Pine Creek TH (Jarbidge River) to Marys River Basin to Jarbidge and Emerald Lks., A TransJarbidge Llama Hike

June 26 - July 3, 1999
by Rob Jones

(Photos by George Cole and Rob Jones)

(Text and Photos © copyright by Rob Jones and George Cole)

George and the llamas cross Camp Creek
Click here for a full-size view (15k)

PROLOGUE: This is a description of a moderately long backpack in the Jarbidge Wilderness, in 1999. I am happy to report that this country was little discovered when I first visited it and still is. How far is this hike? Our estimated trail mileage was 59 miles, and the energy required miles (ERM) were about 76. The GPS point-to-point distance was 37 miles, for waypoints entered only at the major corners. ERM attempts to account for elevation changes and other stuff not easily represented on two-dimensional mediums, such as topo maps, by adding a mile for each 1000' gained or lost. See the 1988 Jarbidge Wilderness trip report for some background information about the Jarbidge. Please note that the Jarbidge is not a spectacular place like the Tetons, etc., and it's not easy to get there. But, once there, you're really out there. (Yahoo!) So, please recall: Wherever you go there you are! (Wherever You Go There You Are is the title of a book on meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and particularly relevant to those more interested in stewardship of our public land rather than engaging in mechanized ecotrashing.)

Start your research, etc. with a visit to Friends of Nevada Wilderness.

    I hope you write your first wilderness support letter as soon as you read this report about the Jarbidge, and, lots more later. It's important to support dispersed recreation, and to enable this, we need more officially designated and stewarded wilderness. Please do your part today.

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The map below was created from individual gps waypoints, forming a route (not a track). The route goes directly from point to point, not following any trails. It is provided here to give an overview of the area and present lots of trip possibilities.

Map - NV:Jarbidge Wilderness: Pine Creek TH to Marys River Basin and to Jarbidge and Emerald Lks; 1999
Map - NV:Jarbidge Wilderness: Pine Creek TH to Marys River Basin and to Jarbidge and Emerald Lks; 1999
(Click the image to see the map)

If you want to view a full-resolution map, click here. Caution - do not use this map or gps track for navigating the route.

DAY 1: RUMBLE TO THE TRAILHEAD & WILD NIRVANA: (Idaho Falls to the traditional wilderness TH, approx. 230 vehicle miles, 2 trail miles.) The sun has departed, and we (George Cole, Paul Worth, and I, along with the instrumental support unit, George's harmonica-nosed llamas, Cicero, Snowball, and Alfie) are enjoying cocktail time while watching the last golden glow on what we believe is Jumbo Peak peeping through the notch between low hills studded with yellow on red and black basalt spires. We are at the Jarbidge Wilderness boundary and the traditional TH. A flood a few years back removed the road at the Pine Creek CG and we waded and walked here, over river boulders where no road existed. Hey, it's good to see wild country expanding. A flood of memories engulf me as bits of long ago Jarbidge adventures intrude into today. Mules Ears dot the foreground, along with flowering Chokecherry bushes. We forded the Jarbidge River's snow-melt water once, and it was nearly knee-deep.
    The day started in Idaho Falls at 8 a.m., gathering llamas and driving to Twin Falls for lunch, then on to Rogerson and Murphy Hotsprings, Idaho before leaving the tarmac for the dusty winding road leading across the state line into Nevada and southward to Jarbidge, the town, by 5 p.m. We enjoyed the humor near the Idaho/Nevada line, including 20 mph and curve signs as we inched along the serpentine route adjacent to the Jarbidge River. Jarbidge, the town, is arguably among the most remote towns in the lower U.S., with access by fair weather roads (translation, impassable when wet, and not open until late Spring) over Bear Summit, and the only "good" road a winding narrow dirt snake from Idaho.
    The nearly full moon is peeping through the fluttering leaves of Cottonwoods in the Jarbidge River notch. We're at 6925' and we feel the anticipatory flow of wilderness nirvana.

