OVERVIEW: IDAHO CENTENNIAL TRAIL
Idaho was designated a state in 1890. Through the visionary work of a dedicated bunch of folks at the Idaho Trails Council, 100 years later, in Idaho’s Centennial Year, the Idaho State Centennial Trail was officially designated. The existing trail corridor was based in part on the hike of Idahoans Roger Williams and Syd Tate who hiked the length of Idaho in 1986. A few years after they hiked the width of Idaho from Oregon to Montana!
I first became aware of the ICT in 1998, with the publication of Stephen Stuebner’s Idaho Centennial Trail Guidebook. Despite that the information presented within its pages was quite limited in its scope, it was enough to plant a seed in my mind and I knew that at some point I would make an attempt at hiking the Idaho Centennial Trail. I have had the ICT tentatively planned and mapped since 2001, but until this year I have not made the commitment to dedicate time and energy to the trail.
Since that time, Leo Hennessy and the Idaho Parks and Rec Department has made a consistent effort to do what they can to improve the trail, educate, and inform. You can learn much more about the Idaho State Centennial Trail through the Idaho Parks and Recereation Dept as well as their newly posted blog dedicated to the ICT.
Images from my hike can be seen here.
Idaho . The place I grew up. The place I first recall setting foot to trail. The place that has two of the largest designated Wilderness Area in the lower 48. A diverse place of mountains, rivers, and deserts.
Idaho holds a special place in my head and heart. Regretfully, growing up within its borders I never took the time to really get to know the place and its diverse landscapes. Looking at a map now, it is easy to recognize and admire the state for its diversity, its remoteness, and its wildness. I find that such landscapes typically result in inhabitants (human or otherwise) that embody those same characteristics….and which are getting more difficult to find these days.
Based on the hiking that I have done finding a place that offers the diversity of Idaho in a sub-1,000 mile distance is difficult. While the PCT and CDT offer distinct regions of landscape, it takes those trails well over 2,000 miles to find the diversity that Idaho has in half the distance.
While the Idaho Centennial Trail only travels through (3) designated wilderness areas, The Frank Church and Selway-Bitteroot are the second and third largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48 encompassing over 3,700,000 combined acres. Yeah, big country, basically the size of Connecticut!
With 300+ miles between road crossings and potential town re-supply access, the route is certainly remote. Backcountry airstrips for the delivery of food and supplies are crucial in helping a backcountry traveler re-supply.
Big country typically results in big animals and Idaho is no exception. Just about every land-based animal that remind us humans where we are on the food chain can be found in Idaho.Griz, Wolf, and Cougar all call portions of Idaho home. Here is to hoping they are gracious hosts!
One of my goals in attempting the ICT is to provide future hikers with additional resources to hike the trail. I have spent considerable time putting together a data book as well as utilizing mapping software to locate and map the entire non-motorized ICT corridor. I have also determined practical re-supply locations and a few alternate routes to avoid some of the road walks that are the official ICT. My intent is to fact check the compiled information during the course of my hike, update it upon my return, and then make the information available for free to future hikers and ICT trail users.
So the plan is as simple as any long distance hike: start walking! Not much more to it than that now that the research, planning and trip prep is complete. A new variable to add to my own long distance hiking equation is the addition of Wred Dawg, known from here on out as WD. WD is my Red Heeler and he’ll be joining me on this jaunt. His first long hike, and one that he is hopefully prepared for.
WD and I will begin from the Canadian Border and work our way south to Nevada in ~50 days. ~20 mpd is conservative for me based on previously long distance hikes, but not knowing exactly what WD is capable of, existing trail conditions, and possible detours, I feel like it is a good number to plan around.
If all goes according to plan, we’ll finish up in mid-September.
Obviously such an undertaking has a few potential hurdles to be dealt with. Eliminating the extreme circumstance (alien abduction, Sasquatch encounter, etc) , looming concerns include: trail conditions, fire, animal encounters, and the decisions I choose to make in the coming months.
Trail conditions are certainly a concern as remote trails are subject to poor maintenance, little use, fire, flood, and other forms of tread degradation. What will I find out there? Not sure. Typically what is on the ground is better than what I anticipate, but the potential for REALLY slow going is likely. As comforting as a line on a map is, I would be foolish to accept it as truth!
Fire is a big deal. When a fire starts in a large tract of Wilderness, it is (thankfully) allowed to burn itself out, and often large fires in such areas do so once the temps drop and the snow flies. That means likely containment sometime in OCT for any fire in the wilderness areas of central Idaho . Good for the forest, bad for a potential hiker. So.while it is out of my control, I’ll have to be conscious of what is going on in the backcountry during my hike as retreat and rescue can prove difficult when you are in the middle of the woods.
Animal encounters are not normally on my list, but having a potential snack-treat along with me (my dawg) is a new consideration. My concern is largely based on if WD becomes gimpy at some point and appears weak to various forest dwellers.wolves, cougars, bears, etc. I have no experience with these animals with relation to having a dawg around, so I have no idea as to what their reaction might be. I’ll certainly employ stealth camping techniques to limit my potential exposure to such beasties, but yeah, if they wanna eat me or my dawg, I doubt there will be much either us can do about it..so, let’s hope they are all content finding a meal elsewhere. (mmmm.look at that nice, FAT, cow!)
Lastly, me. While I consider myself a conservative backcountry decision maker, the best chance of success hinges largely on the decisions I will make while on the trail. This does not normally concern me because I am willing to bear the brunt of my decisions independently, but with a companion along that is dedicated and loyal enough to abdicate to my lead, I feel a greater degree of responsibility this go ’round. I have a tendency to focus on my own goals when in the woods, so being consistently conscious of WD’s wants and needs will be a challenge for me, but certainly a healthy exercise.
As things weigh out right now, I am looking at a base load of ~8.5 lbs. For you armchair readers, that is ~8.5 lbs of equipment excluding food and water and including all the gear I deem necessary for comfort, safety, and efficient travel. Depending on how WD does in the first 1.5 weeks, I will then decide if I make the switch to a larger pack in case I need to carry his food for him. If so, I’ll still be sub 10 lbs for the trip, but unfortunately laden with doggie kibble.
Basically my gear has carried over from previous trips, but I have a better system worked out for stove-less meals and during the course of the hike I will continue to test out (2) new packs which I intend to offer in 2009.
I am also really excited about the custom pyramid shelter from Ron Bell at Mountain Laurel Designs that I will be using. Normally I’d be content with my tarp, but the pyramid is going to be more functional with WD along, is easier to pitch, and the *slight* weight penalty is easily justified in the ‘live-ability’ of the shelter.
As for WD, I sewed up a bunch of gear for him.a dog pack, booties (sewn from Spectra!), and even a synthetic fill insulated jacket in an attempt to keep him off my sleeping bag.
July 31…it begins
Bob, WD, and I arrived at the ICT Trailhead at around 9 am after a pleasant evening at Outlet Bay Campground on the shore of Priest Lake.
The northern terminus of the ICT is towards the end of a 14 mile dirt rd and eventually finds the TH that is 8 miles short of Priest Falls which marks the ICT’s northern most point.
So, to start a southbound hike, my day began by walking 8 miles north!
The trail leading to Priest Falls was absolutely superb as it wound its way through enormous stands of cedar, hemlock, white pine, spruce, and over occasional creeklets. The canopy of these 100 ft+ trees blocked out most of the morning sun, so the temps were surprisingly cool.
Devil’s Club and fern were the primary groundcover/understory, with huckleberry bushes making a ripened but infrequent appearance as well. The vegetation was abundant and the rich, earthly smell of humus filled the morning.
The trail was essentially flat and recently maintained, so the footing and tread were excellent. About 6 miles in, I passed an active trail crew (Conservation Corps) chopping roots and improving water bars. Thanking them for their efforts, I hiked on.
I soon came to Priest Falls, a steep, blocky drop encircled by cliffs and set back into an alcove of sorts. I found it to be quite scenic and a fitting marker to a journey’s start or end…certainly more aesthetic than the slash cut of the official US/Canadian Border which was just 1/2 mile distant.
WD and I ate our lunch and relaxed for an hr, enjoying the crystal clear waters and playing a brief game of fetch, before reversing our mornings effort.
A half hr later we found Bob who was just rolling up his sleeping pad from an afternoon nap. Packed up, we made our way casually back to the TH and the van.
The remainder of my afternoon has been spent double checking my gear list and planning out the mileage breakdown for the coming section of trail.
Always one to contribute, WD has spent his afternoon catching flies, rolling in the dirt, and enjoying the occasional treat.
Our 16 miles seemed to go smoothly today for WD. He was quick to find a stick to play with at each break, so I took that as him enjoying himself. Here’s to hoping he continues to find that enthusiasm in the coming weeks!
Camp tonight is near the TH. Skies are clear, my mind is clear, and I am excited about the next ~50 days of walking.
Thanks for reading.
I packed up and began a ~4 mile rd walk beneath heavy, wet skies before turning off FR 1013 and finding Trapper Trail 302 a few minutes away.
While the skies had let up a bit, even if had been raining hard, I am doubtful many drops would have ever made it through the dense tree canopy above. The trail was in good shape although a few blow downs blocked our way as we contoured through the forest, bypassing marshy spots along raised, cedar planked boardwalks. Nice to stay out of the mud, but very slippery!The forest floor is a thick criss-cross of downed timber so it was amazing to watch a white tailed deer prance and bounce silently through the mess.
Eventually the trail curved toward the northern shore of Upper Priest Lake and then contoured along its birch lined banks, dipping in and out of the forest and past some nice (boat occupied) campsites.
Most of the campers were just emerging from their rain soaked tents to greet the morning. No smells of morning breakfast to tempt me into a Yogi-ing Session.
Further along, the trail climbed above the lakeshore and as I write I am perched atop a lakeside cliffband, watching the skies as some blue breaks through. WD is drifting in and out of a nap on a soft bed of moss. We’ve hiked ~10 miles by 10 am, so it looks to be causal day ahead of us as we only have another 9 to do before finding camp.
My typical approach to a long hike is to walk the entire day…primarily because I enjoy walking and experiencing a place in the morning, afternoon, and early evening which gives me a more complete sense of the landscape through which I walk. The end result is a full day and usually ~25-30 miles. However, knowing WD needs a break in period, I’ve decided to try to hike the majority of our 20 mpd days in the morning. Getting 12-15 miles in before lunch and then taking a 2 hr break will give WD some good nap time and a recharge for the afternoon. The afternoon 5-8 miles can then be easily and leisurely accomplished.
Having the flexibility of time throughout the day will also be helpful with regard to rte finding, blowdowns, and other time intensive debacles when they arise. Of course, I’ll continue to overthink this and likely settle on some other conclusion…
It is also likely quite obvious that this will be a challenge for me to sit still for a good portion of the day…nothing worse for relaxation than a routine habituated walker and an OCD dawg, but relax we will damn it!
Lunch found us at the clear waters of Caribou Creek…a shallow ford across colorful stones. During lunch a family showed up on their way to Upper Priest Lake. I offered a discounted group rate for piggy back rides across the creek, but they declined, retreated, and then emerged downstream a few minutes later hopping from rock to rock and managing to get across.
WD and I will fritter away another hour at the creek before pushing on for the final few miles of the day.
Shortly after our lunch break, we followed ATV trails out to East Ridge Rd. I had to make a brief detour from the ICT as the rte down to the shores of Priest Lake were indiscernible amidst the dust and clamor of large machines, but the way was obvious to East Ridge Rd albeit a bit earlier than planned.
The Lions Head Campground of Priest Lake State Park was completely full, but I located a bathroom and a water faucet and made use of both. From this point another ~5 miles was in store for WD and I. Unfortunately those miles would be a road walk. More unfortunately, the majority was paved and it seems Friday is a good day to haul lumber as well as (obviously) heading to the Lake for the weekend. After the first dozen cars and trucks WD and I grew accustomed to moving off the shoulder, looking away, and then pressing forward.
As much as I would have liked to put the hammer down and bang out the mileage, WD needed a lesser pace, so we trudged along until arriving at North Creek where we scooted down and over the embankment. Walking up the creek a few minutes I spotted a nice camp spot on the opposite shore which was out of site of the roadway and just out of earshot of the traffic.
Skies look 50/50 at the moment so I’ve set up the shelter which WD is already enjoying atop his sleeping pad…snoozing the afternoon away.
After one of the most fitful nights of sleep that I can recall, I decided to sleep in and finally packed up around 8 am.
The morning rd walk was an easy start to the day but grew tiresome quickly. I scanned the maps and came up with a alt rte on closed logging rds that would drop me back onto East Shores Rd, just a mile up from Indian Creek Bay. The penalty was an initial steep climb, but this was easily justified given the weekend traffic and the shoulder-less rd I was avoiding. The logging rd was a welcome respite from car and truck traffic, as well as plodding pavement in the morning sun.
I passed a few large beaver dams before descending back to the main rd where the steady flow of traffic continued. Referencing the maps again, another rte appeared… non-paved, closed logging rd. Bingo. I hung a left up Indian Creek and then crossed the creek on a gated bridge.
I am creekside, in the shade, soaking my feet. The morning is still cool, the skies are blue, and WD just found the perfect nap spot after circling 5 times.
After our short siesta, we began a steady climb on the alt rte. The trees were thin so the sun was bright and warm. As I climbed higher, some of my first sizeable views of Priest Lake began to unfold… strange… considering I’d been paralleling the shoreline on the low rds!
Eventually we climbed to an old logging rd that appeared to contour south nicely and connected directly with the ICT at Hunt Creek. The temps were slightly cooler and a refreshing breeze blew. Around midday we came to a creeklet and bashed into the woods a bit to find some shade and a nice stop for lunch and a nap. 1.5 hrs later we emerged from our shady haven, fed and rested.
The logging rd was obvious and we continued along it before re-joining the ICT and beginning an initially steep climb up towards Hunt Lake. All told, the alt rte saved us from walking ~10 stress filled miles on paved rds. As we climbed upward, we passed a few families with buckets in hand picking huckleberries, but overall there was little traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. Someone had used marker and paper plates to note each 1/2 mile along the rd…this constant recognition of our progress made for the perception of slow going, when in actuality we were cruising along at 3 mph. It reminded me of the last few kilometers of the PCT which is marked every kilometer…after having walked 2,658 miles the slowest part of the entire trip were the 7 km into Canada…
WD was dragging a bit, so I carried his bags for the majority of the climb. We seem to have an understanding that if he goes after squirrels, then the bags go back on, thus he was well behaved.
At the moment it is 4 pm and we are ~2.5 miles from camp and taking another extended break. This area of Hunt Creek burnt and was re-seeded in 1953, so it is interested to see the growth of the last 55 yrs.
We’ll hang out, do a WD doggie massage and eat here before pushing on. Ending the day yesterday at 3:30 drove me nuts as I had ~5 hrs to sit around before it was dark enough to try to sleep. WD was indifferent, but maybe in Naples I’ll get a book…
After our break, I managed to get us into a pickle in the late afternoon. A combination of criss-crossed logging rds, dense vegetation, and an untimely dose of my ego has us a bit misplaced this evening. Nothing to be too concerned about as I know generally where I am, where I need to go, and a sense of how to get there. The catch at this point is just trying to figure how crappy it is going to be to do…off trail is not particularly easy in this environment!
Anyway, due to my decisions WD is thoroughly whipped this evening. Fortunately his wee doggie brain has no idea what is likely in store for us tomorrow. I am certain he will sleep better than myself this evening.
Thanks for reading.
The morning began early with a wet nose in my ear. 5:15 am, and WD is hungry. Instead of simply rolling over and going back to sleep, I figured an early start to our problem solving would be wise. Fed, packed, and happily ignorant of what lay ahead, WD set off first. We managed to follow a good game trail for the first 40 mins of the morning and the bush whacking was minimal.
Reviewing maps last night, I decided that I must have turned too early on an old logging rd instead of continuing on a well used rd to the obvious TH to Hunt Lake. I managed to keep pressing forward though… obviously for the worse, until I had managed to bash my way to the opposite ridge of where I needed to be. Regardless, where I was offered a decent approach to getting back on track so I ruled out backtracking. As long as I could climb a rounded ridge, locate a cliffband, and then contour onto the shores of Hunt Lake, things would be alright.
Once the animal trail disappeared, WD and I continued to gain some elevation based on my guess as to our position from occasional glimpses of surrounding terrain. After 20 more minutes of very deliberate foot placement, I felt confident that I was above the cliffband and started my contour. Bushwhacking is never much fun, but working across slope in steep terrain, with a short legged companion is challenging. Often times WD would simply find his own way, but more often than not, he’d follow me which was not always to his advantage. Many times I’d give him a jump assist…convincing him to leap while I tugged at his lift handle on his harness. This was effective to get him to clear large blowdowns.
As we continued on, WD’s enthusiasm for honoring my alpha role and its associated decision making was starting to wane. Occasionally he’d decide to simply stop…watching me negotiate some deadfall, clamber through thick growth, or otherwise struggle and he’d need a fair amount of coaxing to follow. While I am a fan of pushing myself, it is not fun to watch someone or something being pressured to do something that they would preferably avoid… particularly when you cannot make any attempt to justify your actions verbally!
Finally, the brush began to clear a bit and we descended granite slabs to the outlet of Hunt Lake…thankful the tedium of the morning passed without injury! Traversing around its right shore, I found a nice water-side slab to take a break, refuel, and watch the fish jump as the sun crested the ridgeline above us.
After our break we continued upward with the intent of finding a saddle and dropping into Fault Lake. Supposedly there is a rte marked with orange dots, but I never found them, nor spent much time looking.
Descending from the saddle into the Fault Lake drainage, the terrain changed…slightly alpine in flavor and feel. The granite ridges and peaks of the Selkirks extended north and south, each with a cirque and lake in the basin below. I picked my way through the marshy areas and tried to stick to the granite that lined the subtle ridges, before contouring to just below the shores of Fault Lake and stirring up a Bull Moose. I noticed a short section or two of old, constructed trail, but certainly not anything distinct.
Three groups of people were camped at Fault Lake, and WD and I enjoyed a break in the warm sun and a cool drink before packing back up and pushing onward.
The descent to Pack River rd has been straight forward as it follows single track until linking into an old rd which is now overgrown and a bit brushy. Lots of people out on the trail today, 2 groups of horsemen, and 2 groups of hikers. Always nice to see folks out enjoying the woods. Indian Paintbrush, Aster, Fireweed, and a few other colorful plants lined the trail.
At the moment we are taking a long 2 hr break at Gunsight Creek for lunch and nap. The creek is quite nice… granite slides and steep steps that give the water something to do as it follows gravity.
After our nap and lunch we continued down trail towards Pack River Rd. Seems the Selkirks have a bit of a rainshadow effect as the trail was dusty and the vegetation comparatively sparse compared to the western flank of the range. The trail lazily switchbacked and soon crossed McCormack Creek. Some recent `flood event’ gouged out a trough in the lower creek and each creekbank a jumble of logs and rocks.
A mile later I came to Pack River Rd. Since meeting people on this side of the range, I’ve been quizzing each one on their knowledge of any existing trail from Dodge Peak to White Mtn and down to the MacArthur Wildlife Refuge. Although the official ICT, it is a stretch of trail that seems to be a black hole for accurate info. A friend checked it out for me and he was unable to locate either end of the trail, and of those quizzed today, a confused look was the typical response. In addition, there are supposedly private property issues as well.
As such, I’ve decided to follow the rec’d alt rte from the Idaho Parks and Rec Dept….~12 miles on Pack River Rd out to Hwy 95, and then 7 mile paved rd walk into Naples and my first re-supply.
