I met my son, Peter Cary, in Hailey, Idaho to watch the eclipse. Not from Hailey — there was better viewing to be had at altitude. Our plan was to meet my nephew, Blake Everson, and head up to the Sawtooth Mountains for the best possible experience. Blake was a veteran ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, so ascending into the Sawtooth Mountains with him, his wife Kate,their two-year-old son Bennett, Kate’s brother Jake Whitcomb, and Jake’s friend Kuenley Chiu wasn’t a daunting prospect. At least that’s what I thought …
It’s an hour drive to the Alpine Creek Trailhead in the 300,000 acre Sawtooth Wilderness. We parked, put on our backpacks and began the steep seven-mile hike to the pristine unnamed lake where we’d camp for the next four nights.
The beginning of the hike was mild and utterly lovely, with meadows of wildflowers, gentle streams curving through lush green grasses. My legs began to feel the burn as we climbed the first of many steep ascents. The men were taking most of the gear; their backpacks were stuffed with tents, sleeping bags, food, camera equipment and other necessities for the days to come. Two months pregnant Kate carried Bennett in her backpack. I was simply carrying my own personal water.
When I asked “is this the last steep part?” they began to lie to me. “We’re almost there … just a few more small climbs.”
I believed them, And then I didn’t believe. My lungs felt as though they might burst. The crew would patiently wait for me as I gasped and asked for more breaks. Peter Cary hiked behind me, pushing me up hills while Blake pulled me up. One time I was too late in pleading for a break, and I tripped over a log and fell into a tree. The tree blessedly stopped me from rolling down a steep hill into a creek. I was starting to think that this was a mistake.
I can’t say I remember the details of the rest of the hike but I do remember cursing Blake’s name and feeling enraged to see him hiking comfortably and easily with an enormous backpack on. What should have been a three-and-a-half hour climb took us nearly six hours. But as we arrived at our base camp all the agony of the climb vanished. It was the majesty of the lake, the garnet spires of the Sawtooth Mountains, and the crystalline depth-less waters in one of the most remote places in mainland America.
And then we hiked to a prominent ridge line for the event that justified all the effort — the Total Eclipse of the Sun.