BIGHORN CRAGS, SALMON NAT. FOREST
IDAHO

Thursday, May 21, 1998

It was a dark and rainy night when my flight landed in Missoula. Terbo was kind enough to pick me up and take me out. We hit up Stocks and the Old Post before heading back to his house. Our grand plan of taking off for the trip tonight was dashed when we couldn't wake Jolly from bed at 1:00 a.m.

Friday, May 22, 1998

Considering the late night, we got up pretty early and picked up Jolly on the way to get some groceries. All three of us, along with Terbo's dog Spatz, loaded into the Landcruiser for the 2-3 hour drive south to North Fork, Idaho. Lots of energy and good conversation were along for the drive.

At the North Fork Cafe we met the other two groups of Hampers. Ron, Randy and Bailey came from Livingston. Frank, Al, Birch, Foster and Jaz came from Boise. Three Hampers missed the trip -- Marvo, Rando and Sing Sang.

The drive to get to the trailhead became more than we bargained for. In fact, it became our entire trip.

We left around 2:00 p.m. for Crags Campground, following the road along the North Fork of Salmon River and Panther Creek. It was a long drive, broken up by a nice stop in historic Shoup, another tourist trap, and a capsized kayaker in the North Fork.

Even with the light mist that surrounded us, it was a beautiful drive. High, craggy mountainsides and water tumbling rapidly over the river rock were our views of this 50 mile drive. It was certainly the longest dirt road I've ever been on.

Unfortunately the navigable part of the road was about 10 miles short of the actual length of the road. High (maybe 7,500 feet) into the mountains we got the vehicles stuck in snowdrifts. From there on, the road would be our trail.

We put our packs on our backs, our showshoes on our feet and hiked about two miles before it started getting dark. We made camp on a slight hillside, cokked some dinner and had a few drinks. At some point, the light rain turned into light snow that continued to fall until morning.

Saturday, May 23, 1998

Today would be our longest day of hiking, probably six miles. Which put us about a mile short of the trailhead. A trailhead we would never see. Not that that diminished the quality of the trip a whole lot. It was still hard hiking, with the snowshoes and the elevation gaining and losing hundreds of feet at a time. By the time we reached our next campsite at the beginning of Big Deer Creek trail, we were at 8,000 feet and almost completely camping in deep snow. One of our biggest problems was finding fresh water to drink. It seemed that every night and morning we would spend a considerable amount of time melting snow to drink and cook food.

Throughout the day, the clouds lifted slightly so that the rain and snow were almost non-existant, yet we could still not see the ridges and mountains that certainly surrounded us.

From the all the man-made structures we found at Big Deer Creek trail, such as fence rails, game poles and a shitter, we figured that horsepackers frequented the area for many years. Up on the hillside behind us, we saw some rather large tracks in the snow that were very likely a bear passing through just days before.

It was a fairly tough day of hiking and it reflected in our quiet reflection around the fire that night.

Sunday, May 24, 1998

Finally the weather got much better, so we goofed off for a long time in the morning. Frisbee, hacky-sack, even skeet shooting with the frisbee and snowballs.

Looking at our two days ahead we decided to head back toward the vehicles and try to drive to Panther Creek Hot Springs (a relatively short drive) after hiking the 8 miles out.

I was disappointed we didn't make it into the Crags area -- especially since we got good views of them on the way back. I was also hoping for some trail hiking, but we were simply too high up to avoid using the snowshoes almost all the time.

On the way out, we got lots of sun and some stunning views of Cathedral Rock along with mountain ranges to the northwwest and southwest.

Once again, daylight and our energy level determined that we would not make it to our intended destination. Instead we found a spot in the road with incredible scenery and then hiked straight up the hill a hundred feet or so for even better views and a somewhat sloped campsite. Because the hillside was so open, most of the snow had melted away. Even with the steepness, it was a great campsite.

Terbo and I, tentmates for the past two nights, slept outside along with Frank and Birch. We could see brilliant stars and the full Milky Way above our heads. The crisp mountain breeze both refreshed us and kept us slightly awake throughout the night. That was okay, though. It also allowed us to see the colors change in the night sky.

Monday, May 25, 1998

I finally stayed awake at 9:00 a.m. and enjoyed great views of the mountains that lay before us. We were at such an altitude, that the peaks seemed just above us. If we were just closer to them ...

We spent a long time this morning lounging in the sun and taking photos before heading back to the vehicles.

The great weather followed us along our hike. It was very comfortable hiking weather -- we could ditch our warm coats and pants, and even our snowshoes for much of the hike. It gave me a lot of time to reflect, relax and think about my life and the future.

By the time we got to the cars, the hot springs weren't a likely destination. It was getting late and the boys from Boise had a long drive back. On top of that it had started to rain heavily.

We drove the long dirt road back to the North Fork Cafe and had a good dinner of ribs and Henry Weinhard's.

I said to myself and others that I would love to come back to this area to raft the river or hike to the lakes we missed. Of course, when the weather was a little better, and the snow was melted a little more.

For never having a trail, it was a great hamp.

We rolled into Missoula around 2:00 a.m. and flew to Grand Rapids the next day.

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