Dan Noakes always had a hankering to tackle a long-distance hiking trail. When he was 11, his dad got him hooked on backpacking on the John Muir Trail in California, where he grew up.
“I always wanted to check off a through-hike,” Noakes says.
A Google search for long through-hikes turned up the Idaho Centennial Trail. “It’s only 900 miles, shouldn’t be too big of a deal,” he thought. But when he was out in the wide-open Bruneau desert, “I realized this was going to be a big deal. It was the real deal.”
Noakes completed the Idaho Centennial Trail in mid-July. The 33-year-old McCall resident ripped through the gnarly route in 52 days. He started on May 21 on the Idaho-Nevada border and finished the trek at the Idaho-Canada border on the moss-covered Upper Priest River Trail northwest of Sandpoint.
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His wife, Michelle, hiked the last section with him from Clark Fork to the Canadian border. Michelle helped with water and food drops — a critical part of the self-supported journey — and Noakes had a friend join him for another segment of the hike.
But for much of the route, he hiked alone. After completing the trail, he shared a video trailer from the journey. It was a visual feast.
Dan wrote me about completing the Centennial Trail because I authored a guidebook about it for the Idaho Trails Council in 1998. The book describes how the trail was created thanks to pioneers Roger Williams (now deceased) and Syd Tate, who hiked the length of Idaho in the mid-1980s. It was the first time that anyone had done that, and it was the inspiration to create an official Idaho Centennial Trail route during the Idaho Centennial year in 1990.
Williams and Tate took 86 days to complete the journey, hiking at a pace of 14 miles a day. By the end, they each had lost 20 pounds and Tate had a big, long beard. “Our legs looked like a weightlifters and the top half looked like a prisoner of war,” Williams said.
The ICT route fulfilled the vision that Williams charted from the get-go – he wanted it to go through the “Best of Idaho,” meaning the Sawtooth Wilderness, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Stateline Trail that straddles Idaho and Montana between Hoodoo Pass and Wallace, and the Cabinet Mountains in the Idaho Panhandle.
Noakes hiked at least 20 miles a day – sometimes more if he had the strength. He carried a light-weight pack of just over 30 pounds with all of his gear. He burned through several pairs of Altra Timp hiking shoes during the adventure.
To plan the trip, Noakes ran across Clay Jacobson’s website, Idaho Centennial Trail.org, which provides lots of useful information, including the names of the people who have done the through-hike in recent years. Thomas Ord told him where to do the water drops in the desert section. Another hiker gave him the GPS tracks for the whole route.
There’s just a handful of people who have completed the trail since it was designated in 1990. It’s not that well known or heavily publicized and the difficulty level is pretty extreme in the Frank Church Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot because of heavy blowdown and hard-to-find trails.
Fortunately, Noakes knew how to use a GPS and he forged through those tough spots, knowing he was going in the right general direction. “I lost the trail many, many times,” he says. “The trail is non-existent at some points.”
The Selway-Bitterroot section, he said, was the most challenging. “Every day, it was cold, rainy and wet, and the blown-down trees were epic. The challenges in the Selway would make a grown man cry. But what makes it so great, is that after you get through there, you think, ‘Dang, I did this.’ You feel a real deep sense of accomplishment.”
As for wildlife sightings, Noakes saw a big wolf on a hillside on a stormy day. He saw a few elk, a moose and a bear.
Noakes, who is a professional video animator for his company, Motifize.com, plans to release a new video segment about his adventure each Monday until he’s exhausted his video from the trip. The first segment came out Monday, July 23, on his YouTube channel.
“There’s something magical about the Idaho Centennial Trail,” he says. “I think if you experience it, it might change you for the better. For a lot of people, it could be a life-changing experience, and here it is, right in our backyard.”
My advice is that every Idahoans should consider making it a lifetime project to experience the ICT. Not everyone can do it in one fell swoop, but you can pick it off in pieces.
Noakes agrees. “Everybody needs to experience the ICT at some point in their lives,.” he said.
Steve Stuebner is a contributor to Idaho Statesman Outdoors. See his weekly outdoor blog at http://stuebysoutdoorjournal.blogspot.com