I’ve been in McCall this week. This is a great time of the year to be here. It is a quiet time; summer lake and hiking activities have given way to school books and the winter ski frenzy is several months down the road. The only action is the influx of hunters into the woods, apparent only if you go into the woods, which is one of the reasons for my coming here.Each year I drive into the back country looking for a new trail, a new adventure. And each year the scruffy 4-W drive vehicles with their gun racks, pop-up campers, and horse/ATV trailers clot the back roads and trail heads, reminding me that once again, I have forgotten to bring some bit of bright hunter orange to demarcate my carcass from an elk carcass. This small, but important lack of preparation limits my hiking somewhat. When I see an area that is completely inundated with hunters, I drive on. There is no point in getting my boots muddy in an area where all the wildlife is deep in hiding and my movement through the trees may be mistaken for meat by some trigger happy fool.
So I put more miles on my car than I do on my feet. For one week a year, I shove my gas consumption phobia under the rug. I queue up a recorded book on my I-pod and gaze hungrily at the map for unexplored terrain, of which there is always plenty.
Yesterday I was listening, appropriately, to the Odyssey as I drove up highway 95 toward Riggins, checking out side roads along the way. Federal stimulus funds have generated all sorts of road construction projects in this area. Several of my excursions have been cut short by backhoes and caterpillars gnawing their way across the road. In this part of the country, construction crews don’t bother with roadside flaggers. They simply post a “road work” sign a few hundred yards from their site so hapless drivers must decide how close to come and how long to wait. On one road—which I really wanted to continue on—I waited for 15 minutes. A cat was sideways in the road beside what looked like a hole the size of Rhode Island. None of the workmen acknowledged my existence. As I watched the size of the hole increase rather than decrease, I reluctantly retreated.
I explored several side roads which lead me to some ridges with awesome views. At one point, I saw a sign for Pittsburgh Landing, a famous put in for Snake River boating excursions. I’ve always wanted to see the place, but I balked at the additional 50 mile round trip of dirt road driving. Maybe next year. Instead I headed for Windy Saddle, the hikers’ put in for the Seven Devils. I’d been there years ago and knew the vista was stunning.
The first third of paved road gave way to graded gravel. The higher I went, the more hunting rigs clung to tiny patches of flat land; one camp was set up inside a hairpin turn and spilled out on the other side of the road, horses on one side, kitchen on the other side, dust everywhere.
The Seven Devils hide from view until the road pops out at the top of the saddle. Suddenly the granite peaks leap into view, jutting arrogantly from the spine of the mountain range. I went as far as the road goes and then hiked to Heaven’s Gate Lookout, hoping for a legend to the peaks that mark the Salmon, the Snake, and the Imnaha drainages. The lookout was closed and there was no map or legend. But the view was enchanting.
On the way down, a herd of bored outfitter’s horses stood near a herd of empty horse trailers. I stopped to admire them and one almost crawled in the car with me.
Back in town, as the sun retreated, the wildlife emerged. Urban deer are safe here and the browsing is excellent in the nearly empty subdivisions that sidle into the forest. Resident foxes find too many handouts and I’ve been told that black bears are taking instruction from the foxes. A poufy-tailed fox just rounded the corner of my building, trotting confidently through the maze of streets with some little treasure tucked in his jaws. McCall in the fall.