Wild Sage Summit: Women Backpacking In The Montana Wilderness

We woke up at 6:30am to the sound of branches cracking and a deep ‘huff’ sound. The creature appeared to be getting closer… ‘huff’… and closer. We whispered between the walls of our tents, “Did you hear that?” I recalled the documentary Grizzly Man about a conservationist who was tragically attacked by a bear in his tent. I thought, “Could this be my end too?”

But before I spoil the story, let’s go back to the beginning.

Last year, I got introduced to Liz Song Mandell of Snowqueen and Scout, a website dedicated to making wilderness backpacking simple for women just starting out. We became fast friends over the phone – Liz lives in Montana, and I live in Los Angeles. Soon after, we came up with the idea for an annual gathering in the wilderness of female influencers from the Outdoor Industry. And so, Wild Sage Summit was born.

We hand-selected a group of leaders, including Stephanie Baker of The Dancing Wind, Korrin Bishop of Wild Wilderness Women and Jaymie Shearer of Mug Life Project to join us on a three-day backpacking trip through Montana’s rugged Bitterroot Wilderness. We hoped to share sweat, laughter and meaningful conversations and come away from the weekend with a compelling story to tell of women overcoming challenges together in the outdoors.

In September 2015, we found our way to Liz’s home in Montana from across the country, many of us meeting for the first time. We divided gear and food, including some special treats from Good To-Go, Epic Bars  and Rise Bars. We were excited to field test our new gear from Gossamer Gear, Goal Zero and Dear Kate.

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Our first day on the trail was a beautiful hike along a creek to an alpine lake. The landscape showed early signs of fall, bursting with red, orange and yellow. As the sun went down, we found a tiny campsite on the lake and enjoyed Thai Curry by Good To-Go. We searched for a tree to hang our food and warmed ourselves around a campfire before sleeping under the stars – my first time cowgirl camping outside a tent!

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On the second day, we woke up soaked in morning dew and ate a hearty breakfast to fuel up for the day ahead – a moderately challenging hike through a pass to another lake. However, moderate turned seriously challenging, as we bushwacked through the overgrown brush up to our necks. (We found out later, the trail had not be maintained in a decade!) Every few minutes, we alternated between “HEY BEAR!” and the Xena Warrior Princess battle call to ward off unsuspecting grizzlies. The bugle of a male elk echoed through the forest, eerily resembling a high pitched scream.

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As the sun went down, the reality of our situation sank in. We were lost. Determined as ever to find our camp, Liz and I scouted the trail ahead and found a clue. Ten hours after leaving camp, we finally arrived at the lake.

“We woke up at 6:30am to the sound of branches cracking and a deep ‘huff’ sound. The creature appeared to be getting closer… ‘huff’… and closer. We whispered between the walls of our tents, “Did you hear that?” I recalled the documentary Grizzly Man about a conservationist who was tragically attacked by a bear in his tent. I thought, ‘Could this be my end too?’”

Liz counted off, “Xena on three!” We all screamed, “AY-YAY-YAY-YAY-YAY,” repeating every 30 seconds. The creature would stop to listen, then pick up where it left off. “Huff… huff…” The sound continued for an eternity, about ten minutes, eventually fading into the distance.

When it was safe, we emerged from our tents awake with adrenaline. We found large hoof prints on the shore of the lake and heard an elk bugle echo through the forest. The creature who paid us a visit must have been impressed by our Xena mating call, the bugle of an exotic elk.

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My breakfast oatmeal tasted more delicious than usual with a side of Bison Bacon Cranberry Epic Bar. I took a dip in the freezing lake, determined to not take my second chance at life for granted.

The hike out was hot and exposed due to a nature fire, but the well-maintained trail felt so luxurious.

Though difficult to see in the moment, we accomplished exactly what we set out to do –  to come away from the weekend with a compelling story to tell of women overcoming challenges together in the outdoors. If I had a dollar for every time I retold this story, I would be a rich woman. Liz, Korrin, Stephanie & Jaymie, I’d get lost again with you any time.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert backpacker – these are just guidelines based on my experience. Also, this article includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item, Shoestring Adventures gets a small commission at no added cost to you. Thank you for supporting us with your purchase!



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