Category Archives: Back country camping

Car Camping #5: Low Rider

As soon as we got our new 1952 Cadillac with it’s powerful V-8 engine we were headed out on a camping trip to Atlanta, Idaho. With the trunk of the car stuffed and pulling a trailer loaded with canvas tent and tarps, cotton mattresses, wood-and-canvas army cots, canned food, cooking supplies and clothes we hit the rocky dirt road heading up the Boise river. 

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The operative word being “hit.” 

All was well until we were driving around Arrowrock Reservoir. We were some some thirty-five miles away from home and ten miles an a rocky dirt road. Dad noticed the gas gage going down much faster than he expected — and we started to smell gasoline. A quick stop on the narrow road and a check under the car revealed a steady little leak from the gas line, no doubt from the rock we had scrapped over. 

We drove another mile or so to find a place to turn the car and trailer around and headed back to Boise. Dad drove as fast as he dared, not wanting to rip another gash on the very rough road back to the highway. The road to Arrowrock Dam  had not been paved at the time. 

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Once we were on Highway 21 we made a dash to the Caddy dealer. The shop figured we had a teacup of usable gas in the tank when we arrived.

Now that I’m writing about it I wonder how worried my folks were about the gasoline spewing under a car with hot exhaust pipes. Glad I didn’t think of it at the time. 

At the time most cars had leaf springs in the rear, not coils like in the front. The next day Dad had two extra leaves installed on each side, giving our fine Cadillac the suspension of a truck. We never had to turn back from a trip to the mountains again. 

And that is how our luxury Cadillac always had its ass in the air, nose pointed down, as we toodled around town and drove the highways. Only when we were roughing it in the Idaho mountains did our Cadillac appear the way it was designed. 

Car Camping #4: The Cadillac #4, Engine Switch

The reason for buying the 1952 Cadillac was the car’s big V-8 engine. 

Our family had grown to five and our camping supplies were early 1950 technologies. Heavy canvas tents. Coleman stoves. Canned food and iron skillets. Supplies that once fit in the trunk now required a densely packed trailer. 

Cadillac V-8 engines were big, powerful and reliable. Just what we needed to get over the high summits of Idaho’s rugged Forest Service roads. Roads that still remain surfaced with the dirt and rocks the landscape provides. 

The greatest disappointment of the Caddie turned out to be that big engine.

After a few trips to the shop Dad mentioned how he was surprised at how unreliable the engine was. Sure, it was more reliable than the Model A Ford he had kept running for his folks through the 1930s and 40s. But it sure needed more fussing over than he had expected from a Caddie V-8.

The shop fessed up that the Cadillac motor factory had burned down shortly before our car was manufactured so General Motors had installed Buick motors. They had equal motor-mounts so were handy to toss in but they did not have the horsepower the car was designed for. 

Dad never agan bought a  GM product. 

(But I think the switch was his fondness for Mercurys — the first car he bought on his own.)

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.

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?

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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Sawtooth Kidhood 1955: Snowyside Mountain #1

My dad had climbed 9,363 foot Greylock Mountain in Atlanta when he was a kid.

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I have a photo of him sitting atop a radio tower on Shafer Butte, a mile above Boise, when he was in his twenties.

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He had something about getting up and looking around.

In the 1950s he found out that from Snowyside Peak in the Sawtooth Mountains you can see right through the clear waters to the bottom of fifty-two lakes. Yea, there were some “difficult spots” on the climb to the top. But from what he heard the peak was easily reach by following the ridge that rises from the Alice-Toxaway Loop Trail.

At 10,651 feet, Snowyside is the fifth highest peak in the Sawtooths. In 1955, when I was ten, our family of five broke camp at Toxaway Lake, loaded up the pack horses, and set out for the day’s adventure of checking out those fifty-two lakes.

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Mom and my little sister made it to where the faint trail up Snowyside’s ridge gave way to rocks, bigger rocks and then boulders. Mom never was comfortable with heights and my sister’s legs were too short to get over the increasingly large stones so they decided to hunker down out of the wind.

My big sister Vicky, dad, Flip the dog and I pushed on.

I remember approaching the top of several peaks only to have another, higher peak appear just ahead. Those jagged high points before Snowyside Peak were a source of great disappointment and consternation.

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Then we came to a vertical wall that stopped us. Dad considered a way around but the slopes were too steep and covered with dangerous scree. Yet looking through fifty-two lakes was calling and soon Dad was pushing from the bottom and Vicky and I managed to scramble past the obstacle. Dad was tall enough and reached the scramble spot on his own.

Unfortunately Flip was a dog who never did follow instructions. And, to be fair, his lack of opposable thumbs for scrambling made his lack of obedience mote, so poor Flip was left behind. We were sure he’d be in the same spot waiting our descent.

The wall turned out to be part of the final assent to the summit of Snowyside Mountain. Soon our eyes were watching the slope in front of us give way to every increasing open sky without another peak taunting “not yet you haven’t reached the top.”

And right there at the top of Snowyside Mountain was a slobbering, smiling, tail-wagging Flip imploring us to come look-see!

Sawtooth Kidhood 1957: Switchbacks #2

During the summer of 1957 our family found itself at the bottom of a long, steep slope of endless loose shale. It just kept getting more steep the further up it went.

I recognized the zig-zag pattern cut across and up the dangerous scree-covered slope from previous trails called “switchbacks.” But before I had only seen three or five or so zig-zags. These we did not bother to count. Fifty? Eighty? Five-hundred-eighty million gazillion????????

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We were mounted on the five horses my parents had rented from a dude ranch in Stanley Basin. I was twelve and my sisters were fourteen and ten.

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Mom and Dad explained the principles of shale and scree and gravity to us. They pointed out the horses had been over this dangerous scree many times. They pointed out the trail would get narrower and the horses would have only enough room for their hooves.

They pointed out if we spooked a horse it could step off the trail, slide the scree under its hooves, and we and the horses would be in an avalanche of rocks and horse and our own bodies.

I clearly remember how high up I was on that horse. How tiny the trail looked from up there. And how steep that slope of loose rocks was!

And I remember how the further up the switchbacks I rode the distance to the bottom of the slope grew to an endless potential of the horse and I rolling with tumbling rocks forever.

I don’t know if that dude ranch had to replace the crushed saddle horn I was hanging onto that day. I do remember Mom’s gentle laughter around the campfire that night as she observed, “I’ve never seen three kids sit so straight and so still for so long in my life!”