“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Lyndon B. Johnson
This August I had the chance to head into the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho for an alpine climbing, backcountry camping and hiking experience. Joining organic chemistry PhD student Shiho Kobayashi and English Professor Bo Earle at the Redfish Lodge near Stanley, Idaho we boarded a motorboat carrying packs filled with food, camping gear, ropes and random items to see us through the next few days. Dropped at the Redfish Lake Inlet we entered the Sawtooth Wilderness Area and began the approach to Saddleback Lakes home of Saddleback Peak, aka Elephant’s Perch.
On the trail our conversation drifted from literature to poetry to philosophy and even to beliefs. When asked what I believed in I could only respond, “Energy.” Personally, I lean toward the Buddhist thought that everything in the universe is connected. I even wear a tattoo on my back of an endless knot as a reminder.
In the morning twilight we awoke in camp high above the lowest of the Saddleback Lakes. Coffee was brewed and our spirits were high. Up to the golden wall we started up the line named Myopia. Climbing as a party of three could have been a struggle, but it wasn’t. “We’re a well oiled machine,” became our mantra as we managed the constant cluster of two ropes, dehydration and nerves while committing to the climb.
Looking out from the belays we could see the other lakes and marveled at their marine color rimmed by a surreal turquoise. The jagged ridgelines surrounding us held occasional pine tree that stood in utter defiance of the inhospitable terrain.
The next morning had us up early and to the rock for another route. I traveled only a couple pitches up before descending. I’d climbed the Beckey route before and with a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms I didn’t want to slow Shiho and Bo down.
From camp and the lakes I watched their progress as clouds rolled in. A brief shower fell from the sky. Thunder rumbled from the unknown to the south. Pitch after pitch they continued up. The thunder ceased and the ceiling of clouds lifted some. As they disappeared on the summit dome a gust a wind rippled over the dark surface of the lakes. Hail fell from the sky then the sun appeared. The west face of Saddleback Peak burned amber in the late afternoon light while they made their final rappel.
The following day we managed one pitch before being rained off the wall. We rolled our camp into our packs and shouldered the weight. Walking down, out of the Sawtooth Wilderness we wore content smiles. I was still thinking about the question of what I believed and recalled a quote from Aldo Leopold.
“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”
This is an essay that was first published in the Summer 2012 issue of the Utah Adventure Journal.
Sunday morning, with the smell of juniper and sage in the air, Elizabeth and I ran to Flaming Rock. Last year she had backed off Rain Dance, the two-pitch route to its summit. This year she cruised it, only hesitating at an overlap on the second pitch. Getting her down the backside was a bit touchier. She crawled to the edge of the face then wrapped her arms around my neck. I gently set her below the anchor and told her it would be fine. Releasing her arms from my neck her lips quivered for a moment then relaxed as I let out rope.
To the Bread Loaves, we chose Twist and Crawl. As she jammed her tiny hands into the finishing crack her face pinched into a scowl.
“Liz, you look like a crack climber!” She responded by sticking out her tongue.
No one was on Skyline at 11 am Sunday morning so I made my way up. Only wanting to take her to the edge of comfort I had some doubt on this one. Steep and precarious, it might’ve been enough to unnerve her. As I neared the top a group of climbers appeared and asked Elizabeth when we would be done. Feeling awkward she asked not to climb it. I felt relieved.
The last formation of our trip was Elephant Rock. We arrived to an empty parking area and saw no climbers. To have the place to ourselves was a gift.
“It wont come out!” Elizabeth was having trouble removing the first cam.
“Take it easy. Squeeze the trigger then ease it out.” She got it and moved on to the next one. It was no problem.
“This is… scary!”
“You’re almost here. It’s the last climb of the trip.”
“I can’t get it!” 30 feet below me and 80 above the ground she was fussing with the final tcu. I had finessed it into a pod and now it’d require some guidance to retrieve. I took up the slack and had her sit on the rope. Her arms jerked up and down as she tried to pry the cam from the crack.
