Up the Creek without a Tent Pole
August 27th thru 29th, 2004a section hike of the Idaho Centennial Trail
Lochsa River to Selway River
Trailhead in: Split Creek Pack Bridge
Trailhead out: Boyd Creek campground
I first learned of this hike through a message on the Idaho Outdoors e-mail group on Yahoo Groups. A man named Jerry Finnegan (a.k.a. Frog) gave this description of the hike:
email@example.com wrote: I'll be hiking from the Lochsa to the Selway, along the Idaho Centennial trail the weekend of August 28-29. Will leave Boise Friday night, run shuttle Saturday morning, then hit the trail. spend Sat. night at Louse Lake and hike out on Sunday. Total distance of about 21 miles. I have one couple that is a "maybe" but would like to add another 1 to 3 people to ensure the trip is "a go". If you're interested please let me know.Frog (a.k.a. Jerry)
Have you had much interest for this trip? I meant to write earlier but I had to finish my workweek. If you still have room, I would be interested. I have learned of the Idaho Centennial Trail only in the last year and am now interested in pursuing as much of it as I can tackle in sections. Please let me know if you have an opening. I would have to schedule a day off from Micron on the Saturday, and possibly on the Friday depending how late you are leaving.
Jerry then replied:
thanks for responding. Yes, I had a couple of replies to the posting but no one has committed yet. I was off backpacking all last week and am just now replying to these e-mails.
I've been hiking sections of the Centennial trail since last spring and have a lot of info if you're interested. This section is on the Centennial West (as opposed to the east section that travels through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness). Look forward to discussing it.
I would like to leave Friday evening after work and drive up to the Selway River (Boyd Creek campground). Saturday we could drive up to the Split Creek pack bridge and begin the hike. It is a large climb (nearly 5200 feet in 9.5 miles!) and I don't plan to race anyone. I'm an older (55) hiker and like to enjoy the trail and take lots of pictures. We'd hike the final 11.5 mile drop to the Selway on Sunday and head back to Boise.
I have some equipment issues to settle this week so let me know if you're interested. as of now I have 5 (including you) "maybes" and need to confirm numbers as well as start laying out details. Look forward to hearing back from you.
Getting to go on the hike depended on getting time off from work, since I normally work the shift that falls on Friday and Saturday. As soon as I got the time approved, I fired this off to Jerry:
My boss approved my time off. I am looking forward to the hike. If you have any gear recommendations please let me know. I am planning to really strip down the weight for this one, hopefully without sacrificing on warmth or water proofness. Talk to you soon.
Jerry and I had a couple of good phone conversations in the intervening time, and finally met on Friday 27th afternoon. Darla dropped me off at Jerry’s house, and, after introductions, we departed in Jerry's Sub-division (Suburban) at around 4 pm. The drive up to Boyd Creek Campground took us along highways 55, 95, 14, 13, and 12. Then near Lowell, Idaho we departed from highway 12 along the Selway Scenic River Byway. About 15-20 miles down a gravel road by the river side we came to the campground. It was by now after 10 pm. In a campsite very near the entrance of the campground we met Angie, from Spokane, a frequent poster on the Outdoors group, and her dog Kia, who would be our hiking companions for the next 2 days.
This is the point at which I realized two things I had forgotten: first, the tent stakes. Angie loaned me some of hers since she would be sleeping in her van. I went to set up my tent, and that's when I realized that, not only had I forgotten to pack my tent stakes, but I had also left the single tent pole for my REI tent at home! Sheepishly I gave Angie her stake bag back and said I wouldn't be needing it after all. On some of the other hikes that I have done this could have presented a serious problem. If there would have been rain my night bivouac on the mountain could have been a disaster. Fortunately, we had a window of very good weather forecast for the weekend. I just decided to rough it by sleeping on the ground. The campground was located by the Selway River and was sheltered by towering pine trees. I placed the nylon footprint of my tent and my Tyvek ground sheet on the bare dirt in campsite # 3 and laid my Thermarest mattress and sleeping bag on top. This would be my home for the night under the canopy of tree branches.
My open-air bivouac worked fine for the first night. The temperature was only in the low 50's. There was a light fog this morning over the mountain tops. I seemed to be the first one awake. I stumbled down to the river's edge and splashed some icy water on my face and combed my hair. Angie awoke next, followed by Jerry, who had spent the night in the back of his Sub-division. Today was the first day of our hike. In the morning light I was better able to see Angie as I could not make out her face in the darkness the night before. She appeared to be capably fit for a hike of this distance and duration. Her pack looked to have the right stuff attached to it, and I assumed that she had the correct gear on the inside as well. Kia appeared to be road-ready and enthusiastic. I commented that she was a very healthy and fit dog. I already knew Jerry's hiking resume' which is extensive. I began to wonder, as with my previous hike on the Idaho Centennial Trail with Leo, Chris, and Nick, whether or not I was going to be the "weakest link?"
