Watch a clip of John and Mandy hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains
In the spring of 2004, inspired by Williams and Tate, John Palan and Mandy Stephan decided to tackle the challenge of hiking the entire Centennial Trail over one long summer. The two are no strangers to outdoor adventures. At the time they got together to begin the ambitious trek they were both working for S.U.W.S., a wilderness survival school for troubled teens. The couple was used to spending weeks at a time in the desert with only minimal supplies.
The Centennial Trail would test their outdoor skills even further. After spending countless hours in planning the quest, caching water in the desert, and arranging re-supply points with friends and family they were ready to go. Their long hike began at the official starting point on the Idaho-Nevada border just southeast of Murphy’s Hot Springs.
“I just love the outdoors. I also love the idea of challenge and living with nature and just being a part of it and I think one of the only ways to get that is to be a part of it for a long time to really get the full experience. Idaho’s Centennial Trail just struck me as something unique that not a lot of other people have done. I wanted to learn more about the state that I live in, and this was a great way to do that.” John Palan-Idaho Centennial Trail Hiker
Palan and Stephan planned to average around 14 miles a day to reach their weekly re-supply points. With a days rest after each eighty plus mile leg, they figured they could make it to Canada by early September. The first part of their trip along the Jarbidge and Bruneau River canyons and through the country north of the Snake River went well. But as the couple transitioned from the flatter desert regions into the steeper mountain sections of the Trail the quest became increasingly difficult, especially for Mandy who had little previous mountain hiking experience and also had to deal with knees that had been through several operations. By the time they reached the north side of the Sawtooth Mountains the duo had already been on the Trail continuously for a month and a half and the strenuous pace was taking its toll on Mandy. But despite the increasing difficulty Mandy was determined to go forward with the journey.
“I’m not going to quit. I don’t have it in me to quit. I feel like quitting, usually every day but I’m not going to. So I feel optimistic that as long as my body holds up and John’s body holds up…I’m optimistic that we’ll finish. It won’t be easy. It might not be pretty but I’m optimistic that we’ll do it.” Mandy Stephan-Idaho Centennial Trail Hiker comments at Stanley Lake camp
And so John and Mandy continued on, leaving the Sawtooths and moving into the incredibly rugged Frank Church Wilderness country. They followed the Middle Fork of the Salmon, crossed over the Main Salmon River and climbed up and down dozens of steep ridges. After making it through the Frank Church Wilderness they crossed the Magruder Road into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. Again they were confronted by rugged and steep country and challenging sections of the Trail.
About halfway through the Selway Bitterroot the couple reached the Moose Creek ranger station. They had now been on the trail for 67 exhausting days. When a pilot offered to fly them out of the wilderness from the Moose Creek backcountry air strip Mandy knew it was time to leave the Trail. She didn’t feel like she could go any further and was worried something might have happened if they continued. But despite not reaching their ultimate goal, the couple looks back on the experience with great fondness and both say they will definitely complete the rest of the trail sometime in the future.
“650 miles in approximately in 67 days is something to pat yourself on the back about. That singular experience that we had last summer is unparalleled to anything that we’ll probably ever experience again, even if we did the trail from beginning to end again, it wouldn’t be the same as that experience last summer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” John Palan—Idaho Centennial Trail Hiker
“I thought it was about finishing in Canada and this whole big victory. And we did it and it was never about that. It was totally about the journey. It was the most amazing journey ever and it makes me think now, gosh if we can do that we can do anything. I have nothing but good feelings, especially now looking back. It was the best summer of my life.” Mandy Stephan—Idaho Centennial Trail Hiker