Whitewater
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note Do not f%#* with the Wallace Lake A-frame
Forum: Liquid Lounge
Spud
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"It matters to me
Took a long time to get here
If it would have been easy...
I would not have cared"

The My Morning Jacket song played on near infinite repeat one night sitting in the car alone at 8,800 feet, just outside my rented forest service cabin. Hanging out in a giant mechanical contraption and listening to CDs might not be the mountain man story you expected to read here, but I really didn't want to go back into the cabin. It's possible I didn't even know it at the time. It's also quite possible that I just plainly created a mental block and refused to acknowledge this fact until I drove away for good. Somewhere behind me were the dogs, aching to get outside the cabin. Why so insistent? I would often ask them this in spoken English throughout the trip. They never did answer in spoken word, but I did receive their answer later. We'll talk about that more in a bit.

August 3, 2011. My 31st birthday. I wrapped up work at noon, took my mother in law to the airport, packed up, visited my wife at work for goodbyes, and then shipped out for the 6 hour drive to Salmon, Idaho. We had celebrated my birthday the weekend before and then again on Tuesday night. It was more celebrating than one man needs and I'm thankful to have such good friends and family.

The night was cloudless and starry as I cruised between Missoula, Montana and my final destination. I had been up since 4:30 AM, so caffeine flowed through my system, probably at near lethal rates. Although tired, I drove with ease. Before the night crept in, the fading daylight showed me parts of Montana and Idaho that I hadn't yet observed. These places, fringed on the West by the jagged peaks of the Rockies, were picturesque. Being on the east side of the range, they were dry and windswept. Rolling hills leading to the mountains were not covered the dense forest I was used to, but undulating landscapes of breeze blown grasses and sparse trees. Some areas were burned by fires that looked all too recent. Houses sat in the scorched hills, directly centered between thousands of blackened stumps. I imagined some people fought pretty hard for their homesteads in the area.

I made it in to Salmon that night, weary from the road. I stopped for supplies and some food. I then peeled back out of town to the North, the way I came in. Five miles outside of Salmon, I turned the car West and began my trek up some 4,000 feet of elevation inside of 20 miles. The going was slow, the road was almost comical with its lack of safe guards, and I loved every second of the drive. This is one of my favorite parts of this region. Whether it be the switchback mountain roads with no guard rails, signs, and an occasional moose to shake things up a bit, or the 75 mile per hour speed limits interspersed with 30 mile per hour corners with no warning, this was the West. You do things at speeds you can handle and you keep your eyes peeled. You don't get a red carpet to your destination. You have to earn it.

And while I didn't drive off any high cliffs, or smash into any moose, I did something entirely more dangerous. I got comfortable. Driving forest service roads at 11 pm in the pitch black of night shouldn't be a sport. If it was, I thought I was working up enough confidence to be a contender. After an initial hair raising section of road that was badly washed in all the corners, things smoothed out. I found myself going heavy on the accelerator.

Wouldn't you know, pretty soon, trees, boulders, stumps, and moonlight started to blend together in an oily whirl outside the side windows. The only constant was the road in front of me. I was intently studying any upcoming hazards, any dips, ruts, roots, rocks, and really anything that might send me straight into the nearest ditch or tree. All the while....going faster.

The initial 12.5 miles felt slow, but had been fun. The next 5 miles became a thrill ride of adrenaline. Pounding down unfamiliar gravel roads nearing 50 miles per hour in a Honda Element is probably not the best idea. I will say this, however, the Element is the best car I've ever owned. I would have never done this in anything else. That thing sticks to gravel like glue due to the all wheel drive.

As with any stupid idea that creeps into the minds of reckless men, sooner or later you pay the piper. Or, in this case, you nearly pay him and then video tape yourself screaming at a bunch of cows in the dark. I took the second route.