Our breakfast eaten and our packing completed, we loaded everything into Angie's Windstar minivan for the shuttle to the Split Creek pack bridge and the trailhead. Jerry parked the Subdivision at the trailhead for Boyd Creek. This is where we would hopefully exit from the wilderness sometime on Sunday afternoon.
The drive along the Selway River was incredibly scenic, as was the drive along highway 12 northeast through the small town of Lowell and along the Lochsa River. As Angie drove, a music tape played in the cassette player. I listened for a bit, and then asked Angie “is that Hillsongs of Australia?” which is a worship music group. She said yes, and with that we both realized we were believers in Jesus Christ. This initiated the first of many conversations about our faith over the next two days.
After about 20 miles we came to the parking lot at the Split Creek bridge. The fog was lifting somewhat but the day was starting very cloudy. I was hoping that it wouldn't rain on us later.
I have not been in the habit of stretching prior to my hikes. However, when I saw Jerry and Angie doing stretches in the parking lot, I thought I would give it a try and see if it made any difference with soreness after the hike. I would guess that we officially started our hike at about 8:30 am pacific time or 9:30 am Boise time. Yes, we had driven far enough north in Idaho to cross into the Pacific time zone. We paused for pictures next to the trailhead sign, and crossed over the Split Creek Pack Bridge to the southern side of the Lochsa River. I thought we had really crossed over into a rain forest. The vegetation and undergrowth in the forest was definitely a change for me from what I was used to in the high desert country of southern Idaho. The trail followed the Lochsa upstream for about a quarter of a mile before turning south at the inlet of Split Creek. Here, we began our day's climbing in earnest.
Our day's climbing was to include just over 5,000 feet of vertical gain over a distance of 9.5 miles. I have tried to think of an appropriate word description that will help the reader understand what walking 5,000 feet of vertical gain in one day feels like. The best that I could come up with was "the complete loss of all will to live.” Of course this is a gross exaggeration, but at least humor me.
No one section of the trail was particularly steep in the extreme and the starting elevation was below 2000 feet along the river. The elevation would be a factor later on in the day, but it wasn't for the first few miles as we climbed up to Split Creek Ridge.
We crossed Split Creek Pack Bridge, made the turn at Split Creek, climbed along the trail through Split Creek Canyon as we made our way up to Split Creek Ridge, which eventually took us to the top of Split Creek Point. I'm sensing a theme there..... Switchback after switchback, we made our way up, and up, and up, to about the 5300 foot level, stopping for a breather when we needed to. Jerry was very fleet of foot, even though he was older than me and carrying a 40 pound pack. He would often zoom up several switchbacks ahead of me and Angie and then sit down to wait for us. I maintained my slow and steady shuffle, and so I only needed short pauses which I took while standing with my pack on. I think I only removed my pack once on the climb up to Split Creek Point, at one of our longer rest stops. We took many pictures of the surrounding mountains. When we started the hike we couldn't see the tops of them due to the low-hanging clouds and fog, but as we went higher, so did the clouds, until they had finally lifted from the mountain tops and showed us the full panorama of mountains all around us.
About halfway up the climb to the ridge, Jerry’s keen eyes spotted a bull elk on one of the far slopes. We watched the elk as he made his own way up the hill, without the use of a trail.
As we hiked, I asked Jerry what the story was behind his trail name, “Frog?” Jerry explained that he used to race dirt bikes, traveling all over the U.S.A. During one particular race, he was doing a hill climb and the bike stalled before he reached the top. The bike tipped over and he jumped off and came running down the hill trying to avoid being struck by the tumbling bike. Friends were taping the event, and later commented that his long running strides gave him the appearance of a frog. They watched it over and over and began to call him Frog. The name stuck, and he had been using it as his nickname and on his e-mail address ever since.
As the day progressed, the three of us shared hiking stories and other adventures. I learned that Jerry had many years of experience in the backcountry and as a Scout Master. He has also hiked much of the Idaho Centennial Trail, and I would look to him as a valuable resource for any future endeavors.
Sometime around 1 pm we made it to the top of Split Creek Point. I had mistakenly thought that once we got up on top of the ridge, we would merely have a long relatively flat walk most of the way to Louse Lake which was our camping destination for the night. What topographic maps don't always reveal, however, are the many turns, switchbacks, dips and climbs which add much distance to the "official" mileage calculated by the map program. We were in for a lot more uphill travel that day, but making it to Split Creek Point was quite an achievement in terms of gaining altitude. The foundation blocks and heavy bolts were all that remained of a former look out tower on the summit of Split Creek Point. From here we could see for 75 miles in any direction, all the way to the tall mountains which formed the boundary of Idaho and Montana, to the level plains near Moscow and Lewiston and clear over into Washington and Oregon. This was to be the view that we would enjoy over the next two days.
