August 25, 2018.
It was a peaceful night in the valley along the Nez Perce Trail. A bit chilly maybe, but not too bad and the relatively narrow valley meant there was no pressing need to get up early for sunrise - something I missed, but could also get used to...the extra couple hours of warm sleep a nice change!
Eventually of course, I roused myself and exited the tent to check out camp and the morning light. Definitely interesting to see our different truck setups as well.
Given the location, camp was pretty underwhelming so I immediately set out to explore the surrounding area. There was a fish hatchery just downstream which we'd explored a bit the night before, but I could see a bridge further down the road, which I thought might afford me a nice view of the creek for some photos. So I headed that direction.
To my surprise, as I neared the bridge, I could see a small cabin up a faint side road and decided to check it out. Turns out it was the Mary Reed cabin, and an old (I assume) gold mine that had been bored into the side of the mountain. Both appeared to be in reasonable shape, and it looked liked I probably could have explored into the mine shaft a bit if I'd wanted - there was definitely "squeeze-through" space along the edges of the grate covering the entrance.
But, I wasn't in any mood for a shaft collapse while I was in there, so after poking around a bit and admiring the full-sized-logs holding the sides of the mountain back, I headed back out to the main road, past some mining remnants, clearly newer than the original cabin and mine shaft.
I arrived back in camp just as Mike @Digiratus was out of his tent and snapping a photo or two, and I figured there was no better time to make my first gourmet breakfast than the present. You see, I'd changed my cooking setup for this trip - previously I've used a Weber Q grill for all my cooking needs - it's great for the actual grilling/cooking - but I've found it to be bulky and hard to pack, so I broke down and got a Coleman Classic propane stove and a Lodge cast iron grill. It was time to give both a try!
Oh, and I had my new prototype fold-down table on my swing-out to try as well.
The table, stove, and grill worked well, though I'm sure I'll improve them over time, and breakfast came out as tastily as ever...with the caveat that I was only able to salvage this morning's strawberries from the entire pack - the rest had started rotting already on day 1!
As was our "usual" pace, we ate breakfast and got out of camp relatively leisurely - it was 10:00am by the time we were doing our radio checks and heading down the road towards our next destination: Elk City. And, as is "usual" for us, it wasn't long before Mike and I were on the CB saying that we wanted to stop and take some photos.
Whether he was used to it or not, Dan @drr is easy going and was fine with this - he simply continued on up the trail a way, exploring on his own while Mike and I took in the still-a-bit-smokey views.
Our photo bug momentarily satisfied, we all met back up just a little way down the road as we wound our way down the mountain towards Elk City. Not actually a true city, this unincorporated census-designated place has a tiny population - only 202 residents - and was originally founded as part of a gold strike in June 1861 as displaced California gold prospectors used the southern Nez Perce Indian trail for easy access to the area. By 1862, the "big strike" had moved on, but Elk City remained the hub for supplying the needs of pioneers scratching out a living from the wilderness. By the 1870s, the easy gold was gone and Chinese miners leased the claims to work the hard pay - but they were eventually driven out by mistreatment. By the time the fire of 1930 consumed most of town, the boom days were over.
Dan needed a bit of ice for his cooler, so we pulled into town and eventually to the general store.
The store was amazing - especially for a town with 200 residents - reasonable prices and a good selection. This was the clearly place I should have gotten my strawberries! Dan's cooler restocked, we chatted with some locals for a bit - our trucks always magnets to passers-by - and then headed out of town toward the Macgruder corridor.
I'd hoped to run the Nez Perce Trail through the Macgruder Corridor earlier in the year when @mrs.turbodb and I went to Montana for Memorial Day, but snow kept us off the route. That was not a problem at this point in the year - the sun was out and the road was clear. It was a beautiful morning, and we stopped a few times to soak it in.
Eventually we made our way into a large burn - still beautiful, though in a different kind of way - as wildflowers pushed through the fallen trees, bringing color to the scared landscape. Of course, it was another opportunity to get out and look around, which we couldn't pass up.
Dan also noticed that he had a hitch-hiker; one of the first of many he'd find throughout the trip.
Grills cleared, we pointed our trucks further down the road - lunch now on our minds. The burn continued for quite some time, though we eventually came to it's edge, just as we neared a short detour that Mike offered as a possible lunch spot: Burnt Knob Lookout.
