Spring following a record snow year in the west can be destructive. But it is also a thing of unparalleled beauty. For several years a friend has been backpacking with her kids up the Rapid River on the very western edge of Idaho. Lucky for me, kids grow up and lose themselves in their own lives. This year I stood in for the kids. I should say crawled in. It was a bit more than a seven-mile hike upstream from the Rapid River Fish Hatchery to our intended location at the McCrae cabin site in the Nez Perce National Forest. But what a hike it was! It’s really not too steep—less than 2,000 ft in 7 miles—but it is a bit of a roller coaster.
We left with clouds threatening overhead. Beside us, the well named Rapid River roared like a caged beast.
A horse and mule group had already staked out primo territory near the cabin and McCrae Creek, so we headed uphill to the knob and quickly set up our tents in a forest-rimmed meadow just before the clouds let loose. The rain let up for a while, allowing us to munch on some snacks for dinner. We packed it in early when the rain started up again.
All night rain pounded my tent while I worried about my engineering skills and my tent’s waterproofing. Around 5:30 the rain let up and the sky began to break apart. I was dry!
After breakfast we headed up McCrea Creek to another cabin on a plateau above McCrae Cabin. I looked for information about these cabin dwellers/builders, but was unable to find details. I assume they were miners. Four walls of the Frank Wurl cabin stand, but the roof has vanished. I did learn that Wurl was born in Michigan in 1889 of German immigrants and died in 1936.
Our horsey neighbors warned us that they’d encountered a sow and cubs in this area. We hiked furtively a little farther west, passing fairly fresh bear scat along the way. We saw tons of elk grazing on the grassy hills above us. With a peek at the snow-covered Seven Devils, we decided we’d tempted fate and mama ursine enough for one day and retreated our campsite.
We lazed the afternoon away in our mountain meadow, trekked down to the creek to replenish our water, and once again, turned in early.
The next day we headed farther up the West Fork of the Rapid River towards Rankin Mill. The Dog Creek crossing almost foiled us. But we screwed up our nerve and crawled on all fours across a wet log, landing in a burned area with little shade, many bushes, and more fresh bear scat. The creek did not stop us, but a quarter of a mile of heat and scat? Well, those seemed like logical reasons to return to the comfort of our homes away from home.
Our return trip the fourth day foreshadowed hot, sunny, summer temperatures. We were grateful for a mostly downhill journey in the company of a raging river. Thoughts of a porcelain throne, a shower, and fresh vegetables danced before our eyes.
Forgive my header image. I just couldn’t resist trying to capture some elk. All images courtesy my iPhone.