Into the Backcountry

  • January 27, 2015
  • Posted by Melinda Horne

The backcountry. Back in the country, back from the country, the back of the country. An ambiguous term, to be sure, but it’s out there. Somewhere, with a buffer zone belt of National Forest land surrounding it.

Green Crew of the Central Divide region found it at long last along the North Fork of the Salmon River. Two big-horned sheep, a procession of rafters, and Siri lead us there from Helena one fine Tuesday. A sun-saturated 90 degree afternoon on the shores of the Salmon ensued and we tanned our hides like lazy children at a swimming pool before whipping ourselves into the wilderness the next day.

We call it the Salmon-Challis. That’s the national forest; the wilderness is Frank Church. Below the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Frank Church is a thumbprint in central eastern Idaho, between the pan and its handle.

A river cuts through impossibly steep canyon walls; mountains shooting up out of the ground jagged as crosscut teeth. The Salmon, or River of No Return. An ominous name if there ever was one, but our group leader assures us that if we rafted the whole river it would spit us straight to Oregon, not result in a painful watery death.

We spent only five days in the Frank, lopping our way through jungles and excavating the trail from under landslides. I pitched my tent between berry-purple bear scat and a ponderosa, fifteen feet away from Horse Creek, whose roar would lull me to sleep every night. Bears haunted Wendy and Charlie’s tent spots at night, we ate freshly caught trout for dinner, and I narrowly avoided death by rattlesnake bite one morning after visiting the latrine.

But perhaps our greatest adventure of all (or at least my favorite) was the waterfall. Charlie collected us one night after dinner to go see it. I nearly stayed behind with Will and Haendel, my book and Crazy Creek calling my name. But, never one to miss out on fun, I tagged along.

Down below the trail, across a stream, up a talus slope, under and through alder bushes that clawed at our ankles and arms. Adrenaline coursing through me—-I am alive, in this moment, as never before, can you feel it? I’m alive!—-I chased Wendy’s heels up the mountain.

Charlie and Ethan were waiting at the top when we got there, standing in the shower-like drops of the waterfall. We all climbed on top of the waterfall, where the rock cliff face opened up into a series of another canyons that shot up into the sky. I sat down in the inch of water, on top of rock and algae, and we all looked out on the land below us; the creek skinny as a snake, the trail a waterline at the mountain’s base.

That is what I will remember, when I have forgotten the scorching days where the rocks radiated heat like a sauna, or the frustration of cleaning a jar’s worth of fish fat off all the dishes, or the instant misery of walking through a patch of stinging nettles in my underwear.

I’ll remember my crew and I standing silently on the top of the world, suspended for a moment, the reality of a long hitch and aching muscles forgotten. I’ll remember us as fissures on the hillside, ponderosa pines or mountain goats; not separate from the backcountry we were in, but part of it.


Be the first to comment, using the form below!

Post a Comment

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)