Category Archives: Back country camping

Car Camping #9 – A Beloved Trailer the first

As our need for more camping gear grew, the challenge of carrying it into the Idaho backcountry became more daunting. The heavy canvases, the Coleman camp stove and fuel, the cotton mattresses, the World War surplus cots, the big tent, the blankets, the canned and fresh food and our family of five had to be hauled up and down dirt roads

My dad often said if he didn’t have trailers he would have had to drive a pickup. That’s no problem these days, what with pickups being more spacious and comfortable than luxury sedans, but pickups in the 1950s were not so well appointed. A bench seat that did not slide forward or backward was good enough for wasting resources on human accommodations. Oh—but the cabs did include a heater. What more could you want?

Meanwhile, Dad did have trailers. There was a whole row of them that my parents rented out to strangers. 

1952 Atlanta INT

From Dad’s earliest photos in 1952, I see the first trailer we used for camping was one I don’t remember. I was seven at the time and not paying attention to why a trailer did not work out for camping. Perhaps it was made of steel and was too heavy to pull up mountain grades. Perhaps it got sold or it got wrecked. What I do know is that Dad would have chosen it because it had solid sides to keep our camping supplies from falling out on the rough roads.

There was a light weight trailer that transported our Arians tiller when folks rented it. Dad also used this trailer in parades around town. He’d hitch up one of our two Ford tractors, decorate the trailer and the tiller (making sure the point got across that we rented all this) and join the festivities. One of my earliest memories is being on that trailer with my two sisters, throwing saltwater taffy to scurrying kids along parade routes through downtown Boise.

1950 tiller trailer INT

About the time Dad ordered the big tent from Pioneer Tent and Awning he converted that light weight trailer into a most useful camp carrier. He enclosed the sides with plywood to keep our stuff in and he left the back completely open for loading said stuff. He fashioned a plywood panel that slid into steel u-channels at the rear of the trailer, thus enclosing the entire kit and caboodle.

1959 Grandjean INT

A bonus with this light weight, spacious trailer was it had a long tongue running from the trailer to the hitch on our car. That long tongue made it easy to back the trailer into any position we wanted.

This trailer ended up being the last trailer in the family. When my dad passed and Mother auctioned off the rental supplies, I kept that trailer just because it was so handy. But I never used it. After several years of sitting in my garage I sold it to a friend who used it to move to Portland. I hope it is still in service and is still being enjoyed as much as ever.

Our next Car Camping story will reveal an incident when that delightful trailer was not treated with the respect it deserved. It was not well treated at all.

Buck Brook #25: Adirondack Posh

Having spent my summers in the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, I was not sure what to expect of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. 

I was aware of the Adirondack’s reputation. Native Americans knew the damp, cold hills as the Dismal Wilderness and early European explorers figured they were right. The Romantic Movement of the 1800s, however, found the remoteness to be nature’s haven from the evils of industrialization. Romantic art bathed the morning mists in glowing reds and yellows. Popular poets and essayists inspired adventurers back to our primitive selves. Summer camps sprang up. 

Me? In the summer of 1970? Well, I didn’t expect it to be the young Western mountains I knew from the Sawtooths, with a maximum altitude of 10,751 feet. And I knew the Adirondacks (maximum altitude 5,344 feet) were a more rugged area than the beautiful Catskill Mountains (4,180 feet) where I had spent the last year. 

Me? Between curiosity and new adventure, I was all in. 

The Romantics were right when they painted the Adirondacks. The scenery is stunning and the air is as bracing as any I have enjoyed on a mountain morning.

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Even with all the glory of nature, however, what has stuck with me over the years was discovering how two centuries of providing the wilderness experience has left the “campgrounds.”

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Heading into the upper Adirondacks where we knew there was a place to make a base camp, my thoughts were a site with a designate fire pit and a trampled down area to toss a sleeping bag. Just like every other wilderness campground I had ever encountered. To my surprise a house was waiting for us!

OK. In the Adirondacks it was called a “lean-to.” But to me it was a three-sided house. It had a wood floor. It faced a well constructed rock fire pit that included seating on rocks and logs. And the structure was thoughtfully placed with its back to the wind. 

Lean To.jpg

A flat spot to sleep with no rocks or roots poking through sleeping bags? Protection from wind and rain and morning dew provided with a solid roof? 

Now that’s Adirondack posh!

Buck Brook #24: Adirondacks Abuzz

In the summer of 1970 one of the Buck Brook staff planned a hiking trip in the Adirondack Mountains. The Adirondacks are fabled for their beauty and only 200 miles north of the Catskills where our campus was located so a half dozen of the students and I jumped at the chance to join him.

Catskills Location

Catskill location

I have no idea where we drove to in the Adirondacks or what trailhead we parked at or what mountains we went off to climb. But I well remember our plan — we’d arrive at the trailhead too late to make it to our permanent base camp so we planned to walk for an hour or so, set up an overnight camp, and the next day reach a high altitude camp where we could leave our eighty pound packs and adventure out to explore different peaks. 

It was a pleasant day when we parked at the trailhead and we all enjoyed a trek up a slight slope until we came to a wide meadow near water. We had walked for an hour and a half after a long ride in the van and were glad to roll out our sleeping bags. 

Then the slapping began. And the waving. And the dancing and cursing. The mosquitos had found us and had told all their friends a most tasty picnic had conveniently brought itself to them.

So many mosquitoes were an assault on the expectations I had from having been raised in the desert climate of southern Idaho. There was no way I was going to be in mosquito infested mountains for a week with no repellent so I volunteered to head back to the van, get to the nearest town, and stock up on spray. 

One of the students said he’d trot along and off we went. 

Beating the approaching dusk and traveling without heavy packs we covered that trail in record time, found five or six cans of repellent, and got back to camp before dark. Everyone was glad to help empty some of the spray, saving plenty for the rest of our journey. 

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The next morning we sprayed ourselves, broke camp, and started the four or five hour hike to find an appropriate base camp. Within twenty minutes we noticed there was not a mosquito to be heard. Day after day and night after night we never encountered another annoying high-pitched buzz. Only when walking back through the very spot we had camped the first night were we confronted by that annoying sound. It didn’t last long enough to bother unpacking the cans of repellent. 

Yes, we did have to add those cans of spray to the weight on our backs for the entire trip. But I was still glad the two of us had made that extended dash.

Car Canping #6: 1952 & ’53

My dad worked full time for Idaho Power Company. He and Mom also operated a rental business out of our home. Or should I say they made a home in the machine shop of the rental business? Half the building was home and half shop. 

The business rented a selection of trailers and two Ford tractors including a variety of implements to fit the tractors.

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Dad observed that if he didn’t have trailers he’d have to drive a pickup truck so he could haul things. Our camping gear being an example. 

It was the 1950s and light weight camping supplies were not an option. We’d be in the Idaho back country for a week and went well supplied for five people and a dog or two. Many of those trips we took off with pack horses to spend time in the wilderness and sometimes we’d just spend the time in a Forest Service campground. But even when we were in the wilderness we’d have a base camp that stayed behind, fully set up. 

The first photos I have of our camps is from 1952, when my Dad bought a good camera and light meter. We’d wait for him to set all the adjustments and later look at the slides on the screen he unrolled like an upside down window shade. I remember the smell of that screen as it was pulled from its metal canister. 

The next few Car Camping blogs will show how we roughed it through those hot days and cold nights in the outback. 

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3 camp overnew.jpg

4 camp interior.jpg

5 Mom in river.jpg

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7 1953  Baumgartner.jpg

 

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.

Scree INT

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!

Alice Lake INT.jpg

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.