Tag Archives: outdoors

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.

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 #5: Surprising Ridge

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 1.09.01 PM

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

Frost Valley #15: Color of the North

Fall was gathering ‘round us in Frost Valley and once again I found myself surrounded by natural wonders that were new to me.

Having been raised in the deserts and pine-covered mountains of Idaho I was not aware of tourist industries based on people looking at forests full of colorful trees. But now, as I fed the estate’s fish and mowed the fields and cleaned up the garden, I found myself increasingly scanning hills no longer green but pocked with reds and oranges and yellows. And then reds and oranges and yellows pocked with green. Eventually the green was gone.

Color #1

 

TrailOne of the estate’s grandkids and Bud and I decided to check out this splash of Autumn in Upstate New York. I drove the estate’s Suburban up Frost Valley to the trailhead at the ridge of the Catskill Mountains. From there we took off on the trail Bud and I had taken when we ended up freezing under the brand new invention of a space blanket. I believe it was the trail to Slide Mountain — at 4,180 feet the highest point in the Catskill Mountains.

Eventually rocky ledges began to appear. These were not above the treeline where no trees grow, like I knew from Idaho. Rather they were flat, solid rock ledges that jutted out from the forest before falling off at a cliff. These cliffs were higher than the trees below and offered views over the surrounding forest. Before these ledges all we had seen were tree trunks beside the trail with color between them. The old can’t see the forest for the trees …

Ledges

Well, folks, there is a reason tourists check out the hardwood forests of the eastern United States in the fall. The rolling Catskill were resplendent.

That night we were laying in our sleeping bags telling stories and feeling a mild wind when we noticed something odd in the sky. We got up and checked out faint, huge balls of glowing light fading in and out in the far northern sky. They were silent. Their light was like the eerie, soft light of fireflies. Their light also slowly increased and decreased like the light of fireflies but much bigger and, perfectly proportionally, much slower.

While firefly light is definitely golden yellow this light was a muted aqua green.

We got up and sat on the rocky ledge of our camp, tucked into a crevice that blocked the breeze. There, wrapped in sleeping bags, we listened to the wind and watched the Northern Lights.

Atlanta ID to Alturas Lake #2

INT

After packing our horses on that Atlanta morning in 1954, we found ourselves walking the entire operation up the familiar road to Atlanta.

Atlanta was a virtual ghost town even then, so probably no one noticed Mom and Dad and we three kids and three loaded horses, but we did our best to provide a parade for anyone interested in watching.

After the few buildings of Atlanta we walked past the Forest Service bath house, fed with hot springs, and a short bit later the swimming pool, also fed by hot springs. Back in 1917, when he was fourteen, Dad and his school buddies had kicked the mud up from the bottom of this pool when the schoolmarm walked by. The mud made a good curtain to hide their skinny dipping from such a pretty authority figure.

Pool INT

I knew what that warm mud felt like between my toes. Returning to Dad’s youthful haunt had filled many an evening on our summer camping trips. The crisp air at 5,500 feet, the warm water, the mossy mud and the smell of pine trees were all one Atlanta amalgam.

But this time we didn’t stop for a swim. We just kept walking. Past the rusting penstock of an abandoned powerhouse. Past the upper campground we never stayed at. Along the deteriorating wooden flume that had run water to the penstock. Then we crossed the green-clear rushing water of Leggit Creek on a most precarious bridge of barely more than logs laying on rocks.

Then the climb began. A steep and rocky and dusty climb in my mind. And tiring. Before long I had been hoisted up on one of the pack horses to ride (What? A nine-year-old whine about walking uphill? Pshaw… I’m sure the horse just needed more weight).

Folks, to my mind it was a long way up to the back of a horse. Add another yard or so because of pack boxes piled over with blankets and tarps — blankets and tarps I was sitting on that left no room to reach my legs around!

Way down beneath it all was a steep slope littered with rocks to bash my head on should I fall off.
Nyla INT

Well. I was one very attentive boy and my knuckles turned whatever color they had to while my hands gripped the ropes that cinched the awkward mound on a swaying and bucking perch!

But I didn’t ask to get off and walk …