Category Archives: camping

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!

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 #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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Grandjean to Alpine Lake #5: Heartbroken

When we got back to Grandjean after days in the wilderness, a soda pop at the Grandjean Lodge was a real treat.

Then there was the business of unloading the horses and mule. They were glad to be home, free from the weight of being beasts of burden.

Our dog Flip was scurrying about, excited as ever, and happened behind the mule as it was being unpacked. For whatever reason, the mule chose that moment to get spooked and let out a good kick. Flip was so startled he ran back up the trail from whence we had come.

We called and called. And called some more.

We waited and called.

Flip was not coming back.

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Dad had to be at work the next day, so, reluctantly, we packed up the car, waited some more, and drove the hundred slow, winding miles to Boise.

Four days later we got a call from the Lodge saying they had Flip.

They had seen him three times before that. He would get as far as the edge of the lodge property and look around, then head back up the trail.  Each time he was a little slower to run away when the folks at Grandjean started to approach.

Finally Flip was so tired and torn up and famished he let the folks at Grandjean get hold of him. He had been kept in the lodge ever since. He was eating but he was broken hearted.

The folks at Grandjean figured Flip had run back and fourth four times, covering the entire trail we had been camping on for days, in a desperate effort to find us.

So he laid in the lodge at Grandjean, without the energy or will to move. But they were keeping him inside just to make sure he didn’t head up the trail once again.

Two days after the call, Flip was languid on the floor when an ear perked up. In seconds his head was off the floor, aiming for a better listen. And suddenly he was on his feet, barking and whining and dancing and jumping and wild with joy.

It was another ten minutes before the humans could hear the deep throaty V-8 engine of my Dad’s Cadillac driving up the road. But they knew it was coming.

When the green car was well in sight, they let Flip out the door. As he tore past them and out the gate and onto the road his tail was wagging so hard his back legs had trouble continuing to hit the dirt.

Our dad had trouble getting the car door open and then trouble getting out of the car because he was being so jumped on and face-licked by the world’s most joyful soul.

Grandjean to Alpine Lake #4: Strangers Indeed!

Visiting the Sawtooth Wilderness Area today is as awe-inspiring and rigorous as ever. It is also something of a social event with regular exchanges of howdy-dos with strangers on the trails.

When horse packing in the 1950s, any interaction with other people in the Sawtooths was a rare event, indeed.

We once did come across another family out exploring the trails. It was so unusual we became friends and several times drove to Sunnyslope, overlooking the Snake River near Marsing, to visit.

There were only two other times we met another person during the eight treks we took in the Sawtooths. Both times they were men leading long strings of pack mules.

The U. S. Forest Service builds and maintains the trails in the Sawtooth Mountains and it is a constant job. In the spring it takes a surge of saws to open the trails through the winter’s accumulation of downed trees and areas damaged by avalanche and flood. All summer it requires regular clearing of trees blown and blasted down by wind and lightening.

Just how modern trail maintainers travel I don’t know. But the wilderness area is motor free, so I would not be surprised if long lines of mules still carry the tools and supplies needed to keep the wilderness wild while still open to human traffic.

During our horse camping trips in the 1950s, one string of mules was spied in the distance, working its way across a scree of loose stones.

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On another trip, a string of mules caught up to us from behind. After a few pleasantries the forest ranger said he had been watching our tracks for most of the day. He had also been watching the prints of very large paws that had been following us for miles. The paw prints of a large lion, known hereabouts as a cougar.

And here I thought I was the only one noticing how pungent sweating horses can get!

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Grandjean to Alpine Lake #3: A Cool Dip

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For all the majestic beauty of the walk up Payette River and Baron Creek, the highlight of the trek (at least from this story teller’s point of view) was when we reached Little Baron Lake. It was getting late and we were ready to make camp.

Those who know mountain treks know that, yes, it is high altitude and you have to pack to stay warm on very cold nights. But the atmosphere is thin, the sun is direct, and walking uphill sure makes mountains hot during the day.

It had been a long, hot day on the trail by the time we reached Little Baron Lake and the clear waters of the lake were the most inviting vision you can imagine. As soon as Mom and Dad agreed on a camping spot and stopped to make camp, my two sisters went running to the lake, looking for the perfect place to get on a rock with a deep hole beside it.

Within seconds of agreeing on the proper, safe rock, off came their clothes and in they jumped, one right after the other.

And just like that they levitated right back out!

One hint to just how cold a Sawtooth lake can be on a hot August day might have been the glistening white glacier on the other side of the lake. A glacier that came right down into the beautiful, inviting water.

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Grandjean to Alpine #2: Baron Creek

 

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The good folks at Sawtooth Lodge were more than happy to rent us two horses and the gear to pack up our iron skillets, canned food, blankets, Coleman stove, and whatever it takes to keep a family of five clothed and reasonably comfortable for a week. And we kids once again found ourselves watching Mom and Dad balancing pack boxes and cinching the whole kit and caboodle high on the backs of those huge beasts.

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I remember the long, long walk up the south fork of Payette River and Baron Creek. They are narrow valleys with steep slopes rising above tree line to towering granite peaks. Every time we stopped and looked back the valleys seemed more immense, an expanding crevice opening into the distance.

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On the steep slopes between the towering stone tops of the mountains and the base of the valleys were all variety of growth. Scrub pine barely hanging on at tree line gave way to aspen and brush with open spaces of grasses and moss. Areas of grey stones lay where they had tumbled from on high. Slicing through the vegetation were avalanche trails. Only low brush grew in the avalanche trails, saved by remaining under snowpack while the power of sliding snow roared above.

Mom spotted a bear with her cubs on our side of the valley, but a goodly distance from us. She and Dad seemed to agree this was a good opportunity to point out “a goodly distance” is just the right place for spotting bears in the wild.

They got no argument from me.

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