Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
Wilderness, a secret place that draws us in and renews the spirit. Root Ranch in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is hard to find on the map and even harder to visit. Once it was a rustlers’ hideout and there are still no roads, just pack trails leading to it through the mountains of central Idaho. The nearest neighbor is several miles away at a US Forestry service camp. But tucked deep into the hills that surround the Root Ranch is a narrow grass landing strip, good for a visit if you have an STOL aircraft (short-takeoff and landing) along with your own stout heart. This small piece of paradise is a bush pilot’s dream come true and a photographer’s living landscape.
Huskies and other bush planes open wide the door to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
Every summer a congenial group of Husky fliers along with a Super Cub or two find there way here from all over the western States. That’s the easiest way, the only practical way to embrace this particular wilderness where every necessity must be flown in, ridden in, or walked in. Arriving at Root Ranch on a mid-August Friday with plans for the weekend, it is an annual conclave of adventurers with competent airplanes and piloting skills to fly them. While there is hiking to do, trail crew tasks, and hearty food with lots of front porch conversation, the real attraction is the chance to compare airplanes, discuss the latest accessories, debate aviation headlines, the merits of one thing over another, and find common bond with those who would rather punch holes in the sky than just about anything else. People leave their city lives behind and here are just folks . . . and pilots–two among us are women.
Wilderness is better when you share with your best friend
Most of the weekend guests come alone, their tandem back-seats filled only with camping gear rather than a best friend. We’re fortunate to have each other so we can review at end of day and share the moments with our most special somebody. While that limits what else we can carry, I never mind leaving the tent at home. (Paul says, “What tent?”) We get a luxurious log bunkhouse with solar lights and hot water for the shower! Now that’s my idea of wilderness camping. Big thanks to the other Paul.
Wilderness! Ah, the chance to find ourselves in nature
There’s a summer crew of those who trade labor for their member fees preparing three good meals for the group each day while finding time for their own vacation pleasure. And there’s the wrangler and his wife who manage the horses and the laundry. It’s an idyll when you love the place and what you do there, when your work is important and you’re thanked for it. Every autumn Wrangler leads the pack horses down to warmer pastures and brings them back again in spring. Winter visitors come too but they’re here to hunt deer or elk or, for the few with coveted tags, there might be a Big Horn Sheep to sight. They enjoy frosty mornings by the fire instead of flying low among the hills and just above the trees.
Huckleberry anything, the best in the west!
Each morning, pilots preflight their airplanes then head out in groups to fly to other mountain strips. Late sleepers awake to revving engines followed by the whine of serial departures. Some are collectors of places taking pride in the number of different runways challenged and won that day. Below is Wilson’s Bar perched on a narrow ledge above the Salmon River. Navigating the curves downstream of the river you cannot see runway 24 or its threshold until you’re no more than a quarter mile away. Pilot’s are advised to watch for the ripples in the river, fly left and prepare to turn back across the river and into the hillside for landing as soon as you see the second, larger set of ripples. Pass over the shale rock slide and make a good landing, good ‘n’ short!
In the years of good fun, we’ve made friends and learned much. Did you know that there’s no city in Elk City and no river in Elk River? (The City got the river and the River has the town.) The best huckleberry anything can be found in Elk River though and a first rate lunch is huckleberry lemonade and warm-from-the-oven huckleberry pie topped with, you guessed it, huckleberry ice cream. Each year a certain famous Husky pilot doesn’t come. He’s has friends among us but a busy life and career keep him away. He’s missed though.
If you wonder what it might be like to fly close to terrain and land on a rough strip, here’s a Go Pro look over one pilot’s shoulder while landing at Root Ranch.
Leave a comment below to tell us where you most like to go for fun and what you enjoy doing there.