Dennis Anderson: Buddies head to the wild

Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune Updated: July 16, 2011 - 9:13 PM

Four buddies from Minnesota State Mankato are somewhere in the Montana mountains,
in the middle of a monthlong hiking adventure. Phones, GPSs, prepacked food ... all left
behind.

hide After packing, 2008 Chaska High grads Sean Bloomfield, left to right, Colton Witte,
Blake Spaniard and 2005 Minnetonka High grad Sam Ebenreiter, posed in Witte's late
model Chevy that they would take to the Beartooth Wilderness area in Montana.
Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

Three summers ago, when recent Chaska High School graduates Sean Bloomfield and
Colton Witte paddled 49 days from the Twin Cities to Hudson Bay, retracing the 2,200-
mile canoe route made famous by newsman Eric Sevareid in 1930, they ate cold pizza
the last few weeks. ¶ "We bought three extra larges in Winnipeg, cut them up and put
them in plastic bags," Sean said. ¶ Now in a further perversion of nutritional propriety,
Sean, Colton and friends Sam Ebenreiter and Blake Spanier -- all Minnesota State
Mankato seniors -- are hiking for a month in the Montana mountains, eating only rabbits
and squirrels they can kill with a .22 and 300 rounds of ammunition, and trout they can
catch with telescoping fishing rods.
The four departed Mankato last Sunday shoulder-to-shoulder in a vintage Chevy Malibu,
their backpacks stuffed in the trunk.

"Generally, we're going with a no-plan plan," Sean said before they left. "We're going to
park our car at a trail head, put on our backpacks and head west into the Absaroka-
Beartooth Wilderness. We'll be on the move, shooting and catching what we need to eat.
We won't have a phone. The only food we'll have for an emergency is one bottle of rice."

This Student vs. Wild brainstorm was cooked up a couple of years back during a class
when Sam and Sean were supposed to be paying attention to more academic matters.

"We had a little downtime and were dreaming about the outdoors," Sam said. "So we
cruised the Internet, looking at maps."

Dangers the four could face include grizzlies, and each hiker is carrying a can of bruin
repellent in case one is encountered. In addition, Colton is packing rocket-sized heat: a .
480 Ruger Alaskan.

Said Colton's mom, Kathy Witte:

"A year or so ago, Colton bought this huge gun, and I remember thinking at the time,
'What on Earth does he need such a big gun for?' He told me, 'To shoot bears.'"

They'll live off the land (and water)

In Minnesota, squirrel and rabbit seasons, and those for some other small critters that
do not hang a lot of meat on their bones, are established in fall and winter. Montana
affords no similar seasonal protections for these animals, and the four young
Minnesotans are hoping they find a sufficient number of them in the scope of their .22
rimfire.

"We've divided ourselves into a fishing group and a hunting group," Colton said.

"Sam and Blake will be doing the fishing, while Sean and I will go hunting with the .22,
and also search for berries. Berries will be our third food resource."

The .22 was purchased used and has a "$20 scope on it," said Dan Witte, Colton's dad.

"But Colton's a good shot. He's hunted ever since he could take firearms safety, and he's
killed seven or eight deer," Dan Witte said, adding:

"Still, I told him he's going into a lot different environment than here in Minnesota, more
open. He's going to have to make a blind or otherwise hide himself to get a shot. He's
not going to be able to sneak up on animals out there."

The four will filter or treat lake or stream water for drinking. Few cooking pans and
utensils made the trip.

"They said they intend to cook most everything on a stick, like cowboys," Dan Witte said.
''I told them that if they get into a bind, they could boil their food. They just said, 'Ya, ya, ya.'
"

Said Sean as they packed to leave: "Our parents have been very supportive of this trip.
Sometimes overly supportive."

The four aren't carrying a GPS. They expect to move at least every other day, and will rely
only on a compass and map -- the same navigation instruments Colton and Sean
restricted themselves to en route to Hudson Bay.

They do have an electronic device that can beam their location to a satellite, along with
one of two canned messages. One asks for help. The other reads, "Hi. Nobody's been
eaten by a bear yet."

The four are sleeping in one tent, and in each of their backpacks is a sleeping bag, a
change of clothing and rain gear, among other necessities. The latter "isn't the best,"
because money is tight, Sean said.

Investments in the trip among the four ranged from $500 to $800.

Seeking higher elevations

Last week, the four adventurers traveled in Montana at elevations as high as 9,400 feet,
according to locator beacons they've sent. Their plan is to hike, camp, hunt and fish as
high as 11,500 feet.

"Just the feeling of not having civilization or society around will be good," Blake said.
"Knowing it's just us out there, and that we're surviving on our own. That's what I'm
looking forward to."

Sam is the fisherman of the bunch, and it's his expertise the group is counting on for
food if game is scarce.

"I'm confident, absolutely," Sam said. "I can catch fish. I've been a huge fisherman my
whole life. It's been my passion."

The group has studied detailed information about mountain lakes where they're
traveling. As often as possible, they'll camp nar water.

"There are hundreds of lakes," Sam said. "I've got a book that lists every fishing lake in
the area, with information about fish species and how prevalent they are."

Sean's dad, Patrick Bloomfield, hopes no one goes hungry.

"I think it would have been a lot more fun if they had brought some food," he said. "Other
than that, I envy them, getting out of these flatlands and into the mountains. It's a
beautiful area they're in."

The trip's attraction, Patrick Bloomfield said, is the same one that drew his son to
Hudson Bay.

"They like to do things other people don't think about doing," he said. "They want to prove
to themselves and their friends they can do things out of the ordinary."

Kathy Witte said that when her son and Sean left for Hudson Bay three years ago, she
was surprised.

"As parents, we all thought they weren't going to do it," she said. "You know how kids are,
saying this and that. Then the day came that they were supposed to leave. They got out of
bed, went to the [Minnesota] river, jumped in their canoe, turned around and left.

"I said to myself, 'Really?'"

Said Blake's mother, Brenda Spanier: "Blake doesn't share a lot of information with us.
But as the trip got closer, we finally got him to tell us where they were going, I think it's a
fantastic adventure. But there are some worries."

"I'm not sleeping real well," Kathy Witte agreed. "I don't like the idea there is no
communication from them for a month. The last trip, to Hudson Bay, they could call us
when they got to a town."

Not long after the Montana trip is scheduled to end, Sam is getting married.

He hasn't been measured for a tuxedo yet.

"I'm waiting until I get back," he said. "I think I might lose some weight by then."

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com
Star Tribune July 17, 2011