For a few hundred yards the trail crossed the saddle between Split Creek Point and the next objective, Flea Ridge. Traveling was quick over this section because we lost altitude, but then we knew we would have to regain it on the next ridge. We labored up the other side, stopping to rest around the 6300 foot mark. Taking stock of our water situation at this point, Angie was out and so was I. We began climbing again, and the trail on either side was enclosed by thick huckleberry bushes and wild raspberries. I had a few of the wild raspberries and a couple of the huckleberries. Angie feasted on the huckleberries, calling it her strategy to stay hydrated since she was out of water. Jerry still had water to spare, and I had him put 2-3 inches in my bottle twice. Jerry had been concerned about water sources along the ridge, and now I could see why. We had left Split Creek far below us in the canyon, and had not crossed so much as a trickle across the trail for the last few miles. We kept hoping that we would cross a small stream somewhere up ahead. Otherwise, we were going to have to go thirsty until we reached Louse Lake.
We continued on up the ridge. At times the trail would level out for long stretches which I welcomed. These stretches followed the contour of Flea Ridge on its west side below the summit. After a couple more miles, we found a small clear stream of water flowing across a curve in the trail. It appeared just in time as far as I was concerned. Angie filled her cook pot right out of the stream, intending to boil it for tea. I pulled out my water filter and Jerry came over to assist. He placed the intake of the pump in a small pool below the trail. The stream was only an inch deep by about a foot wide, but it was adequate. Sine there were no other creeks or ponds above it to flow out of, it was safe to guess that this stream had its source from a spring above. The water was very clear. As I pumped it, I felt the relief not only of getting to stop climbing for a few minutes and getting to sit down, but also the supreme relief that I would have water to drink again.
We filled all of our bottles in turn. I took the opportunity while we had the filter hooked up to drink a full 24 ounce bottle with some powdered Gatorade and then topped the bottle off again. Now we all had full bottles once again. Angie boiled water on her special alcohol stove made from a Budweiser can. I had seen these before for sale but had never seen one in use. There were two marks on the interior of the can, one for 7 minutes of heat and one for 15 minutes. She had filled it with de-natured alcohol to the 7 minute level and it did boil the water in that time. It burned itself out and cooled quickly. Perhaps I need to invest in one of these ultra-lightweight contraptions. Kia, not to be left out of the water party, slurped up her fill of the cold water. We were careful to make sure that all the mud she stirred up washed away before we filtered our water.
The day had turned cloudy and windy and I felt chilled. Not one to shirk the lessons of the past with hypothermia, I pulled out a long sleeve shirt and pulled it on over my other shirt. As we shouldered our burdens once again and set off, Jerry and I started a discussion about staying warm and hypothermia. He told me that he had taught his scouts two maxims for the wilderness: IT'S EASIER TO STAY WARM THAN TO GET WARM. IT'S EASIER TO STAY DRY THAN TO GET DRY.
Someone might say, well, duh! Who doesn't know that? Hard experience has taught me that it is wise to pay heed to those two rules. Exposure to the elements in the wilderness for prolonged periods is a lot different than getting caught in a cloudburst when you’re going no further than your office door out to your car, and then getting to go home and dry off. There's no hot shower and a closet of clean clothes waiting for you if you get soaked. I told Jerry that my experience had proven both of those maxims to be true
Our next objective was to climb to the top of Flea Ridge, which we did about a mile later, and then follow it for another mile to the southeast. Along this ridge we got an awesome view of two lakes, Flea Lake and Chimney Lake, both of which were about 1000 feet below. Also along this ridge during a brief rest stop, we thought we heard an animal off in the distance. We listened intently and....there it was. Off in the distance we could hear a wolf howling. It was beautiful. This was my first time to hear a wolf howling in the wilderness. Rather than being frightening, I found it to be spell-binding. We heard the howling at least four or five more times before we got up and moved on. There were a couple of places where our path was obscured by other offshoot trails. Another place near the top of Flea Ridge it appeared that our trail descended down across a saddle and then climbed to the next ridge. Here I discovered the value of having a good GPS and detailed topo maps. Jerry's Garmin GPS was a tiny unit (the Geko) but it gave us readings which confirmed our exact location on the topo map. From this we were able to discern that we were in the right position and that what we thought to be the trail was INDEED the right trail. I was impressed. Gotta get me one of them GPS units!!!
Even from the top of Flea Ridge, we still had quite a bit more walking to do. We reached a point on the ridge where Jerry had marked on his topo map as the 8 mile mark. Wow. It was starting to be late afternoon and we had only managed 8 miles. It had been a very tough day, and we still had another 1.5 miles to get to our campsite. There was nothing for it but to keep going. Fortunately the trail stayed up along the ridge with a couple of climbs of 100 to 200 feet vertical elevation but mostly it followed the contour of the west side of the ridge.
