Friday, February 9, 2007

Forty in 48

Forty in 48
an Idaho Centennial Trail section hike
from Trestle Creek to McArthur Lake
August 3rd through 5th, 2006

This hike was a continuation of the July 4th weekend hike from Priest Lake to McArthur Lake.
Jerry and I had originally planned a hike from Landmark to Boundary Creek for this weekend of August 4th and 5th. One week before our departure date, he suggested returning instead to northern Idaho. Nick Abshire, our friend who had to back out of the Priest Lake hike due to a family emergency, was now available to hike with us. I gladly accepted this suggestion, for the chance to return to northern Idaho.

Thursday, August 3rd
We departed on Thursday morning at 5:20 a.m. from Jerry’s house. Nick drove his Chevy S-10 with a camper shell and I drove the Saturn. Jerry alternated riding with Nick and with me, changing vehicles during fuel stops. We stopped for lunch in the town of Worley at a small cafĂ© where Jerry and I ate on our last trip. Our trip to Sandpoint took about 9 hours. We made a stop at the Ranger Station in Sandpoint to make trail inquiries. Lorna at the counter was very helpful and gave us a large document with many trail outlines. We inquired about the infamous FT453 over White Mountain from our last hike. She made another trip to the file cabinet and returned with another document of “discontinued” trails which were no longer maintained and were designated to be “returned to a natural state.” Jerry smiled and informed her that the trail was doing quite nicely in returning to a natural state. I added that it was “impassable by humans.” This helped explain a lot why we had so much difficulty in making our way across the ridge from Dodge Peak over to White Mountain and then in descending from White Mountain. Yet FT453 is still listed as official ICT. We also learned that FT67 which we planned to travel on in the coming days was well maintained and signed. Armed with this information, we drove north from Sandpoint to walk the first segment of our hike. On highway 2 heading north, a mile or two north of Sandpoint, there was farm on the east side of the highway. A large sign advertised, "Llamas for Sale," and I could see about 15-20 llamas grazing. I was wishing we could purchase a couple of them to haul our gear on the coming hike. Maybe someday…...

We parked Nick’s pickup at McArthur Lake at the spot where Jerry and I completed our last hike. We then rode in the Saturn and crossed over highway 2 to CR-3 and followed it about 4 miles north. CR-3 is official ICT. The trail that comes down from the mountains to connect with it, FT181, was reputed to be "difficult" to locate. Continuing past that turn, we re-connected with 2 and turned off on Twentymile Creek Road, road 9 (also FR408), and went up the road a ways to a safe parking spot. We were 7.5 miles approximately from the truck back at McArthur Lake. Jerry had plotted an alternate route so that we could avoid the trail section over Kelly Pass which Steven Stuebner’s book describes as difficult, if not impossible, to follow. Jerry had stated he wanted “nothing to do” with any more bush-whacking experiences, and I agreed whole heartedly. I was willing to go a few miles out of my way, in fact, to not have to repeat our White Mountain experience, especially in Grizzly territory. Our planned trail over FT67 would bring us down eventually to Twentymile Creek Road, which we would follow for several miles back to the car.

We set off road walking, without our packs. We each carried a drink bottle, and I had a walking stick. The 7 miles went by in about two hours as we maintained a brisk pace. It was a little uncomfortable walking south on Highway 2 with heavy traffic blowing by us, but the miles went by quickly and we returned to CR-3 which was a gravel road proceeding in a wide arc for several miles. It re-connected with Highway 2 and we were soon back at Nick’s truck. Our first segment of ICT was completed. After returning to the Saturn for a sack of trail clothes which I had forgotten, we proceeded back to Sandpoint, stopped for cold drinks and ice cream (chocolate shake for me!). Then we headed east toward Clark Fork. I was riding in the small jump seat in the back of Nick’s S-10, which was a bit awkward, but a small inconvenience, considering how long it would take me to walk the same distance! I craned my neck around to get glimpses of beautiful Lake Pend O’ Reille (pronounced Pond-o-Ray) along Highway 200. We turned off on Trestle Creek Road, a gravel road which we followed up the mountain for about 13 miles. We were surprised by the amount of traffic on this road, which was used by SUV drivers, ATV riders, and huckleberry pickers. We found a campsite near our starting point at road 1091, about another mile down road 275. There was a large group of car campers with several vehicles, tents, and trailer set up in an adjacent campsite. They didn't seem to be very pleased that we had showed up. A young man approached us from their group, and warned us that they had about “15 dogs” in their campsite. My impression was that they were trying to intimidate us to keep us from camping there. There was really no choice for us. We said that we would be careful of the dogs, and we proceeded to set up our camp. Jerry and I pitched tents, while Nick decided to sleep in his pickup bed to avoid having to pitch his tent. Some dogs came over to check us out. I only saw three; two of them were Pit Bulls, and the third was a Rottweiler. Great……

