Behind the Stories

A Long Time Coming

By Bruce Reichert
November 21, 2016

Big Boulder Lakes, from 10,000 feet, in White Clouds Wilderness. Photo by Allen Powers.
Big Boulder Lakes, from 10,000 feet, in White Clouds Wilderness.
Photo by Allen Powers.

“Beyond the White Clouds” airs Sunday, December 4, at 7 p.m.

Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness during a fire sunset. | Photo by Peter Morrill.
Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness during a fire sunse. Photo by Peter Morrill.
Congressman Mike Simpson called it “The Elvis version – It's Now or Never!” It was his seventh attempt at a wilderness bill in 15 years. For Idaho Conservation League's Rick Johnson, wilderness for the White Clouds had consumed 30 years of his life.

For both of them — to paraphrase Elvis — they couldn't help falling in love.

That's the thing about the White Clouds. We noticed it back in 2003, when we produced a show called “White Clouds in Waiting.” The gist of our film was this: The area had been declared a wilderness study area in 1972. How much longer would it take to resolve the conflict of the Boulders and White Clouds mountains?

We now know the answer. In August of 2015 the President signed into law the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act.

There are now three distinct wilderness areas, and the wilderness acreage is smaller than in previous bills. But, having talked with folks on all sides of this on-going debate, the prevailing sentiment is, Thank God it's finally over!

In 2012 OUTDOOR IDAHO tackled the story of Castle Peak and the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine, in our film “A Sawtooth Celebration.”

The election of Cecil Andrus as governor in 1970 was in large part due to his opposition to ASARCO's moly mine in the White Clouds. Two years later, Andrus, U.S. Senator Frank Church, and others pushed through Congress the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which preserved the open space around the Sawtooths, secured a Sawtooth Wilderness, and also made it difficult for the ASARCO mine to proceed in the White Clouds.

I suppose one could say that the conflict in the White Clouds helped protect the Sawtooths. Of course, the Sawtooths have always been the favored child. That range stretches for miles, along two state highways, in full view of everyone.

Near the entrance to Falling Star Mine in the Hemingway-Boulders wilderness. Yes, that's ice in July. | Photo by Tim Tower.
Near the entrance to Falling Star Mine in the Hemingway-Boulders wilderness.
Yes, that's ice in July. Photo by Tim Tower.
Not so with the White Clouds, some 20 miles to the east. You have to make an effort to get there. And Castle Peak, the tallest mountain in the range, is not even visible from the highway.

As Rick Johnson commented to me in an interview last May at ICL's Wild Idaho conference, “I think it's emblematic of a lot of things about Idaho. You have to go a little further to catch it. It's not the Tetons or Yosemite. You have to work a little harder.” We knew that no one would take OUTDOOR IDAHO seriously if we ourselves didn't work a little harder; and so, we visited each of the three wilderness areas. We traveled to all corners of the White Clouds. Some of our crew even climbed Castle Peak. We traversed the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, hiking from one end to the other. During that time we also climbed Ryan Peak, the highest point in the Boulders.

Outfitter Mike Scott in the Hemingway Boulders wilderness | Photo by Jay Krajic
Matt Leidecker approaching Jerry Peak in the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.
Photo by Jay Krajic
And we journeyed around the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness with photographer and author Matt Leidecker, who recently completed a guide book on the three wildernesses. For good measure, we also flew over the three areas, capturing stunning images with an HD video camera.

All of that country is now part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and we have two men to thank for that: Congressman Mike Simpson and ICL director Rick Johnson. Of course, they received help along the way from a host of other luminaries, including U.S. Senator Jim Risch and former governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.

“I will tell you, even if this bill had not been signed into law,” said Congressman Simpson when we interviewed him in May near Redfish Lake, “this effort would have been successful, because we have people talking with each other that would have never talked before, would never sit down at the same table. Now they actually talk to each other.”

That's quite an achievement in itself. But moving from the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak in the 1960's, to a unanimous vote for wilderness in both the House and the Senate in 2015... now that's the real achievement!

