A handful of days disconnected in the Willowa mountains

I spend much of my life online, something I once reveled in, but have always sought to balance by disconnecting and going outdoors. This year, 2018, I made the longest solo backpack trip I’ve managed since Ann sagged me on the Continental Divide Trail in 2004. On that trip my longest stretch between resupplies was eight days, an experience that transformed me mentally and physically in ways I never anticipated. Last August I wondered what I was in for this time when Ann dropped me off near Cove, Oregon for six days on my own in the Willowa range. There were much different questions in my head on this trip. How would my mind handle being offline? Does time alone in the mountains always heal and refresh, and how does that happen when it does? I took a notebook to record any answers that might come to me. Here are the pages from that notebook and some pictures from the trip.

Here we go
Indian Pipe
Indian pipes
Red's horse ranch gate
Washboard ridge
Gray hairstreak
Gray hairstreak
Me on Washboard ridge
Washboard ridge campsite
Misty canyon
Bear lake
Bear lake
Large bolete
Rain makes for giant boletes
Promise of sun
Mirror lake and Eagle Cap
Glacier lake and Eagle Cap
Milbert's tortoiseshell
West fork Willowa basin
Glacier peak slabs
Mountain goats
West fork Willowa valley from Sentinel peak
East fork Willowa valley
East Willowa river canyons
Mylitta crescent
Mylitta crescent
Leaving Eagle Cap wilderness
Deadman canyon trailhead signs
Us at Eckles creek viewpoint

Island lake pass

Having completed our backpack trip we join Ann’s parents at the Thomas canyon campground. We rest during a day of rain storms that leave the peaks dusted with snow and temperatures noticeably cooler, then make a day of joining two rugged canyons over a fantastically rocky pass.

It's cold in the kitchen

Snow above

Starting up Island lake trail under snowy peaks

Hiking Island lake trail

Sign of snow

Ann at Island lake

Dylan climbing to Island lake pass

Ann on island lake pass

Ann climbing above Island lake

Overhanging tower on the pass

View west from the pass

Ann at Island lake pass

Descending from Island lake pass

It looked more like an armchair before I sat in it

Ruby Crest Trail Day 4: south fork Smith creek to Harrison pass

Our last segment is less grandiose than prior days, but intimate and full of small surprises. On our first ridge we meet a party of northbound hikers from Reno who agree to let us take the vehicle they left at Harrison pass back to Lamoille canyon for them. Return trip problem solved! Here and there a spring appears among the aspen, rock formations sprout from hillsides, and fresh rain showers blow through.

Coffee time

South fork Smith creek

Me at south fork Smith creek

Ann with autumn colors

Vehicle exchange committee

Dayglo aspen

Rainstorms coming


Rock piles

Farewell Ruby mountains wilderness

Break before road hike

More storms on the way

Road hiking

Harrison pass trailhead

TREK NC, our ride

Ruby Crest Trail Day 3: peak 10,207 to south forth Smith creek

Most of the day is spent traversing the magnificent, rocky Overland creek basin. Water sources appear, as well as bright autumn aspen.

Ann on peak 10,207

Starting into Overland basin

Rock swirls

Ann and King peak

Overland basin

Limber pine portal

Rocks above

Ridge trail

Overland basin and playa

Below King peak

Small milkweed bug

Old Favre lake sign

Ann at Overland lake

Ann at Overland lake

Overland lake

Overland lake from above

Us on overland pass

Heading into the Smith creek basin

Aspen shoots

Smith creek fall colors

Ruby Crest Trail Day 2: Liberty lake to peak 10,207

We soon encounter the 12-mile waterless segment of the trail along the crest. Ann gets footsore before it ends, but we have enough water to stop for the night. Mountain goats, soaring hawks, and the smell of sweet anise all grace the day.

Favre lake at dawn

Morning coffee

Ann climbing to Lake pass

Treating water at Furlong creek

Heading for Wines peak

Mountain goats

Mountain goats and mountains

Ann on Wines peak

Ann on Ruby crest

Red-tailed hawk

Convergent lady-beetle

Little and big rock piles

Dinner out

Hand in the cookie bag

Peak 10,207 sunset

Ruby Crest Trail Day 1: Lamoille Canyon to Liberty Lake

At last! Ann and I head out for our first full week off in two years. Our destination has been tempting us for years: the Ruby mountains. We get on the road early so we can get a few miles of hiking in before nightfall. Most people hike this trail northbound, but we’re bucking the trend. We’re not even sure whether Ann’s parents will be able to pick us up at the other end. Some cell phone signal or trail fortune will be needed to get us back to our truck in four days.

Ann at Road's End


trail head

Snow lake peak

Trail view of Verdi peak

Sun on Lamoille lake

Ann approaches liberty pass

Ann on liberty pass

Me entering Ruby mountains wilderness

Ann above Liberty lake

Smoky sunset