Confession. I never got there.
By late July, the pull of the mountains was working on me. I’ve been good—hunkered down at home, participating in Zoom meetings for local grass roots activism, minimal contact with humans, many urban walkabouts. But that smell of the woods . . . I missed it. Our local forests are crammed with Covid escapees.
Out came the maps and hiking books. The goal? Find a place that’s far enough off the beaten RV path that weekend warriors heaving their mobile cities fear to tread. I found a couple of potential hikes to small lakes in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Getting to them required a four-hour drive to Challis—epicenter of the 1983, 6.8 earthquake—followed by 40 daunting miles of dirt road.
The dirt road runs atop a ridge that bisects the wilderness area. Twin Peaks Cabin, which in the early days served as sleeping quarters for the forest ranger assigned to the Twin Peaks fire lookout, sits about 17 dirt miles past Challis. Imagine how fit that ranger was to make the 2,000-foot trek to the top of the over 10,000 foot peak every day!
Every time I see a vehicle on one of “my” roads, my heart sinks a few inches. I skedaddled quickly when a rather old white van, heavily laden with a roof rack of supplies slowed at the shady Cabin site. I pointed the Kia up the 9,190-foot pass and thrilled at iconic Idaho views while casting furtive looks at the road before me. It was single lane gravel, with the side of the mountain to my right and just outside my driver door the earth fell away into a deep gorge with little vegetation to stop a pebble’s roll. (Warning to vertigo-challenged readers, you may want to skip the next couple of images.) As I navigated the worst part of this narrow, unstable path, I shuddered at the thought of Idaho’s recent seismic activity.
In the midst of my photo mania, my eye caught a surprise in the rear view mirror. The old white van had caught up. I tossed the camera and phone into the seat beside me and stomped on the accelerator to get out of the way. I had stopped in a really bad place, around a bend from which they’d had little warning of my presence. I felt like a heel. As soon as I found a wider spot in the road, I pulled aside to let them pass. A woman waved from the passenger side as they passed. From there on, I stopped frequently for photos and to gawk at the sights and my map. The road winds through miles of forest that was burned in a massive fire about 14 years ago. The white van lumbered along a mile or two ahead of me. Perfect. I rounded a bend and slammed on the brakes. The white van was stymied by a downed tree blocking the road. At this point, I figured it was time to turn around. Sleeping Deer Mountain could continue napping. But first I hopped out to exchange pleasantries with the couple.
They were about my age, headed to the same destination as I. The man, Rick, eyeballed my car and said, “We can’t make it under that, but you could.” I nodded and thought, sure, but then what will I find around the next bend? “Then,” Rick continued, “maybe we could hook a rope to your car and you could pull this thing down enough that I could saw through it.”
The downed tree was caught on another rickety tree. The whole tangle looked like a widow maker to me. But I’m a sucker for a challenge. We both backed up to a wider spot so I could get in front of his van. My Kia slipped under the tree and I grinned at the notion that I could simply keep going. Instead we three began logging with my tiny emergency saw, his extra ropes and straps, and a good deal of camaraderie.
High fives! We had bonded. There was comfort in having three brains and two rigs. We formed a caravan of supportive explorers, encountering many more obstacles. It was getting late. When we finally made it to where I was hoping to camp, Rick took a gander at the even worse goat trail to the top of an abandoned lookout and shook his head. “Not worth it,” he muttered. I concurred. This is where we parted company. I turned back to find a spot I’d noted along the way that looked like a promising spot to spend the night. They proceeded onward, determined to wake up that sleepy deer.
The drive back to civilization. The road meanders around the forested mountain in the middle, then climbs the shoulder of the left twin to the scary pass between the two twins. You can just barely see the lookout on the right twin.