2 1/2 day N. Idaho adventure into big-river & dark-forests


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Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 17, 2013 - 09:58pm PT
Last Friday afternoon after a quick sales-rep visit to Western Montana & North Idaho, I headed east from Moscow (Idaho) on a trip to re-visit the North Fork Clearwater. I hadn't been up its canyon for about 30 years.
On the advice of friends, I decided to try an "adventure-route" to the east, out through little logging towns to the end of pavement at the burg of Elk River and across Grandad bridge on Dworshack Reservoir.

I suddenly realized, I had not brought a Forest Service map of the area, but I could buy a Clearwater National Forest map along the way. Somehow the Ranger Stations that I remembered didn't exist anymore, but I found a forest map for $16.95 (a bargain!) at "The Lodge" general store in Elk River.

A kindly woman there also gave me their own map of the area around Elk River and advice on finding the road to Grandad Bridge. I never would have found the numbered, but otherwise unmarked road in the local maze of logging roads without her help.

The road was never bad, but as other unmarked roads peeled off, it gradually narrowed and got rougher, until at about mile 13 at 1300 on Friday the 13th, I saw this warning.

Then this cross was around the next corner.
Shortly after, two pickups full of loggers that were "knocking-off" early on Friday sped by. Those were the only vehicles I saw until I reached the bridge, after about 27 miles of dirt from Elk River.

A couple miles above the bridge, a big sign announced I was on Corp of Engineers turf and the dirt-road immediately improved to graded-gravel and stayed good after the bridge. I followed it up and out of the canyon for another 16 miles to the paved Pierce to Canyon Ranger Station road, that finally took me down to the dirt road that goes up the North Fork Clearwater.

I never saw a log-truck, but I had big semi-dumptrucks, hauling gravel for new logging roads, to contend with, after the reservoir.

Grandad Bridge! I was not certain I was going to find it until I finally saw it!

About 6:00 PM, miles upstream from Canyon Ranger Station, I managed to FIND! a river-side campground, with only one other person camped there!

Very-heavy forest up there, with snags from ancient fires along the river.

After setting up camp, I poured myself a glass of wine, and walked down to the other camper and introduced myself.

The gray-bearded camper, who introduced himself as Paul, was wearing a somewhat stained USMC sweatshirt & writting in his journal. I was instantly sorry to intrude on his privacy, but it is good for me to know who I am sharing a remote camp with.

He opened up a litle bit on the subject of fishing the area, but I sensed he wanted solitude, as did I.

Back to camp for a taco dinner!

More Big-river & dark-forest story & photos to follow!


The Granite State.
Sep 17, 2013 - 10:43pm PT
Yeah, more!

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Sep 17, 2013 - 11:24pm PT
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Sep 17, 2013 - 11:38pm PT
Folks up there catchin plenty -o- kokanee outta that there lake at Door-shack. Catchin' good cutthroat upin Elk River all the damn time. Usta roll outta Moo-cow on a Friday night with a coffee can -o- night crawlers and case -o- Colorado Cool-Aid. Drive for hours an hours all the way up to Elizabeth creek. Water so damn cold in the N. Fork I though my testicles was gonna implode!

Now days I'm long gone and my nephews and their wives and numerous children like to go "camping" up there about every month in the warm season. By "camping" that is shooting the AR15s all over the place.

Did you see my cousin Elmer as you drove through Bovil? He hasn't been able to afford a dentist since they shut down the Potlach mill in the early 1980's.

Trad climber
Spokane, WA
Sep 17, 2013 - 11:43pm PT
didja' get as far as the anorthosites? Big core complex with Archean rocks and mylonites lurking up there.

Watch for log trucks, been taken out, wasn't fun. The Highway Patrol said, "well, it happens." A lot of crashes, it's just part of the scenery.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 12:12am PT
Thanks all for your favorable comments.

I hate log-trucks, but they seem to take weekends off in North Idaho.

Spider's post is just poking-fun at the shallow-end of the gene-pool in back-country North Idaho.

My Idaho history studies relate that almost the entire Confederate army captured at Vicksburg in 1863 got paroled,since the Union forces didn't have resources to hold or feed the mass of prisoners.

Some of those "Parollees" headed west to the new gold mines in Idaho & Montana. There was a gold-rush in Northern Georgia in the early 1800's in the Dahlonega area, so at least some of the paroled Confederates knew how to placer mine.

1860's Idaho mining camp names confirm a heavy Confederate presence. Atlanta, Dahlonega Creek, Leesburg, & my favorite: The Sechesh River.

