A Trek to Idaho’s Farthest Point from Civilization By Ryan Means Conservation ecologist Ryan Means and wife Rebecca P.M. Means, a wildlife ecologist, are the forces behind Project Remote, which uses geographic information systems (GIS) to precisely calculate
The memories ebb and flow, from crystal clarity to blurry amalgam. Some things do not dim: the sight of the night sky full of brilliant stars, the smell of pine and smoke sticking to one’s clothes, the bend of the rod and pull on the line, and the sparkling flash of a fish as it breaches the water’s surface. These do not fade. Continue reading →
This is a story about a hand-carved redwood sign, Idaho’s backcountry aviation history, and an unusually curious man named Richard Holm Jr.
The sign stood in the huge open flat of Chamberlain Basin, in what was then called the Idaho Primitive Area and is now the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. Chamberlain Basin’s popular airstrip made it into that counterintuitive Frank Church phenomenon, a trailhead located not at the perimeter, but smack in the middle of huge wilderness. The sign had been commissioned by Chamberlain’s then district ranger, Earl Dodds, whose fire control officer, a guy named Jack Higby, built it in 1961. When Jack was finished, the sign measured ten feet wide and seven high, too big to fit into a small plane. It was flown in pieces into Chamberlain, mounted onto huge posts that had been cut and cured onsite, and roofed with lodgepole shingles. It was built to last a century.
The front of the sign consisted mostly of a hand-carved, hand-painted area map. Local lakes were puddles of blue, streams were blue veins, trails were dashed black lines. The back of the sign, where the Forest Service intended to put public bulletins, was decorated with campy, hand-painted human figures. Largest and in the foreground stood a bare-chested Nez Perce man. Behind and below him, a packer led his pack string, a prospector swung his pick, a mounted soldier rode at full gallop. Above all of their heads arced a biplane. Continue reading →
Day seven of pulling a crosscut saw to clear trail in the wilderness presented our final challenge—to cut enough of the seemingly endless deadfall to matter. As we hiked up the trail in the early light, the crew again rallied. With the morning warming, three crosscut saws sang across the forest as sharp teeth bit down into logs, propelled by the cadence of pumping, paired arms. I bumped ahead on the advance team, swinging a Pulaski or ax-adze combination tool, chopping limbs, smacking wood, preparing logs for the saws’ bite.
Rain at lunch break didn’t slow us down. The fresh wet only cooled us before we went back out and hit the trail hard, knocking off logs, jumping ahead for the next downed tree. Late in the afternoon, facing our last hour at work, I pushed out front to chop small stuff and ready big logs. Through a tangle of fallen lodgepole pine, I spotted the welcome sight of another cut log at the other side. We reached our goal of connecting two stretches of cut-out trail in the wilderness.
We’d cut out six miles of trail in a week, sawing and chopping more than a thousand logs in the wide expanse of the wilderness. It felt like a triumph. We hiked back to camp along the undulating trail, looking at our fine finished work, striding fast with a bounce. Satisfaction capped a tough job, and accomplishment overcame exhaustion. A week in the wilderness of Idaho is always an adventure. A week spent reopening an almost-lost trail enhances the challenges and the rewards of being in the wilderness. Continue reading →