DAY 2: PUSY MANIA: (to pass above Jarbidge Pond (AKA, Lake), camp at 8200' along Jarbidge River, 8 miles, 10 ERM, energy required miles.) Cicero's ears went forward, rotated quickly, and we both saw movement. I saw a jack-in-the-box round head pop up within a Chokecherry bush at the edge of the Jarbidge River. Cicero simultaneously barked an alarm call that sounded like a full-decibel disco Chukar Partridge and ran across the brief flats of the historic trailhead. I yelled and popped up off my perch on a llama pack box, spilling hot cocoa on my pants, and headed for where the head had been. No noise. Nothing. Wait, there's water splashed on rocks on both sides of the river, silently, in the thick brush, by something. Could it be the legendary Tsawhawbitts? We were about 20' away and eating breakfast, yet the big pussycat lurked to within this distance. Cicero barked more, but we heard only the rumble of the river and the distant whisper of the morning breeze in the trees. George, Paul, and I investigated for tracks and such, but we found only the confusing splash marks on the rocks at river level. We saw indefinite big tracks, apparently without toe nail marks, as we scanned the trail for Cougar tracks and scat during our climb along the Jarbidge River.
    I suspect there is a reason why they call the big cirque on the other side of the range, Cougar Creek Cirque, headed by Cougar Peak. The volunteer campground host had told us that a Cougar had harvested (eaten) a big dog from a porch in the town of Jarbidge a few weeks ago. Now, this is true multiple use, wildlife harvesting domestic animals.
    With the frost melting off the llamas' backs, we packed and headed up the Jarbidge River Canyon. After a wade across the river and 2 plus miles of hiking, we came to the junction of the Jarbidge River Trail and the route to Marys River. This is the now-gone Perkin's Cabin junction, at 7675'. Then, we headed up toward Jarbidge Lake, which we walked to, but not with the llamas, who became snowbound near the level of the old cabin at the Norman Mines. From near the cabin, it was a snow tromp. Paul and I managed to trudge to the pass above mostly frozen Jarbidge Lake for a look around. We noted a full-circle sun dog and some side dogs while at the pass, their prism-splitting colors sparkling in the bright sun. We returned to where George and the llamas were and then we all descended to the 8200' level and camped along the Jarbidge River amidst the pick-up stick trees of old snow barber avalanche activity, where we enjoyed some wine before dinner. Thanks, Cicero. Then, the pile hat, jacket, and pants came out as the sun set.

George, Paul and the llamas enjoying a well-deserved rest high above the Mary's River gorge
Click here for a full-size view (17k)

DAY 3: MARY, MARY; PLAN B: (Jarbidge cirque to West Fork Marys River, 6 miles, 8 ERM.) Cicero sunk to his knees in the mushy tundra and his ears went back. Behind him Alfie hummed a higher pitched than usual harmonica tune while Snowball, at the end of the llama caravan, calmly surveyed the scene with a disdaining side glance and looked like a Southern high-plains Wyoming hick chewing on a long grass stem drooping from his elegant ultra-Roman nose. Here we are, off route, purposely, on the North side of the pass into the West Fork Marys River, attempting to pick a path around the remaining snow banks. Argh, would we get snowed out again!? We didn't, and there were no drifts on the South side of the pass. Hiking up a bump near the pass, we viewed the worn shark teeth of the Jarbidge Mountains, lined along the North-South Jarbidge cordillera.
    We started the day by backtracking to the Perkin's Cabin junction, then slogging up from 7675' at the junction to 8828' at the pass, then descending to 8054' where the trail meets the West Marys River and a 4-way junction. We came from the North, the trail goes to Jarbidge Lake and pass to the NE from the West Marys River Junction, SW along West Fork Marys to Camp Creek, and South to Marys River Basin. All of today we hiked on the Jarbidge South quad map.
    I'm comfortably esconced in scattered Aspens in our camp just West of the trail junction, watching the after-eight o'clock indirect sunglow on the buckskin hills which are carpeted with army-green sage and dotted with yellow Arrowleaf flowers. We've enjoyed an early camp, wine with spaghetti, and fruit for dinner, and a visit from long-rider Reed Tucker on an old horse and trailing a nervous, big-hoofed, BLM mustang. Reporting that he is from Twin Falls, he sheepishly admitted that he was once from Orem, Utah. I understand. When asked, I report that I am from Idaho, although I have spent over a decade in population bomb Utah. We would encounter Tuck's trail over the next few days.
    After hiking all day in shorts, we donned jackets and pants as the sun left our bowl. The llamas are rolling in dirt as we prepare to go to bed, and we're thinking about the great views from the bump above Marys Pass, from which we could see a lineage of Jarbidge peaks to the NE, Jarbidge, Jumbo, Square Top, Matterhorn, and Cougar Peaks, and part of Marys River Peak to the SE. All these peaks are over 10'000 feet, and from any good viewpoint, one can see that the whole range floats on a sea of sage brush and the squiggles of hot mirages.
    Our plan A had been a varied loop through the head of the East Fork Jarbidge, then out Camp Creek into Marys River Basin, returning via the route we were now on. But, because of the snow, remaining because of a late, wet Spring, we were improvising Plan B, and it is grand.