While I’d love to gain some firsthand knowledge about the rte, this seems the more reasonable decision. If I walk the ~5 miles up the dirt rd to the trail, and then end up having to backtrack, that would insure that dog food (and human food) would fall short of needed supply.
With the decision made, we set off down Pack River Rd, hoping to get another 5 miles in before finding a camp. Each creek we crossed we’d take a 20 minute break for drinks, and huckleberries.
The road itself is pretty busy, but all drivers have been courteous and slow down when they pass.
Camp tonight is just off the rd, river side. There is a nice pool established just off the bank and I had a quick dip and clean up before dinner. Always helps my outlook when I feel clean!
With the Pack River Rd rte, I should have ~15 miles tomorrow to Naples and my first resupply. Here’s to hoping the ~7 miles of pavement has an ample shoulder…
The day did not hold much for me in my mind when it started. Rd walks are rarely fun, and I saw no reason for the coming miles of pavement to be an exception.
The morning was cool when I set off and I made good time down Pack River Rd to HWY 95 which was already quite busy at 8:30 AM with Monday traffic.
With WD on leash, we set off with ~8.5 miles to Naples, ID. I made an effort to stay positive by resorting to `negative affirmations’ such as:
“I may be on a road walk, but at least the shoulder is lined with trash and broken glass!”
“Despite there being a stiff headwind, at least the air smells like diesel!”
“Although the logging trucks are speeding by dangerously close, at least my feet hurt!”
“WD might cower with every passing car, but at least that makes him try to go between my legs for protection and almost make me trip!”
Yes…a morning that lasted entirely too long.
I kept trying to find some sort of alternative…walking the railroad tracks or walking the trough between the railway and the roadway (moose, deer, raccoon tracks) but really, I decided early on that if I walked the road I would at least be walking the most efficiently which, while miserable, would at least decrease my time spent walking this stretch. So…the road it was at least until the MacArthur Wildlife Refuge where I was able to take a County Rd ~4 miles into Naples. Nice rd, no traffic, but still a road and tough on my feet.
I swear, every mile of pavement is equal to 2 miles of trail.
But…with every spirit killing rd walk, there is often times a karmic payback at the terminus, and most certainly Naples, ID qualifies.
One reason I like to hike is the people I get to meet and learn about along the way. More often than not in such small towns the over-riding characteristic of most individuals that inhabit the place is an effortless authenticity. They are not making an effort to relate nor appeal to you. They are just themselves, and that is what they do. As long as you show up with no sense of entitlement, you’ll be treated like family. Common humanity is where things start…all else is gravy.
WD was happy to arrive as well because he has found a patch of lovely green grass to roll around in and got a can of Pedigree at the General Store to gorge himself. Happy dog, full stomach.
I am happy to arrive because of the place itself and the people here. Naples has a great General Store…the old school kind with everything from trade-able paperbacks, machetes, guitar strings, hardware, automotive supply, grocery, liquor, ice cream, and PO…all under one roof and run by friendly folk.
Just next door, in the former Naples Hall is a bed and breakfast (www.naplesinnidaho.com) run by Jeneen Schuler and her Blue Heeler Molly. GREAT place, and I’ll be camping on the lawn tonight. Laundry, showers, an ample bookshelf, and Jeneen herself create the perfect hiker stopover. I am tempted to take a rest day here tomorrow. I feel fine, but I am sure WD would appreciate having a day off to eat Pedigree and wrestle with Molly. Food and Women, a universal theme for all male creatures…
Thanks for reading.
I decided against a full rest day in Naples as the mileage breakdown worked best towards Clark Fork if we could get 8-10 miles out of the way today. As such I left the good company of Naples at about 2:30 pm and began the climb up toward Beaver Dam Pass.
Before leaving Naples, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Jeneen and her friend Bill last night…turkey, zucchini bowls, a tasty pasta salad, and homemade vanilla ice cream and raspberry cobbler. Not only was the food great, but the conversation was as well. A great evening in warm company.
This early afternoon I went with Jeneen and picked a few gallons of raspberries at her friends ranch…an 800 acre spread that is part tree farm and part cattle ranch that Bing Crosby told Jeneen’s friends about many years ago.
I also had a chance to visit with Tony (local carpenter) a bit and he was helpful in giving me a heads up about the terrain ahead as he has hunted in the area for 30+ yrs. He also shared some pretty gruesome sawmill stories…the worst being when a co-worker chopped all 4 fingers off and management left the fingers on the time clock as a reminder to be safe…
The hike up to Beaver Dam Pass was warm in the afternoon sun. The trail itself was fairly distinct switchbacks climbing up to a saddle above the Shiloh Railroad crossing. From that point, more logging rd walking. There is supposedly a section of ICT single track between rds, but there is SO much logging debris, I was quickly discouraged from spending too much time trying to find it. Where it supposedly crosses the rd I decided to walk, there was never any clear evidence of trail, so I felt justified in my decision.
Before the final 3 mile push up to Beaverdam Pass we stopped to fill up on water. While doing so, some classy ladies stopped to let their dog get a drink in the creek. I was immediately smitten with the larger of the two. This tanned and half naked beauty not only had a larger beer in hand than her companion, but also a noticeably pronounced dip of snuff in her lower lip. Disappointingly, her left hand did not have a cigarette… that would have been the trifecta of sin embodied in a single person! A rare find! Tongue tied, all I could muster was a `Howdy’ and I was unable to get any digits before they sped off in a cloud of dust. My search for love continues…
The remaining miles to Beaverdam Pass and slightly beyond where I found a decent camp, were pleasant enough, but rds nonetheless. The remaining miles to Clark Fork should be trail, so I have my fingers crossed that the maps are true and the trails are in decent shape. If so, the terrain should yield some big views as many of the miles are along (or near) the ridgeline. Funny to think that I have yet to see a sunrise or sunset! There is also the Calder Mtn Wolf Pack in the area and today I saw a few black bear prints roadside.
Anyway, I am anxious to justify all the rd walks for some good trail tomorrow.
WD seems a bit down this evening…normal post trail town visit depression I think. Hopefully he will be back to his perky self tomorrow.
I left camp just before 6 am. A few minutes of rd walking and I dropped right and onto some well-trod single track. A bit chewed up from equestrian use, but clear, distinct trail beneath my feet. After passing through an open jumble of downed timber the trail climbed briefly to a rd before again exiting right to a 2 track which soon dwindled to single track. Hurrah! Great trail as I climbed toward Kelly Pass. Ironically, the trail was so nice, I got a little suspicious of my good fortune, and actually convinced myself to backtrack just to be certain. Despite my efforts to confuse myself, I was on the trail and eventually allowed myself to trust the trail signs…the first directional hints of the hike thus far. Not ICT blazes, but simply signs at junctions telling what was what, and what went where.
The descent from Kelly Pass was quite steep in places as well as very entrenched from horsemen. The footing was fine, but gravity’s enthusiasm to propel me downward took a bit of effort to counter.
WD however was enjoying the free ride downward and was a bit ahead of me when I decided to stop to put on my sunglasses. I whistled to bring him back, and he did so promptly, but what WD did not realize was that a wolf was slinking up trail behind him. As WD approached me, nub wagging, tongue lolling, I saw the wolf turn the corner below us. Immediately I gave a quick shout and the wolf bolted uphill into the brush. Meanwhile, WD was cringing a bit…likely trying to figure out why he got yelled at for being good and coming back!
Continuing on towards Boulder Creek I kept WD on-leash and continued to do so as we climbed the next few miles to he Timber Mtn trail jct. The trail was in good shape and moose, bear, and yes…wolf tracks were clear and obvious. Fortunately all the tracks were heading down canyon as we climbed up, but it appears as if we got caught my one morning commuter. Admittedly the rest of the morning I kept looking over my shoulder…
Lunch found us on the flanks of Calder Mtn with some nice views to the ridgeline south that we will be following this afternoon as well as the views of Lake Pend Orielle. Other than climbing over from Hunt to Fault Lake, I think this may be 2nd time I’ve ben able to see both horizons.
On our way again, the trail continued to impress as it climbed and contoured from saddle to peak…Purdy Peak, Mt Willard, and finally Pend Orielle which we are camped below for the evening in a tight bosque of fir. Since the breeze died, the mosquitoes are out in force.
The hike along the ridge this was great albeit very sunny and hot. I anticipated a possible dry camp tonight or either dropping down to Darling Lake, but a strong spring on the contour to Mt Willard saved us from added mileage or an uncomfortable evening. Originally I thought to try to make it to the Lunch Peak Lookout for camp, but WD was pretty beat from the dry trail and warm temps.
This section of trail today has certainly been the best of the trip. While I appreciate trees, big views are tough to beat. Should be more of the same tomorrow.
Awoke early as I slept poorly… a surprisingly warm evening atop the ridgeline and the skeeters were persistent throughout the night when the breeze quit.
The day thus far has proven to be the most relaxing of the trip. While we still managed our miles my mid afternoon, we took a 2 hr lunch and an earlier hr long break just after Lunch Peak and the Lunch Peak Fire Lookout. Grabbing a book in Naples has helped me stop for longer than 30 mins…
The trail itself has been amazingly well contoured all day. A few short climbs and descents, but seemingly flat. Big views of Lake Pend Orielle all day as well. Very pleasant walking among the flowering bear grass that has lined the trail, coating my left arm and shoulder with pollen. Certainly a noticeable lack of campsites along the ridge, but it should not prove difficult to find a spot large enough for one scrawny human and a WD.
As for wildlife, Hummingbirds, grouse (with chicks), and a few noisy Jays have been it for the day. Deer and Elk tracks along the trail, but no sightings.
Right after Round Top Mtn there was about a 1/4 mile of ATV damaged trail. Not surprising to see the carsonite post with the `no motorized’ sticker broken in half and discarded in the brush.
The weather has been perfect as well…slightly overcast with a few sprinkles in the AM and sunny but breezy this afternoon — which was good as the trail after the climb to Trestle Peak is waterless for ~8 miles. WD and I were both very happy to gulp down water straight from a hillside piped spring along the ridgeline between Cougar Mtn and Beeline Peak and just after the junction to Porcupine Lake.
Not only is water frequent along the ICT, the quality is simply amazing. I have probably drank as much untreated water as treated thus far. Of course, the next few weeks will determine just how good the water is…!
We are currently at the aforementioned spring and will hang here for a few hrs before heading down trail with hopes of finding a decent camp.
I always find it amazing how far sound travels. Here I am, ~4000 ft higher than the boats on the lake, the vehicles on the road, and the train on the tracks, yet I can distinctly hear their individual auditory signals… maybe not surprised, but rather disappointed. At least I do not hear leaf blowers, weed eaters, or lawn mowers…yet.
Clark Fork tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
I awoke to a nice sunrise from a small saddle along the ridgeline with ~10 miles to Clark Fork…half of which was a long, ~30 switchback descent. A few deer kept WD alert last night, so he was a bit grumpy this morning when we set off.
The morning came quick, and the temps warmed up rapidly. Fortunately much of the morning I was in the shade so the hiking was pleasant.
Eventually I popped out on a piece of private property. Fortunately it was a quick jaunt down a gravel driveway before getting out onto the public rd. I typically always respect private property, but no signs were posted along the trail, and no other alternates or rights of way to access the FS land exist. If you build, I think honoring established access rights need to be granted… in my mind that is an unspoken rule of the West.
After a very scary bridge crossing in which I managed to stop traffic in both directions, (future note: ford the river…it is safer!) I rambled into Clark Fork. Some friends of mine who are out hiking the CDT at the moment, put me in contact with a local couple that were willing to offer a place to stay in Clark Fork.
As I walked into town, Joyce turned off the rd and introduced herself…
guessing right that I was Brian and the dawg was WD. Perfect! I cruised over to the PO and then we drove up the rd to Joyce and Konrads place, a 3 acre spread with grass, gardens, and a comfy cabin in the woods.
After introductions, etc I was treated to a lunch of home smoked Kokonee, goat cheese, and fresh cantaloupe.
Konrad also informed me that the chunk of private property that I dropped into and crossed is actually the `cabin’ of Lord of Rings actor and star Viaggo Mortensen. From this point forward I hereby declare a moratorium on all of Viaggo’s work until access to the ICT is granted!
WD has been enjoying the cool wood floors and Joyce and I went to gather some wood chips for her yard this afternoon. On the drive back I treated her and myself to a Huckleberry Milkshake at the local market. Mmmmm….
Konrad and Joyce also showed me the work of our mutual friend Phil who has worked with the Idaho Conservation League in trying to establish the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Area. The 88,000 acres that the proposed area covers is already managed as such, but lacks official designation. Check out http://www.scotchmanpeaks.org for more info.
I’ll likely take a rest day here tomorrow before heading out for the ~90 miles to Mullan, Id…the last stop before heading into the large tracts of wilderness of Central Idaho.
Instead of a full rest day, I decided to push off for Mullan this afternoon and left the gracious hospitality of Joyce and Konrad around 2 pm…but not until after Joyce had stuffed me full of cake, berries, carrots, and other goodies from her garden.
The rd walk leaving Clark Fork was actually quite scenic and low on traffic which made it somewhat tolerable. WD enjoyed it because a local who happens to work at the animal shelter stopped his truck and gave us an entire bag of dog treats…sometimes you have to say yes, despite the increase in pack weight! Besides, the ingredient list is pretty basic, so I figured we could share if need be.
Much of the Clark Fork valley is agricultural land so scenic barns, rolls of hay, and grazing animals were the norm for the 5 miles of pavement pounding.
Instead of following the ICT to Dry Creek, I turned up Twin Creek. Dry Creek was another ~2 miles of rd walk and my feet were protesting slightly. Besides, according to my maps, there is water higher up Twin Creek than in Dry Creek which will be helpful considering the next section of the ICT follows a high ridgeline and is therefore quite dry. Surprisingly, as I climbed my way to Deryle Forks, Twin Creek rd becomes ATV/Hiker Trail #77 about half way up as the trees thicken and the old road narrows. Very pleasant walking this evening and no sign of ATV’s.
Camp tonight is a few miles short of Deryle Forks (where I will rejoin the ICT) and on the west branch of Twin Creek. A bit cool this evening which I am actually looking forward to as the previous nights on the trail were too warm despite the higher elevation.
I was very impressed with the last section of trail through the Cabinet Mtns. The terrain ahead certainly appears much less rugged on the maps as it basically follows the stateline of ID/MT before dropping into Mullan, but I am sure it will be scenic.
I got a bit of a late start today as I was busy chugging as much water as possible given the potential ridgeline dryness ahead. Bloated, I headed up the remainder of Twin Creek Trail 77 and soon came upon Deryle Fork and Rd 322.
The morning was perfect for hiking… cool, a slight breeze, and overcast. If I kept my pace in check (which WD does by default) water consumption would not be an issue.
Just after Deryle Fork, I passed a fellow and his yappie Collie out picking Huckleberries. The roadway is lined with ripe berries and it did not take long for my pace to slow, my hands to stain, and my belly to grow. Thank you Mamma Earth! Tasty.
The rest of the morning continued along, the skies staying overcast and the day remaining cool. I eventually arrived at Jacks Gulch Jct where we are stopped for lunch. After feeding WD, I dropped my pack and wandered down to locate and evaluate Jordan Spring. Having a healthy spring in this section will be really helpful for other hikers to know about, so… 600 ft down and 25 mins later I arrived in a lush drainage after just a short ways of thrashing once I left an ATV trail for 3/4 of the distance. The water was clear, cold, and ready for consumption as it welled up from the ground. I forced down 2 L before refilling and climbing back up to the ridge to resume my lunch.
Our lunch break was interrupted by a light rain, so I finished up, packed up, and got moving. Generating heat is more important to me than resting once the temps drop. Motivated to cover some ground this afternoon I decided to carry WD’s food bags in addition to my own gear and ~1 gallon of water. The added weight seemed to have little affect on my pace…when you know you have the legs, you’d better use ’em! For whatever reason, my energy seemed limitless this afternoon and I tooled along at 4 mph to just past Ulm Peak and found a wind sheltered camp for the evening. Without his luggage, WD was happy to keep pace and trotted along with me.
Despite the early hr, 22 miles for the day was plenty and the views from the ridge are excellent…mostly because the area was recently burned so I can actually see further than 20 yds into the woods. I am curious just how cold it intends to get this evening…
This portion of the Bitteroot Mtns are not particularly distinctive. Just rounded knobs and lumps of forested (and cut) slopes into the distance. By no means ugly or unworthwhile, but thus far nothing to really set them apart. But hey, I’ll never complain about big open spaces!
Despite being on a rd all day, the walking was pleasant. Rds are much more tolerable when what they are intended to accommodate are not around. Only 3 vehicles today.
WD is already in the shelter, curled up on my sleeping pad and stinking up the place. He has been a bit gassy today…
The cool morning started with a steep rd walk up to Idaho Point and a communications station. Big views in all directions, although not towards anything too spectacular.
The trail made its way indistinctly along a rocky ridgeline, dropping to a saddle and then continued on. The wind began to pick up from the west, and when the trail contoured on the east side of the range, the morning was pleasant, when not, the 20 mph wind grew tiresome.
About half way from Idaho Point to Porcupine Pass the trail became more defined and the walking was easy although at times a bit brushy. After taking a short break at the pass, finding the trail southward was indistinct…further down the rd than marked on the maps, but a small cairn clued me in. Once I found it, the trail was in great shape and easy to follow…nicely contoured as well all the way to the powerlines just past Eighty Seven Mile Peak.
From that point it was a rd walk for maybe a mile before I noticed a junction at the stateline. The ICT follows the rd and contours around to Taylor Saddle before climbing towards the jct to Ninety Three Mile Lake. Fortunately, the sign for the trail junction noted the #7 CC Divide Trail and the same lake being 5 miles distant. Right on! Even better the trail was in fine shape and made a lovely high contour just below Lost Peak before dropping to a saddle and then dropping to the Lake.
WD and I are taking a break here for lunch. Originally I had planned a short 16 miles today and planned to camp here, but I think we’ll get another few miles in and reduce our mileage slightly in the coming days.
The wind is still whipping on the ridge so I am sure I’ll have to keep an eye on my hat this afternoon.
Just before leaving the lake I began to have some issues with my SteriPen (which uses UV light to treat water) as I was trying to fill up for the coming miles. I finally managed to coax 1.5 liters out of it…just enough to hydrate my dinner and to fill a 1 L water bottle, but certainly not enough to comfortably get me to Mullan, still ~35 miles distant.
I did notice a spring on the map ahead and kept my fingers crossed it was in good shape…milking a liter for an evening, and then a long following day would not be pleasant, although doable given the circumstance. The spring itself was about 7 miles away, but judging by the contour lines, no possible camping until 2-3 miles later. So, my easy 16 mile day was looking to be a bit of work. Oh well, what can you do but walk?
Just beyond the lake I saw couple picking huckleberries. Each had nearly a gallon. That takes some time! The were enjoying a fine day in the Bitteroots.
Pushing on I came to rds end and began a steady climb up well graded trail and then across the scree fields of the western slope of the ridgeline…each footfall atop the scree sounding like an out of tune piano. Ahhh, now the Bitteroots were showing some distinction! Craggy, rocky, yet not unreasonably rugged, all matched well with beautiful trail. Even a few dwindling snow patches for me to cross and WD to roll around in.
Despite my building anxiety about my water situation, I was enjoying the afternoon. Occasionally I’d fret, but I knew whatever the case was, it would force my hand and I’d think of Plan 2.