“Stop! Take a breath, Liz. It’s not a big deal.” Tears were falling; I could hear it. “Okay, now nice and easy, move it bit by bit.” It was my father’s voice. “Don’t force it. Never force anything, Liz.” She was trembling when she arrived to the belay. I hugged her tightly and told her she’d done awesome.
I’d like to say the institution was a silver bullet, but it wasn’t. While I never returned to partying like I’d done in the past, time was needed to clean up. Rehab did, however, have an effect on the relationship with my dad. Although neither of us was able to speak about the past, we did develop a distant respect for one another. He no longer demanded anything from me and I took full responsibility for my actions. It seemed like this was a descent outcome to our differences, but after his death depression grabbed hold. It felt as if a dark and toxic cloud was suffocating me. For years I struggled to rectify these issues. At first I suffered from nightmares that revisited our altercations, then after time I began having dreams of regret where I was unable to speak, to tell him that I was sorry. And now, more than decade later, I’m finally being comforted with dreams of his love.
As a young asthmatic I recall several trips to the emergency room. My dad would sit next to me speaking softly with his Peruvian accent. “Luis, I want you to count backwards from the number ten. At each number we will take a breath.” Sometimes he would count in Spanish, “Diez… Nueve… Ocho…” He would calmly walk me through relaxation exercises while my mom, near hysterical, would be demanding the doctors make me “breath like a normal child!” I struggle with this. Why is it so hard to get along with the ones we care most for?
The last memory I have of my dad is being in his room. I was 20 years old. After having his stomach removed in order to stop the spread of cancer, a procedure that his body didn’t accept, he had withered away and now his time was up. Afternoon light crept through thin drapes covering the windows. I sat next to his emaciated body. My weight was the only impression on the mattress. His eyes rolled in their sockets when I touched his hand.
“Dad…” they half opened. “How do you know you’re ready to have kids?” His lolling head snapped straight and the clouds vanished from his sunken eyes. Blinking in astonishment he feigned a smile. “How do you know?” I repeated.
“No one is ever ready for children, Luis.”
On a Sunday afternoon in June I sat with Elizabeth on the top of a granite formation in the City of Rocks. Other rocks rolled away from us, down into Circle Creek Basin. Smokey Mountain sat quietly, covered in dark pine. Turkey vultures floated in a blue sky with the sun beating down.
The fear I’ve known through climbing; embracing uncharted rock, getting buzzed by lightening, rolled over by refrigerator-sized blocks or falling, pales in comparison to the knowledge that I’m capable of despicable behavior. I worry about cross-threading my relationship with these children.
This was only climbing. How would I handle the kids when it became serious?
The thought paralyzed me. Elizabeth, no longer trembling, looked at me and smiled. My father was right. Considering my past I would never be prepared, but right or left, up or down, the next move was up to me.
copyright louis arevalo 2012
This was first published in the Utah Adventure Journal Summer 2012
I never apologized to my dad before he passed away in August 1997. To say we didn’t get along during my teenage years would be putting it lightly. Before our troubles began, I recall working together on a project. Clumsily, I positioned a nut at the end of a bolt and started torqueing it down with a wrench. He noticed my shaking arms and stern face.
“Luis, stop! Don’t force it. Never force anything.” Being from Peru he spoke English precisely, but with a heavy accent. Reversing the nut with his fingers, he seated it correctly and signaled for me to try again. It tightened with ease.
This past June a weekend family trip to the City of Rocks was whittled down to my stepdaughter and me when my wife and stepson stayed home for an impromptu soccer tournament. On a Friday afternoon Elizabeth and I left Salt Lake City. Barely across the Idaho border we stopped on Strevell Road beneath the Raft River Mountains. I snapped photographs of abandoned ranch buildings while Elizabeth darted back and forth screaming, trying to avoid swarming mosquitoes. Down the road I spotted an eagle perched on a telephone pole. Pulling over I grabbed the camera.
