The top cover of the tent slapped heavily against the tent’s main wall. The wind continued to pick up and whistled through the trees outside, and rain steadily pitter-pattered against the tent’s canvas top.
Outside, a squeaking noise persisted every couple minutes that sounded a lot like a baby kitten’s meow. I knew that if there were to be a baby kitten somewhere on this particular mountain top it would likely be accompanied by a big Momma kitty with paws the size of my head, so I convinced myself that the noise I was hearing was just the squeaking of a branch in a tree.
Needless to say, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep Saturday night camping at the top of Gold Pass.
Other than that creepy night, Amber’s and my camping trip this past weekend on the St. Joe River in the Mallard-Larkins Pioneer area was one we won’t be forgetting any time soon, and we can’t wait to go back.
Our decision to go camping last weekend didn’t come until about Tuesday of last week, so we made a mad dash to get everything ready to leave by Friday, including ordering a much-needed new two-person sleeping bag. Friday afternoon rolled around and the sleeping bag hadn’t been delivered yet, and just as we were prepared to bring every blanket in the apartment with us to go along with the one single-size sleeping bag, the beautiful brown UPS truck rolled around the bend.
“Got anything for *insert apartment number here*?” I asked the delivery man.
“Yes we do, perfect timing!” He was happy to not have to walk up three flights of stairs.
With our brand new sleeping bag in tow, we adjusted Rudy’s automatic cat food feeder and hit the road. The drive in was a little rainy, but beautiful, and I even risked life and limb (we could see a long ways in both directions, so it wasn’t that dangerous) to capture this awesome middle-of-the-road shot of the beautiful White Pine Drive.
White Pine Drive is an old highway that cuts through the Palouse divide and St. Joe National Forest, and connects the Potlatch, Idaho area with St. Maries, Idaho. Its namesake, the great White Pine, no longer stands, unfortunately.
But, it’s a beautiful drive, and feel as if you’re driving through a tunnel of evergreen trees, which hug the sides of the road. It does however, especially once you ascend the top of the pass and start dropping down the north side, get extremely windy (as in winding curves, not blowing wind…), which is not fun for Amber, who suffers from car sickness with the best of them.
Nonetheless, we made it through the corridor alive and well, with Amber’s lunch still digesting safely inside her stomach.
We made it to St. Maries and stopped at a Harvest Foods to pick up a few supplies we needed. She’s going to be mad that I tell this next part of the story, but I just can’t help myself. Sorry, sweetie…
As we were standing at the register, with our 12-pack of Leinenkugel’s, we took out our driver’s licenses to show the woman at the register that our baby faces really had been on earth for over 21 years. Amber pulled out her driver’s license, and when it took the woman a little longer than normal to find our birth dates, assuming it was because we were from a different state, Amber said, “Oh, that’s right, we’re in Idaho now!” She paused, then looked at me, “We’re in Idaho, right?”
She instantly realized that she shouldn’t have asked that question, since we’d been in Idaho nearly since the start of our trip, but the damage had already been done, and the sharks (myself and the store clerk) smelled blood in the water.
I laughed and replied, “We’ve been in Idaho for a while!”
The clerk asked, “Depending on where you came from!”
“We came from Pullman…”
The clerk, an older woman with a great sense of humor, laughed and joked, “Oh…well you know, those black lines on the ground that separate the state lines are probably washed away by the rain today, so it can be hard to tell.”
Amber’s face was pretty red by now, but she was a good sport about it all. She’s still one of the smartest people I know, but every once in a while her handful of blonde hairs mixed in with her auburn red locks take over her vocal cords (I apologize for perpetuating the untrue “blonde” stereotype, but the joke just fits here…).
After that, we hit the road for the St. Joe River, spotting a bald eagle and a cow elk along the way, and made it to Avery around 7:45pm and stopped to get some ice. We realized the grave mistake we’d made once we got into Avery: We forgot to bring our lawn chairs for sitting around the campfire.
We stopped into a fly fishing shop in Avery, across the road from the infamous (for anyone who knows Avery) Scheffy’s General Store, and asked if they sold lawn chairs. The man sitting behind the desk, donning a University of Idaho hat (as it would happen he is a professor at University of Idaho and lives in Moscow during the school year, spending his summers running the fly fishing shop on the St. Joe. GOALS.), told us to borrow the chairs on their front porch, just as long as we brought them back on Sunday. We agreed to the deal and thanked him profusely (as well as returning the chairs on our way home Sunday).
We headed up river along the winding scenic byway, St. Joe River Road, and made it to our camping spot by around 8:30pm. We got our camp set up, and beat from the day, headed to bed.