We started heating our dinners, using the tailgate of Nick’s truck as a table. I boiled water and heated a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup in the pot. Nick had refried beans and tortillas. Jerry heated a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Dinner was satisfying for us all. When we were finished, the young man returned to our camp with one of the Pit Bulls. Two other scroungy young men came over; one of them had on a shirt with a Marijuana leaf and seemed to be the spokesman of the group. He said they were from California and were up in Idaho picking Huckleberries trying to make some money. He said they could get as much as $35 a gallon, but the berries were not yielding very well for them. That is my nice way of repeating his expletive filled, negative commentary on berry picking and life in general. He asked us if we had any “weed” we could share; we said……Ummmm…..No. After a time of talking with them for a few minutes, they departed and returned to their camp, saying they had to turn in so they could get up early and pick berries. They then turned up their music and made quite a bit of noise for a while. After they had left, I commented to Jerry and Nick: “I would look to your belongings, gentlemen.” I had an uneasy feeling camping next to this group of people. Fortunately we passed the night without having our throats cut or anything stolen.

Friday, August 4th
After rising early, having morning coffee and breakfast, and taking down our tents, we packed up and prepared to hike in earnest. Nick drove his pickup back to the junction with Road 1091 which would take us to Lunch Peak. Jerry and I walked the ICT from our campsite back up the road to where Nick had parked. Then we donned our packs and began the day. The first four miles ascended the road to the lookout tower at Lunch Peak. It was a large two story building which can be seen for miles. I took up my slow and steady pace as Jerry and Nick proceeded up the road at a fairly brisk pace, gradually pulling further ahead. After I had gone about 3 miles, I was walking along and heard a voice behind me saying, “Hello!” I turned around and saw that a hiker was coming up behind me at a brisk pace. He was a tall red-headed guy with a red beard in a sleeveless shirt and shorts, carrying a forest-green backpack and wearing a European-looking felt hiking hat with a yellow sweat stained brow. His name was Chris. He said that he had seen us passing his camp while he was cooking breakfast. The guy was moving to catch us this far up the trail. I told him that two of my friends were ahead of me, and we were following the Idaho Centennial Trail. Chris responded, “So am I.” I asked him where he had started from, and he replied, “I started at the Lochsa. Last year I walked from the Nevada border to the Lochsa, and now I am almost finished.” Wow! I had an instant admiration for Chris’ long distance capabilities. He pushed on ahead and I said I would see him at the top of the mountain. I felt comparatively slow and clumsy as I plodded along uphill, while Chris’ long strides took him quickly up the road. At his pace, I thought he might even beat Jerry and Nick to the top of Lunch Peak.

Before I got to the top of Lunch Peak, I met a family of bike riders coming down, a dad with his son and daughter, each dressed in helmets and cross-country riding garb and with bikes to match their respective sizes. The mom was trailing them in a pickup pulling an empty trailer. All waved at me and smiled as they went by. Fun for the whole family on the ICT! I was somewhat amused when I neared the top of the peak. I could see a Forest Service bathroom at a parking area. Bathrooms on the ICT, what WILL they think of next? Around the switchback was a locked gate as the road climbed to the actual lookout tower.

The lookout at Lunch Peak makes up for its simple appointments with a commanding view of the Kaniksu National Forest and surrounding mountains. As they say in the real estate business, it's "Location, Location, Location." This lookout station and others like it were used in the days when vigilance over the forests required human eyes on location. Satellite imaging and aerial surveillance have largely replaced the need for human observers. The Lunch Peak lookout now serves as a tourist attraction, and is available for overnight rental. As I approached the summit and the ground floor of the lookout, I noticed there was a sign on the stairway side of the building which said, "Access to renters only." I don't remember seeing a door on the ground floor; if there was one it was painted over. The second floor was the observation deck with a railed walkway on two sides, and glass windows on all four sides. The interior was bare save for a picnic table. Renters have to bring all their own bedding, cookware and essentials. The view from the top was, as expected, over-powering. To the southwest was Lake Pend O'Reille. To the east were the mountains which formed the border between Idaho and Montana. Below and to the southeast I could trace the path of Lightning Creek as it followed the valley contours on its way south to Clark Fork. To the west, the Selkirk mountain range which Jerry and I had crossed a few weeks earlier. And to the north we could see mountains which we supposed were in Canada. After a brief rest and early lunch at the top, we exchanged e-mail addresses with Chris and wished him well on the completion of his ICT quest. He only had one more week of hiking to go. How I envied his progress!

