Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 60 – Clark Canyon Reservoir – Salmon, ID: A gnarly downhill

Friday July 18, 2014, 64 miles (103 km) – Total so far: 2,840 miles (4,570 km)

I have no idea why anyone would pay for colonic irrigation when they could just come drink the waters at Clark Canyon Reservoir. If you want to do a detox program, just use the water here. Normally, I hit the toilet last thing before I pedal off for the day. Today, it is the first thing I do. Everything is under control, but I’m wondering how long I can ration the city water left in my Camelback and the 16 ounce Gatorade in my water bottle holder.

The road gently climbs and falls as it curves around the upper reaches of the reservoir. The temperature is cool and refreshing. The air is dry and crisp. It’s a great morning to go for a ride.

Heading out 324 to Lemhi Pass.

County road 324 traverses along the edge of a shallow valley. Green grasses and leafy shrubs along the watercourse stand in contrast to the surrounding dry, rounded hills. Many of the hills look barren and smooth, like sculpted pieces of clay brushed with pale watercolours and set out to dry in the sun. Other hills are scattered with sagebrush which look like fuzzy dots of light green painted like pinpoints with the tip of a brush. In the distance, larger hills along the rim of the Continental Divide have pockets of forest clinging to porous sections of rock. In a few places, the last traces of winter snowfall remain in thin lines of dirty snow. Pockets of trees grow into areas of trees which grow into forests of trees along the main range on better soils and less exposed slopes.

Looking southwest from 324.

The ride is gently uphill. There are few cars. It is mostly silent except for the call of birds when the road nears the creek on occasion. The wind is blowing out of the southwest and pushing against us as we round a corner and turn more southerly.

Hardly any traffic but a bit of wind.

Not long after, we reach the turn-off for Lemhi Pass. It is well-marked. There is a parking area with a pit toilet and an area for RV people to leave their trailers before heading up the narrow road. For the first approximately ten miles, the road travels through a large ranch. The road is in good condition with small gravel and not much washboard. Along the way, there are signs showing the names of ranches, and the dates established, that have been amalgamated into this one.

Turn-off to Lemhi Pass. We’ll be climbing through those hills. The road passes through a huge ranch for most of the way. Only the last couple miles are in national forest.

The road wanders through the dry hills. Pine trees cluster on some slopes. Other slopes look smooth and sculpted. Sagebrush grows thickly in sunny spaces. The ranchers have cleared the sage and planted pastures along the creek in the upper reaches of the ranch.

I wish the road of life would put up such signage.
Looking south over improved pastures.
One of the members of the Lewis and Clark party straddled the stream that is the source of the Missouri River two miles below the spring. I guess this is that spot.

Once we pass the main ranch buildings, the hills draw in close to the road and the creek valley narrows. The tree cover thickens and aspens appear in small groves among the pines. The wind has diminished now that we are tucked down in the folds of the hills.

Looking back from where we’ve ridden.
Looking forward up the road.

I come around one corner to find a herd of cattle in and along the road. I slow down and plan to weave through them. But one cow spooks and runs, and the whole herd follows. I slowly ride along behind them, hoping they’ll all find a place on the side of the road that they like soon. But no, we play round-up for about 1/8 of a mile before they give up and stop. They are no further from me than they were before, but now they just stop to stand and look at me instead. “Hello, ladies. Have a nice day”! Not long after, I reach the national forest boundary.

We end up inadvertently herding some cattle for about 1/8 of a mile.

The trees line the road through the national forest. The road follows another creek for a ways, then crosses it, and we start heading up the forested slope back the other way. It is a gentle grade and the road is good. I can tell from the tire tracks that only two vehicles have come this way since last night’s rain. And I’ve already passed one of them going the other direction.

Onto public lands now.
Last bits of the climb. Only the last couple miles have any sort of grade to them on the MT side.

The views from the top are pleasant but shrouded in smoke to the west. From the Montana side, this is one of the most gentle climbs to the Continental Divide I think you could encounter. The Idaho side is a whole other beast.

Looking back toward Montana from near the top of the pass.
The guys at the Continental Divide sign.


Looking west into Idaho – but the smoke is thick enough you can’t see long distances.

We take the requisite photos and then head down to see the spring that is the source of the Missouri River. We try to think about Lewis and Clark crossing over this area with the help of the Shoshone. I assess my water situation. I could dump the nasty Clark Canyon water and treat water from this spring, but I still have about ¾ of a litre of town water in my Camelback and about six ounces of Gatorade left. I think this should be sufficient to get us to the tiny town of Tendoy, since it’s not too hot yet and it will be downhill. If we get stuck for some reason, the road does follow a creek, so we could treat that water if desperate.

