Sawtooth Kidhood 1957: The Trots

By 1957 my sisters were ten and fourteen and I was twelve.

For three years our parents had been packing two horses with camping supplies to support a family of five for a week in the backcountry of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.

It seems our parents had had enough. This time they pitched a tent at a dude ranch in Stanley Basin. The next day we left the tent all set up while riding five saddle horses, one for each of us, and accompanied by a ranch hand to take care of them. We were back in our tent that night without having to unpack or repack a darn thing!

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Mom and Dad’s notes say we went from Hell Roaring Lake to Imogene Lake. About all I remember was the horse ride on the way back to the ranch.

I had gotten used to being on a horse from our previous trips, when one saddle horse had joined the two pack horses. Its job was to carry tired kids. I had made my peace with knowing these animals are much bigger, much stronger, and much smarter than I am. But always before the horse had moved at the pace of Mom and Dad walking the trail, leading the way.

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3 snags INT4 mounted up INT

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This time the horse under me was fine with going away from the ranch at the pace set by the buckaroo. It also joined the string of walking horses when we started back. But as we got closer to the ranch the string of horses started stretching out.

Just a bit at first. They knew not to just bust out and get home. But soon the plodding along was getting darned close to an eager walk.

Soon my sisters and I were being carried along at a comfortable clip, it being obvious there would be no more stopping for sightseeing.

Then it became obvious the critters were beginning to dare one another to be the first to up the ante, snorting and bunching up until simultaneously the three horses broke into trots.

I had never been on a trotting horse before and instantly I was atop a frighteningly uncomfortable ride! My butt was being pounded up and down on a hard saddle once a second or so. With each bounce I worked to come back square in the saddle and not be thrown off to the side. Every time I landed back in the saddle it was a different angle and I discovered again and again just how little padding there was on my butt bones. As a twelve year old guy I was having serious visions of the consequences of landing too far forward and catching the saddle horn instead of the saddle. All this while being way too far off the ground and the ground being full of rocks and the horse not giving one twit about my frantic, serious yanks on the reigns and my demanding whoas being delivered in a voice just short of screaming.

Actually, I think she was enjoying getting me riled up.

Then the most amazing thing happened. Our three horses let loose into full gallops.

The jarring butt beatings from the saddle stopped. In their place were smooth rocking shifts from the front to the back of the saddle and then back the other way. There was no danger of being bounced off!

The ground was flying by but it was sure-footed and secure. I let the reigns hang loose and enjoyed that horse knowing what it was doing! And I could tell she was enjoying stretching out and being a horse.

That was the first and last time I rode a galloping horse. I remember it fondly.

If I ever do get back on a horse I’m going to let it know walking and galloping are fine with me. But NO TROTTING AND I MEAN IT!

It won’t care.

Writing this up, I was told you stand in the stirrups when a horse trots. Sure makes sense to me and my gonads!

Buck Brook #14 – Purified Water

Come February a health inspector stopped by Buck Brook Farm to check on the sanitary conditions of this hippy public housing. While most of our operation was up to snuff he did have trouble with our water supply.

We were using water from a spring that we piped through a pump for pressure. The water was crystal clear, cold and delicious. But we were running a commercial kitchen and public housing and the rules are the rules and we needed a chlorinator to be safe.

We looked into chlorination systems and found a unit that fit our needs. We bought a large holding tank to store enough water to guarantee an even supply through the chlorinator, a good sized barrel to hold the liquid chlorine and a special pump that squeezes tubing so precise amounts of chemical can be measured into however much water we used. And we ordered the chlorine.

The chlorine hadn’t arrived by the time we were ready to test the system so we put water in the chlorine barrel to lubricate the tubing, fired the system up, and it worked like a charm. We put the lid on the barrel and forgot about it.

A few weeks later the inspector returned, checked our equipment and the ratings for the pump and congratulated us on an excellent system. As he was leaving he remembered something and lifted up the lid on the chlorine barrel. After a quick glance he let go of the lid, nodded his approval, and informed us, “You’d be surprised how many folks forget to put in the chlorine.”