Finally, we got to a place where there were many rocks and cliffs and we could see Louse Lake below us on the eastern side of the ridge. A side trail would take us down the slope to the lake. The side trail turned out to be another 5/8ths of a mile. Twilight was coming on and an enormous full moon began peeking over the distant mountaintops in the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness. I stopped to take a picture of the full moon once it had topped the mountain. It was still light enough to see on the trail but it was fading quickly. We could tell that a group of riders had been here before us because the trail was torn up by horseshoe prints. The closer we got down to the lake the muddier the trail became. At one place a creek crossed the trail and Jerry had plunged into deep mud with one of his boots trying to move a board over the crossing. Once all three of us and Kia had descended several switchbacks down to the lake side, we each began selecting places to camp for the night. Jerry picked an open area only 30 yards from the lake. Angie went back in some trees set about 50 yards from Jerry's tent. Since I had no tent pole or stakes, I knew I was going to have another open bivouac. I selected some large trees slightly up the hill from the lake and crawled beneath them with my pack. I was very tired and simply spread my Tyvek sheet on the ground and laid down with my pack beneath my head for a pillow. Ooof....it felt so good to stop and rest…..for a few minutes, anyway. The ground under the trees was sloped at an angle and I could tell I would be sliding down my Thermarest mat all night if I were to set up here. Also, the wind had started blowing and it was starting to get cold. Angie asked Jerry for help in setting up her tent. He helped her while I continued resting. Then he walked by my "campsite" and asked if I would like him to heat some water for my dinner? I was anxious for him to do just that. Angie had her own stove and I assumed would be heating her own water for dinner. I rested for about another 15 minutes until Jerry called me and said that the water was ready. I brought my dehydrated dinner along with my spoon, ready for something hot to eat! Hooray for Chef Boyardee! Well, almost. The dehydrated dinner was spaghetti.
The place where Jerry had set up his tent was in a marshy area in the flats on the shore of the lake. There were lots of little seeps of water flowing across the flats. In fact it was kind of spongy to walk through it. Down at Jerry's tent I huddled in front of the door as he poured hot water into the inner liner bag of my dehydrated meal. I sealed the bag with the cardboard ring and waited 10 minutes for *hydration* to happen. As I waited I found that lying down on my side beneath the vestibule of Jerry's tent blocked a good amount of the chilling wind. Jerry kept offering to let me crowd into the tent with him. I really didn't want to do that. It was embarrassing enough that I had left my pole and stakes at home. It was wholly within Jerry's prerogative to keep his own tent to himself. I was prepared mentally to huddle all night under my trees. It was my fault and I was prepared to face the consequences.
The more I waited for my food to hydrate resting on my side under the vestibule, the more I thought that the vestibule might be a good compromise. Jerry's tent was an REI tent, same as mine, except that he had the Quarter Dome model, which is bigger than my Roadster model. It featured 2 vestibules and 2 doors. It is advertised as a 2 person tent, but in my opinion it is a very tight fit for two. Perhaps for a husband and wife it would be okay, but with Jerry? uh……no……
The vestibules were very spacious and I felt that if Jerry would let me stay under one of them it would block 90 percent of the wind. He agreed, although he was still offering his other half of the tent. My food was finally saturated and I dove in. The spaghetti was *steaming* as I lifted a helping on my spoon and shoveled it in. Mmmm.....now this was real comfort food. As a portion the meal was fairly small by my standards, but it was adequate, combined with the Honey BBQ Fritos I had been munching on. I would rate my dehydrated spaghetti dinner much higher than many supposedly five-star ***** meals I have eaten in swank big-city restaurants. It was so satisfying to eat something hot and it tasted awesome after our tough day of climbing 5000 vertical feet and 9.5 miles. Jerry then filled my cup with hot water and I drank it just plain. For dessert he handed me a small cup of butterscotch pudding. Man, did it hit the spot! Afterwards I didn't want to move. But since Jerry had agreed to let me sleep under the vestibule I knew I had to get up and move all my gear down from the trees to his tent.
When I got up from my meal, I noticed that my shorts were soaked on the left side and hip. Oh great.....I've been lying in the water. I had not noticed when I sat down, but there was water trickling to the sides and beneath the patch of ground where Jerry had pitched the tent. I began to realize that the entire hillside facing the lake was one big seep with many fingers branching out from the spring above. I would discover in the morning just how much water was flowing down the hill across this broad circle of land sloping down to the lake. It took me two trips to carry my partially unloaded gear and pack down from the trees to the tent. Jerry had switched his backpack from one vestibule to the vestibule on the other side so that I could fit underneath. With my flashlight I took stock of the ground I would be laying on.
