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.

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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Driveway on Fire

Many of us in Idaho are used to the annual cottonwood event, during which the cottony stuff can pile up like snow. Not everyone is aware of its flammability.

Unfortunately, I used to be one of the ignorant. My awakening came in early summer of 1997, when my older brother, my wife, and I were engaged in the doleful task of preparing the contents of my mother’s house in Ketchum for auction. Mom had recently suffered a grave illness and was now in a nursing home. The house had been sold to pay for her future expenses, and we were picking up the pieces. I felt a real sadness at parting with my mom’s dream home. When she retired from the family business, she had fulfilled a fantasy by moving to what had at one time been called “Millionaires Row” up Warm Springs Creek in Ketchum. Although her place had only been a party-house and garage for the millionaire who built it in the early 1950s, it had fit my mother’s lifestyle perfectly. The house was surrounded by cottonwood, and on that fateful day, cotton from the trees covered the lawn, piling four inches deep in places.

For a break at lunchtime, we decided to drive our mother’s powder blue Wayne’s World sedan to a restaurant in town. But a window had been left down in the car, and first we had to empty two inches of cotton out of it. During lunch, my brother mentioned that the cotton was highly flammable. He recounted the story of a bus from the Sun Valley Resort that had filled with cottonwood cotton after windows were left open. The punch line of the story was that the driver had cleared the cotton by tossing a match in the bus. Although the cotton vanished, the subsequent fire and minor explosion were not good for the bus.

When we finished for the day late that afternoon, we locked the house, my brother got in his car, and began to back out of the driveway. Suddenly, a moment of childhood evil took possession of me (I was forty-nine at the time). I waved at him and made a ceremony of pulling a matchbook from my pocket, lighting a match, and then tossing it toward the cotton in front of his car. He gave me the look unamused parents reserve for especially cretinous children, and drove away. Continue reading

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Log-Jammed

Stranded on the Middle Fork, a Rafting Party “Self-Rescues”

By Ray Brooks

“There‘s not supposed to be a lake here!” I exclaimed. 

It was midday, July 24, 2006, mile twenty on our eight-day, hundred-mile Middle Fork Salmon float trip. As we rowed farther down this large new lake, we could see other rafts ahead on its western bank. Bequi Martel, our kayaker, sprinted ahead and returned with the news: the lake had been caused by a “blowout” the previous night, and there was also a huge logjam downriver one-half mile, in Pistol Creek Rapid.
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The Incredible Exploding Tent

Finally he said, “I’ll tell you what happened, but you have to swear not to tell anyone.”

This was the summer of 1974, and it had been a slow day of retail in my Moscow outdoor store. All my customers appeared to be out having summer fun. But suddenly here stood hope, in the form of a customer I had recognized when he walked in. He was one of three forestry students I made friends with a month earlier. They had won a contract with the Forest Service to thin trees and were working all summer sixty miles east of Moscow, cutting down numerous small trees to give the surviving ones a better chance to grow and prosper.

These gents had bought good gear from me: quality sleeping bags and accessories, and what I believed to be the best three-man tent then available.  I think the tent retailed for $150, which was big money back then. I had sold them my only one in stock and immediately ordered a replacement.

Today my customer wanted a second one of these three-man tents. I was excited, nearly giddy, about selling another of my best and favorite tents, but he was reserved and grumpy. Even so, I couldn’t help myself, and asked if the three guys had more people working with them. He said no. I asked if they had found the three-man tent too crowded for an entire summer of sleeping together. He said no.

There was an uncomfortable silence, while he looked around the store. After a moment, he loosened up and told the story, but not until I swore a sacred oath to keep my mouth shut about it. Continue reading

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