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The Sawtooths to Selkirks Expedition: 900 miles of Wild Idaho

By: Josh Burnim
Trip Date: May 7, 2001 to October 7, 2001

With Mary Jane Butters' backcountry food in my backpack and a yearning in my soul to discover wild country, I set out on May 7, 2001 from Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Mountains near Sun Valley, Idaho. My endpoint was Kokanee Glacier in the Selkirk Mountains near Nelson, British Columbia and my mission was to promote wildlife connectivity. On October 7, five months and 900 miles later I touched the glacier. Mary Jane Butters' backcountry food kept me going through snow, rain, rivers, forests, alpine ridges, thick brush, 18 sections and 33 different hiking partners. My summer was a healthy organic vegetarian food fueled adventure.

After post-holing in deep snow of the Sawtooths' alpine way trail with its majestic 10,000 ft peaks above, I floated through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states). While my companions ate pork, beef, sausage and beer, I enjoyed healthy organic backcountry meals. Being a skinny 6'2" and 165 lbs, I couldn't afford to lose any weight on my vegetarian diet. In order to get lots of healthy fat I mixed olive oil with Mary Jane Butter's backcountry dinners. I carried it in a strong plastic bottle (small, 125 ml) and went through this amount every week. Also, I brought almond or soy butter (plastic jar, no glass!) that I ate with dried fruit (mangos, bananas, pears, plums).

On the north side of the Salmon River I hiked through the Cove/Mallard, Meadow Creek, Weitas Creek, and Kelly Creek/Great Burn Roadless Areas and the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, seeing western red cedars, black bears, moose, elk, deer, hawks, and hearing wolves howl a quarter-mile away from my tent. I chopped fresh garlic into boiling water along with any one of Mary's backcountry dinners. Garlic is light to pack, tasty, and healthy because it kills fungus, bacteria, and yeast. Shallots are good too.

On the Bitterroot Crest, Ron Hatley and I waited out an hour of thunder and lightning followed by several hours of hiking through thick fog above precipitous drops. Lost, weary and wet from the pouring rain, darkness descended upon us. The bowl of Mary Jane's tabouli, soaked for 15 minutes in water boiled from snow, was so tasty and fulfilling. This lemony-dill bulgur with organic peas and carrots brought back my sense of security. The next morning Mary's outrageous outback oatmeal was such a treat, a perfect blend of spices.

I hiked through the heavily-roaded section of the northern Bitterroots and crossed Interstate 90 to the rumble of 18-wheelers. In the Cabinet Mountains of Montana and Idaho, I hiked rocky peaks, talus slopes, old growth cedar and hemlock forests going off-trail most of the way. At my favorite campsite, Billiards Table, I melted snow for a dinner of backcountry kettle chili; its spicy homemade taste warmed my insides. This leg ended with a grueling bushwhack down 3000 feet through very steep, thick forest vegetation from which I recovered with a scrumptious meal of pinto beans, falafel and corn salsa (a great addition for beans or falafel) that I shared with Gordy.

August in the Selkirk Mountains: my cohorts (Leigh, Gretchen, Zan) and I saw a huge bull moose, nearly ran into a bear, and had many smoky days, as we pushed our limits to stick to the schedule made difficult by bushwhacks through thick brush and along steep ridges. From here I hiked along the Upper Priest River and crossed the border into British Columbia right where Washington, Idaho and BC meet. I crossed Highway 3 at Kootenay Pass. (At the same place one month later, I was driving through a snowstorm in route to a slide show and almost hit three woodland caribou. Three of the last herd that roams into the lower 48 states had walked onto the road to lick the salt.)

Short on daylight in September among the dramatic peaks and bear poop of the Canadian Selkirks, quick lunches were essential. Upon setting my pack down, I would add cold water to a mug of backcountry dehydrated black bean hummus (2-to-1). Five minutes later delicious hummus joined my trail mix and dried fruit. At an awesome camp spot on a ridge in West Arm Provincial Park amid yellow-needled subalpine larch and yellow/red rhododendron I enjoyed the great pasta-lentil combo of curry lentil couscous.

With a variety of 12 different backcountry meals (the above plus southwestern couscous, velvety black bean soup, wild forest mushroom couscous, hot-n'-spicy black beans, and Armenian pilaf), I didn't get bored. In fact, day in and day out, for 140 days of beautiful camp spots, I looked forward to every meal. I love eating the backcountryfood from Mary Jane Butters, because I feel good that I am supporting organic farmers to not use pesticides and petroleum.