Easy isn’t a way to a mountain lake

By Carla Parks.

Dan and I moved to this paradise in the winter of 1976. I grew up on the Clearwater River in Idaho. My Dad was a packer and a guide above the Selway River, so I have always loved the woods. But I experienced mountain travel from the back of a horse.

At the time of our move we had a newborn son who kept me tied to the house until his feet were negotiating firm ground. Then the call of the forest could once more be answered. I found a notice in the paper about a guided hike up to St Paul’s Lake from the Bull River side. They classified it as an “easy” hike. Great. The children should be fine. I never worried a minute about Dan’s or my abilities.

We started the hike among jovial people with a knowledgeable guide. She seemed kind at first. The valley forest was lush green, and welcomed us with smells of verdant moisture and the sweet scent of fir. We wandered along a shaded trail, and I was loving it. Then we came to the creek. There was a large log that the other hikers scampered across. My confidence quickly plummeted. I was afraid of heights. I looked at the cold creek and wading didn’t seem to be a good idea. So Dan coaxed me up on the lofty tree and I crept across.

Okay, that was over. I didn’t look forward to the return trip, but the lake was just a short jaunt ahead —I thought — and I eagerly anticipated that. We left the shaded green of the bottom and headed up a hill. Not too bad. Then it got steeper, and the sun got higher. I looked up the mountain, and there above me was a trail that possessed a myriad of switchbacks. The log made me doubt the classification of an “easy” hike, but the mountain and the switchbacks solidified my feelings.

The kids and Dan trooped on in front, though, and I was tough. Resolute, I went forward. We kept getting higher on what I remember was an endless hot trudge. Finally, sweating profusely, I sat down. I told the Dan and the boys to continue. I would follow after I was rested  —with absolutely no self-assurance that was going to happen in any reasonable length of time. There I sat, but in ten minutes, my gumption came back, and I slogged my way to the top. When I came over the rise, the lake reflected that dark blue sky that only can be found in the high mountains. The rock bowl that held the lake was stunning. It was magic. The clear, cold water washed my sweat away. Suddenly the hike seemed easier. I was hooked.

Since that day, I have made a hundred trips or more to the lakes that are scattered like gems throughout this area. I have had hikes filled with white tree spires reaching like church steeples to perfect skies; huckleberries giving that tart sweetness that always calls for more; bears and the adrenaline and wonder that always follow upon seeing them; carpets of purple, white, and yellow flowers beneath my feet; and forests filled with the dusty smell and wondrous sight of beargrass in mass blooms. I have herded children up mountains and seen them collapse under a big tree totally exhausted — lamenting that their parents would do such torture. Then they find a likely limb and start a charge up the trail to fight off the dragons that menace us. We come to those amazing lakes from which, on the right days, we catch the red-sided trout and see the glue-footed goats on the cliff surrounding. We settle in to dig through our packs for the tastiest morsels that ever existed and lounge on big rocks or soft moss for an afternoon respite. Then we reluctantly go down the mountain and home. Not one of these treks were “easy”.

So, be warned, those of you who are new to this area and hear or read of an “easy” hike to a mountain lake. Don’t believe it for a moment. Anything that wonderful has to be earned.

Carla Parks is the former mayor of Thompson Falls and loves wild country. Her “Voices” column appeared in the February 25, 2016, issue of the Sanders County Ledger.

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