There was trickling water down near where my feet would be located, but I was by now too tired to care. I spread out my tent's footprint and Tyvek sheet and then inflated my Thermarest. I arranged my clothes bag at my head under the vestibule, and spread my bag liner on the mat. I had used the sleeping bag last night but did not want to carry the weight. So I took a chance that I could get by with just the fleece liner. Well.....you win some, you lose some. Actually, the night COULD have been much worse. The night sky was devoid of even the tiniest clouds. At least it didn't rain on us. The vestibule would have kept MOST of me dry, but when I zipped it closed and reclined on my mat I discovered that my feet stuck out the end. MOST of me stayed warm throughout the night, but my feet FROZE!!! I kept waking up and rubbing my feet together trying to warm them up. I don't know how Jerry slept any with my constant tossing and turning. I woke up once thinking that it was getting almost daylight. I unzipped the vestibule and looked out. The moon had traveled about halfway across the sky and was low over the mountains to the south. It was still very bright. The night passed uneventfully, except for my frozen feet. I worried that they would get frostbite, so I periodically rubbed them with my hands. I did manage to sleep quite a bit. I hoped that Jerry was getting his sleep as well. In the morning when it was finally was daylight, I awoke to find that I was still alive and my feet were as well. The items that I had left outside the vestibule were covered in frost. The pack, the rain fly, my food, Jerry's stove, the tent vestibule, and more immediate to my situation.....my boots. My hiking boots were covered in frost. This is an excellent way to get wide awake first thing in the morning. There was nothing for it but to slide my half-frozen feet into the fully frozen boots. Yow. I had enough layers on my upper body that the morning air felt fine. It actually wasn't that cold in the air. Down near the ground, though, everything was frosted. The frost didn't last for very long as the sun rose over the mountains. I walked around the lake and did some exploring while Jerry was setting up to cook breakfast. I had to cross a lot of little trickles of water and marshy ground which surrounded the lakeside. We really had spent the night in a bog. It was apparent that from the cliffs up above there was a spring or several springs that seeped water all over the hillside and down to the lake. I crossed over to the higher ground on the east side of the lake and found several areas of flat, DRY ground which had obviously been used by large groups of campers or riders. There was a rock fire pit and lots of DRY places for a tent. Now I find out. Well the night was done and I felt reasonably rested. I wasn't even sore this morning. The stretching yesterday must have really worked. I found a trail sign, the first we had seen since departing the trailhead yesterday. The trail leading down the slope away from the lake led to Old Man Lake. We had no idea how far away that might be. The hoof prints led off down that trail, so I figured a group of riders had passed that way recently. I found a nice sized boulder beside the creek which flowed out of the lake, and sat down to sun myself and warm up. It felt nice. Soon my boots were de-frosted and I was starting to get the feeling back in my feet. Jerry came walking over to admire the awesome view off to the east and south. We were right on the western boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness and we could see for many miles off into wilderness area.
Then I walked back over to camp and got out my water filter. I didn't really want to filter out of the lake itself due to the obvious large volume of Equestrian traffic that had been tethered around the lake. So I found a seep that was deep enough and put my filter intake in. It was sufficient for pumping water. I filled all the bottles and also filled my 2 liter Platypus flex-pak. We had a long way to go today and there would be waterless stretches to cross. I didn't want to be short on water today. I knew it would make my pack heavier but it would be worth it to have plenty of water. We had 11.5 miles to go today according to Jerry's topo map program, so I wanted to have enough. Jerry heated water and ate his oatmeal. He kept asking me if I wanted some oatmeal, and I kept declining thinking that I would just have some Poptarts. I wasn't really that hungry due to my come-n-go appetite that I suffer from on mountain hikes. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. After Jerry had turned off the stove, I finally turned and asked if he could heat the water after all. I had changed my mind. After he heated some more water I ate 2 packages of Cinnamon and Brown Sugar oatmeal. It was awesome and filling. Angie was up and around with Kia. She was beginning the process of taking down her tent. After another half hour we were all ready to go. It shouldn't be so hard placing a few items in a backpack, but it seems to take three times as long to do anything at a high elevation. The air was warming up fast as the sun rose higher and I took off all the extra layers I had worn for the night. My pack did feel heavier with the extra 2 liters but I knew it was only temporary.
Our distance for today was to be 11.5 miles, which was longer than yesterday's hike. However we knew that we didn't have to GAIN elevation as we did yesterday. The ridge we were on would be a series of ups and downs before a final descent of 5000 feet to the Selway River at the Boyd Creek Campground. However, we were in for an education on the accuracy of topo maps, even high quality topo maps such as Jerry had generated from the Idaho National Geographic map program. Our first task was to climb back up the switchbacks out of the semi-circular bowl where Louse Lake was located. Jerry darted on up the trail at his usual pace while I started trudging at my slow steady pace with Angie and Kia right behind. I was pleased when we reached the top of the cliffs where Jerry was waiting for us and I had not stopped for the entire 5/8th of a mile climb. Once we were back up on the ridge we followed it for several miles. As we were walking along the ridge, we noticed that there were lots of places where horse and mule poop was left on the trail, in various stages of *freshness* or *dryness.* There was one place where there was an abundance of dried green covering the trail. Kia was just out in front of me and Angie was walking behind me. Suddenly, Kia stopped and rolled over in the middle of the trail, saddlebags and all, rolling and covering herself with good ole horse doo....... We were like....ewwwwwww Kia!!!! No more petting for you!!!
