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That Time We Got Lost in the Woods of McCall


I’ve been on a lot of hikes in my life, but not a lot of accidental ones.

My cousin and I are born and raised Idahoans. We were also lucky enough to have a grandfather who taught us a love of adventure and the outdoors.

That being the case, we didn’t think twice about heading by ourselves out into the wilderness in an attempt to find the perfect backdrop for some Instagram photos.

We found a path through a sagebrush field, which led us down a dirt walkway into a ravine, which was split by a river, which we followed into the woods.

Within five or ten minutes of dodging dried cow pies and shoving our way through pine needles, we came to a fork in the river. It divided off from the main stream, flowing through the endless miles of pine trees to our left. Directly behind the trees was a snow-frosted mountain centered almost perfectly in the middle of it all.

I wanted to get a picture of her on the other side of the river, with the mountain in the background, but the water was icy cold and looked deep from where we stood, so we decided to backtrack, hoping we would have a better chance of finding a bridge of some sort.

Returning to our starting point, we crossed to the other side of the river, heading back towards the place we wanted to take a photo.

We looked for some sort of crossing point.

And then we looked some more.

And we thought if maybe we just went a liiiiiiittle bit further, we would find one.

And then we just had to check around the next bend in the river, because what if it was right there and we turned back right before finding it?

We reminisced, made silly comments, got nervous about running into bears, laughed at each other for getting nervous about running into bears, and kept walking.

We also happened upon two enormous ant hills that looked like they vibrated because of the huge ants bustling around:

Our other discoveries included an empty bird’s nest, two ducks, a perfectly imprinted deer/elk print, and a partridge in a pear tree (jk).

At around the hour and a half mark of us wandering through the forest, we had yet to find any sort of place to cross. We had, however, found a spot in the river that looked shallow enough to roll up our jeans and wade through.

We decided that we couldn’t go any further since we had to return in time for dinner reservations, so we decided to give it a shot.

I sat on the riverbank and stripped off my shoes and socks, tucking them under my left arm and gripping my camera and tripod in my right. 

The water shocked my system as I stepped into it and I made sort of a whoOOOWW sound when my ankles submerged. (Picture a whale bellow, but like 14 octaves higher.)

The thing is, chilly as it was, the water was not cold enough to completely numb my feet, which have been in fluffy socks 90% of the time since COVID-19 hit. So, every step on my tender quarantine-softened soles was basically the pain equivalent of stepping on a Lego, but also the Lego has needles on it and is submerged in an ice bath. (I don’t have a high pain tolerance.)

We reached a tiny island in the middle of the river and looked toward the next half of the journey. Unfortunately, from this vantage point, we could tell the water became significantly deeper. I sat down and sighed, balancing myself and hovering my feet above the icy river of death. My toes genuinely hurt so badly that I wanted to cry, but instead I laughed, because the situation was just so pathetic.

My cousin was also in pain but didn’t seem to be having as much trouble as I was. She walked the length of the little island, hesitated, and then began to cross the second part of the river.

I watched as the water progressively rose around her calves, and then her thighs. She started making noises somewhere between giggling and gasping for air, but she made it to the other side.

I’ve been on a lot of hikes in my life, but not a lot of accidental ones.


she yelled from the other riverbank, laughing, her pants soaked almost to the waist.

Unfortunately, even if I crossed the way she had, we still wouldn’t have enough time to walk the few miles back to the place we originally wanted to take photos, so she trekked back across the freezing river and we did what we could with the tiny island and river as our backdrop:

After snapping a few photos, we decided to head back in the direction of the cabin, just walking a little way off the river to see if we could find any other pretty scenery. We knew there was a clearing nearby and thought we might be able to get some good shots there.

The problems began when we wandered too far to the left, found the clearing (which turned out to be a swamp), ran into some private property that blocked our path, walked into a thicket of very skinny pine trees, and found groups of wood planks stacked in mounds, with rusted pieces of scrap metal strewn around them. There was also a giant domed tarp above us on the hill.

It gave undeniable murderer-hiding-out-in-the-woods-probably-watching-your-every-move vibes. 

We got out of there as quickly as possible.



However, we couldn’t seem to find a path back to the river. We pushed through some willow bushes, jumped over a few swampy areas, and at one point crossed over a fallen tree to avoid stepping in a mucky stream. I think we followed a deer path for a while. I don’t know. We were sweating profusely and a little dehydrated. I guess we could have probably used my cousin’s pants as a water source, but we didn’t think of that at the time.

FINALLY, we stumbled upon the river and found our architect ant friends, who let us know we were on the right path.

By this point, we had around fifteen minutes to make it back to the cabin before we had to leave for dinner. We speed-walked past the place we saw the ducks, the empty bird’s nest, and the original fork in the river where we had wanted our pictures.

Eventually, we made it out of the woods to the end of the river, up the dirt walkway out of the ravine, and through the path in the sagebrush field.

A few minutes later, we walked in the door of our cabin, having sprinted the last bit of the way. Exhausted, sweaty, and a little bit dirty, we headed out to make our reservations.

TIP FOR THE FUTURE: Know the fanciness level of the restaurant where you’ll be eating post-hike, to determine whether or not you need to clean up a bit.

Because I’ll tell you what, it’s awkward when you show up to a restaurant where the servers are in suits and asking if you want caviar while you sport ripped, muddy jeans and pine needle bits in your hair.


At least we made it on time.

And didn’t get eaten by bears.

And everyone’s pants were (mostly) dry.