Jerry, Nick and I were ready to continue on our way north. Passing by the facilities once more, we met a group of day hikers who had parked their cars and were preparing to walk. A man and four ladies in their bright colors and new hiking gear made the three of us look like grizzled old mountain men with all our drab clothing, floppy hats, and sweat stained backpacks. Everybody had to make a pit stop before departing. I still had to shake my head at the notion of bathrooms along the ICT. What a concept!

Our trail north was FT67. We had been promised at the ranger station that this trail was well maintained. Jerry and I certainly hoped so after our experiences along FT453 between Dodge Peak and White Mountain. The trail cruised along a ridge top for a couple of miles and we held a good pace. As usual, I fell behind Jerry and Nick, and then leap-frogged the day hikers a couple of times before they passed me for good. That's all right, I don't get points for first place but rather for stumbling across the finish line. We descended from one ridge to connect to the southern flanks of Mount Pend O'Reille. Jerry had considered a side hike to a small lake, Lake Darling, a couple of miles to the east, but we decided against it based on the distance off the ICT and the amount of elevation we would have to give up and then gain back again. Also, an early stop today would mean an extra long two days to come. We voted to continue on and make a long day of it. The water situation would just have to be dealt with as we went. I had begun the day with three full water bottles. Even with conserving I had already finished one bottle. It looked to be a long dry stretch ahead of us, but Chris had shared with us that he had heard a rumor of a water source on the trail "this side of" Calder Peak.

We kept watching the top of Pend O'Reille grow closer. I was dreading the climb up and over the top of it, but the ICT did not pass over the summit. It contoured around the western face and maintained a fair grade. As we came around to the northern side of the mountain, we could see distant figures high above us on the summit. It was the group of day hikers who had started with us. We were bucking a stiff wind at our altitude, and imagined that it must have been ferocious up on the summit. We waved at the little ant like creatures up there on top of the mountain and continued on.

After coasting along for a couple of miles over some unnamed ridges, the next mountain in the chain was Mount Willard. Its rocky summit and western cliffs drew closer. The trail appeared as if it would go close to the top of Mount Willard, but instead contoured around to the west staying well below the summit. A small side trail split off from the main trail and headed toward the summit. We by-passed that option and continued on the ICT. The trail then took an unexpected turn back to the southwest and then began to switchback down below the cliffs. I was uncertain if I had missed a turn, and tried to call out to Jerry and Nick. I couldn't hear a reply. I don't know if they heard me or even could have heard me with the roar of the wind. I continued on down the trail another half mile to a mile and finally saw the guys up ahead of me. It looked like they had stopped where there was water over the trail. I was glad to see the water, because I was now down to just a little over 3/4 of a bottle. It's always a relief to find water in the middle of a long dry stretch. Now we would not have to face a waterless camp tonight. The "stream" was more of a tiny trickle coming down the cliffs from Mount Willard above us. There were no lakes or ponds showing on the maps, so we figured this had to be a spring coming out of the mountain itself. It would probably have been all right to drink without filtering, but we filtered it all the same. There were no deep spots to place the filter inlet tube, so Nick used two of his bottles to capture water from the trickle. He would fill them and dump both in a collapsible bladder, and from this reservoir Jerry then pumped water into our bottles. They had already been at it for 10 minutes when I caught up to them, so Jerry almost had his bottles filled. I sat down and placed my empties in a line to receive ice cold water. In using two of his bottles to fill the reservoir, Nick now had to consider his bottles contaminated, which meant that he would be using purification tablets for the rest of the hike. Whether his bottles were actually contaminated from the stream is up for debate, but the safe practice in the wilderness is to assume that they are and purify. Better safe than sorry when it comes to Giardia.

