Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Big Southern Butte ID - Part 1

After talking about it for well over a month, LC and I finally decided that with winter fast approaching it was now or wait until next spring to climb Big Southern Butte.
And so we hiked to the top of this huge Moby Dick in the desert on Saturday.
Big Butte is located 18 dirt road, BLM miles from Atomic City, and the plan was to be at the base of the butte by 8:30am.
When we set the alarm for 6am, climbed out of a warm bed and into a cold house and looked outside into the still black sky, LC and I just looked at each other in dismay.
Yuk.  It felt like the middle of the night.
One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.
As I hit the ON button on the coffee pot I looked more closely outside and realized that Atomic City was completely and absolutely engulfed in thick fog.
I couldn't see anything at all across the road but a wall of white.
I looked at the thermometer outside the mud room window, read the number 24 and thought again - Yuk.
But the weather promised that it would turn into a beautiful day.  Bright sunshine.  Temperatures in the low 50's,  Perfect hiking weather.
As we drank coffee, woke up, grumbled at our stupid idea of hiking a butte, hoped that as soon as the sun rose the fog would burn off, we layered up and got geared up to head out.
As LC was finishing up (and still grumbling) I walked outside into the darkness to try and take pictures of the fog.
The world of Atomic City looked completely different from what I had become accustomed to over the past few months and I wanted pictures.
I stood in the middle of the silent world (where it felt as though everyone else was sleeping but us) and snapped a picture.
Nothing.  Just white.
I turned to face the opposite direction that had more street lights and snapped a picture.
Nothing.  Just white.
Quickly giving up on that idea I rounded up my still-grumbling Mountain Boy, we loaded packs into the bed of the truck, and headed towards the dirt road that led to Big Butte Road.
We could only see 20 feet in front of the truck so knew immediately that the drive to the butte was going to be a long and slow one.  Too many potholes and rutts in the road, that are worse now because mudders and 4-wheelers have torn it up throughout the summer.
Still moving in dense fog, LC stopped the truck a couple of times during the trip so that I could take these pictures.
Pictures of a frozen white world...........
I think that I have read too many Stephen King novels in my lifetime.
Novels where the mundane always turns horrific.
In this case, where terrifying beasts appear abruptly from out of the mist to kill in ways that nightmares are made of, and where (one-by-terrifying-one) friends and family meet their gruesome end............
We had driven to Blackfoot the day before hiking the butte.
When we left Atomic City the late morning was freezing cold and completely sunny.
By the time we had driven 10 miles we were completely engulfed in dense fog, which remained almost all the way to Blackfoot.
By the time we got to Blackfoot it was clear sunshine again.
With that recent experience in our mind, we wondered as we continued slowly driving the dirt road, if the forecasted sunny conditions would hold true.
By the time we were a few miles from Big Butte we knew that they would.
There was still a lot of fog, but instead of completely enveloping our entire world it was now just in huge blocks, with hints of blue sky beginning to show.
Good deal.
Very good deal..............
Looking back to the south-east...............
Close to the butte there is a split in the road.
The right fork is the shorter route but the road is a bottom-of-the-truck destroying, rocky mess.
The left fork is much easier (but longer) to drive, goes beyond the butte and turns right again.
Basically you circumnavigate almost the entire butte before reaching the entrance to the road that climbs to the top............
The only other time we had come all the way to Big Butte was in my truck not long after we arrived in Idaho.
On that day we drove up the double track dirt road that led into the canyons of the butte.
We turned around about a mile up that road after realizing just how steep and tough the road was quickly getting.
LC and I planned to drive as far as that same turnaround and begin our hike from there.
There were large patches of blue sky beginning to dominate the area, but much of it was still in the mist.
The mountains were still in the mist.
A look in the direction we were heading, and the mist made the butte look ominous and foreboding.
I continued to silently reassure myself that the sky was going to clear and it was going to be a warm and welcoming hike............
A look back the way we had come............
The first mile on trail climbs but it is a long, gradual climb.
As we continued driving up towards the turn-around I looked behind me.
Suddenly the fog and cold mist was not the dominating story.
We had climbed high enough, and the mist had cleared off enough that the mountains of the Big Lost River chain had become visible..............
In fact, they had not only become visible, but they suddenly seemed to completely dominate the terrain.
Asking LC to stop the truck, I climbed out and looked back and was stunned.
The start of these mountains was 30 miles to our north, but what was in front of me now was some kind of weird and wonderful and surprising optical illusion.
Between the fog floating in the air and the fog that still completely obscured the desert floor, what I was looking at was:
a)  mountains that appeared as though they were floating in the air and 
b)  mountains that looked so close it seemed that I could almost reach out and touch them.
The world looked TOTALLY different from what I was used to.
They were beautiful.  They were mesmerizing.  They looked (from our vantage point) to be a arms' reach away............
We pulled into a small open spot off the road, parked the truck, grabbed our packs, and as we got geared up to head out I looked around us.
Looking back I could still see the mountains, the fog, the first promise that our day would be perfectly gorgeous.
Looking forward I could see only steep rises on both sides of us, winding and very steep road, the darkness that the sun had not yet reached.
There was so much darkness, so many shadows, such steep hills and deep canyons that I knew we would not see sunshine here or feel warmth here for a long while yet............
A random gate.......thing............seen right beside where we parked the truck...........
Which I looked at and saw (of course) art.............

If adventure has a final and all-embracing motive, it is surely this: we go out because it is our nature to go out, to climb mountains, and to paddle rivers, to fly to the planets and plunge into the depths of the oceans... When man ceases to do these things, he is no longer man...........Wilfrid Noyce 

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