Category Archives: Idaho Events

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #10: Shocked

We made it back to Atlanta after a week of dusty horse camping in the Sawtooths. Other than at Alturas Lake we had not seen a soul.

We walked through town to the camp were we had left our car, unpacked the horses, and Dad returned them to the folks who had rented them to us. We spent the night in the Atlanta campground listening to the rushing Boise River. I’m sure Mom and Dad spent the night in sweet dreams, knowing they did not have to pack and unpack horses the next day.

But we did pack the camping trailer, a two-wheeled, fairly light-weight trailer with high sides that fit around the large canvas tent, cotton mattresses, blankets, pots, pans, Coleman stove, supplies of gas and boxes of food that it took for us to be outdoorsmen.

I was expecting a seventy mile trip down the Boise River to home but instead, just outside of Atlanta, we turned left and began a long climb up James Creek and over Bald Mountain. We explored the little survival cabin where Peg Leg Annie had her frozen legs cut off. We explored Rocky Bar and I watched the crusted food in the corners of Charlie Sprintle’s mouth while he chatted with Dad. We checked out Featherville as we drove by, and the wide backwaters of Anderson Ranch Reservoir. Then we finally hit paved road and the miles flew by smoothly and dust free!

shack-int

sprintles-int

It didn’t seem long before we slowed down and Dad turned left onto another dirt road. The sign said, “Alturas Lake.”

And sure enough, some ten minutes later we passed the lodge where Dad had rented the steel boat that could not sink. And we were unpacking at the very camp site where a few days before we had packed up horses.

I was shocked! Sure, I had seen the cars and trucks at Alturas Lake. But, really? We could have just driven from Boise in three hours????!!!!!

Well. What kids haven’t wondered about the sanity of their parents?

map-int

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #9: Dumped!

The return trek from Alturas Lake to Atlanta was going along just dandy when Dad learned a lesson about kindness to animals.

When picking up the pack horses from Atlanta locals, I watched as the man we were renting them from showed my dad the secret to cinching a pack saddle on a horse.

A pack saddle is held in place with a belt that loops under the horse’s rib cage. With the saddle in place the man ran this belt under the horse and through rings on the saddle to cinch it tight. Several times, he did what he could to get the saddle tightened down when the horse let out it’s breath. Then, when things were good and tight and there was no more cinching to do, he pulled hard on the belt and delivered a serious kick right in the horse’s ribs. The horse snorted and the belt slipped two or three inches through the rings and got tied off.

“They’ll always keep some room and if you don’t get it tight they can drop their load any time they choose,” was the man’s advice. Even so, I felt sorry for the horse.

The return from Alturas Lake followed the same steady climb we had come down from the summit, across the meadow of blue flowers, and on down the valleys of Mattingly Creek and then Middle Fork of the Boise River.

mattingly-creek

 

middle-fork

Even we kids knew going down is the dangerous part of climbing. That’s when heads hit rocks hard during a fall. And we remembered going up a very steep and very rocky section of the trail some five miles out of Atlanta. We kids got off the horses to pick our way down that several hundred feet.

It was right in the center of that steep and difficult part of the trail — right where it was the steepest and dustiest and most awkward — the pack on one of the horses simply slid to one side and landed in the powdery dust.

dropped-pack

The horse didn’t look one bit sorry about it, either. Indeed, he seemed quite pleased with himself!

I was too young to help unpacking the bedding and canvases and heavy pack boxes there on that steep slope. Nor do I remember if Mom and Dad carried all the goods to a more level place to pack them back on the horse, but it sure seems they could not have saddled and packed that animal in as steep a place as the horse was standing.

What I do know is that horse got a damn solid kick with Dad’s boot when the saddle was being cinched up. And the horse looked completely convinced it had been worth it.

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #8: New Boots

In all the planning Dad put into our first trek across the Sawtooth Mountains, one thing he made sure to do was think of footwear. We kids were outfitted with the popular Converse “tennis shoes” of the time, a modern cobbler’s approach to canvas uppers on rubber souls. Being heavier, Dad got himself a good pair of stout leather hiking boots.

Brand new stout leather hiking boots.

Half way through the first day of the walk from Atlanta to Alturas Lake there were blisters coming up on Dad’s heals. Some extra padding helped but the blisters were not to be abated.

By Alturas Lake Dad had blisters inside of the first blisters, including some on toes. I remember them being popped to make room for his foot to get back in the boots.

Well, folks, there are no cobblers or shoe stores at Alturas Lake, so the walk back to Atlanta was faced with the knowledge more skin would be rubbed raw in the future. And it was.

1954 new boots

Meanwhile we kids were prancing about in our thin canvas shoes with nary so much as a red splotch to show for it.

