Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Up a creek

Note: I wrote this yesterday but couldn't post until today

Today is Tuesday but it feels like a Sunday; it’s been on-and-off snowing all day and it’s gray and cold. Our five days off are up; tomorrow we begin our 8-day Wilderness First Responder training. I hear it involves fake blood and is pretty intense. I can’t wait.

Friday was our first day off since we’ve been here and we went down to Salmon for supplies. It’s about an hour and a half trip, all along windy roads that hug the sides of 10,000-foot mountains and are only wide enough for a single vehicle. Since our alcohol and tobacco policy has changed (both are now allowed on-site because Brian fought the SCA to make an exception to its policy for us. He argued that if we weren’t allowed to drink here that we’d go down to Salmon to do it and the drive to Salmon is too dangerous…)… so anyway, I bought four big bags of chocolate, a pint of whiskey, a box of wine, a six-pack of beer and a box of incense. I intended for all of this to last me at least a month. It’s now been 5 days and the only thing I have left is incense J

Friday night we all celebrated the change of policy and the start to our long weekend, and even Brian stayed up until about 1:30 am playing Vito’s drums. Saturday a bunch of us went on our first real hike in the Salmon-Challis NF—to a place charmingly named Woodtick Creek Trail. (I’ve only had one tick on me thus far. This kid Matt has had 15.) It was a relatively easy 8 mile out-and-back hike. We can’t do any real mountain hikes yet because there’s still tons of snow at the higher altitudes and many of the roads are still closed. Our mail is still being delivered via snowmobile.

Woodtick took us to a part of the forest that actually looks like forest. The hills around our basecamp are brown and barren-looking and covered only with rocks, sagebrush and a scattering of pines. The suddenness with which the mountains rise from the valley is stunning; same with the disparity between the thickly vegetated creekbeds and the dry rock formations that jut from the mountainsides. The sheer scale of everything is indescribable. When I stand on even a small mountaintop and see the way the earth has shattered and splintered around me I’m astounded, but still, despite all the wilderness and the size and the superlatives, there’s something about most of the land I’ve seen so far out here that leaves me wishing for more. For the most part, the lack of deciduous trees makes me wish things were most lush…

But our hike on Woodtick thankfully showed that the area around our base is only a tiny sliver of this massive swath of land, and there are certainly other sections of it that fit my description of wilderness. It was a good introduction to hiking at a higher altitude with a pack weighing me down (both things I’m soo undertrained in!), and I got to test out my boots for the first time. We had to cross two streams that were rushing with the spring thaw and hike through hip-deep snow, and my feet stayed dry and blister-free.

Things learned: 1) you can forge a deep stream with your boots on and stay dry. 2) ticks do not get any less repulsive even as I get more used to them.

Sunday I relaxed around the base, and then yesterday morning decided to go camping despite the weather forecast. About 8 of us loaded up our big packs and took off to explore the Moyer Creek, which runs behind our base. The the creek followed a steep ravine and the side we were on involved lots of hands-and-knees scrambling on sideways hills and no real path or campsites. After a couple miles of looking for a suitable place to cross to the other side, we gave up, unstrapped our packs and picked our way across barefoot. Except for one guy who decided to throw his pack to the other side. It landed… then tumbled back down into the river, soaking all his stuff and forcing him jump in after it. The water was just on the verge of freezing and the air couldn’t have been above 45 degrees.
After we crossed the stream we found a good, flat, dry camping spot right on the water and set up camp. Then a few of us decided to go for a ‘walk,’ which ended up taking me up the highest mountain I’ve ever been on on foot and proved that I definitely need to start working out. My lungs were on fire, my legs were on fire and I didn’t even have so much as a water bottle with me. But we made it to an alpine meadow on top of the mountain, looked down at our teensy-tiny campsite and the peaks above the treeline on the horizon, and it was well worth it. Then went back down and cooked a giant composite of chili, vegetarian beans, tomato sauce, pasta, soup, garlic and everything else we had on hand.

I woke up at dawn to ice pelting the top of my tent (but I was 100% toasty warm in my 5 layers and 0-degree mummy bag), and by the time we packed up camp, it was snowing steadily and we had a pretty miserable walk home in the snow. I still don’t have hot water at my ‘pod,’ (should be fixed this week), but luckily, while we were gone, some other people had cleaned out the sauna that some Russian loggers built a few years ago and had it ripping. So I spent the afternoon in and out of the sauna and the snow with my last glass of wine. Bliss.


  1. Hey there! It's Kate from work at NB back in VT. Glad to hear you are having fun. Good thing about the policy change, wine should make the ticks bearable! Keep the updates coming :)

  2. I was wondering if you were getting that snow I was hearing about. Sounds like you're having an awesome time...