Third annual Kishenehn autumnal equinox
“I’m a sucker for knock-you-upside-the-head grandeur as much as the next guy, but over the years I’ve learned to prefer slightly less spectacular places with wilder character, where the animals don’t come for handouts, they come for prey. That’s Kishenehn.”
“While every day in the teeming lands around Kishenehn carries the unpredictable, kinetic hum of a self-willed landscape, for every dramatic encounter there are five days filled with the kind of dynamic calm that only deep wilderness provides.”
-ibid. [Read the article.]
“There was a faint ambient light from the moon above the storm clouds, above the troubles and life-and-death struggles of our world. You couldn’t really see things, but more sense their impressions. Then, somehow, I recognized the silhouette of a cluster of cottonwoods along the river. At that moment I knew I’d almost reached the cabin. Something about recognizing those trees in the night also showed me that in some small way I’d become a part of this place, that my story was now woven into the wild fabric of the landscape here.”
Last night at 0430, Kishenehn was living up to its billing. The Megalight was pitched on a sand flat amidst budding aspens, 40 feet from the river up a gravel bar on the legal (non-park) side. Something big was walking slowly, ambling through the dark, along the edge, the shallow water splashing and big cobbles chinking and clanking. The sound had been loud enough to wake me, not an easy thing on its own, let alone over the steady background chatter of the water. After a breathless, still minute listening through my quilt, the steady, leisurely steps faded away and I went back to sleep.
Waking up by footsteps again an hour later was more disconcerting. I knew the first had been too big to be a deer, and too loud to be a cougar, which left elk, moose, or bear. This new visitor, whose timing I would confirm with my watch after the fact, was distinctly hooved. They echoed hollowly off the smooth, football sized rocks as the elk or moose snorted, drank, and splashed across the river, the noise of its exit disappearing into the background of the river. Well, I thought, that first one must have been a bear. I wonder how many others have walked so close to camp over the years, just on quieter surfaces? What would have been a lengthy mental inventory of the last years solo camps was interrupted by yet another distinct, animal noise floating over and through the water sounds. Wolves. Howling and on the move, at least three or four. Watch out elk.
In the previous week particles from fires to the south had rolled into the Flathead, and by the time I left for my annual excursion late Saturday morning the clear skies were uniformly filtered in a vague, off-taupe. Rather like my mood: I’d been sick last weekend, we’re moving next week, and M is out of town visiting family. I’m off base for good reason, and ordinarily a familiar and cherished trip would be perfect respite, but today the process of packing and getting out the door feels a bit off.
Driving the now well-grown washboard between the end of the pavement and the Camas bridge feels equally so in our old truck with worn-out struts, but things ease as the road narrows and the footprint of the summer’s traffic narrows. I’ll take narrow twists, gravel and rocks over potholes and washboard any day. The unmarked trailhead is familiar, as are the initial miles to Starvation Creek. I stop to fish, and surprise myself with the first and third largest cutts of the year, one right after the other. This in an outlet where I’ve been skunked several times before. Fishing the rest of the trip is very slow, partly due to the very low water; I get a few cutts and, the next morning when it’s still cold, one whitefish while throwing nymphs. Most of the time between nymphing and not fishing, I’ll take the later.
Camp, when I get there, is perfect. There’s a nice soft spot just big enough to fit the mid back in where no animal would think to walk, and 100 yards back upriver a massive pile of driftwood. I’m damp from paddling, and the beaver-harvested and sun-dried cottonwood sticks I pull out by the armload are the more aromatic and satisfying firewood this side of Utah Juniper. It’s cold enough, and I in no hurry at all, so I make a fire in the morning as well, watching the sun emerge slowly through the haze.
In summary, I’m not sure how much of our primeval past is fact (my hearing was awful clear when the bear came past) or fiction bled from wishful thinking (or dances with salmon). I do know that even with the mediocre fishing, scenery I’ve scene already, and smokey air, the time I spend up in Kishenehn, the 23 hours, hiking, fishing, rafting, eating, sitting, and sleeping, however quotidien on an off day, is not time I question spending. Not last year, or two years ago, or this weekend.
I even ran into other people, for the first time ever. And they did some trail work in the last six weeks. The secret is getting out.