I’m not sure if those boots found the nearest trash can when we got back to Atlanta or not, but my dad was not one to toss out anything that had any life left in it. There is a photo from hiking in the Sawtooths the next year that has him wading barefoot in a creek while holding a pair of boots that look similar.

1955 Old boots

One thing I do know — he never again wore new footwear of any kind when taking off on a mountain trail. And I’m pretty sure he considered an extra pair of very comfortable shoes worth packing along just in case.

Golden Moment

On Sunday, August 14, 2016, I took a little stroll up Camelback Hill just up the street from my home. On this path I usually stop at a favorite spot for a little thanking the Gods for their beautiful existence. Just as I got to my thanking spot the sun emerged from the overcast.

sun

The light caught the dried grasses of our southern Idaho hills and turned them golden.

north

northeast

And did a fine job of lighting up Boise.

city

Fortunately I took some photos before pausing for my thank-yous. By the time the Gods were properly greeted the sun was again behind the cloud and the golden was gone.

gone

Alturas Lake #7: Choppy Water

The white caps are the strongest memory of my encounter with Alturas Lake.

Alturas Lake is two miles long and stretches along the valley of Alturas Lake Creek. There is a relentless flow of cool air settling from the Sawtooth’s high peeks down to the floor of Stanley Basin, the site of Alturas Lake. With two miles for the wind to blow along the surface of the lake, the water was always riled up. Choppy swells covered the lake like meringue on a lemon pie and I was introduced to the term, “white caps.”

What better place to rent a tiny boat and take the family on a putt-about?

life vests

It was all perfectly safe, we were assured by the man behind the counter of the Alturas Lake Lodge. The boats were all steel, which would sink like the Titanic. But at both the front and back of the boats were compartments sealed shut with strong welds. The trapped air in the compartments would float the boat should the choppy waters cause it to capsize.

front end

At the time I did not know of the Titanic and its unsinkable compartments. Nor do I remember the man behind the counter making the comparison.

It was a lovely time on the choppy lake, being beaten on the butt by the metal seats and sprayed in the face with the wind-blown icy water of glacial melt. We frolicked on the beach at the far end of the lake for an afternoon and then headed on the two-mile journey to the lodge.

beach

Checking out my Dad’s slides, I did seem to have an encounter with the lake on the return trip. We were not at a pier or sandy beach, so perhaps my sisters, mother and I were being let off near the campground while Dad returned the boat. I vaguely remember a mass of leaves, logs and twigs luring me off the boat. With no experience on lake water, it looked perfectly solid but was, instead, floating in some two feet of water.

My dad caught my nine-year-old reaction to being shocked at the unexpected results.

crying

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #6: Alturas Lake

The gentle, blue-blooming saddle between the trails of Mattingly Creek and Alturas Lake Creek is a ten mile hike from Atlanta and seven miles from Alturas Lake.

The ten miles from Atlanta were filled with all variety of gentle and steep trail, narrow and fairly open areas, and views up rocky peaks. All I remember of the seven mile trail down Alturas Lake Creek was a gentle slope on reliable sand and gravel. All down a wide mountain valley.1 wide valley

I also remember when the trail became a dirt road with two ruts rather than the one option of the path. I was convinced the lake could not be far away and remember my disappointment when the lake never seemed to appear.

2 road

But appear it did, although still a long way in the distance. And, once we did finally get to it’s shores, I found out there was still the walk along the north side of lake to get to the campground. It was a long, long walk.

3 lake in distance

4 north side

The campground was filled with trucks and cars and all sorts of tents and gear. We made quite the entrance, walking through with three horses, three kids, and Mom and Dad. We had barely settled on a spot and started pulling the packs off the horses when other campers were joining us and asking questions.

5 in element

My Dad was in his element!

Now that I think of it, these sixty-two years later, I’m not sure but what the attention Dad knew awaited when he came into the campground, fully loaded as a horse-packing family, was one of the reasons he’d drempt the entire trip up.

Just sayin’.

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #5: Surprising Ridge

 

 

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On our Sawtooth Mountain trek from Atlanta to Alturas Lake, one surprise for Mom and Dad came half way into the trail.

They had been looking forward to crossing a steep ridge at the saddle between Mattingly and Alturas Lake creeks. Yet as we got close to where the saddle should be they saw a pretty blue lake.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but to most of us lakes belong in valleys, not straddling mountain ridges. Call me crazy, but water is supposed to run from ridges like caribou scamper from wolves.

Yet there, in the distance, was a lake right where a rocky ridge should be!

