30 years ago, I visited ID for the first time. I had moved from Tahoe to Corvallis, OR to be with a boy I had met 2 years before that. 3 short months into my move to a new state, Jim took off to work for the National Forest Service outside of McCall, at the Krassel Ranger District. He was marking roads for logging. He hated the job, needed the money for grad school, and I visited him halfway through his 3 month stint. I brought him blackberry pie, and we climbed Nick Peak for the first time. I went back in late October as his job was done. No pie this time, he stole a cast iron skillet from the forest service trailer, and I got to see Burgdorf for the first time. 30 years ago, Jim thought it would be a great idea to drive the road up to Warren, thru Big Creek and Yellow Pine, and then back to McCall. We got stuck in snow a short distance of the way up Warren Summit. Had to dig out with a cookie tin as we had no shovel. Jim promised we would come back and try again. The next year we got engaged on Nick Peak, the next summer we got married, the following year we were recovering from the assault in Paraguay, then there was the move to Moscow, and babies. Life has a way of going on, no matter what you promise it.
Over the years, we played around on the edges of the route.
Burgdorf became a yearly family tradition. We went up in the winter, we used it as re-entry zone after river trips in the summer. But mostly, we went there in October. Crisp days for hiking or biking, cold nights where the warm pools were a balm. Cabins with family, cabins with friends, music nights. We went to Burgdorf right after Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer. I took him to Burgdorf the October before he died. Jasper and I took some ashes there as soon as the road opened up that Spring. I took a group of friends there in my first year of widowhood, and another group joined the following year. Greg joined me there for the first time last October, and this year, I went alone.
30 years ago, Jim’s brother had just written a hiking guide book to the McCall area. He listed the Secesh River Trail/Loon Lake Loop as a hike. We biked that trail together that year. There was no bridge over the Secesh River at the Chinook Camp ground back then. I’m pretty sure we took off our shoes and waded the creek, or perhaps we just added the 10 or so miles to get back to Burgdorf. Over the years we headed back to the Secesh. We promised the kids bridges and Pooh Sticks to get them just a wee bit further up the trail. We hiked it the year that Jim was diagnosed. He couldn’t make the loop, turned around with a friend and went back. This year, I rode it on my bike again. There is a bridge over the Secesh. That mountain bike ride is listed as one of the top 2 in Idaho.
Jim and I spent a lot of time in the Lick Creek Summit area. In 1987, we got engaged on Nick Peak. Jim and his brother climbed Nick again in 1993, while I was at home discovering I was pregnant again. One summer I insisted we stay in ID rather than head to the OR coast or Canada. We had Lake Fork campground to ourselves, and lost Jasper in a huckleberry bush. Payette Powder Hounds put up yurts on the summit in the winter time. Jim was a repeat customer, and I discovered that burned trees don’t have tree wells, and I actually liked skiing in the trees. Jim and I climbed Nick again 2 weeks before he was diagnosed. I could not understand his fatigue and reluctance. The last of his ashes were spread up there the Fall after he died.
Spring Break of 2009, we headed up from Yellow Pine to the Big Creek yurts. Jim splurged that year, and hired our meals cooked in addition to the 30 miles of snowmobile support. Jim became fast friends with the snowmobile driver who was our guide but not our guide, and I really hit it off with his wife. Not being one to relax when someone else is cooking something delicious, I insisted upon helping. Turns out she catered the Big Creek Backcountry Fly In every year, and asked if I would be willing to help out that October. I said yes, Jim was diagnosed, and I could not make it. Her husband has since died of cancer, she donated the yurt to the aviation association, and the Fly In has gotten so big they have moved it down to Yellow Pine. She is still cooking for it. I’m hoping that next year she invites me to help again.
This year, on a whim, I decided to finally drive that route. There was not time to round up a posse of friends, my kids are busy with their own lives, and Greg is under new management and did not feel he could take a day off of work. I knew the snow would fly soon, and though I now always carry a shovel, I knew that I had one last window of time before the snow would begin to fly in earnest. I finally connected the back side of Lick Creek Pass to Yellow Pine. I discovered that the Secesh River trail does connect to a road at its other end. I gazed upon the Big Creek Airstrip and fantasized about flying in there and fishing my way down to the Middle Fork. My little red truck took me up and over Elk Summit, which is just about as high as the top of Nick Peak. I backed that truck over 1/4 mile to find a spot wide enough in the road for 2 rigs towing stock trailers to pass on their way to set up a hunting camp. I peed in the South Fork of the Salmon, and said “I’ll see you in a couple of days down by French Creek”. Warren summit did not defeat me this time, and I cruised easily into Chinook Trailhead for a 2 hour bike ride before arriving at Burgdorf. I camped at empty campgrounds, took off from deserted trailheads, I drove for hours without seeing a soul, I had a small cabin to myself at Burgdorf, and I watched the Milky Way dance with shooting stars.
I’m a girl from the Midwest who now lives in ID. I promised 30 years ago that I would be back. I promise today that I will be back again. I keep my promises.