By: Becca Skinner
I had only heard of the Sawtooths once before a friend invited me to go on a backpacking trip there 3 years ago. As I drove down the snaking highway through Salmon, Idaho, the canyon opened up into a scene that I equated to seeing the Alps or the Tetons for the first time.
My jaw dropped.
Rising up out of the plains were jagged mountains, a pristine river and endless opportunity for recreating.
Ever since that moment 3 years ago, I’ve made an annual pilgrimage back to the Sawtooths. So it was an easy decision this year to turn my usual backpacking loop to a kayak trip and explore like I have never had the chance to: by boat.
As we started driving, I remembered why I love road trips so much. It was beautiful weather, I was with my friend Mikayla and we got a chance to catch up. The kayaks were folded in the back of our car, nestled alongside the tent, some great looking and our dogs. She had never spent anytime in the Sawtooths so I was eager to introduce her to one of my favorite places in the West.
In the spirit of being on a roadtrip, we made a quick decision to change driving courses and take our time by following a high mountain pass from Montana into Idaho when we heard a metallic grinding noise coming from underneath the car. Actually, the phrase “metallic grinding noise” would be too generous. It sounded more like a metal creature was dying. It was loud. It was stressful. My first thought was to cancel our trip, turn around and go home. I had just dealt with two full weeks of car issues. Visions of being stranded on a dirt road in the middle of Montana crept up on me. At least we had enough food and beer to last us for a few days.
Mikayla and I looked at each other with wide eyes and pulled over at the top of the pass. After a few calls to parents, boyfriends, and consulting with each other about our own car knowledge, we were advised to look for a rock that might have gotten jammed into the rotor. Sure enough, Mikayla soon yanked a small rock out from the edge of the rotor and we were back on our way.
We decided to forgo stopping at the natural hot springs to get to our campsite to set up home base and made it to our site just in time for a quick kayak around Stanley Lake before cooking up some dinner and watching the sun go down.
The sun seemed to set in layers. Everything first turned pink and golden when the sun hit the edges of the mountains. When it finally sunk below the horizon line, the scene turned blue and smelled like evenings at elevation the damp, blue alpine kind of smell that anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows.
My favorite thing about trips is how it makes us adapt to different situations. Forgot the bug spray? Use lavender oil. Can’t find the forks? Plastic ones from the gas station work just fine. Scary metallic noise coming from the car? Call your team and troubleshoot.
When we finally got to kayak underneath those giant mountains and watch the sun come up through the fog on the water, it makes all of those hiccups worth it. It won’t be my last trip back to be on the water to stare up at the 12,000ft peaks. Everytime I’m there, it feels a little bit like a homecoming.