I have climbed highest mountains
Weâ€™d been hiking for five hours. Well, â€œhikingâ€ is a rather serious understatement. Gaining more than four thousand feet over five miles of distance (five miles as the crow flies, NOT as trail winds, believe me) implied more than a simple hike. As did the half mile wide rockslide field littered with boulders larger than the SUV that brought us to base camp, the two serious thickets that could have hidden an army of mountain lions or bigfoot or an entire lost civilization including pyramids, or the three times we crossed the creek where there might have been something that passed for a crossing back when the world was in black-and-white and dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
They didnâ€™t call this the Frank Church WILDERNESS Area for nothing.Â This was the boonies.Â Through the heart of the Sawtooth Range of the Rocky Mountains and out on itâ€™s uninhabited back porch.Â The only things that got here on purpose were Bears (according to the warning signs at the trail head), big horn sheep, mountain lions, and tenderfoots up from Boise for a weekend camping excursion with a topographical map and â€œa neat ideaâ€ to find that little unnamed lake where the creek through our favorite campground started.
Guess which ones we were.
â€œItâ€™s above 9000 feet Nicky, itâ€™s up in a caldera above the treeline!â€ my dad said with an enthusiasm that didnâ€™t match his middle-class sedentary-job paunch and his family history of heart disease. â€œWeâ€™ll just take sleeping bags for the three of us, enough food and fuel for the weekend and camp the first night at the trailhead near the car. So weâ€™ll only need to pack enough supplies for two days. Just one night up there. It will be great.â€
Itâ€™s not that I didnâ€™t believe him (wellâ€¦ok, I didnâ€™t) but I was twelve. My little brother was eight. Somehow this seemed like a bad idea for the first camping trip of the season.
Yet here we were, climbing up next to the creek that flowed out of the little mountaintop lake that was our destination. Weâ€™d worked past a waterfall about 200 yards back, the first of many that the water in this little creek would crash over before joining the Salmon and then the Snake and then the Columbia Rivers on itâ€™s way to the Pacific Ocean.
Up ahead we could see where the trees seemed to stop and blue sky was showing through behind it. Alex ran on ahead, seemingly fully recharged as only an eight-year-old can be when finally reaching wherever it was we had been going all this time.
And then he stopped.
As I climbed over the fallen trees that were between me and the embankment he was standing on, I saw it for the first time. Carved out of the mountain by forces beyond imagining, and now filled with crystal blue water as deep as anything Iâ€™d ever seen. Perfectly clear for perhaps a hundred feet down as the granite walls of the caldera reflected the light penetrating the lakeâ€™s surface. It looked more like a marble bowl than a lake.
â€œThis was worth the climb,â€ Alex said, still standing there, just staring down at it.
â€œAbsolutely,â€ I said, â€œI canâ€™t believe this is real.â€
â€œThis must be where Godâ€™s tears went.â€ Alexâ€™s voice was half awe, half matter of fact.
â€œWhat?â€ asked my dad, who had finally reached the two of us and our vantage point.
â€œThe pastor said that God cried when Jesus was crucified. I think this must be where his tears went.â€
In that moment I realized that my little brother had been listening more closely to the Easter service a couple of weeks ago than I had thought. I looked over at my dad to see what he would say.
I donâ€™t remember what he said – I just remember that he was crying.
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I would cry too if I saw something so pretty as what’s pictured in the Wiki links.
I’ll have to have my dad scan some of his better shots. The pictures on the wiki links really don’t do it justice. Bears, deer, mountain goats, monster rainbow trout, and land-locked salmon the size of a small raft are pretty much the only living things to ever go there. And us.
The Sawtooth Range is probably the most rugged, remote, and pristine wilderness left in the lower-48. If you like hiking/climbing/camping/fishing then it’s about as close to heaven as you can get this side of Alaska.
Ok, your answer to Allison leaves me 100% ok with moving to Idaho if that’s what you want/decide after our time here is up. Why didn’t you just say to me, “It’s more like Alaska”? I’d have been sold right then and there.
I guess it just never occurred to me that I’d not already made that clear. Idaho is essentially everything you like about Alaska, plus everything you like about Wyoming, plus a city with both a mall AND a cinema. Boise is like Anchorage squared.
Boise is square? As apposed to Anchorage which is concave? How interesting! 😉
I’m not so sure about now, but when I was a kid I sure thought Boise was square.
You need to let us commentors be able to edit our comments, please. Slow people like me often have afterthoughts after we hit “Submit”.
If I could selectively grant this power, believe me, I would.
No, you never compared Idaho to Alaska. You just complained and complained about heat, desert and sage. How is that like Alaska? It looked nothing like Wyoming. Nothing that made me fall in love, besides the low humidity and that my joints felt better there.
Sorry, the “heat, desert, and sage” are the overriding memories of “the place” that is Boise.
I like snow just fine. You know I can drive in it, and then some. Just give me a covered arena and we’re good to go!
OK, dude, I’m finally here (for a little while, bear with me!).
I’m a lowlander by birth and blood, and the mountains I’m most familiar with are the Blue Ridge and Appalachians – nothing to sneeze at, but surely not the Rockies, either.
I’m the opposite, I have lived my whole life in or around the western finger ranges of the Rocky Mountains: the Cascades, the Blues, the Owyhees, and the Saws…I watched Saint Helens explode from less than 50 miles away, I climbed on the Rainer and Hood Glaciers before I was ten.
Out here in the west we take our mountains seriously. Mt. Rainer is over fourteen thousand feet high, yet only 30 miles from the Puget Sound (and sea level). It can be hard to explain that to people who have never been to the west. We call eastern Montana “Big Sky Country” because if you go any further west there’s big things sticking up from the horizon pretty much from Northern California to Prudhoe Bay (the top of Alaska above the arctic circle).
I just remember my first bus ride to an academic competition in Charlottesville, up near UVA, and thinking “Yes. THIS is what I want. THIS could be home for me.”
As I said, some people love the ocean. I love a mountain forest.
I’m kinda both…I see totally different things in each; but based on what I’ve seen of the eastern half of the county, the differences themselves are different depending on which side of the rockies you’re on.
This was a beautiful memory, Nick. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading!
I love you even more since you mentioned “Prudhoe Bay”!