White Cloud Peaks,
Thursday, May 23, 1996
I flew into Missoula from Grand Rapids Wednesday night and stayed at Terbo's with Marvo and Elroy. Naturally, we hit Mr. C's for a few beers that night. My luggage got left behind in Minneapolis, but at noon we retrieved it, bought some groceries and hit the road.
Chad, Rando and his timberwolf Shasta also made the drive with us. Just after Lost Trail Pass, we hit road construction and logging that delayed us 1.5 hours. We met up the rest of the hampers - Sing Sang, Frank, Al, Birch, Ron and Bailey the dog - along the Salmon River and drove up to the trailhead.
Chad's little Geo Metro was having all kinds of power problems and was bottoming out on rocks. Luckily it made it.
Along the road we saw a greater concentration of mule deer and white tail deer than any of us had ever seen before. Literally every field, every creek bend held a dozen deer. Even saw a few elk.
At the trailhead, we made a lot of food, drank a lot of liquor/beer and had much whewt-bing. A little rain and snow all along the way, with temperatures in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Friday, May 24, 1996
Our hike began by going around a ranch with several barking dogs. There would turn out to be several pockets of private property along our hike. This was definitely not wilderness, although the wildness would surprise us.
We started out on dry ground but switched to snowshoes about three miles in and would stay on them for another four miles. Not many views on the way up, just lots of hiking.
At Little Redfish Lake, we found a couple islands of dry land to camp on. We thought this would be a good place to get water - we were wrong. Al broke through the ice and found muddy water. We went to the inlet and outlet and found slightly less muddy water. I knew it was a really bad sign when I saw the inlet water flowing over cow pies. Hell, we had to kick hardened cow pies out of the way to set up our tents. As I write this I am still waiting for the symptoms of giardia to kick in.
A highlight of the trip was numerous sighting of wolf tracks. Sing Sang says this area is full of them.
Saturday, May 25, 1996
About a mile out of camp we found an old landside that offered good views of the basins, ridges and peaks we were to encounter. From there I got a good idea of how the hike would go.
Several of us set our compasses and for the rest of the hike we would stay on course pretty damn well.
Although the peaks we saw were impressive, they weren't named because there were so many high peaks in the area. Today we finally got some clear skies and saw that the White Clouds are aptly named.
Along the trail today, we saw signs of bear, wolf, elk, deer.
Still had trouble finding good drinking water. It was either muddy or in an area of lots of animal droppings. It was a good thing I brought my filter because both Ron's and Marvo's were clogging up.
At one point we unintentionally surounded a squirrel, which I lightly stabbed with my ski pole and Bailey finally tracked down and killed, which we celebrated for its violence.
Frank, Chad and I ended up on a steep rock slide filled with crystals and other cool stones. I collected a few and brought them home. Frank risked his life by carrying a geode embedded in a ten pound rock.
For a campsite, we passed up a promising unfrozen lake because a cabin on private property was near it. At Jim Creek I was ready to camp, but Terbo pushed us on halfway up the next ridge.
Although I didn't want to do it, I was happy that we ended up at a unique campsite. It was a somewhat level area filled with aspen trees and fed by natural springs. The elk and cows obviously like this spot as there were plenty of their droppings around.
At this site (elev. 9000) I could definitely feel the high-altitude taking its toll. I needed to take a break just walking from the firepit to the tent, about 50 yards.
By the time we were ready to make dinner, it was dark. None of us stayed up too late since we were all beat.
Sunday, May 26, 1996
Our hike began by hiking straight up the sage brush-covered mountain side. I was near the front with Terbo, Ron and Alan when we heard a lot of commotion down the hill.
Until we met up with the rest of the hampers at the pass, we didn't know what happened. A herd of bighorn sheep were spooked by us in front and circled around behind us. Little did they know that more hikers were coming their way.
Marvo, Rando, Chad, Birch, Elroy and Shasta hiked right into the herd. Shasta then chased the herd right into Birch. He said they were within 15 feet of him. Shasta was then gone for a half hour, but met us at the pass.
The pass offered incredible views of the mountain ranges behind us and in front of us.
From here on, the views just got better and better with every step. Luckily the weather was in our favor. It was mostly overcast and cool - perfect hiking weather.
For the rest of the way, we donned our snowshoes and made our way along a mostly treeless ridge top. At times it felt like we were on the edge of a flat earth since all we could see was the snow ahead of us and the clouds in the sky.
