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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Buck Brook #8: A Timely Decision

The primary purpose of our annual winter retreat to Florida was to get the staff together to conduct the business of Green Valley School. So, soon after our arrival at the Florida campus, we were all sitting around discussing investments, purchases, and possible expansion.

There was little discussion. “Sure, that sounds good,” and we were on to the next item. Ping. Ping. Ping. Vote. Vote. Vote. We were easily on our way to having business done in an hour. I suppose tens of thousands of dollars were committed.

Then someone proposed one little $2.50 change. Suddenly it looked like we might not be out of the meeting until the end of the week.

It was proposed we raise the allowance for students from $2.50 to  $5 per week and we raise the weekly stipend for staff from $5 to $7.50.

Only $2.50 more per week. It made little difference to some, but tobacco and alcohol were the only things not provided by the school. For some of us that extra two and a half bucks were well worth fighting for. Skin was in the game.

The discussion went on. And on.

And on.

Decades later I mentioned that meeting to my brother-in-law. He had been hired to establish an electric utility outside of Portland, Oregon. He said he had been in many meetings where multimillion dollar transformers, reels of wire, and other equipment had been purchased without comment. But one day they were in need of a pickup truck. Just a pickup truck to toss some tools in the back and run off to a job. For the next several hours the discussion raged — Ford? Or Chevy?

In Florida, we took that extra two dollars and fifty cents and never looked back!

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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Buck Brook #7: Trip to Florida

The end of December came, the kids left for home, and the rest of us headed south for our annual meeting of the Green Valley School staff. Buck Brook was one of the campuses of Green Valley School, headquartered in Orange City, Florida.

I’d never been further south on the eastern seaboard than Trenton, New Jersey, so the trip was an anticipated adventure.

There were perhaps seven of us and, as I remember, we decided to drive to Florida in three cars. I ended up with Arthur and Ann Gunderson and their young son.

We were fairly close, the Gundersons and I. Arthur’s job was to oversee the construction projects at Buck Brook, make purchases, and coordinate with building codes and inspectors. Ann was in charge of coordinating the kitchen, ordering supplies and making sure we staff all got our turn at cooking and cleaning.Their son was a bright and engaged kid. So I was glad to share the ride with them.

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As much as I enjoyed working with Arthur, he was a source of grousing among the students and staff at Buck Brook. I saw his fussing over minutia as necessary to coordinate materials and construction projects while many students and staff grumbled about his not getting the free-spirit let-it-flow nature of our environment. (Even I had to agree the gawd-awful little tin shower stalls he ordered from some catalogue were — well — gawd awful compared to the roomie and conversational three-head open shower they replaced. But Arthur explained an up-to-code tiled communal shower would cost a fortune compared to the tin stalls, and watching the budget was one of his challenges.)

That was our Arthur. And Arthur was my ride. And when we got to Florida there was more than one pair of rolling eyes accompanying inquiries as to how I stood the extra twelve hours it took us to finish the straight-through, all-freeway drive.

Well, OK. When we were finally at the Florida boarder and cruising along nicely, Arthur did just blurt out, “the car could use a wash.” Just out of the blue. Worse, he took the exit we were approaching and started looking for a car wash. Yea — that time I was ready to just jump out and walk.

But there was also the time we were passing Washington, DC. It was the middle of the night and Arthur and Ann started pointing out distant landmarks of a town they had spent some time in. When I said I had never been to our nation’s capitol they immediately agreed something must be done about that and pulled onto the surface streets and circled the Capitol Mall for me.

Yea, it took us another half a day to reach Florida. But I had learned you can wash your car any time and any place you want. And I had seen our Capitol for the first and, so far, my only time. And we had stopped for some nice sit-down eats instead of dealing with paper on our laps and a ceaselessly moving, cramped vehicle.

I told those rolling eyes that Arthur wasn’t that difficult a character to enjoy.

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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Buck Brook #6: Perfect Ski

I have to thank my friend Jim Knosp Housley for jogging my memory. He was shocked that our first time skiing at a resort was our last time skiing with the Buck Brook students. His reaction jogged yet another memory from that winter of 1969 – 70.

The memory is a short vision of an effortless ski run. It was a vision that changed skiing for the rest of my life.

Indeed, Jim, I must have taken the students and staff on at least one more ski trip to the Pocono Mountains that winter. And I do vaguely remember finding another ski hill to check out.

The proof of both another trip and a different hill is my watching a skier from the lift. This skier was passing on our left side, opposite from where the run was on our first trip to the Poconos. Otherwise I remember the resort being similar to the first, with one lift and one run in a clearing between the trees.

The chair I was riding had passed the first pole holding up the cable when my eye was caught by a female skier making the most graceful decent of a hill I had ever seen. No effort at all. She just held her poles straight out to her sides and she did not turn. Nor was she just going straight down the hill as fast as she could. Rather she was in complete control and merely leaning. Just leaning from side to side.

As she leaned her skis naturally following the effect of her weight and tracked to the left or right.

No effort.

Just leaning from side to side and letting her skis settle in beneath her.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

It was everything I had always wanted my skiing to be.

Not trying to control skis. Not worrying about form. Not launching into a turn.

Just leaning from side to side.

And because of that, in poetic form — legs together. Skis parallel. Perfect.

I got off the chair, pointed my skis down hill, stuck my arms out to my sides, poles dangling in the wind, forgot about turning — and have celebrated my association with motion and gravity ever since.

Grandjean to Alpine #1: Sawtooth Lodge

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In 1955, the year after we walked from Atlanta to Alturas Lake, we set off on another primitive camping trip in the Sawtooth Mountains. This time from Grandjean to Redfish Lake.

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Grandjean is home to Sawtooth Lodge, a tiny log affair established in 1927. A few cabins and a campground round out the site at the end of a dirt road heading up the middle fork of the Payette River.

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The lodge has an active stream splashing beside it. As a kid I was fascinated by the iron pipe that ran several dozen yards up the hill beside this stream. We walked up the pipe and watched some of the stream running into the pipe. Before the pipe got to the lodge, it branched in two—one branch headed to the sinks in the lodge and the other into a small, wooden shack of a building.

We looked in the shack and saw the water spewing from a small nozzle and hitting little buckets placed around a spinning wheel. A belt connected the spinning wheel to a generator. I understood the principle of hydroelectricity by this time, but had never witnessed it in such open simplicity.

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Ever since I’ve wanted a house next to a stream that endlessly supplies running water and power.

Now that I think about it, I wonder how much effort the good folks at Sawtooth Lodge put into keeping the water running down that pipe, given freezing winters and constant debris washing down the stream. And I wonder how much jerry-rigging it takes to keep a Pelton wheel, a belt and generator running in the outback of mountain environments.

I think I’ll stick to the grid.