5 Kids on Wild Trails by Margaret Fuller


I just finished reading Margaret Fuller’s memoir—5 Kids on Wild Trails. Like all good memoirs, this book not only relates interesting history but also puts us in Margaret’s life, times, mind, and soul. Margaret’s adventures exploring the Sawtooth, Boulder, and White Cloud mountains are a priceless documentation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area’s (SNRA) early years. From a historical perspective, her narrative of those years adds a much needed eyewitness account of the way things were and of how they evolved. However, the memoir is much more than an Idaho time piece.

We learn how this intrepid woman evolved into an extraordinary explorer of some of Idaho’s wildest terrain. She tells us of her childhood days in the Sierra Nevada mountains which was the beginning of her fascination and love of mountains. We learn about her days at Stanford where she expanded her mountaineering skills while dealing with the geology department’s resistance to her desire to become a geologist.

She brought her love of high places to Idaho when she moved to Boise in 1957 with her husband. This love would eventually transform into the written word as she has written three iconic Idaho guidebooks starting with Trails of the Sawtooth, and Boulder-White Cloud Mountains, which is currently in its 6th edition, Trails of Western Idaho and, my favorite, Trails of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. In addition, she has coauthored four other Idaho guidebooks.

Her memoir documents her struggles to explore the SNRA’s mountains when marital and family obligations made finding time to even get to the mountains difficult. We learn how the idea of writing a guidebook germinated in her mind. This all occurred at a time when there were no guidebooks or modern maps and when the roads to the trailheads were mostly unmarked and directional signs were nonexistent. It takes resolve and determination to explore terra incognito. This memoir demonstrates Margaret’s determination and resolve as an explorer over many years in a very understated manner with many stories of misadventures, successes, and obstacles.

Reading about her life, I marveled at her ability in those pre-Women’s Liberation days to overcome the many obstacles that American women faced. She not only managed to overcome the [then] traditional view that a woman’s place was in the home but she also managed marriage, motherhood, and all of the adversity that the mountains could throw at her with a determination that must not only must be admired but also offers the reader many relevant lessons.

She somehow found the time to not only successfully raise five children but to also instill in them a love of mountains. All the while this grand venture proceeded, she was sowing tents, sleeping bags, and down jackets from kits to outfit her family, overcoming her fear of bears and the resistance that many locals had to anyone publishing an Idaho guidebook. Many locals found it sacrilegious that anyone would consider letting the world know about Idaho’s secret places. As a fellow Idaho guidebook author, I can attest that the resistance to Idaho guidebooks was real even in the 1980s. Margaret paved the way for all Idaho guidebook authors who came after her.

All of her adventures and struggles documented in this memoir coalesced in the publication of the definitive guide book to one of America’s greatest treasures, Idaho’s Sawtooth Country. In the process of exploring and writing, Margaret Fuller became an Idaho treasure.

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