I’m on a local four-mile round-trip trail in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The elevation gain is about 1500 feet, making it a fairly steep trail for this former flatlander. The route is mainly switchbacked with one last long steady climb. Necessary stops to eat thimbleberries and huckleberries growing in abundance along the trail allow me to rest. Summer wildflowers are in bloom and setting seed.
I’m here with the Idaho Native Plant Society learning the local flora. It’s odd to see sedum in the wild. It’s such a common midwest ornamental that it’s hard to think of it as “belonging” here. I’m loving the prince’s pine (Chimpaphilia umbellata, aka pipsissewa) with its fruit striped like a Big Top Circus tent.
I’m surprised to learn that Idaho has twenty species of orchids. I always associate them with more tropical environments.
Three-quarters of a mile shy of the north peak lies an overlook. Expansive rock scree on the western slope clears the way for dramatic views. I can see Silverwood, the amusement park, and the highway turnoff to my home.
Taking the fork to the left, we head to the north peak. The south peak is another three miles up considerable elevation with the reported reward of excellent huckleberry picking. My route traverses a boulder field, of which I’d seen pictures, and thus chose hiking boots and not my usual summer hiking sandals. Many rocks have marble veins in infinite patterns occasionally punctuated by map lichens.
The views in every direction are breathtaking – Lake Pend Oreille to the north, the Bitterroot Mountains to the east, the prairie to the west, and the Coeur d’Alene Mountains to the south. Can you image Lewis and Clark summiting the eastern peak of the Bitterroots, allegedly expecting to see the Pacific Ocean and instead seeing 100 miles of mountains!?
The north peak is a short climb further through subalpine fir and wildflower meadows. At the top lays the twisted metal and toppled timber remains of an old fire tower. And the old box spring mattress that cradled a person long ago.
The hike down was almost harder on my thighs than the climb up. This was my second hike with the Native Plant Society. Little by little, I’m learning about my new home and dreaming of the gardens I’ll plant.
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