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Margaret Fuller Interview

Margaret FullerMargaret Fuller started writing her book on the trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains in 1972, the year the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established. And she's been writing ever since. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.

How did you get involved in the Sawtooths?
My husband Wayne was born and raised in Buhl, Idaho, and as a boy scout he went up and they took trips in the Sawtooths. So when we got married in California and came to Boise at first to live, on our honeymoon he had to show me the Sawtooths; so we drove from his parents' place in Buhl up for the day.

We got to the top of Galena, but you couldn't see any mountains (because of the smoke), so he said, if we go down to Alturas, I think we can see mountains. We got to Alturas, but all you could see was wooded ridges. But the I.D. Department Store in Boise had these beautiful pictures of the Sawtooths, so I realized they really were beautiful.

And the first summer in 1957 we went up and camped at Redfish Lake. We didn't have much money, so we went the short way around through Bear Valley and it took us a day and a half to get up here. We got a camp ground, on the Point Campground, and the next day we took our 17 month old son, and had a little pack thing we strapped him on with belts, and we went to Bench Lakes. But we went straight uphill from the Point Campground instead of going on the trails, so we could have it shorter, and he kept sliding back, and we had to keep fixing him on.

In 1968 Wayne completed building a cabin — the outside of the cabin, that is. It was like an unfinished house inside, but we started staying in it and started taking hikes with the kids.

Do you have any favorite hikes in the Sawtooths?
I have lots of them. I just repeated one of my favorites the early part of the month with a friend from McCall. We took the boat to the end of Redfish Lake and hiked from there through to Grandjean, taking in Alpine Lake and Baron Lakes. We took a side trip to try to get to a lake that I tried to get to last year, and we were still not successful.

You talk about 20 miles like it's nothing.
Oh, it took us 4 days. Probably could have done it in 2 days when I was younger. I have had a lot of orthopedic problems, but I just persist because I love it so much.

Fuller carrying daughterHow did you convince your children to love it?
My kids loved to explore. They loved exciting things, so it was kind of an adventure to come up here. There weren't maps. There was an 1896 Bear Valley topographic map, and Forest Service map that was not very accurate, so at least it had the names. I would give them three options and tell them what I think might be there, and so they would choose. If it was too far, it was their own fault.

I had hiked with my dad since I was about three years old in the Sierras. Grandpa wanted to go to Sawtooth Lake, and so all the kids went. Stuart was three. Doug, the oldest, convinced Stuart to believe he was a truck, and it had to get gas every now and then, and gas was lifesavers; and he managed to walk all the way up himself and almost all the way back.

We put the lifesavers on the rocks, the M&Ms on the rocks. Sometimes I read stories to them at the rest stops. When I started doing the Sawtooth book, the kids kind of had an interest in helping me, so I had volunteers to go places.

What goes into writing a trail book?
The techniques have kind of changed. I went from taking notes in a notebook and a manual typewriter to the age of computers and digital recorders. I hiked every trail that is written up in detail; and with newer editions, I went back and hiked some of them again and did a lot of checking with the rangers.

"I'm like most Idahoans; I don't really think we should have a park. You're going to get too much automobile pressure. Look at Yosemite."The SNRA book is called Trails Of The Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains, although it also includes the Boulders and the Smokeys, because there is a little of the Smokeys in the SNRA. Last year, the 5th edition of that book came out, and we revised it. At first I had a publisher over in Washington state. It took 5 years to find that publisher. Now I have a little company with a man in Idaho Falls who works for the Post Register and his name is Jerry Painter. Trail Guide Books is the name of the company.

I started in 1972, the year that the SNRA was formed. I started writing my book about the Sawtooths then because my kids and I had such a time finding hikes that had both good access roads and trails you could follow. We ended up once on the road to Phyllis Lake, thinking we were going to 4th of July Lake and never getting there.

Then I saw a book on the Cascades, and I thought we need a book like that here, and so then I got the idea to write one. And I was taking some classes at the College of Idaho and I saw a poster on the door. It said they had put out a little booklet on I think it was 6 hikes in the Owyhee's and 6 hikes in the 7 Devils, so I went to see the director of the division of the college which was called the Snake River Study Center, and Donna Parsons, its director, acted as a mentor to me for a couple of years. She insisted I approach publishers, and she wrote a cover letter that went with my stuff I sent, but it still took a long time to get a real publisher who would stand the expense of publishing the book.