“Do you think it will fly?” As we walked toward the pole it spread its wings and swooped down between the wires. A few flaps and it soared through the evening air.
“Whoa… That’s huge!” Elizabeth blurted. I had to agree.
I was eleven the first time I climbed. A rope, anchored to a tree 50 feet up a very low angle bluff, served as the route. I had joined my older sister for her senior spring break in the mid 80’s and for a few days I ran about the deserts of southern Utah with a diverse collection of teenagers. With one VW bus and one Trans-Am, the group of seven wisped me from the hoodoos of Goblin Valley, the radical entrada formations of Arches, the endless vistas at Dead Horse Point and to the quiet beauty of Canyonlands. One of the teenagers explained to the rest how he had rappelled off a feature in a hidden corridor of Goblin Valley. I was intrigued.
The following evening we pulled off Highway 191 south of Moab and cruised along the rolling plains beneath the dark Abajo Mountains. After passing vacant cattle buildings the road began to descend, winding its way into faded sandstone. Our destination was Newspaper Rock and for a moment I was entranced by the collage of images scratched into the vanished rock, but 50 feet to the right the climber of our group had rigged a top rope by using a juniper growing out of the Navajo sandstone. When he asked if anyone wanted to climb I jumped at the opportunity. Wearing a pair of Tough Skins with holes in the knees, a Cheerios Kid T-shirt and Payless running shoes, I clambered quickly up the rock. Sitting back, weighting the rope and lowering were the hardest parts.
Regardless of its difficulty, the hook was set. From then on my free time was devoted to the rock. Since I didn’t have any real equipment the majority of it was spent soloing at fourth and easy fifth class crags in the Wasatch Mountains. Only on occasion was I lucky enough to hook up with a friend’s older brother and actually climb on a rope.
During those rope free days I developed an identity. The uncertainty of being on the rock without any protection cut through all my insecurities. In moments of doubt, when I was sure my forearms would give into the building pump and my fingers would open involuntarily, I could visualize the fall. It would be quiet at first, then my body, striking a ledge below, would spin wildly out of control until the ground suddenly stopped it, broken beyond repair. These thoughts paralyzed me. The flashes were terrifying to the point that I would swear to never climb again until the day I discovered I was the only solution. Left or right, up or down, my fate was in my hands. Each solo outing on the rock began to feed my confidence and character. At home things were different.
“Do not speak to me like that. Have your mother cut your hair. Boys do not wear earrings. Sunday is for worship. You will obey.” Questions were not tolerated when my dad laid out his directives. Step outside his line and you were forced back in.
When I was twelve he let it slip that he was listening in on my phone calls. He explained that in his house it was his right to do so. In search of privacy hours were spent away. On a number of days he’d have to drag me home in order to spend time with the family. This led to more time away and more time in the Wasatch.
Once, while he demanded that I cut my hair, he snapped and wrestled me to the ground.
“Take that thing out!” He screamed while tearing at my earring. My older brother intervened and afterward, I added two more piercings to spite him. This cycle continued into high school. He would demand and I would refuse. Taking steps in the opposite direction of what he wanted seemed the best reaction. Each exchange made it easier to stay away and hanging with all the kids he didn’t want me to be with became easy.
It was with these friends I discovered yet another identity. Booze, Speed, Weed, Hash, Mushrooms, Acid, Coke, etc.; we dabbled with it all and it all blew my mind. At first, I got high occasionally, then weekly and, eventually, daily. Faster than you’d think, the substances took over. I found myself searching the canyons near Salt Lake for places to get high instead of places to climb. Drifting from one friend’s house to another I’d stay away from home for days never contacting my parents. Nights were spent in nearby canyons and glens, hidden among the granite or quartzite boulders.