Descendents of those folks moved into the north Idaho river valleys, and in some cases, have been in-breeding since the 1860's.

Just for Spider: here's a couple photos of downtown Bovill, the last little logging town before Elk River.

Spider: I didn't see your cuzin Elmer in Bovill. I didn't see a living human in Bovill at noon on a workday.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 12:19am PT
Struneberry? Re your deep-geology question??

I'm somewhat clued on the subject, and appreciated all the metamorphic rock, while fruitlessly looking for garnets in road-cuts.

However, I confess I haven't a clue about: anorthosites & mylonites lurking.

Re your comment.

didja' get as far as the anorthosites? Big core complex with Archean rocks and mylonites lurking up there.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Sep 18, 2013 - 12:33am PT
Fritz, If you want garnets you'd a needed to turn left at Bovil and head up to Clarkia. Back in the day folks would go up there and pan marble sized crystals out of Emerald Creek. Maybe catch some trout too.

As usual, too many people did that and all the good garnets are in coffee cans, covered in dust, in barns and garages all over the county.

Everyone please take notice: There are no humans in Fritz' pictures. That's because they are very scarce in this area. (one reason I prefer to live in Los Angeles now)

Edit: That gray tavern in Fritz photo is for sale: http://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Bovill-ID/2115125888_zpid/55421_rid/46.981072,-116.256809,46.815451,-116.468983_rect/11_zm/1_fr/

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 12:59am PT
The next morning I drove many scenic miles up the OK gravel road along the North Fork Clearwater, while watching for a noted Class V rapid, the Irish Railroad.

Few folks seek the North Fork for whitewater adventure, due to lots of difficult rapids, and a lack of launch points, and support.

Maybe this rapid is the Irish Railroad? I don't know, I either couldn't see the rapids for vegetation, or they all looked like Class V's at higher water levels.

Then I arrived at the now closed Weitas Bridge.
Weitas Creek was WETASS Creek until a politically-correct name change was made in the 20's or 30's. The original name reflected what you were going to suffer while crossing it. The old bridge is now closed to traffic. Weitas Creek at left in the below photo.

The next scenic stop was Survival Island.

I remember a large Forest sign marking the Survival Island Historical site when I last ventured up the North Fork in the early 1980's. It bore a short tale of a fire crew taking cover on the island during the "Big-Burn" of 1910, when most all of North Idaho and Western Montana burned in a late-August Firestorm.

The sign is gone, and internet history states the island is washed away & gone too, and the survivors were a couple horsepackers, two Indians, and a bear that retreated to the island during a 1919 fire.

Oh-Well----so much for historical signs.

Scenery, history, fish, otters, and much more to follow!
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Sep 18, 2013 - 01:15am PT
Some colorful history of this river:
[Click to View YouTube Video]

Sep 18, 2013 - 01:19am PT
My home turf. Dad was born in Fernwood, mom and her mom in Deary. I was born in Bonners Ferry. I went to school in Clarkia and Deary amongst many other places. My folks sill have the cabin on Couer d' Alene near Harrison.

Talking about those inbreeds you're probably talking about me.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 01:31am PT
Banquo! Likely, your relatives didn't inbreed too much, or you wouldn't be posting here!

Good to have you sharing that regional history! When I drove through Deary last Friday, it appeared unchanged in the last 30 years.

Trad climber
East Coast US
Sep 18, 2013 - 10:47am PT
Very enjoyable read. Looking forward to additional installments.

However, finding a remote campground with a single other person in it would sketch me out a bit.

The gray-bearded camper, who introduced himself as Paul, was wearing a somewhat stained USMC sweatshirt & writting in his journal. I was instantly sorry to intrude on his privacy, but it is good for me to know who I am sharing a remote camp with.

He opened up a litle bit on the subject of fishing the area, but I sensed he wanted solitude, as did I.


Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Sep 18, 2013 - 12:06pm PT
Fritz-type awesomeness is upon us again! CELEBRATE!

I love that country up there, although I am not well "steeped" or "schooled" in it. I was in the area a few times in the early 80's when I was stationed in Spokane. Heavy flashbacks....whoa....

Banquo, do you know the McNair clan in Bonners?

Dwain is a homey of mine from the USAF Survival Instructor School, and Saudi Arabia.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 12:34pm PT
I found a little outpost of civilization at the USFS Kelly Work Center, looked at an updated forecast of rain by Sunday afternoon, and checked out their few historical exhibits.

This framed old article about a long-ago incident nearby, was rather bizare.

Nearby archeological digs on North Fork tributary Kelly Creek, have dated occupancy in the area back as far as 12,000 years ago.

