Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 19 - To the Top of Lemhi Pass

Camped tonight on the shores of Clark Canyon Reservoir at the junction of MT-324 and I-15 near Dillion MT. A surprising deal from the US Bureau of Reclamation -- campsites are free. The only bad news was that they did not accept my Senior Pass.

Highlights of the Day:
Nice sunny morning. Cap clouds over the peaks of the Bitteroots (or Beaverheads?) east of Salmon. Those peaks are the Continental Divide through here. Being this close we felt some real motivation to get going.

Today is Lemhi Pass Day. I’ve explained before how we missed this segment of the Lewis & Clark trail a few years ago and have ever since wanted to stand on that pass.

From the west side the road to Lemhi Pass starts at Tendoy ID. There you leave pavement behind and take one-lane gravel and dirt roads up some pretty amazing terrain… through some pretty amazing places… trails carved on mountainsides. The Forest Service provides a 36 mile loop road to the top and past historic points of interest. With an elevation gain of 4,000 ft. and grades of 20% or more… it’s an uncommon road and an uncommon experience. Once at the pass, a modern day explorer can descend down the east side in order to make a complete transit of the pass instead of completing the loop on the west side.

Today we met not a soul during the climb, nor during our 2 hours at the pass itself. We had it all to ourselves -- just us and the faded spirits of the 1804/1805 Corps of Discovery. And, yes, we did this rugged little drive in the truck and camper. And, yes, we do hope to return another day to do it again… in the opposite direction.

At the top, the “saddle” of the pass, 7,373 elevation, we lingered… had a light lunch… climbed the hill on the continental divide that Lewis did and looked out on the same view he saw to the west… nothing but mountains for as far as he could see. Hopes for a quick passage down the western side went up in smoke. Unless he could connect with Indians and trade for some horses the expedition might very well have ended in failure as, at this late date in the fall of 1805 and with Winter just a few short weeks away, they’d be forced to retreat down the Missouri to the east.

The expedition’s Indian guide woman, Sacagawea, was originally from the Lemhi area before she was kidnapped some years earlier by Sioux and carted off to the Mandan Villages in North Dakota. With her knowledge of landmarks and the terrain in the Lemhi area she may have been a critical element in the eventual success of the expedition. Amazingly, the Lemhi Indians they encountered near here were lead by a Chief who was her brother.

There’s a spring that spouts from the side of the hill about a quarter mile from the Lemhi Pass saddle. It’s now preserved as the Sacagawea Memorial and is considered by some to be a source of the Missouri River.

We dropped into Montana from Lemhi Pass on that aforementioned dirt road down the east side… most of which goes through the Bar Double T Ranch (-TT) before hitting MT-324, which we took all the way to the Clark Canyon Reservoir. We camped on the east side of the lake (there are numerous campgrounds scattered around all sides of the impoundment).

Setting up camp is a 5 minute procedure - also known as the 5 P’s: Park, Pop top of camper, Pop top of wine, Park butts in camp chairs, and Post-audit (discuss) day.

During this camp at Clark Canyon Reservoir we ran into the most unique set of characters we’ve met in a long time… There was Hazel the 83 year old camp host; Dick the super-friendly and retired almost everything (car seller, gold miner, etc. etc); Dicks delightful wife Chris; Windy the gentle old gentleman who couldn’t get his new-fangled digital camera to work right. We had more fun in a couple hours with these folks than we’ve had in a long time. Great memories.

Morgan’s Bar CG to Lemhi Pass to Clark Canyon Reservoir CG BOR
94 slow miles today
N44.996; W112.856
Elevation 5500 feet
Weather was sunny, windy, and cool. Perfect for exploring historic mountain passes.

Monument on Lemhi Pass

Dar strikes a "Lewis & Clark" pose. This is the spot where
Lewis first saw the west side of the continental divide.

Thom strikes his own "L&C" pose.  Guessing this wasn't here
in 1805.

Camped along Clark Canyon Reservoir. Not too bad for free.