We partied until it wasn’t fun any more. There were Speed and LSD binges so intense I would smoke pot or drink just to keep the edge off. These long highs always ended with severe lows, where the guilt and shame of what I was becoming pushed me to stay away even longer, which led to getting high again. Several arrests and court appearances along with slipping academics labeled me a delinquent. Wanting to climb was replaced by the urge to get high. The soothing canyons of the Wasatch that had given me some much went the same way the best friend you had in grade school, ignored and mostly forgotten. Trapped in a cycle of hormones and mind-altering chemicals, I began to lash out at everything and everyone. I wanted to stop, but didn’t know how.
Part 2 will be published next week.
copyright louis arevalo 2012
This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.
After saying good night to my wife and twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and while breathing in the lupine scented air I sensed something new and musky. Unzipping the tent I peered out from the edge of a large alpine cirque to see the sliver of a crescent moon low on the twilit horizon. On a whim to get away and explore someplace new, beautiful and hopefully not too crowded, we chose to backpack into the southwestern corner of the Pioneer Mountains near Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late July and we had just settled down for the night in Hyndman Basin. Above us, in the purple hue of sky, stars winked alive while my eyes adjusted to the light. Soon the silhouettes of half a dozen elk materialized in the gloaming. Near a babbling brook they fed on grasses and flowers before passing through camp, so close I could hear their breathing.
Checking in with Joe Miczulski at the Ketchum Ranger District Office of the Sawtooth National Forest, he agreed that the Pioneer’s, or Pio’s, don’t see as much human traffic as the surrounding ranges. This makes sharing ventures in the region with wildlife that includes black bear, elk, deer, mountain goats, mountains lions, coyotes and wolves, more common. “Even at the peak of summer use it seems you can always find solitude up near Hyndman,.. even more so if you spend the night.” He explained.
Sun Valley Trekking co-owner and Wood River Valley resident for nearly 13 years, Francie St. Onge, echoed Joe’s claim of less traffic and more wildlife. She also recommended it as a place to bring the kids. Francie has been bringing her four-year-old daughter, Neve, to Hyndman Basin since she was an infant. “It’s a great place to bring the kids with several options depending on their ability.” She recommended, for smaller children, making the journey to Outfitter Meadow, which sits at the western foot of Cobb Peak between Big and Hyndman Basin. At 9,000 feet the meadow contains a pond, pine trees, has a small creek running through it and is filled with areas for kids to play and families to camp.
Older kids can make it another mile and 1,000 feet into Hyndman Basin proper. There they can wander through gnarled firs or run through spring fed meadows that overflow with wildflowers. Paintbrush, sunflowers, elephant head, blue camas are only a few of the flowers they can identify. If the kids are up for additional elevation gain and more adventure make your way to the saddle between Old Hyndman and Hyndman Peak and follow the second-class trail to Idaho’s ninth highest point at 12,009 feet. From the summit of Hyndman Peak they will be rewarded with a 360-degree panorama that includes the highest point in the state, Mt. Borah.
An alternative to going into Hyndman Basin is the historic Pioneer Cabin. Parents with older children can easily make it a day hike. Built in the 1930’s by Sun Valley ski instructors this pine cabin, located on the western edge of the Pio’s, is open to the public and may be used on a first come first serve basis. The simple structure, donning an aluminum roof, single pane windows and containing a wood-burning stove offers stupendous views of not only the Pio’s, but the surrounding ranges as well. You may reach the cabin via Corral Creek, Johnstone Creek or Hyndman Creek. These can be out-and -back, through-hikes, or loops.