We made excellent time along the ridge before we came to Ghost Mountain. A train of pack mules and riders was coming down the switchbacks above us, so we decided to wait for them to pass at the bottom. The party consisted of four riders, three men and one woman, on four horses, with four pack mules behind the first rider and two pack mules behind the second rider. The two men leading the pack animals I guessed to be guides. The man and woman on horseback at the rear of the procession I guessed to be clients. The woman had a Winchester rifle holstered in a scabbard on the right side of her saddle. The guides were friendly and we shared trail information in both directions. They told us their destination was Old Man Lake. We asked them how far it was from Louse Lake and they said 9 miles. The man and woman behind were not as cheery as the guides. I had the impression that they were wealthy from the way they were dressed and their bearing. They seemed to have little time for our ragtag hiking group and were anxious to press on. The group rode and soon disappeared along the trail we had just traveled. We took a short break and I had a snack. Thank goodness my appetite was active today. I was going to need the fuel.
The ascent up the switchbacks of Ghost Mountain wasn't as fearsome as they had looked from below with the horses coming down. Jerry took off up the mountain and I began my usual turtle pace with Angie behind. Once again I found that I made it to the top without stopping. Kia was once again entertaining with her excited energy. She bolted off the trail, saddlebags heaving as she ran downhill to chase a critter in the weeds. Of course she had no chance of catching the lightning fast rodents that she could see with her keen senses before we humans could. I marveled at her seemingly boundless energy. I kept telling her to save her energy because we still had a long way to go. We continued on around the western shoulder Ghost Mountain and got a view across the valley to Glover Ridge and Round Top Mountain which was to be our next objective.
Glover Ridge was our final climb before we would drop from almost 6800 feet down to the Selway River at 1600 feet. But before we could get to Glover Ridge we had to cross yet another saddle which took us first down then back up on another long climb. Angie lagged behind for a few minutes, and I commenced my slow turtle pace. To observe me doing this, a person might think that I'm taking just tiny baby steps. But I have found that this is the optimum pace for me on long climbs uphill. Faster hikers, such as Jerry, take off uphill at a jackrabbit speed, only to run out of gas somewhere up the hill (except that Jerry seldom runs out of gas). Meanwhile, I come baby-stepping along, one foot at a time, and usually I will catch up to the person ahead while they are sitting down resting with their backpack off. Then they get up again and put their pack on, and take off in a blaze once more, while I have taken a one or two minute standing rest break with my pack still on. Then I continue the trudge. Except that I never caught up to Jerry on the long climb up to Glover Ridge. I continued my slow steady pace until I reached a point where the climb started leveling off. Then I stood resting for about 5 minutes until Angie and Kia caught up.
We hiked along the western contour, just below the long flat section of Glover Ridge. After about another half mile, we finally came upon Jerry who was scouting around. He had his GPS and maps in hand and seemed to be looking for the trail. He told us that his backpack was a ways ahead and that the trail came to a junction. We could see the summit of Round Top Mountain to our east, and there was a 4WD road leading up to the top. We appeared to have come to the junction which would begin our final leg of the journey. Here we rested on some large rocks beside some pines. Jerry went to retrieve his pack which he had stowed a few hundred yards further along Glover Ridge. Angie took out her cook pot and began preparing some tea and Ramen noodles. The time was somewhere between 1 and 2 pm. For the first time since this morning I took off my pack. To me that is a big advantage of carrying a lighter load, fewer stops and mostly standing stops at that. It did feel nice to take the pack off for a while, though. I rested in a semi-reclined position on a granite slab and refilled my now empty water bottles from the
Platypus. I had enough left over for Jerry to top off his 1 liter bottle. With the Platypus empty, 4 pounds was suddenly gone from my back. Well, not really gone.....the weight had been re-distributed into my bottles which are stowed in a side mesh pocket. Psychologically, though, it was as if the weight was gone from my pack. For sure I did not miss the extra bulk riding high in my pack. The Platypus folds down flat when empty and weighs just a couple of ounces. Now I was glad that I had filled it up this morning.