Sailing around a corner about two miles to safety, I caught the rump end of something large. On top of a mountain ridge, I figured this would be a moose or an elk. Before I could register the form, I was sliding myself to a stop with my cargo (and dogs) shifting restlessly in the back. When I finally came to a standstill, dust caught up to the car and momentarily blocked what I was seeing ahead of me in the dark. When it cleared, 10 large cows were standing up from their resting place on the road. My thought, said out loud over and over again, "What the hell are cows doing here?" I think I was trying to justify my stupidity to someone who wasn't actually with me. As if someone had told me I was guilty of being a bit reckless and I was defending myself. I was mad at the high altitude cows for no good reason. Perhaps it was great that they materialized out of thin air? At least they slowed me down for the rest of the drive and made me cautious.

As I pulled away, I was humming a tune from The Head and the Heart:

"I wish I was a slave to an age old trade
Like riding around on rail cars and working long days.
Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways"

I arrived at the cabin late in the evening. I actually wasn't supposed to have the cabin this night and I hadn't paid for it. However, the campground was pitch black and my driving eyes, having been consumed by headlamps the last 3 hours, were no good at deciphering any of my surroundings. I found the cabin easy enough. It was unoccupied, and so, I occupied it a bit early. Shhh, don't tell the forest service.

While I could break my trip down one day at a time and undoubtedly write way too much about them, let me just tell you the highs and the lows.

I stayed for five nights. On no night except the last did I use an alarm clock to wake up. On no night, except for the last, did I sleep for less than 9 hours. One of the nights I slept for 13 hours without so much as raising an eyelid. I also napped, something which I never do. One nap in particular, even after 13 hours of sleep the night before, stretched for 3 hours. Outside of the last two nights, I never made it past 9:30 pm. That, for me, is some sort of miraculous event. It wasn't until the second to the last night that I realized the mosquitoes retired to their evil lairs after 9:00 pm. This kept me up later for the last two nights.

The mosquitoes, yeah.....

One word, awful. I think they were the worst I have ever encountered. Scratch that, they were BY FAR the worst I've ever encountered. No amount of bug spray protected you from 9am to 9pm. Nothing, absolutely nothing you could do would keep them away. If they couldn't get to your skin, they would find your blood right through your clothing. Even if it was warm out, I found myself wearing thick sweatshirts and pants almost all of the time. I even bought some of the heavy chemical bug spray on the third day while in downtown Salmon. It didn't do a damned thing! There was no relief other than continuous motion. After the third day, when I became leery of the cabin (it's coming), I often ate my lunch while pacing back and forth through the campground. I must have looked crazy, but stopping meant losing blood and writhing itchiness.

Withdrawal. On the second day I grew very ill. I slept a lot and tried to fish away a headache out in the late afternoon sunshine. It wasn't working and I don't often experience headaches. It grew gradually worse from a rhythmic thudding to a crazed and pulsating monster. I racked it up as slight altitude sickness because I couldn't think of anything else. One the third day, while in Salmon, I realized what it was when I reached for a sugary soda on a store shelf. I recoiled my hand quickly, finally understanding that my illness came from withdrawal from sugar and caffeine. And that, my friends, was the last of that pointless addiction

Salmon. Downtown Salmon looks rough. The people look rougher. Fittingly, I was reading a short story by Norman Maclean the day prior to my second trip into town. The story described the nearby town of Hamilton, Montana in the late 1920's. It was a story about booze, logging, and prostitutes. Fast forward 90 years and I might just be looking at the same town. Despite some youthful hippies working the local rafting scene, I'm quite certain there is still a seedy underbelly to Salmon. I could almost sense that brothels and moonshine ran rampant in dark corners. However, I was still content to have a beer at the local brewery that afternoon. I had left the dogs at the cabin, something I now wish I never did (we'll get to that).

The drive down to Salmon was achieved in 35 minutes. The drive back up, sans cargo and dogs, was achieved in roughly 30 minutes. White knuckles all the way. However, by now, I knew the roads, the car was light, the grip tremendous, and I could expect the minor bumps and slow spots. I figure my average speed was around 40 mph. I was glad no one had to sit in the passenger seat for that. It was, really, a lot of fun. Sorry honey, I'll never do it with you as a passenger, I promise.

