The Flower Fed Buffalo
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low.
- Vachel Lindsay

Friday, 6 July 2012

... a walk, a climb and a drive ...

Although we couldn't really get up into the Enchantments for a day walk due to the amount of snow still about at that altitude, Di was keen to have another walk and decided she wanted to have a look at the other trail that we started our last walk from. We just wanted a short walk this time, as we thought we’d like to do another long climb before we left the vicinity. That gave us lots of time for a relaxed breakfast: pancakes, blueberries and, of course Maple Syrup. This is what brekkie looked like:

Not a bad-sized jug of Maple Syrup eh: 1 litre! Will we be able to finish it off before we leave North America? My guess is YES!
It being the weekend, our little wild camping area had filled up a bit overnight. Di counted 27 cars when we got up:

Doesn’t Big Blue look cool amongst the mob!
After breakfast we drove back up the road to the start of the Eight Mile Lake Trail. We wondered what the track would be like, and it first it appeared that it was going to be mostly open country. As it turned out, we still walked through a bit of forest but not as much pristine old growth timber as the walk to Stuart Lake. There were a number of stretches that had suffered wildfire damage. What this meant though was there was an even greater array of wild flowers on display, despite it still being very early in the season.
A few highlights include the Red Columbine (there were yellow ones on the Lake Stuart walk):

Lots of Columbia Lily (also known as Oregon Lily and Wild Tiger Lily):

.... and something we haven’t been able to identify so far:

Apart from the vibrant flower displays we caught a few nice views, including this one:

If you want to see more photos from this hike you can go to our SmugMug gallery.

We were quite interested to see the numbers of people out on the trail, even with it being a weekend. We met a lot coming out from the trail who had started earlier than us and, surprisingly, quite a few still coming in when we were on our way out. It looks like the folks in the Pacific Northwest really appreciate their wilderness.

It was Sunday, and we returned to a nice peaceful campsite. Early to bed, as we had a big day planned for the morrow. We had decided to hike back up to Snow Creek Wall to do Outer Space, a 250 metre climb we’d done way back in 1986. It’s not really a very hard climb, but a fairly big day out for a couple of old codgers.

A slightly earlier start than we’d made a week before when we’d walked up to do Orbit led to the delightful discovery of a family of four mountain goats quite near the start of the trail:

Judging from the differences in size, it looked like the three kids were from successive years. Di surmised that the nanny had learned that people wouldn’t hurt her and her family and that there was lots of good food at lower elevations.

Apart from being a bit of an uphill slog at the start when you’re carrying climbing gear, it’s a nice walk in. Here’s a picture of Di entering the “wilderness”:

Before long, we were at the base of our route. We had a visit from another couple of goats. Here’s the mama (baby was too shy to stick around for a photo). You can see how she is shedding her winter coat:

Before long we were geared up and ready to go without another party in sight, which was good as our objective is probably the most popular wilderness rock climb in Washington State. Here’s what the route looks like:

Some people do variant starts that are more direct and a bit harder, but the original route suited us nicely. Up and off as quickly as possible was our plan.
Here’s Di on belay at the top bottom of pitch 5 ...

... and nearing the end of the same pitch:

We got a summit snap, had a quick bite, packed the gear away and headed down the trail.  Things went smoothly for the first two-thirds of the descent. Despite the way off being notoriously difficult to follow, given that we’d been down the route you’d think it would be a walk in the park. Well, sure enough, we got off route and ended up groveling down a series of dirty chutes and well below the base of the wall. Once we reached the trail, one of us had to hike back up to get our packs. Short straw Doug. Although this stuff-up added about an hour to the time it took us, we were still an hour and a quarter quicker car to car than the day we climbed Orbit, and felt much fresher when we finished. Are we getting fitter? Hmmm. Not sure.

We decided to head into town for a burger then drive for a few hours to start the journey south. We stopped in a small town with the rather glorious title of Othello where we treated ourselves to a night in a motel - Di had a bath! - rather than fossick around looking for a place to doss en route. We also found a Sci-Fi flick with one of Di's fav actors: Ewan McGregor and I got to find out what happened in the first stage of Le Tour. Bliss!

Our next day’s drive took us through the Columbia Basin, a huge area of fruit and vegetable cultivation in the southwest corner of Washington. We were again struck by the large numbers of Latinos in this part of the States, and their influence on local culture. There were at least four Spanish TV stations available in our motel room, and there are lots of Mexican takeaway food stores. There was even Mexican music playing outside an ATM we went past.  

On we drove into Idaho, and, via a route known as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, which runs east and then south along the Clearwater River Canyon, from the twin towns of Clarkson and Lewiston that straddle the Washington - Idaho border.  very pretty country, traversing the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. We continued south on to the Little Salmon River, travelling through small towns with names like White Bird, Lucile and Riggins, the latter being at the confluence where the Little Salmon joins the Salmon River, and is a popular spot for river sports.  Eventually, via the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, we arrived at the gorgeous town of McCall on Payette Lake, which was our objective for the day. Di and I both thought - independently - that Payette Lake was like a less developed version of Lake Tahoe: very beautiful and unspoiled. 

