To most Americans, the snow and cold of the dead of winter are forbidding. Only the most hardy would think of venturing out if they didn't have to.
Ranchers, construction workers, utility employees, traffic officers and others who must work in the outdoors as well as skiers, skaters and youths on sleds all look forward to getting back to their warm, comfortable homes in the evening.When Chas Rauch looks out his window at the snow, he is ready to spend weeks in it. He is a modern mountain man, and to him and others like him, the snow and cold are only a challenge.
"Winter is a beautiful, wonderful time of year and I wouldn't want to feel that I couldn't get outdoors and enjoy the mountains just because it is cold or the snow is deep," Rauch said.
A park ranger at Pioneer Trail State Park, Rauch, 39, is president of the American Mountain Men contingent in Utah and has lived and worked in the outdoors as a professional outdoor recreation guide, big-game guide and ski instructor for more than 20 years.
He became interested in black powder rifle and pistol shooting in 1980 and in 1982 joined the American Mountain Men, one of the most prestigious groups of its kind in the United States.
"You can learn a great deal about living in the outdoors from the mountain men," he said. A good part of being a modern mountain man is studying the history and the ways of this tough, stubborn breed of American, who flourished in the Rocky Mountains from 1820 to 1840.
Rauch said the European fever for beaver hats boosted the price of beaver pelts sky high and drew individualists and adventurers from the Eastern states to the Rockies where beavers were abundant. By the mid-1840s, he said, silk hats became the rage, the price of beaver pelts fell and the mountain man era ended.
"The mountain man had learned survival skills at home - you have to remember that even easterners in 1800 didn't have a whole lot of comforts or conveniences. Most of the inventions we take for granted today were undreamed of then.
"Once he got into the mountains, he learned a lot from other fur trappers, including some who came West with Lewis and Clark as early as 1804-1806; from fur traders who worked for the Hudson Bay Co., which had been in Canada since the late 1600s; from Indians; and from the Spanish and French settlers they met during their summer treks south, sometimes as far as Mexico."
The secret to keeping warm is wearing layers of clothing, Rauch said. "The mountain man wore one or two shirts, some of them with a long tail that came down to his thighs, a leather jacket shirt and a warm wool or leather coat. He wore a wool stocking cap or a felt hat or a fur cap made of skins and often covered his ears with a neckerchief in cold, windy weather.
"His feet were covered with leather boots, often stuffed with fur; his lower legs were wrapped with wool cloth to keep them warm; and he wore leather mittens. He often wore a long wool sash, known as a bellyband, wound about his waist outside his coat to keep his stomach warm."
At night, the mountain man often shared a warm campfire with others, both for protection and friendship, sleeping in a semicircle about the fire.
"He slept fully clothed, hopefully with a full stomach, with a warm hat on, and wrapped furs about him and wool blankets. Few had anything like a sleeping bag. Over his head might be a canvas or skin tentlike shelter, usually open to the fire.
"Few mountain men ever built log cabins. Probably the most ambitious dwelling might have been a lean-to made of boughs and limbs covered with skins, blankets or canvas."
Rauch said the only tools a mountain man carried were his rifle, a knife, a horn filled with black powder, rifle or musket balls, a powder measure, flint for his flintlock rifle or shotgun, a flint and steel fire starter, beaver traps and possibly pieces of lead and a lead mold to make his ammunition.
A prosperous mountain man might have a short-handled shovel, a hatchet or tomahawk, an extra knife and perhaps a flintlock pistol. Most had at least one horse to ride and, if they could, another on which to pack extra provisions, supplies and furs.
"If their horse died or they lost their gun or knife, they were in big trouble. It might be a long time before anything could be replaced.
Many modern Americans have never learned to live in the out-of-doors nor learned survival camping skills, Rauch said. "This kind of knowledge is never useless and, I hope, will never disappear.