Fortunately Mamma Earth came through again as I rounded a curve and caught the smell of water on the wind. The first trickle was just that, and I knew that filling a gallon of water was going to be time consuming! But then the wind stopped and I heard a stronger babble of water. I dropped my pack and picked my way upslope to find a nice filling station. Perfection! WD was already filling himself up as I gathered my bottles, chugged what water I had, and then drank an additional 2 L as the bottles filled. Both refreshed, we continued a long contour across slope with our eyes peeled for the first campsite…well, at least I was as WD was more intent to stalk chipmunks.
Eventually, the landscape became less severe as we closed in on a saddle. Just short of the saddle proper and therefore less of a funnel for the wind, we settled in for the night.
Reviewing the mileage data, it looks like ~25 miles for the day. A long one to be sure, but a day that ended on a good note and was a joy to walk! Good to know that we are both capable of that distance when needed.
The trail was exceptional today with a variety of trail, and a few scenic surprises along the way as I became more familiar with the Bitteroot range.
Thanks for reading.
After a very calm evening, WD and I awoke and hit the trail. More trail perfection in a gradual contour and then descent to a roadway. Unfortunately ATV’s have found their way about 1/2 mile up the trail from the rd.
From that point, we contoured along rd 430 for a few miles before a trail jct led to more of the same…excellent trail contouring just below the ridgeline. A few blowdowns to contend with but nothing rigorous.
After a few miles we began the descent to near Thompson Pass. I was happily in my head and missed the turn off to the rd, but quickly decided it did not really matter. The trail I was on led directly to Thompson Pass and then contoured to rejoin the ICT and the trail to Blossom Lake. As a bonus, this trail (say it with me!) contoured nicely so I did not lose any elevation for the next 1.5 miles.
I was surprised to see that Thompson Pass is a paved rd…with FS Interpretative signage to boot. Guess I’ve been in the homes of martens, wolverine, and lynx. All I’ve seen or heard since Clark Fork are ravens, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer.
Judging by the footprints and dustiness, the trail to Blossum Lake is popular. As such it was well maintained and well graded. WD was happy to greet the outlet flow of the lake with a minute long drink and a brief instream lie-down. No doubt refreshing. Blossum Lake looked to be an ideal candidate for a swim with it’s ease of entry and pebbly shoreline. My plans were to get to Pear Lake ~1 mile distance for lunch and a swim. Setting off, the trail climbed to a low pass then zig and zagged before finding the shores of shallow, warm watered Pear Lake. Perfect! I stripped down and eased in up to my waist then turned and did a backflop into the water. Submerged in the snowmelt waters of the Lake, I swam about for a few minutes, and scrubbed off the trail grit from the previous few days. Totally revived, I emerged, dressed, and decided to do a few more miles to get away from the bugs and to warm up!
Being clean always does wonders for my psyche. Not sure why exactly, but a swim or a rinse just lifts my spirits.
A few miles and a stiff climb up from Pear Lake we stopped for lunch trailside just before noon. Judging by the maps, only ~11 miles remain to Mullan.
Motivated, WD and I set off again, a downward glide to Glidden Pass along ATV enhanced switchbacks, a then a short rd walk to Copper Pass. I was not to patient in finding the trail from Copper Pass and improvised a bit..finding it location by referencing a curve in the rd and the bushwhacking to get to it. Back on trail, this section was poorly maintained and overgrown — at least in comparison to the previous days of walking. The trail to the ridge was more an enhanced animal trail than anything else as it was nearly straight up, loose and over grown. Manageable, but certainly physical.
Upon cresting the ridge, the trail was in much better shape although the jct to begin the descent to Mullan was not where my maps indicated. I backtracked twice thinking I may have passed it, but…no sign. Instead onward, I simply set of cross country figuring if the trail was indeed below me, I’d eventually cross it. Fortunately after 10 mins of sidehilling and descent I found the trail at a switchback and was surprised to see it in such good condition! The jct must have been just slightly ahead of where I bailed of the ridge. No harm, no foul.
The remainder of the descent was uneventful, but the lower section of trail tread is quite dry and loose. Slippery going for sure before the ICT spits you out onto a rd…which I was obliged to follow into the town of Mullan, Id.
Lots of times, towns become anchors that keep a hiker in a state of mind that does not encourage moving on…good food, internet access, laundry, relaxation, or a nice vibe. Whatever it is, sometimes it is hard to leave. Fortunately Mullan will not present that challenge! Despite its lack of appeal, I will be taking a full rest day here tomorrow.
When I checked into the Lookout Motel the proprietor asked where I’d been hiking. When I replied from Canada, he said he had another hiker a few weeks ago that had been doing the same but northbound! So, that was encouraging news that someone else made it through the rigors of the coming miles although in reverse. If the mystery hiker did continue on to Canada, than he must have finished before I started because I have yet to see another backpacker on the trail.
Anyway, another long day on the trail…~24 miles. But…nothing a double bacon cheeseburger, potato salad and an ice cream bar from the local tavern could not handle.
With the hum of I-90 close to my bedroom window, I sleep…
Thanks for reading.
Mullan Rest Day
After threatening a rest day since Naples, I finally took one. Like most rest days it has been spent doing in-town chores, eating, and staying off my feet.
I did make a visit to the Mullan City Museum and learned abit about Capt Mullan who founded this Interstate Hamlet. A fine man, but I am uncertain how proud he’d be of Mullans current state as his legacy. Surviving to be sure, but grasping to hang on it seems to me. The local Silver Mine provides the bulk of the jobs here (as well as community finance), and while Lookout Pass Ski Area is just up the rd, it is close enough to other larger towns that I don’t imagine Mullan providing any services to winter enthusiasts during that season. As a hiker town the pickin’s are slim, but accommodating enough….small hotel (half filled with community renters), PO, library internet, a tavern, a convenience store, and huckleberry milkshakes. Just enough.
Mullan is also along the Hiawatha Rails to Trails rte, which is a northern Idaho bicycle route that follows old railroad grades. I’ve seen a few cyclists…all speeding past town.
Temps seem to be on the way up, insuring a hot climb up Boulder Creek to the ridgeline rd that is the ICT. Boulder Creek is an alt rte that helps me avoid more pavement and begins just a few blocks from the Lookout Hotel where I am staying for $24 a night. Price is right!
WD has been sleeping the day away, only awakening when he hears the food hit his dish.
The next three resupplies are what I’d consider `backcountry’ meaning the likelihood of me being able to communicate with the outside world from them are very slim. ~450 miles without a town and only one paved rd crossing (~160 miles) at HWY 12! After the HWY I’ll head into the Selway-Bitteroot and Frank Church Wilderness areas of central Idaho.
So…that may mean no journal updates until the first week of September when I arrive in Grandjean. Bear with me…I intend to come out the other side!
Thanks for reading.
We left Mullan this morning at ~6:15 and headed up Boulder Creek. Although the sun was up, the steep sides of the canyon and the dense overstory provided a cool shade. After a few miles, the old road swung aggressively up hill…the creek-following rd I had intended to hike was no where to be seen, but the ATV’s had converted the old West Willow Peak trail into a rte…a very steep rte as it turned out! Ugh. Rugged enough, but the additional burden of 10 days of food was working me over. About a 1/2 mile from the ridge we stopped for a break and to fill up with spring water for the day as the coming miles were dry ridgeline. Always have to look forward to adding even more weight o the pack. Ugh again.
We finally gained the ridge after a long morning of climbing and enjoyed a leisurely contour for ~1 mile before the trail went into asskick mode again. Steep single track climbed to Stewart’s Peak and then stayed on the rocky ridge until just above Upper Stevens Lake. From there the trail contoured nicely for a bit before joining an ATV rte and returning to its bad habits…steep ups, steep downs, and little flat ground in between. Certainly fatiguing, and not too aesthetic. Spotting a patch of snow in the trees we descended to a saddle and stopped for lunch just before Bullion Pass. WD did his snow roll to cool off and I crammed my bottles full of snow.
An hr later we packed up and headed on our way. WD had blown his energy carrying food up from the valley, so I somehow managed to smash the 3 days of doggie kibble into my pack…good company for the other 7 days of dog food that I was already hauling. Ah, the things we do for companionship!
With WD’s load lightened, he managed to keep pace most of the afternoon, but definitely began to show his fatigue by 3 pm as we were walking along FR 391. It appears this rd was recently graded as the surface is very soft and very dusty. Nice and cushy on the feet, but quite dirty and irritating when the wind blows. Thus far we’ve been fortunate to miss any vehicular traffic as we’d be coated in fine silt upon passing. Another benefit of the rd surface is the ease in which to see animal tracks. Plenty of deer, elk, wolf, and I think cougar. Lots of critters about…
We pulled off the rd and made camp near Dominion Creek Rd. An unfortunate dry camp, but another 5 miles to water was out of the question for WD. He is tuckered.
Stopping at 4 pm has left me with entirely too much time to entertain myself which generally leads to frustration for me. A busy body needs to stay busy! I had no luck finding any books (excuse me, a book!) in Mullan, so I am stuck with the scenery and my brain for the evening. Seeing as how the scenery is bland tonight, that leaves my brain. Sometimes that is good, other times not so much! Depending on one’s state of mind, doing nothing can either be a positive exercise or an incredibly negative one! All a matter of perspective at a given moment I suppose. As it is this evening, I am finding myself leaning towards the pessimistic.
Got up after a fitful night…started walking. I’ll be on rd 391 for the next day and a half, so there is not much to report. We did pass through a Forest Service `Bear Lure Area’ where the sign informed us that we should either turnaround or proceed quickly.
Within a mile of the sign, there were very discernable black bear tracks meandering up the road, no doubt headed to that 100 gallon drum of chicken fat…
After ~5 miles we veered off trail to drop .80 of a mile to a lake to hydrate and refill bottles for the next 20 miles. I’d say a 1/3 of the distance was actual trail, the rest was a thrashing! Not much in the way of trail despite what the map denotes, and an effort that made me question if I would have remained more hydrated without doing so!
After reversing the thrash, it was back to Rd 391. Although I want to go into a rd walk rant, I am going to refrain in an attempt to make this day as positive as possible…the skies are blue, there is no traffic, and a slight breeze blows.
Stopped for lunch just below Craddock Peak at a motorized person’s camp…lots of logs sawn like chairs, which has made for comfortable eating Almost reminds me of my leather recliner back home.
Its 12:30 and only 8 miles remain to camp above Square Lake. Looks to be another night staring at my navel…
After lunch, more of the same: plodding along FR 391. I did notice a fire burning to the SW, but nothing that looks to come into play for me thankfully.
I soon reached the TH for Crystal Lake and I thought I might drop down for water but figured with only ~3 miles to camp and water it’d would be foolish to do so despite the most welcome change in scenery. So…onward. Jean and her dawg Rumble passed us as she drove to campout someplace up the road as well as a family out on ATV’s for the afternoon. It’ll be good to be off 391 by noon tomorrow as I am sure I am likely to see more folks and eat more dust over the weekend.
Upon arriving at a car camp above Square Lake I dropped the pack and hiked around a bit in hopes of finding a suitable stealth camp above where the cars park so I would not have to camp at the lake where I assume the skeeters would be far worse. Finding a spot, I then made my way down to the lake to rehydrate as well as fill and lug water back up to the ridge. The trail down was dangerously steep and I progressed slowly knowing that with a days worth of fatigue in my legs, my brakes (quads) would be slow to respond. About half way down to the Lake, the trail narrowed as it worked its way through a cliffband. Things were a bit sporty, and to add to the fun, seeps in the cliffband covered all the footing with water or moss. Careful! The good news was that I was able to find a strong enough seep to fill my bottles without another step downward.
After I chugged 2 L to rehydrate, I filled another 6 L to haul back to the rim. Enough water for tonight and all day tomorrow. I packed a liter in each pocket of WD’s packs, loaded my own and set off for the rim. The first obstacle proved too steep and wet for WD to negotiate with the added weight in his packs…obvious as he jumped to the top of a wet boulder, clawed fruitlessly, and then fell backwards into my lap covering my shorts in mud. Good dawg.
I removed his packs and gave him an assisted lift via his haul handle as he leapt again. Success! Smartly, he kept a good 20 yd distance on the climb up so I could not get his packs back on him…`lil weasel!
After much effort and much rest, I finally reached the ridge, made camp, and got settled in for the evening.
By all accounts a monotonous day on the ICT, but any day that is without any trouble is a good day indeed.
Started hiking by 6 am and busted out ~13 miles by 10:45…I am done with you FR 391! No more fantasizing about being on my motorcycle instead of in my boots!
During the morning walk I saw a few whitetail deer, a small herd of elk, and noticed wolf tracks in the dusty shoulder most of the morning. The fire that is burning SW of here has smoked up the skies a bit, and with a wind shift a faint scent of cinder is in the air.
A few miles before slaying FR 391 for good, I was passed by a very courteous family of ATV riders…all pulled to the side and cut their engines as I walked passed as well as returned my good morning.
WD and I took a short break at the end of the rd…did a little happy dance to celebrate being done with long rd walks for ~450 miles…with the anticipation of course that the coming trail is in decent shape! No doubt at some point in the coming weeks I will be thinking fondly of FR 391!
But…the moment is what is important and at this moment I am seated at a breezy saddle overlooking both Cliff and Diamond Lake with a full stomach (mostly) and a hazy view northward. Other than the breeze in the trees, I can faintly make out a few people splashing about in the waters of Cliff Lake below.
WD has parked himself beneath the shady boughs of a small fir and is snoring slightly.
Today marks an unofficial point for me…the completion of `Northern Idaho’ and the introduction to `Central Idaho.’ Not sure how that really pans out with regard to landscape/flora/fauna, etc but it feels that way to me and having consistent trails instead of roads is a big factor.
~9 miles on the schedule this afternoon before we arrive to camp at the Missoula Lake Campground… probably busy this weekend, but it is the closest water to the trail and reasonable end to a ~23 mile day.
The afternoon was pleasant all around. Big views over the eastern ridgeline, and subtle endless, purplish-gray distant ridges to the southwest. Being on trail always makes me feel like I have more energy and the legs kept turning over.
Dropping down from the ridge above Cliff Lake I passed ~10 equestrians. We chatted a spell and showed them my maps as they had missed their turn to Heart Lake. They were also camped at Missoula Lake and judging by the time they were having in the hills, earplugs were going to be mandatory this evening.
Pushing onward it was long but enjoyable afternoon contouring the high basins and ridges of Stateline Trail 738 in the Bitteroots.
We finally arrived at the jct to Missoula Lake and dropped down to the campground. I set up camp quick and then hustled down to the lake for a swim…the shallow waters had been sun warmed and the temps were perfect for a dip. It felt tremendous to clean away the trail dust and accumulated grit since Mullan. Lets hope the lakes find a way to get over the border, `cause thus far the good ones have been in Montana!
On the way back to camp I gathered water for the evening and for the ~18 dry miles ahead.
Before settling in for some second hand overheard conversation from other campground occupants, I wandered over to ask the equestrian folk if they’d haul out my ziploc full of trash. More than obliged to do so AND they gave me a fish fillet to eat. Thank you!
As much as I tend to poo-poo noisy campgrounds, I think I will try to appreciate it as I anticipate a few lonely nights ahead.
Strangely, last night I was reminded of my 5th grade performance of Guns n Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” during a talent show…not so much because I was feeling nostalgic, but more than likely due to the blaring truck speakers at 1:30 am of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Just goes to show what a 24 pack of Keystone Light, a raging bonfire, and two 20-something couples can accomplish when they set their minds to it. Public camping at its finest!
Seeing as how I slept poorly, I got up and got moving earlier than normal. Early enough that I was able to gain some elevation and greet the sun. Excellent!
Stateline Trail 738 continued, climbing quickly toward Illinois Peak, a former fire lookout and rugged, steep sided behemoth from the north. Although steep in spots, the trail was fabulous, contouring when it could and climbing up through cliffbands among wildflowers. Patches of snow still clung to the steep couloirs that dropped from the peak.
Reaching a saddle, the views south outlined the craggy crest of the Bitteroots. It was going to be a good day of walking!
After a pleasant contour above St Joe Lake and a mellow descent to Hoodoo Pass, the trail climbed sharply for a few switchbacks before settling into a contour towards a trail jct with Heart Lake whose turquoise rimmed shoreline appeared very inviting. Quite a few day hikers out as well as a group of equestrians. I stopped for lunch well above Heart Lake with a nice view towards Pearl Lake and the surrounding peaks.
Just as WD and I settled into naptime, a mtn biker came barreling down the trail which sent WD into a frenzy of sorts…no attack, but he was not happy about being awoken so abruptly!
With naptime now out of the question, we packed up and continued on, climbing steeply to an unnamed highpoint before beginning a descent to Goose Lake. As it was only about 2 pm, I had envisioned a nice swim at the lake…but the reality was a semi-stagnant pond! Bummer. Fortunately, moose like such spots and I was greeted by a Bull chomping lake side grass as I arrived. Unhurriedly he lumbered across the lake and disappeared into the brush along the opposite shore.
Seeing water, WD headed to the shore but was met with chest deep mud instead! He emerged half coated in muck, his quest for refreshment deterred.
Originally I had planned to cut the day short given the previous evenings auditory assault, but quickly changed my mind. After filling water containers, we headed back out, a steep climb to end the day on a dry ridgeline, but one that offered a promised sunset and sunrise for our effort.
In no particular hurry, we took our time, stopping frequently to catch our breathe and admire the views. Eventually, after much sweat was sweat the trail began to contour before climbing again to a grassy knoll. Huge views in all directions and a slight breeze to keep the bugs somewhat at bay.
Slightly troubling is that from this vantage I can see 2 plumes of smoke a few ridgelines distant. While I cannot determine the fires exact locale, the western of the plumes does appear as if it may come into play tomorrow. After a few miles tomorrow morning, things should become more obvious.
I’d be fortunate not to have to alter my rte plans somewhat given Idaho’s typical summer fire season, but I am not going to rush to judgment until I get a better sense of things.
Despite a 7,000 ft+ elevation it is still very warm this evening…no sleeping bag.
Thanks for reading.
I awoke earlier from my ridgeline camp. The night was warm and the moon bright…kinda forgot about the moon as it has gone unnoticed from my typical camp in the forest. Good to see it!
Morning is my favorite time to be walking and this morning proved no different. I enjoyed the morning sun as it lit up the surrounding peaks even though its intensity was slightly muted due to the smoke in the air.
The eastern smoke plume seemed to have increased in size, and the western plume was fairly indistinct. Tough to get a read on things when the horizon is just a blah of smoke. Regardless I took note of their relative position and carried on. Judging by my maps I would not really get a good read on the fires position until Bruin Hill which was still ~10 miles away.
Stateline Trail 738 continued to impress with slightly exposed trail, big views, an interesting undulating nature, and a few very steep spots to keep me humble.
Shortly the trail left the crest and dropped through forested slopes to the well used shores of Fish Lake. A few campers from the weekend could be heard on the opposite shoreline. According to a FS sign, over 4,000 volunteer hrs have been spent building trail, establishing designated campsites, and cleaning up the place. Fish Lake is definitely a swimmer, but given the hr I refrained from a dip. I did take a short break to dump 2 gallons of water on a smoldering firepit before following the trail/rd around the lake to the continuation of 738 which climbed to a saddle above.
Saying goodbye to 738, I joined Bruin Hill Trail 490 which continued my long descent from 7k ft to 4k by the end of the day. It seemed the trail had been recently worked (also much different than mapped) as the water bars where cleaned out and fallen logs sawn. The trail contoured beautifully… crossing two creeklets on its downward glide.
