Backcountry Blogger

By Tom Kuglin

Tom Kotynski’s first Montana backpack trip was 44 summers ago.

The 68-year-old former Great Falls Tribune editor recalled the adventure into what is now Sluice Boxes State Park in the Little Belts, catching cutthroat trout and becoming “absolutely hooked.” He now writes and photographs for his blog, “Out there with Tom,” featuring more than 600 hikes. Last year Kotynski published the second edition of his book, “Discover the Rocky Mountain Front: A Hiking Guide,” detailing some of his favorite summits and backcountry destinations.

“I just have a really strong feeling that people need information about the backcountry, particularly in north central Montana, and there’s not much out there on a systematic basis,” he said. “Since I’ve been getting out for so many years, people have been turning to the blog and getting some pretty good ideas.”

Tom Kotynski on top of Choteau Mountain in Rocky Mountain Front, west of Choteau

Tom Kotynski on top of Choteau Mountain in Rocky Mountain Front, west of Choteau

Kotynski started blogging at 12 years ago, compiling tales of day hikes and expeditions that offer off-trail routes and some of the only information available for island mountain ranges such as the Highwoods, Judiths and Little Belts. A book on hiking the island ranges may be in his future, but it is tough to pull away from the Front and Glacier National Park.

“Some of these island ranges are absolutely uncharted and treasured, and a great surprise for anyone that pokes around in them,” he said.

The blog contains many under-the-radar hikes with a searchable database containing enough information to fill five books. “There’s just so much in every single direction from around here,” he said.

The hikes and blogging do not stop with winter, as Kotynski and friends enjoy skiing and he continues updating followers on his adventures.

Running the blog means Kotynski hears from hikers all over the country, particularly those interested in the east Front and Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The Front has captivated Kotynski, and he tells potential visitors not to be dissuaded by perceived access challenges. Gravel roads provide good travel to many areas, and even a drive up the Sun River Canyon offers some stunning scenery. There are plentiful mountains worth climbing, limestone reefs that abut the plains, high mountain lakes and waterfalls to explore.

“I think people are making a mistake if they drive past the Front and go straight to Glacier,” Kotynski
said. “We have scenery and hiking in our own way that rivals national parks, and it’s truly a gateway to places like the Scapegoat.”

As Kotynski gets older, he looks to go ultra-light with his gear. By using a shelter for a tent, a two-pound sleeping bag, a tin or aluminum can as a stove and making his own food, an 18- to 20-pound pack has sustained six-day trips in the Bob.

“When I backpack, I go by myself or with one other friend,” Kotynski said. “I like the solitude. And the other thing is it’s hard finding people to go because I go off trail, pick a destination and plot a route.”

On the Holland Peak summit ridge in the Swan Mountains east of Condon above Upper Rumble Lake

On the Holland Peak summit ridge in the Swan Mountains east of Condon above Upper Rumble Lake

Taking the routes less traveled, or perhaps never traveled, has left Kotynski overnight on the sides of mountains more than once. He uses a GPS, and those who would like to try the routes can download them from the past two years.

Kotynski also uses a SPOT satellite messenger, which allows him to communicate with his wife and provides a way to notify emergency services if something goes wrong.

Along with blogging and authoring books, Kotynski tries to lead at least one Wilderness Walk for the
Montana Wilderness Association, which he and his wife Katie recently led to Fairview Mountain on the Front.

“I’m just a journalist so I have almost a compulsion to write, and I love taking photos,” he said.

Tom Kuglin writes for the Helena Independent Record:

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