With my knee less swollen, I rejoin Bob and three llamas, Johnny, Granite and Bono, at Stanley Lake in the Sawtooth Mts.
LLAMAS ARE MAGNETS
After a parting dinner at Smiley Creek Lodge, Dennis left Bob at the the trailhead with the three animals but he was hardly alone.
Numerous visitors curious about the llamas came by to ask about them and take pictures. More unexpected, Bob's cousin Mike Dellos who has been following the blog tracked Bob down. Mike and his wife were staying with friends at a nearby resort and wanted to check in.
Stanley Lake is so beautiful - McGowan peak dominates the classic mountain vista and there is a perfect spot to camp and graze the llamas just next to the road. It is the place we were to end our 8 day trip into these beloved mountains. Our original route changed because unsafe steam crossings and dangerous snow bound mountain passes make the traverse impossible for llamas and for eight year old Jonas Benson who is joining us with his father John Benson, husband of Bob's niece Amy.
Louise Noyes, a backcountry ski pal of mine from Ketchum, has also joined us and has rented her own llama from WRTL. We had a Jonas family send off early Sunday morning.
THE STRONGEST AND CALMEST
Three of the strongest and calmest llamas continue into the Sawtooth Mts.
Hot Johnny Llama is now a calm and collected dude. He has been with us since July 5th. Nothing phases him and we trust him in any situation. His calmness is tested at a gnarly stream crossing comprised of a narrow trail, a stream cascading down a steep hillside, and fallen logs hanging overhead at pack level. Only a hour-long logging effort by John Benson clears enough of the trees to allow a narrow zigzag maneuver across. With the right move, there is enough room between the waterfall and the logs for the llamas and the packs if they move just so. First goes Louise and Bono, no problem. Johnny, however, with his higher load gets hooked on the overhanging tree. I am leading Johnny forward and his pack is being pulled from his back. No drama llama. He stops, just on the edge of the waterfall, lets us unhook the pack and calmly follows me away from the precipice. I am a nervous wreck, however, imaging possible calamities.
The first part of the trail is incredible. Volunteer trail crews organized by the Sawtooth Society have removed trees and built up the trail. It's good for several miles, then the serious delays and logging begin. All three saws are put to use. Louise brought her Sven saw and wields it handily. I hold the llamas and watch Bob, John Benson and Louise do their magic. Some 47 small trees and branches fell victim to their tools. Route finding around the fallen trees is as much a part of the day's travel as sawing.
It takes hours to go 5 miles and I am outraged. I am furious that the Forest Service has no money to hire trail crews to clear trails in Idaho's beloved Sawtooth National Recreation Area. I am furious that Idaho congressional delegation single mantra for decades is cutting taxes, shrinking government, to the detriment of those who want to enjoy our beautiful lakes and mountains. It's not only locals who get turned away. We met several parties from out-of-state struggling with the fallen timber who will never spend their money in the region again. One couple said it had taken 4 hours to go 4 miles and they never reached Trail Creek Lakes.
Tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than the economic benefits to small business owners located in gateway towns and lodges surrounding public lands. Instead of tax cuts and increased military spending, we need to invest in our public lands, including national parks, trails and infrastructure that benefit everyone. Failing infrastructure, failed leaders.
TRAIL CREEK LAKES
We jump at the sound of a gun shot. It turns out it is the loud crack of a tree falling, the kaboom of broken branches follows but reach our first alpine lake, granite peaks, waterfall and clear waters. Sublime and stark at the same time because around the lake, and, through the entire water shed, there are burnt trees. This part of the west side of the Sawtooths got hammered in a recent fire. There have been so many, no one remembers the year.
Bob is upset with my choice of campsite. I love it for its waterfall view near the lake, but Bob sees only death and and destruction. When Bob was on a fire crew, a fellow firefighter was killed by a burnt snag and we are in the middle of dead trees.
We talk about moving away from the lake but I see a flat spot away from the snags. All we have to do is remove a very large and dirty fire ring. It is a lovely spot for 2 nights, allowing Louise and I to explore all the Trail Creek Lakes in the basin and climb goat tracks to get ridge views of Trailer and Regan Lakes.
HUMMINGBIRD AND MARSH MARIGOLD CAMP
There are few green pine trees in the entire McGowan chain of lakes leading up to the pass to Sawtooth Lake. We park next to second growth of 8-10 ft trees, a lovely spot despite the scarred landscape near a meadow filled with marsh marigolds and shooting stars. Marsh marigolds only appear just after the snow melts and a few piles of snow still remain.
After a ten hour exploration of the trail to Sawtooth Lake and beyond, the consensus is that the steep snow banks are too dangerous for the llamas. We return to McGowan for a second night with the knowledge that our last three days to Stanley Lake will be easy.
WRONG ROUTE UP BRIDAL VEIL FALLS AND HANSON LAKES
Our retreat from Sawtooth Lake gave us an extra day to explore Bridal Veil Falls and Hanson Lakes for the last days of our Sawtooth sojourn. Climbing the falls became an epic fight for survival as class four scrambling caused rock falls and exposure. John and Jonas get out of a tough spot and retreat down to safety while Louise and I find a solid rock ramp leading to the top of the cliff band and onto easier terrain to the Hanson Lakes. Coming down we found the user trail, steep and dirty, but much safer and easier than our waterfall climb.
Neither effort helped my knee nor hurt it further which is a good sign. I have fond memories of my hike to Hanson Lakes 40 years ago with my friend, Hildegard Raeber, but am not interested in visiting again. It's a thrash!
I am trail weary after eight days, just like the llamas seem after more than 15. Nina is joining Bob for the next 4 days, so I jump at the chance to return to Ketchun to rest my knee, do laundry, shower, repack and eat. This is the last break before a month in the Middle Fork country. Bob is steadfast in his determination to do the whole 500 miles, 81 days continuously.
I have no such goal. My goal is to be there for him and to enjoy the peace of being in nature and disconnected from news and computer. My preference would be to have mini breaks every 8-10 days. No chance. Nice to have this next one.
JONAS BENSON, SUPER BOY, AND HIS FATHER JOHN
We've all enjoyed eight year old Jonas on this trip. He carries a heavy backpack without complaint, puts on his wading shoes to lead the three llamas across streams so the adults can keep dry crossing on a log, and he does 5 hour exploratory hikes and leads the way across rock and snow. Strong, intrepid, fearless, enthusiastic and decisive. Yesterday's Class 4 dirty rock scrambling isn't his thing, however, just as it isn't for anyone else! Dark chocolate is!
He never complains and is always honest! "Uncle Bob you have left your pole behind 6 times now; Sarah, you slip more than the llamas; Dad, you are a terrible guide, we never should have been on that steep rock."
Jonas is a 45 lb 8 year old powerhouse. We hope to be on many more trips with him and his father, John Benson. John, 41, is a soft spoken southerner and dedicated long time Idahoan. He loves the backcountry and sharing it with his family. I am impressed how he let's Jonas figure things out and to take charge. So many parents finish their children's sentences and wait on them. Jonas' independence has flourished. John and his wife, Amy, Bob's niece, seem to know what they want and have the work ethic to make it happen.
Louise an experience backcountry traveler and camper, now llama packer. She jumps in to help at every opportunity and her solar shower and extra clothes have been a godsend to me. To save weight, I gave our solar shower to Dennis, and send home my extra pants and long sleeved shirt. A major rip in the seat of my pants has been temporarily patched . Louise's pants saved the day, however. She is a strong hiker and explorer and enjoys wandering around off trail as much as I do. With my gimpy knee, I can't keep up but she doesn't seem to mind. Low-maintenance trail buddies are hard to find.