When I grow up, I hope I can knock down a rugged wilderness backpacking trip like these guys.
It’s been a long time since I was the “baby” of any particular group, but when I hooked up with the Geezers – a group of longtime friends who take annual wilderness expeditions – I found that keeping up with the group was just about all I could muster.
Even though some of them could have been my dad.
Tom Black had been trying for a couple of years to get me to join the Geezers for one of their trips, but for a variety of reasons my participation hadn’t worked out. It was a close call this year as well, what with half the county seemingly in flames, but with that situation more or less under control I disappeared into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness west of Hamilton, Montana, as an honorary Geezer. As it happened, Tom, the one who invited me, ended up not making the trip. My companions for the week included locals Andre Corso, George Baumgartner, Walter Henze, Ernie Bolz, Rob Thompson, Scott Olson, and Ernie’s lifelong friend Dean Hiser, who flew to Montana from Portland.
One of the few hard and fast rules that makes this column tricky: what happens on the Geezer Hike stays on the Geezer Hike. For the most part.
I can “leak” to the general public that the guys were all great to be around, both as a group and individually. I probably was in the middle of the pack as far as conditioning goes, but seeing as I had the advantage of a couple decades’ less mileage on my legs, that was hardly something to be proud of.
Ah, my legs.
Therein was the challenge. After a warm first day of hiking, I opted (as did as most of the guys) to go with shorts on the second day, which traversed more than nine miles and finished with a steep, 1,000 foot climb in the final mile and a half to Blodgett Lake.
The trail was overgrown, and while there were a few moments of losing our way, no one broke a leg in the many deep, rocky holes the lurked in the underbrush.
What also lurked there were horseflies, which found my legs far more delectable than anything the rest of the Geezers had to offer. By Wednesday, my poor legs looked more like a bad pepperoni pizza, covered with four dozen swollen, red welts.
They were impressive enough to elicit groans of sympathy from the rest of the crew.
There was less sympathy (though plenty of practical support) when my phone took a dunk in some alpine snow run-off, which left me bereft of my compass, topographic maps and recreational reading material.
Proving that testosterone-fueled adventure is not merely for the young, six of the eight of us scrambled another 1,000 feet up a rock face toward the ridge that ringed Blodgett Lake. As Walter and I took a breather on an SUV-sized boulder, I accidentally kicked my phone off the rock. It proceeded to slide into the one spot below the rock where a pool of water beckoned like some sort of anti-technology magnet, sucking my electronic appendage into its depths. While it was submerged for only five seconds, I had to stretch my arm to its full length to catch the phone by the tips of my fingers, moments before it vanished forever into the depths beneath the behemoth rock.
The phone rescued, but inoperable, the guys all contributed the silica gel packs out of their freeze dried meals, and by the time we made our way out of the mountains, my phone had been resurrected.
(Note to self: bring paper backups into the wilderness.)
Meanwhile, bereft of my tech, I learned a few things about fly fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout (the fishing in the stream was so good, there were a few half-serious proclamations of boredom), had some time to wax philosophical about life and nature, and even to discuss the physics of waterfalls.
Oh, and I caught a cutthroat with my bare hands.
Maybe next time there will be video to prove it. But what would be the fun in that?