Eventually the trail found a saddle before climbing ad contouring to Bruin Hill through shady, shallow drainages that were pretty overgrown. No worries though…the huckleberries were back and I was busy eating to care much about the trail conditions as I walked.
Cresting the southern shoulder of Bruin Hill I was able to get a good read on the fire situation. Now slightly behind me and to the NE were the eastern plumes…surprisingly close and surprisingly large! Glad I was heading south. The western plume that was indistinct earlier was now very obvious as it appeared just a ridge or two over from Kelly Creek which was 2k ft below me and my destination for the evening. Alright…free and clear…at least until tomorrow!
At Bruin Hill, the ICT bails down Hanson Ridge, but I either missed the jct or the trail is overgrown. Unfortunately I am not sure which as I did back track to try to find it, but had no luck. Admittedly I did not try too hard as the semi-recent trail maintenance continued and no matter where it went it seemed a sure bet! My thinking was that this would lead me down Little Moose Ridge and drop me directly into Kelly Creek Work Camp.
Of course best laid plans sometimes do not work out! At some point, as I followed well defined trail, I ended up dropping off the ridge (damned distractive huckleberries!) and continued downward. At some point I came out of my berry induced sugar shock to note my progress on the map.
Uhhh…this ain’t right!
Fortunately I could just make out Molly’s Thumb and kept that as a reference. The trail itself was odd as water bars had all recently been improved, but the vegetation was routinely over my head and required a good burst of forward momentum to break through. The footing was difficult as well, as the thick plant life obscured the view of my feet. Small steps to be safe, but big steps were needed to get over it all! Meanwhile, WD stayed close trying to move in my wake through the brush and nearly tripped me up a few times. But, as long as the trail went down, it had to dump into Kelly Creek so I continued to follow its obscure contours. Eventually I got a good read on a few landmarks and recognized that I was in Bear Creek. That was good, but I really had no idea where I left the ridgeline to do so. Either way, it did not matter, and around 3:30 pm WD and I emerged at Kelly Creek to be greeted by trail signs that said what we had just come down was in fact Bruin Hill Trail 490. Well…good. No mention of a Hanson Ridge Trail on the signs though.
Anyway, at the trail jct is a large horse packer camp…likely used in the fall for hunting season. Two storage sheds have loads of tarps, a propane tank, and misc pots, pans, and camp accessories. In addition, there are 3 log foundations with roof support poles close by that I am guessing get assembled as a kitchen, bunkhouse, and cafeteria. I’ve laid out my sleeping pad on the picnic table for the evening.
Stopping at this early hr has allowed me to do some laundry, get a good wash and rinse in Bear Creek, as well as pick some huckleberries as welcome addition to my grapenuts in the morning. Despite all the berries, I saw no sign or scat of Mr Bear once I dropped from Bruin Hill.
Based on my guess about the fire in play, I think I’ll skirt it to the west tomorrow. ~7 miles to Kelly Creek Work Center, so if anything is closed due to the fire hopefully info will be posted there.
Thanks for reading.
Left camp just before 6 am and started the day with a flip-flop ford of Bear Creek. With my boots on, the 7 miles to Kelly Creek went by swiftly, slowly descending along and above the banks of clear watered Kelly Creek. Huckleberries and service berries were plentiful along the way and the trail was in fantastic shape.
At Kelly Creek I wandered down to the road intersection looking for posted fire information, and there was a note with a map outlining the current crop of fires…all prescribed burns and no threat to the ICT. Good news!
After a short break we began a ~4 mile rd walk up to the Scurvy Mtn Lookout ATV trail. The rd was well graded and the gained elevation was easy.
At the jct, the skies had darkened and the wind picked up as a storm began to blow in. I donned by rain jacket and began uphill, steeply at first but then settling into a fair gradient. The storm kept coming and the winds gusted strongly as the rain continued. I had intended to stop for water, but had no motivation to do so as I was more focused on staying warm.
WD was enjoying the drop in temperature though as the recent heat wave challenges his cooling abilities. In addition, he was also getting a good washing!
Just as we came up the trail jct for the Windy Bill Ridge Trail, the skies cleared up as the storm blew out. I jumped at the opportunity to eat a dry lunch.
After a quick lunch we continued on, descending through wet, overgrown trail. A bit rough going at times, but the rain brought out a freshness I had not yet smelled this trip. A spring appeared and I took the chance to hydrate and fill bottles…another unfiltered source. Shortly thereafter we came to Scurvy Saddle. A large blowdown obscured the trail, but with a bit of poking around it was easy to find.
From that point it was a slippery, wet, semi-overgrown whack along a ridge before beginning our ascent to Switchback Peak from a sunny, grassy saddle…at least I think so. Not too distinct up here!
Regardless it has been wonderful place to rest and dry out a bit. Before setting off, I walked a big circle around my pack and eventually found what I determined to be the correct trail. Pack on, we set out along the meadows eastern side before finding defined trail near the forests edge. The trail was steep and entrenched but soon honored its namesake and 18 switchbacks later we gained the ridgeline. Ah…fantastic views south and eastward as the trees thinned for a few moments.
A gradual ridgeline of openly spaced trees brought us to camp a few hrs later. An ample huckleberry supply and good trail made the afternoon all the better.
Camp tonight is just short of Windy Bill saddle, off trail a few yards in a small opening surrounded by unripe huckleberry, bear grass, and stands of creaking pine. Not quite breezy enough to keep the bugs in check though.
Standard procedure…on trail just before 6 am.
Immediately the day got off to an auspicious beginning as I veered right on good trail from Windy Bill Saddle. When the trail is good, I rarely think it could be wrong!
I did catch my mistake pretty quick, but decided if a jct was not obvious, the trail would likely suck. Instead of making an attempt to backtrack, I continued on, confident of a direction to hike. Just then the rain began.
Continuing on my merry way, the trail continued to be great…plenty of water, great contour. Eventually I came to an opening that I had identified earlier as being where I would make an effort to return to the ridgeline as the contours were friendly and the elevation to gain minimal. I swung left on good game trail and within 10 mins found the trail on the ridge…of course overgrown, vague, and at times so entrenched that the wet vegetation was face high. Splendid! I did debate as to returning to the well maintained, well traveled trail below…trying to convince myself that a trail that good MUST surely lead to a intersection with signage. Of course it could also not! So, I manned up and began my ridgeline whack along the ICT…and it continued to rain.
Popping out of the weeds for a quick view, low clouds were rolling in heavy as I descending an open shoulder along vague trail. Bingo! Back on well groomed singletrack. No doubt the continuation of the trail I was on before…
The remainder of the morning was a gradual descent along recently maintained trail until I found my jct down to Windy Creek…on not so well maintained trail! It’s not that the trail tread is bad, its just that there is considerable vegetation that makes it slower going…even the more so when it is wet. And, it continued to rain.
The afternoon brought us down to Windy Creek, a few shallow fords, past a large outfitters camp, and eventually the Upper Weitas Creek Pack Bridge after a long descent. And it continued to rain…
Next up was a 4 mile, 2600 ft climb to Liz Butte Lookout where I was hoping to stop for the evening. At this point we’d only stopped for ~30 mins all day. Rain is not conducive to me taking long breaks and after 10 mins, WD and I were shivering anyway. Being as it were, I was not paying much attention to the amount of water I had. Plenty of it around for WD and I was peeing often enough. In times like these, with minimal gear resources, I find it best to keep moving and grind the miles out.
The climb was steady and slow but thankfully well switchbacked as well as lined with huckleberries. I was hoping I might be lucky enough to find a unmanned lookout at Liz Butte to get out of the elements, but was also cautiously optimistic about the idea.
Finally the ICT popped us out on a graded rd. I turned, amazingly found a spring, filled bottles, and then continued up the road…10 mins later I stood, mouth agape at my luck! Although the fire lookout was only a foundation, there was a small cabin! Mercy on me…the door was not locked and inside was a well kept interior with beds, cupboards, and most importantly a wood stove! Salvation!
Before anything else I got the woodstove cranking out some heat then hung up all my gear…most of which was wet from the day of continuous rain.
So, here I sit in a chair, warm, dry, and watching it continue to rain, rain, rain. All my gear may get wet tomorrow, but it’ll all be dry tonight!
There is also a journal here, so it has been fun to read through entries from previous visitors and add my own.
I hope this storm blows through tonight, but based on my good fortune this evening, my luck may have already been used up!
This last stretch of trail has been fatiguing.The combination of heavy loads leaving Mullan, semi-rugged terrain, and the heat last week have started to catch up with me. My legs are pretty flat on the climbs despite a light load at this point. WD seems more energetic than I, but he most certainly happy to stop when we do!
Although my next re-supply is only 3 days away, our next rest day is not for another week. Normally if I am tired, I listen to my body and simply stop. However, having WD along, our rest days are more scheduled since I need to have food around for him or at least a place I can buy some…which, last I checked was not readily available in the wilderness of central Idaho.
Lastly I did a quick dog food inventory for the remaining days to Moose Creek, and it appears WD is going to be on half ration for the next few days…or maybe more accurately I’ll be sharing some of my food with him. Not sure how the shortage came to pass, but it is what it is.
So on we walk…
Thanks for reading.
In the spirit of Lewis and Clark’s affinity for naming every camp, and seeing as I crossed their path this morning, I hereby designate August 21 as:
Fingers are too stiff and cold to type tonight Camp.
Full update tomorrow.
Alright, while I am not really motivated to write this evening, once I get behind on journals I never start back up. So…the last two days:
Yesterday, 8/21 found me leaving the comfortable confines of Liz Butte cabin into the gray murk of the morning. Had I had an extra days worth of the food, I’d have taken a layover day. But alas…onward I went.
A few miles of a rd walk to the Lolo Motorway, along it past the Nez Perce Trail and then bailed down the No-see-um Meadows trail to HWY 12. Thankfully the last slab of pavement I will cross in ~250 miles. The trail down was typical of the region…lush and therefore overgrown and very, very wet to walk through. Hurray! I’ve found that trails between places of greater interest are typically suffering from lack of use or maintenance, and this trail seemed no exception.
~7 miles later I crossed HWY 12 and entered the Wilderness Gateway Campground where the TH’s to head into the Selway Bitteroot Wilderness Area are located. I met a few equally soggy bicycle tourers (with a dog) that I talked to briefly. Two gals headed home to Virginia, and a gentleman headed back to Colorado.
Judging by the weather and the elevation gained in the coming miles along the ICT, I opted for a slightly shorter trail that was initially lower elevation to get me up to Shasta Lake by evening. I was wet, WD was wet, and the last thing either of needed was to be caught on a windy ridge at elevation for a night. A light pack has its advantages, but sometimes you have to objectively judge exactly what you came prepared for. So, the intent was to get up elevation fast, and then drop to Shasta Lake for the night.
But…we all know about intentions! I made slower progress than I had hoped as we climbed gradually towards Stanley Hotsprings and Boulder Creek which was a knee deep ford with WD in my arms. He has a tendency to do dynamic leaps in an attempt to stay dry, but the chance of injury seems great (to me) so I opted to carry him.
After the hotsprings (which I ignored) we began the long climb to Seven Lakes. It was quite steep, it continued to rain, and we both continued to get wet. With the afternoon quickly passing I realized that my goal of Shasta Lake was highly unlikely. Plan B…keep climbing to a saddle and make camp for the evening. Determination is useful at times, but no sense in being stupid.
Unfortunately, the trail on my map and the trail on the ground differed slightly. Instead of reaching the saddle, the trail continued on a climbing contour beneath the ridge. Finding a place to camp was out o the question as sleeping at a 30 degree angle is difficult to say the least. So we plugged away in the rain and dropping temps with hopes of finding something flat and large enough for my shelter.
Thoroughly soaked, such a spot finally appeared. I initially passed it thinking that we may as well continue to the lake to camp seeing as how it was close. But…crossing a creek and seeing yet another wall of head high, rain drenched vegetation made me think more clearly and I turned around. At this point my hands were basically claws so stiff and cold I could not even tear open an energy bar…even with the assistance of the `tear here’ cut! WD was in a similar state…shivering hard and generally appearing miserable. I quickly got the shelter up, got WD fed, on his foam pad and covered with a piece of plastic, my rain jacket, and my rain skirt…trying to create a vapor barrier for him to retain some warmth. Next, I went through my own checklist…get in dry clothes, get in sleeping bag, eat, eat, eat.
Once done, I settled down a bit as I felt warm for the most part but was concerned for WD who was still shivering now and again.
The night passed slow…intermittent bursts of rainfall. At some point I awoke and noticed shadows cast on the walls of the shelter…Yes! The moon was out. Clear skies tomorrow perhaps?
August 22nd continued…
A cool morning eventually came and I packed up as quick as I could, gritting my teeth as I put on wet, cold shorts and boots. A harsh wake up. Finally got moving just after 6 am, intent on hauling ass to the sunshine that I could see above me…
Salvation! The sun rays met my face and my spirits lifted as did my body temp! I kept hiking though as the trail contoured into the shadows and along the shores of vapor heavy lakes. Finally I crested a ridgeline and was able to bask in the sun of the morning.
Views were great in every direction with jagged peaks to the south and deep drainages to the north…most of the high slopes speckled with granite slabs. To the east, the clouds were lifting as they warmed and spilled over ridgelines into the valleys below. Quite spectacular until I recognized that those same clouds were in the valleys I’d be descending into! Curses! They had better keep lifting…
A bit further along, I came to a windy, sunny saddle and decided to take the opportunity to dry out all my gear. 45 mins later I felt much better about facing another wet evening.
The afternoon passed quickly with a brief stop for lunch at Two Lakes. The sun was holding out, and the day was very pleasant.
Next up was a ~5 mile descent to the jct of Rhoda and Grotto Creeks. The trail was there, but vague…easy enough to follow along the ridge but easy to lose if your mind wandered.
Down we went, getting back into thick vegetation and ripe berries.
After crossing Grotto Creek, the trail basically disappeared beneath the charcoaled remains of fire fallen timber. The ground was muddy and loose after the rain, and each length of burnt tree would or would not support my weight…a real guessing game and one that resulted in very slow and deliberate walking. Despite finding bits and pieces of the trail, it was really much easier to simply parallel the creek and make due. At Lizard Creek the ICT is supposed to cross Rhoda Creek and head up the Lizard Creek drainage. Good idea, but that intersection does not exist as far as I could tell. The trail (as mapped) then crosses Lizard, before contouring and switching back towards the peaks above. I figure I’d simply cross the creek and then head uphill until I came across the trail. That seemed the easiest option find to the rte. Unfortunately all the slopes above me were burnt as well so the going was slow.
Despite the terrain and countless false game trails, I did manage to find a retaining wall and trail which I managed to follow for a few dozen yards. Bits and pieces would emerge as I tried to follow a level contour across two drainages thinking that if I could make it out of the burned area I’d be good. The going was brutal and really not the safest thing to be doing. If I found good trail than the effort and risk would be justified, if not, I did have the resources to do this for the next 20 miles! So, decision time, and I decided to retreat to Rhoda Creek and head out the drainage to the NF of Moose Creek, and then on out the EF of Moose Creek to the Selway River and my ranger station resupply. I was uncertain of the mileage but was hopeful the trail would at least exist. The retreat from the slopes above Rhoda was very tricky…again, downed, brittle timber and thick creekside brush. Ugh. Perfect training for those of us that need to work on being more patient.
WD was noticeably fatigued and I was mentally drained when we finally re-emerged and crossed Rhoda Creek again. The northern bank of Rhoda (where trail is supposed to be) was much the same, burnt and tricky walking. Trudging on, the goal simply became to move downstream. Forget the trail!
With that in mind I made decent, but slow progress. By this point it was ~2 hrs past our normal quitting time and I thought it best not to be hiking streamside at dusk. I found a small mossy bench and threw out the sleeping pad and called it a night.
A pretty hellacious day on the ICT, but it least it did not rain!
I went to sleep with a vague idea of my location, a vague idea of the distance to get where I needed to be, and no idea what was in store for us with regard to trail.
Strangely, that lack of knowledge was liberating to a certain degree…
Happy Birthday to my brother and wife who share August 22 in celebration!
Left my mossy ledged camp and headed down Rhoda Creek, anxious for the junction of the NF of Moose Creek with hopes of better trail conditions.
The morning was a roller coaster emotionally. I was really at my end with regard to poor trail…tired of bushes whacking me, tired of bleeding shins, and simply mentally fatigued from concentrating on the basic act of walking. At one point I decided to count how many steps I could walk without having to stop for an obstruction…I decided against continuing to do so though as over the course of 20 mins, the max was 17…slow going.
Fortunately the hope of better trail was fulfilled and after a long ford of the NF, we were starting to make better time. About midday we stopped at a rocky beach, filtered water, had lunch, and dried out some gear. It was a welcome break and helped re-shift my perspective on the day.
Eventually we climbed to a bench above the NF into open meadows where I could spot the Shissler Peak Fire Lookout far above me just before crossing the EF of Moose Creek on a large suspension bridge. Easy, well trod trail led to the Historic Moose Creek Ranger Station and Backcountry Airstrip and I was anxious to arrive and get my resupply box. Strangely, no ranger was around, so I cleaned up a bit, drank some water, and took a nap thinking they’d be back at some point.
2 hrs later still no sign of the ranger and after knocking on doors and peering through windows I was growing a bit concerned. No food, no maps, and ~80 miles between me and my next re-supply!
I noticed a number of planes parked off the airstrip so I wandered down to talk with the pilots and passengers to check if they knew the rangers whereabouts. No luck, they’d arrived yesterday and not seen anyone.
After I explained my situation they assured me that they had enough food between them (as well as dog food!) that getting me what I’d need for the coming miles would not be problematic…but maps were still an issue. Slightly relieved, but still frustrated I re-visited the ranger station to double check for a note, an unlocked door or an open window. Still no luck, but on a final sweep of the office building I noticed a stairwell to a basement door. Unlocked! And there was my box on the shelf! A major sigh of relief… Before leaving the ranger station for the campsites by the airstrip, I met a fellow who had just flown in and also had hiked ~600 miles of the PCT back in ’73 when he was 16…actually grew up in the same town as Eric Ryback! Small, small world…
Re-packed I headed back down to the airstrip where I was welcomed again by the aviators…this time with home smoked salmon and the promise of a steak for dinner!
All was delicious as was the salad, corn, home- pickled beets, the raspberry pie, and most importantly the company! Everyone was lighthearted and much laughter ensued. All three groups of pilots were from the SLC Valley and this was an annual trip.
After that course I went ahead and had my normal dinner, as well as a few strips of Beef Brisket from a pilot for South Dakota. Mmmmmm, MEAT!
WD faired well also…numerous dog treats and a few pieces of beef brisket as well.
All said a caloricly intense evening and again I was touched by the graciousness and hospitality of total strangers…very, very nice to be reminded of.
Also new to me was the concept of `plane camping’ which these folks were well versed in. I was awestruck that a few hrs after leaving SLC, they could be in the middle the Selway Bitteroot Wilderness grilling steak and spending the weekend in one of the most remote spots in the Lower 48! Could be time to investigate a pilots license…
I left the airstrip camp early, hoping to beat the heat on the 4,500 ft of climbing to Moose Pt. Ouch. I paced myself well, but man, its tough to find your legs the rest of the day after that initial effort. The lower portion of the trail was partially burnt and steep, but the grade settled down and the contours were friendly. A few blowdowns to negotiate but nothing like compared to the previous days effort.