The ridge is called Railroad Ridge. We followed it for a few miles before encountering a sign that said, "NO TRESPASS WITHOUT PERMISSION. VIOLATERS SHOT, SURVIVORS PROSECUTED."
The Forest Service had told Frank and Dave that we would run into this area and advised we heed its warning. Luckily we did not need to go down into the drainage where the miner's land was.
We camped on a bare area just down from our peak height of 10,400 ft. We only did about five miles today and had plenty of time to watch a great sunset that seemed to go on and on.
We could see for many miles in all directions, I'd say at least 50 miles. Some peaks were very distinct in the distance. Took lots of photos. This was perhaps the most spectacular place I've ever been.
I remeber telling Terbo that if I died, he should bury my ashes here.
It cooled down quickly after sunset. Since we weren't near a stream, we had to melt snow for water. I can say that snow melted over a stove tastes much better than water melted over the fire.
We were lucky to find plenty of old, old firewood. It burned slowly and throughly, providing much-needed heat for our sunset watching.
Ron and Frank created a very nice tent site in the trees that included a cooking area, two bathrooms and a sunporch, which was the best place to see the sights on the other side of the ridge. The rest of us found tent sites on the snow to avoid the rocks on the ridge.
Monday, May 27, 1996
It was a surprisingly calm night. I thought we could have been blown away since we were so exposed. Again had to melt snow for water.
A few of the guys used their Thermarests to have a sledding contest by the sunporch.
We started off in snowshoes, with Alan leading the way down a step, snowy mountain side filled with pine trees. At the time I thought this looked like a lot of fun, but probably wouldn't have gone this way since it was so steep and tree-filled. Back in Missoula, I asked Terbo his opinion and he said he would have continued on the ridge until we met either a clear snow-filled drainage or dry ground.
At any rate, it was a lot of fun skiing on our snowshoes through the trees. Much of the time we sat on our butts and slid down until we could safely stop. Everyone was bumbing into trees, falling down and having a great time.
Frank had a really good run and we were all trying to do the same. I had a good one going when I was forced to cut between two trees and was faced with one tree directly in my path.
I tried in vain to stop but knew I was going to hit it. I quickly prepared my legs as though I was jumping down onto it, and the tree rushed at me with amazing speed. Frank and Alan were lucky to get out of the way of my collision.
My legs sprang up under me and my right ankle took the brunt of the hit. At first, I thought I broke it, but then realized it would support by weight, although it hurt like hell. Lost my hat during this slide - damn.
The last snow chute we encountered was the main point of drainage for this part of the ridge. It was great fun. It was long, with a few clear turns, much like a luge run, great for sledding even with my hurt ankle. In retrospect, I wish we would have taken this down all the way.
Once we hit mostly dry ground, the group split up to find the best way to the hot springs. When we pieced it all together, we had split up into five different groups, taking five different paths.
Terbo and Marvo stayed with me. We took our time with plenty of rests and planned our way carefully.
All of us encountered private property. Some continued down the drainage and added lots of mileage to their hike. The three of us took the least hilly route and follwed fence lines because I simply could not hike up a steep slope - my ankle would not allow it.
The three of us sat along the roadside up to the hot springs for quite a while, relaxing with some whewt-bing. Just as we were leaving, Frank, Chad, Rando and Shasta showed up. Frank and Chad added probably three miles to their hike by going way beyond the private property.
We celebrated their arrival, rested a while longer and hiked a mile further to the springs.
Sing Sang was first to the springs - he cut hillsides and property lines to make a beeline. Ron, Alan and Birch were there shortly after him.
Sing Sang built two outdoor tubs for us. One was lined with a tarp, the other was natural. Whoever was in the house got to regulate the water temperature to the tarp-lined tub. Straight hot water was way too hot to sit in. You had to add creek water.
I relaxed in the tubs for a while (minus my one swollen ankle) and then took some photos and filtered some creek water to take home.
We retrieved the other cars at the Big Boulder Creek Trailhead at 11 pm and drove back to Missoula to arrive at 5 am. My plane left for GR at 1 pm that same day after a quick stop at Rocking Rudy's.
Once in GR, I went to the doctor for my ankle. It turned out to be torn ligaments. I was on crutches for five days and in an air cast for a month.