A Spirit of Place
By Paul Bradt
It was Fall of 2016, but this adventure was born about 35 years earlier, while on a canoe trip down the Bull River in late Spring with a friend of mine. Now, there’s not much excitement generated from the ride of this river, but the mountain scenery is spectacular, especially those peaks on the western horizon. My friend Al and I had just pulled over to the shore for a quick lunch break and it was then I noticed this mountain to the west that stuck out from the rest. The sun was hitting the east face of this mountain just at the correct angle to really showcase its outline and to reflect all that snow on its top. I asked Al if he knew the name of the peak, and he replied that it was called Billiard Table; over near the Idaho border in an area called the Scotchman Peaks.
Now a lot of trails and mountains bear the prints of my boots but none have been “cast” on Billiard Table, not until recently. I really don’t know why it took so long to get this done but perhaps it’s the concern of the aging process and /or a strong work ethic that seems to dominate things away from fun and pleasure. After checking with another comrade for a hiking companion and getting turned down I decided to go ahead and plan a solo trip me and my dog, Aussie. The weather for mid-September was supposed to be of sunny skies and warm temperatures with nearly a full moon thrown in to boot
After packing the backpack with the essentials, one of which was water (5 quarts), I discovered I was at 45 pounds, which was heavier than I wanted. But, I figured I could handle the five mile hike and 4000 foot climb in elevation from Big Eddy campground just off highway 200 to Star Peak Lookout, of which would be the base camp to Billiard Table. To say the least, I was totally thrown off guard by the steepness of the trail in places and the complaints of my body carrying the pack; but my mindset pushed me onward, for I knew that a great reward was waiting at the end of the trail. It ended up taking about 6 hours to make it to the lookout on Star Peak, a trip that normally takes 3 hours for younger lads with younger bodies, but I was very happy with my accomplishment.
The scenery along the trail offered peeks of the Clark Fork River and of the valley below but I was blown away by the panoramic view at the top. In all directions, a unique and beautiful landscape met my watery eyes and fed my emotional body. And to the north my gaze fell upon Billiard Table, the purpose behind this trip so I am inclined to believe. But I know from past experience, it’s not one geographical landmark that draws me to these wild places; but peace and quiet, solitude and, above all, a time to reflect on what these places have contributed to my heart and soul.
After a peaceful, restful night and a cup of coffee followed by a bowl of granola, I’m ready for the 3-mile bushwhack to Billiard Table. Following the ridge line and contouring around the higher peaks I’m able to make pretty good progress until I encounter the talus slopes which dominates much of the high country in the area. Walking across unstable rocks of various sizes that slip and slide in all directions can be a daunting task, but I’m undeterred and keep pressing onward.
At last, I’m at the base of the peak and find the going very steep and have to use my hands and feet to move myself upward towards the top. Generally speaking these climbs look more daunting from a distance than up front and this is the case with this peak. At last, I reach the slope that takes me to the very top. The cairns placed by previous climbers on top of the peak seem to reach out with a greeting of welcome. At last, after years in the making, I have attained this one life’s goal! I let the ecstasy flow into my body, for I know I can relive this moment again and again down the road for the rest of my life.
But, this outing is not yet finished On the way back to camp, I’m suddenly serenaded by the bugle of a bull elk! He’s only a short distance away, just below in the subalpine area from the ridge I’m on. He seems to be congratulating me for my successful as Billiard Table.
Another night was spent on top in which I was rewarded by clear skies and a glorious full moon. The hike back down the trail went well, since I had gravity and a much lighter pack now that my water was gone, along with all my food. I’m almost at the trail head when suddenly two elk bugle to each other a short distance away. What an encore!
Overall this wilderness experience was an exhilaration from start to finish.
Paul Bradt is our September contributor for FSPW’s monthly Voices in the Wilderness series.