For some, the weekend is a time to relax and unwind in the comfort of their homes.
For others, it’s the pinnacle of the week where the rig is loaded with gear and paved roads meet dirt, dust and that unmistakable mountain fresh air. It’s winding roads and street signs proposing numeric values for potential logging road detours that draw my attention.
Escaping the city and disappearing into Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene National Forest is where I find my solitude and peace of mind while also pursuing the ever-growing curiosity of the great outdoors.
If you’re a Spokane native like myself, there is no shortage of potential backroad adventures: West to the Cascades, North to the Selkirks, and my personal favorite, nestled to the East in the valleys of the Idaho Panhandle.
The timing couldn’t have been any better as I climbed the roads of Fernan Saddle. Each bend in the road was accompanied by remnants of fog as a recent downpour found its way back to the treelines.
Being limited to 24 hours in the Panhandle didn’t impose any urgency as I found too many opportunities to stop and stare. Around each bend is another excuse to slow it down and enjoy the moments, however brief they may be.
Time seems to stop out here and the sense of urgency is gone. It’s just you, the open road, and boundless opportunities to breathe deep and clear the mind.
As Fernan Saddle drops into the valleys, the Little North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River reveals itself. An absolutely pristine stretch of water with hillsides blanketed green and critters roaming high and low.
Continuing through the valleys comes Leiberg Saddle. It twists through a series of switchbacks eventually dropping into Teepee Creek, which flows freely for several miles until making its confluence with the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene.
After several pit stops and site seeing along the way, the sun made its descent below the western ridgeline. Traveling the Panhandle with leisure resulted in a late night arrival at Independence Creek, but nevertheless yielded a drive that soothed the soul.
If I had a choice, I would sleep in the back of a car in the middle of the woods every night of the week. That’s socially acceptable, right?
Whatever the case, there are not many things that compare to the the sound of birds chirping and creek water churning at first light.
Wandering Independence Creek, a tributary of the Coeur d’Alene River, was purely an excuse to get away from it all. An opportunity to disconnect while simultaneously admiring the auditory and visual aesthetics often taken for granted.
As I proceeded North along Independence Creek, I listened intently while the current pressed firmly against my legs. I love it out here!
The only thing that remained undone was a dry fly hitting the water in pursuit of the native cutthroat trout that inhabit these waters. The morning remained slow as I patiently waded from one bank to another.
At mile two, I finally found the ideal stretch - shallow water channeled its way into a deep shelf hugging the bank. In a perfect turn of events, the sun broke and Green Drakes began to hatch revealing a window of opportunity to match the hatch.
After several delicate casts, my hands trembled with anticipation as I was greeted by a local resident of Independence Creek: an ambitious Westslope Cutthroat trout made the rise.
It’s such a simple moment yet it has such a profound impact. It’s not all about catching fish, but rather a cherry on top when one is brought to the net. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the inhabitants of this watershed, and a moment to feel truly connected to the waters that carve through these valleys. These are the moments we live for!
Leading into the afternoon marked my time to head back to base camp, though I did so at my own pace, drawing the camera from my side with every opportunity presented.
It’s hard to trek through these valleys and say goodbye for the weekend, but I’m refreshed by the thought that I will be back soon. These are the adventures that keep the spirits high and the imagination youthful.
Words and photography by Western Rise Team Member, @patricklipsker