DAY 4: OH, WHERE IS MARY? (Off route in the Jarbidge; West Fork Marys River via trail 019, to Camp Draw, to Lost Draw via trail 197, along ridge trail 196, and down to Marys River Basin via trail 093, meeting trail 018 at the river; estimated trail mileage was 10 miles, ERM was 13; parts are little used, non-maintained trails.) I had plopped down in the granulated porphyry to set a GPS waypoint (the GPS, global positioning system, is my new toy), and there it was, a want-to-be arrowhead, chipping marks wrinkling in its blood-red obsidian skin. Caressing it like one of those yuppie worry stones, but with contemplation and awe instead, I looked back up at the mostly-vague route we had followed into Lost Draw from the low ridge above, to a skyline of twisted basalts and equally twisted Mountain Mahogany, some venerable individuals over a foot and a half in girth. Up toward the intermixed yellows of Mules Ears and Arrowleaf Balsamroots and the misty purplish hue of a carpet of Dwarf Monkeyflowers I looked, marveling that we had followed this little-used route without being temporarily disoriented. I wondered if this was about the way this country has been for millennia. Far above and out of sight of the West Marys River, we're reveling in our faint close-to-the-sky route experience, because although the route is not shown on the topo beyond Camp Draw, it is a gem. The worst stretch was the tree-cluttered section between Camp Draw and Lost Draw. When I talked with a very helpful Clair at the Jarbidge Ranger District, in Buhl, Idaho before we left, she noted that "I wouldn't advise going on those trails because we don't maintain them and they probably don't exist in many places." Clair, these trails do deserve a tiny bit of maintenance, but we're loving this place.
    After examining the want-to-be arrowhead, I joined Paul, George, and the llamas climbing to the low saddle to connect with phantom trail 196, where we employed altimeter, GPS, compass, dead reckoning, and GBT (guidance by Tucker - carefully watching for bent vegetation where Tucker had ridden yesterday) to navigate to USGS benchmark 7896. Along the way, George spotted a small keyhole arch in a basalt outcrop, but we got so distracted by our navigation activities that we neglected to explore or photograph it. We found our way, and eventually, the trail down the apex of a ridge to benchmark 7313, where we contoured around a dry hill, still on our sometimes a ghost trail into the delightfully lush Marys River Basin at 6760'. The Basin was filled with waist high Rye Grass, Cottonwoods, and more peaceful, enveloping solitude. We camped along the side of the burbling Marys River and enjoyed a cleansing, refreshing dip in its clear water. A saffron and pastel blue sunset punctuated by silhouettes of Dr. Suess Mt. Mahogany subtly back lighted on the skyline of orange-tinted basaltic ridges and knobs dramatically closed the day. This was a fitting end to a stellar day of roving through micro-climates, with views of convoluted and columnar volcanics, and far-reaching vistas to the Ruby Mountains and the inner space of the Jarbidge Wilderness. We and the llamas are resting our feet as the bats come out to play in this, a Class 1 airshed.

