Tag Archives: camping

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.

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’.

Sawtooth Kidhood #1

I was a kid in the 1950s and have always assumed everyone raised in Idaho spent every summer being drug over the Sawtooth Mountains with two or three horses in tow.

Sawtooths MAP INT

Mom and Dad rented horses for our annual Sawtooth walk-about. Light-weight sleeping bags and cooking stoves and dried food were in the future. To cook in the wilderness we carried iron skillets and a Coleman white-gas camping stove. Food was in cans and bottles — and, yes, fried Spam and cold Vienna Sausages on crackers taste mighty fine in the mountain air, all dusty from the trail. Or at least they did when I was ten.

We did have the latest in air mattresses, flimsy plastic tubes molded together that only stayed inflated if no one was on them. Our bedding was heavy woolen blankets carried over the pack boxes on the backs of the horses. The blankets also served as handy padding for us kids when we got tired and were hoisted up on the top of the horses for a ride.

My beautiful picture

1954 — Vicky (sis), Victoria (M0m), Dean, Nyla (sis)

Tents, made of thick canvas, were too heavy to bother with so a couple of canvas tarps sufficed, one under our beds and one lying over them. It kept the dew off as well as the two inches of snow we woke to one August morning.

Every morning Mom and Dad packed our camp into boxes and loaded the horses and every evening it was all unpacked and set into a camp. We kids were kept busy blowing up mattresses and gathering wood, which was lying all about and easily available by breaking off dead branches from trees. Then it was time to play, often by riding the horses bareback.

My beautiful picture

1954 — Dean, Mom, Vicky, Nyla. Boxes fit on pack saddles.

Summer after summer we were crossing different trails in the Sawtooths. It was National Forest land at the time, not a National Wilderness, and in all our treks we only twice ran into Forest Service trail-maintenance pack strings. And only once did we run into another family. It was so unusual we became friends. For years we visited them at their place on Sunnyslope along the Snake River.

So, folks — that was part of my perfectly ordinary childhood. Now, at seventy years old and starting to tell some stories about it, is the first time I’ve realized just how unique it was. Stay tuned for some highlights…

On The Road #2, New Jersey lessons

The New Jersey countryside was wooded hills and just-greening farms when I lit out from Princeton in the spring of 1969.

After a day of walking north on an obscure road the light began to fade and I started to look for a spot to sleep. The fields were too muddy and I wouldn’t have wanted to irk the farmers anyway. The forests were posted as private property with emphatic No Trespassing instructions.

It was all a quandary and getting darker when I saw smoke from a campfire across an abandoned field. There were a couple of young guys at the fire and they seemed to be waving me over. After some Who? Me? gestures I walked across the field, perhaps some two blocks distant from the road, and took my shoes off to cross a stream running swift and very cold from the spring thaw.

The guys turned out to be high school buddies enjoying a favorite camping spot. The stream I crossed was joined by another just west of their camp, making a tip of land caressed by the sound of rushing water. Complimenting the noisy atmosphere were all the amenities a young men’s camp needs— A few rocks to sit on. A campfire. A small tent. A few pots and pans. And a brand new electric lantern, the most modern kind available, with a short length of florescent bulb meant to light the entire camp. A vast improvement over flashlights.

I rolled out my sleeping bag beside their tent, confident it wouldn’t rain. The darkness gathered. Soon we were in a cocoon of flickering campfire conversation.

Then I hear a thud. Before I had time to think a thud in the night was rather odd my camping companions were on their feet, the florescent light was out, and a rusty stick of metal had materialized from their tent. I soon realized the rusty stick was an ancient BB gun, long since having lost its wooden stock but still perfectly capable of being pumped and shot.

As BB pellets volleyed into the darkness rocks began to rain into our campsite from several directions across the two streams.

“They better not break my new lantern,” was the only concern I heard as the two New Jersey campers grabbed the device and told me to follow them, still shooting blind into the woods. We retreated some hundred feet before they turned and said we’d be OK, “The rocks cant’ get this far.” Apparently the BBs could since pellets kept being pumped into the darkness.