From then on the campus enjoyed 100% natural spring water purified with 100% natural spring water.

Sawtooth Kidhood 1955: Snowyside Mountain #4

When we returned to the horses after our jaunt to the top of Snowyside Peak we stopped for a snack and then pointed the horses toward the northwest, heading toward Pettit Lake. It wasn’t long before we passed Twin Lakes and then came to a large flat area beside Alice Lake. We were a half mile lower in altitude than we had been when on top of Snowyside Peak and the winds were passing over us from the other side of the mountains. It was late afternoon on a sunny August day. Time to pitch camp.

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We kids gathered wood from the ground and dead snags hanging from the trees. Mom got dinner going. Dad laid out the tarp on which we blew up air mattresses and made our beds from the blankets that had been piled on the saddle bags atop the horses.

Yep, we carried blankets, not sleeping bags. But we did not carry pillows — a rolled up coat served just fine and it kept the coat warm for getting up on cold August mornings above 8,000 feet. Another trick we learned early in our Sawtooth hikes was to stuff the next morning’s clothes under the covers with us. It sure beat having to pull on freezing pants and shirts in the morning!

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Once we were settled in Dad pulled the second tarp up over our beds to under our chins to keep off the dew. I remember falling asleep to the oily smell of that 1950s canvas tarp mixed with the fresh pine and cold and purity of mountain air. Bright silver stars filled the blackest of black sky.

The next thing I knew was waking to the smell of that tarp completely over my head. I pulled back the tarp to find two inches of snow blanketing every feature of a bright, sunny summer morning.

Recommendations —

  • Sasa Milo has an excellent post of his 2014 walk around the Alice – Toxaway Loop Trail, from which we accessed Snowyside Peak. His photos are way beyond what my dad was able to capture on the Kodachrome slides I have scanned for these posts. And he’s done a great job of capturing the little delights of the mountain trail as well as the majestic grandeur of the Sawtooth Mountains. His topographical map can’t be beat. CLICK HERE

• Here’s more on Fredlyfish4 who contributed the photo of Alice Lake.

Buck Brook #13 – Warm in January

I was raised in Boise, Idaho, which has four distinct seasons. So I was raised knowing about the frozen tundras of January. Heck, it sometimes even gets below zero for two or three nights! Sometimes. But usually the middle teens is about as cold as we have to survive.

In the mountain country of upstate New York I learned that what we consider winter in Boise is a far cry from what much of our country considers a normal winter.

In the Catskill Mountains during the January of 1970 we spent several weeks with the daytime temperature never getting warmer than 20 degrees BELOW ZERO!

I know. That’s crazy talk. But it’s true!

And we got used to it. We still took our early morning walks. We still worked outside on the buildings, even getting a foundation under the library. And those of us who smoked still went outside to do it.

We smokers did find a little nook at the front of the men’s dorm that was blocked from the wind on two sides. It faced the south, so if the sun were getting through the clouds at all there was some radiant heat. We’d bundle up and run to the nook and get some good puffs in, maybe even almost finish half a cigarette, before being driven back in to the warmth of the buildings.

By late January it was starting to warm up. One day the sun was all but shining through a light haze and the bare trees of the forest. The light and warming air found us in our t-shirts lighting up in the light of the sun. We weren’t exactly lingering between puffs but each of us did finish our entire cigarette before heading in. It was warm and we talked about it!

On the way back to the heat of the dorm I gave in to my curiosity and walked over to the barn with the fire engine, where a long metal advertising thermometer hung. I wanted to confirm my suspicion that it was about 32. Freezing! And here we had been out in undershirts smoking an entire cigarette!

Imagine my surprise to find the temperature had not gotten to 32. It was, instead, all the way up to zero.

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ZERO!

You spend a month colder that 20 degrees below zero, folks, and you’ll be surprised how much heat there is at zero!