Fishing. The fishing at this lake was ridiculous. I would say "unbelievable" or "amazing", but ridiculous about sums it up. I tried to fish with a spinning rod the first day and it was not fruitful. I read the (evil) cabin log book and there were some hints dropped at different dry flies to use. I spent my second morning placing an elk hair caddis out on to the pond with my fly rod. I caught so many rainbow trout that it became tedious to even take them off of the line.

I brought a stand up paddle board in place of the much heavier canoe. I learned to fish off of it over four days and it will probably never see as much fish slime and turds as it did in this brief span. Being lazy and somewhat depleted physically by the angry, haunted cabin (we're getting closer), I was having a hard time getting the motivation to fish. How that is possible, I do not know based on the information presented in the next paragraph.

Wallace Lake is a trout fisherman's dream. If you don't care about catching a 20 inch rainbow, well, you came to the right place. I probably caught 100+ trout over a combined period of 10 hours fishing. That averages to about 10 an hour which might actually be too conservative. Trout in this lake literally leap out of the water for a meal. Fish were flying everywhere. And I don't mean sometimes. In the morning or evening, these fish were constantly jumping two plus feet out of the water and slapped down hard in landing. If I had been prepared, I could have probably just snagged them out of the air with my hands on several occasions.

Wading into the water, knee deep, presented an unusual sensation. If you stopped moving for any more then 10 seconds, tiny trout minnows started trying to suck off your leg hairs. It was like being groomed by 1000 little vacuums. They literally chased you around the shallows with no fear. You could scoop them up in your hands.

The first time I fished the lake, I thought it had started raining. However, I would soon realize it was just thousands of trout hitting the surface at once. It was absolutely ridiculous. You wouldn't catch anything huge, but you could wrestled in a 10+ inch rainbow anytime you wanted. There was really no skill to it at all. I tried tying on the biggest fly I had to avoid the smaller fish, but it backfired. Instead of catching larger trout at a slower interval, the stupid, fearless smaller trout would try for the lure and end up hooked in the back, the gills, or the outside of their head. I couldn't even avoid catching them. Often times I would raise my rod just to recast and find I've hooked into yet another 10 inch rainbow. It actually got quite annoying.

Once I finally realized that the mosquitoes retired at nightfall, I took advantage and cooked two of the larger trout I caught over an open flame in some foil. They were delicious and it kept me out of the cabin (almost there).

Adventure. Despite constantly running from mosquitoes, I did find time to climb up the high ridge over the lake and backpack around one fine afternoon. I also managed to ride my mountain bike on the achingly steep mountain roads on another occasion. I spent much time in between swimming with the dogs or scooting the stand up paddle board around the lake with the dogs swimming frantically behind me. All in all, it was great fun and relaxing, which I sorely needed.

Now about that cabin.

I'm not a superstitious man and I fear little the unknown. However, I had an experience. If you don't like ghost stories described in detail, I suggest you close this down right about now.

My initial impression of the cabin was that is was quaint and a bit dirty. It was also spooky and I spent a LOT of time in it because the mountain weather almost religiously poured down rain every afternoon. I tried to use those down times reading or sleeping and I did this quite well until day three.

Before I describe day three, let me tell you about my very first minute of being in the cabin. I entered in the dark. The main floor seemed simple enough with cots, a table, and a kitchen area. There was an opening to the top loft area which I climbed up and looked into with glee within 45 seconds of arriving. I peered my headlamp through the dark of the loft and felt an immense urge to back down the ladder immediately. Now, I don't ever get these feelings, but something about its sparseness and character just rubbed me the wrong way. I would only look up there one other time in the next 4 days and that was in broad daylight. I would spend the minutes before sleep straining to hear movement in the loft. I had no idea why and I tried to tell myself to stop the theatrics, but never the less, I still tried to hear movement in the loft every night.

My time spent in the cabin was often hard and restless if I was not asleep. I felt strangely uncomfortable there and this was a feeling I almost never have. I never felt quite rested even after sleeping an insane amount of hours. I had to retreat from the bugs there, eat there, cook there, and wait out rains there. I felt tired all the time and I found myself, more and more, sitting around in the cabin somewhat bored with tedium. I would say I felt drawn to the cabin even though it presented me nothing but discomfort.