Throughout the morning I could hear planes coming and going from the airstrip far below. Just after leaving the drainges past Grizzly Saddle, and as the huckleberries thickened, I heard a deep WOOF and some bashing of bushes as something sizeable moved downslope. Immediately I put WD on-leash and then simply waited. Another WOOF and then I caught the head of and shoulders of a standing black bear about 20 yds away. I repeated the mandatory `hey bear’ greeting a few times as the bear tried to zone in on me. Then a whine from above…a single cub was scampering up a thin pine, but fortunately I was not between the two.
I moved up trail slowly, continuing to offer my morning salutations. WD whimpered a bit, as the bear was back on all fours and moving away from us. No problems, and I promised to lay off her huckleberry stash…
Once the elevation was gained, the day was pretty mellow, mostly minor undulations along great trail. A very pleasant day although the temps were warm.
Dropping into Long Prairie Creek was a fast ~3 mile descent through charred timber. Fortunately most of it was still standing so the going, while not always clear, was straightforward. At one point I stopped to check my maps and…no maps! Ugh. The last time I remembered looking at them was at least 20 mins back. I dropped the back, unsaddled WD and we both took off back up the trail at a brisk pace. Frustrated and feeling stupid, I was relieved to find them in about half the distance I had anticipated. I have a good map memory, but probably not one good enough for the next ~65 miles!
Back to the packs, we took a short break before briskly setting off again with the intent of heading Long Prairie Creek and climbing to a saddle for camp…~22 mile effort.
The lower half of Long Prairie Creek was also torched, but it gave the place a unique look. In dense timber stands you do not really get a feel for the wrinkles and shape of the land. Meadows and granite outcrops dotted the terrain, and a marshy creek ran its length.
Halfway up, the forest returned, somehow spared the spark of fire. Along with the plant life came the bugs, and the skeeters were out in force. We followed black bear tracks briefly as we continued a minor ascent towards the Selway Bitteroot Wilderness southern boundary.
Leaving the wilderness, we climbed to the intended camp saddle at the jct of the Archer Peak Trail. Although it is much drier here and a slight wind blows, the bugs are still pretty aggressive.
No doubt after today, sleep will come quickly regardless.
Nice to be higher as well, simply to be able to see the sun set.
~6 miles along and down Patrol Ridge brought me to Warm Springs Bar and an easy ford before a steep 1/2 climb to a dirt rd.
The ICT follows the rd for a few miles before heading over to Lynx Meadows, joining Elk Mtn rd and then dropping down into Bargamin Creek. The rte looked fine, but rather mundane from a topographical sense. Thus I called an audible and decided to simply cross the rd and start a 4,000 ft climb to Three Prong Mtn, traverse its craggy crest and then re-join the ICT ~10 miles later north of MacArthur Lake where the ICT climbs to the ridge from Hotspring Creek. No doubt the views would be better and the terrain certainly more thought provoking.
On my morning descent, I had noticed a small whiff of smoke rising from the drainage below Three Prong Mtn, but judging by its location and the ridgeline, I did not think it would come into play. So…upward we climbed in the thankful shade of Fir and Ponderosa. No jcts were signed and the existing trail was a bit different than on my maps, but the going was straight forward. The actual rte dipped briefly into a shallow drainage so the water break was a welcome suprise…even the more so since I was not carrying any. Less weight, less exertion, less need for water or calories.
The last bit of trail to the ridge was straight and steep as the wind picked up and I could smell smoke in the air. Damn…had I misjudged the size/location of the fire? No worries as I walked the ridge south and the drainage to the west came into view… smoldering trees far below. Gratefully no threat.
The more immediate concern was the cross country ridgeline in front of me, a snaking, rocky affair that did not appear as direct as I had thought. Go figure.
The first crinkle in the ridge was a steep sloped, granite capped mtn that did not present any challenge other than the physical ability to breathe deep and walk up it. However, Three Prong looked a bit beastly…with rocky spires and turrets guarding its summit and steep, exposed flanks to the east and west. An obvious early descent from the ridge to a snowmelt tarn was an option, but the direct ridge looked like the most fun, and certainly Class 3…meaning a helmet would be good and a dawg might be ill advised. Opps…looks like I got it backwards! But, with my hat chinstrap tightly secured and WD’s packs in my backpack, we started up the northern spine of Three Prong Mtn. WD and I proceeded in making quick time to the first obstacle, a narrow exposed outcropping that led to a deep left to right cleft in the ridge. From that point it was a thin steep ramp of rock to the top of a turret. Of course as we started out, the wind picked up which always makes things seem scarier than they are. But no problems…as long as WD kept moving he did not have time to recognize his exposed position or what he had just jumped over or traversed in his want to follow me. Canine manipulation at its finest.
The ridge continued with similar obstacles and obstructions, a few that required me to lift WD to a point where he could gain enough traction to scramble upward. Finally we crested the summit and looked back north at our improbable line of travel…excellent! It is good to mix it up now and again and I also avoided ~4 miles of rd in doing so, not to mention gazing at the ridge from far below all afternoon. Consequently, somewhere along the ridgeline was mile 450…halfway along the ICT!
Lunch break was just past the `technical’ portion of the rte and I counted 6 plumes of smoke on the horizons. Fire season indeed.
The goal for the evening was to make it to Burnt Knob Fire Lookout in hopes of finding an unlocked door. Fire Lookouts are always in great locations and I’ve wanted to stay in one for some time…fingered crossed that Burnt Knob is the one!
The wind continued through the afternoon as we made our way along the remainder of the ridgeline, down granite talus and across grassy saddles. The views were expansive despite the smoke in the air, and the Selway Bitteroot Wilderness to the east looked quite impressive with its craggy peaks and defined topography. South of me, I could see the vast area of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness unfolding ridgeline upon ridgeline before me. Not hard to find the motivation to walk with such incentive.
After re-joining the ICT the trail wound through charred forest…indistinct at times but a few cairns now and again clued me in…not that it mattered as the Burnt Knob Fire Lookout was easily visible.
Just before ascending the final steep ridge to the Lookout I dropped down to Burnt Knob Lakes, a grouping of small lakes nestled within the steep cirque of Burnt Knob. We took a break at the upper most lake to rest up and also filter enough water for the evening and ~17 miles of dry trail tomorrow. Loaded down but motivated by the Lookout, I decided that instead of backtracking to the trail, I’d climb up a 1,000 ft gully just to the south of the peak proper. Better aesthetics and a great capstone to the day. The only pace I had left to choose from was my granny gear, but it is always reliable and we soon made the ridge after hop-scotching through granite boulders, slabs, and steep grassy slopes. WD was entertained by Pikas and Marmots on the way up.
I hiked over to the Lookout and was excited to discover a simple door latch with no lock and a cleaned up interior. The wind was really howling so the 15 x 15 interior was a welcome reprieve as were the 4 steel cables that anchored the Lookout atop Burnt Knob! There is also a chair inside which may sound ridiculous to mention but to sit on something other than a rock, a log, or the ground itself is s real treat.
Dark clouds are rolling in with the storm front so we’ll see what it brings for tomorrow. Hopefully no lightning…
It’d also be nice if the wind mellowed out…sleep would be easier without all the shutters banging around!
Although very physical, today was an absolutely fantastic day on the trail. Probably the best so far.
Between the howling winds, banging shutters, and foundation chewings of the local marmot population, earplugs were mandatory last night! I awoke early despite being in the darkened confines of the shuttered fire lookout. The morning was gray and the clouds blew past the front door window with alarming speed. The stairs and railing were coated in a thin veneer of ice and small patches of snow/hail marked the ground outside.
I quickly ate and dressed, all my layers of clothing were mandatory to get me out the door and into the weather. I knew once I dropped a few hundred feet into the trees, I’d be better off. Packed up and storm ready, I opened the door….WD was immediately discouraged, but I shut the door as he tried to nose his way back inside.
On our way, we descended rapidly along the rd, around a switchback and into the trees below the ridgeline. Although it was still cold, the wind was reduced significantly and the morning became much more tolerable. A mile later we swung uphill along the Magruder Corridor rd which splits the Selway Bitteroot and Frank Church Wilderness areas from one another. Another mile and I turned off the rd at an unsigned jct and climbed to a ridge to find a well maintained and well graded trail heading south. Excellent! Easy walking and the sun was beginning to beat back the clouds.
The terrain itself was quite stunning as rolling forested slopes rose and fell in all directions… their upper flanks typically a mosaic of colorful granite slabs or talus.
The storm front had brought in a bit of moisture as well, which amplified the colors and texture of the vegetation and freshness was in the air. Quite simply it was a beautiful morning!
The trail itself made steady progress along ridgelines and shallow saddles, staying high and above the few lakes that dot he terrain. The low humps of the Gospel Hump Wilderness rose on the western skyline.
We made god time and about mid morning we arrived at the Sheep Hill Fire Lookout where I met Rusty, the seasonal lookout. He invited us into the wood stove warmed outlook and served up hot tea, bread, apples, cheese, homemade pie, and a chocolate cinnamon cake.
Not being in any real rush, the morning soon turned into the afternoon and Rusty invited me to stay for the evening. Initially I thought I’d push off around 2 pm so I could camp on the Salmon River and have short day into Whitewater Ranch for my resupply, but the thought of spending another evening in the high country, in good company, and with a full belly was an easy decision to make.
Rusty was pretty happy to have some company and due to the weather, the fire day was likely to be slow. He’d only seen a handful of people all summer…2 of which were the folks responsible for his resupply. No backpackers, a few fisherman…thats it.
After a range of conversation and some guitar playing, Rusty and I cooked and shared our respective dinners and WD found a warm spot by the woodstove before we all called it a night at 8 pm.
I think I only walked ~12 miles today, but I know I enjoyed the rest as did WD.
I left the lookout just before six…surprised that I managed to turn down Rusty’s offer of tea and pancakes!
The morning was cool, but a ~6,000 ft, 7 mile descent to the Salmon River was on the schedule and the temps would be warming up quick.
The trail was in fine shape until just above Croton Pt where it became vague and intermixed with steep game trail. No problems as the destination was obvious, but the steep, loose terrain was tough to slow down in. I did spot a black bear climbing towards the huckleberries just as the trail improved and contoured above and then through the old Croton Ranch and airstrip before dropping quickly to the Salmon River.
Thankfully the skies were overcast so the temps were still cool along the rivers edge and I made steady progress with the remaining 9 miles to Whitewater Ranch arriving just before noon. I was slowed a bit on the remaining miles as ripe blackberry bushes began to appear trailside.
At the Ranch I met Steve and his retriever Elliot. Steve is one of the co-owners of Whitewater Ranch and despite being obviously busy with chores, made time to introduce me to the place, and was interested in hearing about my hike. Meanwhile, Elliot was trying his damndest to get WD to play, but in typical aloof Heeler fashion, the more attention WD got, the less interested he became.
Once I got settled in, I went with Steve down to the river to help collect river rock for the fireplace mantel he was building in the mainlodge.
Just before a hearty dinner of porkchops, salad, potatoes, and bread, I picked a 1/2 gallon sized bucket and filled it with blackberries…a treat I was looking forward to munching on throughout my much anticipated rest day tomorrow.
Over dinner I learned more about the history of Whitewater Ranch and the Salmon river corridor and shared good humor with Steve. Not only is it great to meet interesting genuine people, but to interact with someone who is so obviously content with his situation and future plans and is outwardly happy is always a pleasure.
After dinner, we both retired for the evening…Steve and Elliot to his camper trailer and WD and I to a soft mattress in the `Dale Cabin’.
My rest day started early as I left bed and headed to the Main Lodge. I wanted to make blackberry pancakes for Steve and I and by the time he rolled in to start his laundry list of chores the coffee pot was ready and the pancakes stacked. I love pancakes, and all the better when loaded with ripe fruit!
After doing the dishes and chatting some of the morning away Steve got started on his chores and was nice enough to honor my request to allow me to mow the lawn. We fired up the John Deere and I set to work while WD chased the mower for a bit before finding some place to rest.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, talking with Steve, eating a hearty lunch and getting a final tour of the entire 120 acre Ranch. Steve’s parents showed up and his Dad gave me the rundown on the hydroelectric system.
Whitewater Ranch was first homestead in 1897 by the Churchill’s from Minnesota with the original intent of searching for gold. That turned up little and it was not long before they switched gears and began supplying produce and goods to other miners in the area. Extensive orchards and livestock kept the Churchills busy and the mining outfits well fed.
Mr Churchill lost his left hand in a mining accident (which Steve found when he cleaned out one of the outbuildings on site!) and was subsequently outfitted with a hook. He died an unfortunate death when he drowned after falling off a sweep boat in the Salmon River. His wife remarried twice before passing away and her gravesite is on the property.
After a handful of owners since the 1930’s the Shotwell’s (homestead Twin Falls in 1900) bought the run down ranch in 2006 and have been HARD at work every since restoring the original structures and making huge improvements throughout the Ranch. Many of their guests at the Ranch are river runners, families, and the occasional hunting group in the Fall. While being 35 miles from the nearest paved rd might seem an inconvenience, the peace and quiet of the Ranch itself is surely worth the drive.
One of the coolest features of the Ranch is the Pelton Hydroelectric System. Pelton was an entrepreneurial type who designed a vastly superior small scale hydro power system for the mining boom during the California gold rush. Amazingly, the ranch uses a Pelton system that was manufactured in 1897 and it runs like a top pumping out 32000 Kw of power on 100 ft of stream channel elevation loss! It was a real treat to have Steve and his father give me the rundown on the system and it was easy to tell they were very proud of the operation.
It seems on every hike I stumble across some location or town that plays into the romanticism of the west for me…independent, self reliant folks who make the best of the situation and simply thrive at the challenge of figuring out things beyond their expertise. The Shotwells and Whitewater Ranch represent that to a T on this trip. Amazing people, in an amazing place, accomplishing a ton with strength of character and good humor.
Thank you Steve for your gracious hospitality and friendliness during my brief layover!
After our goodbyes I tossed on the pack and hit the trail, heading down the Salmon River 4 miles before crossing the Campbell Ferry Pack Bridge and hiking through the historic Campbell Ranch. A few miles of contouring back upstream I found a nice campsite at the base of the 4,000 ft climb to Trout Pt that the day begins with tomorrow.
This next section of trail looks to have a few challenges ahead…namely the trail going over Lookout Mtn and the trail going down Marble Creek. Both have been confirmed as being overgrown and full of downfall.
I left Whitewater today to gain a few miles on this section and I plan to simply hike as far as possible each day prior to these trouble spots as it may take a considerable amount of time to negotiate both. Fingers crossed it will not be as bad as I expect.
In other trail related news, there is a 40,000 acre fire burning south of the Sawtooths that appears to have torched a portion of the ICT…I guess we’ll see to what extent in about 2 weeks time…
Thanks for reading.
With the time change when I crossed the Salmon River I ended up leaving camp at daybreak, but that was now 7 am instead of 6 am. With a long climb looming I was anxious to get as many of those uphill miles beneath my feet before the sun warmed things up. Clear skies foretold a likely warm day ahead.
The climb passed slowly, but the trail is in excellent condition and amazingly well contoured with a subtle gradient shift through each switchback…often marked by a nice stone wall.
Onward and upward, passing through open grassy slopes dotted with toffee-smelling Ponderosa, until reaching the dense fir stands, huckleberries, and fern again around 6,000 ft.
Once I gained the rounded ridge, the trail casually meandered through damp, shallow drainages and grassy meadows. The wind picked up slightly as the temps rose which made the morning incredibly pleasant.
With the increased moisture, the trail was soft and tracks of wolf, black bear, and elk appeared, most going against my direction of travel.
We stopped for an hr lunch at an unnamed creeklet…another amazingly clear and crisp unfiltered water source.
The terrain in this portion of the Frank Church is not particularly filled with grandeur. No stunning views, no craggy peaks…simply rolling, forested terrain of lodgepole pine. The beauty in this place for me resides in the context of it…the basic fact that I am walking in such a vast tract of landscape that is not subject to the major alterations of homo-e-wrecked-us. Other than the occasional airstrip, this is remote, empty country.
I am still trying to reconcile the concept of airstrips within wilderness areas. Obviously no airstrips would mean no steak nor camaraderie at my Moose Creek re-supply, nor a likely easy re-supply at Whitewater Ranch or upcoming at Pistol Creek Ranch. But…would I carry ~14 days worth of food to insure not hearing a plane? Absolutely. It just seems bizarre to me that only non-mechanized means can be used to maintain trail, but a plane can fly all those tools in! Where do you draw the line?
The afternoon was a long hot affair with the majority of hiking through recent lodgepole burns. I passed Stonebraker Ranch and Chamberlain Airstrip and then mucked my way across the marshy meadow by the old Hotzel Cabin site before climbing steadily up a branch of Hotzel Creek. Despite the burned areas, the trail is in fine shape… only the occasional blow down. It is a bit precarious when the winds pick up as all the brittle, burnt pine that still stands creaks and snaps with every gust. I even saw two trees fall as I walked. Uh…watch your head.
I soon dropped into Lodgepole Creek, loaded up on water and decided I would simply keep walking until I could find a place to camp surrounded by living trees to minimize my risk of getting crushed sometime during the night should the winds pick up, and a tree decide to snap.
Fortunately, in about 30 mins I climbed to a small, uncharred saddle and found a suitable spot. 7 pm…tired, hungry, and eager for some rest.
All in all a great day on the trail…good trail and a timeless sense to the day.
Well the good news is that no trees fell on me during the night despite some disconcerting creaking nd squeaking.
Hit the trail just before 7 am with ~3 miles before my first jct down to Club Meadows. The trail was really buffed out and recently worked so the sailing was smooth.
The down side of recently worked trail is that the trail is often relocated partially and therefore make a hikers maps semi-irrelavant. Unfortunately that fact came into play today as the jct to Club Meadows did not exist where it should have which left me perplexed. I spent an hr+ checking out every slight trail diversion, before allowing myself to follow the temptation of the well maintained trail even though I knew it was not following what I had mapped. To hell with it, I’ll leave my destiny to the trail. ~1.5 miles later the nice trail split…the right to Bismark Mtn and to the left? No idea as it was unsigned. My best guess at this point judging by my position was that the trail was re-routed on a long contour above nd around Club Meadows. Likely to reduce impact in the marshy meadows as well as leaving the wet resource to the critters. Sure enough, the trail meandered below the opposite ridge (huge wolf prints as well as elk) before re-joining the trail (obstructed) climbing from the meadows below. Excellent! Although delayed considerably I at least knew 100% where I was.
I took a minute to feed WD lunch, and decided to skip my own until near the waters of Sliver Creek a 1/2 hr away. Arriving at the creeks grassy banks was a relief as the afternoon was growing hot. WD, in his enthusiasm failed to judge the waters depth and plunged in, submerging himself (and his packs) as he fell off the bank. Snorting and paddling wildly, I hoisted him to shore for a good shake and roll in the grass.
Lunch was pleasant along the cool, grassy bank and I was reluctant to leave, but based on where I’d hoped to camped this evening, we’d need to get our hustle on to make it due to our navigational delay earlier. That immediacy was quickly tempered as I tripped on a root and took a fall forward…the first time I can recall falling on any long hike!
The rest of the descent of Sliver Creek was mostly uneventful…a few blow downs to contend with, but mostly great trail with occasional stream crossings. The character of the landscape changed along with the reduction in elevation. What started as lodgepole forest eventually gave way to open slopes and even some sage and bitterbrush.
At the end of Sliver we joined Crooked Creek for 1/2 a mile before finding a vague jct and climbing over a saddle to drop steeply into Coxey Creek.
Recently burned, Coxey was low on the aesthetic scale, but I noticed a few deer, a black bear, and spooked a number of grouse. I am grateful that grouse are not predatory…otherwise I would either have been pecked or wing beaten to death and consumed long ago! I never see the damned things until I nearly step on them or they fly up directly in front of me.
