Aug 3: Yellow Pine, Idaho
Good friend, Andy Munter, helps Bob launch our new attack on the Salmon River country. He plucks us off of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River by driving a horse trailer many, many hours on dirt roads which skirt the River of No Return wilderness.
I have now been to Yellow Pine, home of Idaho's Music and Harmonica festival, no gas station or general store, but fortunately gas can be brought for $4.50 a gallon from a gasoline storage tank. The saloon keeper from the Yellow Pine Saloon is more than happy to fill our tank and then serve us a beer with the change.
It is 100 degrees at 5 pm and the beer hits the spot.
The town is filling up with people coming for the Festival, some 300 filled the saloon the night before, probably 200 over capacity. We couldn't get food at the Saloon -they are too busy making money serving drinks. Thankfully, the Yellow Pine Lodge is open, has air conditioning, wi-fi and offers a very good chocolate milkshake, burgers and a special tri tip sandwich on white bread.
I observe that the Lodge is the only business without a For Sale on it which gives me a little confidence that they might be looking for repeat customers.
After a pleasant respite, we drive in the growing darkness to Big Creek, another 1 1/2 hrs on a single lane road and find camping paradise for the llamas and ourselves at the Big Creek airport campground. If I ever get a yearning for dusty back roads, the funkiness and food will draw me back to Yellow Pine. Big Creek is a great spot for Backcountry pilots and place to rest the llamas.
Johnny and Bono are so resilient. They are completely relaxed after yesterday bouncing in a horse trailer over hot, bumpy and dusty roads and they quickly settle into the meadow of green grass.
After the log-jumping, rock hopping trails along the Middle Fork, we are pleased to hear from Patrick Brown, the Forest Service trail guru, that the trail down Big Creek are clear of trees so our llamas will have a gradual and easy descent. They deserve an easy trip after a month with us.
Aug 5: Heavy smoke and burned out country
As we descend Big Creek through the smoke from distant forest fires, I find the fire-ravaged country bleak and depressing, almost like a warmer version of Cormac McCarthy, The Road. Thankfully, it is easier than Teddy Roosevelt's descent of the River of Doubt on the Amazon River! Roosevelt's trip account is spelled out in detail in a marvelous book I am reading by Candice Millard.
You know you are in wild country when there is bear scat every hundred feet on the trail.
Johnny and Bono give the alert today when they spot a black bear. This is the first edginess over anything that either llama has exhibited in the past 5 weeks. Bear scat lines the trail so they remain nervous and wary. It is smokey all day with ash on our gear in the morning. Camp on Hard Boil Bar, a dry barren spot, has little grass for our boys
A short day today down Big Creek, encountering 4 fisherman led by Frank Batcha, MD, from WR Valley. Big Creek is known for its fishing- pristine water with not many fishermen because of being very hard and/or expensive to get to. We find a lovely green bench along the river and stop for an early camp. Grass for the llamas, easy access to the Creek. It's a nice change from the burnt out canyon.
Aug 8: Cabin Creek
Smokey and hot. More bears and also rattlesnakes on the trail. Cabin Creek valley, however, is a lovely verdant valley that reminds me of a Gregory Kondos' painting with a swath of green meadow, occasional trees, granite rocks, and vibrant golden browns every where else.
The Taylor Ranch is an oasis on this stretch of river operated as a research station by the University of Idaho.
Aug 10: Waterfall Creek
To our delight, we are invited to lunch by Lisa Whisnant and the fine folks of Canyons Rivers Co from McCall Idaho who are outfitting a twelve day yoga rafting trip on the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers. Great group of guides and clients who loved seeing the llamas and the joy on our faces as we ate fresh food for lunch and drank cold beer. From McCall, Lisa or Whis( sounds like Wiz), as she is called, operates a x-country ski dinner yurt in Ponderosa State Park, the Blue Moon Yurt cafe. Bob had a dinner yurt in the past so it is a great connection.
After lunch, we stagger on full stomachs and light heads from the beer, a short distance to our Waterfall Creek camp, a prehistoric site of Indian pit houses.
The big question is Can we make it up Waterfall Creek? A group of horsemen were rumored to have gotten through the downfall, but can we?
Long switchbacks through steep, very steep hillsides of golden grass with mighty views of the Middle Fork, give way to the terraces accessing the Big Horn Crags along Waterfall Creek. The terraces consist of the standing and fallen dead/burnt trees everywhere. We saw and circumambulate downed trees but the trail is passable.
Camp is on the rocky trail in a place where there are fewer dead trees and less of a chances of being hit by a widow maker (Bob's nightmare). I am asleep by 8 pm after 10 hours on the trail. Stays cool all day; thunder and lightning in the distance never draws close.
Standing green trees, a green undercover of grass, flowers and small streams grace our entrance to the Big Horn Crags and Barking Fox and Terrace Lakes. A strong sense of relief lighten both of Bob's and my moods. We know we can don't have to back track to exit the Frank Church Wilderness. We love hearing distant thunder, the clearing air, having the warm lakes to swim in and the lush grass for llamas. We have climbed 5,000 feet above the smoke at 8,500 feet, and have well maintained trails for the rest of our trip out to meet Heather Mack who is retrieving us with her horse trailer.
We pushed hard today to reach our pick-up point at the Crags Campground. It is very emotional to be with a tired animal who is so stoic and faithful. But Johnny keeps going as the brave heart that he is.
Aug 14-21: East Fork of the Salmon River
Rest, llamas grazing, eating hay, hikers enjoying good food and comfy beds. Thank you, Heather Mack, for her paradise ranch.