The past 8 days exploring the Middle Fork of the Salmon River have been filled, at times, with serenity, hope, delight, fear, and dismay. We love the easy companionship and routine of being together alone on the trail. It is meditative, relaxing and supportive when the trails are safe and easy. Then there is tension and dismay with each other as we fall into old patterns of communication when I get fearful. The tough trail conditions pose hazards and I fear that there is the possibility of serious injury to both of us and the llamas. Bob calls this my "calamity" mode. I feel his immediate reaction is to dismiss my fears and I am upset because I feel trivialized. What he tells me, however, is that he believes he can find a safe way forward despite what is in front of us. It takes him more time to reach the same conclusion that I have, or, in many past instances, he does, in fact, find a route through.
This is the "ying and yang" of our wilderness trails, our different needs: Bob's desire to explore and his confidence in handling any situation; my need for more certainty and less physical risk. On this route, it takes another day of difficult travel before Bob reaches the same conclusion and we turn back. Great.
I am ready to quit the Middle Fork altogether and go to the summer symphony. Bob is dogged about finding another route in the Middle Fork. So what is next?
Our first (and only?) easy day. We fall into a trail companionship of decades traveling solo. Nina leaves and I rejoin Bob and it's a beautiful rainy day crossing the lush meadows west of Stanley along Valley Creek. It's also our first cool day.
Bob and I are happy to be alone. We fall into a companionable routine forged by decades of trails together. I let him lead, as always. When I pick the trail, he never likes it, wanders off, and then I have to look for him. Today, he picks the driest crossings through marsh grass and bogs. Bono and Johnny enjoy the grazing. I feel like it is 150 years ago as trappers moved through these valleys. Without the salmon in the streams, the abundance for hunter gathers has sadly disappeared.
My knee hurts so we stop early in a grassy meadow at the top of Marsh Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Middle Fork. Six miles down stream from where we are camped, Marsh Creek joins the Bear Valley Creek to form the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Locals just say Middle Fork and everyone knows what they mean.
Tomorrow is another short day so my sore knee warrants an early stop.
Our short day lasts 9 hours, with a 2 hour lunch stop and nap in our hammock. It is delightfully cool and the trails are clear and well maintained to the junction with Bear Valley Creek, and passable after that. I stretch my knee at every opportunity according to instructions from PT guru and friend Colleen Coyne whom I saw on my Ketchum break. It helps.
What we confront after lunch, however, is terrifying. The trail becomes a quarter-mile jumble of rocks along river's edge with no way to know if it is really a trail or the route is washed out. The rocks are sharp, slippery quartz and because of high water, entering the river is necessary. I take sure-footed Johnny who moves like a zen master while Bono jumps and lurches, sometimes unbalancing Bob who is leading him. So much for an easy day.
We find a lousy campsite of deadfall trees at 6 pm. We stop, just too tired to go on, particularly the llamas after the stressful trail. After feeding and watering the llamas, my reward is soaking my knee in the river now a pleasant temperature for bathing. Bono eats the llama cubes for the first time.
The trail is passable and easy but we're already 5 hours into the hike and we haven't stopped for lunch. For me the 1 mph llama pace is tough. Today we have 10 miles, so we have to pick it up, but at 2 pm, with rain threatening, we stop for lunch. Johnny and Bono appreciate having their packs off. We decide to stop early when reaching Dagger Falls at 5 pm and see Campsite #4 which has grass for the llamas. There's a sign saying horses have to stay on the trail but nothing about llamas, so I pay our camping fee and settle in. We are surrounded by other campers readying themselves for a 6 day raft trip on the Middle Fork. One woman said that she floats every year because it is so beautiful she has to come back! A rowdy group of guides show up- we hope they don't party all night. A couple from Utah brings us barbecued chicken. We must look hungry. Bob is so skinny he describes himself as a skeleton walking in clothes. No parties and we're asleep at 9 pm.
Bob promised hot springs but it turns out they're privately owned, so we spend the afternoon in hammocks. I love the Middle Fork Trail- it's wide, deadfall has been cut and it's gentle, so gentle, my knee stops hurting. My only job this afternoon is to move Bono to more grass and to soak my knee in the cold Creek water.
