I planned to hike 150 miles of the Frank Church Wilderness in 10 days. It was an audacious plan, and I knew that going in. There was a built in bail out point about halfway through, and although taking that bail out would mean I’d have to rehike some miles, it was viable.

And, as it turns out, it was needed.

Although I did end up with a quite respectable total of 87 miles in 6 days, I accumulated in that time a number of errors that added up to bailing out at Big Creek. The biggest factor was nutrition. Some of the food that I brought along was actively making me sick, causing me to have to stop to dig cat holes much more frequently than I would have preferred and making it hard to continue to eat and hydrate appropriately for the amount of activity I was doing.

But Ambrose not being at the trail junction certainly didn’t help the situation 😉

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River trail was the most delightful and unexpected part of the trip. Up to this point on the Idaho Centennial Trail, I had not encountered very many people. In some stretches, like through the Owyhee Desert, I saw no one on the trail at all. But here, there were rafters, and I met up with a group being guided by Aggipah River Trips.

The Aggipah folks are incredible. They were kind and generous to a backpacker and fed me dinner, not once, but twice, because our itineraries happened to coincide the first two nights. I got to meet a whole lot of people from across the country and talk about the ICT and what I was doing. I can’t thank them enough for making those first two days so wholly unique in my backpacking experience. I had thought I might run into rafters, but I was expecting a small, personal group that might offer me a hot dog and a beer. This was on a whole other level.

After I left the Middle Fork, the hard part started. The Marble Creek trail is not well maintained, though it is somewhat maintained. I definitely saw evidence of some recent trail work, especially where one side stream had blown through where the trail used to be. But there was a lot of bushwhacking, and tons of downed trees. Not to mention a gazillion crossings. Okay, that’s clearly exaggeration, but 50 crossings in about 20 miles is NOT. I swear, this trail would cross the creek, only to cross back within ten yards. I ended up hiking without socks because my feet would be dryer between crossings that way.

I didn’t make it as far as I wanted that day, stopping about two miles short of the end of Marble Creek. It was a long, rough day, but I had trouble falling asleep anyway.

The next day, I was playing catch up on my itinerary, but I hoped I could just hike a bit into my planned near 0 day. I thought my ridge walk on Lookout Mountain Ridge Trail was going to be miserably hot, but it turned out to be cloudy – and rainy. I got rained on, then, just as my feet were drying out, I got to walk through grasses and bushes that had been rained on. My feet were soaked most of the day, as it rained on and off.

So when the intermittent stream on the map turned out to have water, I collected 3 liters and went on to the next available flat spot – which happened to be a campsite. As luck would have it, the site featured a tent spot complete with rain diversion trenches, which I needed that night because about 20 minutes after I got myself all settled for sleep, the heavens opened up and poured down on my tent. Wind, thunder, lightning, pelting rain… an exciting night.

The next day, I made my way down to Big Creek. As the trail approached the creek, I started calling out to Ambrose, but I didn’t expect him to hear me over the sound of the water.

Turns out, he didn’t hear me because he wasn’t there. So I crossed on my own. The water got deeper than I expected, but by the time I realized it might be too deep for safety, I was already committed. Turning back would have meant being swept away by the water. I had to go forward, straining with my entire body, moving one of my four points of contact at a time, forcing my legs to push forward against the strong current, stabbing my trekking poles down to gain purchase among the slick rocks.

I made it and let out a scream of triumph that no one heard.

When I confirmed that Ambrose was not there, I went into self-rescue mode. Without my resupply, I was going to be out of food by the end of the day, so I started off towards the Big Creek Lodge where I could get some food and figure out what happened to my husband.

He got lost and I found him wandering on the trail. We found a campsite and I rested for the rest of the day – a choice that I came to regret the next day when all of my leg muscles decided to protest the continued forward motion of my body with intense foot and calf pain. I actually spent 20 whole minutes sitting in the freezing cold creek to try and coax my muscles into getting me all the way to the lodge – which they did, eventually.

So that’s another 75 or so miles on the Idaho Centennial Trail, 87 miles for my total hike. An adventure in every way, and I have so much more to tell about it in my book (should be out around Christmas).

Starting at the Boundary Creek Trail Head.

Nice trail along the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

The rafting folks called this the Joe Bump cabin.

Sheepeater Hot Springs – a delight on my first night.

Grouse on the trail.

I didn’t even mention Pistol Creek Ranch, but it was pretty cool.

Rafters on the river.

An early morning start to Marble Creek.

One of many, many crossings of Marble Creek.

And it had side streams, too.

I had to cross Marble again the next morning. So cold!

This pile of timber is what’s left of Belleco, which I guess was probably a mining spot.

Views from the Lookout Mountain Ridge Trail were amazing.

I thought the rain was over after I saw this rainbow, but there was an night storm coming.

Heading down to Big Creek.

I was taking a break sitting on a log, leaning on another log. Very comfortable.

I found Ambrose!!!

But we had to keep walking for a while the next day.

A much longer while than I would have preferred.

But we did make it out, together.

Next year, I’m thinking of doing a section south bound so that I can finish at Big Creek again. The lodge offers showers for a mere $8, and they have plenty of hot water. I learned a lot from this year’s trip, and even though there’s this instinct to feel bad that I didn’t do what I set out to do, the trail will still be there next year, and my goal of completing the ICT hasn’t changed.

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