posted on Feb, 27 2014 @ 01:40 PM
Three young men assuming the role of great adventurers set out to climb up to Stone Johnny lookout. I had recently heard of the trail's existence and
felt it was worthy of a great adventure. We had talked about it for most of the last two weeks of school and agreed we would do it the first week of
summer vacation. We knew we had to do it. It was a trial of manhood.
We had ridden our bikes from Oldtown along the Pend O'reille River and up to Marshall Lake after a long uphill ride. We asked the lodge owner where
the trail was and he pointed it out to us. So after asking permission to leave our bikes we began climbing a steep switchback trail. There were white
tail deer already ahead of us foraging on the new spring grass on the south facing slope. They were obviously enjoying the sweet and tender shoots as
they barely took notice of us as we passed by.
We had come enormously unprepared with only one canteen of water and no food. We were only armed with youthful muscle and over confidence. The weather
was sunny and only encouraged us to continue climbing higher. The trail swung through the forest and brush avoiding the thickets. I could see an
abundance of deer tracks showing proof they were taking advantage of the cleared trail as well.
The trail gave us opportunity to view Marshall Lake below us and the Pend O'reille River off in the distance. We followed ridge lines and ducked into
small gullies that were still shaded and contained remnants of snow. None of us were wearing boots so our Converse tennis shoes were quickly wet. A
small inconvenience to explorers like us.
As we left the southern slope of the mountain we began to encounter more and more snowdrifts. Most of them were not large and we could easily pick up
the trail on the other side. But eventually we came to a very large one and became perplexed because we couldn't find where the trail continued. I am
sure all of of us shared the thought of turning back but adolescent pride would not allow us to do that. So we just continued up hill since that was
our ultimate goal anyway. Our compass direction was up.
Now the trail began to be physically forced through brush and over dead limbs as we struck off through the woods. Each of us with failing bravado,
getting poked and jabbed, made our way up. The damp black moss hitchhiked with us as we fought our way through the brush. Small red and bleeding
scratches attested to our determination. Legs were getting heavier to lift and feet growing tired when suddenly we rediscovered the trail and our
hearts were lifted and we started joking and laughing again.
We would periodically take small sips from the canteen to wet our throats while trying to conserve our water. We were now beginning to realize how
foolish it had been not to bring food. We consoled ourselves with a promise to stuff ourselves when we got home.
We continued our climb and finally arrived at the last obstacle to clear before attaining the summit. One last gully to cross and then up a steep
slope. Problem was the entire slope was covered in downed trees from a mighty wind that must have blown across the face. It looked like an ancient god
had dropped a handful of pick-up-sticks. Somehow we all took our own line and we lost cooperation. Each tree trunk had to be mastered by either
climbing over it or under it. Our hands and arms became raw from the rough bark, our clothes became wet from climbing under the trees and from the
sweat of our exertion.
Ray and I made it to the top and called down to our friend Don to hurry up with the canteen. We waited impatiently calling down insults and not being
very encouraging or supportive. At one point we looked at each other but neither of us was willing to climb down and help him up. We were exhausted
and realized we had a long way to go to get back down.
Eventually Don cleared the last remaining obstacle and joined us at the top. Ray reached out for the canteen and began to curse, for he found it
empty. Don had downed the entire canteen in his survival mode to get up to the summit. Now we stood on top of the world looking down on the river and
two lakes and their shimmering waters and we had none to quench our thirsts. Our throats were like burning deserts, parched to the point of not being
able to even create spit. We had reached the summit but there was no celebration. We didn't even have the time to truly enjoy the marvelous view.
It was obvious we needed to climb down to the water below. We knew we could not backtrack so we set off down the mountain toward Freeman Lake. Our
route would take us down the sunny south side so we knew there would be no snow. As we walked along the ridge line before dropping over the side and
heading to the lake I noticed Don had something in his mouth.
It turned out to be our life saver. He was sucking on a giant cinnamon jaw breaker. Ray and I stood before him and demanded he share. Reluctantly he
spit it out and for the rest of the climb down we took turns sharing this life giving candy. Nothing in life has ever tasted as good. As it
progressively got smaller we new it would be gone soon. We all agreed that no one was to crunch it. It disappeared before it got to my last turn. What
are the odds that three teenage boys would share a jaw breaker and the spit that went with it under normal circumstances. But this wasn't normal, now
Our descent was anything but controlled. We slid and jumped our way down, risking life and limb to get to that blue lake. Periodically reaching out to
the buck brush for handholds and to stop our sliding. We finally got to a place where we could descend down into the drainage that fed the lake and
there we dropped to our bellies and drank from the shallow creek like salamanders.
I splashed the cold water on my face and in my hair and was reinvigorated. We walked on down the creek and came upon two small black bear cubs that
ran up a nearby tree and we knew their mother wouldn't be far away. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. We all knew the danger we
were in and made a hasty exit. On reflection, the cubs were very different from each other. One was coal black and the other reddish brown. I am glad
mother bear let us by.
We finally reached the road that ran around the lake and the air carried the smell of lily pads and cattails. We trudged past the old silica mine and
over the crushed white rock beneath our feet. You could feel the increased heat from their reflected light and smell their white dust. We finally
arrived at the home of some family friends. They just happened to be going into town and offered to give us a lift.
The first thing I did was drink a tall glasses of milk and ate some fresh baked cookies. I felt slightly let down by the fact there was no welcoming
party to celebrate my great victory. No laurel leaf for my head. No key to the city. When she finally came home from visiting a neighbor I downplayed
my day to be more in tune with my new internal sense of personal accomplishment. Later in the day my dad drove me up to Marshal Lake and collected our
bikes. My dad thought it was amazing that we had made the hike in just one day and it made me proud. Because wasn't that what it was all about. We
had tested ourselves and we had proven we could do it. The detail of the jaw breaker was usually not brought up in our retelling of our triumph. Life
savers can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but none tasted as good as that one