Safe and Sound, photo © Robin O’Brien, all text © Irene O’Garden 2014
I’m back from Montana, safe and sound, but sobered both by the grandeur and the risk of the wilderness.
My younger brother Jim and his sons have trekked into the Montana backcountry for thirty years. My sister Robin and I decided to accompany them this year after the February death of our older brother John. The party was all family: three nephews, a grand nephew, grandniece and a nephew’s nephew by marriage. At 62, I was not only the eldest, but the least-experienced in the ways of the wilds.
Our trip was described as a day-long horseback ride into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, followed by a 5-day float on the South Fork of The Flathead River. I brought watercolors.
But Montanans speak a different language. The “float” was actually a rafting trip over Class 2 and 3 rapids, around spikey fallen trees, jutting logs, with portages over slippery rock “gardens.” The eleven-hour horseback ride was a piece of cake in comparison.
Many clichés sprung alive on this journey—“Between a rock and a hard place” is but one. Getting thrust off the raft was nothing compared to the panic of seeing loved ones topple into the swift chilly current. We all survived none the worse for wear, though my adrenals are exhausted.
I’ll eventually write more about this trip—either here or elsewhere. It was both the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most sublime. Experiencing the splendor of the most remote location in the Lower 48 was an exhilarating privilege, matched only by the beauty of human beings behaving at their best.
Had I known what lay ahead, I never would have gone. But I’ll be forever grateful I did.