A view through the windshield of Petty Creek Rd / Rte 489 between I-90 and Hwy 12, Lolo National Forest, Montana
Journal: Powell Campground & Lochsa Lodge, Lolo National Forest, Monday, July 17th, 2017
After lingering over breakfast this morning with my sister Bonnie, cousin Beth, nephew Cory, and cousin Mo, I realized there was no way I was making it from Spokane to Yellowstone today. So I thought: why not camp near Lochsa Lodge and do the Lewis and Clark Wendover Ridge ‘Death March’ hike, which friends of mine will be doing later this week, on the way? I’ve left plenty of time in my itinerary to go spur-of-the-moment adventuring. They’ve told so many tales of joy and hardship on this hike that my curiosity and spirit of competition just can’t resist the challenge. So, I make my decision. I stop at Superior Ranger Station off I-90, discuss my plans with the two oh-so-kind and helpful women there, and get directions. The ranger here who knows the trails, as well as the ranger she conferred with by phone at Powell Ranger Station, both warn me that the trail is extremely rough and in parts nearly impassible, not having been maintained in any way for at least two years. Sounds to me right now more like a dare than a warning.
I head south on Petty Creek road, a beautiful drive through a pastoral valley, and over the ridge to Highway 12 and a short drive back west. I was here last in snowy, frigid January. It’s very different today.
Lochsa Lodge, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho
I was in these mountains last when on a delightfully nerdy literary-historical retreat to celebrate my 40th birthday in my own way. Rather, it was just one, a newer one, of my own ways. I delight in parties, too, and in camping, and in going off on solitary adventures in which I also meet new people. On my actual 40th birthday, I went camping with a tiny company of closest family and friends, foregoing the usual New Years celebration with dancing, drinking, and light carousing. But I was feeling a little more pensive this time around, and wanted to go off and do something on my own as well. So I went here on a retreat a few weeks later which took me to Lochsa Lodge, right across the campground from where I am now, and made those very friends who will be doing the Wendover Ridge hike in a week or so. The thermometer never topped freezing when I was here last; now, it’s green and lush and warm. The campground is teeming with fat little chipmunks and birds, and the hidden animals are no doubt likewise well fed in all this abundant growth.
My tiny tent at Powell Campground, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho
The little orange tent is set up, a little green plastic doll shoe in the corner. I’ll be sleeping in my niece Savannah’s cast-off tent, very lightweight and very small. It’s sufficient for these summer days: it’s 8:30 as I write this and I don’t need sleeves yet. I’m using this little cast-off tent since I’ll be flying to Scotland at the end of this trip, and have no room in my luggage to take a good tent with me across the sea. It’ll go to a thrift store when I reach Chicago.
I hike trail 25, which runs north and south. I know that if I can’t find the trail or lose it, I could never get too lost: to the north is the top of the ridge, to the east, the West Fork of Wendover Creek and the road that runs along it, to the west, the other road and the steep hillside.
Journal: Whitehouse Campground, Lolo National Forest, Idaho, July 18th, 2017
This morning, I’ll hike from the Lochsa River to Wendover Ridge, the steep 7-mile hike that those same friends I made during that January retreat call the ‘Wendover Death March.’ It follows the route (more or less) that Merriweather Lewis and William Clark took over Wendover Ridge, on a trail used by the Nez Perce, with a Shoshone guide. I’ll tell you the story tomorrow.
Trail marker for Lewis & Clark 25: 7 miles to Snowbank Camp on Wendover Ridge
Journal: Cafe at Park & Main, Butte, Montana, July 19th, 2017
From here, I’ll tell the story of yesterday’s hike in annotated photos, with this introduction: relaxed from a hot bath last night, with that satisfying feeling of combined mild soreness and strength the day following strenuous exercise, a warm bowl of oatmeal and berries in my belly, a second hot cup of very creamy coffee, and the open road and adventures yet to come before my mind’s eye, I am as happy as a person can be.
This sign, not far from the trailhead, tells a bit of the Lewis & Clark story on this route
I climbed the steep first section of the trail, at times clambering over fallen trees and pushing through soft, lush, lower overgrowth, until I reached a fire road. I turn right, misreading the map, which is partially obscured where it portrays this section. The trail follows to the right of be road, no the the left of another, and I chose wrongly. I go half an hour out of my way before the sign for the Wendover Creek West Fork alerts me I’m too Far East. No matter. It’s a lovely warm-up for the rigors of the next section of the hike. I go back to where I had turned onto the road and find the partially obscured trail marker which sets me on the right path again.
The butterflies are out in force in Clearwater National Forest
A cone of purple wildflowers echoes the shape of the trees on Wendover Ridge
Ah-hah, there’s the trail marker, off to the left among the tree. I was too far off to the right to notice it when I made that wrong turn.
Yes, there’s a trail under there
…. and under all that too. The trail’s overgrowth and fallen tree debris get thicker and thicker the farther I go. I should have worn pants, however warm the weather
I dub these ‘Jazz Hands Ferns’
A chipmunk tail, cleanly severed, draped decoratively on a stump. Creepy.
Hanging mosses drape a grove of trees
Another winged beauty
Thimbleberries, with a lightly sweet and tangy taste. The ripe fruit turns bright red and soft, and lifts easily off the underlying structure which it covers like a cap, or thimble. They grow plentifully along one of my favorite hikes in the Oakland hills in California
Stunning view from the side of the ridge somewhere in the vicinity of the trail. At this point, I turned back about an hour ago. I believe I nearly reached the summit but I could not find the trail, try as I might, among the loose litter of needles in a large grove on a particularly steep section. I was nearly out of water and it was very hot: I’m still recovering from a chest inflammation and laryngitis following a particularly nasty chest cold and needed more water than usual. But the deep breathing of clean, dry, deliciously scented mountain air and strenuous exercise of the day invigorated me, and I felt better and better as I went along, nearly recovered. Still, it seemed prudent to turn back while I still had a little water, since I had hiked a long, hard distance already.
A little brook that feeds into Wendover Creek’s West Fork. Farther up, I found a large, muddy spring bubbling up over a large area; I discovered it as my shoes squelched right through it under its obscuring blanket of happy leaves. I searched and found a section where it filtered through a little patch of sand and tiny rocks. I tipped one canteen and pressed it gently on its side into the sand, so the water flowed into it nearly to the top. Then, I poured it into my larger canteen through my cotton shirt, filtering out most of the silt. The water was cold and minerally and incredibly refreshing. I filled the larger canteen with filtered water, and the smaller with unfiltered. My water worry assuaged, I continued with renewed confidence. Not finding a better route down, I decided to follow the water, which I knew must inevitably lead to Wendover Creek. It was steep and required lots of sliding and Tarzaning down the slope from the overhanging strong but bendy branches
This is what a tired and very happy hiker looks like
I tore up my legs a bit on this adventure: I recommend pants despite the heat. Oh well.
I was glad to reach this fork of Wendover Creek. I was aiming for this creek since hiking downhill off-trail, which I knew was in this fold of the mountain on this side of the ridge. I finished the hike on this gravel fire road which takes me back to the main road just west of Whitehouse Pond, where I had begun the hike
One more of Nature’s winged jewels
The hike accomplished, I bathed my stinging legs and hot head and arms in the Lochsa River. What a glorious day. I finished it with two cold beers at the Lodge, a little rest, a nice drive to Butte, Montana, and – oh, the joy – a hot bath and a long sleep. The hike took 8 1/2 hours all told, including the hour-long accidental detour.
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