I know from pre-trip research that the road down into Idaho is very steep. And indeed, it is. I don’t even attempt the first part heading down off the pass. I walk the bike down, my feet sliding on occasion on the slippery gravel. I have to keep a brake on at all times to keep control of the bike, so I alternate between squeezing the rear and front. It is very tiring on the arthritic fingers.

And the road drops away… FS 13 – well, 13 is actually a lucky number for me. Let’s hope that is a good omen.

I get down to a section where the grade backs off a bit, and I try to give it a go. But no, I pick up lots of momentum quickly. I do not feel in control much at all, and the ruts, rocks and ditches are too numerous to all be avoided. Mostly, I just don’t feel like I could stop or avoid an on-coming vehicle on this one-lane road if a car came along. It is steep and slick enough just walking down, I don’t want to take the chance of wiping out or getting a pinch flat, either.

Dear me, the road off the ID side is so steep, rough and crazy, I end up walking the bike down the 1.6 miles of washboard, rocks, run-off ditches and other obstacles. See the road winding down?

So I walk the bike down further, sometimes needing to squeeze both brakes to keep the bike at walking speed. My fingers ache so badly now. I do give riding another go a bit further down, but again, I pick up way too much speed way too quickly and just don’t feel like I could stop if I needed.

The road is very steep. It is not in great condition. Lots of exposed bedrock, deep erosion channels that run across the road, washboard, loose and large gravel and ruts.

I stop at the historic area sign where the grade finally ends. I let my fingers rest. They are in a whole lotta pain right now. A car coming up stops. A man and woman get out and take pictures. The woman tries to engage me, but I know she is wanting me to take a picture of them, so I ignore them. Yeah, I’m bad, but my fingers hurt so much right now, I don’t think I could take a picture anyway.

I head further down. The hills rise high above the road. The creek valley is just a narrow little cleft in these rounded hills. On the southern slopes, the hills are barren or covered in sagebrush. On the other side of the road, the trees take advantage of the moisture and shade and grow up the gullies and along the base of the slopes. I’m still getting more speed than I want at times, but it is not like the gnarly stuff at the top.

Ahh… once you get out of Forest Service land and onto BLM land the road drastically improves.

The road improves at the BLM boundary where the creek cleft is not quite as incised. A pick-up passes going the other way. A bit further down, he catches me going back my direction. He slows beside me and then stops.

“Hey, what did you think of that road coming down the pass?”, he asks.

“Ah, it was way too much for me. It was pretty rough, so I walked nearly all of it.”

“Yeah, I could see your footprints on the road. It’s probably the best thing though. That’s hard enough on the truck coming down, I imagine it’d rattle your teeth out if you didn’t end up going over the edge. I just had to go up to get some traffic data for the Forest Service. Be careful as you get further down, as you’ll start running into more homes and traffic soon. Have a great day”!

I do run into more homes strung out along the wider parts of the canyon, but I don’t see any traffic until I hit pavement just outside of Tendoy. I stop in town at the gas station/post office and grab a choc milk and a Coke. The elderly lady and her son insist I sign their guest book. The woman has lived here her whole life and cannot imagine a place more beautiful than the Lemhi Valley. The son says they’ve had a lot of cyclists through so far this summer. Two days ago they had a really nice and enthusiastic Japanese guy; yesterday they had a teacher who was riding mostly gravel roads through the mountains for his summer vacation.

The road into Salmon is all gentle downhill as it follows the Lemhi River downstream. High ranges line the valley on both sides. The riparian corridor is lush, but the area outside of this is all dry and rocky. There is a moderate headwind but I can still maintain a good pace with the gentle downhill gradient. The traffic is not fun, though. There is little to no shoulder for much of the way, and very few people are giving me any room. There is more traffic than I expected – but there are a few things going on in town this weekend. I guess Idahoans are much like Montanans. Luckily, it’s only a bit over 20 miles into Salmon, because I am well and truly over the inconsiderate traffic by the time we get to town.

Looking east down on the main road into Salmon.

There is a park on the way into town. I stop here, eat and lay in the shade. It’s hot and smoky. I’ve been getting raspier as the day has progressed. Phlegm production has begun a double shift. I need to call Nigel tomorrow. I’m overdue again on calling him. The smoke is forecast to remain tomorrow. So I think I’ll go get a motel for two nights if I can find a reasonable price. That way I can get out of the smoke for a bit and also check in with Nigel. That all sounds like a plan, if someone can pry me off this grass….

One thought on “Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 60 – Clark Canyon Reservoir – Salmon, ID: A gnarly downhill

  • You’ve succeeded in your goal of making me want to go back to Idaho for a tour. The Lemhi Pass route really does look awesome. And even though I didn’t write anything about the Lewis & Clark expedition in my journal, the significance of that area was not lost on me.

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