane after being ‘dropped’ from the race (basically worn out). I was on this trip for about four months and worked around the sled dogs for a few years. The musher I worked for moved to Alaska and, with the money I got from working in Alaska, I was able get to my pup Schuck Handsome.

From midnight full-moon training runs in the Montana backcountry, to feeding the team on the road at 4:00AM under a blanket of Northern Lights, mushing was a true adventure. One that I hope to revisit, perhaps with my own team, down the road.

Caitlin: The best adventure I have been on personally was the six months that I spent in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad during my undergraduate career, and I was attracted to the rugged, wild appeal of Scotland.

I had never been out of the country before (no, not even Canada!), so jetting off to another country alone was daunting, but rewarding.

During my six months abroad, I also visited Ireland, France, England, and Italy. I did a lot of growing up during that time, learning plenty about wine consumption along the way. I gained some much-needed street smarts, tried haggis for the first time (not bad, actually), and survived an unfortunate bout of pink highlighted hair. I hope to visit Europe again someday, and Scotland will always have a piece of my heart.

How do you balance the everyday grind with your sense of adventure? 

Chris: The best advice I would give is to think of adventure in small, attainable goals.

We may not be able to go on weeklong excursions into the wilderness as often as we’d like, but we try to keep a level of outdoor exposure present on a day-to-day basis. We have a local hiking book that we are currently working through, trying to hit each trail listed. We both bike commute to work and school, often changing the route taken just for visual diversity and some environmental flair. We also just like to shake up modern day convenience: if it is pouring outside, we’ll go for a walk and get soaked. If it is an absolute blizzard outside, we’ll suit up appropriately and go for a hike to look out at the town. My best piece of advice for keeping adventure in your life despite being busy is to own dogs. We have two amazing shepherds that often remind us that we need to drop what we’re doing and go get out and play.

Caitlin: I take a practical approach to attaining balance between the daily grind and some daily adventure: write everything down.

Both Chris and I greatly rely on our daily planners to fit everything in and prioritize. If I don’t write down “Take Rumble on a hike,” it won’t happen. So even if it feels redundant, I’ll write down my non-school priorities right alongside my schoolwork. By staying organized and efficient, it’s much easier for me to find free time to get outside and unwind.

Best life advice. Go.
Chris: Run with dogs. Play in dirt. Dance often.
Caitlin: Never sacrifice sleep. Seriously. Never ever.

Future goals/dreams. Go. 
Chris: Our biggest future goal and dream is to move into a yurt full-time. We are both constantly challenging ourselves with living more simplistically and intentionally, and a yurt inherently has adventure attached to it in spades.
Caitlin: Agreed wholeheartedly. I want a yurt filled with good memories, simple furnishings, and lots of kids (spoiler alert, Chris). 

Who is your role model for a happy, balanced life?
Schuck Handsome, King of Missoula. How can a role model be a dog, you ask? Well, Schuck is the most laid-back, kind, and even-tempered guy around. The outdoors are where he is most himself, he puts great emphasis on a good nap, and strictly adheres to a high-quality diet. What’s not to admire?

This is Rumble Mountain:

Daily Journal: Seeking out the Snow

The temperatures have been telling us that winter is surely here in NW Montana. However, for some of winter’s prime activities - you still have to actively seek it and really earn your turns. It was a great day of finding winter in the backyard and being able to see our yurt across the lake in the distance.

Daily Journal: Share the Sun

Another fine ending to a day here in NW Montana with another beautiful crystal clear big sky which brought plenty of solar power to our Goal Zero solar panels and Yeti 1250 generators and batteries. We will now have enough power in our yurt for nearly two weeks as long as we remain conservative. Feeling refreshed - WooHoo!

 

Daily Journal: Montana Larch Trees

This photo is shown looking up to our yurt through the golden needles of our Larch trees (also known as Tamaracks). Last Sunday, we were completely fogged in as frigid arctic temperatures and heavy snow approached. That Sunday—November 9th—marked the last of our beautiful fall-colored Montana Larch trees until next year as our temperatures dipped into the teens and negatives. Winter has arrived in NW Montana.

I used to call the Aspen my favorite type of tree because of the brilliant colors their leaves produce in the fall - but not anymore. My new favorite tree is the Larch which is a conifer tree that goes through a similar cycle that the Aspen does each season with its leaves. However instead of leaves, the Larch has needles that change colors. Their needles fall off before winter and regrow into a brilliant bright green color each spring before transitioning into the beautiful yellow and gold color each autumn. Will surely miss this color, but it’s time for snow now. 

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Blades of Glory, Yurt Style

One by one, the blades of our heat-powered fan atop the rocket mass heater begin to turn. Once around, twice around, four times, eight times. Soon, it’s turning too many times to count, humming as it pushes heat from the stove into the room. This simple action is how we know the stove is warming up. The turning blades are how we know the heat has penetrated the system, and most importantly: We know it won’t be long before warmth is circulated throughout our yurt.
 
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I think a lot of people have had us in their thoughts the past week — mostly because they told us so. An abrupt polar vortex-like system descended on northwest Montana last week. Sean and I are getting a taste of yurt life mid-winter while it is still early November. 
 
I’ll admit — I was nervous last Sunday night. I watched the temperature drop from 52 to 30 in a matter of an hour. It plummeted from there. As if I’d never even considered the idea of battling freezing temperatures, I asked Sean, “What are we going to do? I’m not ready for this yet.”
 
It was a mild panic attack, if there ever was one. All through this process, I’ve been pushing to try winter in this yurt. And all through the process, I convinced Sean of the same. Of course, when I began to have these doubts, Sean was my rock. His conviction amazes me.
 
“We make a fire. We layer up. And we see how things go,” he said. And then he reminded me that we’re not in the middle of the Alaskan bush. We’re going to be fine.
 
So each morning as the sun is rising, and in the evening well after the sun has set, we settle in in front of the stove and fire up BaseCamp Outdoor Systems reusable fire starter (these are a lifesaver for all fire-starting situations—check them out) and add wood to the stove. Our Moroccan souvenir—a bellows made of camel hide—provides oxygen to the flames as they start to lick their way into the back of the chamber. It usually takes 10-15 minutes for this small fire to start drafting ferociously through the system. We must provide fuel and oxygen throughout this time to keep the temperature rising. And then, once those heat-powered blades of glory begin turning, we know we’re home free.
 

Daily Journal: Montana morning light

With temps dipping into the 20s at night and highs only in the 40s, we are becoming more engaged with our wood stove. One special perk is you get to see some really amazing sunrises and Montana morning light when restocking the wood stove for breakfast. This sunrise was captured from our yurt looking into Glacier National Park as another storm front moves in bringing more rain and snow to NW Montana.

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Daily Journal: Deep sleep and yurt dreams

I can’t get over how deep of a sleep Mollie and I have staying in a yurt. It’s absolutely incredible. There is something about a circular space and the energy and love that flows within. A while back, we picked up this dream catcher from our local Native American reservation to filter the bad from the good and keep the inspiration and stoke flowing.

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