Off subject…On climbing mountains

Across the Snake River Plain, May 1999

In the early 1990s, we took a family vacation to Colorado to visit one of Dad’s cousins who lived near Livermore. While there, one morning, Dad and I went for a walk and decided to climb to the top of a hill that was across a stream from the house. It was a fairly easy ascent, but when we returned, the cousin and his wife were impressed: “We’ve never attempted to climb that mountain.”

In 1999, I spent a few months working as a research technician at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station near Dubois, Idaho. Great opportunity that allowed me to experience the Intermountain West in a way I would not have otherwise been able.

While on duty, I did such diverse activities as tracking down newborn lambs in sagebrush pastures, running computer simulations (over and over and over again), counting plants for a rangeland health study, and walking 6,000 sheep to their summer grazing pasture.

Hettinger station in Idaho, 1999

Off duty, I explored.

The Sheep Station is located in the northeastern reaches of the Snake River Plain in eastern Idaho. When I was working lambs on the sagebrush, I could see the Tetons to the east and the Twin Buttes (ancient volcano cores) to the southwest. But closer, and more attainable, was the Centennial Range that straddles the border between Montana and Idaho.

On days off, I would frequently drive up to Spencer and drive up one of the “roads” along Beaver Creek, hoping to get to the top of Signal Peak. These roads were not well-maintained gravel paths, and I was driving a 1997 Dodge Stratus — not really an off-road type of setup. I did manage to get high enough to see vast panoramas, even if I didn’t make it all the way to the top.

My point? Mountains are what you make of them. One person’s mountain may be another person’s hill. And even if you didn’t reach the summit, you can still have achieved your goal.

I didn’t stay in Idaho after October 1999 and haven’t returned, although the experience of that summer helped define who I would become professionally.

Meadow stream in the Targhee National Forest