River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, July 10, 2013

Hiking is in my blood, from the Highlands of Scotland to the Burren of western Ireland. One of my great uncles, Alec Robertson oft times strode from Rockport to the Albion River and back for a long weekend’s jaunt. My parents hiked into the Trinity Alps as part of their honeymoon in the fall of 1941.

And so again this June I set out into the wilderness with my old backpacking buddy Steven Steelrod. He moves a little slower after a torn Achilles three years ago; nevertheless, the first week’s sojourn into the Trinities with Steve’s brother, Jason, along for good company, proved easy enough. Along the way we spotted a bald eagle at Horseshoe Lake and met a man from Ashland who spends his summers as a paid guide for small groups in the mountains.

Somehow the topic of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert came up. Steve was intrigued, as a friend of his college student daughter had just given her a ticket. The guide pontificated about the mind-expanding enlightenment he’d found at Burning Man. Steve pumped him with questions and eventually the guide told us how his life had been opened to new possibilities through the ingestion of the drug ecstasy. Jason and I excused ourselves politely, but with a double-barreled roll of the eyes, moving onward and upward to Ward Lake where the fish were biting and the highs natural. Steve was an hour behind us getting back to base camp a mile east of Mumford Meadows, newly informed at what went on at Burning Man, but skeptical concerning its cultural or psychological efficacy.

A day later, beside the shrunken shoreline of Landers Lake we met a Tennessee college student performing Forest Service scouting loops of a week or more at a time. We were the first humans she’d seen in four days, though she had spotted a bear and thought she glimpsed a mountain lion. As usual Steve talked on and on to her while Jason and I pondered which would be safer for a college student: a few days and nights at Burning Man or weeks on end alone tromping the trails of the Trinity Alps.

The following week Steve and I set out from the Mule Bridge trailhead up the North Fork of the Salmon River. The first six miles of this trail were a virtually flat walk in the woods, even with 40-45 pound packs on our backs. The next seven included six crossings of the Salmon River with boots, socks, and trousers tied around necks and barefoot balancing of the packs in icy, rushing water; wouldn’t be a Steelrod summer without some adventure. Of course, the last mile was a steep climb to Abbott Lake, where two very spent campers pitched tents in the gloaming.

Three nights later, we were back downstream, having re-forded the Salmon another half dozen times and having survived a close encounter with a rather large male mountain lion. Only then, by firelight, during a discussion of how television journalism has sunk to new lows with the all day coverage of the Jodi Arias murder trial on CNN’s Headline News channel did Steve reveal that he’d once taught Arias in high school and caught her plagiarizing an internet site for a term paper. She vehemently denied the accusations of cheating though a friend downloaded a replica paper to prove Arias’ guilt. Soon thereafter, her mother removed her from school. Perhaps a trip to Burning Man or a few weeks alone in the wilderness would have been a better alternative education.

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