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T H E W E E K LY S U N •

NOVEMBER

15 - 21, 2017

500 MILES THROUGH IDAHO WILDERNESS WITH LLAMAS

BY JENNIFER HOLLY SMITH

n July 5, 2017, Bob Jonas and his wife Sarah Michael set out on a 500-mile trek with a pack of llamas through the six mountain ranges that form a horseshoe around Ketchum. Jonas, a Ketchum native, founded Sun Valley Trekking Co. in 1982 and led clients in wild Idaho, Yellowstone and Alaska for 18 years. This ambitious walk was planned to raise money for the 2018 class of Wild Gift fellows. Jonas founded the nonprofit organization, Wild Gift, in 2002, with the idea that this world needed new leaders who had an appreciation of the natural world. “It was also a celebration of home country for myself and my 75th birthday, and the partnership that my partner and I have,” Jonas said. The llamas used for the couple’s trek were rented from Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas, in Idaho Falls. The trip was broken into 10 different legs so the pair could resupply. They often met with family and friends, some of whom joined them for short periods, including Jonas’ daughter, Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas; his niece’s son, Jonas Benson, 8, his father John Benson, and Louise Noyes. “It was nine days and he was spectacular,” Jonas said of his grandnephew. “He’s a 48-pound kid carrying a 15-pound pack and leading a llama.” The 10-day second leg of their trip took them through the Sawtooths after traversing the Smoky Mountains beginning just outside of Hailey up to Smiley Creek Lodge. “The Sawtooths were still, in the high country on the major mountain passes, under snow,” Jonas said. “It was too deep for four-leggeds, equines and llamas, and then the canyon streams were still raging—not safe passages. So we went around to the north end of the Sawtooths and did a loop.” The couple were able to keep in communication with a messaging and navigation device called InReach that uses satellite with a smartphone, allowing them to communicate from anywhere on the trail. This became essential on the third leg as they quickly ran into what Jonas called “the big problem in the Middle Fork country, deadfall.” The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest wilderness in the continental U.S., has a let-burn policy. “The net of that is, 30 years, 40 years later, there’s a lot of dead timber,” Jonas said. They were forced to do a fair amount of work on the trails themselves, sawing and clearing downfallen trees. “If you can imagine pickup sticks, they’re interwoven, there’s that many,” Jonas said. “So you’re forced to the side of the trail to find a way around. And there’s so much crap there too that sometimes you’re scouting a route very circuitous to get the animals through. It slows your pace to less than a mile an hour.” In fact, the couple had to turn around and go back out. They contacted friends who dropped them at Big Creek to start again. Their next challenge was smoke from wildfires that burned around them; another fire eventually blocked their planned route, and so an alternate route was taken to the Bighorn Crags. “You don’t do a three-month, 500-mile journey through the wilderness without some appreciation that you may have to change your route,” said Jonas, who began plan-

Bob Jonas stands in a peaceful moment with a llama on the trail. Photo courtesy of Bob Jonas

ning the trip last winter. At this point, they were concerned that they would get “fired-in” and wanted to exit the Frank Church Middle Fork area for good. The llamas were on the trail for about 50 days and needed a rest, so they took a seven-day break. They sojourned at a friend’s ranch where they were able to watch the eclipse before heading back out on the trail. They went back into the Sawtooths and came out at Redfish Lake before heading into the White Clouds, where they met friends, who joined them on the smoky trail from fires throughout the Pacific Northwest. “It was so dense that everybody wanted to leave except for me and Louise,” Jonas said. “So they did, and we went on to our next route, which was the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.” From there, Jonas and Michael went into the Pioneers, where they were interviewed by a crew from the public television show “Outdoor Idaho.” The crew filmed them over a couple of days of trekking to be included in an episode called “Into the Pioneers,” which will air on Thursday, Dec. 7. In September, Michael decided that the injuries she had suffered earlier were enough and she decided to end her participation. “She joined for the filming of ‘Outdoor Idaho,’ but then left the trek at that point,” Jonas said. “She fell on her tailbone on a rock, and she had also injured her knee in the Middle Fork country.” Jonas was caught by a big storm in the middle of Sep-

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tember that dropped about a foot of snow. That drove him out of the Pioneers and he had to wait a few days to go back in for the last leg. “The most spectacular part you’ll see from Baldy right to the east is the last ridgeline of the Pioneers, which drops right on down to Craters of the Moon, which I did by myself,” Jonas said. After three days and with more threatening weather on the horizon, he decided that was the end. That was October 1. Together, and separately, Jonas and Michael trekked for 81 days, crossing 38 mountain passes, mostly above 9,000 feet. Throughout their journey they wrote about their adventures on a blog, wild-trails.weebly.com. “This trek was part for ourselves, personally, and part for Wild Gift,” Jonas said. “I’ve traveled wild country all my life and when I turned 60 I wanted to give back. It was imperative that new leaders appreciate the natural world. We all live in two worlds; one is the natural world, resources and gifts on which we all depend, and the other is the human world, [in] which we spend all our time, and we take the natural world for granted.” Wild Gift selects a group of social entrepreneurs each year for a 16-month fellowship that includes mentoring, seed funding, and two wilderness programs that teach leadership and business skills. Many fellows go on to receive national and international recognition for their innovative ideas and work. tws

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15 November 2017  
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