Getting closer we came to realize the ridge was not straddled by a lake. Nor was it a rocky spine. Instead, at 8,300 feet, a gentle curve crossed between the two creeks. And that meadowy curve was covered with a vast cluster of the bluest little Alpine flowers we’d ever seen.

ridge flowers

It was a treat.

into Alt Lake Creek

Years later, when the Idaho Transportation Department was looking for a direct route from Boise to the Sawtooth valley, Dad wrote many letters encouraging the route we walked that day. I’m sure he mostly wanted an improved, paved road to Atlanta, but his letters pointed out the advantages of the Atlanta – Alturas Lake route, including: 1) it was the most direct, 2) it was the most scenic, going right through the heart of the Sawtooths, and 3) building the route was simple, crossing the ridge in a gentle, flowering meadow.

The road was built by extending Highway 21 past Grandjean, around the north end of the Sawtooths, and into Stanley. But you can’t say my Dad didn’t do his darndest to talk some sense into them!

Dad's box of letters

Dad's Map

Dad's %22letter%22

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #4: Breaking Camp

After a long mountain climb while leading horses and corralling three needy, rambunctious kids, I can’t imagine facing the work it must have taken to make camp. But camps must be made and dinners must be cooked.

Heavy tarps and blankets were pulled off the horses, then heavy wooden boxes packed with skillets and canned foods were hoisted off the pack saddles. Before anything else the horses had to be tended to, so Dad got busy with that. We kids were put to work gathering wood for a fire and blowing up our air mattresses. Now that I think of it, the mattresses were always flat by the time we got to bed — were they brought along just to keep us busy?

These days, with light mountaineering equipment and scores of Sawtooth hikers, I don’t know if there is wood for camp fires or not. But in 1954 there was abundant dry wood laying on the ground and hanging as snags from the trees. It wasn’t long before we kids were through with chores and were entertaining ourselves by bareback riding the horses around camp.

Meanwhile Mom arranged what rocks she could find so they would hold the Coleman white-gas camp stove and spent rest of the day cooking, feeding, washing dishes, and reading aloud by fire light as we snuggled under blankets watching the stars come out.

The next morning, after breakfast was cooked and the dishes were cleaned, the hard work of unpacking was reversed. But everything had to go back on the horses, so camp was broken.

Breaking Camp

One camp ritual I had forgotten until looking at my Dad’s slides was our daily bath.

bathing in creek

We did not have a tub to heat water in, so Sawtooth Mountain “bathing” always consisted of a washcloth in the creek. What with the sweat and dust of the trail, I remember the concept of a bath being most welcome. I also remember these being extremely quick approaches to hygiene. Even in August, those mountain streams were snow just hours earlier. They were cold!

Those washcloths never approached my body with enough water to run, I’ll tell you that. I soon learned to get them just damp enough to wipe off the grit and get the bath done.

August Snow

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #3

Map INT copy

I had no idea where we were headed that day as the trail from Atlanta began to climb. The valley got more narrow and the mountains around us grew higher and rockier and crowded in closer to the trail. The creek got more wild and filled with falls.

narrow & rocky JPG

falls JPG

But there were wide spots as well, places where the trail was not as steep nor as rocky. And there were wild flowers covering many of the Alpine meadows, filing the lush grasses with color. The air was crisp and clear. We continued to climb, a step at a time.

flowers JPG

Looking back now I know we were following the trail up Mattingly Creek, headed over a ridge to join Alturas Lake Creek and then follow it to Alturas Lake. I’m pretty sure we were on the Atlanta side of the ridge when we stopped to make camp.

I had forgotten until I looked at the pictures Dad took, but of our three horses only two carried our gear on pack saddles. In their planning our folks had been wise enough to hire an extra horse to carry kids. I have no doubt that being able to put two tired kids on a saddle horse and toss one on the top of a pack horse made the entire trip much more enjoyable for the adults!

extra horse JPG

Flower Shade

Boise is in a desert. We have sunny, hot summers.

Not only does the sun make cars into ovens, it is the fastest way to fade paint and deteriorate a car’s interior. For these two reasons I never worry about walking across a large parking lot. The only consideration I have for summertime parking is finding shade.

Winters are different, of course. The low sun neither heats the car up nor damages dashboards. From November to March, I forget about looking for shade.

Every March, when the temperature gets near sixty and we have a sunny day, I find myself thinking, “Is the sun hot enough and will I be parked long enough to heat up the car?”

Not that it really matters. We are in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and our winters are cold enough so when warm, sunny days start in the spring the trees do not yet have their leaves.

Even so, there is one place I can park in the shade of trees even though they do not have leaves. From what I can tell the trees are ornamental pears and their blossoms are thick.

Like moon shadows, I always get a particular joy from parking in the shade of flowers.

Photo JPEG