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Trekking Across Idaho's Wilderness | UNITED STATES, IDAHO | 10/28/2009, by snowNinjas
Ever wonder what it would be like to walk out into the wilderness...and just keep walking? After months of planning, the SnowNinjas set out into the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness to do just that - walk, for a solid month. We ended up traversing across the Frank Church wilderness, crossing the Main Salmon river, and then heading northeast across the Selway drainage and into the Bitterroots before ending our trek in Darby, Montana. We stayed inside two contiguous wildernesses the entire way, except for the last few miles on the road into Darby.
It was sweet. We kept a journal during the trip, but even so, it's hard to pick out the highlights. Seeing not one, but two wolves on the drive into Big Creek at the start of our trip was huge - we could hardly believe our luck, and it seemed like a good omen for our trek. Another highlight was the generally mild weather and abundant water along the way. Since Idaho had a good snow year, we never had to ration our water on the trail, or make a "dry" camp.
Since a full thirty-day narrative would be way too long, I'll try to illustrate the trip through the nuggets of wisdom that we learned along the way.
First, appreciate those underpaid trail crews! After all the huge fires that have burned through Idaho in the last decade, plenty of trails are swamped with deadfall. Every year, more trees fall, and more crews head out with crosscut saws and hand tools to move them out of the way. The SnowNinjas had the good fortune to be traveling just behind a trail crew for the first week of our trip, and we deeply regretted having to pass them. As someone who's spent plenty of time doing trail work - thank you, trail crews!
If you see a cluster of creeks named "Disappointment Creek", "Hungry Creek", "Starvation Creek", and "Dismal Creek", all heading into the same drainage...don't expect to have a good time. We were hungry (though not starving, thank goodness), and extremely disappointed at the dismal route and corresponding state of the trail. Stay on the ridge!
You CAN stick your thumb out when you hit the Salmon River and get a ride across. Thank you, North Fork Outfitters! And thanks for the ice-cold beers at 9:30 a.m.!
Rafters have a LOT of food with them, and like a good story. The Snowninjas were fortunate enough to meet a few groups at Lantz Bar who lavishly shared lunch and breakfast with us hungry, tired backpackers. We spent a whole day resting on the river before the huge hike out of the Salmon River Canyon, and the extra grub and booze was truly delightful. We have sent thank-you notes and emails.
The road less traveled is probably less-traveled for a reason! When we took some less-direct paths to see some lesser-known places, the SnowNinjas learned to brace for some slow travel and tough walking. The upper Selway drainage stands out for extreme difficulty - if you're planning a trip, wait another year or two for the trail crews to catch up with the jackstrawed deadfall and burnt-out bridges. (When we reached the McGruder Guard Station, we found a notice stating "the upper section of the trail is IMPASSABLE"...too bad we came in from the other side.)
Don't be in a hurry to leave camp in the morning. Our best wildlife sightings were usually in the morning, when we were sitting around with our binoculars and a cup of coffee. A mommy moose teaching a month-old calf how to swim, curious pine martens, owls, all kinds of birds...it was worth it to take the time to finish our coffee.
In fact, don't be in a hurry at all - by the end of the trip, we pretty much had our PhD's in spotting swimming holes, fly-fishing, long lazy lunch breaks, and extended goat-spotting missions. We always put in at least five to eight hours of hiking every day, but we made sure to enjoy the trip.
Do not, EVER, hike down a trailless, north-facing drainage in the Bitterroots. EVER. The collective worst six hours of the SnowNinjas lives was spent bushwhacking 3300' down into Canyon Creek from the Idaho/Montana Divide, and we are not novices at facing tough times in the woods.
If you're packing food for two fifeen-day stretches - change the menu for the second half, and bring more peanut butter than you ever thought you'd need or want.
Arc'Teryx makes some fantastic expedition packs - see the gear review. After 146 miles and roughly 30'000' of fairly-technical elevation gain, we're now huge fans of the Bora 80 and the Briza 75.
Our favorite gadget on the trip? NOT a GPS, folks! We didn't bring one....but we did bring a Brunton ADC weather station. It's about the size of an Ipod, and consists of a digital altimeter, barometer, thermometer and anemometer, with a continuous memory. The altimeter, along with our old-school map & compass, was more useful than a GPS, and the barometer was priceless.
Finally - if you've ever wanted to spend a month in the woods - we highly recommend it. - Sincerely, the SnowNinjas