Coxley Creek soon joined Big Creek which we followed upstream a few miles along very nice trail… contouring above the shoreline and cutting through cliffbands and across sediment bars. ~2 miles later I dropped from the trail, crossed a meadow of shoulder high grass and forded Big Creek. WD even managed on his own… seeming to embrace the swim as he angled downshore with the current.
Before setting up camp I poked around and discovered the trail I intend to follow to Lookout Mtn and beyond tomorrow…quite indistinct as it starts its way 4,000 ft up.
Thanks for reading.
Last night was a little concerning as around 9 pm the wind picked up, thunder boomed, and lightning flashed, but with no signs of rain. Seemed like a recipe for a dry strike and the start of a fire. Fortunately the rains came, and my fears were somewhat abated.
Morning dawned cool and wet as I started up toward Lookout Mtn ~10.5 miles to the south and ~4000 ft higher than my camp on Big Creek. The trail was in rough shape, indistinct primarily due to charred blowdowns and slow going as all the fallen timber was wet and slippery. It was not hard to follow, as long as I was paying complete attention and walking deliberately. As the trail worked its way out of the burned areas it improved, climbing steeply through grassy meadows and stands of fir. As I climbed, the sun did battle with the clouds…occasionally breaking through but never making a permanent appearance all day. About half way up the climb, the trail disappeared into a marshy, grassy meadow and instead of getting soaked looking for it, I simply hiked up and around the wet spot and contoured to rejoin the trail. When doing so, the hail started, but only lasted ~10 mins as WD and I took refuge beneath some dense trees.
From that point the trail was in good shape although as I continued my upward assualt the clouds thickened and visibility was reduced to ~10 yds as I climbed to a charred ridgeline…ghostly sculptors of burnt timber appearing from the mist.
A beautiful spot no doubt in clear weather, but I could see very little and the uniform granite pebbles beneath my feet gave very little away with regard to the location of the trail. I pushed on though, zig-zagging with hopes of crossing a portion of the route. Thankfully within 5 mins I had crossed the trail and was able to discern where it was headed as it climbed slightly and then made a brief dip and contour to a treed saddle.
The remainder of the morning and early afternoon were much the same, a slight tease of clearing skies, thickening clouds, and ridgeline undulations beneath my feet. Walking through portions of charred forest while the sun was out was pretty wild as the water vapor would begin to evaporate from the ground and give the illusion that the area was still smoldering from recent flames heightened by the scent of ash in the air.
Around 1 pm I finally crested Lookout Mtn, unfortunately shrouded in clouds. I made a quick descent beneath threatening clouds to a sheltered saddle for a brief lunch. Just as I was settling in the hail started again, WD began to shiver, and I grew cold myself. Lunch in hand I continued down trail, wanting to stop but appreciating the warmth gained from movement.
The Lookout Ridge Trail continued to be excellent all the way to the Marble Creek jct where I began a 1,000 ft descent to the old Bellico Mining site…a bunch of scrap metal and collapsed wooden structures scattered throughout the woods. Always amazing to think about the effort some people put forth in attempts to make a living.
After filling bottles at a trailside spring, we made camp early. I’ve pushed hard the last few days to position myself here, with 2 days to hike ~28 miles to my resupply, ~17 of which is Marble Creek itself. The trail in Marble Creek is supposedly a real mess, so I wanted ample time to get through it without stressing about time or food supply. I hope the relaxed schedule rubs off on my frame of mind tomorrow. I am intent on taking it slow and safe…
Windy again and cool…not any evening sun in the depths of Marble Creek!
Snow. That is what I awoke to this first day of September. No need to say, but I packed quick and got moving as the morning was frigid, even dressed in all available layers of clothing.
I headed down Marble Creek with a pretty clear mind…I was ready for a day of hard work with the rumored trail conditions, but admittedly I was not excited about the snow. Novelty is fine, but working through brush and scrambling over deadfall is bad enough, even the more so when snowy and cold.
The trail was surprisingly good as it stayed high on the east slope of the drainage above thick vegetation and large beaver ponds as we made our way down drainage. A few Ponderosa and Doug Fir that I passed were simply enormous…at least 15-18 ft in circumference.
A small burned area presented a few navigational challenges but nothing too severe. Certainly nothing compared to Rhoda Creek back before Moose Creek! Still plenty of deadfall to negotiate, but erosion was the big deal. Floods have eaten away portions of the trail and entrenched the creek channel. This made it difficult to get to the creek to cross…which we did ~20 times by days end, and none of which WD was carried across! He finally manned up and swam…
The morning stayed cool and wet despite my positive words for the sunshine. My feet were solid blocks with absolutely no feeling in them. As you can imagine my footwork was poor and as a result and I took another stumble and fell, catching my body and pack weight with my arms before my head hit the ground. Ouch. Sore wrists tomorrow! Walking with frozen feet is like driving a sports car with 4 flat tires. You may go forward, but it is sloppy and unresponsive.
Between Placer Creek and Hogsback Creek, the bulk of the nastiness ensued as the trail stayed in the drainage and wandered back and forth across the creek through wet, heavy brush. The trail was pretty indistinct largely due in part to the sodden vegetation which hung over the trail. Going was slow, even the more so due to major animal traffic…elk, moose, bear, and wolf sign all evident as well as a number of skulls, hind legs, forelegs, rib cages, and backbones. Not an encounter I’d care to have in these circumstance and I was not looking to add to the bone collection.
Eventually we made it past Hogsback, the snow turned to a light rain and the trail conditions improved dramatically as did my mood and my body temperature.
Soon after a quick lunch I noticed horse dung and was psyched! Any horse up this high in the canyon, likely meant very few blowdowns/deadfall down canyon. The brush may be bad, but no more fallen logs to negotiate!
That assumption held true and from Canyon Creek down to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the trail was in excellent condition and had been recently worked. Not only was there fresh hoof tracks, but the leaves on cut brush branches were still green. The going was incredibly enjoyable. The trail itself contoured above the drainage with great views both up and down canyon…made all the better with snow topped ridges far above.
The sun poked through the clouds for a few minutes and we took the chance to dry out and warm up, have an afternoon snack, and take a few pictures..all of which is easier to do when you hands can actually open and close!
The afternoon continued on as we made steady progress down canyon…now in shorts and a shirt.. past the old Mitchell Ranch (timber cabin walls and timber corral) before finding the Middle Fork of the Salmon River at our feet! When I started the day, I had no expectation of making it through the 17 miles of Marble Creek in one push…luckily trail conditions were beyond my most optimistic thoughts. A deeply satisfying day.
In a way, Marble Creek is quintessential Idaho and a microcosm of the ICT. It has everything, and accurately represents the last ~590 miles along its 17 mile length. Diverse flora, fauna, terrain, views, trail conditions, and weather from start to finish! I feel so fortunate to have been able to hike Marble Creek in favorable conditions and enjoyed it 100%. Up to this point it is one of the best sections of trail along the ICT and should not be missed!
After dropping ~2,000 ft, camp tonight is above the Middle Fork of the Salmon River a mile or two upstream from Marble Creek. Partly cloudy, and still quite cool.
Chance of snow?
With only ~9 miles between me and my resupply I had a lazy morning lounging in camp. Finally got out of my sleeping bag, packed, and hiking by ~10:30. Felt nice to relax and have breakfast in bed as the morning was cool and a bit damp.
The sun arrived shortly and it was not long before I was in 70 degree temps…a far cry from the falling snow just a morning ago at the head of Marble Creek.
The trail along the Middle Fork is in a fine state, largely due to use from river runners and horsemen but also from the recent work of an Americorps crew from Missoula who I met a few miles before Indian Creek as they were starting to build a retaining wall. We got to chatting and I found the group diverse and interesting. None were westerners and all apparently happy that they’d been doing Americorps work for the past 83 days in some of the premier terrain of Idaho. I learned that they were responsible for the recent work up Marble Creek and they seemed delighted to know how much it meant to me to have hiked through there relatively trouble free and majorly surprised at its fine condition. I also let them know how excited other hikers will be to hear about it.
They mentioned the lack of folks backpacking in the area and said during their months working trail they’d had only seen 3 people on actual backpacking trips. Thus far I have only seen 1 other person on more than an overnight and he was headed back to his car. Other than river runners, I’ve not seen anyone else on trail.
After 20 mins of chit chat, I pushed on soon passing the Indian Creek Guard Station and Airstrip…counting 6 planes during the course of 30 mins either arriving or departing…and this is the slow season! Another few miles and I was at Pistol Creek Ranch where I met Ed, Matt, and Melissa and retrieved my resupply box. I was offered a shower and a steak sandwich…both of which I accepted! After my snack and my shower I got a tour of the barn, the corral, and a rundown on the operations at the Ranch guiding and outfitting hunting groups in the Fall throughout the region. We talked about the forest service, horse and mule packing, and game management. It was interesting to hear their take on the wolves EDS listing, delisting, and re-listing. Elk populations have been decimated in this neck of the woods and while they support wolf reintroduction, they are cautious about the possibility of their own livelihood disappearing with the big game and thus support state agency management.
Around 5:30 pm I left the ranch with the intent to get down trail a few miles for camp. Along the way, I saw my 2nd wolf of the trip, slinking northward down river.
Obviously an easy day on the trail today. Strangely though my achilles tendon is flared up and being a minor nuisance. Hopefully some stretching will alleviate the pain come morning.
Hit the trail in the cool morning, looking forward to what appeared to be an easy day contouring along the rivers edge.
My achilles/calf situation did not seem to improve overnight so I’ve been stopping every 20 mins to stretch and massage my lower leg in hopes of relaxing the muscle. ~6 miles from camp I came to Sheepeater Hotsprings and took the opportunity to sit in the hot pool. The air temps had already warmed, but rubbing out my calf with the muscle warm would likely be good. Also at the hotsprings were a group of 5 river runners (canoeists) who were just starting out on a run of the Middle Fork and Salmon Rivers. One fellow was quite talkative and it did not take me long to default to smile and nod mode.
I hung out at the hot springs for about half a hr, WD lounging in the grass. Back on trail my calf seemed slightly better, but we’ll see how it plays out in the coming days. The pain is tolerable…what is bothersome is that I cannot walk at my preferred pace or stride length.
Anyway, casual, sunny miles along the river brought us to Mine Creek for an easy ford and then a quick climb back into the sunshine for lunch.
The plan is another ~10 miles this afternoon to find camp just past Dagger Falls.
The trip certainly feels like it is winding down…funny to say with 200+ miles still to hike, but I am heading into familiar terrain so that seems to have triggered some sense of closure. The trip still feels timeless to me which is important… the days simply blend together in a mishmash of memory. While I can look back and recall specifics, Canada does not seem like it is now a month away and ~650 miles in the opposite direction. Life is good when life feels timeless…one of the things I love about about a good long walk.
The afternoon was pleasant. My calf seemed to loosen a bit and the trail stayed mostly level and well defined, and happily unburnt which was not only nice to see, but nice to walk through…shade!
Early evening found us at Boundary Creek Rd where I left the ICT (rd walk) and meandered down to the campground for water and to locate a trail I was certain had to exist…a path that would lead from the campground to Dagger Falls. Sure enough, restless campers had created a well trod path along the river which led to the falls as well as Dagger Fall Campground. Perfect…~2 miles of rd walking avoided!
As tempting as the picnic tables were I decided to push on and cross the river to find a free camp upstream. 20 mins later a sunny knoll welcomed us for the night.
Unfortunately, once I began dinner disaster struck…as I was stirring my nightly slop, I heard a SNAP. WD awoke, and I turned quickly to see… nothing. Then it struck me! My spoon had broke. Looking into my bowl I saw that my dear friend Comrade Scoop had broken apart about half way up the handle. Thankfully it was a clean, quick break and I am doubtful he suffered much although I imagine the pain was awful. Unfortunately, being in the wilds of Idaho, a backcountry rescue or immediate medical attention is improbable.
Comrade Scoop, a proud spoon, was severely injured in service today September 3, 2008 at approximately 6:43 PM. He was a dedicated adventurer and a worthy addition to any expeditionary team. His 5 years of decorated service brought countless calories to my body, and his selfless nature continues to inspire me. I salute you…
I did what I could to make Comrade Scoop as comfortable as possible for the night ahead as he drifted in and out of consciousness. At the moment I’d say his chances are 50/50, but we’ll evaluate his condition come morning…if he makes it through the night.
Rest easy old friend.
I awoke to a cool morning and decided to sleep in a bit and feed WD and myself from the cozy confines of my sleeping bag. Comrade Scoop was still asleep, his pulse surprisingly strong so I opted for a PopTart instead of my customary routine of Grapenuts. Best to let him rest…
A quick pack and we were off…hiking fast to get some heat generated but trying to be conscious of the pesky achilles/calf issue which actually felt good to start the day.
The trail along the Middle Fork continued to be very good…obviously well used and basically flat as it meandered along and above the river course. A few open meadows gave the sun a chance to shine, but the temps were cool and the warmth gained was minimal. Unburned forest was a treat for half of the morning but soon the trail found charred remains of trees. The steeper streams that joined the river were typically deeply scoured (~8-10 ft deep!) and flanked by hardened mud and debris on each side. No trail was to be seen, but it was an easy walk up or down the mini-chasm to find a place to cross.
At 10:30 I took my customary break. In my morning reverie I figured a way to rig up a prosthetic for my fallen Comrade which would once again make him a proud caloric scooper. A short length of duct tape wrapped just above his neck with a slight gap in it allowed me to insert and remove the lower shaft of a titanium tarp stake, effectively giving Comrade Scoop length and stability to effectively stir, mash, and scrape once again. A bowl of successfully eaten grapenuts confirmed the design and Comrade Scoop was back in action! I was fed, and he was beaming…happy to be a contributing member again and thankful for the second chance at leading a normal life.
With our break over and our collective moods heightened we motored through the remaining mileage to Lola Creek Campground for lunch. Osprey and Redtail hawks were seen and heard throughout the morning.
I’ll be leaving the ICT here for an alt rte before rejoining it at the head of Stanley Lake Creek ~5 miles outside of Grandjean. I did this to reduce a 13 mile rd walk (dirt and paved) to simply crossing Bear Valley Rd (dirt) and Hwy 21 (paved). Looks good on a map, now we’ll find out how it is in reality!
The climb up Lola Creek was a gradual ascent of 2400 ft over 4.5 miles. Easy going and well contoured. I had cameled up with water at the campground, so my bottles were empty for the climb. Cresting the saddle above Lola Lake, enormous views opened in all cardinal directions: the Whitecloud Mtns, Sawtooth Valley, the Sawtooth Mtns, and behind me the undulating ridges of the Frank Church from which I had come. Spectacular! The only blemish were the rust colored patchwork of pine beetle kills.
As much as I enjoyed hiking through the river corridor, being back on a ridgeline with sweeping views was energizing. I was also relieved to not see a billowing plume of smoke on the southern horizon, which has made me optimistic about the control of the South Barker Fire which lies very close to (or possibly in!) my path of travel.
From the saddle the trail contoured around to the south side and switchbacked down a ridgeline into a burned area from 1992. A few large blowdowns to negotiate but nothing major. A stream bubbled just off trail and I was able to rehydrate and fill bottles for the evening. Other than illegal motorcycle use, the Lola Creek Trail (024) seems a very viable alternative to walking the shoulder of HWY 21…
Shortly thereafter we crossed Bear Valley Rd and decided to make camp. Despite stopping at 4:30, we had already covered ~22 miles and I saw no reason to continue…to do so only meant higher ground and surface water which translates to colder night time temps. No thanks…it’ll be cold enough here at 7600 ft!
A great day on the ICT and so far so good with my alt route.
Pushed off at 7:30 and headed quickly to the sun, now shining on the ridgeline a few hundred feet above me. Elk bugling was a treat last night and I stayed up as late as I could listened to them…about 9 pm, which is typical `hiker midnight’.
A continuation of trail 024, the rte climbed gradually from Cape Horn Summit before wrapping below Bull Trout Point. This section of trail is open to bicycles and motorcycles, but I saw nor heard any and the trail itself is in fine shape.
A contoured descent overlooking the marshes below soon brought me to Bull Trout Lake Rd which I followed for ~5 mins before swinging right onto single track just after crossing Bench Creek and just before the zoom of HWY 21. A brief jaunt through the lodgepole and I was soon at the Bench Lake Campground where I crossed the HWY and made my up the obviously marked Bench Creek Trail.
This trail has seen plenty of ATV use for 3/4 of its length, but that impact lessened once the riding began to require actual skill to continue. Creek and springs marked my progress upward until I came to the saddle between Bench and Canyon Creeks where the trail (still motorized, but less impact) began to climb steadily to the ridgeline above the elongated waters of Marten Lake.
The views from the saddle were fair, sunny skies, a bluish-green Martin Lake below, and a few craggy peaks. The descent to the lake was a steep, loose mess…aggressively entrenched in spots from motorcycles. Going was slow, but easy to the jct with Swamp and Trap Creeks where I headed up again towards Kelly Lake. Good trail and a slight ascent brought me to a sunny saddle above Elizabeth Lake were we stopped for lunch after a good effort of ~13 miles this morning. From his vantage I can follow my intended rte up Elk Creek.
Portions of the trail down to Elk Creek were in fine shape as it contoured through the woods. Some of it was not. Motorcycles had scoured out a more vertical path, but I did what I could to follow the original trail when possible.
Eventually I came to a jct and a crossing of the clear running Elk Creek and headed upstream…~5 miles and 2,000 ft away from the ridgeline I wanted to camp at.
Initially Elk Creek was fantastic as it meandered along the edges of meadows as the trail headed upstream, obviously a trail that gets little use and even less maintenance. But, all signs for navigation (tree blazes, sawn logs) were there to continue on fairly efficiently even when the trail disappeared…which it began to do with regularity. Regardless I continued upward, more focused on staying out of the mushy meadows and simply going up than comforting my mind by being exactly on the trail. Deadfall increased, aforementioned navigational clues disappeared, and my pace slowed as I busied myself with hopscotching over and around obstacles. I was not concerned in the least bit, but was looking forward to a more relaxed afternoon both physically and mentally. Eventually I came to the base of a headwall along decent game trail and then gunned it straight for the ridge. It was steep, loose, and a very physical way to close out the day! I finally gained the ridge and was struck with killer views of the crooked teeth of the Sawtooths. Very nice! I found a sheltered flat spot among the trees and made camp at 8,400 ft.
Although I enjoyed the challenge of Elk Creek, I would not recommend the rte. If I was to do it again, I’d likely head downstream from the jct with the Elizabeth Lake Trail and then rejoin the ICT in a mile or two at Elk Meadows before heading up Stanley Lake Creek.
Elk Creek is also quite delicate, so if you find yourself in this drainage, walk with minimal impact in mind and budget your time wisely to avoid camping in the drainage.
The other slightly daunting consideration is my rte tomorrow which is to follow a rugged ridgeline from my camp to the top of Observation Peak before descending to rejoin the ICT. The ridge itself looks fine, but the rubble heap of a peak that guards its access looks to be the crux of the day. Generally, these things always appear worse than they are, but from my vantage this evening it could be a bit of a struggle.
Anyway, ~10 miles to Grandjean tomorrow. I am pretty anxious to arrive for my re-supply as my parents will be meeting me there and it will be great to see them and catch as they have their own travel tales to tell as well!
Arrived in Grandjean well before noon after an absolutely fantastic ridgeline walk this morning…a truly majestic ~2 mile xc ramble. Huge views, craggy peaks, and surprisingly warm weather…great way to start the day.
