Author Archives: Mike Cothern
About Mike CothernMike Cothern farmed for two decades before starting a second career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. With more time available to explore wild landscapes, he also began documenting his observations as an outdoor correspondent for southern Idaho’s Times-News, a stint that lasted fifteen years.
Maybe You Don’t Belong in These Mountains Anymore Story and Photos by Mike Cothern The elk that were scattered across the top of the snow-covered ridge came as no surprise. The hoofed animals had appeared there in the past and … Continue reading →
For decades, I’ve made numerous hikes along this same creek, but at spots far upstream, where it cuts a deep canyon near my home. Long content to frequent familiar territory, I had recently started to wonder about what the tail end of the drainage looked like. The last section upstream of the Snake River, near Hagerman, runs through private property dotted with homes built near the creek, making any sort of hike impossible. I had heard, however, that a canoe could be maneuvered down this final stretch.
I figured that after reaching the river, we could paddle flat water downstream for several miles almost to Upper Salmon Falls. Once a fishing hotspot for native Americans, the falls served as the source for the creek’s name. After we reached this historic set of rapids, we could explore the river’s north channel, which was left exposed following the pre-World War II construction of a hydroelectric dam. But before we got the chance to experience anything else, we needed to survive floating the creek in our old, beat-up canoe. Continue reading →
As the phone conversation ended, a wave of anxiety washed over me. Did I really want to climb two of Idaho’s tallest mountains with a group of strangers?
I had once made it to the top of Mount Borah, but that was almost a decade ago. Since then, my body had suffered more wear and tear, and I was sure my tolerance had lessened for exposure to weather at high elevations.
The offer to accompany an informal hiking group, most of whose members called the Magic Valley home, was my own fault. Earlier in the year, I had talked to Norman Wright, a Filer resident, about a potential trip. He organizes several outings annually that include ascending at least one of the state’s highest mountains. My initial desire to bag another Idaho peak waned as the spring unfolded into summer, but even so, I phoned him again, part of me hoping I had missed the opportunity.
Norman said my timing was perfect. “We’re headed to climb Mount Church and Mount Donaldson next Saturday. We’ll have the rare chance to summit two twelve-thousand-footers in one day.”
I cautioned him that I didn’t want to attempt anything beyond my ability, but after he heard about my Borah trek, his enthusiasm held steady. “There are a couple of tough spots, but you’ll be fine.”
That evening I opened the definitive book on the state’s high elevations, Exploring Idaho’s Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Scramblers, and Hikers, by Tom Lopez. Reading that the author rated the climb we would make as one level more difficult than Borah, I groaned. Ten years ago, Chicken Out Ridge on Borah had seemed to be at the edge of my abilities—could I take on something more than that now? The doubts began adding up, and my heart throbbed faster, reminding me of my not-quite-prime physical condition. Not wanting to waste a quickened pulse (or perhaps to mask it), I hopped on the treadmill. Could I get into any kind of decent shape in ten days?
Every night, I doggedly did time on the machine. I wasn’t sure if my cardiovascular condition improved much, but was comforted to find that the exertion on my heart and lungs didn’t cause them to fail. Other parts of my body clearly were not happy. My arthritic hip joints, one of which was replaced a year after the Borah summit, whined for less abuse and more acetaminophen. My back felt out of alignment, requiring a crack by my chiropractor.
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The four of us slosh against ankle-deep water that slowly drains through the underground tunnel.
I occasionally look back down the corridor, framed by basalt bedrock, toward daylight entering the shaft’s ever-shrinking opening. I double-check my headlamp. While I don’t feel claustrophobic, underground exploration is not really my thing, and as much as possible I’d like to keep tabs on where I am. I continue to follow the group, fairly confident in the knowledge that two of the others have trod here before. Continue reading →