We both slept quite well that night, the river acting as a lullaby, rather than the more eerie and chilling sounds of the wind and rain at the top of Gold Pass the next night.
Saturday, we packed up our camp, not sure where we’d be staying that night but wanting to move to a drier location that wasn’t such a mud bog, and headed up river toward Red Ives. We turned off the main St. Joe River Road, which continued up toward Gold Pass and followed Gold Creek. The small road we took actually followed the St. Joe River itself into an area referred to as the Upper St. Joe River, a bit more remote and a haven for horse camps and hunting camps later in the fall.
Another common theme along this road were signs for hiking, horse, and motorcycle trails snaking up into the mountains every half mile or so. We had our minds set on going for a hike, but we wanted more information first due to the remote and rugged nature of the area, especially since we were unfamiliar with these woods, and we already knew the forest service had not been up to clear trails yet.
On our drive to Red Ives we also saw some wildlife, including two cow moose, a whitetail deer and another bald eagle. One of the moose was not amused…
We stopped in at Red Ives Cabin, a ranger outpost that used to serve as a main Forest Ranger District Office, which was now located below Avery, Idaho. It’s downriver location was much more accessible, particularly during the winter since plows never made it anywhere remotely close to Red Ives during snowy months.
The woman at Red Ives Cabin told us that they hadn’t even had a winter caretaker at the Red Ives Cabin since the 1970’s, the last winter caretaker having died alone tragically after falling from the roof of the cabin in an effort to clear snow and prevent the roof from collapsing.
After visiting with her for a while and gaining some information on hiking trails, along with a map, we headed back down river a ways and decided on Indian Creek Trail, a 4-mile in-and-out trail, 8 miles round trip. The hike began as a very gradual incline, a pleasant and easy trek through an old-growth forest. There were quite a few blow-overs, having not been cleared yet, so we had to repeatedly climb over fallen trees and brush as we navigated our way up the mountain.
Once we got around two miles in, the trail began to take a quite steep ascent, and for those remaining two miles we had a steady climb, some areas steeper than others, but a steady and continuous direction: Up.
About three miles in, exhausted (we also attributed some of our shortness of breath to the increase in elevation, however the validity of that claim remains unverified…), with plans of heading to St. Regis, Montana later in the day, and knowing we would still have another three miles going back, we contemplated turning back down the trail. But our desire to conquer the trail superseded our bodies’ sense of self-preservation, and we continued on until we reached the end of the trail.
We reached Indian Peak with hopes of a nice panoramic view, but settled for glimpses of surrounding mountain tops through the trees. We could have continued on for another mile or two to the summit of Simmons Peak where we were pretty sure we’d find those panoramic views, but we decided against turning our 8-mile hike into a 10 or 12 mile hike, and headed back down.
On our way back down we came back across a pile of fur in the middle of the trail that we had crossed on our way up, and this time Amber noticed what was laying in the brush to the side of the trail. The remaining skeleton of some type of hoofed creature that had met its demise likely sometime over the last fall or winter. We speculated whether it was wolves that brought down the unlucky animal, or a bear, or maybe a cougar. What we did know, was something got eaten right there, and we got our own little dose of Animal Planet up close and personal.
After finishing our hike, we headed back out to St. Joe River Road and continued east, up and over Gold Pass and into Montana, rolling into St. Regis for a late lunch. After having some burgers at Jasper’s Restaurant, blowing some money at the gift shop, and finally getting some supplies at the gas station, we headed back to Gold Pass, where we decided to camp for the night.
There were still snow berms here and there at the top of the pass and in the tops of mountains we could see on the horizon, so it was a little chillier up there. But the views were spectacular, particularly as the sun began to set.
We had a nice camp spot just on the Idaho side of the border, and while we were certainly the only humans up there, we soon realized we were definitely not alone. Sitting around the campfire we must have seen at least 10-plus deer cross the road and go off onto the same trail that looked like it went toward the Montana side of the ridge.
Two different times when Amber ventured to the edges of our camp, once to use the great outdoors’ restrooms and once to look for kindling, she was scared by the sudden sound of hoofs running away in the trees, but not able to actually see what hoofed-creature (likely whitetail deer since that’s what we were seeing plenty of) she had spooked.
While it was beautiful at the top of Gold Pass I wouldn’t say it was a fantastic camping spot, particularly once night fell. It was awfully windy at the top of the ridge, and the weather certainly took a turn for the worse overnight.
Nonetheless, we had another incredible adventure, and I’m so grateful to have someone like Amber to take these adventures with, and loves the outdoors as much as I do. Until next time St. Joe, we’ll be dreaming of you.