We chose the basin. Leaving the Hyndman Creek Trailhead that morning the three of us crossed a footbridge heading east. Following a gently graded, abandoned mining road we wandered through fields of grass peppered with firecracker penstemons, sego lilies and dancing aspens. For three reasonable miles, that eased Josie, my stepdaughter, into the hike, we passed and were passed by a few others before the trail steepened. Here it quickly climbed 600 feet depositing us in a meadow filled with the blooming lupine. Strolling by the vacant Pioneer Yurt, which is operated by Sun Valley Trekking during only the winter months, we found a comfortable spot beside the creek. Taking shelter from the sun beneath the trees we discovered vibrant columbine flowers. Refreshed by the passing water and cool breeze we lunched and discussed camping in the meadow. Unanimously we chose to make the final push into the basin. There we found a secluded site for our camp, set up and immediately ventured to the frosty waters of a small alpine lake. As we waded and skipped stones, a string of hikers meandered by, emptying the basin as the hour grew later. It was here that we encountered our only neighbors for the night; a group of five who had come to summit Hyndman.
In contrast to their neighboring ranges of Boulder, Smokey and Sawtooth Mountains, the Pioneers tower above not only in elevation, but also in their geological variety. According to geologist Darlene Batatian, who did her graduate work mapping the range, the creation of the Pioneers left visible layers of gneiss, quartzite, schist and other rocks for those who experience the area. The edge of Hyndman Basin, hanging above the canyons below on the rising side of a detachment fault, is an example of a Mylionitic zone, the place where the shearing force of the land either pulverized the rock into tiny crystals or morphed its structure into something else; the result being an array of color in the land that is both amazing and breathtaking.
Back at camp we spread a geology map in a field of wildflowers. Doing my best to find our location then identify different rock types, the sun dropped lower in a royal blue sky. The deepening hues were a rainbow of earth tones in the setting sun. As I read each description Josie pointed to the areas that seemed to match. The main peaks of Cobb, Old Hyndman and Hyndman, serrated and jagged, appeared to be gneiss, grey, featured and beautiful. Tilting rapidly off the southwestern slopes of Cobb and Duncan Ridge was a softer layer of yellow dolomite, eroding its way down into the canyons below. Casting our gaze West, toward Bald Mountain, we saw layers of orange tinted quartzite glinting off the lesser peaks and points before being swallowed by the greens of sage, pines and aspens that blanketed the land below.
That evening, after the elk had moved on, I fell into a deep slumber only to wake in the wee hours of the night. I crawled from the warmth of my bag and tent and stood still as the breeze caused goose bumps to rise from my arms. Above our tent ran the span of the Milkyway, streaking south from the summit of Hyndman across a star filled sky. It seemed to touch down in the Snake River Basin. I heard the wind whirling around the peaks, the stream passing by and the breathing of my wife and daughter, deep in slumber. I had one thought in my head before returning to bed, “We should always go on a whim.”
Guide Book: Hiking Idaho Ralph Maughan and Jackie Johnson Maughan A Falcon Guide
Maps: Hyndman Peak USGS quadrangle
For current conditions and restrictions Sawtooth National Forest Ketchum Ranger District 208-622-0090
Sun Valley Trekking: 208-788-1966 www.svtrek.com
Elephants Perch 208-726-3497
Backwoods Mountain Sports 208-726-8818
When to visit:
Visit midsummer for the height of flowers season, bring bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes and deer flies, and then return in autumn when the aspens leaves have changed from their usual green to a vibrant tangerine.
Getting to the trailhead:
Turn off Highway 75 5.5 miles north of Hailey. Drive 6 miles East. Take a hard left at sign that reads North Fork of Hyndman Creek. Drive 3 miles to the crossing of Johnstone Creek. Cross Johnstone Creek and continue another 1.5 miles to the parking area.
Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’57” N Longitude: 114-07’51” W
Pioneer Cabin = Latitude: 43-44’35” N Longitude: 114-11’29” W
Old Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’27” N Longitude: 114-07’01” W
Cobb Peak = Latitude: 43-43’52” N Longitude: 114-07’35” W
Duncan Ridge = Latitude: 43-45’03” N Longitude: 114-08’43” W
Big Basin = Latitude: 43-43’33” N Longitude: 114-07’09” W