I pull over at the intersection of Lightning and Mosquito Creek Roads to check my map. Sure enough, I am en route to find the trailhead to a noted peak in the Idaho Cabinets, and namesake for 88,000 acres of proposed Wilderness: Scotchman, 7,009 feet.
I’d asked the locals about it. Someone had never been. Someone said it would take at least eight hours. Someone said I had to go.
My jeep is hugging the edges of FR2294A and I give thanks that Dad insisted I purchase an all-terrain vehicle; these are forest roads meant for hardy people who don’t mind going slow or getting lost sometimes.
I slow down, appreciate the sense of the unknown. It feels wild and that’s somehow comforting.
The first mile is steep with switchbacks, and I wonder if I might have had one less glass of wine the night before. I am encased by tall pines. I note the ghost-like silhouettes of bear grass coming to terms with the end of season.
It’s a hot day in late August. I’m sweating hard and focused on my boots moving up the trail.
“Have you been up here before?” A woman’s voice breaks me from my reverie.
“No,” I say.
“Well,” she says, “you’re in for a treat. Pretty soon you’ll get some views.”
“Thanks,” I say, not wholly convinced in my heart that Idaho will have the views I’m looking for.
I come around a long switchback and see people gathered ahead. I wonder what the commotion is and then start to see patches of blue water to the south and a massive expanse of sky, Lake Pend Oreille.
My heartbeat quickens with a surge of adrenaline and I hike without stopping to what looks like a summit.
“Is this the top?” I ask a couple settled in for lunch on a massive piece of greenish-gray rock.
“You’ve got about half a mile to go,” they say.
I look up to where they’re pointing. It looks like a climb, and I’m in climbing mode.
“Scotchman, Scotchman,” I hum under my breath as I heave my body up argillite to quartz, “who are you?”
The ruins of an old fire lookout sit on a crest. I scurry up to the left of it. Then, nothing.
I have reached a plateau of silence. My body eludes me. Vastness down the drainages. Vastness across the mountains stretching miles and miles across the Panhandle into Montana. It’s astonishing.
“Wilderness,” I whisper.
I sit down to try to take in the enormity of the landscape. I feel the sun on my back. A sense of wonder compels me to trace the ridgelines with my finger.
You could spend your life learning this country.
I take my time going down. I give thanks to the mountain for being here. I give thanks for natural beauty and the sense of awe it inspires. I give thanks that wilderness is wild, and we can go there and remember who we are.