I was awake early today…very early…4:30 AM early. It’s cold and dark, I’m guessing around 45 degrees.  I’m cozy in my sleeping bag, drowsing and contemplating getting up to paint with the dawn.

It’s already day 4 out of 11 and I feel the need to spend more time painting and less time doing chores. As I languish in bed with the first light just starting to glow, a movement across the floor startles me…a mouse! Eeek! We leave the door open with the grate closed to sleep better in cooler temps. An open invitation for a mouse to explore. That does it! I’m not going to sleep anymore.

Early morning in the cabin. Even though the grate is closed, it isn’t secured because one can’t lock it from the inside. It is so warm in the cabin that we can’t sleep unless we have the door open.


In order to reduce the heat in the cabin, Gini devised a way to put our Thermarest pads up against the west transom window and duck tape them there. It really made a huge difference in keeping the cabin as cool as possible. That gal can be so ingenious!

As soon as it is light enough, I’m up. I should have been prepared for this possibility. I have to find my long johns and a long-sleeved shirt, my fleece sweater, and hat. Luckily, Gini is awake so she tells me I don’t have to tiptoe around. Perfect!

I quickly dress and am outside just as the sun is kissing the highest mountain to the west.

The early morning sun as it rises and hits the top of the mountain down river.

I move fast. I get my easel set up, paper mounted on board, and my box of pastels open and ready to go. The sun is moving faster than I am. I do a quick sketch and begin applying color. I realize that the best I can do is to make color notes. No detail or much thought. It’s freeing. All I have to do is approximate shapes and get the color somewhat close to what I’m seeing. Another learning lesson: not every study has to have detail.

The scene that attracted me with the sun just starting to hit the rock face downstream. My painting as a record of color notes and the landscape represented at its most basic of shapes. Painting size is 8″ tall x 6″ wide.

Soon Gini joins me. Now the sun is lightening more of the mountains and hitting the rock cliff face at the river’s edge. The reflections of orange glow from the cliffs dance across the surface of the water.

I quickly mount another piece of paper onto the foamcore and begin again.

Sidenote: I’m using Multimedia Pastel Paper which is much stiffer than the usual pastel paper—a cross between paper and a thin mat board. It is a great paper to use outdoors because it doesn’t flop around which makes it easier to transport.

I do more color notes especially in the reflections in the water. I hope to try and capture those reflections in a piece that I can work on for longer than 10 minutes!

As the sun continues to highlight the rock face, the reflections in the water become vibrant. My second plein air piece recording the color notes in the water. Remember, these quick studies are really quick—about 10-15 minutes a piece. No time to do much in the way of refinements. Size is 6″ tall x 8″ wide.

By 7:30 we are done, the sun is completely up and we are hungry. We make pancakes with our fresh huckleberries from the day before.

Our delicious huckleberry pancakes. I received a note from one of my cousins in Switzerland who said she had to look up what huckleberries are. Because huckleberries are only found in the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska south to northern California, much of the world hasn’t experienced the intense flavor of huckleberries. The closest to it would be blueberries. Another interesting fact about huckleberries is that they can’t be cultivated. I’m not sure why but they are only found in the wild.

We wash dishes and check in with Hungry Horse Ranger Station. That is one of the requirements of our residency, every morning around 9 AM, we radio in our status. Typically we’ll say, “Granite Cabin to Hungry Horse Ranger Station. And get an answer back: “Hungry Horse to Granite Cabin.” We inform the person: “Hi, just letting you know that everything is okay. Our plans today include…”

Today we are both worried about how we will get all our gear out when our adventure is over. We know that another volunteer is bringing in 3 horses. We wonder how we can get everything out on 3 horses when we had 4 big, strong, fully-loaded horses bringing all our gear in.

Gini talks over the radio with someone but it isn’t our liaison, Carol Treadwell, Executive Director of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and the person making the arrangements with the volunteers and taking care of us out here in the wilds.

The person on the other end assures us she will pass along our message. Hopefully Matt (our volunteer packer who packed us in) has talked to Carol and voiced his concerns about our situation as he promised. There is no way that 3 horses will be enough to pack us out.

Day 4 is full of surprises—more than I can recount in two installments. This day will be revealed in 4 installments, this being the first. Stay tuned as all manner of unusual and interesting occurrences fill our day…