After a half an hour break Jerry was anxious to get going again. Kia, however, had other plans. She had lain down beside Angie, who was eating her lunch. When we started packing up, Angie asked Kia, "Want to go for a walk?" This question USUALLY elicited a very excited response from Kia. She would bolt to her feet and wag her tail furiously, eager to please, eager for a new adventure, eager to have Angie strap on the red saddlebags. This time though, Kia remained stretched out upon the ground with her head resting between her front paws. She didn't even raise up at Angie's voice but merely rolled her eyes at Angie. It was very funny. She seemed to be saying, "I'm done, you go on." Angie prodded her a couple of times and she still refused to get up. Finally Angie had to physically pull her to a standing position so she could put the saddlebags on. Jerry started off down to the road and I followed. Angie and Kia finally got all loaded up and brought up the rear. From our resting place along Glover Ridge we bush-whacked down the eastern slope until we reached the 4WD road. As we were descending, an older couple came riding up the road on an ATV and kept going west up past Glover Ridge. It appeared that we were going to have to climb yet another steep section of trail which switch-backed up the side of Round Top Mountain. However, at the base we found another footpath bailing off the road in a generally southerly direction. There was a signpost where the trail began but no sign marker on the post. This appeared to be our desired trail; it went in the direction shown by the map at the precise place where it should be. With no signs in place it becomes a guessing game at the junctions and forks. We felt that we were playing an educated guessing game, though, with the aid of the GPS and the topo maps. A few hundred feet down the new branch of trail and we were certain we were heading down the Boyd Creek trail.
The previous day we had enjoyed cooler temperatures and cloud cover during the afternoon. This day turned out to be somewhat warmer as had been forecast. The breeze felt great up on the ridge, but when we started descending down the Boyd Creek canyon, we were on the southward facing slope, and so caught the full brunt of the afternoon sun. At least we had the advantage of moving downhill, but it was still turning into a rather warm afternoon.
Previously, I mentioned that the distance shown on a topo map does not always correspond to actual trail mileage. We found this to be very true on the Boyd Creek segment of the trail. The National Geographic topo program shows the route to head more or less in a south-by-southwest direction for about 5 miles. The line comes straight down the contour intervals on the map, descending about 800 to 1000 feet each mile. The ACTUAL trail, however, descends through many switchbacks. Many of the higher switchbacks were as much as a quarter mile in length. We walked a long way and changed direction 5 or 6 times for the little elevation that we lost from the level of the road up on the ridge above. Jerry said according to his GPS we were averaging about 2 miles per hour. According to the GPS we were only about 3 miles from the Boyd Creek trailhead, as the crow flies. We weren't crows, however.... The afternoon wore on and we walked and walked. Switchback after switchback. They did get shorter in length between turns; that at least was a good sign. After a couple more hours of mostly non-stop walking, we still looked to be only halfway down from the ridge. We could not see the Selway River yet, but at least we could see the valley over the next ridges which we knew was our destination. The higher part of the trail crossed a small stream several times. There would have been a water source had we been at the end of our water. That knowledge was at least a comfort. We all still had a good amount of water left so we didn't need to stop. I did take off my hat and wet my head down in the refreshing water. Kia plopped herself down in a pool of water, saddlebags and all. It was very funny. Too bad Angie didn't see it happen. I told her about it when she caught up to me. Had the pool of water been six inches deeper and 2 feet longer in length I would have plopped down in it myself.After a couple of hours of going hard, Angie said she had to have a half hour break. I was not opposed to it, that's for sure. The trail was descending through heavy foliage which came right up to both sides of the trail. There was no clearing to sit down off to the side of the trail, so we just stopped in the middle of the trail. Angie reclined against her pack; Jerry sat on a small berm beside the trail, and I flattened a couple of weeds so I could sit down. I still had 1 full bottle of water left. I gave one of my Power Gels to Angie and then ate the last one. I felt no appetite; only thirst at this point. After sitting for about 5 minutes, I stood up. I knew if I sat there any longer I was going to start stiffening up. I told Jerry and Angie to take their time, that I wasn't trying to hurry them. I still felt relatively strong. After about 20 minutes Jerry stood up and we loaded back up. Angie wanted to linger behind, so Jerry took off again and I started at a slower pace, intending to let Angie catch up. From this point on in the hike, I didn't see very much of either one of them. I went on for a ways and then decided to stop on the trail and wait for Angie.
I stood for several minutes until I could hear Kia's collar jingling as she trotted down the trail. I knew that Angie would be not far behind her. Angie followed me for a while and then asked if I would mind letting her go ahead. She must have been feeling revived. She took off at a brisk pace and soon left me behind. I hiked the next couple of miles by myself through the brush and branches which periodically would slap at me or scratch my shins. I was at the point where I was beyond pain -- merely a walking machine intent on reaching the finish line. As often happens, I amused myself by comparing our on-going ordeal to a scene from a movie, Ben Hur. Judah Ben Hur is made a galley slave (number Forty-One) on a Roman war ship, and is chained in the lower deck with dozens of other slaves. Their days are filled with the back-breaking labor of rowing to the beat of a master’s hammer. The corresponding soundtrack song is called “The Rowing of the Galley Slaves,” and the song reminded me of the way that the trail and our afternoon seemed to keep going relentlessly on and on. “Row well and live” became my mantra.
