Q&A on Remote, High-Elevation Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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What Made You Want to Homestead Remotely at a High Elevation?

Many factors entered into our choice to live remotely but mostly, we wanted to spend our retirement in the mountains. From first visiting our property at 9,800 feet, we fell in love with the seclusion and wildlife. In 20 years of full-time living here with the animals, we have only had a couple iffy encounters but by remaining calm and not getting excited, both ended well. One was with a mountain lion and the other a bear. Both wanted to put distance between them and us but, obviously felt trapped, so we simply gave them room and they left.

What Animals Do You Encounter?

We have deer, elk, bear, mountain lions, bobcat, lynx, coyote, rarely an occasional wolf, rabbits, ground squirrels (both ground and tree variety), chipmunks, ermine, weasels, mice, voles, moles and a host of birds both raptors and songbirds.

Why Did You Choose a Small Cabin?

We had lived in larger homes in the cities where we had previously lived but when we retired we didn’t want the upkeep of a larger house. To have a larger house we would be spending more time cleaning and maintaining the home. We heat with a woodstove, so there is already a lot of needed work and maintenance to perform and a larger house would just add to that.

Why Choose to Heat With a Woodstove?

A quality cast iron wood stove that is capable of heating our house is an advantage. We have plenty of aspen trees that are not high creosote producers and the radiant heat is loved by both of us plus our dogs. We use Sunheat portable heaters to reach areas that the wood stove doesn’t. Burning wood leaves a negligible carbon footprint and is efficient and practical. Our air at this elevation is very pure without city or industrial smells.

Is Your Air Quality Good?

Yes, there are no major cities around to pollute our air especially at this altitude. We are in a heavily wooded area and our air is so clear it defies further explanation. The purity of our air can actually be smelled. I have had asthma since I was young and grew up in a city with all its factories and pollution. I have not had a problem with my breathing since living here.

Do You Have Access to Pure Water?

Our water comes from our well which is 215 feet deep and has been filtered through the mountain and rock and is crystal clear. It is unfiltered and is very tasty and superior in my opinion to any bottled water available.

What Would You Do Differently?

A few things. I would not have built an A-frame home, because as we have gotten older, getting up to the sleeping loft has become more difficult. All the hard work managing 11 acres keeps us very healthy, along with dealing with the 264 inches of snow we receive on average each year. It also takes a toll on our body and, therefore, getting to the sleeping loft is more difficult on aging joints. We wish we would have put a bedroom on the ground floor.

Another thing is that we cut, haul, split and stack nine to 12 cords of firewood a season. For the first 15 years, I split the firewood by hand with a maul. If we were to do it over, I would not have waited so long to purchase a motorized log splitter. Other than that, I don’t believe we would do anything differently.

What are the Advantages of Living Remotely?

Let me first state that this lifestyle is not for everyone and probably only for a few determined and dedicated people. It is without a doubt healthy living with all the work involved which is considerable. Living with wild animals around us is something that words cannot describe.

Our 20 years of experience have demonstrated to us that they are much better neighbors than many humans are. The powerful smells of spring and autumn at high elevation, the autumn colors, interacting with wildlife both large and small, pure water, fresh air and the satisfaction of completing laborious tasks with your own hands — these are all advantages.

Any Unexpected Advantages Not Mentioned?

We get the news even with our remoteness and as we observe world conditions, natural disasters, protesters and thugs beating up people, political machinations that fail to benefit us citizens and threats of war, we realize we are far removed from these problems because our time is consumed with survival and we have little time to ponder outside events. They do have some impact on our lives but not nearly the same impact of being constantly bombarded by it on a daily basis.

We are concerned by these events but other than those, there is little to contribute a lowered quality of life. Living remotely requires a litany of never-ending tasks that consume the majority of our time and focus for our survival.

What Do You Do for Healthcare?

For 20 years, we have had available medical/dental insurance from the company I retired from. Due to Congress floundering around on healthcare coverage, we have now lost those benefits and had to go on our own to purchase necessary coverage. I expect others have also been impacted due to the uncertainty of healthcare and the inability of Congress to deal with the issue.

Our separation package was fair but when you have relied on health care coverage for 20 years, it is unnerving to suddenly have it removed.

Remote Homesteading Surprises?

Almost every day we have surprises. Weather in the mountains is very unpredictable and what we actually get as opposed to what is predicted is usually a surprise. Recently I was using our tractor and noticed the bolts had vibrated out of the hood latch. Smaller tractors are not designed to have people like myself work on them. Everything is so tightly designed that replacing two common nuts/bolts requires contortion, thin dexterous fingers and someone else to guide you when you can’t see the work area. There always seems to be something that is neither expected nor intended that generates a surprise.  

Would You Recommend Others Choose a Lifestyle Like Yours?

I would recommend our lifestyle to others for all of the reasons mentioned plus it is just a rewarding way to live. We are mostly removed from the stresses of more cosmopolitan life and find it very rewarding. I can’t remember when I last sat in a traffic jam or heard sirens, heard car doors slam at night or smelled exhaust fumes. As stated it is not for everyone but for us we love it including its daily challenges and demands.

Bruce and Carol McElmurray started a blog site many years ago for friends and family in order to keep them current on their lives and with their dogs. The blog site has exceeded their expectations as people world wide follow it and seem very interested in their lifestyle. While not all are suited to live their lifestyle the vicarious benefits are extended to many without the strenuous activity. Their blog site can be found at:www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.

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