North Fork temporal art near a campground.

Then it was time to go fishing. After looking for just the right spot and having little luck catching Cutthroat trout, I finally reached the end of the road and started hiking up the river.

No trout were rising, it was windy, and the only flies that worked at all, were tiny imitation winged black ants.

I managed to catch & release 17 Cutthroats in the afternoon, but it was never easy. Beats office-work though.


Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
Sep 18, 2013 - 12:41pm PT
Not sure I'd be too weirded out by other campsite occupants if I was packing bear spray and a 357.
Bonus points for being able to use the bear spray if your taco seasoning isn't spicy enough.

Sep 18, 2013 - 01:29pm PT

I don't think I know anybody in Bonners Ferry anymore. We moved a lot and I was a baby. By the time I finished high school, I had attended 28 schools in Places like Clarkia ID, Ashton ID, Jordan Valley OR, John Day OR, Gila Bend AZ, Davenport WA, etc.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 08:42pm PT
Re comments on sharing a remote campground with one other person.

I have a fairly-accurate "bad-schist" meter, and it wasn't flashing.

The fellow had a late model pickup with Wyoming plates & a decent tent. No dogs barked at me as I drove by. I'm pretty sure he was a Marine-vet, since he had Marine Stickers on the truck too.

I think it's best to go visit your neighbor with a drink in hand, so they don't think you're trying to borrow liquor from them.

Soooooo- I stumbled back to my vehicle at about 5:00 PM and drove back down-canyon a few miles, looking for someplace off the road and near the river. I noticed an small opening in the trees, and discovered my dream river-side car-camp for the night.

The daytime temps had made it into the low 80's F., which is way-high for mid-Sept in North-Idaho's mountains. The evening was very pleasant, the wind died down, and I even built a small fire in the enormous fire-pit.

I couldn't sleep much past daylight, but the morning was warm, even with sunrise in the deep canyon still hours away.

I knew heavy-rain was forecast by afternoon, but I had also seen some Kokanee down-canyon the previous day.

The huge & high 1960's dam downstream killed the wild salmon & steelhead migration up the river, but Kokanee were planted in the reservoir, and run up the river to spawn in Sept.

When I again found the area where the Kokanee were concentrated, I was well-above the river and about 100 yards away. After a few seconds, I realized two otters were swimming up through the head of the big pool with the Kokanee. I started taking photos, but I wasn't taking big-enough digital images for sharp telephotos at that range.

The otters may have sensed my presence, and they quickly moved up through the white-water above the Kokanee pool and vanished. All I have left is my memories, and this blurry-photo of an otter moving onto a rock in the rapid. Red arrow points to the otter.

After the otters went upstream, the Kokanee rapidly reappeared. They certainly brighten up the water.

I knew that spawning Kokanee don't eat and are almost impossible to catch on a fly, but I had "the secret weapon"-----a fly that imitated a Salmon-egg. The theory is: the salmon will try to retrieve the mis-placed egg, and then you can catch them.

It worked!
After one "spawned-out" Kokanee made my day, I threw my egg-fly at many others without success. Then I tried other flies, and finally gave up.
When I got home, an internet search shows some fishing pundits claim throwing big-streamer flies at the Kokanees pisses them off and makes them strike the fly.
Next time!

The Kokanee die after spawning and either feed the stream-side bears or degrade into the stream-bed. This one was replenishing nutrients at the bottom of the river.

A little more adventure awaits! Stay tuned!

Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
Sep 18, 2013 - 09:17pm PT
Some of my favorite country any where Fritz,
Those fish pics are beautiful!!!!!

Sep 18, 2013 - 09:51pm PT
Close to my home turf-- St. Maries, on the St. Joe, my great grandparents homesteaded on the 'Joe around 1900. Now I am in the benighted Midwest in a suburb of Chicago. I love your Idaho trip reports Fritz!

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2013 - 10:10pm PT
Thanks to all those that posted enjoyment of my adventure report. Always great to see your thoughts.

Timidtoprope: re your mention about a book that chronicles the huge fire that burned most of North Idaho & W. Montana in 1910:

"The Big Burn" is a great read. If you haven't already read it I highly recommend it.

I've read the book in the past, but I really should read it again.

My main college girlfriend, and post-college occasional girlfriend, was a grandaughter of the Forest Service Ranger responisble for that area during the 1910 fires. He was a Eastern college-grad, and was quite young at the time. The family shared a little history on his career with me at the time. I think he ended up 2nd in command of the USFS.

I do like how the Kokanee brighten up the river.

