15 Things I Learned From High-Altitude Remote Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Our snowy A-frame.
Photo by Bruce McElmurray

We have resided in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southern Colorado full time for just short of a quarter of a century. Over that time we have learned much. Following are some of the lessons we have learned. 

1. This life is not for everyone. We have seen people come and go because this type of living is not only different, but it can be highly demanding. Many have tried it for a time but due to the fact that we get heavy snow in the winters, they resolved to only live here part time and not be full time residents. We received 285 inches this last winter, which can be somewhat daunting.

2. The weather in the mountains is unpredictable and weather forecasters often are wrong in their predictions. Therefore, we have learned not to put off until tomorrow what we can do today due to weather variations.

3. For us seniors, routine work is harder but not impossible. We just have to regulate ourselves to work slower and smarter. Also, this is the stage of life to have tools that will make our jobs easier. A tractor is a good example of a labor-saving tool.

4. Being self-reliant is important as living remote and getting help is not always possible, and that is especially true in the winter months where deep or drifting snow is likely. Getting repair services to access our home is iffy at best during winter months, so we have to be prepared to go without or fix it ourselves.

5. Living with wildlife is not as frightening as we expected it would be. We have mountain lions, bears, lynx, bobcat, coyotes, deer, elk and occasionally wolves. There are also smaller animals from voles to rabbits. Wild animals actually make good neighbors. We have found that wild animals are far more respectful than many of their human counterparts. The small critters are the most troublesome.

6. Living remotely with our nearest neighbor almost a mile distant does have challenges. Life is never static, and seems to be always changing. In the beginning of our day, we don’t know if we will be working on what we planned or if something else will command our attention.

7. We live remotely but rarely are we alone. We get an occasional visitor, but we have our various wildlife and birds to keep us company most days. Nowadays with the internet and cell phones, we are able to stay in regular contact with family and friends so we do not get lonely.

8. Snow consumes a good amount of our year; hence it requires some specific comments. The 250 to 300 inches of snow each season can be a lot to deal with. Coupled with the wind we get in the winter, it takes much of our effort to keep it cleared so we can move around freely. When we planned to move here full time, it was just a number to us but we greatly underestimated just how much snow that really is. We have learned over the years but 22 to 24 feet of snow over 6 to 7 months demands a lot of work. Mechanical means help but much of the work involves snow shovels.

9. Firewood is another major task. We choose to live with the radiant heat from a woodstove and that requires anywhere from 8 to 10 cords of firewood a season. That perhaps is our second greatest task. We burn aspen because it burns cleaner than the conifers and is a good heat source. We have acreage and we are able to get most of our firewood right off our property.

10. We enjoy having so many birds all year long. We have a variety of different birds, which are a good source of entertainment. We have several kinds of woodpeckers, song birds, chickadees, robins, hummingbirds, stellar jays, grey jays and clark’s nutcrackers to mention a few. Observing their behavior right outside our window is educational and entertaining.

Winter sunrisePhoto by Bruce McElmurray

11. Living remote we learned to anticipate the unexpected and be prepared to act properly when something unexpected happens.Unexpected occurrences seem to happen far more often than we would expect.

12. We have a garden each year, but gardening at high elevation is challenging to say the least. When seedlings are young and tender we need to keep them protected with a sun screen. We also learned to garden in raised garden boxes that are fully enclosed in ½-inch hardware cloth to keep voles, mice, rabbits, squirrels, deer and chipmunks out of our garden. We learned that the hard way. The growing season is very short and occasional hail storms destroy our leaf vegetables. We don’t have much problem with insects but small rodents are a constant problem.

13. Our lifestyle has several health benefits. Our well water is crystal clear coming from deep in the ground and tastes like water should taste. The air at this altitude is fresh and clear. The strenuous outside work is good exercise and keeps us fit. We eat healthy and enjoy all the health benefits from this high altitude lifestyle.

14. There are also some inherent hazards to high-altitude living. There have been small dogs brought to our area who have been swooped up by raptors or killed by  predators. Small pets need to be carefully supervised. Visitors who are used to jogging at low elevations and try the same at this elevation often find the lower oxygen can be troublesome. Not to mention running down a dirt road or riding a bike where there are mountain lions. Running can trigger their prey drive and the runner can end up being hunted.

15. We learned cooking at high elevation can create inconsistencies in bread and cake outcome. Careful adjustment and experimentation must be done to find the right combination for successful cooking.

Bruce and Carol live in the mountains in S. Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site at:brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com/ You can read all of Bruce’s Mother Earth News posts here.

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