On a Wednesday afternoon I loaded myself and my gear into a small plane, bound for the backcountry. For the next hour I would accompany the pilot along his mail route, my stop the last for the day. While in the air my eyes never left the window, scanning the mountains below us as we cruised over the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It had been three years since I’d been back into these mountains and my excitement grew as I began picking out features below that were familiar to me. Eventually I felt the plane bank, the nose turning towards a strip of grass and dirt where I would be dropped off.
Within minutes, my gear was on the ground and I turned to wave goodbye to Walt, likely the last person I’d see until his arrival the following week. The engine fired back up, he turned down the airstrip and within moments he and the plane were out of sight. The silence lasted only a moment, quickly replaced by the ever-present hum of the wilderness: wind, flowing water, bird song. It was a tune I’d heard elsewhere, but nowhere quite like this, the wild heart of Idaho.
I wasted no time in setting up camp and taking off across the greening hills. The midday sun was strong and hot and many animals had climbed high onto the ridges in search of shade and shelter. I followed suit. Gaining elevation, I stopped to survey my surroundings, pulling out water and food. Sweat was already pouring off me. I took a few minutes to gulp down water and snack on a Grizzly Bar, quickly feeling more like a human and less like an actual griz. Around me, small creeks flowed into bigger creeks, which flowed into even larger ones. The mosaic of trees, rocks and water was stunning in the way that a natural landscape not managed for the benefit of humans was. It felt good to be back. Before I knew it, it would even begin to feel like home.
The following morning, waking up to clear skies, I threw a day’s worth of food in my pack, grabbed my fly rod and headed down the creek. I walked and I fished, casting into holes and pockets, having no luck with the high flows and muddy water, but enjoying the zen of rod and reel regardless. To fish a wild river is enough, trout or no trout. Eventually I stashed the rod behind a rock and began hiking the hillsides. It was a time of awakening in the Frank and signs of life were everywhere.
Later in the day I found myself high on a ridgeline, elk tracks littering the ridge and cougar tracks mixed in for good measure. To my right a group of eight mule deer grazed peacefully. A few days later I watched as a black bear foraged through the grass and shrubs, unaware as I excitedly watched a few hundred yards away. Wildflowers bloomed, snakes sunbathed on rocks, birds perched on sagebrush and belted out their songs to whoever was within earshot. If you’ve ever been in a city and felt over stimulated by all that’s going on around you, this is much of the same. A bustling wilderness city in which humans are the outcasts. The days were long and hot, but thanks to Kate’s I never had to worry if I had enough calories to get me through the day. Hearty ingredients, great tasting options and a variety that kept me happy for all eight days, these are all things that attracted me to Kate’s many years ago and have kept me coming back as an active outdoor enthusiast.
My eight days in the Frank Church were to enjoy and spend time in a place that is near and dear to my heart. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Frank is one of the most wild, spectacular areas of public land that the United States has to offer. Rugged mountains, crystal clear wild rivers, unmatched solitude, and the best part? Being public land, it’s owned by every single American citizen. Land for you and I to hike, fish, play, sleep, and so much more. So for those who like to get out onto their local public lands: keep enjoying them, share them with others, and do what you can to keep these special places public.