Roger Phillips: Search for summer solace in the mountains

Make the oppressive sun your friend again.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comJuly 10, 2014 

Greetings from the Seven Devils mountains. Idaho's mountains are waiting for you.

ROGER PHILLIPS — rphillips@idahostatesman.com

When I am daydreaming, my memory often acts like a digital slide show. I see mental images of all the cool trips I've done, and most have one thing in common - they're in the mountains.

I love the mountains and always seem to gravitate toward them. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to the top of Bald Mountain in Sun Valley.

There was an avalanche of green, and the air was so clear it magnified snow-covered peaks miles away that seemed within rock-throwing range.

It also seemed I could almost see people hoisting beers on a downtown patio bar thousands of vertical feet below me.

When the first 100-degree days hit the Treasure Valley, that pull to the mountains is irresistible. I seek the cool air and gentle breeze.

I even look forward to the lung-aching altitude that makes my legs feel like I've been couch surfing for months instead of hiking and biking.

It's the mountains telling me they're still in charge, and they are. You have to earn your keep in the mountains, and they will always test you.

Mosquitoes, snow drifts, downed logs, swampy meadows, dog-hair thickets, ankle-grabbing brush, rocks that roll under foot — it's all your typical mountain mayhem.

But what a payoff those mountains give.

I can pedal a trail in the shade of the forest and whip through corners like a Jedi. It's so unlike the Foothills, where the world is laid out in front of you like a continuous line that your eye follows long before your legs take you there.

I love that firm-but-spongy forest soil that makes my tires feel like Velcro, and those "gotcha!" roots and rocks that keep me focused on the trail ahead.

But it's not always adrenaline that brings me to the mountains.

I can creep along and spy every wildflower, butterfly, bird, bee and insect. I can scan the tree line for deer, elk or other critters that seem to sense their surroundings and pose in the grandeur of the mountains like a bikini model on a tropical beach.

Unlike the oppressive heat of the desert, the mountain sun doesn't overstay its welcome.

It chases away the morning chill, then blankets you in warmth throughout the day before making a gentle exit as it dips below the jagged horizon and yields to the cool evening air.

No trip to the mountains is complete without casting a fly to a trout on an alpine lake.

They're among my favorite quarry because they're so cooperative. The greater challenge typically lies in hiking to them rather than catching them.

They're welcome hosts to their mountain lairs, and tossing nearly any feathered creation usually warrants at least an inspection. More often, it's a shark-like attack and a violently bowed fly rod.

And when the fishing is done and the sun is at its zenith, it's time to take off the hiking boots, find a rock perched just the right height over the water and take the plunge.

It's literally breathtaking as you're submerged in chilly jade waters, and you open your eyes into a surreal, translucent world.

As your head breaks the surface, the sunlight is blinding as it sparkles off the water, and you know you've had the ultimate mountain baptism.

You swim ashore and climb onto the rocks and feel the goosebumps poke out of your arms and legs, then they quickly disappear as you sunbathe like a lizard.

If it sounds idyllic, it is, but it takes a little motivation to get there, and a little work after you arrive.

But that's part of the fun. The mountains don't give up their spoils without charging an entrance fee. At minimum, it's a dusty drive on a bouncy road, then you may have to hike or ride a steep trail and ford a frigid stream or two.

But you get to leave the paved campsites, crowds and the motor homes behind. You get the chance to have some amazing places all to yourself so you can fill that mental scrapbook with another chapter that you will forever carry with you.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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