Friday, February 9, 2007

It's Hard to Soar with Eagles

It’s Hard to Soar with the Eagles, when you’re surrounded by Buzzards

an Idaho Centennial Trail section hike

from Bruneau Canyon Overlook to Hammett, section one

and from Bennett Mountain Road to Hammett, section two

April 20th - 22nd, 2006

Thursday, April 20th

We met at the Albertsons Express at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Jerry and Nick were riding in Jerry’s Suburban, while I would be following in the Saturn.

We drove on I-84 to the town of Hammett. We left the Saturn here as a shuttle vehicle, parked beside the Hammett Valley Trading Post, after some negotiations with the store proprietor. The planned 4 days of hiking called for two major segments: northward along the ICT from the Bruneau Canyon Overlook to Hammett, then southward from Bennett Mountain Road to Hammett. Although I had done most of these trail sections, I still lacked the 15 mile segment of Brown’s Creek road which crossed the Saylor Creek Bombing Range. Jerry needed the entire 47 mile segment, although he had previously hiked the old route of Bennett Mountain Road all the way down into Glenn’s Ferry. Nick had also previously completed the old ICT route, but wanted to get a refresher hike and complete the new ICT route.

We arrived at the Bruneau Overlook at about 11 a.m., and after a look at the scenic canyon, we shouldered our packs and started walking up the road. The first 5 miles was a repeat for me. We paused for photos at the junction where the ICT turned north from the Overlook Road, and then started in earnest. When I had completed this section back in November, I had wished that I had my gaiters, due to the overgrowth on the trail and the stickers I had encountered. I recommended gaiters to Jerry and Nick, and so we all had equipped ourselves. As we hiked along, a pair of F-15 Strike Eagles arrived over the bombing range and made several ground attack runs over the target area. We were glad for the air show as we hiked along. We spooked a couple of different groups of white tail deer, and I spooked a large jackrabbit who started from the sagebrush, only a foot from my left side. He appeared to be the size of a small dog or cat, with large ears. We were to see many dozens of jackrabbits during the next few days.

We reached Hot Springs Road and the turn to Brown’s Creek Road at about 1 p.m., and stopped for a lunch break. After a short lull in the aerial show, more F-15’s arrived and began their simulated attacks on the bombing range. The next segment for our hike would cross the northwest boundary of the bombing range. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Air Force would send a squad of M.P.’s to intercept us as we crossed their territory. The ICT is officially marked across this section, but Jerry had spoken with the Mountain Home airbase commander a few years back, who had told him that he didn’t recommend for anyone to be hiking across the bombing range. The aerial spectacle continued off to our east as we started down the road. The F-15’s alternated between ground assault and air-to-air combat. It was all very entertaining. After yet another lull in the action, we saw a pair of A-10 Warthogs arrive and begin their bombing runs. While the F-15’s had made simulated bombing runs, we began to hear actual concussions in the distance, as though the A-10’s were dropping live ordnance on the target. We were 4 to 5 miles distant from the target area, so we never felt in danger, but the intermittent “WHOMPPP” of the bombs striking their targets was undeniable.

The road in this section appeared to be well-maintained, if not well-traveled. We did notice that some of the ICT white markers were laying on the ground, their posts broken off near the ground. They appeared to have been deliberately run over, although the perpetrator of such an act was a subject of speculation on our part. There is no shortage of thoughtless people who will ruin a good thing when they see it. The lack of signs did not hinder our progress. We came across an area, as a large sign had warned us, of a fenced off area and red boundary signs, which were “red flag” areas of the bombing range, not to be entered on peril of life and limb. I said “I’m not going to cross over and find out” to which Jerry jokingly replied, “Well…..I am!!!!” and he jogged over across one of the red triangle markers and danced around, waving his arms and shouting, “Here I am!!!!” It was quite comical.

At one point, we were being followed by about 7 or 8 buzzards. They were not circling directly over us, but were flying around about 200 yard away from us. This led to many jokes about the buzzards waiting for us to drop along the trail, or waiting for an F-15 pilot to crash in the desert.

We would periodically rest at the side of the road, while the distant thunder of the jets practicing provided our soundtrack music for the afternoon. One of the buzzards swooped above us. Jerry said, “No, we’re not ready for you yet” and Nick added, “Come back tomorrow!”