Rob, from the South end of the TransJarbidge!
Click here for a full-size view (18k)

DAY 5: TRANS-JARBIDGE: (Trail 093 (Willow Cr. Trail) junction to the South Jarbidge Wilderness TH along Marys River; 4.5 estimated trail mileage one-way, 9 for us; ERM was 10.) Water spurted from the tops of Paul and my boots, irrigating the waving Rye Grass alongside the lower Marys River trail. After the second bare foot crossing of the little river in the contorted lava-constricted canyon, we had removed our socks and slogged on in boots toward the Southern TH of the Jarbidge Wilderness. Again roving through gradations of ecosystems, we entered the Mtn. Mahogany zone and saw Columbines and other flowers for the first time this trip. A Golden Eagle flew past, and as we looked up, we saw a blizzard of Cottonwood fluff storming along on the breeze. It's been two days since we saw anyone, and today we saw only deer, elk, skunk, and coyote tracks.
    The Southern TH was vague and looked seldomly used. We had transnavigated the Jarbidge, and it's a mere 11 miles, straight line, back to the TH near the vehicle across this, one of the broader sections of the wilderness. Although small, the Jarbidge packs a lot into its very wild space. It's a lot like Idaho, if you were to iron flat the Jarbidge, it would be quite large. In heart, it's bigger than a pompous place like Texas, richer than the Trump Tower, and it's public land. At 6400', this trail head is the lowest point of the trip. Roving back to camp, we watched the apex, the end of the ridge, of Marys River Peak protrude into the Northerly skyline, smiling with a broad white cornice. It was quite warm upon return and a dip in the river refreshed.
    While eating our delectable scrambled eggs (powdered eggs) and sausage (TVP, textured vegetable product), and toasted muffins and bagels, I noticed movement on the near side hill. George was busy with his gourmet cooking and Paul was busy lathering butter and jam on a golden brown muffin that was steaming in the early morning coolness. A big fluffy coyote had come to investigate the llamas, had now caught our scent and was retreating from our intrusion. In my excitement, I lost my balance on the llama pack bucket perch and fell flat on my back. I garnered considerable kidding from George and Paul, who noted that they rarely got to see the exciting stuff because I was jumping or falling or causing some disturbance. It's another delightfully warm and sunny morning in this land of opportunity.
    As Paul and I explored to the South edge of the realm, George toured the untracked areas East and above camp, while the faithful llamas rested. George found wide elk- and deer-groomed trails, far superior to the faintlings we are hiking, and all sorts of tracks. Upon our return to camp, we saw the llama formerly known as Snowball (now Dirtball). Apparently, he had enjoyed the afternoon, rolling and lounging in the dirt.
    As ducks, Sharpshinned Hawks, and Redtailed Hawks ply the sky, we sit down to our first campfire of the trip and tell tales of previous escapades.

Cicero & Snow lounging on the trail
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DAY 6: LOOPING JULY: (Marys River Basin to West Marys River, estimated trail mileage was 7 miles, ERM was 10.) The sun pierced through the slit in the fly of George's tent, bringing sweet dreams to an abrupt pause. Peering out, I could see a thousand points of prisms glowing the color spectrum in beads of dew along the slender stalks of tall grass in the prairie in our front yard. Yahoo for public land, untrammeled public land, where we feel richer than the fattest-cat property Barron. Suddenly, it began to snow, huge fluffy flakes drifting on the morning breeze and through the bright sun light, highly contrasting with the deep blue sky. Sun light?! Blue sky?! What!? OK, it was Cottonwood fluff.
    Today we hiked trail 018 from our camp along Marys River (6800'), over the high saddles (8413' and 8485'), from which we completed our broad loop by returning to our Day 3 camp along West Marys River (8054'). Almost all of the elevation was gained after we left the confluence of West Marys and the Marys River, where we began hiking the ecogradations through open slopes and basalt outcrops to the subalpine fir zone. Great views developed of the distant snow-capped Ruby Mountains, beyond a sea of purple-haze low ridges. The wind blew hard on and off, but, as usual, nothing but pleasant weather prevailed. The small stream near camp appeared to be flowing less than on Day 3, a harbinger of dramatic changes in this island in a sea of sagebrush, I suspect. We had left camp on a leisurely schedule, and arrived in the West Marys camp around 3 p.m., allowing plenty of time for cocktails, a warm shower, lounging, and journal writing as the sun set and a few mosquitoes joined us for map review. We noted that today was July 1st, and that we have hiked solo across parts of the quads Jarbidge South, Marys River Basin NW, and God's Pocket Peak.

