Jerry Dixon, of Seward, Alaska
Lost Trail Pass is a magnificent place with mountains marching off to
the horizon in all directions. What a modern traveler finds absolutely
invigorating the Corps of Discovery found daunting. From Lost Trail
Pass I rode north with my friend Josh Burnim down the Bitterroot Valley
to town of Lolo and then west to Lolo Hot Springs. (http://www.wildrockies.org/idahohike).
Josh and I met in 2001 when I hiked a portion of his 900-mile epic Sawtooths
to Selkirks trek. It was there, hiking the Hoodoo to Lookout Pass section,
that I saw Josh look south and name every mountain pass and river drainage
he had hiked since he started in the Sawtooths on snowshoes from beyond
the horizon. Looking north he named all the spectacular mountains he
would hike until the ranges faded to blue where the earth curved from
sight. I was captivated by hiking horizon to horizon and I wondered
if I could do that traveling east to west. And now I am.
The Mountains which we passed to day much worst than yesterday
the last excessively bad &thickly Strowed with falling timber
& Pine Spruce fur Hackmatak & Tamerack, Steep & Stoney
our men and horses much fatigued. Clark's journal, September 14,
We mountain biked down the spectacular Bitterroot Valley with the shimmering
mountains rising from the verdant plain. "The country in the valley
of this river is generally a prarie and from five to 6 miles wide."
Clark's journal, 1805.
Josh and I stopped several times to swim in the pellucid Bitterroot
as the Corps must have done. Then from Traveler's Rest we rode west
to Lolo Hot Springs. This spring was well known to the Native Americans.
Here we met Ron Watters (http://www.isu.edu/outdoor/bookpol.htm) who
would ride mountain bikes with us across Lolo Pass on Forest Service
road #500 to Kamiah. Ron is a professor at Idaho State University, former
director of the Outdoor Program there, author of seven books, and founder
of the National Outdoor Book Award. Ron and I have been running rivers
and getting high on mountains for three decades; like Josh he is an
Clearwater country is captivating. It's the area of northern Idaho that
includes the drainages of the Clearwater River including the magnificent
Lochsa and Selway rivers. We rode as the warm summer sun shimmered on
the trees. The first night there was a thunder storm and lightning strikes
all around us. We were in separate tents and each of us worried the
others might have been struck. The lightning was so close it sounded
like an explosion and the smell of ozone was in the air. As a smokejumper
I spent many nights on ridges with lighting dancing around me; it is
not something one ever gets used to (even though it is how I got my
jumper nickname of "Lightnin' ").
The next morning we saw a cinnamon-colored black bear before breaking
camp. Then we spotted smoke from a lightning strike in the valley and
a lively discussion ensued as to whether we should report it. The point
was moot as we had no system of communicating. Later on the route I
ran into the forest supervisor, whom I met when I jumped from DC-3's,
and he told me the fire was manned.
We spent five days biking across this magnificent mountain range, always
checking in our guide books where the Corps trod and rested (Lewis and
Clark Trail, Grossman, Sierra Club Books is excellent). We were the
last party to cross before permits became mandatory. Now all travelers
must obtain a permit from the Forest Service. We were fortunate to encounter
very little traffic. Those we did for the most part were very courteous.
The one marked exception was a group of 14 people on motorized all-terrain-vehicles,
who considered the Lolo Pass to be their playground. One ATV passed
us six times at excessive speeds, but that was the exception.
were some wonderful encounters. We met so many kind and generous people
along the way, like the couple from Iowa who said, "We have been
following your three mountain-bike tire tracks for 100 miles (across
Who are you guys?" They ended up hiking a section
of the Lewis and Clark trail and treating us to lunch when they saw
how light my friends and I were traveling. Camping along one trail was
a group of people who wore clothes and carried rifles that a voyageur
of 200 years ago would recognize. And there was a history enthusiast
who had a van full of Lewis and Clark materials and insisted on fixing
us lunch as we told him where we had traveled.
What has truly surprised me is how much wildlife we saw on this segment.
We saw wolf tracks in several locales (I know wolf tracks; they live
in the mountains surrounding my home in Seward, Alaska). Sometimes we
could identify six species of trees in a 50-foot radius. Deer and moose
foraged around our camps at night and often we would awake at 4:30 a.m.
to the sound of birds such as the belted kingfisher and red-breasted
This is an area where Clark and Lewis saw precious little wildlife at
a time when the Corps was in danger of starving. What is staggering
is how the elk and wild sheep, which were plains animals in 1805, have
been pushed by "civilization" into the mountains. The crest
above the Lochsa River is where one finds these species now. We had
deer that would hang around our camp; they clearly knew that it was
not hunting season.
The last day we rode out of the Bitterroot Mountains and down a long
grade into Kamiah. It was a radiant blue day with sunlight dancing on
the shimmering forest. One could only imagine the exultation of the
Corps of Discovery when they finally beheld the beautiful Clearwater
Read the six-part account of Jerry's trip:
of the Mountains to Lemhi Pass
Pass to the Salmon, float Salmon to the Lost Trail
of the Beaverhead Mountain Range
Pass to Lolo and across the Lolo Pass
the Clearwater to the Snake, Snake to Columbia and Columbia to Wallula
Biking to the Pacific
Back to main page of this journey.
Photos by Jerry Dixon. Top: Pausing on Lolo Pass,
left to right, are Josh Burnim, Ron Watters, Jerry Dixon. Middle:
Ron Watters riding the Lolo Trail headed west. Bottom: Looking south
into the drainage of the Lochsa from the Lolo trail.
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