The road continued sloping gradually downhill toward the Snake River plain off in the distance to the north. We had hoped to make at least half the distance from the Overlook into Hammett. Even with our late start, we had covered about 16 miles by 5 p.m. By the map we reckoned that we were not far from where Brown’s Creek Road would come out on a two-lane gravel section which headed straight north. I had told Jerry that we would have a harder time finding a campsite once we were walking along farmer’s fields and past the front yards of farm houses. Nick and Jerry, walking ahead of me, found a wide grassy area alongside the road, where there was plenty of room for setting up camp. The grassy area was criss-crossed by numerous narrow trails, which later we found out were made by a large family of jackrabbits. This led to jokes about Peter Cotton-tail, and the “bunny trail.”

This location was our camp for night 1.

Friday, April 21st

After a windy night in the low 40’s we awoke to another blue sky day of sunshine.

I was a little stiff from the knees down, as were the other two guys, but overall we felt fairly good and well-rested.

Today’s objective was to reach the town of Hammett, and then to shuttle vehicles. Our planned camping for tonight was at a location that Jerry knew of along Bennett Mountain Road. We were car-camping tonight, so I knew that I had several “luxury” items in the trunk of my car, including firewood, a Coleman campstove, and a bigger tent. I was looking forward to camping in comparative luxury to the Spartan fashion which is a necessity dictated by an ultra-light back-packing style.

Our nine mile walk into Hammett was fairly routine. We started about 8:30 a.m. and arrived in Hammett right at noon. The wind was blowing from the east at a blustery 20 to 25 miles per hour. As long as we were walking north, the going wasn’t too bad, but when we turned to the east it was like walking twice the distance we actually traveled.

When we reached the end of Brown’s Creek Road, we stopped for a rest. I celebrated my completion of the 15 mile section which closed a large gap for my ICT quest. I could now boast of an unbroken line of ICT from the Nevada border all the way to the Middle Fork of the Boise River at Willow Creek campground, just east of Featherville.

Here the ICT turns east and follows Idaho highway 78, a two-lane paved road, for 5 miles into the town of Hammett. I had previously walked this section as a day-hike, back in November of 2005. Jerry and I were out of water, so we planned to filter water from the Snake River, which we would cross in the next 1.5 miles.

Once we reached the bridge, we went down the embankment to the edge of the mighty Snake River, which was nearing flood stage due to the run-off from this year’s heavy snowfall in the mountains. Jerry’s filter plugged after the first bottle was filled, due to the silt and sediment in the water. It was quite a bit more cloudy than the average stream in the mountains, which we are accustomed to filtering our water from. Fortunately, after cleaning the pre-filter on the end of the inlet tube, Jerry was able to continue filtering. My bottle was now filled, although the water was a bit on the cloudy side, not unlike tap water that comes out of the tap highly aerated. We know the filtration process is safe, so we were not scared to drink it. I did use some of Jerry’s Crystal Light Raspberry and Lemonade drink mix to help cut the “river taste.”

We ascended the bank to continue our walk. An Idaho Department of Transportation (IDOT) truck had stopped on the bridge above us, and a work crew was placing signs at the far end of the bridge. As we began our bridge crossing, one of the workers greeted us. He was very friendly, and said, “You guys must be hiking the Idaho Centennial Trail? I just saw a special on that a few weeks ago.” It was nice to have someone recognize our activity as something legitimate, and not just view us as a bunch of homeless vagabonds wandering the highway.

The remainder of the road walk into Hammett went smoothly. It was terribly hard walking into the face of the blustery wind. I managed to stay up with Jerry and Nick until about a mile west of town, when I finally dropped back to a slower pace. I caught up to them as they entered the city limits. We walked the final few blocks as a group, and I quickened my pace so that I could be the first one to reach the Trading Post. ‘

After retrieving the Saturn, and buying sodas from the convenience store, we were on our way back to the Overlook to retrieve Jerry’s Suburban. It felt strange to be driving along at 55 mph over the same road which we had just recently traversed on foot. When we reached the Overlook, Jerry was dismayed to find a flat tire on the left rear of the Suburban. I said that this is becoming a tradition for us, to hike and then change flat tires, recalling our adventure in 2005 near Murphy Hot Springs on the ICT. After the Indy Pit Crew finished changing the flat tire, we were off to the giant metropolis of Bruneau. Fortunately it was Friday afternoon, and the Jumbo’s Sinclair service station was open and had a mechanic who could fix the flat tire. We dropped off the tire for repair, and went across the road for a meal at the Bruneau Café. Nick ordered a breakfast omelette, Jerry had a ham-n-cheese grilled, and I had my customary large greasy hamburger with all the trimmings. Mmmmm. Perfect for after hiking long distance. Then we returned to get the tire. When we entered the Sinclair station again, I was surprised to find a pair of farmers sitting at the front counter, speaking to the guy at the cash register. One of the farmers was holding a Winchester rifle. My first thought was “am I interrupting something?” He didn’t appear to be robbing the store, but the sight did give me pause.

