Welcome to Idaho (Rhymes with Snow)
The icy flakes hit us in the Caribou National Forest where I was expecting to find the “Welcome to Idaho” sign. Except there was no sign, only sideways blasting snow and 2 mules. They looked at me wondering why the hell we were still headed up the mountain toward the flake spitting clouds.
In to the Cold Caribou
As the snow piled up on my hat and my hands froze on the reins, I, too, wondered why we were still going. The answer was simple: I was 7,000 feet up in the Caribou Mountain Range and my next destination, Blackfoot, Idaho, was 80 miles away. Forward was the only direction out of this.
This part of Idaho is not for the indecisive. Wondering was fruitless. Walking is what counted. Putting the miles behind us, one muddy boot at a time, is what would make the difference.
What followed were 5 days of manic-depressive Rocky Mountain fall weather. One moment snow flakes gaining entry to my poncho, frosting my beard and covering the saddle in 3 inches of snow. Socks sloshing washing-machine style in cracked boots that let in the muddy slush.
Then, 3 hours later, bright sunshine baking me out of my foul weather gear. I shuck off my shirt and pants in the middle of the muddy road, leaning on my mules as I peel of thermal tops and bottoms. Then the top layer goes back on until the sun drops behind the mountains and the mules’ ears grow cold to the touch.
Night falls. I crawl in to my bivy bag. The next morning, I wake to a bivy bag full of what looks like shaved ice where the condensation off my body has frozen instead of escaped through the supposedly breathable fabric.
I rise. Saddle the mules. Walk another day West toward Blackfoot.
Here are a few photos to give you a sense of our daily routine. These are photos taken of my first camp on the road between Alpine, Wyoming and Blackfoot, Idaho. It started dry. It ended cold and snowy.
My passage through the Caribou Range made for some memorable photos and tales, more of which I hope to share with you as time permits. Photos of shrimp-like creatures that live in icy streams a mile above sea level. Stories of a quinoa-snatching fox. Stories of men that boil moose hearts in creek water and heave salt bricks over fences. And yet more tales of Indian Relay Races and Shoshone – Bannock blessings.
But right now, what we need is a day off.
The mules and I arrived in Blackfoot yesterday, October 6. We found what we were looking for: a warm, dry place to take a day off. Great big thank yous to:
- The Humprey family: for hosting the mules and me, the shower, doing my laundry and the use of the smooth riding Buick LeSabre!
- The Blackfoot sheriff’s departmen:t for assisting with my Blackfoot arrival
- Bill and Linda Sailer: for opening the cattle guard gate and buying me breakfast
- Clarence and Mary Teton: for the alfalfa for the mules, the coffee, the Shoshone blessing of my mules, trip and wife Julia
- Kermit: the offer of a place to stay next time we’re on the Res.
You guys really exemplify the best of American hospitality. This week, after the cold slog through the Caribou, it was especially appreciated.
Where to Next
From Blackfoot, the mules and I head toward Atomic City, Idaho.