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Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in…

Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in the Wilderness

by Pete Fromm

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Pete Fromm was a 20-year-old college student in 1978 enamoured with the idea of being a modern day mountain man when he made a spur of the moment decision to spend the winter alone in the wilderness. A classmate at the University of Montana had just backed out of a job with Idaho Fish and Game to babysit two and a half million salmon eggs in Indian Creek and he made what he referred to as one of a “series of completely unconsidered decisions” that led to him spending October through May in a tent in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. As an example of how unprepared he was, when the wardens were getting ready to leave him at the site, they had this exchange: ”You’ll need about seven cords of firewood. Concentrate on that. You’ll have to get it all in before the snow grounds your truck.” Though I didn’t want to ask, it seemed important. “What’s a cord?”

Luckily, Fromm is resourceful and even though he’s only brought six books(!) with him, they’re how-to books on outdoor survival. He teaches himself to cook the supplies he’s brought in, and eventually to trap and hunt, but his biggest challenge is loneliness and how to fill up all the time he has on his hands. Surprisingly, he’s not as alone as I expected. His dog is with him, the wardens come in monthly with his mail, his college buddies visit twice, and there are a good number of hunters who come through looking for elk, mountain lions and bears.

The blurb on the back of the book refers to it as a “modern-day Walden” but I don’t think that’s apt. He’s more of a doer and an observer than a thinker. Here’s a description of what he sees on one of his hikes:

“At one exposed bend of the river, where the wind had cleared the ice of all but the newest snow, I saw the trail of an elk that had run down the mountain and crossed the river. Its tracks showed how it leaped the last bit of riverbank, landing on what looked exactly like more snow. But on the ice, all hell had broken loose. The elk's front feet had shot to the left, while his back legs had done the splits. He held on for what must have been a long time, his feet making wild looping patterns on the ice, but then the snow had been wiped clean by the big broad side of the elk spinning over the ice.

I laughed, translating what must have occurred, and I wished I'd been just a few minutes earlier, that I could have seen the mighty, majestic elk take such a pratfall.

Walking on though, I thought of what a fragile thread held everything together out here. If the elk had broken something, dislocated a hip (which looked more probable than not), it would have been all over. There would have been nothing left but a ring of dirty snow and a pile of stomach grass centered in a haze of coyote tracks."

That’s basically the extent of the discussion on the fragility of life in the wilderness. But although this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, it grew on me. Fromm is a good writer and his descriptions of his adventures were fascinating at times. Even though I spent most of the book thinking I would never have done what he did, I came to respect him. He includes an afterword that catches the reader up on the next 20 years of his life and some more “unconsidered decisions” that led him to become a writer. I, for one, am glad he did and I’ll be looking for more of his books. ( )
12 vote phebj | Jan 20, 2013 |
Wilderness, winter, solitude, Idaho, Montana, Creek, river, snow, nature ( )
  TeRuJi | May 28, 2012 |
I alternated between liking and disliking this book but in the end, I could not put it down and read it quite quickly. I seem to be on a fix for reading people living alone in wilderness situations. This book was appealing because it was well-written, and it was interesting to watch the transformation of Fromm who, at first, had quite an idealistic view of a "mountain man" lifestyle. After taking a job with Fish and Wildlife (I think) in Idaho, he quickly found out it's not ideal at all. I disliked the book at times because he talks about hunting and killing a lot, very mercilessly at times, and I can't take that stuff. There is a section where traps and then steps on a raccoon to crush its ribs and I just can't handle that. What was the point? Couldn't he have let it go? I grew to respect Fromm a little bit, though, because at least it seemed like he used all the parts of everything he killed, even learning how to tan the hide. Seems like his winter at Indian Creek was pretty pointless, overall, considering so few of the salmon actually made it to adulthood. I liked reading the book because I couldn't imagine spending a winter in such a brutal place, yet it is an attractive thought. Perhaps I am being idealistic. At any rate, a fun, quick read. ( )
1 vote carrieprice78 | Jul 28, 2010 |
Midway through his college career as a wildlife biology major at the University of Montana, Pete Fromm's life takes a little detour. Fueled by his love of exploring nature solo, and most of all, by his college roommate's books full of romanticized feats of mountain men, Fromm makes a spur of the moment decision to apply for a job guarding salmon eggs. For seven months. In an isolated wilderness. In the dead of winter. More than anything, Pete Fromm wanted some mountain man stories of his own to tell, and getting paid to guard a couple million salmon eggs seemed just the way to do it. So, after one thoughtless phone call, endless supply shopping, and a few too many booze-fueled going away parties, incredibly amateur mountain man Fromm found himself preparing for months of total isolation with nary a clue as to what surviving alone in the wilderness would entail.

It's nearly mind-blowing that a tale that has at its core the unbelievable isolation and boredom of an Idaho wilderness winter would be so captivating a read. Fromm's stories and his descriptions of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness capture the rawness and cruel beauty of its winter that oft goes unobserved. With revealing descriptions of the scenery accompanied by powerful tales of wildlife surviving a hostile environment where survival seems impossible, Fromm reveals the dangerous magnificence of this wintry landscape in a way that few, if any, others ever could. Fromm himself is a sympathetic narrator as he seems to get on-the-job training in "mountain manhood." We go along with him as he learns hard lessons about what works and what doesn't, what it looks and feels like to hunt for food for survival, and, of course, that being a mountain man isn't nearly as fantastic as it seems in all the books, not to mention that he probably should have brought a few more than six books along when he agreed to spend 7 months virtually alone.

Fromm's constant inner battle between loving and owning his untouched wilderness and his desperate desire to get out and see another human face is all too convincing. When spring comes and people start entering the place he has come to think of his own, it feels, even to us, like an invasion of sorts. Foolish though his endeavor may have seemed at the outset, in the end, Fromm certainly emerged with the great mountain man stories he was looking for and much more. ( )
3 vote yourotherleft | Sep 13, 2009 |
Non fiction ( )
  itsJUSTme | Mar 3, 2009 |
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To Ellen for the books, and Big Dan and Paul for trying, and finally to Rader, my connection to the world.
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Once the game wardens left, the little tent we'd set up seemed even smaller.
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Book description
This award-winning narrative is a gripping story of adventure, a rousing tale of self-sufficiency, and a modern-day Walden. From either perspective, Fromm lives up to his reputations as one of the West's strongest new voices.

.....So begins Fromm's seven winter months alone in a tent in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness guarding salmon eggs. After blundering into this forbidding errand as a college lark, Fromm gradually comes face to face with the blunt realities of life as a contemporary mountain man. Brutal cold, isolation, and fearful risks balance against the satisfaction of living a unique existence in modern America.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312422725, Paperback)

Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, Indian Creek Chronicles is Pete Fromm’s account of seven winter months spent alone in a tent in Idaho guarding salmon eggs and coming face to face with the blunt realities of life as a contemporary mountain man. A gripping story of adventure and a modern-day Walden, this contemporary classic established Fromm as one of the West’s premier voices.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:39 -0400)

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The author recounts his 7 months working for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in an isolated location that changed him from a college kid to a man.

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