Trad climber
Spokane, WA
Sep 18, 2013 - 10:11pm PT
Regarding the anorthosites:

The Idaho Geological Survey published a 1:100K scale map of the area. You can get a pdf at:


I spent the summer of 1991 at the Kelly Creek workstation when we were doing the geologic mapping for a project that was a precursor to that map.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2013 - 12:01am PT
struneberry: Thanks for the map-link.

One of my many hobbies is mineral collecting, and I've always been a student of geology, but have not studied the more intricate parts of Geologic Lore.

A short trip to Wikipedia, and I can now nod sagely at their explanation:

Archaean anorthosite[edit source | editbeta]Smaller amounts of anorthosite were emplaced during the Archaean eon (ca 3,800-2,400 Ma), although most have been dated between 3,200 and 2,800 Ma. They are distinct texturally and mineralogically from Proterozoic anorthosite bodies. Their most characteristic feature is the presence of equant megacrysts of plagioclase surrounded by a fine-grained mafic groundmass.

So???? Really old? 3.8-2.4 billion year old ---nearly---"basement rock"?

I followed your map-link and I am overwhelmed by the complex geology of that area.

To sum up my thoughts about the map: A "schistpot" of basement & near-basement rock. Bless you for trying to figure out that incredibly-difficult geology.


Sep 19, 2013 - 01:12am PT
spud- I've spent many a happy day catching cuts on the upper St. Joe and Marble Creek. This time of year, fall, the cuts come down out of the creeks and pack into the big holes in the St. Joe. Lots of good fishing. Elk hair caddis almost always works. Fritz better get up there.

St. Maries is home in many ways. I worked in the Regulus Mill there and my dad and brother went to high school there.

Trad climber
Sep 19, 2013 - 07:07am PT
It's been a long time since I went on that kind of road(?) trip. TFPU.

California dreamin' on the farside of the world..
Sep 19, 2013 - 09:34am PT
Loved this Fritz! My fav photos were the "Idaho Accessories" and that last kokanee shot. Looked like a Monet on caffeine.

Such beautiful country...I haven't fished in many years, but can totally appreciate the joy of standing by a river, immersed in the delicate sounds of nature, waiting for a strike.

Keep it coming, my friend. Your TRs are good for the soul.

Sep 19, 2013 - 12:12pm PT
Yes, Banquo, I have many great memories of fishing on the St. Joe and St. Maries rivers, jumping off railroad trestles into the river, inner tubing on the rivers, catching perch in the little lakes...My grandmother would take the rowboat out on the river and my siblings and I would swim alongside the boat for a few miles, hanging on to the boat when we needed a rest. One of my earliest memories as a kid is camping up Marble Creek. I also remember digging for garnets.

Latest news from the SM Gazette Record tells about a cougar(s) stalking the Heyburn Elementary School!

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2013 - 12:14pm PT
It's fun to see folks posting up that have also visited this reasonably remote area. All memories are good to share.

L! Thanks again for your appreciation! Purr,Purr!

Since Banquo mentions the next big river system to the north, I did have an adventure drive there in Sept 2012. Of course I shared it on ST, but did not mention the name of the river.

4 mtns, 10 Cuts, & 100 miles of ridgetop dirt road in Idaho!

Back to Sunday morning on the North Fork. Rain was predicted by afternoon, I couldn't catch another Kokanee and I was a long way from home.

I started back down the road, & took some river photos along the way.

After one stop, my eyes were suddenly drawn to the largest paper-wasp nest I've ever seen. It was about 50 feet above the road, and must have been about two-feet long.

When I reached pavement again, I had logged 140 miles of dirt roads, and it was only 395 miles home to Choss Creek, up the Clearwater, over to the Salmon, up the Salmon, down the Weiser and then east across the S. Idaho Flats.

Home by 10:30 PM.


Social climber
May 26, 2015 - 06:11pm PT
I spent two weeks on th eN.Fork of the Clearwater two summers ago--2013. What a great place. six foot diameter cedars, crystal clear water--the Black Canyon--can't wait to get back.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Topic Author's Reply - May 26, 2015 - 07:02pm PT
hobo_dan! Glad you enjoyed this tale, with your local's knowledge of "deepest Idaho."

Of course as some locals like my nephews Zach & Griz say:

Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
May 26, 2015 - 09:45pm PT
We did a family vacation in the Black Canyon way back when in 1970. I was just a young man discovering the new religion of fly fishing.

Great place.

Also learned about how a testicle can reascend if the water is cold enough. Damn cold water coming down through there.

Also my cousins. Uncle Fritz taught us all how to surf the basalt talus down into the river.

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