Chris was miles ahead of us by now, so we assumed that he had already replenished his water. There were two mountains in the chain ahead of us to north. The first was Purdy Mountain. The second one does not have a name on my ICT map, but shows one peak of 6000 feet and then a larger one of 6500 feet.. As the afternoon became late we could see Calder Peak in the distance to the northwest. We descended onto a ridge that took us down to almost 5,100 feet in elevation. By this time we had already put in 14-15 miles, and the last two to three miles were tough going, at least for me anyway. The trail never goes where I think it will. I had seen a glimpse of the trail ahead climbing to the west below the summit of Calder Peak, and thought that I would be there within a half mile. The trail was instead routed around the northeast face of the mountain, and then switchbacked up the eastern face and around to the south, before it began to head to the west. Once I reached the top of the switchbacks, the afternoon sun was well on its way down to meet the Selkirks off to the west. I finally caught up to Jerry and Nick who were taking a rest break. I was winded and they were ready to move on. I dallied along the way for the last mile as I passed among many huckleberry bushes growing on the southern side of Calder Peak. I treated myself to several of the delicious berries. It became my dessert before the dinner that I was about to prepare. I finally reached the saddle where there was a Y in the trail. Jerry and Nick had stopped here and dropped their packs. It looked like they were preparing to camp. We had traveled 17 miles for the day.

Three trails converged at this intersection. I was ready to stop and camp, but thought that this large clearing looked like a natural animal highway for big creatures moving around at night. If bad weather were in the forecast, we would have also been exposed on top of this saddle, but we knew the general outlook was for good weather. If an overhead view of this trail intersection could be seen as a pie chart with 3 'slices' then each of us occupied one of the 'slices' adjacent to the intersection. Jerry pitched his tent on some deep grass on the north side; Nick set his tarptent up between some pines on the south side; I selected a site on the remaining third with some deep grass for my tarptent. None of our sites were ideal spots for pitching a tent but we were tired enough that we would make do. Once it was set up, the floor of my tent was suspended about 6 to 12 inches above the ground since the grass was so tall, but this turned into an advantage when it came time to lay down, as it provided extra padding, if a bit uneven and lumpy.

This being grizzly habitat, I had hoped we would eat in a location some distance from where we were going to camp. As often happens on a hike, we were too tired to move away from camp to cook. All we were doing was boiling water to add to our dehydrated meals, which don't generate strong cooking odors. Jerry and I walked down the trail 100 feet away to eat our food. Nick prepared his food and ate while sitting in his Thermarest chair right in front of his tent. We have never had bear visitors in the night on any of our hikes, even when we have been less than rigid in our cooking discipline. We did hang all our food from a tree to at least keep it away from where we were sleeping. It didn't take long before there were no sounds coming from our campsite except the wind blowing through the trees.

Saturday, August 5th

Our night went well, and the next morning we awoke to cooler temperatures. There was a bit of frost on our tents. We prepared breakfast and hot drinks. Our extended day yesterday made it possible for us to finish our hike today, although we were still looking at a 16 or 17 mile day to get to the car. Since we were heading in a predominantly downhill direction, this looked doable, we would just have to see how the water situation and our feet held out.

Leaving the trail intersection, we continued north on FT67 which began to drop almost immediately. We wound down switchbacks through the forest until we came to a bridge a mile later. This was the turn to the new bridge and new trail to Eagle Pass, the one that Chris said that he had heard about. He had planned to take this trail to connect with highway 2. The bridge looked to be almost brand new, with spare timbers lying about on the banks. The low amount of water in the creek did not look to be moving at all, so we decided to push on and look for another water source. From here the trail continued on into the forest. Not too far down the trail, I thought I could hear a far off howling. We stopped to listen and heard it again, the sound of a wolf howling, and then other wolves answering. A little while later we could hear the sound of a large animal crashing through the ravine below us. We couldn't see what it was due to the dense trees and brush, but it sounded to be about the size of an elk or deer. Soon after that we could hear the wolves howling again. Not too close, but close enough. Definitely gives you that '40 miles from Canada' feeling.

Soon we came to a stream crossing and decided to filter water. Jerry and I filtered water and Nick filled his bottles and added the purification tablets. The day was beginning to warm up and Nick and Jerry removed some layers that were no longer needed for the morning chill. Jerry had said we were linking up with a forest road, and I assumed that it was beginning at this stream crossing. However, we soon found ourselves moving through forest on a single track trail again. The trail itself was single track, but the forest clearing that the trail was built on appeared to be wide enough for a 4WD road. Perhaps it had been a road in the past and had been allowed to revert back to an overgrown state. We walked briskly along this trail in a generally northwest direction, crossing numerous small streams periodically. After about 2 to 3 miles the trail finally exited into a large gravel parking lot at the end of a wide, well-graded gravel road. This was FR408, which would take us all the way back to the car.