Oddly, the dogs were also quite restless in the cabin no matter what I did to tire them out. I'm quite sure they didn't sleep for five nights. They would come wake me up in the middle of the night by nosing into me on my cot. They never do this. I had physically tired them to the point that they should be totally exhausted, yet all they ever wanted to do was get out. In fact, a couple of times Huck almost broke my kneecap when I opened the door from the outside. He was trying to run out as soon as I entered. After years of training this habit of his away, he was suddenly right back to his puppy years. I couldn't figure it out. I often tried to scold them and they were annoying me with their restlessness to no end. Every moment it seemed they were begging me to go outside into the mosquito kingdom and I would staunchly refuse.

Then it happened on the third night. It was early, something like 9 pm. I had attempted to read and have a beer, but the beer just wasn't sitting well and I didn't feel quite myself. I decided to retire to the cot and my sleeping bag. As I laid there, trying to drift off to sleep, my mind started doing something I could not control. I was wide awake and I started dreaming with my eyes open. I know, it sounds strange, but it was happening. I can be absolutely sure I was awake because I was staring at Jiggs from across the room. He was sitting upright, not relenting himself to a comfortable position of laying and it was creeping me out.

I curled up a bit on the cot, wishing for slumber when I was suddenly dreaming of seeing through my own eyes (yet, fully awake on my cot). I had just entered the cabin in the dark. I was standing on the rug in the middle of the room. This was the same rug that I was now staring at on the floor from my cot. To make it simple, I was not asleep. I was having what you would consider a nightmare while fully awake and looking around. I saw myself walk in to the cabin. My vision changed to me seeing through the eyes of the me that was standing on the rug. I don't know how else to fully describe this.

When it changed, this is what I saw:

There was moonlight at the far windows that created a dark corner. The cabin is really not well lit, even during the day. This moonlight revealed to me the dark silhouette of a full grown man standing in the corner at the far end of the room. I did nothing but stand there and watch, not quite threatened or afraid. This dark silhouette began moving towards me. In the moment that it crossed through the moonlight, I thought for certain that some ghastly figure would be revealed by the light. Yet is stayed a dark, moving cloud of black until it was just feet away. And when it stopped, in the full light of moon, it was still nothing but black in front of me. Just a wispy, smoky silhouette of a person with blackness for a face.

I blinked hard in my bed. I was not asleep. I was doing all of this awake, eyes open, and was suddenly petrified of turning my head and looking towards that corner. And I could have looked. I instead told my brain to shut up, out loud. "Go to sleep", I said to myself. And I did. I now think I understand people with haunted house stories. You wonder how they stay for so long? You wonder how they sleep at all? I'm betting, now, that they do so by denying to believe what they saw.

On day four I pretty much forced this episode out of my mind. I didn't think about it much at all. Until day five.

Day five had me tired, but itching to use my mountain bike. I unpacked it from the car and took off from the cabin, leaving the dogs inside. The dogs could see me as I departed, but I had to head south to warm up a bit before attempting the 1000 foot climb up to the ridge road. I rode a short distance south within the campground until I felt pretty good. It was then I heard something odd. I heard my lab mix dog howling from inside the cabin.

I have never heard Huck howl unless I prompted it by howling myself or whistling at him. I've never known him to let out even a whimper when I depart. He doesn't get anxiety in these situations. So why on earth was he howling?

I rode back towards the cabin and pulled up to the front. The noise of me doing this should have had them running towards the front windows, but there were no dogs there. I wish I wouldn't have, but I looked into the cabin through the front window. It was then that I actually became horrified.

What I saw was my lab mix and my black lab standing side by side at the back of the cabin. Huck was still howling, and he was doing so with his back hairs bristled high and his tail tucked. His brother, Jiggs, was next to him barking, equally defensive. Both of them faced directly into the corner where I saw the ghostly figure emerge.

