First Solo overnight, Navigation Trail, Upper Priest River, Northern Idaho

kimbur96

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Dec 30, 2015
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I was up in northern Idaho to visit my Dad and I couldn't help but sneak in an overnight in the beautiful Idaho Panhandle National Forest. I started doing my research months ago before my trip. I think trip planning is as much a hobby as the trips themselves. Between some books and online searching I found the Navigation Trail in Upper Priest River. The trail is "easy" on there descriptive scale with only 600 feet of elevation gain in 6 miles and has two different primitive campsites to choose from. The first campsites are 3 miles in, Plowboy campground. It sits on the shore of Upper Priest Lake has a vault toilet, picnic tables, fire rings and a bear boxes. It is accessible only by trail or boat. This one appears to be quite popular from the trip reports I was able to find. If you continue on another 3 miles you reach Navigation campsite. Again we see vault toilets an bear boxes. Picnic tables were questionable as some sites said yes and others said they had been destroyed. I could only find one report of anyone actually staying at this more distant site. Navigation campsite was my goal.

The weather had been nasty for a the week before I arrived, including 48 hours plus of constant rain the day before I arrived. This would affect me a little. But the actual weather for the two days of my trip were to be stellar. The prediction was a high in the 70's with lows in the 40's. Perfect! And no more rain in the two day window I picked. I had a week to get this trip in so I had the leisure of picking the window to go.

My dad is an old school rock climber, mountaineer and hunter. With extensive experience on the big walls in Yosemite and a winter accent of Mt Whitney in the early 70's. We discussed at length my plans and he was kind enough to take a ride up the day before with me to the trail head so we both would know exactly where I would be heading out from. Being a holiday weekend the parking lot was full (10 cars). Because I was flying in I ordered bear spray and canister fuel and had it shipped directly to him. This is Grizzly country.
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(can't figure out how to turn the picture sorry)
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The next morning I loaded up his hunting truck with my gear and headed out. It was Monday, the holiday, and the parking lot was again pretty full. I signed the register, donned my pack and hit the trail. The weather was just as beautiful as promised. The gently rolling trail was covered by tree canopy providing shade the entire way. On the way to Plowboy campsite i passed about a dozen day trippers on their way out and a couple of mountain bikers. I stopped at Plowboy to use the facilities before continuing on. Once I left Plowboy i didn't see another person until the next day when I was almost all the way back to the truck. From Plowboy to Navigation the trail begins a series of ups and downs, nothing crazy a few hundred feet at a time. The trail also follows the shoreline for the 3 miles from Plowboy to Navigation providing for some amazing views. In this second segment is where i did see some bear scat.
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I had used the standard 2mph timetable as a prediction to reach my destination but reached Plowboy (3miles) in only and hour and made the second campground (6miles) in two hours. The gentle terrain along with perfect conditions made for easy going. Once at Navigation campsite I scouted out the area. The picnic tables had been replaced, there were two bear boxes, two vault toilets complete with tp and multiple fire rings. The campground was empty. Some gathered wood at a few rings indicated recent campers. I quickly got to setting up camp and then stored everything else in the bear box. I stalled down to the lakes edge and had a snack and enjoyed the view.
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Before sunset I attempted to get a fire going but it was a struggle. I could get leaves and moss to flame but any wood would just hiss and smoke. Everything was saturated from the recent rains. I made dinner and cleaned up, the sun was dipping behind the trees and the temperatures fell pretty quickly, so decided to make it an early night. Once in my bag i was toasty warm. The actual low for the night turned out to be high 30's. My only concern for the night was the dreaded midnight potty run. I knew it would come and I wasn't looking forward to it. Sure enough 1am I awoke needing to visit the outhouse. I thought about trying to put it off but knew i wouldn't make it until morning. I pulled on my shoes and headlamp and grabbed the bear spray. Flashing the light in every direction, and singing the only song I could remember the words to at the late hour I headed off to the outhouse. To my relief I saw no glowing eyes staring back at me on my little journey and was rapidly back in my toasty warm bag and tent. I slept well and hear no sounds of critters molesting any of my gear. Everything was in the bear box except my stove and water which was on the table.
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The next morning I woke early and made my coffee and brought it and my camp chair to the edge of the lake and enjoyed a beautiful morning. I filtered some water, made breakfast and began packing up. It was an uneventful hike out. I didn't see anyone until i was within 1 mile of the trail head. It was now Tuesday and the parking lot had only 3 cars including D ad's truck. 37 miles later I reached Priest River and treated myself to a old school, small town greasy burger and shake. Pleased and proud at my first truly solo overnight and my first trip in bear country I headed back to my Dad's.
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The guide books spoke of an old trappers cabin but I failed to see it on the way in. Hiking out there it was clear as day. It's hard to spot on the way in due to all the down fall timber but exiting it is revealed.
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Jackson

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Looks like it was an awesome overnighter!

And way to go, taking your first trip in bear country (especially grizzly bear country) solo. You're far braver than I am.
 

kimbur96

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Dec 30, 2015
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Looks like it was an awesome overnighter!

And way to go, taking your first trip in bear country (especially grizzly bear country) solo. You're far braver than I am.
online research showed no Grizz/people interactions in the area in the last two years. But I did have a large can of bear spray.
 
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kimbur96

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Dec 30, 2015
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Looks like a great trail. So what song did you sing?
LOL this was the funny part. The only thing that came to mind that I knew all the words to was Jingle Bells,. So here i was in the dark bellowing out Jingle bells. If there was a bear he must have thought I was crazy and better to leave me alone.
 

Dave

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That first solo overnight is always interesting. Beautiful country.
 

LarryBoy

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LOL this was the funny part. The only thing that came to mind that I knew all the words to was Jingle Bells,. So here i was in the dark bellowing out Jingle bells. If there was a bear he must have thought I was crazy and better to leave me alone.
I got my trail name from singing children's cartoon songs when I thought I was alone in the woods :)
 

chandlerwest

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Feb 7, 2015
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LOL this was the funny part. The only thing that came to mind that I knew all the words to was Jingle Bells,. So here i was in the dark bellowing out Jingle bells. If there was a bear he must have thought I was crazy and better to leave me alone.
Christmas Carols are my go too's also. I am sure there is some psychoanalysis to this.
 

brassmunkie

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May 8, 2017
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Congratulations on your first solo hike into bear country. I remembered seeing this great clip a few years ago and now my go to anti-bear slogan is "hey bear". If I see bear scat or have to walk through lots of berry filled bushes's I usually just smack my trek poles together and sing out "hey bear" over and over.

Here's a picture of one of my bear encounters-usually they're nothing to worry about. This guy was more scared of me than I was of him.
 
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