Down from Observation Peak the trail meandered through charred forest before dropping alongside Trail Creek…the southern slopes now covered in sage and the air noticeably dry. Spotted a coyote scooting off trail, as well as 2 groups of backpackers and a few dayhikers.
One final creek crossing brought me to the FS campground and a familiar face…my mother unzipping her pant legs to ford the creek. Hugs, hellos and smiling faces! The day gets better and better! Dad soon followed and we all turned around and walked the 1.5 miles to Sawtooth Lodge catching up on life. While its nice to meet great people along a hike, it is never a substitute for my family. WD was as excited as I, and he immediately defaulted into grand-dawg behavior…which means not listening!
Once at the lodge I began my hearty lunch…cookies (thanks Grandma!) a ham sandwich, a pork chop, chips, pea pods, hummus, and fruit. Satiated, the next step was to figure out the South Barker fire situation south of here. A quick phone call to Cathy at the fire management center confirmed my dads research…the fire was still very much active despite no smoke plume and all rd and trail closures basically ensured no convenient way around it. Despite the news, Cathy and I brainstormed for a few minutes trying to think of alternative scenarios. Thankfully, she offered to take down my details and call and email me as soon as either suitable trails or rd walks were once again safe for travel and open. By her best guess, that would be a week at the earliest.
So, the decision has been made to bail out of Grandjean with my folks and WD…head back to Boise and wait out the South Barker Blaze. Once it clears, I’ll re-start the hike and bust out the remaining mileage to Nevada as soon as possible.
Certainly not ideal, but given the circumstance the best plan that I can see at this point. While lengthy rd detours exist, I do not see the point in continuing the hike along rds that are not related to the ICT.
As details develop I’ll certainly post them to the blog.
Anyway, the hot springs await!
Thanks for reading.
I’ve been sitting on my butt for the past ~2 weeks with hopes that the South Barker Blaze would cooperate fully and the ~19 miles of the ICT that are affected by the creeping blaze would re-open. Much to my disappointment I was recently informed that the trails, even with the weather and fire cooperating, would not likely re-open in 2008. So…plan deux.
Cathy Miller at the Forest Service was incredibly informative and I really appreciated her continual updates over the past weeks with regard to the fire. She offered many reasonable alternatives and provided excellent feedback with regard to my inquiries about possible re-routes.
The plan is pretty straightforward as I’ll re-start the ICT at Stanley Lake outside of Stanley, ID and follow the ICT to Mattingly Creek and then head towards Atlanta, ID. From this point I’ve come up with a combo of rd walks, trails, and cross country hiking to drop down into Featherville, ID from Cayuse Point for a re-supply…skirting the western edge of the fire. Leaving Featherville, I’ll follow FR 227 (southern edge of the fire) to re-join the ICT at Virginia Gulch and then head to Hammett, ID for my last re-supply before continuing through the Bruneau Desert to Nevada.
No doubt I will be greeted by cool temps in the Sawtooths (uh, I meant to say COLD), but the cooler temps forecast for the Bruneau Desert will be much appreciated…all the more so considering there is limited water (~52 miles dry) along the rte across the Owyhee and I do not plan utilize any water caches.
WD will not be joining me to finish the hike. Of the ~230 miles of the ICT that remain for me, ~140 miles of it is along rds and the terrain is very dry, — both factors that made me decide that it might be in WD’s interest to stay home. In addition, due to the fire delay, my schedule is now less flexible so I need to up my mileage to finish this up. Judging by the typical ‘dawg spoilage’ that occurs while at my parent’s house, I doubt he is feeling any regret about not joining me…
I am looking forward to completing this hike despite the slight detour, and the rd walking (mostly dirt) that lays ahead…if all goes according to plan I should arrive in Nevada no later than 9/28.
Thanks for reading.
I left Stanley Lake at around 2 pm, easily guided by the 5 ICT blazes I saw in the 500 yds from where we parked the car, to the actual start of the trail up Stanley Lake Creek. That is 5 more blazes then I recall seeing in the previous ~700 miles…
My Mom hiked with me for a few miles before giving me a final round of hugs and leaving me on my own.
Before heading back out on the ICT, I took the time to simplify my gear list and swap some things out, so I am happy to be hiking with a ~6 lb base load for the remaining miles.
I made easy progress up the trail as the path was wide, well-maintained, and gradual before finding myself again dropping down Trail Creek towards Grandjean where I left the ICT 12 days prior. A few more miles and another wolf sighting brought me to Taylor Spring where I filled bottles and found camp a few minutes down trail. Plenty of black bear tracks in the neighborhood…
Nice to be back in the mtns! Even the more so with the cooler temps and the colors of the fall foliage.
Left camp as the dawn came, making quick progress up the wide and gradual drainage of the Middle Fork of the Payette.
After passing the reflective waters of Elk Lake, the river channel narrowed and the water coursed over smooth slabs of granite — rollicking along in a froth of spit and spray.
The climbing steepened a bit but soon leveled off at a tr jct to Ardeth Lake. Instead of continuing along the ICT I decided to take the jct to Ardeth Lake and then drop down from a saddle to rejoin the ICT at Spangle Lake. As beautiful as this drainage was, I felt it was necessary to gain some more elevation and get an actual view…the Sawtooths are absolutely stunning, and the ICT seems to ignore the trails that give a hiker a decent vantage to take in their grandeur.
Passing by Ardeth Lake I climbed to a saddle above Spangle Lake…the reward being a lunch break with fantastic views of two lake filled basins, and numerous craggy peaks rising skyward.
After lunch I began a long descent towards Atlanta from the head waters of the Middle Fork of the Boise River. The drainage itself was stunning…a lovely mix of deciduous and evergreen vegetation with streaked granite slabs and boulders intermixed. It seemed like every component of the landscape managed to compliment each other.
By late afternoon I had reached the jct with Mattingly Creek…where the ICT heads, but eventually is closed due to the South Barker Fire. I continued south, shortly leaving the Sawtooth Wilderness Area and stumbling into the hamlet of Atlanta.
When I was planning my rte around the fire, I recalled a customer who lived in Atlanta. One quick email and fellow long distance hiker Mary Drake was willing to take receipt of a resupply package for me as well as give me a yard in which to pitch my shelter. Although I was a day early, Mary greeted me warmly with a cup of tea and a slab of chocolate pound cake! Thank you Mary! I was also introduced to her dog Josie, two cats, and her extensive flute collection. Mary had recently hiked a long portion of the AT so it was fun to hear about her time on the trail.
No doubt we could have stayed up much longer talking trail, but I was bushed after a 30+ mile day.
The previous evening I had asked Mary about some of the trail conditions in her neck of the woods, and my intended rte was not shaping up well as it had recently burnt and was a mess. So, Plan B, which was to walk James Creek Rd was put into affect. The morning was pleasant…all the more so by starting it with another piece of chocolate cake and gracious company!
I left Atlanta at ~7:30 and headed along the rd under partly cloudy, cool skies. The James Creek Rd was pleasant enough…actually quite nice as traffic was slim as I climbed upward into the clouds. I passed bu a memorial to Peg Leg Annie and Dutch `Em who where 2 pioneer women from Atlanta who got caught in a snow storm while walking to Rocky Bar from Atlanta. Dutch `Em froze to death, while Annie eventually made it to Rocky Bar but had both feet amputated as a result. Hardy ladies…
My morning was thankfully much less eventful although the weather took a turn for the worse as I left James Creek and dropped into Elk Creek. The rain began in earnest and the vegetation had me soaked in no time. Couple that with numerous creek crossings and it was not long before I began to think about Dutch `Em and Peg Leg Annie again! Cold and wet, I stumbled on, eventually breaking through the brush and off the trail to FR 135…a winding rd that would eventually get me to Featherville.
After pleading for a for hrs, the sun finally arrived…the clouds pushing northward and I was able to dry out and warm up. Doing so made the afternoon rd walk much more tolerable.
I arrived in Featherville for another re-supply and a late second lunch, before pushing off again for 7 more miles to re-join the ICT at Virginia Gulch. I had expected to be hiking through charred terrain, but everything that was roadside was simple spot burnt and preventative backburns. The only real sign that a 43,000 acre fire had occurred were the streams…each running black, thick with ash and soot as they emptied into the South Fork of the Boise River.
I was thankful to find a bridge crossing the river at Virginia Gulch so as to avoid a filthy crossing!
My brain and body are ready for bed after another 30+ mile day.
I slept very well last night and was anxious to hit the trail this morning despite today being the last day of trail walking on the ICT before it turns to dirt rd for the remaining mileage.
Slight drizzle left the vegetation wet and thus it was not long before I was also wet and cold as I climbed up Virginia Gulch. Cresting the ridge, the vegetation thinned, the sun shone, and my spirits lifted as I dried out and had a few miles of ridgeline walking. Good stuff despite some whoop-de-doos and trenching from motorcycle use.
A few miles further and I was below Grouse Butte, an ICT blaze directing me to drop into Lime Creek where I found a spring to fill my bottles. Once in the drainage it was not long before I was again soaked and cold. But…hey, it was good trail and my patience for the conditions seemed to be holding up.
Lime Creek is a splendid drainage… nice and long so as I hiked I dropped through distinct vegetation zones eventually finding the sage brush covered hillsides that are the Idaho I grew up with. Lots of creek crossings as well, but the best for last…a good 50 yds long, near waist deep and through fetid beaver ponds. A short climb and descent brought me to the South Fork of Lime Creek and then along a granite lined two track to Hunter Creek TH…and the end of `trail’.
…and so the road walk begins! For the next ~130 miles I’ll be leggin’ it out along rds. Certainly I’ll toss in as much XC hiking as I can, but the vast majority of miles ahead will be hard on my feet and hard on my head. Roads are for cars, motorcycles and bicycles…not for feet! Ouch. On a positive note, I have entered the high desert, another distinct regional landscape of Idaho and a place that I like a great deal. Plus, I know I will not miss another sunset for the next 5 days!
The next ~10 miles to Moore Springs and my camp for the evening were uneventful. A handful of cows, a stiff headwind, and monotonous plodding. I did hop a few fences and beeline along cattle trails now and again…not so much to cut distance but rather entertain myself.
Camp tonight is near Moore Spring in a shallow draw in an attempt to get out of the wind a bit.
Morning came slowly and the half moon was surprisingly bright last night. A heavy frost greeted me this morning which led to a quick breakfast, a fast pack, and 10 mins of scrapping the frost off the outside of my shelter with my drivers license…no sense in carrying that extra weight
and eventual sogginess of a wet shelter.
The morning started with ~3 miles of pavement…easy start, but I was cautious not to start too fast. My breathe was visible, and I was bundled up in what warm clothes I carried.
As the sun climbed into the sky I turned rigt onto Castle Rock Rd, ~5 miles of dirt through rolling cattle country, and a few outcroppings of granite. Just before HWY 21, I decided to skip the shoulderless 2 mile ICT rte along the HWY and passed through a gate…ambling downward through sage into cow filled meadows with the intent of finding a cow path that followed the drainage below the HWY. Good cattle paths wound through the meadow and the going was easy…and much more safe than next to speedy traffic. A careful tiptoe across a beaver dam then a few more mintues up the drainage and I was directly below my turn off of the HWY to Cat Creek Rd. Passing through another gate, I crossed the HWY and began a long, gradual climb to 6100 ft along Bennett MTN rd…passing by more cows, a number of beaver dams, a few trucks, and plenty of empty beer cans enroute.
Cresting the indistinct summit, the first views of the Snake River Plain were clearly visible on the horizon below me. Thankfully, the temps today are not hot, otherwise the prospect of descending to the volcanic landscape below would be a bit daunting.
Shortly after taking in the views I turned off the main rd at Burns Gulch to check on the water situation in Little Camas Creek. Good flow greeted me and a long lunch, a bit of laundry, and hearty drink ensued.
Back in July, I had ridden the last ~130 miles of the ICT on my motorbike as I wanted to check out the terrain with regard to water availability and road conditions to make an informed decision about the liklihood of WD being able to join me for this stretch. As such, I knew where water had a good chance of being and Little Camas Creek at Burns Gulch was one of them. My only concern from my scouting trip was that the beaver dams higher in the drainage may stem the flow of water later in the season. Fortunately they did not.
After lunch it was back to mind numbing plodding along Bennett Mtn Rd. Signage informed me that I was walking next to the King Hill Creek Wilderness Study Area. Acording to the BLM signage it was, “a place to exprience solitude, rushing streams, and abundant wildlife.” Here’s to hoping future ICT trail alignment might take advantage of those resources…
A few miles later and the ICT veered westward on an old two track, climbing slightly to the volcanic rim of the Snake River Plain. Enormous views met me…irrigated ag lands below, wind farms to the west, the Snake River Gorge, and the Owyhee Desert stretching out to Nevada and the Jarbidge Mtns on the horizon. Very nice, and a humbling prospect as to what lay before me in the coming days.
But…I’ll think about that later!
The trail contoured down just below the cliffband before crossing a dry drainage. There is a spring on the map which was running at the ICT crossing back in July, but I decided against scouting up the drainage to find the source. I had a liter of water, was well hydrated, and figured my time would be better spent getting as close to Hammett as possible this evening.
The ICT headed directly south from the drainage on a rough two track before turning 90 degrees to join a road heading west. I opted for a diagnoling XC rte and re-joined the ICT at a transmission tower along a dirt rd. Another hr of rd walking (course gravel, ouch!) and I decided to make camp after ~30+ miles on the day. I’ve got ~14 miles of rds to Hammett tomorrow for my final resupply.
All in all a good day on the ICT. Rds always suck, but cool temps, little traffic, and ample water helped to offset the mental and physical anguish.
Thanks for reading.
Made it into Hammett after a peaceful morning…coyote serenades, 7 antelope, and plenty of bovine bellowing as the sun rose.
Quick re-supply and then back at it…into the the Owyhee Desert and some very dry terrain ahead.
September 23rd continued…
Before pushing out of Hammett, I made some last minute adjustments to my menu for the next 3 days… eliminating all meals that required water to hydrate. From what I have determined, I should start this section with an initial ~40 mile waterless stretch, followed by ~53 miles that are dry.
While caching is a viable option here with easy road access, I prefer to avoid caches. I feel like I appreciate a landscape and its inhabitants more when I play by the rules that the terrain dictates…its not a judgement of ones manhood, just my preference.
As such, less water used for meals means less water carried and more water used for direct hydration. Fortunately, it appears the weather may stay cool for the next few days which bodes well for me. The last few days I’ve managed with just 3 L of water despite the 25-30 mile distances. Of course that included ample cloud cover and vegetation to provide shady breaks. No shade out in the Bruneau Desert except for your own shadow!
After organizing my food and having a hearty lunch at the cafe, I set off for a ~6 mile paved road walk along HWY 78. Lots of cattle and ag trucks blowing by me to keep me awake.
Eventually I turned onto dirt up Browns Creek Rd which I followed for ~3 miles before turning into the actual drainage and entering the boundary of the Saylor Creek Air Force Range. I could see 4 aircraft in the sky and hear the explosions of ordinance — thankfully well in the distance. At about 2:30 the bombs stopped and the planes flew off west towards Mtn Home Air Force Base.
The remainder of the afternoon was quiet…a quiet that only the desert seems able to supply. Peaceful, still, and stark.
Jack rabbits sprinted from beneath sage, lizards skittered across my path, and the occasional bovine was encountered.
By 5 pm I was at my intended camp, just below the exit of Browns Creek. Given the hr, the sun was still high and no shade was yet available in the east facing slope of the drainage. Further up the drainage the walls steepened and I meandered up canyon until I found a spot steep enough to block the sun. Ahhh, a much better place to hang out and await night fall. No sense in sweating if you ain’t moving!
The finality of the ICT is beginning to set in. When I left the trail due to the South Barker Blaze, I seriously considered not finishing. I did not see the point in walking so much rd simply to say that I walked across Idaho. Who cares? Aesthetic is what I am after, and along those lines I was mostly satisfied. But…having 12 days to mull it over, it became clear that I did not feel fulfilled and I needed to finish the hike. So…here I am, thankful to be surrounded by the rawness of this place, appreciative of the solitude so easily available with a little effort, and grateful that I have a lifestyle that allows me to do such a trip. Those feelings have been present intermittently during the course of the hike, but always come to a head when I am about to wrap things up.
No matter the hike, I always find it strange how the finality of a trip suddenly strikes. Every hike (if its good) has a degree of timelessness. I do not feel like this hike has dragged on, nor sped by…each day simply was, but now looking ahead, there simply is not much left on the map! In the context of the whole, only a fraction remains, and that fraction seems tangible and within reach.
Anyway, a mixture of excitement, accomplishment and reflection this evening.
A fairly restful night and I awoke to a clear, star filled sky. Packed up, I decided to not backtrack to the ICT but rather continue up Browns Creek and simply exit higher in the drainage on an obvious gradual slope to the rim which would allow me to remain in the shade much longer than hiking to the rim first thing.
A few minutes into my morning, I came upon a Bombing Range sign laying in the dirt which stated: “Warning!! Objects may fall from low flying aircraft. Travel risks include injury or potential death.”
Not really a nice way to ease into a morning, but I scanned the skies, listened closely, and decided I’d take my chances. Besides `objects’ is a fairly broad term…
As I left the creek bed and began my climb upward, the sun began to shine upon the upper slopes. Looks to be a warm one today.
Just below the drainage rim, I spooked a couple of Antelope and then followed their path to the dirt rd that is the ICT. From this point I could see a white ICT blaze in the distance and simply left the rd and aimed straight for it…an efficient beeline across sage and scrub.
A few miles from Bruneau Overlook at an old corral, I did the same thing, trading a perplexing 2.5 mile jog in the road/ICT for a lumpy cattle trail to the rim of the Bruneau River.
One unique aspect of this country is that really large landscape features do not make themselves apparent until the very last minute. What appears to be a vast expanse of slightly rolling lumps suddenly gives way to a near vertical canyon that drops ~1000 ft to the river below. Stunning and surprising to come upon.
I took a short break at the Outlook then headed on my way…~10 miles to my first and only water source (East Fork of Bruneau Canyon) in the ~90 miles from the Snake River to the Nevada Border. Aircraft could now be seen and heard, circling round and round in the distance and dropping `objects’ that were making noise that could likely cause injury or perhaps death.
~5 miles from the east fork, I walked by a military truck with a radar mounted on a trailer and 4 fatigue wearing occupants no doubt enjoying the A/C of the truck cab. I waved, they waved, and we all carried on with our respective tasks.
A few minutes later I was being buzzed by 4 aircraft, each one coming in and flying overhead lower and faster than the first…200 ft max from the ground. Their decals and numbers were clearly legible as they sped over my position. It was amazing how quiet the planes were until they passed by. Strange to see something so large and potentially dangerous moving so fast and making virtually no noise.
After the flyboys passed I soon veered from the ICT to follow my own XC rte to drop into the East Fork of the Bruneau ~6 miles earlier than the ICT. I was not hard up for water, but the rte looked challenging and more scenic than the rd walk that dropped me down into Winter Camp and a bridged crossing of the creek. When I rode this portion in July, the water flow at Winter Camp was strong so I figured it would be the same further downriver. As I came upon the rim, after seeing another 5 antelope, I was dismayed to see a dry creekbed! Uh, crap. This was supposed to be the one reliable source! Keeping my anxiety in check, I descended the bouldered slope of basalt to the creeks edge, careful to avoid the loads of poison ivy that lined the banks. At this point I had 1 L of water total and ~50 miles of hiking! Not good. Judging by the maps it was ~4 miles to the main fork of the Bruneau River which was flowing (as seen from the Overlook before), so I decided to trudge down canyon to fill bottles, hydrate, camp, and then backtrack to my original exit come morning. I figured the chances were fair to good that I’d find water before I got to the River.