DAY 7: EMERALD BLOW-OUT: (West Mary River Juntion to Emerald Lake, 4.7 miles one-way, 9 plus trail miles; 13 ERM.) The torrent of wind created a vacuum, sucking the air out of my lungs and nearly stopping my plodding progress up the switchback back to the 9800 foot ridge-pass above Emerald Lake on one side and Jarbidge Lake on the other. We had hiked from camp near the 4-way junction at West Mary River to the 9400' pass (between the Jarbidge and Marys River drainages) above partly-frozen Jarbidge Lake, continued up and over the 9800' ridge and into the East Fork Jarbidge drainage and down to the pass level at Emerald Lake (9436'). The wind would later bring a large, threatening cloud bank which we eyed as we cooked large quantities of spaghetti, sipped wine, and appetized on fried oysters (dipped in a powdered egg wash and dusted with blueberry pancake flour prior to cooking - what a great idea, George). Perhaps the weather is preparing for the July 4th festivities. As they say in Montana "if it's Summer on July 4th, we'll have a BBQ."
    We mused about how the route East of Mary's River Peak (trail 099/200) was completely under snow, how the pass above Jarbidge Lake is OK from this side, but little fun from the Jarbidge River Trail because of lingering snow banks - although I have walked into this area twice before during the same time of June - or a little earlier, and how it's been 4 days since we saw anyone else. Local sunset arrived and we caught a few more whiffs of sage and mint, occasionally mixed with fresh pine scent in this Class 1 airshed. Ahh, we sit back and review the deep green color of Emerald Lake, complete with its own iceberg crowned with twisted green sprigs of avalanche debris. Small Brook Trout slowly swam looking for dinner, and we wondered how they survived in what appeared would be, in Winter, a totally frozen lake.

DAY 8: TIRED DEVIL, OR, REDNECK CAMELOT: (West Marys River to Pine Creek CG; 8 miles; 10 ERM.) We knew, and dreaded it nonetheless, that it was bound to happen. As we approached the (now gone) Perkins Cabin junction, we saw the tents. Oh no. After nearly 5 days of seeing no one else, there was a sure sign of people. We met two hikers shortly after arriving at the junction, but that would be it until we saw the relative throng of dust campers at the TH. These dust campers had set-up next to the road, breathing in that dust- and ATV oil fume-laced air in this Class 1 airshed, many recreating by repeatedly driving up and down the main street of Jarbidge on those most despicable of vehicles, the ATV ecotrasher, from their gigantic or more modest RVs to a dusty promenade, and back. It's normally very quiet in Jarbidge, but it is, after all, the 4th of July weekend. I am always amazed at how great and deplorable an impact even one of these ecotrashers has, even on a street.
    This prompted me to recall the country song which goes something like: it's a redneck ain't home until you take the wheels off; it ain't home until it's up on blocks... it's a redneck Camelot..." You'll have to hear the song and witness the glut of winnehogos at times like the fourth of July to get the full flavor of this reference.
    The day began with "chemicals, chemicals, I need chemicals" (find this famous morning mantra in Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang). As we drank our morning concoction of coffee, cocoa, milk powder, whatever, our breathes left long vapor trails. It was cooler than usual here at West Marys River, more like the coolness of the Jarbidge River aspects. We packed, loaded the well-rested llamas and, accompanying Alfie, Snow (he's a bit cleaner today), and Cicero, hummed a tune as we headed over the low pass and down the Jarbidge River to town, relishing our last bits of solitude. In Jarbidge, we went to the Red Dog Saloon, dodging the air-contaminating ATVs. The power was out, so we went to the Tired Devil/Outdoor Inn, where the power was also out, but where they were cooking with gas. And, we found that quaint bar with the devil holding the naked women. How wonderful. (My 1988 report was in error, the devil is at the Tired Devil/Outdoor Inn, not the Red Dog).
    Then, we endured the long drive home and the customary shuffling of equipment, driftily dreaming of our stroll in the mystical Jarbidge Wilderness. Please speak quietly, if at all, about the Jarbidge. Where? Never heard of it. It doesn't exist. Please check your spelling, you're probably looking for Drawbridge, Wisconsin, it's out there in the mid-east.

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Cicero & Snow say "bye for now."
To see the llamas, click here