Our reason for stopping in McCall was that we’d heard from our friend Jon about a great climb on a mountain called Slickrock. Here’s what the route looks like:


The climb is 10 pitches, and a great half day outing at a modest grade. We were very keen, and drove up past Little Payette Lake, where there were lots of people camping freely. (One thing that has really impressed us with Idaho is the amount and range of camping opportunities. There are lots of developed sites where you can pay to have a picnic table and fire ring, or you can use lots of undeveloped sites. And all in such beautiful surroundings!) We found the campsite we’d read about online, only a couple of miles downstream from the climb. We had this spot all to ourselves, although I had a chat with a couple of fishermen who dropped by to have a look at the river with a view to bringing their kids up to fish the next day, which was the Fourth of July. More on that later.

It was early to bed, primarily with the intention of getting an early start to forestall the mobs I envisaged climbing this fantastic route on Independence Day. I slept lightly, and was woken even earlier than I’d anticipated by a series of vehicles going past. At 4:30 I convinced Di that we might as well get up, as it was light and we could have breakfast, get on the route, finish early and be on our way south. Much to our disappointment, when we arrived at the pullout for the track down and across to the climb we discovered that the river was too high to cross easily. It was just as the fishermen had warned me the previous evening: it needed to drop "a couple of feet" for us to cross safely and for them to have a satisfactory fishing expedition. They said it should be fine in another couple of weeks, but we'll just have to give it a miss until another day.

So, southward earlier than anticipated. We followed yet another river, this time the North Fork of the Payette, for many beautiful miles along the Payette Scenic Byway, stopping at Rafting Central in the form of a staging post called Banks. Breakfast had been light and very early; time for brunch. Check it out:

They called this the “Cabarton”. And it only cost $6.95!!! 
(I managed to avoid going for the double).

While we were eating we could see people getting ready to get in rafts:

There were more rafts and kayaks waiting to be picked for their turn on the river just below where we were sitting:

And hummingbirds feeding just out the window:

After feeling much refreshed, it was east on the Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, which follows the South Fork of the Payette River. (I know I’ve used the phrase “Scenic Byway” a number of times, but believe me, the Idahoans are well justified in liberally coining this phrase: the drive south and east through Idaho has been amongst the most beautiful we’ve ever experienced).

There were lots of people on the river, getting ready to get on the river or getting off the river. Di shot a little video out her window as Big Blue took us past:

The next stage of the drive took us up and over Banner Summit, at 7200 feet the highest pass we'd yet crossed with Big Blue. He handled the task beautifully, just chugging along. (We are getting quite fond of the old fella, although he does need a bit of stroking now and again - more on that later).

On the way down into Stanley we stopped at an overlook for the Sawtooth Mountains:

At the Forest Service information centre in Stanley they told us that the river level at the normal crossing to the Elephant's Perch, where we intended to climb the Mountaineer's Route, was three feet deep and that the logs had been washed away. They were strongly recommending against attempting it at this stage. As Di wasn't that keen on this adventure in the first place, we decided to give it a miss and head down to City of Rocks a bit earlier than planned. It was late, so we found one of those beautiful, free campsites that I mentioned earlier, down by the Salmon River, to park Big Blue and spend the night. We thought we might have a hike in the morning, weather permitting.  However, after we'd been camped for a while, Di noticed that lights were flashing on the fridge. We surmised that the fridge wasn't getting a charge and turned it off. A problem for the morning.

The next day saw us up bright and early and on the road to see if we could sort something out.  One good thing about being on the go early is that you greatly enhance your chances of seeing wildlife. Just south of Stanley, Di spotted our first Pronghorn Antelope of the trip:

The road south goes over Galena Summit at 8701 feet, which forms the watershed between the Big Wood and Salmon Rivers. There is a charity cycle challenge that goes over this imposing pass. Big Blue handled the ascent no problems. Notwithstanding his little quirks, he's a hard worker. Reminds me a bit of Lennie, in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Maybe not too quick, but no quitter either. He just keeps on going.

Now here's something that shows just what a small world we live in: on top of Galena Summit, Di and I got chatting to a couple that had bikes and boats strapped to the top of their car (BC licence plates). The guy seemed just a bit familiar, and it turns out that it was Bill Lyons, the physiotherapist that treated me after I broke my foot in 1985. Amazing or what! Anyway, Bill suggested that we might try getting Big Blue fixed at a town called Hailey, south of Ketchum, as they had had some car repairs done there on a previous trip. Upon arrival at Hailey, I flagged down the Sheriff, and he directed us to a place that fixed us up. (Don't things often turn out good when you stop and have a chat with people?) It turns out that we needed a new Solenoid, as the old one had packed it in. I reckon that these little glitches are Big Blue just telling us that he needs a bit of loving now and again. Here's the new Solenoid in place:

We decided that we might as well get a new fuse put in as well as the existing breaker fuse was well corroded. Because we will be camping wild quite a lot, and sometimes not driving the car long distances (like when we camp at City of Rocks) we had a battery "tender" put in so that the auxiliary battery would charge up when we are plugged into mains power. Hopefully now the beer will always be cold, and Big Blue will be happy to go on a bit longer!

We'd been told by a couple of guys at the Sawtooth overlook that it was worth our while to do a side trip to see Shoshone Falls on our way south, so we did. Here's what it looks like:

We've finally arrived in City of Rocks. It has changed a lot since we were last here, but they still honour the pioneering heritage. Here's a photo of an (un)covered wagon.

 A replica I think, but I bet the folks on the California Trail would rather like the comfort of Big Blue.

According to Google Maps, it's about 815 miles from Leavenworth via the route we took, but there were a few detours along the way which took it up to around 900 miles. This is what the journey looks like:

We plan to be here at least for about 10 days. Catch you later ...

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