Growing up in Libby, Montana, I was surrounded by incredibly wild and beautiful country. Our family spent a lot of time in the outdoors. There were trails headed into the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness area within just a few miles of our house.
A few years after this area was designated an official wilderness area in 1964, we backpacked into Granite Lake, a six-mile hike crossing Granite Creek several times before arriving at the lake.
Everything seemed larger than life, from the huge ferns growing along the trail to the cedar trees towering overhead. When we arrived at the lake, the rest of my family were unloading their packs in the small campground and I ran down to the shore of the lake and was speechless as I listened to the waves lapping at my feet and stared at this towering mountain, “A” Peak, on the south side.
Waterfalls tumbled into the lake, some not making it before the wind sent the spray back up or sideways. I knew right there that my experience was very different from everyone else in my family. I was changed. This view, this experience was unique to me. My dad saw me standing along the shore and came down and stood reverently next to me, appreciating the same view.
After a few minutes he said, ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ I replied, ‘Dad, I’m going to be doing a lot of this.’ He smiled, both of us continuing to soak in the view, and said, ‘I know.’ He walked back up to the campground, leaving me there as I embraced a part of me I knew was unique, powerful, life changing. This is the view I had along the shore of Granite Lake.
This experience resulted in a lifelong passion for truly wild places, an early career in forestry, wildlife conservation and recently launching Wild Nature Media. Throughout my childhood I climbed nearly every peak in this wilderness area, including “A” Peak.
David Neils is the great grandson of Julius Neils, founder of J. Neils Lumber Company, for decades one of Libby’s most influential and successful enterprises. David graduated from Libby High in 1979, and now lives in Colorado, but comes “home” to hike in the Cabinets often.
Voices in the Wilderness is a monthly column written by your neighbors, friends and visitors in the vicinity of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. Voices features memorable personal experiences in wild places. If you have an adventure tale based in untamed country (it doesn’t have to be local), write to firstname.lastname@example.org for guidelines, or just send it along.