 

Castle Peak - White Clouds | Photo by Peter Morrill
Author near Castle Peak. Photo by Peter Morrill


The Outfitters

By Bruce Reichert
October 1, 2016

Outfitter Bill Bernt on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Courtesy of Stephanie Bernt Ellis
Bill Bernt on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Courtesy of Stephanie Bernt Ellis

 

Outfitter Mike Scott in the Hemingway Boulders wilderness | Photo by Tim Tower
Outfitter Mike Scott. Photo by Tim Tower
Some like to point to Sacajawea as Idaho's first ‘guide.’ If pressed, I'd share the honors with the Shoshone Indian known to us as “Old Tobe.” After all, it was Chief Cameahwait, Sacajawea's brother, who offered Tobe to Lewis & Clark, to guide them north to the Lolo trail.

That was 211 years ago. Since then outfitting and guiding has become a cherished Idaho tradition. That's because outfitters and guides have the skills and knowledge to help urban folks access the state's wild places. In fact, each year nearly 200,000 people use the services of Idaho's outfitting industry. That’s a huge number, one that translates into $100 million dollars to the Idaho economy.

When I was first presented that number by the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, I had my doubts. But put into the bigger picture of an Idaho economy hovering around $65 billion of goods and services, $100 million does make sense.

And the nice thing is that this outfitting business really benefits rural communities, where most of Idaho's outfitters reside.

Guide Cory Ward of Storm Creek Outfitters preparing for the 22 mile trek back to civilization, in the Frank Church wilderness | Photo by Bruce Reichert
Cody Ward of Storm Creek Outfitters. Photo by Bruce Reichert
Another thing I learned is that Idaho really is a leader in the licensing and regulating of the outfitting industry. That's something I heard from just about every outfitter we surveyed; it was a source of pride. Some states don't license outfitters; some states license only outfitters but not guides. Some states concentrate only on hunting and fishing; some states don’t limit the number of outfitters in a particular area. Idaho does seem to have it figured out.

“It's the oldest and probably the most controlled industry,” said Steve Burson of Storm Creek Outfitters, the current president of the IOGA. “Most other states don't have that much control, so it's a free-for-all within the industry and with some of the clients. We're probably more regulated and more organized and do more professional trips than any other state.”

But, like so many businesses dependent upon discretionary income and catering to the whims of the public, you get a sense that the outfitting industry could be in for some rocky times. For one thing, every major economic downturn seems to severely impact outfitters. I guess that trip-of-a-lifetime can always wait a year or two if the money is tight.

Outfitter Mat Erpelding with client on Black Cliffs outside Boise. | Photo by Peter Morrill
Outfitter Mat Erpelding. Photo by Peter Morrill
And then there's this younger generation, so in touch with virtual reality that they don't seem to have much interest in the real beauty this state has to offer. Books have been written on the importance of getting children into the outdoors; in fact, it's become something of a national priority; and who better to lead the charge than Idaho's outfitters and guides!

Outfitters like to see themselves as partners with the Forest Service and the BLM; these agencies are the caretakers of most of Idaho's public lands, and outfitters must follow their rules.

“It's going to be critical that our agency partners are able to evolve with us,” says Mike Scott of White Cloud Outfitters, “because in order for us to stay on the cutting edge, there are going to be certain needs that we're going to have; and hopefully we can work through those needs.”

But I'm not so sure that these land managers always see outfitters as their partners. We kept hearing that the communication between outfitter and forest ranger, for example, could use an overhaul. Let's hope this happens, but the tendency for land managers to move every 2-3 years to another forest doesn't bode well for that partnership.

Outfitter Darl Allred heading into Spangle Lakes in the Sawtooth wilderness | Photo by Tim Tower
Outfitter Darl Allred | Photo by Tim Tower
It took a trip to an old homestead on the Salmon River to get what I think is the best definition of what a good outfitter or guide can do for people. Doug and Phyllis Tims have been renovating Campbell's Ferry, a once valuable link to getting miners to the gold fields back at the turn of the century. Doug spent 27 years as an outfitter, staring down the high waters of the Selway River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon. He was also president of the IOGA, the outfitter trade organization.

When the Outdoor Idaho crew visited Campbell's Ferry this summer, here's what Doug had to say about outfitting:

“I had a woman once tell me that she got out of her tent in the middle of the night and looked up at the canopy of stars over her head, and her soul expanded. And that soul-expanding experience goes home with people and allows them to be the champions for wild places in the future.

“So keeping alive that constituency and support of wild places, that's our biggest challenge, and that's what needs to be our biggest role.”

Now that’s a mission statement most of us can get behind!

 

Campbell's Ferry, on the Main Salmon River. 
| Photo by Peter Morrill
Campbell's Ferry, on the Main Salmon River. photo by Peter Morrill


View previous entries