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Flying into the backcountry

September 1, 2017

Years ago, I met Fredy Riehl, who co-owns Ammoland Shooting Sports News, at a Professional Outdoor Media Association convention. Ammoland is the best outdoor website in the country, so of course we hit it off. Fredy came out last year to backpack and flyfish, and this year his business partner Brian Johnson wanted to come as well.

Instead of backpacking, this year Fredy voted to hire a bush pilot to drop us off deep in the wilderness. Sounded good to me. Fredy hustled and got the arrangements lined out and they were soon flying to Boise.

I picked them up at the airport and we ran to the local Cabela’s to stock up on gear. We then met my wife Katy and Ron and Betsy Spomer of Ron Spomer Outdoors for dinner. We had a good time eating steaks, catching up on gossip and talking business.

The next morning we met Tor, who flies for McCall Air. Then we loaded our gear and took off over the mountains. Wow, I loved it. I finally got an aerial view of all the areas that I had been hiking and hunting for years.

We also got an aerial view of all the devastation caused by fires under the mismanagement of the Forest Service. It is puzzling to me why it is sacred to let a lightning fire burn and waste a natural resource, and yet it’s an abomination to log? I haven’t figured that one out yet.

We cut cross country, and in an hour we were circling into position for our backcountry runway. It would normally take me five hours to drive to this location, and then it’d be a hard 30-mile hike on top of the drive to this spot.

We were flying into the legendary Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area and landing on Soldier Bar airstrip, which is a semi flat spot 1,000 feet above the river. To land, you have to fly up the river canyon and then bank a hard right and touch down on the uphill grassy field. It has a few bumps but we made it down safely.

There’s a lot of history here. It’s the sight of the last Indian war in America, and there’s a small rock monument to a soldier that lost his life there.

Here’s something to remember when you fly into the backcountry — don’t think just because you’re flying in that you don’t have to backpack to a flat camping spot with water. Looking at the map, a lot of the airstrips are 2 to 3 miles from the river. We probably weren’t but about 1/4 of a mile, but due to the 1,000-foot drop-off, we had to hike a mile down the trail to get to a flat spot where we could camp by the river.

We quickly slapped up camp and then headed downstream. This river was high and hard to cross with all of the tributaries feeding into it and with the enormous snowpack we had last winter.

We were camped on the steep side of the river and had to cross to hit the trail, so we could go up and down the river. It turns out that we were able to wade across, although every morning and night I wasn’t real sure that one of us wouldn’t get swept away.

There’s a good hole a couple hundred yards downstream, so we hit it first and had a few bites. I was hoping to get some big bull trout on this trip, so I brought my Rise Fishing Co. Level Series 7-weight rod on this trip.

We then headed further downstream. Wow, we found some petroglyphs on our side of the river in a slight concave area of the rock wall. On the other side, there was a better one. That was cool. I’ve never seen one of those out in the wilderness.

That night we drug back to camp dead tired. Due to the fire bans, we had to cook our Mountain House meals on our backpacking stoves. Wow, I love those meals.

For a tent, I brought a PahaQue Rendezvous. I guess it’s a little big for the normal backpacker, but since we were going to be in there for a while, that’s what I brought. It’s a nice tent.

For hiking socks, we used Browning socks, which worked great. I wanted to cut weight so I just wore my wading boots to cross the river and left the waders in camp. The socks dried out fine during the day and were comfortable.

Part 2 of “Flying into the backcountry” will be published next week.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.