Sure enough, as the willows thickened and the canyon narrowed slightly, I caught the whiff of moisture and began to poke around. Beneath a large boulder was a decent sized pool that looked to hold ~6 gallons worth of water. Eureka! I could easily look past the water skippers, minnows, snails, and dung that called this pool home. Much to their chagrin I began to scoop the water from the pool and pore it into my gravity filter. Each scoop was ~.5 L, so it would take a number of trips beneath the boulder to fill my 2.25 gallon carrying capacity for the next 2 days and get my body re-hydrated this evening.
The water is of suspect quality, a bit offensive to smell and taste, but it is wet, cool, and should serve its purpose. Plus, it saves me considerable distance of unsafe hiking through a jumble of water polished basalt, thick vegetation, and poison ivy.
After I finished the task of filling bottles and re-hydrating, I made my way back up creek and sat in the creekbed until ~7 pm when I made the slow climb to the rim. The sun was behind some clouds as it began to set, and a slight breeze blew. I decided to hike into the evening to get some miles in during cooler temps and enjoy a desert sunset!
I took a quick bearing and then headed of across the desert aiming to re-join the ICT in ~5 miles. Much of the landscape out here is a mix of sage and scrub or is grassland…likely cleared for grazing or cleared from range fires. I basically followed the edge of the cleared portion…more efficient walking than picking my way through sage brush. Just before nightfall I crossed an indistinct two track rd that would bring me to the ICT. With no moon, I used my single bulb LED to highlight the rocks and holes in the track. Despite the handicap of darkness I made good time and soon rejoined the ICT around 9 pm, making camp beneath a star filled sky just off the roadway.
Well rested, I got a jump on the morning and hit the road just before first light. I wanted to take advantage of cool morning temps and log as many miles as possible before the sun warmed things up.
It also appeared that sometime today, based on the stiff easterly winds and the clouds on the western horizon, that I’d be blessed by cloud cover.
A few minutes from camp I dropped into and climbed out of a finger of Sheepheads Draw before beginning an ~8 mile walk below low slung lumps of grass and sage which were just high enough to continue to block the sun as I hiked south.
Time passed with no real recognition of it doing so nor landmrks to mark my progress, until I came over a rise and saw the Bengoechea Cabin to the right. I stumbled over to check out its thick walls of basalt, hinged door, and now collapsed metal roof. Whatever ‘ol Bengoechea did out here, he must have been a tough SOB. As much as I love the desert, it is very difficult to imagine living out here and remaining sane. No shade, relentless wind…maybe his wife was real pretty.
Pushing on, I continued to make great time along the dusty or rocky two tracks of the Idaho Centennial Trail, with ~20 miles by 2 pm. The clouds did roll in which was a relief, but any hydration savings were quickly negated by the warm wind that kept up steady throughout the day.
My feet are certainly tender at this point. I switched to running shoes when I re-started to provide greater flexibility for the road walks, but I am paying a slight price. With no stiffening in the midsole and thus limited durable cushioning, the sharp basalt in the rds and two tracks is hammering my feet. But…boots would have their own set of issues as well. Regardless of footwear, I have not had any blisters or foot issues this entire trip!
The afternoon was slower paced than the morning and I settled into a steady pace, staying with the ICT, and paralleling a wilderness Study Area until the north side of Poison Creek. I bailed off the rd simply to cross the drainage slightly earlier than the road…just to give my mind a chance to have some fun figuring a way through the cliffbands that guarded the dry creekbed on each side below. Successful, I angled back to the ICT.
A few Antelope around today…another 5, 22 since leaving Hammett. Great animals. The last 2 I saw as I swung south off the ICT again to work around the western flank of Poison Butte…staying close to the rim of the Jarbidge River Drainage for some new views, and to avoid an ~8 mile scenic tour of the north, east, and south sides of Poision Butte along the ICT. A very circuitous rte, but likely routed that way along rds to accomodate other types of trail use. Lucky for us hikers, we are highly mobile and not subject to such boundaries! Alternatively it would be very easy to go directly over Poison Butte as it is only ~300 ft higher than the surrounding terrain. `Butte’ is too noble a term for the landmass, but `Poison Bump’ does not conjure up romantic images of the western landscape…
Final camp for the Idaho Centennial Trail is on the SW flank of the aforementioned bump…just behind a large scrub that is doing a fantastic job at blocking the relentless wind. From this vantage I can see the Jarbidge Mtns (which I’ve seen for the past ~90 miles) rising quickly from the desert floor to the south, the E and W Forks of the Jarbidge River, and somewhere out there (~15 miles) is an orange metal post denoting the Idaho/ Nevada border and the southern terminus of the Idaho Centenial Trail.
Just about there…
My final camp was a lumpy one, so sleep, when it came, was fitful at best. The wind carried something I seemed allergic to, so my nose and eyes watered throughout the night. I had a laugh at acknowledging that one of the worst nights on the ICT was to be my last…
Regardless I was packed and moving by 7:30…not as earlier as I had intended, but with only ~15 miles I suppose there was no real rush anyhow unless a fella was anxious to sit in the sun to await his ride outta here.
After ~20 mins of XC hiking down the gradual flank of Poison Butte, I re-joined the ICT once again and made my way south along a two track, again paralleling a Wilderness Study Area.
The morning was warm…no wind, no clouds, and a bit stale. I was happy to know that I would not need to be out all day in such conditions as it would have been an uncomfortable day given my remaining water supply and energy level.
A few antelope rose from the sage and scrub and pranced off to the east, but otherwise the morning was a solitary affair…right, left, right, left…each step one step closer to Nevada and the completion of my hike. I soon crossed the paved rd which drops quickly to Murphy Hotsprings and made my way to a two track…in the wake of a big diesel truck with 2 camo-clad fellows in the cab.
The truck stopped at a ranch gate and the guys got out to inspect the signage, piss, and open the gate. I wandered up and said hello and we had a nice conversation for 15 mins talking about what great country this was…open, quiet, and obviously void of humans. These guys were out hunting Antelope…with muzzle loaders! I was rightfully impressed as doing so meant a keen awareness of the animals habits and behaviors. Not to mention having to get out of the truck, be incredibly patient, and get within ~10 yds of the game before pulling the trigger. A bit different than the breed of most huntrs I have met. Pretty impressive. They had stalked and gotten a kill yesterday, but were getting snookered today.
We soon parted ways and I made my way the remaining ~1.5 miles to the Idaho/Nevada border after crossing over a small plateau, descending, and then climbing up a two track speckled with obsidian.
Although I felt sluggish most of the morning I was surprised to arrive at the ICT’s southern terminus at high noon. Good time despite sore feet.
As most arbitrary points of terminii are, the southern terminus of the ICT was nothing grand or majestic…just another point on a high desert two track with a barb wire fence, a gate, and plenty of cow patties. An orange metal post with `NV’ cut out of the top marked the boundary. Maybe not grand, but a perfect ending nonetheless.
The day I finish a long hike is never very relevant to me…its not a point of relief, nor a point of immediate jubiliation. I always want to believe that I am somehow immune to having such an undertaking affect me, but I know deep down that the end result of another long hike will pay dividends into the future. While never immediate or obvious, and however ambiguous it may sound at the moment, I know without question that those eventual dividends will alter the person that I am, and I will become a better person in some way.
So, to end this long winded journal, I’ll end as I always do post-hike with these words:
Lived it, loved it, time to leave it.
Thanks for reading.
Concluding Thoughts: For what it is Worth…
As always, if you have any questions with regard to planning a hike along the Idaho Centennial Trail, please feel free to contact me. Please take the time to do some preliminary research on your own by visiting the Idaho Parks and Rec Website before you ask me specifics. The IPR website is a great resource and does a fine job at presenting information you may need. Asking me “what is the best spot to hike” along the ICT will not likely get any response. If you read the journal, look at the pics, and do a minimum of research I feel very confident that you will be able to determine what sections of the trail would best suit your criteria for being worthwhile.
I also feel that it is important to point out that the ICT represents a unique opportunity within the long distance trail system of the United States. By my estimation we have plenty of long trails that are well documented with books, blazes, and quality information that is presented in a highly digestable format to aid a hiker in a successful trip. What I believe this country lacks are trail corridors that embrace the beauty of the unknown and leave some questions unanswered. If you need the majority of questions answered (and there is nothing wrong with that if you do) then I’d encourage you to look elsewhere for the time being. However, if you are open and ready to embrace varying degrees of uncertainty than the ICT may be for you!
So…in saying that, you may find the information below vague. That is not my intention. I feel like I have presented information that adds to what is already available and is unique to being the first person to thru-hike the ICT in a single season (that’s what I’ve been told anyhow). Obviously what I did worked for me.
I am also intent on not wanting to rob you of the opportunity to experience the ICT in the best possible light…as I did, which includes a little bit of mystery! I do not care to establish some sort of definition (as is human tendency) for the Idaho Centennial Trail as being this, or being that, so I have refrained from making any direct comparisons to other trails.
Lastly, my thoughts are my own and by no means ‘right.’
Strategy: Terminus TH’s, Re-Supply, Wilderness, Mileage, Gear
I chose to plan and execute the Idaho Centennial Trail in typical long distance hiker fashion: frequent re-supplies, 20+ miles per day, and with a focus toward lightweight equipment. In my opinion, the Idaho Centennial Trail does not present any additional logistical challenges than other more well known long distance routes despite the obvious lack of information available. Personally, I found the lack of solid beta to be a liberating, rather than limiting aspect during my planning and execution of the hike. Will you? Hard to say. Try to embrace it and see how you feel!
However, with the information presented through the Idaho Parks and Rec Website and the additional info provided here, I think future trail users (thru-hikers, section hikers, equestrians, whatever) will have all the info needed to have a safe, successful hike along the Idaho Centennial Trail.
* Terminus Trailheads:
The northern and southern ends of the Idaho Centennial Trail are both quite remote and not easy to get to. Each are along long dirt rds on the way to somewhere else. Best bet is to arrange with friends or family to get you there. As far as I could determine in my research, there are no services in place to offer shuttles and having been to both, I can assure you that vehicles are infrequent. Arranging a ride to and from the ends of the trail is likely the greatest logistical challenge of the hike.
Given the fact that a hiker will spend nearly half the distance of the total mileage in vast tracts of Wilderness, re-supply along the Idaho Centennial Trail Corridor is surprisingly easy and accomodating. In addition, hikers have options to add or subtract re-supply locations depending on their approach to daily mileage, attitudes about hitch-hiking, etc.
Keep in mind that these places are not trail towns. It was rare for anyone in town to have even heard of the Idaho Centennial Trail. There is no ‘hiker infrastructure’ in place to help you out. No registers, hiker boxes, or a Trail Angel contact name should you need help or have an emergency. Plan accordingly and keep your expectations in check!
The following are the towns (post offices), ranches, or lodges that I re-supplied at:
Naples, Id: Naples is ~1.4 miles from the ICT. Follow County RD 3 North until you come to HWY 2. Cross HWY 2. Walk South a few minutes to Old HWY 2. Turn Right. Follow Old Hwy 2 into Naples. The Post Office is in the General Store. The General Store is well stocked — so a re-supply here w/o a box is possible. Adjacent to the North side of the General Store is the Naples Inn which is run by Jeneen Schuler. Contact Jeneen for services/expense. Laundry, showers, and camping available as well as a very nice indoor accomodations if desired. Stay a day…the Naples Inn is great!
Clark Fork, Id: Clark Fork is directly on the ICT as you come into town on HWY 200 from Spring Creek RD, or northbound on Stephen St. Clark Fork has a well stocked grocery store, a few restaurants, library with Internet access, and a hotel to stay in should you choose to.
Mullan, Id: Mullan is ~1.5 miles off the ICT. Northbound or southbound, go West on Old HWY 12 at the jct with Larsen Rd. On your way into Mullan, you’ll pass a Cononco Gas Station. This is the only place in town to get snacks, drinks, etc so stock up if you need anything for a rest day before continuing into town. This would be a tough place to re-supply from in my opinion. Once in Mullan, the Lookout Motel is the only place to stay in town.
The Library (internet), The Outlaw Bar, and the Post Office are all on the same street.
Moose Creek Ranger Station: I did manage to re-supply here, but only due to the friend of a friend of a friend. So…not something that I can pass along for future hikers. However, there are options. Consider Three Rivers Resort (~20 mile hitch west on HWY 12) or bailing off the ICT earlier and heading into Superior, MT to the PO there.
Whitewater Ranch: Whitewater Ranch is a private ranch located on the Salmon River and is ~.20 mile off the trail. At the jct, there is a Trailhead next to the River. Free Camping and an Outhouse are available here, as are blackberries! Follow signage up the road to the Ranch House. Mail is flown in every Wednesday. As for services, there are cabins for rent (nice!), meals, and great story telling from the proprietors. There is no phone. Before you decide to send a package here, be sure to contact the Ranch via email.
Pistol Creek Ranch: Like Moose Creek Ranger Station, I did manage to re-supply here, but only due to the friend of a friend of a friend. So…not something that I can pass along for future hikers, but if you do a little reseach with regard to backcountry pilots, you may discover some possibilities. Whitewater Ranch to Sawtooth Lodge is ~178 miles. Alternatively when you reach HWY 21 on the ICT, it is an ~8 mile walk (or hitch) into Stanley, ID which has a PO and all the necessities of a trail town.
Sawtooth Lodge: Sawtooth Lodge is a private lodge located in Grandjean, ID and is ~1.5 miles off the ICT. At the jct, there is signage for backcountry TH’s and a Campground. The Forest Service Campground has water, outhouses, and plenty of space. User Fees are mandatory. Sawtooth Lodge has accomodations, food, and phone. Before you decide to send a package here, be sure to contact Sawtooth Lodge.
Hammet, Id: Hammett is a small agricultural hamlet. Other than the Post Office, there is a small convenience store with an adjacent restaurant just east of the jct of HWY 78 and Main St. There is no place to spend the night…no hotel, no camping.
Obviously one of the big draws of the Idaho Centennial Trail is the vast tracts of Wilderness walking. These portions of the trail are remote. There are not easy bailout options in an emergency, nor the luxury of knowing that someone will likely stumble upon you. Other than within ~10 miles of TH’s, firelookouts, or pilots at backcountry airstrips, I never saw another backpacker or equestrian in the woods.
With Wilderness comes wildlife and there are certainly animals to be aware of along the Idaho Centennial Trail. Just about any animal you can think of existing in forested country exists in Idaho. Grizzlies and Wolves seem to be the one’s that cause the most concern. During my trip, I did not see any Griz, but was convinced on a few occasions of seeing their tracks. Wolf tracks are very frequent, sightings more rare, but rest assured they are present in considerable numbers. Should you be concerned? Probably, but not to the point of panic. I credit avoiding any unpleasant animal encounters by being dedicated to stealth camping techniques, never traveling creekside in the early morning or evenings, avoiding places that presented resources to animals (EX: huckleberry patches), and hiking in the late summer/early fall, and having my dawg along. Rattlesnakes are common along the rivers, as well as in the desert but I never heard nor saw one.
My advice? Recognize that Wilderness, by its nature, carries a degree of responsibility by those that choose to travel within its boundaries. The Wilderness Areas along the Idaho Centennial are certainly no exception. Be aware of where you are, and vigilant of the decisions you decide to make in such terrain.
Mileage is always a subjective topic based upon a hiker’s own goals, physical fitness and mental perspective. Despite all that, I think that ~15-20 mpd is realistic for anyone thinking of tackling the ICT. The trail itself is in fine shape…it is typically just a matter of being able to see it! There are stretches of road walks which provide opportunity to make up time if need be. Before starting my hike, my dawg and I agreed upon 20 mpd as our daily goal. If I was hiking the ICT on my own, I would feel comfortable planning my itinerary around 22-27 mpd.
Like daily mileage, the gear necessary to be safe and successful along the ICT is subjective…and should be based upon a hikers respective skillset. No matter the season selected to hike the route, you are likely to encounter variable weather…rain, snow, heat, cold. Plan accordingly! My own base weight (all gear minus food, fuel, and water) fluctuated between 6.5-10 lbs due to anticipated weather, my dawg’s needs, and the availability of water.
I hiked the ICT with a (3) different packs. Not mandatory, but I was in the final stages of prototype testing thus the variety. My 30 degree quilt was fine for the entire trip as was my custom pyramid shelter from Mt Laurel Designs. In the right season, Idaho is blessed to be mostly bug free, so the floorless shelter was perfect for hiking with the dawg, easy to pitch in stealth sites, bomber in weather, and of course very light!
As for footwear, I hiked ~700 miles with a single pair of Lowa Boots. I prefer a mid top to high top boot when the actual trail tread is obscured by vegetation…strictly from a safety standpoint in having more ankle support. I hiked the last ~200 miles with Salomon Trail Runners which were better suited to the long road walks.
Route: Trail, Direction (N vs S), Navigation, Weather
Trail is a bit of a subjective term. One person’s trail is another persons animal track. Overall I was surprised by the actual amount of trail tread on the ground. Most was discernable. In some areas the trail was there in spirit, but thick vegetation, downed timber, unmapped re-routes, or other obstructions kept it from being consistently evident. What will you find? A little bit of everything! My best advice is to not fall victim to the expectations that a line on a map can create. In my opinion, any more specifics will rob you of the adventure that awaits! Embrace reality and walk.
* Direction (N vs S) :
Although the Idaho Parks and Rec website states that the consensus is to hike the ICT northbound, I am not sure how such a consensus can exist with regard to a trail corridor that has seen such little use in the context of successful thru-hikes. My main reason for hiking southbound was that I much preferred to be in the desert in the fall, rather than the mountains of northern Idaho. Logistically it was much easier for me to arrange a drop off at the N terminus and a pick up at the S terminus. Remember…I said the ends of the trail are a logistical hurdle. I do not think it would be unreasonable to start Northbound in August if you intended a quick pace. If you head N in the Spring, your start date should be dependent on the snowpack in the Sawtooths and you’d best be prepared for swollen creeks as well as the navigation challenges that residual snow pack can create…especially so on a trail that is not blazed for ~75% of its length.
The other major consideration is fire season. Fire season in Idaho is typically very active…from July to September. Be sure to check in here for information. If you left N-bound in the Spring you’d lessen your chances of fire conflict. SB in August (like me) is probably the worse time, but I was fortunate to get through the large tracts of wilderness without any blaze obstructing my path…but there were plenty of active fires in the area. Wilderness fires are typically allowed to burn themselves out, which means Mother Nature is responsibly for containment…which means the onset of winter.
Navigation on the ICT can be tricky due to the trail conditions that I described above. Obviously your skillset and comfort level will determine the difficulties you encounter. My best advice is to carry additional maps that give you a sense of the big picture, so you can plan an alt route if need be. My primary moments of confusion were either in burn areas or on actual trail that had been re-routed and did not match the line on my map. Given the resources presented at the Idaho Parks and Rec website, you have the all the maps and a designated ICT route at your digital fingertips. Although no guidebook exists with useable maps, the Idaho Parks and Rec website has all you will need to get started and execute the hike. Combine that with Forest Service maps from the districts along the trail, and you’ll be in good shape.
Any time you spend multiple weeks out in the woods, you can be subject to a full range of weather. The ICT is no exception no matter the time of year or the direction you decide to hike. I had sun, rain, snow, wind. Good stuff. At times I was uncomfortably cold and uncomfortably hot. Chances are you will be to.