This post is about a hike to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho in October, 2016 in dedication to Henry Brown who passed away August 4, 2016.
Johnstone Peak, Ketchum, Idaho - elevation 9,949 feet
On our autumn hike last weekend to Johnstone Peak near Ketchum, Idaho, Fred and I were making our way through a pine and fir forest toward a summit of rocks silhouetted against an azure sky. We startled some elk that were grazing in the forest ahead of us so they quickly moved up toward the peak. Suddenly, we heard a bull elk bugle and saw what appeared to be its harem - 5 cow elk, probably those that we had startled, walking single-file above us on a talus slope, rocks clinking under their hooves. What an eerie sound! The bugle starts deep within the elk’s throat, quickly rises to a nasally high-pitched whistle, then ends in a grunt. We stopped on the fresh elk trail we were following to spot the bull elk, but we never saw it.
Johnstone Peak summit near Ketchum, Idaho
As we stood on this trail, the musky smell of elk around us, and the fresh elk tracks carved into the dark soil moist from the season’s first snow, we wished Henry Brown could have been with us, although we could feel his presence. He would have been excited about the bugle and halted with us while we whispered and waited for another bugle. Henry loved being in the wilderness and he loved elk hunting. If only he could be with us – but reality hit us swiftly and sadly. We would never get to be with him again. I unzipped my backpack and saw the folded sign Fred and I had made the evening before that read, “This Hike for Henry Brown”.
Pioneer Mountain range from summit of Johnstone Peak
Our good friend, Henry Brown passed away in August 2016 after a fearless fight with cancer found to be in his lungs earlier that year. Henry had faced many challenges in his life. He graduated from West Point Military Academy and raised two daughters, each of whom are Army officers and attended West Point. Henry’s long career sent he and his wife, Helen Joyce to many places in the U.S., but nothing would compare to the battle and challenges he endured in 2016. Henry and Helen Joyce were thrilled to be moving back to Idaho two years ago when he accepted a human resource job in Hailey, Idaho. Fred was even more excited that Henry was coming back to Idaho, for now they could hunt together again, as they had done 12 years ago when Henry and Helen Joyce lived in Boise.
Helen Joyce chronicled their struggles through this ordeal on Facebook. She told us about the good news, the bad news, the ups and downs, the surgeries, the optimism and hopefulness. And in the photos, Henry was in his usual positive get-up-and-go attitude, smiling while he was in the hospital or recovering, or walking with a therapist to rehab after a stroke he suffered after one of his surgeries. Once again, Henry worked hard and he didn’t give up.
Both hunters and military men, Henry and Fred formed a quick friendship 16 years ago when they met while working at Boise Cascade in Boise. They naturally “hit it off” because each was an Army veteran and each liked to spend time in Idaho’s wilderness. Quickly, their conversations turned to deer and elk hunting, and Henry, the experienced rifle and eventually bow hunter, invited Fred along on a deer hunt in Idaho. Fred told two hunting stories at a reception that Helen Joyce had for Henry the day before our Hike for Henry Brown. In one story, Fred told a humorous account of Henry’s reaction to a burned-up Coleman camping stove. After a long hunting day, they were keen to enjoy a hot dinner cooked on the truck tailgate when propane leaked from the valve and the whole stove caught on fire. After Fred stomped it out, Henry exclaimed, “Fred, that was interesting!” In another story, they had been hunting for 2 cold and rainy days, and hadn’t seen any elk. When Fred asked Henry what the chances seeing elk in that kind of weather were, Henry replied, “Well, Fred, if we leave the forest now, we have zero chance of getting an elk!”
Henry celebrating completion of Ranger School, and at West Point
Descending Johnstone Peak - Pioneer Mountains on horizon
On the hike down from Johnstone Peak
We waited a few more minutes on the trail to hear another bugle, but we did not, and the cow elk had moved high up the ridge, finding a place to hide from us. Once upon the summit, we took photos of each of us holding our sign, “This Hike for Henry Brown”. Now we were quiet, we felt Henry’s spirit around us, through the air, the sunshine, the trees, and the rocks. We remembered Henry, each in our own way while absorbing the incredible view that lay before us of the steep and rugged Pioneer Mountains to the northeast. The dark purple shadows in the deep, loose-rock gullies that run in jagged lines from top to bottom held white patches of snow. Sadness weighed me down from the usual jubilance and satisfaction I feel from summiting a peak. The sign I held for Henry Brown grounded me, pulled me down onto the rocks, down to reality. But I also felt happiness from having known Henry and our hikes together. I am forever grateful for his words of encouragement as I met the challenge of starting a new career, and the overhaul he gave my entire resume’. And there were those two games of ping-pong at Rickshaw restaurant in Ketchum while we waited for our table (maybe he let me win one).
On top of Johnstone Peak that day, there were no bugs, no wind. The light mountain air surrounded us and gave Fred and I space and warmth to ponder memories and talk about how brief our lives are here on this beautiful Earth.
We packed up our leftover food and water, our jackets and the sign, and charted a return route down the mountain. As we descended the summit pile of rocks and walked onto the grassy saddle before the next rise on the ridge, I looked up to see a golden eagle making slow wide circles against the sky. This was an unusual sight, for we often see hawks and less often eagles. Henry would have appreciated the markings under its huge wingspan and its graceful flight. We watched it circle and move on, and we moved on ourselves, the sun closer to the horizon. Time passes. I had a fleeting thought that maybe Henry’s spirit was soaring above us, and this would not surprise, for Henry seemed to have spirit that transcended.
I’m sure we’ll climb Johnstone Peak again more than once, and each time we are back on its summit, we will always remember our Hike for Henry Brown. And I will always be looking for the eagle.
11/3/1959 - 8/4/2016
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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