Paddlin' and Hikin' the Green Monarchs
By Kevin Davis
From Sandpoint, beginning a several-day-long hiking excursion into the mountains is as easy as a short drive to a trailhead. North, south, east or west, from the beaches of Lake Pend Oreille to the summits of the Selkirks, numerous trails accommodate all levels of backcountry explorers. Last summer my girlfriend and I decided to hike to an area we had never even thought of going to, but had viewed many times.
The Green Monarchs that rise majestically from Lake Pend Oreille beckon explorers like a warm canyon breeze. The rugged expanse of cliffs that rise shear for nearly 2,000 feet above the lake symbolize the wild serenity I like to experience when hiking in the mountains. However, a campsite amongst the fractured blocks on the precipitous face is not the most ideal. Nestled on top, at the edge of the precipice, Kilroy lakes sit quietly and occupy one of the most unique places in North Idaho.
The easiest way to get to our destination, 2,000 feet up, was first by water. We loaded our kayaks and departed from Denton Slough just east of Hope on the lake's north shore. Paddling out we passed under the flyway of numerous ospreys. Passing the southern tip of the Hope Peninsula, the great expanse of turbulent water opened up and our attention was captured by the broad sweep of cliffs reflecting brightly in the fleeting sun. Storm clouds were building up over the highest peaks, and the combination of light and dark cast a green hue to the lake. Fishing boats at the mouth of the Clark Fork River trolled the waters in company with calling gulls. Our chosen route up the Monarchs, Windy Point, stuck out prominently in our view but was still a long way off.
As we crept in toward the shore, the mountains seemed to tower over us. All sense of distance was distorted from the immensity of our surroundings. The familiar sight of the cliffs from a distance somehow seemed strikingly renewed. The scale of our undertaking finally hit me as we saw the steepness of the slope rising right out of the water. Windy Point looked rather like a ridge I had once hiked high in the Cabinets, not the shoreline of the lake. I thought my girlfriend might kill me as we both craned our necks upward at our destination, but to her credit she didn't flinch. After all, we had come to hike. We stashed our boats in the forest that began at the lake's edge, and started to climb, and climb and climb.
Since there was no trail up this part of the mountain, we picked our way through the sparse forest. After I slipped on a rock and nearly slid to the lake, I began to recall all the smooth trails we have to hike here and wondered why we weren't on one of them. Then I reminded myself that sometimes you have to do a little bushwhacking to get where you want to go. Before too long we had reached a ridge from which we could see the huge arc of Pend Oreille as it curved to the deeper sections to the south and the expansive panorama of the lake cradled by a sea of mountains to the north.
Turbulent weather was creating some heavy squalls, and we sat down to rest while we watched storms rage over the lake. Fishing boats bobbed in the waves below, and ravens cawed as they soared on the winds above. Here in the middle, sitting on a mountainside, reveling in the rhythms of the mighty lake seemed the perfect place to feel the true essence of North Idaho. Rain drops on our face snapped us out of daydreaming, and we began climbing again.
After what seemed like an eternity we reached the top. From the edge of the cliffs extended a broad and gradual forested valley that rolled up to the summit of Schafer Peak. The forest seemed hesitant as it approached the edge, and in the space between cliff and woodland, we walked leisurely up to the lakes.
We reached the first lake just in time to pitch our tent and crawl inside before another squall engulfed the mountain and began a steady rain. Under the shelter of a tarp we cooked dinner and relaxed with a bottle of wine. In the wind we could hear the sounds of Kilroy lakes lapping at the shore behind us, while far below Pend Oreille was engaged in its own tumultuous affair.
The next day we awoke to the unique morning greeting of the majestic sunrise over Lake Pend Oreille and the quiet serenity of the light filtering through branches above the small ponds. I was pensive, or maybe exhausted, as I looked down to the foot of the cliffs at the lakeshore far below. It was worth the climb to experience such a special place, and we happily acknowledged that it was all downhill from here.
Kevin Davis is a Forest Service hydrologist. This is his second contribution to Sandpoint Magazine.