In Big Creek Country
By Karlene Bayok Edwards
It stormed the last night of our ten-day backpack trip. Although we didn’t get wet, we watched black thunderheads pouring out rain and lightning flashing above the mountains, the same area we would drive through the next day. I heard Dad tell Uncle Ben, “Good thing I threw in the axe before we left home.”
I didn’t know why it was a good thing. Just as I didn’t know how rare it was for anyone, let alone a fifteen-year-old bookworm like me, to backpack in 1968 deep inside what is now the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, perhaps the most remote area in the Lower 48. Nor did I know how lucky we were to have as our guide my father, Joe Bayok, who had stored up five glorious years as a young man exploring Big Creek.
Whenever Dad said “Big Creek,” we knew he didn’t mean the tiny community. He meant the mountains above and below the Big Creek waterway. He meant the vast territory bordered on the north by the Salmon River and on the east and west by the Salmon’s Middle Fork and South Fork.
Fifty years later, we summon up scenes: For my brother Ron, it’s waking in the cold air to Dad’s sheepherder coffee boiling black on the campfire. For our cousins Brent and Ross Barham, it’s hiking back, hungry and exhausted, the last day after the storm. For me, it’s Dad swinging his double-bit axe.