The trail now departed from the pattern of switchbacks zigzagging down the face of the mountain. For long stretches the trail would gently wind along the crest of a ridge heading to the southwest. Now we were drawing closer to the opposite valley and coming more directly down the hill. Then the trail would start winding around contours of the mountain, ever downward it went on and on. The left side of the trail now sloped downward at a very steep angle. Remembering the fall I took back in the John Day Wilderness a month ago, I didn't want to go tumbling off the edge in this section. Though it was heavily wooded and a tree might have stopped my fall, I just didn't want to go there. I wanted to finish strong. I love to sightsee as I hike along, just as I love to sightsee as I drive along, to my wife's dismay. The woods were beginning to get dark as afternoon faded into early evening. Dusk would be coming on soon. I had a flashlight but I wanted to get done before dark. I started to really push hard, going faster and faster. I kept thinking I would catch up to Angie soon, but it seemed like I walked forever and couldn't catch up. I was wondering if Jerry and Angie would just push straight on for the trailhead and wait for me there. I came to a clearing and there they were, resting with their packs off. Jerry had taken another GPS reading and told me that were only half a mile from the river now. I didn't take my pack off, but simply took a standing rest. I drained the last of my water bottle. I was officially out. We could periodically hear the sound of Boyd Creek, but it was too far down the ravine and too overgrown to be accessible. Just a half a mile, just a half a mile, I thought. Jerry said "Don't use up all your water yet" but I was ready to get to the ice chest of Sam's colas that I had stashed in the Sub-division. I was tired but I was still walking strong and I was in a "whatever it takes" frame of mind. I was not going to be the Weakest Link today....
Jerry and Angie had been there for a few minutes waiting on me. In a couple more minutes they stood up and put their packs on one more time, we were hoping for the last time, for the home stretch to the car. I took off in the lead with Jerry behind me. Soon we started seeing glimpses of the Selway River through the trees. We were now only a couple hundred feet above it but the trail started switch-backing again and we went through 3 or 4 turns with fairly long downhill sections. It sure seemed like it was taking us a long time to get down there. I found my stride again and began pushing hard again. I was straining for the finish line. I was very encouraged by the sight of the river below us and kept hoping the end would be just around the next turn.
When I saw the last stretch of trail with the parking lot at the end and Jerry's light blue Sub-division parked there, I went into overdrive. I was not running down the trail but I really put on the steam for a strong finish. I made it to the trailhead sign and staggered into the parking lot, first to finish. Jerry was only 15 seconds behind, and Angie finished about three minutes later. We were a tired but triumphant bunch. We exchanged high fives all around. At last we had made it. It's always a great feeling when you finish a hike of this length, and you know that no one got hurt, no one got lost, and everyone *enjoyed* the process. *Enjoying* a hike like this is....well "it's a hiker thing, you wouldn't understand." Our idea of *fun* is not always everyone else's idea of fun. It was very grueling, extremely tough, merciless, hard, why you could even say it was difficult! We certainly had had our fill of *fun* over the last two days. Now we were ready for home, except.......home was several hours away for all 3 of us. We finished at 7:30 pm on Sunday evening. Jerry told me that from the top of Glover Ridge, we had averaged two miles per hour for five hours. He thought we had covered 10 miles coming down from the ridge. Since I always tend to over-estimate my mileage in the wilderness, I wasn't ready to admit that we had descended 10 miles from the ridge. I did agree with Jerry, however, that our hike today had been a VERY LONG 11.5 miles! Now that I have had time to investigate this section in the ICT guidebook, it does say that it is 12.2 miles from the Boyd Creek trailhead up to Round Mountain. Adding that to the 4 or 5 miles we covered from Louse Lake to Round Mountain and we probably hiked 16 to 17 miles instead of 11.5.
All during the hot afternoon, all I could think about was plunging into the Selway River when we finished. My legs were filthy from the knees on down. When we finished, though, I was just too tired to walk down to the river and all the way back up to the parking lot. Jerry and Angie both went down to separate spots to wash up a bit in the river. It was after 8 when we loaded everything up in the truck. Jerry offered to buy us dinner in Lowell, if the cafe was still open. We counted the deer which were out grazing in the twilight along the road. It was about 8:45 when we got to Lowell, and the cafe was still open. After you've been eating cold spaghetti out of cans and dehydrated spaghetti out of plastic bags, a full fledged dinner is awesome. With dinner finished, we drove up highway 12 along the Lochsa River to take Angie back to her van. Kia was one whooped puppy, just like all the rest of us, except she could really say that she was dog tired. We said our goodbyes to Angie around 10 pm.
Now came the real endurance part of our day. Jerry had to be at work at 8 am on Monday morning. He estimated that we would get back to Boise about 4 a.m. I offered to spell Jerry on the driving but he made it all the way back to Boise. He dropped me off at home at 3:20 and my long day of hiking was done. I was filthy and in need of a shower, then, since it was almost 4 a.m. I decided to wait up so that I could talk to Darla when she got up for work at 4:30. It was such a huge contrast to be back from the wilderness, showered and dressed in clean clothes, stuffed on grilled chicken and salad, sitting at my PC and listening to a movie soundtrack music sampler. Civilized man once again.