Author Archives: Ray Brooks

About Ray Brooks

Ray Brooks is a native Idahoan. Beyond retirement age, he remains an active rock-climber, river runner, and hiker, who keenly appreciates Idaho history. His climbing career started in central Idaho in 1969. To support his outdoor habits, he worked on Forest Service helicopter fire crews, was a Middle Fork Salmon boatman, ran an outdoor shop in Moscow, and became a sales representative for outdoor gear.

Big Water on the Bruneau

I barely managed to catch an eddy, slammed the back of my raft’s right pontoon into the rock on which my wife Dorita was perched, and screamed, “Jump on if you can.”

She jumped strongly, landing chest-first on a fairly soft bag. OK, now I have to get back out into the current without hitting any rocks, I thought. As I started pulling my way back into the raging red torrent of the Bruneau River, the raft took off like a porpoise. Before I was able to work my way uphill to the center of the torrent, the pontoon on the right side hit a large rock. The impact of the collision launched Dorita and me off the raft. I flew out of the boat like Superman, grabbing an oarlock as my head went into the river.

Before all this happened, there was a time when the trip seemed like a good idea. Dorita’s seventy-year-old father, Ed, wanted to go down the river, and Dorita and I had previously rafted the forty-mile-long Class IV stretch, considering it a great experience. Class IV requires practiced skills, Class V is for experts, and almost nobody ever attempts Class VI rapids. But Ed had done various whitewater day trips with us. No problem.

Since it is good to have more than one raft on remote trips, we invited our buddy Ben, who also had Bruneau River experience. Of course, he wanted to bring his father, too. And Dorita’s sister Renae wanted to take an inflatable kayak down the river. Why not?

The Bruneau has a short window of optimal runoff for raft trips every spring. We wanted to be on it while it was running between about 1200 and 2000 CFS (cubic feet per second). Below that level, we would be damaging rafts on unavoidable rocks, and above that, it was even more dangerous. The Bureau of Land Management’s river guidebook strongly recommends not running the river when it is above 2,500 CFS.

The best date for all of us that year, 1995, was Memorial Day weekend. The river would be crowded, but we planned on an afternoon launch and two nights camping. Continue reading

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Of Mountains and Mines

The promise of scenic high mountains full of historic mines lured me in July 2013 to Spring Mountain Canyon, which extends west from Hwy 28 into the Lemhi Range just south of the ghost town of Gilmore.

I had discovered the canyon in 1990 on a Forest Service map that showed a road crossing the Lemhis from the Little Lost River drainage over a remote and high pass to the Birch Creek drainage near Gilmore. The map also showed several mines near the pass, and since becoming a rock hound at age six, I’ve always been interested in old mines and the state’s mining history. On that first trip, my wife Dorita and I, and two friends from Salt Lake City, drove our two 4WDs from the Little Lost side up a rough and steep road to the pass. The road down the other side was blocked by snowdrifts, but during our short visit we were able to drive a surprisingly good road a couple miles south along the high ridge to old cabins, mines, and great views.

I thought it would be intriguing to do more mine exploring and high-altitude hiking in the area but didn’t make it back until 2010, when I entered from the east side and explored most of Spring Mountain Canyon and its northern tributary, Quartzite Canyon. By then, I owned and had studied books on the geology and mining history of the Lemhi Range.

This time, I planned on climbing several of the local mountains alone. I have a long history of climbing mountains in remote areas, with companions and by myself, and I knew that a solo mountain trip in a remote area with no cell-phone service meant I would have to be cautious at times, without anyone to help if I had an accident. But the joy of a solo trip to the mountains was that I could pursue my goals and interests at a pace that suited me. Continue reading

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Locked Out!

As my car door shut, I suddenly thought: is this a mistake? It was.

The door was locked, my keys were sitting on the dash, and the spare key was in my wallet, which was safely in a pocket on my fishing vest, also locked in my SUV.

The mid-summer sun had set a while ago in Idaho’s high desert, and I was clad in shorts and a T-shirt. Continue reading

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Going Big

When Ralph Tingey arrived at City of Rocks in late morning, having driven from Colorado, he found a note instructing him to look for us in the Breadloaves area. He then located us near a route named Bloody Fingers by asking other climbers if they had seen a group of “silverhairs.” As thunder boomed in the near-distance and it started raining lightly, he tied into a dangling rope that ran through anchor bolts and carabiners a hundred feet above. While I belayed him on the other end, he said he’d hurry up the fairly difficult route named Twist & Crawl, remove our gear, and rappel from the permanent top anchors. He topped out on the summit as it started raining more seriously, noted a lightning ground-strike about a mile away, hurriedly grabbed all our gear, rigged a rappel, and then took time to say hello to two slightly lost climbers in their twenties. He invited them to use our rope to rappel the route and they eagerly accepted. After rappelling down to me, he mentioned that two other climbers would be descending our rope, shrugged, and said, “It looked like they needed some help.” Continue reading

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