When you’re raised on the fringe of Glacier National Park, there’s no telling where life will take you, but chances are, you’ll follow the call of the wild. Sisters Hilary Hutcheson and Whitney Milhoan were whitewater and fishing guides by the time they were 15. If angling culture has exhausted every brother-and-fly-fishing trope from A River Runs Through It, it might look to the Lange Sisters (as the two were called around town) for new inspiration set in the same wilderness, on the same rivers, with equally skilled anglers.
“We were encouraged to follow our passions,” said Whitney, age 36. “The message from our parents was, ‘We are a people deeply rooted in outdoor experience. Here’s what can ground and inspire you, now find your own path.’ We linked up with our passion early and supported each other.”
“We found fly fishing together,” explained Hilary, age 38. “You hear some kids say they hate their brother or sister. We never felt that way. We were great playmates and adventure buddies.”
Both Hilary and Whitney are petite, but filled with energy and positivity that belies their stature. They move like people who do nothing but move for a living—exact, natural, and self-possessed. The two have long collaborated as siblings and guides. But on a September day at the foot of the Apgar Range in West Glacier, Montana, the two worked together for another cause: Casting for Recovery (CfR), Whitney, as executive director of the organization and Hilary as a volunteer instructor.
For 20 years, Casting for Recovery (castingforrecovery.org), has helped women with breast cancer through a program that combines education and peer support with the therapy found in fly fishing. The nonprofit hosts retreats, offering groups of 14 women at a time the opportunity to learn to fly fish. In the process, participants find inspiration, discover renewed energy for life, and experience healing connections with other women and nature. The organization has expanded to 40 states and now hosts around 50 events annually, as well as six international programs.
CfR’s retreats are open to breast cancer survivors of all ages, in all stages of treatment and recovery, and are entirely free to participants. To make them free, CfR counts on the financial support of donors. The retreat in West Glacier was sponsored by Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, Lakestream Fly Shop, Whitefish Community Foundation, Ila B. Dousman Fund, Inc., Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited, and the Dolan Family. Fourteen Montana residents were selected by lottery to gather here for a three-day event.
CfR opened a Montana chapter in 2010, at which time Whitney volunteered at the first retreat. The West Glacier event marked the fifth that the sisters have worked on together.
“I was a guide through college and most of my twenties. I got a degree in sociology and started working with nonprofits that used outdoor experiences to promote wellness,” explained Whitney. After working as program director for First Descents, an outdoor adventure program for young adults with cancer, Whitney became executive director of CfR in 2013.
In a past life, Hilary was a news anchor in Missoula, Montana, and then Portland, Oregon. She returned to her home territory of Glacier with her young family, started an outdoor PR firm, a television show (Trout TV), and began guiding again. She also opened a fly shop. Hilary continued, “Whit always says, ‘All roads lead back to Glacier.’ We’ve been a lot of different places and done different things, but have always felt rooted here.”
Now, the sisters continually find ways to join forces. With Whitney’s work in the nonprofit world and Hilary’s role as a media producer and marketer, it’s a natural fit.
“We work more together now, more than ever before,” explained Whitney. “So many brands are interested in female anglers and trying to encourage, support, and engage them. There’s been a lot of opportunity for us to collaborate.”
In addition to being full-time working professionals, the two are mothers, with children ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
“Being moms makes us better, more efficient in our professional lives. Once you’re a mom, you only have so much time and energy. I have a thicker skin with tough organizational decisions,” said Whitney. “Our kids see us stand behind projects and causes that matter to us. That’s important and it’s a luxury in our line of work. We are total train wrecks most of the time. But we’re doing good work, pursuing passions, and applying energy and talents in things that matter.”
“We consider ourselves moms first,” Hilary added. That’s the most important thing—these humans that we’re responsible for. And then, you do your very best. Once you feel you’re doing your best, then shoot, anything you can do in work and play is gravy. We also have incredible support from our husbands, friends, and family. And we have great support staff.”
Another thing that’s saved them is their approach to parenting. “We’ve never been the moms who say, ‘We can’t fish because the kids take a nap at 10:15 a.m….