Joining everyone in the dorm I told them I would be telling stories of being warm at zero. I assure you, dear reader, you are not the first to hear about it.

Sawtooth Kidhood 1955: Snowyside Mountain #3

Dad had spent months harping about the the fifty-two lakes that can be counted from Snowyside Mountain. He also had spent months harping about this bit of wisdom from experienced mountain climbers:

People don’t die going up mountains. 

They die coming down. 

This wisdom was a variation of our parents’ instructions that we kids were free to run up all the hills we want, but don’t let them catch us running down!

Whether it be a hill or a mountain, going down is when people are tired. Gravity is making it ease to get going too fast. And if you fall you do not fall a few degrees into the ground and rocks in front of you, you fall well over ninety degrees, through space, picking up speed until you hit the ground and rocks sloping away, where you keep sliding, scraping off skin and perhaps hitting your head on a rock to stop you.

Climbing Snowyside Mountain there were saddles between the smaller peaks before we reached the final summit of the mountain. One of these saddles was very narrow, with loose shale rock sloping steeply away from a path that was only a foot wide. The shale on both sides formed long slopes of scree that would not stop sliding out from under us should we slip onto it.

I remember this narrow path as some six to ten feet long but it might have been four.

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Dad paused when he first saw this dangerous path, but his determination to get to the top of Snowyside let him judge Vicky and I as old enough to understand the danger. We three sat down and, legs dangling on both sides of the path for stability, inched our butts along until the danger had passed.

After reaching the summit and counting fifty-two lakes we headed down and again came to this narrow path.

Not one of us hesitated. We walked right across it!

Need I say more about how mountain climbers perish?

Buck Brook #12 – Early Morning Pond

Our Florida retreat wrapped up and students would soon be returning to Buck Brook. By New Years, 1970, we were back in the Catskill Mountains dealing with the cold and snow.

The entire campus began every morning with Paul, the Headmaster, ringing the fire engine bell at 6am. We pulled on whatever pants and parkas we could find, and headed out for a brisk walk.

Yes — every morning. Even when the Catskill temperatures were well below MINUS twenty degrees!

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One of Paul’s favorite walks was up the little creek that ran between the girl’s dorm and the rest of the buildings. I don’t remember it being a terribly long walk but I do remember the winter cold and tramping down the ever increasing snow.

Our destination was a flat spot in the snow surrounded by trees. It was quite serine in a Robert Frost way, even with the noise of some fifteen students and staff shuffling about. As the seasons changed we came to enjoy this flat spot as the small mountain lake it was.

One cold January afternoon some of us actually returned to the pond voluntarily. One of the staff had an ice auger, hooks, and line and was determined to let us in on the fun of ice fishing. I have never had the patience to catch fish in a crowded barrel and I found waiting for a nibble through the ice did nothing to calm my impatience.

Sawtooth Kidhood 1955: Snowyside Mountain #2

Dad boosted my sister and I up the last four-foot vertical rock and we covered the final few feet to the tippy top of Snowyside Mountain. Dad then got right to work counting every one of those fifty-two lakes he had heard about and making sure it was true—you can see through the crystal clear water to the bottom of every single one!

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My sister Vicky and I set right to work on the most important task of reaching the top of any peak in the Sawtooths — finding one of the boards that were always scattered about, getting out our pocket knives, and leaving our mark at the top of the world.

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Some folks marked their arrival at the top of the world with an initial and perhaps a date or their age. Some made sure their name was complete along with other pertinent information like where they were from. I scratched a bit at my initials before putting that aside and checking out all those lakes. Vicky made sure her carvings were dug deep and would pass the test of weathering at ten thousand feet. But even she had time to check out the lakes before we headed back the same way we had come.

I doubt Vicky’s 1955 effort at permanence is still hanging around at the top of the fifth highest peak in the Sawtooth Mountains, so I’m passing witness here, in our modern means of recording our life’s summits.

~ Here are a few more of Dad’s slides from Snowyside Peak in 1955 ~

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#3 Toxaway Lake?.jpg

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