Four Hikers Attempt the 900-Mile Idaho Centennial Trail 

The lost trail spans the length of the state

Page 4 of 6

One image held firm in the hikers' minds: Spangle Lake. It was their camp spot for the night, and as the switchbacks grew steeper and seemingly unending, the vision of cresting a summit and looking down at a beautiful mountain lake kept them strong.

"It's all mental," Bussard said. "Your body will make it up the peak of that mountain. It'll make it down and it'll make it up to the peak of the next mountain. You just have to find a way mentally to push yourself through it."

Bussard did that by counting her steps. One, two, three four. Then, four more steps, four more steps.

At 11 miles down and six to go, the rain started again. The thought of having to stop one more time, take off the packs, rummage for raincoats, zip them up, heave their packs back on, clip the straps and keep moving was infuriating.

The rain took on a new vigor, cold and forceful, and drenched the party in minutes. Thunder rumbled nearby. Still, the group pushed on along the ridge line in the craggy Sawtooths, exposed but hellbent on Spangle Lake.

Thunder cracked again, echoing off the peaks, and the rain turned to pelting hail. The wind picked up and blew hard against the hikers, knocking them off the trail in gusts.

Malloy kept his head down and pushed on. Fighting the adrenaline-fueled urge to get out of the storm numbed aching feet, legs and shoulders. Lightning flashes turned the trail a pinkish-white. Being cold and wet stopped mattering and it became more important not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All day, the hikers imagined their arrival at Spangle Lake as a moment of triumph—coming over the summit to see a blue mountain lake nestled in the peaks of the Sawtooths, bathed in orange and gold alpenglow.

Instead, after almost 10 hours of hiking and 17 miles covered, they came over a small, soggy hill. Lindquist pointed toward the highest ground, shouting for everyone to head in that direction. The lake was gray and choppy, swollen by the rain. The group split up, each in search of a patch of ground dry and flat enough to pitch a tent.

No one emerged from their tents for the rest of the night.

Trial By Trail

Sun baked their tents until it was too hot to sleep anymore and the group awoke to a flawless blue sky. They were rewarded with the sight they anticipated the day before. The lake wrapped around the crevices of mountains, spotted with green and purple grass and wildflowers, miniature waterfalls trickling into the water.

The hiking was easy going, mostly downhill, and the weather held until noon. Sunlight shone between brief rainstorms, but no one cared about being wet anymore. The trail wended its way along a waterfall spilling down large granite slabs.

Jacobson claimed one of the rocky platforms for the group and pulled his gear from his pack to dry in the sun. The whole slab was soon covered in rain jackets, socks and extra layers.

Bussard napped in the sun. Malloy soaked his feet in a pool of water from the South Fork Payette River. Lindquist turned the pages of his wilderness first aid booklet. Jacobson produced a large black Moleskin journal and started writing.

Clay Jacobson records every detail of the trail so he can write a guidebook at the end of it. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Clay Jacobson records every detail of the trail so he can write a guidebook at the end of it.

He recorded the trail conditions, where it was blocked or overgrown, where water was available. He made a catalog of anything that could be used as a mile marker or possible campsite.

Nearly two hours of the late afternoon passed. When Jacobson finally stood to rouse the party, there was a collective sigh. The group expected to reach the next campsite within 15 miles of Spangle Lake, but they had already surpassed that without seeing any suitable place to camp.

Jacobson and Lindquist consulted their maps and GPS coordinates. They realized they had at least four more miles to go, then debated over who should have to break the news to Bussard. It was news she never took well.

"The miles are never adding up," she said. "I expect to walk three more, and we walk five or six more. It just makes me the angriest person. I just want to get to camp and eat more than anything at the end of the day, and it never happens like it should."

"She's the hangriest person I have ever met," Lindquist said.

Rarely do the miles on the maps and GPS match the actual trail—something Jacobson hopes to correct in his guidebook. Trouble is, the trail changes every year. It gets destroyed, rebuilt and rerouted constantly. Being unable to predict the trail frustrated Bussard to no end.

"I'm grumpy half the time and I'm usually a happy person. And I just want to kill everyone and yell all the time, because it's hard," she said. "It's harder than I thought it was going to be."

The group hiked 19 miles before finding an old Boy Scout campsite. A sense of satisfaction hung over the hikers for covering so many miles. There was a sense of deep exhaustion, too.

Lindquist built a fire and they ate their dehydrated meals in silence. Every night, Jacobson played the audiobook Of Mice and Men and they listened, staring into the flames. They called it story time.

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