“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm." – Theodore Roosevelt
We awoke early Thursday morning, the 8th of November, to our 6 a.m. wake-up call. We had driven eight hours the day before to get to the small town where we had spent the night, and we had been told that we needed to leave by no later than seven if we were to get across the bridge before they shut it down for construction. We took in our last breath of civilized life, took extended hot showers, ate as much hot food as the continental breakfast could afford us and we headed out.
We crossed the bridge and turned onto a dirt path that bore the sign “End of Road.” That was our destination.
We were traveling to the End of the Road, to the point where civilized life ceases to exist and the wilderness begins.
It was an hour and a half drive to the boat launch. As we drove along the riverbank the canyon walls began to push us closer to the waters edge as they increased in both grade and elevation. A steady rain had been falling since we had set out and it was a slight damper to our mood to think that we would have to fight being wet right from the start. Being November, we were expecting snow at the higher elevations and cold weather ranging from the high thirties during the day to possibly the low teens at night. Therefore, the prospect of beginning our adventure wet and cold was in the back of our minds as we pulled into the dirt lot where we were to load our gear onto the jet boat that would take us the rest of the way to our base camp.
The boat was not yet to the launch when we pulled in so we took the opportunity to get into our rain-gear, tighten our boots and give our packs one last check before we truly were on our own. Days before we left, we had received an email by a man well schooled in the ways of backcountry hunting and camping. In it, he compiled a list of all the necessaries for a multiple day, pack and hike and the way in which to stow our gear so as to keep our load light enough to be manageable. He had told us that he had been able to get his pack weight down to thirty pounds. Now we had certainly done our best to follow his list, but with a few exceptions and a number of additions I think it safe to say that both of our packs were pushing fifty pounds respectively. For my part, I was carrying a three man tent, down insulated sleeping bag, bed roll, two pairs of Carhartt pants, a pair of wool pants, two pairs of long underwear, five pairs of wool socks, four pairs of cotton socks, six pairs of underwear, four cotton t-shirts, two cotton long sleeve shirts, one wool sweater, one two-layered down filled duck hunting jacket, a pair of spotting glasses, one hundred feet of paracord, ten packages of instant oatmeal, three instant Mountain House meals, an assortment of fifteen to twenty cliff bars, candy bars and granola bars, one quart of water, headlamp, walkie talkie, fire starting equipment, one family size package of skirt steak, duck tape, first aid kit and (most importantly of all) my Buck knife. Hawkins had much of the same while also carrying a primus stove with three canisters of fuel, his .270 shortmag Rifle and a spotting scope with tripod.
Our packs were heavy and the terrain would not be forgiving.
By the time we had all our bags down by the launch our boat had arrived. Chuck, a swarthy looking man greeted us with a smile and a handshake and began to throw our bags into the back of his twenty-foot aluminum jet boat. We were also bringing a big water proof bag full of extra clothes and boots as well as a cooler with extra food that we planned to leave on the beach where we could access it after our hunt further up the canyon. Within five minutes we had everything loaded up and Chuck, along with his assistant, cast off from the launch and turned the grumbling jet boat up river.
As we settled in under the partially roofed vessel and the throaty roar of the engine thwarted any possibility for real conversation aside from a few shouted remarks, we were able to, for the first time, truly take in our surroundings. It was fantastic beyond words. Our trip was to take place in the midst of a vast Idaho canyon long since carved out by a main river that had a number of mountain spring creeks feeding into its main body.
I will refrain from naming theses places since I have a strong belief that the secret places of the world should remain a secret. For the adventurous soul, the mere knowledge that such places still exist and are out there to be discovered should suffice.
As we carved our way up the river we would shoot from calmly sliding waters into mini rapids of foamy white water. Our captain, a veteran of the river, navigated the rapids with a nonchalant ease that betrayed his obvious experience. There were moments where he seemed to take the ill advised route and we’d find ourselves cruising at fourty miles an hour to within just an arms reach of massive boulders frothed in cascading water. We may have thought more of it if it weren’t for Chuck’s cavalier demeanor and the fact that he never stopped doing the two things that seemed of most dire importance to him: pointing out the wildlife along the cliffy riverbank, or taking long chugs from his seemingly bottomless thermos of coffee.
Roughly twenty minutes into our voyage, Chuck powered down the engine slightly until we were at a stand still in the river and pointed to a sight that would have been worth the whole trip all in itself. High up on the leftmost bank, about two hundred feet up the cliff wall and probably no more than a hundred yards from our eyes, two monstrous rams were facing off. Standing no more than fifteen feet apart they squared off; smelling the ground and swaying slightly from side to side. For what seemed an eternity we sat there with only the sound of the idling engine to add a degree of reality to what we were witnessing.
Then, with a sudden and furious explosion of power, both rams charged at each other.
With a last second lunge, they collided head on in mid air with a booming crash that echoed through the river canyon. The two heavyweights, looking somewhat shaken, fell back from each other and both looked away as if to steal any opportunity the other might have to see the pain caused by the mighty collision in their eyes.
Within moments both had recovered and the result was another crashing of the horns. Over the next ten minutes we watched the two majestic animals collide again and again and again. Behind me I heard Hawk ask Chuck a question to which his response was, “once in a lifetime.” Later I learned that Hawk had asked if it was difficult to pull a tag to shoot a ram; however, as far as I was concerned, Chuck’s response was directed at the question of how often a person might witness such a remarkable display this close and in person. We watched for another ten minutes in awe and then our awe turned to laughter as we noticed another ram sneaking down the cliff face and, taking advantage of the situation, he helped himself to the ewes that the other two were so viciously fighting over.
“What a dirtbag!” Chuck chortled as he threw the throttle forward.
We left the two combatants behind and the next forty minutes found Hawk and I fighting back huge boyish grins as we witnessed the expansive wilderness challenge unfolding before us. At roughly 9:40 in the morning we landed on the beach of what was to serve as our base camp. We hucked our gear onto the sandy shore and Hawk thanked Chuck for the ride with a box of premium honey crisp apples fresh from one of his orchards. Chuck told us that if we needed anything, to tie some flagging tape to a stick on the beach, as he would pass by once a day ferrying fisherman up and down river. Other than that, we were on our own and he would see us in four or five days to take us home. By 10:00 a.m. we had stowed our cooler and waterproof bag in the rocks and were ready to head up into the canyon…
To Be Continued…