The next morning we broke camp and the shooter insisted he carry me across the cold stream. It was awkward, me being a half a foot taller, hanging onto his back. The two guys walked off through the field headed southwest and I was just heading north when I saw the rusted stick of a BB gun where it had been dropped in the grass. I picked it up and called out. They were glad to have it found and I was glad for an adventurous camp.

And that’s how I learned two things. First, a highlight of New Jersey high school camping was waiting for your buddies to sneak up and throw rocks at you. Second, it certainly was wise to find a camping spot where swift, cold motes are too dangerous to cross in the dark.

First Stomp

The first time I experienced big people whooping it up was at the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association convention in Silver City. It was 1956 and I was enjoying the summer between the fourth and fifth grades.

We spent Saturday checking out the relics and sharing the town with the cattlemen and every other tourist who had come to check out the big party—although I was too young to know a big party was in store. As evening approached mom cooked dinner over the campfire and after the dishes were dried we headed to the big Masonic Hall, an ancient wooden structure precariously bridging Jordan Creek.

Other than the girls assigned to me in Lowell Grade School dance classes in Boise, I had never cut a rug with anyone except my mom, so I pestered her for dances until nearly the last song. She finally convinced me to go ask a little girl sitting three tables down. Wow! I found out girls say yes, they would like to dance! She and I enjoyed a few dances, trying to keep out from under the cowboy’s flailing boots.

And man, did those cattlemen love to dance! The old building shook and bounced and trembled but somehow managed to keep from breaking right in two and falling into the creek. But then, that building has seen many a raucous time and still does today for all I know.

On the way back to camp we passed a drunken cowboy just as he pointed out a truck and confidently impressed his buddy with his spelling talents: “Jeep — J-E-P-P.” Dad moved between we and the revelers.

There was whooping it up in the trembling Masonic Hall and more whoops on the street, but they were tame compared to our arrival the night before, all thanks to Flip.

Flip was a young, frisky, beagle-lab mix of a pound rescue. He knew that once we were on dirt roads he could get out and run beside the car. By the time we were a half mile on the dirt road to Silver city he was yowling and whining and barking and bouncing all over the car, beside himself with anticipation. Soon he was out, running full tilt as dad drove just slow enough so he could stay in front of us. It was downright doggy delight. Then Flip’s first jackrabbit darted across the road. Flip cut in front of the car and was gone into the desert.

We called and honked and yelled. It was hours before Flip was back in sight, much less back in the car.

We had planned on setting up camp with plenty of sunlight but our arrival at the campground was after dark and all the good people had nestled their heads down for a good night’s sleep. There were six of us—two adults, three kids, and one excited dog—with a big wall-sided tent to put up and pots and pans to rattle around fixing some grub. It was all done in headlights, flashlights, and stumbling around in the dark.

About the time the commotion settled down Flip returned from his exploring, whimpering and rubbing his nose. Dad’s flashlight revealed a snout full of porcupine quills.

Dad got the pliers and Mom did her best to hold him still, but Flip was having nothing to do with those quills being pulled. We kids cried and yelled, then screamed, about hurting poor Flip. Mom and Dad were trying to keep their voices down but nerves were on edge. Finally Dad got a noose around Flip’s nose and Flip immediately gave up.

The pliers pulled the skin around his mouth to the ripping point. Just when his lips were ready to split from his skull the quill would let go. One by one the task went on until the last quill released. Then Dad found more quills on the inside of Flip’s lips and in his tongue and gums, and he pulled those as well.

We got to bed by three in the morning, wondering how we’d be able to feed Flip through his swollen mouth. But come morning, Flip was poking his nose in our faces, eager to have us up, chipper as a sparrow and without a sign of ever having been riddled with the effects of arguing with barbed quills.

Our fellow campers remembered our arrival much longer than it took Flip to recover. Even so, in all our subsequent outdoor adventures he never again argued with a porcupine.

My dad Merrill, sister Nyla, myself and sister Vicky
Silver City, 1956

DCP_2251 copy

Masonic Hall, Silver City, Idaho
October 9, 2006