Reilley Wolfe of Sandpoint was the 2017 Overall Scholarship Winner.

Posted on Friday, June 16th, 2017

Reilley received $600 for his essay on “A Most Memorable Wilderness Experience.”

Morning on the Mountain

By Reilley Wolfe

Beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, beep-bee—. I pressed the stop button on my watch, glancing at the time on the digital readout: 12:00 AM. Groaning, I quickly showered and shoved down some food – a couple hastily made PB and Js. Grabbing a camelback I had loaded the night before, I double checked to make sure everything was there – water, protein bars, headlamp, and an extra sweatshirt. Headlights entered my driveway and I hurriedly finished my scan – it was all there. I headed out the door, grabbing my hiking boots on the way. I hopped into the passenger seat of my childhood friend’s truck, tossing his camelback into the rear seats. Thus began the last day of my junior year in high school.

The drive over Sandpoint via the bypass was quiet, but filled with an eager anticipation. We picked up two more friends north of town with only a single setback involving a failed alarm clock. Things still hadn’t fallen completely off schedule, and we managed to leave the rendezvous shortly after 1:00 AM. The remaining half hour drive to Clark Fork was uneventful, though filled with chatter as the four of us, now wide awake, exchanged stories of widely varying interest and truth. 2:00 AM soon rolled around and we found ourselves at the bottom and real beginning of our adventure: Scotchman’s Peak.

Our goal was to make it to the top, acquire pictures of an epic sunrise, and make it back down in time to take our last finals of the year. My most recent hike up to the highest point in Bonner County had been four years prior, and, aside from the view, my memory retained only how absurdly steep the beginning of the hike was. The four of us all being athletes were confident in our ability to make the climb up and back to the high school by 8:00. So, after admiring the stars, we donned our headlamps, shouldered our packs, and began the four-mile trek up the mountain.

The first half of the hike went by smoothly. The night was near blissful in its acute surrealism, and the stars, though often overcast by passing clouds, were pristine in their emphasis of the chill night. We hiked for thirty minutes before stopping for a quick bite along with several deep breaths of refreshingly crisp air. Then we continued on our way, progressing along a well maintained trail that continued to climb. Over an hour in, we emerged from the dense pine trees of the Cabinet Mountains into an open field and encountered our first sign of wildlife: a pair of glowing eyes staring from the trees 300 feet uphill from us. Jake, the only senior in our small band and a seasoned outdoor enthusiast, made a comment that made all our hearts miss a beat. “Guys… those are predator eyes.”

A gun and pepper spray were instantly pulled out, as well as a banana peel and several granola bar wrappers. This way, the bear would be distracted and go after the food for his 3:00 AM meal, not people. The eyes blinked and disappeared. We made it about three hundred feet further up the trail traversing the field in no time at all before the eyes reappeared, once again directly above. We all tensed and got ready to fight, flee, and trip our least favorite friend. The night suddenly didn’t seem so cold anymore. The eyes, glinting a malicious yellow in the beams of our headlamps, advanced. We stood utterly still, hearts racing. The eyes sped up, bounding down towards us. This wasit. We were dinner. Before any triggers could be pulled, pepper spray diffused, or banana peels hurled, it veered off to the side, bounding, bounding, away. Oh deer, that was quite embarrassing.

During the final push along the ridge, we got snowed on, the last snow of the school year, and just after 4:00AM, we made it to the top. Having time before the sunrise, we had a small feast of Oreo cookies and milk, a delectable combination to go along with a stunning view of silhouetted peaks. Then the sun rose.

It was gorgeous, starting out as a deep red tinge caressing the tips of the Cabinets over in Montana. As it rose higher, darkness receded, revealing the full vastness of the snow-tipped mountain range. Minutes passed, and finally, the sun expanded out into a brilliant orange, illuminating beautiful Lake Pend Oreille behind us.

We made it back to school in a polarizing mixture of sadness and delight. Delight because of what we had seen, what we had already accomplished that morning. Sadness because we had to leave it behind for the banality of public education. Our early morning adventure made us realize how blessed we are to live in such a place. JRR Tolkien once said, “The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” How can we top this grand adventure our senior and final year? We’ve got some ideas.



One Response

  1. Deb says:

    So wonderful. What great descriptions.

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