Bon Voyage, Bonners Ferry
We're writing today from the tiny town of Northport on the Columbia River, well on our way into Washington state. The trail from Bonners Ferry has been quite the adventure with, so without further ado...
Our hitch from Bonners Ferry back to the trail went well, as we were able to drop Cliff's vehicle off at the outskirts of town and start thumbing it right away (just a quick PSA, apparently its illegal to hitchhike in Idaho... as it is in most states). Fortunately, we got picked up by someone we affectionately had started to refer to as "Meter Guy", a man in a tan car we had seen on multiple occasions over the previous days checking peoples' meters. His real name is Jaret, and he was gracious enough to pick us up during his rounds. We got back on the road and started walking across the vast Kootenai Valley through amber waves of grain in full sunshine, with a light snow of cottonwood puffballs in the air. It was a pretty magical experience, and one I had yet to encounter on any trail thus far, and the sight of a deer leaping like a dolphin through the fields only made it that much better.
Upon reaching the other side, we began yet another "epic PNT climb", as we ascended through an old burn along Parker Ridge. The views back to the valley we had just crossed, with its patchwork of color and distant farms, made the effort all the more worthwhile. We ended the day at a perfect campsite in the shadow of a shapely peak with a look towards the valley head we had been paralleling, yet the spot had hardly gotten a mention in our guidebook.
Our next day promised to be a challenging one, as we had a long bushwacking section to look forward too. The morning was marred slightly when I discovered that an industrious and brave rodent of some variety had snuck under the vestibule of our tent to chew the wrist strap off one of my trekking poles (an event which I was blearily aware of the previous night, but didn't do enough to deter, apparently). Regardless, I was simply grateful it was a more debilitating slight (he could have chewed through my pack straps, after all), so we soldiered on in good spirits. The morning offered great views of the stony Selkirk Mountains that easily rival anything in California's High Sierra, though at lower altitudes and much less trafficked. I'm sure most Idahoans are content keeping that little bit of knowledge secret from the hordes of hikers out there looking for their own quiet little patch for the weekend. We passed Pyramid and the Ball Lakes, all pristine and worthy of a weeks worth of camping if we only had the inclination to stop for a spell.
Our morning quickly took a turn for the worst, however, when our bushwacking section started. It began easily enough, with a rock scramble up to an exposed ridge and some more scenic walking, but we were eventually directed down from our perch and into an overgrown morass. The steep incline, dense brush, and seemingly limitless blowdowns made route finding all but impossible, and eventually we resorted to brute-forcing our way through the vegetation. Eventually we picked up our next waypoint , the creek at the valley's bottom, but the way scarcely became any easier as we now had more mud to contend with. Throw in the grizzly bear warnings in our guidebook, and it made for an... interesting afternoon. One in which tempers did not flare at all, even one bit. No sir-ee. Given that the only other option was to bushwack uphill to an (apparently incredibly dangerous) ridge, we did the best we could. After finding our way to the where the trail picked up farther down the valley, we promptly set up camp and had dinner aside a roaring creek while the sunset lit up the rocky cliffs across from us, a welcome reward for enduring the scratches and insults delivered by the trail.
Over Ball Lake, the start of our bushwack
We resumed the next day in better spirits as the trail immediately climbed again, this time to the aptly names Lookout Mt. The granite peak was adorned with 2 fire lookout stations and looked back at the Selkirks, as well as over Priest Lake and farther west. A very gregarious chipmunk, no doubt fed by the (now absent) lookout attendant on his long days of watch, was clamoring to get a piece of our snack action. Spoiler alert; a hiker never parts with his or her food. We left the area and headed down towards the head of Priest Lake, finding ourselves at odds with the labyrinth of unmarked forest service roads. After much consultation with the GPS, we found our way and spent the rest of the day on easy trail as we skirted the idyllic upper lake, where a rowdy bunch of kayakers were having some sort of shindig out on the water.
From Lookout Mt
Our trail plunged into an old-growth cedar forest, where we were overcome by gloom, silence... and many, many mosquitoes. Thankfully these let up as we jetted past the 300 mile mark, which the hikers ahead of us had commemorated in stones along the path, and we able to to enjoy the regal trees in the waning golden light of the day. Towards the end of our walk, we were faced with a decision as to which of several alternate routes we would take for the next few days. We chose the southern-most one and passed Dirty B, who was happily plucking at his ukulele, before stopping for the night ourselves.