What do you like about the Sawtooth Wilderness?
I really like the Sawtooth Wilderness because it's so beautiful. I'm a scenery buff, I guess. The wildernesses that we have show that Idaho is planning for the future for its children. And this is one of the best, although in my travels in Idaho I found many other beautiful mountains, such as the Big Horn Crags in the Frank Church wilderness and over in eastern Idaho where it's not even wilderness — the Centennial Mountains and the Lost River Range, and various other places.

What are the ingredients of a good hike for you and your family?
For me it's scenery, but some of my family like to fish. We did a little hike in the White Clouds last summer, just for the purpose of the people catching fish. Although it's pretty, it's not that great — and I won't tell you where it is.

How would you assess the trail system today?
It just depends on the trail. I would say the main thing I noticed, especially in this trip I took in early August, was everything is completely clean. Linda and I found one pop can and some little piece of plastic. That's the only thing we found in four days that was left. It used to be you found trash everywhere, so they're doing a good job, even though with far less personnel. It's the public that has been educated that are really caring for the land, which is very nice.

"I believe at least some of what Congressman Simpson has proposed should be wilderness because you're getting too many motorized recreationists, and they are doing too much damage to the trails."The Sawtooth National Recreation Area turned 40 this summer. Was it a good idea?
I think it was a good idea. The Forest Service likes to have their own areas to manage. They try to include all the different aspects, like from the wildlife and the plants to the motorized recreation. And that is really hard to balance. I can tell you examples of good things they are doing and things that maybe they should do a little better, but my complaint of trying to get more things done would be new bridges for hikers at some of the big crossings at creeks, because Linda and I had to crawl up — actually we scooted across on our rears on this slanting log at the north fork of Baron Creek. We need a foot bridge there. It could just be as simple as two planed off logs at a high enough place that it won't wash away. And there are other places like that that they could do, but that's a simple thing that wouldn't take much money.

I'm like most Idahoans; I don't really think we should have a park. You're going to get too much automobile pressure. Look at Yosemite. I climbed in Yosemite when I was young and there were not that many people. Now you have to take a shuttle bus to go see stuff, and there are still thousands of people. There would be too many people I think, and would put too much pressure on the area.

The White Clouds are protected, but not as Wilderness. Now there's a proposal by Congressman Mike Simpson to designate some of the White Clouds as wilderness. What's your take on that?
I believe it should be wilderness, and I have advocated that for many years. And I admire Congressman Simpson for having to try to do this. Before that Jim McClure and Cecil Andrus tried to get it wilderness, and it just didn't work. The climate had changed of the people's opinions, and I don't know why they got the Owyhee Wilderness, but I suspect this was perhaps a more polarized division of opinion between the people in Custer County and those who live in Blaine County. Hopefully, it still can be worked out sometime. I believe at least some of what Congressman Simpson has proposed should be wilderness because you're getting too many motorized recreationists, and they are doing too much damage to the trails.

Margaret Fuller hikingHow many miles do you figure you hike in a year?
It varies. At least 100 miles a year, sometimes 200, but all together probably I've hiked about 6,000 miles in Idaho over the years — because I had to go back and hike things over again. And when I did the Frank Church Wilderness, that was an awful lot of miles.

Are you ever concerned for your safety?
You know, I'm more danger to myself than any animal or other person could possibly be. For example, last year I went up to try to go to this lake that I didn't find and right at Flat Rock Junction which is three and a half miles from Red Fish, I sat down on a rock with my pack on. The rock was not flat. My pack tipped me over on the ground, and I fell on my camera, and it was a very nasty bruise on my ribs, but I was not going to turn around and go back because I bruised my ribs.

What about wolves?
They're kind of fun because they talk to you. They do. Wayne and I went with some friends into Marble Creek when I was revising the Frank Church book, and we went down into that canyon and we saw a couple of wolf cubs nearby. I can't remember if they howled first or their mother in the distance who we never saw. She howled and they took off; while we were eating, the wolves were howling back and forth at each other, probably telling the cubs to stay put. As we were starting up out of the canyon, the mother wolf howled like an all clear signal. You can come out now. They've left. And I've had other episodes like that.

What would you say to a young mother today who is trying to instill this in her children?
Start them really young. They should be out there in their baby backpack as an infant and even as a two year old. But they like the little trees, the little mushrooms and bugs. You work with a child as an individual, and if the parents are interested — it's just like with music — if the parents play music, the kids are going to want to do it, too.