We stopped here to rest and eat an early lunch. We still had about 12 to 13 miles to hike by Jerry's estimate. We were figuring on about 4 more hours of walking. I was glad to be on a gravel road. The miles go by much quicker. After lunch we continued on. From this point the hike was basically a road march back to the car. Jerry's selected route took us in a wide arc from east to northwest to almost due west. It avoided the section of trail, FT181, that was mentioned as questionable in Stuebner's ICT book. As it turned out, we could have taken the newly cut trail to Eagle Pass, but we had parked our shuttle vehicle on FR 408, and the official ICT route would have brought us out miles south of the car. We can always go back some day and re-hike just the "official" route that we skipped, if we feel it is absolutely necessary to maintain a purist ICT hike. I am currently of the persuasion that we are on our own when it comes to the ICT in the northern part of the state, and will give myself permission to deviate from the official route if the benefits are remaining safe and "found." My primary goal is to hike an unbroken line of trail across Idaho from south to north.

To reach the road we had descended about 1,500 feet from where we had camped up on Calder Peak, which meant that the temperature was quite a bit warmer than the previous day up on the mountain ridges. I thought the day's climbing was over, but the road began ascending up to Twentymile pass. Jerry led us on a cutoff road that went up the mountain, avoiding a couple of miles of FR408 that snaked around up to the north and then back to the west. The cutoff road had a small barrier that said the road was closed due to a washed out bridge. That sounded formidable to a motorized vehicle, but we were foot-powered vehicles and feared no wash-outs. Of course the road had to go UP the entire way, but it was a good shortcut. The road was a narrow shelf that wound through a dense forest. The "wash-out" turned out to be about half of a curve that had collapsed into the ravine. It would have been trouble for a vehicle, but we simply walked around it on the remaining part of the curve. After a couple of miles we reached the top of the cutoff road where it rejoined FR408 near the top of Twentymile Pass. The upper end was also marked with a sign that said Road Closed. Jerry and I were making a habit of not reading the signs.

Once we topped the pass, we knew that it was downhill almost all the way to the car. We could now see the Selkirks off to the west, and occasionally glimpsed highway 2 in the valley below us. Periodically we passed creeks that came down the hillside and under the road via culvert. At one of these creeks, we stopped to filter some more water. We were now seeing the occasional car or truck on the road. A couple of miles further down the road and we began to see the occasional house, or a side road marked Private Property. The road finally came alongside Twentymile Creek, and followed it the rest of the way down to the car. Jerry and Nick were perhaps 3/4 of a mile ahead of me by this point. I was still hiking strong, but just couldn't hold their pace. I passed an unusual pumping contraption set up in the creek, which was apparently pulling irrigation water for some homeowner along the creek. Finally, I rounded a last corner and could see a long straight stretch of road which led to where the Saturn was parked. Jerry and Nick were sitting on their packs when I get there. The time was about 2:30 pm. We were done.

After we were finished, we had to drive shuttle to go retrieve Nick's truck back at the road junction of Trestle Creek and FR1091. Jerry pointed out that we had hiked a distance of 40 miles in a period of 48 hours. Going back in my mind, I realized that he was right. We had begun on Thursday afternoon about 3 pm, when we road-walked seven miles back to McArthur Lake. Then we had hiked 17 miles Friday, and 16 miles on Saturday, finishing a little before 3 pm. 40 miles in 48 hours.

The discussion turned to food, and pizza seemed to be the order of the day. First we returned to Trestle Creek road and drove the long, winding ascent back up to where Nick's truck was parked. We again passed many vehicles and saw many berry pickers along the way. Now I knew where they could really find some huckleberries, but unfortunately they would have had to hike about 16 miles to the southern slopes of Calder Peak to get to them. Nick's truck was still in one piece and started when he turned the key.

We returned to Sandpoint and got the large Meat Lover's pizza at Pizza Hut. Jerry wanted to head for home but it was already 5 pm. Nick and I wanted to camp and then drive home on Sunday. We were a full day ahead of schedule as far as hiking. We had thought we would be finishing the hike on Sunday afternoon. The tough part was finding a place to camp in civilization, especially on a summer weekend. After several full campground signs, we finally happened upon an RV park south of Sandpoint. This had just what we needed and the campsites were only $7 each. The blast and roar of locomotives kept going all night. I felt as if I were back in Haviland, Kansas again. In spite of the trains, I slept reasonably well. Nick left early the next morning before Jerry and I awoke. He needed to visit a friend in Riggins on the way home. Jerry and I got going around 7:30 am and had a pleasant drive all the way back to Boise.

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