The remainder of the day was down-time from hiking. We drove to the town of Glenn’s Ferry, then headed north and west to reach Bennett Mountain Road, which is a good two lane paved highway for the first 15 miles. The road climbs gradually all the way to the base of the Bennett Mountain ridge. Then the road climbs more steeply, until the pavement ends and the gravel begins. We passed the ICT marker signs where we would begin our hike tomorrow. Jerry led us to a bridge where Canyon Creek crosses under Bennett Mountain Road. We pulled off in a large parking area to the right, along the south bank of the creek, which was flowing strongly from snowmelt run-off. This was our campsite for night 2. We were all sore and tired and ready for a relaxing evening. As I mentioned previously I had brought some extras for car camping, knowing that we were going to be at this location on night 2. I told Jerry that I had wanted to pack chairs, but didn’t think there would be room in the trunk of the Saturn for all our packs and my camping gear, as well as folding chairs. He grinned mischievously, and opened the back of his Suburban. I didn’t realize what he was doing in there, but a few minutes later I came around the front of his Suburban and saw that he had taken the back seat out and placed it in front of the fire ring. We had seating for our campfire! Nick set up his Therma-rest folding chair with his air mattress. It was nice to vegetate in a real chair in front of the fire pit, with the relaxing sounds of the gurgling, rushing creek. We spent a very comfortable night 2 here at this location.

Saturday, April 22nd

My part in the hike was now mostly done. I had already done the entire section from Bennett Mountain Road down into Hammett in the previous year. My role today was support in shuttling vehicles and placing water drops for Jerry and Nick. I also wanted to hike the two mile section of old wagon trail which I had helped Leo mark last year. I wanted to see what the finished product looked like, and also wanted to re-visit this very remarkable section of ICT. After we packed up our camp, I led Jerry back to Hammett along the ICT, which is drive-able for at least 15 miles of the 20 mile route.

The first road we turned on from Bennett Mountain Road was Alkali Road, which would connect over to Wilson Road. Before we reached the ICT markers which came in from the road to the north, I came across a yellow diamond sign that said "Water Over Road Use Caution." One of the creeks crossing the road, which was normally very low flowing, was over the road. Great..... but I was driving the Mighty Saturn..... I plunged forward into the water, which I judged to be not that deep. About three-quarters of the way across, the front end of the Saturn struck a submerged rock amidships. The car lurched and I gunned it. The front tires dug in and pulled me up and over the obstruction while the rock beneath made sickening thuds and bumps. Steam came up from beneath as water splashed up into the hot engine compartment. The Mighty Saturn came out on dry land. I hoped that I hadn't done anything damaging to the front end (no damage has been found to date). Jerry of course had no problems clearing the rocks in the Suburban.

The water crossing incident behind, there were no further obstructions or water crossings the rest of the way into town. We placed a gallon of water near two of the intersections, for their use later that day. Jerry parked the Suburban at the Hammett Valley Trading Post, and then I drove them back up to Bennett Mountain Road where the ICT turns south. I walked two miles with them down the old wagon trail section. It felt good to see the finished product from our trail work of last year, and to hear Jerry and Nick’s reactions to the impressive views and rock formations along this section. When the trail crossed the creek below and the trail turned south, I said my goodbyes and left Jerry and Nick to continue their hike south, while I returned the two miles up the cliffs and back to the car. Then I returned to Boise, with a stop for hamburgers at Wendy’s in Mountain Home.

Later, on Sunday evening, I received e-mails from both Jerry and Nick, telling me that they had completed the entire twenty mile route all in one day on Saturday.

Jerry had this to say:

Just a quick note to let you know that we made it back
........... early. It started looking like a wet,
windy night was in store for us, so we took an hour
break, then walked out Saturday night. Feeling a lot
better today than I would have expected! What a first
hike! 45 miles in 3 days! Thanks for the company, and
let me know if your ready to do another the weekend of
May 20th.

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