To say anything, anything at all, I would say I felt sickened. I watched them howl and bark at an empty corner. There was nothing there. There were no sounds. There was nothing but bare wood and blank space in front of them. They heard me then and rushed to the front window. I couldn't do anything but ride away and try not to recycle the image through my head. I felt awful for leaving them there. I thought, briefly, they are seeing or feeling some things in there that I'll never understand. I felt bad about leaving them, but I couldn't go back in just then and I couldn't take them with me.

I rode for two hours after that, pushing those images out of my brain and replacing them with scenery and sweat. I can honestly say that I mostly made myself forget that it ever happened. By mostly, I mean I immediately freed them from the cabin upon returning, mosquitoes be damned. I also contemplated leaving a day early. I guess I didn't totally forget.

I spent the rest of the day outside as much as I could. I made a bonfire in the outdoor pit, took my lickings from the mosquitoes, and only retired when the last embers of the fire were dying and I was brutally tired. I achieved sleep quickly and without incident, all the while flooding my mind with "happy thoughts". I tried not to think of anything I had observed.

However, driving back the lonely stretch of 6 hours, I thought hard about everything that had occurred. I have never had an experience like this in my life. You may question some of the details and maybe think I was asleep on the third night. However, I can only assure you that I wasn't asleep and sleep came with much effort that night. After seeing the barking and howling scenario, I finally, painfully think I understand why my dogs wanted out of the cabin so bad at all times.

As soon as they hit the back of the car, they slept for 6 hours all the way back home. They were themselves again and not the little restless monsters I had put up with for five days. Upon getting home, they crashed out. They have been asleep for the last 8 hours straight, barely even shifting positions on their beds. It's hard to even rouse them to go outside.

I think dogs are intuitive to things that we are often not inclined to notice. I think they live a bit of their lives on a different wave length. Having examined my experience over and over again in my mind, I still come to the same conclusion. My dogs were restless in the Wallace Lake A-Frame. I, myself, was restless in the Wallace Lake A-Frame and yet somehow compelled to stay in the cabin for most of my trip.

Don't stay at the Wallace Lake A-Frame. Stay at the campground, if you wish, but I still think there is something backwards about the whole area. I don't ever feel this way. I've never had this type of experience or ever expected to, but I will not be forgetting it any time soon. I really, truly believe that there is some history in those hills that I would rather not learn. I find myself looking into the dark corners of my own home tonight and I'd rather not have these feelings anymore.

If anything, know this. I'm typing this while my dogs lay sprawled out on the floor. They have barely moved for the last 8 hours. They are dead out. A few paragraphs ago, when I typed about them and the corner incident, both of them sat up, at the same time, straight out of sleep, and started peering around the room. I have to say, this whole experience has creeped me out quite a bit. I would never type this kind of stuff in jest. I do believe that there is something unknown in that cabin. I don't know what happened there despite trying to google it tonight. I hope to push it out of my mind post haste, but I can't discount the behavior of my dogs and my own behavior while we stayed there. It was all, well, "off".

And I will leave you with that. I don't recommend the Wallace Lake A-Frame to anyone unless you are a ghost hunter wanting to expand your database of creepy recordings and pictures. To add, I refused to take pictures or video of the cabin. I thought about it, thought people would want to see it, but by the time I got around to it, I was too freaked out by what might show up in the pictures. So, I took none. There are some video clips of me chatting at the camera in the cabin, but I don't want to watch them. They are mostly from the days before I had my wide awake dream.

Perhaps I should have hit the cows. That would have meant a lengthy tow, time in the repair shop, and probably a huge fine for killing livestock. Maybe I wouldn't have ever gone to the cabin at all. Sadly, now, I wish I didn't ever make it.

And so the story ends in a way you surely couldn't have expected. I remain steady to the fact that I am dead serious. A side of me hopes you can't bring a ghost back with you from a distant place. I wish I could stop thinking that. I've never had thoughts like this before....

***I wrote this five years ago and just found it again tonight. I hadn't thought about the Wallace A-frame in a number of years. It was a chilling experience and I hope you enjoyed it if you got this far.


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