While the main trail was in really good shape, the offshoot to the lookout was definitely a road that benefited from 4WD. While it'd turn out to be tame compared to some of what we'd experience the rest of the trip, it was nice to hit some bumps as we climbed 1000 feet in just over a mile, cresting the tree line and the views opening up around us; the lookout still above, ahead.
And below us - Burnt Knob Lakes - beautiful and clear. A great place to hike in to and camp, I'm sure.
As we reached the top, Dan pulled his truck into the perfect position - a true "camp on the edge of a cliff" if we'd been stopped for the day - and we knew this was a great place for lunch and exploration; we did both, starting with exploration.
As we ventured up to the lookout, we braced ourselves against the wind and took in the surroundings - both far and near.
The 1930's era lookout too beckoned for exploration, and naturally we obliged. This was clearly a lookout that was no longer in use, and it had fallen into disrepair since it was abandoned in the early 1960's. Still, it obviously had a constant stream of visitors - many of them likely respectful to the space, but some had carved their names in the structure as witness to their visit.
Eventually we realized that if we were to make camp before dark, it was important that we restrain ourselves and get lunch taken care of. So we broke our our sandwiches and chairs and enjoyed ourselves in the afternoon sun. That is, until we glanced over at Mike's truck and noticed something awry.
There was CV grease everywhere - a huge bummer given that Mike and I had just recently installed the OEM CV in place of his CVJ rebuild that had developed a tear in both rubber boots. Mike's theory - likely correct - was that in the years he'd had his OEM CV's stored as spares, the rubber on the boots had deteriorated from lack of use, this first trip being too much for them to handle.
We discussed what to do, and ultimately Mike decided he was running the rest of the trip with a torn boot - "These can run for a long time with no grease." - his response to Dan's question about rebuilding the CV on the trail. And with that, we left Burnt Knob Lookout and headed back down the hill.
With that, we were back on the Magruder Corridor Road, making our way towards the evening's camp. We continued to enjoy the wildflowers - spring in full force in late August at 7000+ feet elevations.
Of course, the road itself was fun as well - cutting across the hillsides, some stretches allowing for high speed travel, others urging us to slow down and soak in the views.
And then, Mike came over the CB radio to say that I should stop and check out a sign on the side of the road. You see, the Magruder Corridor Road was named for Lloyd Magruder, whose October 1863 pack train carrying gold through the wilderness was killed when his own hired hands robbed and murdered them along the trail. Definitely cool history to experience first hand. The corridor now sits between the Selway-Bitterroot National Forest to the north and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south.
Not too much later we once again turned off the main road, this time making our way to camp - presumably at Paradise Campground. Unfortunately as we arrived it was clear that if we were stay in Paradise, we weren't going to be alone. We'd get a site near the creek, but we'd have folks on both sides - something we generally try to avoid.
So we turned around and backtracked to a site we'd passed along the Selway River - big enough for our three trucks and with a hammock site to die for. And Dan was quick to setup his hammock and take advantage of the spot, Kindle in tow.
A romance novel, perhaps? I'm sure he'd say no, but we'll never know for sure, will we?
As we relaxed a bit, I noticed that my fridge had come unplugged (likely at lunch) and was at a let's-get-it-back-down-to-something-more-reasonable temperature of 42ºF. No biggie, I thought - I'd just plug it back in and everything would cool down. Except that when I plugged it in, it immediately went into error mode - the battery voltage too low to power it.
A bit concerned, I turned on the truck and ran the engine for an hour - charging the battery and powering the fridge - in the end, everything OK for the remainder of the trip.
Of course, our next order of business was getting the fire going and with my chainsaw and Dan's axe, we made slow work of what turned out to be a semi-dry tree near our site. In the end, while the chopping was harder than if it'd been nicely dried wood, we enjoyed ourselves around another great camp fire.
It was during this lovely evening that someone mentioned nonchalantly:
I feel a change in the weather coming. Can't say what were why, but 60 years of experience.Mike
...Well, as you can imagine given our history from The De-Tour a year ago, weather is a touchy topic! Dan and I were both quick to point out that such a topic should never be raised - doing so sure to result in a turn for the worse.
But alas, it was too late. After the campfire eventually came to a close, and a few hours after we climbed into our tents, the pitter-patter of raindrops mixed with the babbling of the Selway - the first rain of the trip upon us...
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