The big debate of the day is whether a single hammock is more comfortable than a double. It is for one person but not for two- ha, ha. I didn't know Nina lent Bob a hammock so I bought a double for us at Backwoods. They are a wonderful place to nap.
Knees soaked, clothes washed, now we're off to fish. Or we were going to go together but Bob just told me "to get out of his face" when I suggested he get organized faster and quit dallying...we're just going fishing for 1/2 hour! Finally, he's ready and we bushwhack along Sulfur Creek to catch 3-4 inch fish. It joins the Middle Fork River in no time. It's a lovely.
Yesterday... "I love the Middle Fork Trail- it's wide, deadfall has been cut and it's gentle, so gentle, my knee stops hurting."
Our stroll down the Middle Fork Trail ends in disbelief and dismay after 2 1/2 miles this morning. When we reach our first trees across the trail, we rationalize that they fell after the trail crew left and that the next trees would be cut. We analyze the age of the saw marks- last year's?, surely they have worked the trail this year. We clear the downfall and our spirits bounce for the next three hundred yards, the llamas chomping on the trail side grass as we move along, white water rafters below on the River capturing the llamas' interest. The temperature is pleasant, there are no bugs, and there's the prospect of the hot springs at the end of the day. It is gorgeous! I love the Middle Fork Trail.
Ahead we, at first, see a luscious meadow and more green treats for our boys then a mass of dead trees broken and scattered like "pick-up sticks", the result of a micro-burst. Oh, this is just another problem that occurred after the trail crew left.
Bob's scout to find safe passage takes 45 minutes. I contemplate my naval while the llamas eat happily at trailside even as the day grows warmer and flys find their sensitive ears. There are gleeful yells of rafters going through Staghorn rapids below when Bob returns from his scout.
Now it's time for the fine art of navigating the maze of fallen trees, gently easing the llamas over logs, doing tight turns, tripping over dead branches, and breaking and sawing dead limbs. Bob chooses the route well. In another 1/2 hour we finally coax the llamas through the mess, and come to the stark realization that the trail crew never got this far, probably ran out of money now that fire season has started!
I despair. I worry about injury to llamas crossing so many high logs and re-injuring my knee on side hill detours. I want to turn back which, of course, Bob dismisses immediately, claiming that I am just being "my calamity character", visualizing too many disasters and giving up too easily.
On this trail, however, I feel I am just being realistic. I know first hand the physical effort of cutting trees and branches and scouting detours, but I am resigned to continue and hope that it doesn't take an injury before he concedes defeat and retreat.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River runs through beautiful cliffs of balsaltic lava rocks. Tall rock spires and steep slopes of quartzite boulders intersperse terrain of lovely river glades, pleasant tree covered benches, cascading side streams. The trail is carved into and across all of these water and geologic features. Without a cleared trail, all of these features are potential obstacles. By hour 7 into our 5 mile day, we are descending a steep boulder field to the Middle Fork, skirting around dramatic rock edifices with slide paths framing the kayakers and rafters gliding below, dousing themselves with water to deal with the late afternoon sun. Bob is able to lever a 20 inch log completely blocking the rocky path of sharp, uneven boulders that frame the trail and in another two hours we reach Trail Camp, too tired to get to know the party camping there, too tired to ask for a beer. Nine hours, five miles.
July 31: Retreat to a Deserved Hot Springs
Another lovely morning started out on the gentle scenic trail that follows the Middle Fork River. The enjoyment is a short-lived. In the next mile, a three hour tree removal and navigation ordeal is needed to clear the last downfall. After scouting and finding three more major tree blown downs in the next half of a mile, Bob finally agrees to turn back.
Retreat is always disappointing, though on this one we had the Trail Camp Hot Springs all to ourselves.
We know the detours and the log cuts so retreating is always faster but emotionally and, with the logistics, it is always much harder. Joint planning efforts are not one of our strengths as a couple. Bob is a process guy who likes details, and I am a "get it done yesterday" person, who likes abbreviated messages, so fairly quickly, we start to argue. I want to take a break- skip the Middle Fork, the smoke from the Yellow Jacket fire whose smoke and flow may impact us, and what if there are more bad trails. Bob is already planning an alternate route. Not doing the Middle Fork is out of the question.
Andy Munter will meet us with truck and horse trailer, Aug 3, and then where?