This article is a reading companion to Episode 4 in our Wild West Trail 2018 series.

Sawtooth Mountains Backpacking

Sawtooth Mountains
The Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho, May 2018.

At around the 2-week mark, we made it to the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho.

Named for their jagged peaks, which resemble the teeth of a saw, the Sawtooths are a mountain range located in the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho. It was here that we encountered our first hot spring of the hike, not named or mentioned on any map, and decided to take a dip.

A few things to note:

  1. Hot springs often smell like rotten eggs; this is from naturally occurring sulfur.
  2. The sulfur in these hot springs has a natural healing quality which will help alleviate your aches and pains.
  3. Don’t put your head underwater because of brain-eating amoebas.

Amoeba Infection

Although there is no specific threat in Idaho, when we got to Wyoming we came to a place that had signs posted, warning of a “brain-eating amoeba”.

The only way to contract it is through an orifice on your head (nose, mouth, ears), and there is no cure. You probably won’t contract it, as they are extremely rare, but if you do – you will die. So, although it’s probably an overabundance of caution, I’m done putting my head underwater.

All that being said, the hot spring felt oh-so-nice, and we spent about an hour there.

Afterwards, we found our first true morels of the hike, near a place we called Camp Morel. These early mushroom findings served as a harbinger of many more morels to come.

Effects Of Drinking Unfiltered Water

The cold-spring we encountered here, shooting out and down the side of the mountain, was the first notable natural spring on the trail.

Although we would encounter countless more over the course of our 4 months on the trail, I remember this cold spring in particular because of the enormous energy boost I received upon drinking from it. Maybe it was the mineral content of the water, or maybe I was just really dehydrated, but the nourishment was palpable.

It made me think about how coveted fresh spring water would have been before products like Red Bull, or even coffee, became ubiquitous. With proper precautions, such as making sure giardia isn’t an issue, the positive effects of drinking clean, unfiltered water can be felt immediately.

Bearikade Bear Canister

Next, we got our first glimpse of how snowmelt affects the waterways. Remember, this water was ICE COLD. A start later in the season would have avoided much of this, but we had an ambitious mileage plan which necessitated an earlier-than-usual start date on the Idaho Centennial Trail.

The trail took us above the snowline, to a mountain pass at around 9200 feet – just below Ross Peak. This served as the highest point of the hike until we reached the Spanish Peaks in Montana – over 2 months later.

At this point in the video you may have noticed that I have been carrying a large cylinder for quite some time. What is this mysterious cylinder you ask? It’s a carbon fiber bear canister – the Bearikade Weekender – one the best and most expensive bear canisters on the market.

And completely unnecessary, except for its use as a sitting stool. I carried it for hundreds of miles before I finally acquiesced to common sense.

Tips For Walking Through Deep Snow

  • Wear Crampons, they offer traction and support while hiking atop the snow
  • Ziploc bags are invaluable when dealing with the snow. Putting them on your feet, underneath your (preferably Darn Tough) wool socks, will act similar to a wet suit. Your feet and toes will still get wet, but they will stay warm.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses, snow blindness is real and easily preventable.

“Who the Fuck is Spike Coggins?”

At about the 8-minute mark we made it to the pass. The view was spectacular. The song you hear is “Idaho Blue Eyes” by none other than Spike Coggins. “Who the fuck is Spike Coggins?” you ask. Good question (go find out).

Coming down from the pass, we were both exhausted. Especially Joel, since being in the lead meant postholing for miles – which took considerably more energy than simply walking in those holes. As twisted as it was, I liked this because it showed me that Joel was still human.

The goal was to simply get below the snowline so that we could set up camp since setting up a tent on top of the snow would be terrible. Of course, nothing on this hike would be that simple.

Rocky Mountain Elk Habitat

At the first acceptable flat spot that we came upon, after a grueling day, we encountered a cow elk and her newborn fawn. We had stumbled upon their calving grounds.

The survival mechanism that they have adopted is interesting; upon encountering a predator, the cow will run away – in order to lure the predator after her, and away from her fawn.

This meant that, as we entered the area, the cow took off up the mountain and left her fawn near where we wanted to camp. The fawn was too weak to follow its mother up the mountain, and if you listen closely you can hear it squeaking as it calls for help.

We realized that if we didn’t leave the area, the mother would have abandoned the fawn. And so we kept hiking. A couple of miles later we found a suitable spot, set up camp and passed the heck out.

Author: @carmenrao

In 2018 we filmed our time on The Wild West Trail | This article is based on Episode 4: The Sawtooth Mountains | You can watch the full video HERE

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