The Call of the Wild:

Where trails meet real life

By Don Otis
Reader Columnist

We made our way to the Chimney Rock trailhead late last fall hoping to summit 7181’ Silver Dollar Peak. Two miles up we left the well-maintained trail and headed into the forest. We endured a suffer-fest of wet alder and downed logs as we made our way up the ridge.Eventually the summit emerged as they often do with persistent effort.

From left to right: Kelly Emerson, Don Otis, Ken Emerson. Photo by the author.

From left to right: Kelly Emerson, Don Otis, Ken Emerson. Photo by the author.

Fall in the backcountry of North Idaho is an ideal time to hit the trails—any trails. Cool mornings give way to clear skies and moderate temperatures. That October day Ken and Kelly Emerson joined in the bushwhacking. And Kelly reached her first 7,000 footer since they moved from Vancouver, Washington. They came for many of the same reasons most of us did—to find peace, serenity, a new beginning, a better place to raise kids.

A fit and petite 44, Kelly says “Hiking is my mental escape.” I wish I could quote statistics about couples who hike together being happier, healthier, and enjoying a better sex life—I think that’s all true but I can’t prove it. Here’s what I do know. When couples spend time doing things together they create a positive bond. It is like making a deposit in your relationship—building greater fondness while producing endorphins. This morphine-like substance is naturally produced in our body. It inhibits pain and produces a sense of euphoria. And who doesn’t want that?

A fitness trainer and group exercise leader, Kelly says “We find the more we work out together as a couple the closer it brings us in our relationship.” Most of us are so busy with the tyranny of the urgent we forget to make these intentional choices that help sustain a healthy relationship. And for the Emerson’s hiking combines their love for the outdoors with their love for one another. That day last October was not one of the easier hikes but it was a new experience—something that Kelly says is vital to her own mental and physical well-being. “When I hike new terrain or see new territory it is good for my soul.”

Silver Dollar Peak with Chimney Rock in the background (taken from South Twin). Photo by Don Otis.

Silver Dollar Peak with Chimney Rock in the background (taken from South Twin). Photo by Don Otis.

In Gary Snyder’s “Practice of the Wild,” he writes, “To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions as they are—painful, impermanent, open, imperfect.” We had all that going for us when we stepped out on the granite blocks of Silver Dollar—wet, weary, inspired by the views. Our mountains bring us peace. Our trails offer us challenge. Our minds quiet. Our senses stir. Solitude beckons. The ridges call out. And we discover a world unspoiled, unexploited, pure, rugged, wild.

The fall in North Idaho’s Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains is a magical mix of golden hues, quiet trails and endless opportunity for adventure. There are countless places to “get lost” for a day or two. These are the ultimate marriage retreat filled with wonder and awe that can only bond our hearts and enliven the spirit. As Kelly says, “Just being there, being out in nature, being together … it made a difference for us.”

For descriptions of nearby trails see or see

Contact Kelly Emerson at [email protected]

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