Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hailey man traverses the Rockies

Mule trekker reaches the end of the trail

Express Staff Writer

Jake Lemon, of Hailey, nears the end of a summer-long mule trek from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Northern Idaho.

After five and a half months and 1,300 miles on the trail, Hailey resident Jake Lemon has completed his mule trek from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Northern Idaho. There were some injuries and brushes with fast moving traffic as Lemon and his three mules traversed the Rockies this summer and fall. Lemon even traded in one mule for another in Utah.

On the last leg of the journey from Challis to a trailhead along U.S. Highway 12 near Kooskia, one of the mules, Bernice, snagged a wire on her back hock.

?Mules heal incredibly fast,? Lemon said. ?After I doctored her, by the next day her limp was gone.?

The last stage of Lemon?s journey turned out to be rainy as he traveled through the dense forests of the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness, which included a repeat of his trip from the previous summer with his friend Bob Jonas, a Ketchum resident.

?People wonder about the dangers of wild animals. That is a popular misconception about the trail. By far the most dangerous encounters were with my own animals,? Lemon said. He added that the worst trouble he had with wild animals involved mice.

Then, there was the weather.

For 10 out of 11 days in September, as Lemon traveled from the Flying B Ranch on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River to the Clinkenbeard outfitter camp near Nez Perce Pass on the Montana border, it rained heavily.

It didn?t rain the first day of the 11-day stretch, which included crossing the Stoddard Pack Bridge over the Main Salmon River and entering the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, but Lemon said he saw lenticular clouds forewarning bad weather.

?I had no idea that it was bringing ten days of rain, sleet and freezing rain,? he said. ?Everything got wetter and wetter. Every night I would wring my wool socks out. The next morning I put those same wet socks on, the same wet boots on, the same wet pants ? It was definitely memorable as being uncomfortable.?

Part of Lemon?s challenge to himself was to travel in a historical way, learning what it must have been like for the pack stringers of the past.

?This wet spell was a good test of my capacity for that kind of extended discomfort,? he said.

Lemon said one thing that helped him to persevere was meeting explorer Will Steeger at a slideshow some years ago.

?I asked him how he survived long periods of discomfort. He said the key is not to allow yourself to think self-defeating thoughts,? said Lemon. ?The majority of my body was warm and comfortable. I would dwell on that.?

Lemon said the other half of the equation was to think about things that were going right.

?I did some good wet weather photography,? he added. ?Even though it was raining, I looked for images anyway.?

In fact, Lemon spent several days of his journey with Boise photographer and journalist Kirk Keogh, who is helping him put together a slide show of the trek.

One of Lemon?s final adventures happened at the end of the trip when Bernice ran away.

Lemon had just come from the Moose Creek Guard Station, above the Selway River, where a backcountry ranger named Connie doted on the mules and treated them to feed pellets.

?It was dense forest with little graze,? Lemon said. ?Mules are herd animals. I think it was the first time on the trip when hunger overcame the herding instinct.?

Lemon tracked Bernice for several miles and, although he was worried about her in wolf country, he decided to ask about her at the Fenn Ranger Station.

Bernice had broken her hobbles and returned to Connie. Another ranger had tied her to his pack string and arrived at the ranger station about an hour before Lemon.

At the end of the trail on Oct. 2, Lemon called his friend and supporter Cotton Riley from a pay phone for a ride home for the mules. Riley and his son met him the next day and offered the animals a place to winter in Richfield.

?In travelling this way, you are out on a limb,? Lemon said. ?You need to ask for help. People in the equestrian world recognize the gravity of the project you are undertaking. Cotton is one of those guys. He volunteered to come and get me with a horse trailer.?

Lemon said he was happy with his decision to make the trek and felt that along the way many people gave him red carpet treatment.

?It was a real challenge,? he said, expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to spend so much time traveling in America on public ground. ?That?s still a really big thing for me. We all should be grateful for that degree of freedom.?

Lemon said two aspects of his trip he hopes to teach about as he begins to tell his story is the threat of noxious weeds to Idaho ecology.

?I could not have imagined how bad the knapweed could be in the Selway area,? he said.

Lemon also hopes to help improve official Forest Service maps he used to navigate trails and at least share how he has learned to interpret them most accurately.

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