Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On to Idaho! - Summer 2016 - Part One

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The Last Summer Break Trip

We were heading to Idaho. This was our big trip plan for this summer - to meet up with my fly fishing cousin from Seattle. Keith, aka "The Big Guy", now a retired university professor, (scroll down in the link to Keith Stamm) weaves his fly fishing adventures into stories some of which he has shared in his book - Quest for Home Waters. It had been 5 years since our last adventure together, too long, so when The Big Guy suggested a time and a place we rose to the opportunity like a trout to a well presented dry fly. It was "On to Idaho!"

The truck, camper, and gear was packed. We lit out of here before dawn on Saturday morning and headed into Nevada. I had a surprise in store for the Lady. Out on the eastern edge of Nevada, high up in the Snake Range was a long loop hike she longed to complete. Our last attempt was blocked by snow.

"Let's start the trip there," I suggested.

"Really!" she beamed. "I'd love that!"

Saturday evening, with our camp set up in Great Basin National Park's Baker Creek Campground, we walked as the daylight waned.

"I think his mother did that to him," I said as we watched the huge mule deer browsing with his companion. "I think she messed up his left antler so he wouldn't get shot."

"Half Rack. I going to call him Half Rack!" the Lady responded. "And his friend is Big Fork."

This was going to be a theme of the trip, the Lady giving names to the critters we encountered.

Half Rack wore a classic four point mule deer antler on the right side. His left antler was atypical, deformed, a large mass down the side of his face.

We said  goodbye to Half Rack and Big Fork and moseyed back down the canyon. We walked in the growing darkness. The near full moon rose over the eastern ridge line.

Early Sunday morning we were on the trail up Baker Creek. The aspens were bare of leaves, still waking from winter slumber when we were here a couple months ago.

We took a break along Baker Creek and watched a White-lined Sphinx moth work its way through the profusion of Parry's Primrose.

The terrain opened up into a side canyon that, sometime in the past, had been swept with a devastating snow avalanche. A large swath of timber was down with their tops pointing down slope.

In a high glacial cirque cut into layers of limestone - rock that started its life on the bottom of an ancient sea - was Baker Lake.

The trail was good to Baker Lake, most hiker's destination. Our route continued across the upper reaches of the Baker Creek Basin and topped out on the 11,200 feet saddle separating Baker Creek from the Snake Creek drainage to the south. The route is sporadically marked with cairns but with topo map reading skills, the way is easy to see.

We found clusters of alpine columbine among the rocks.

As we climbed the rock changed from limestone to granite and the panorama down Baker Creek opened up below us.

We continued to climb to the high saddle just below the summit of Pyramid Peak.

Johnson Lake was down below us on the opposite side of the ridge.

We were soon down to Johnson Lake.

We stopped for a break, a snack, and to refill our water bottles along a tiny cascading creek. Parry's Primroses lined its banks.

The Johnson Lake Basin is home to an abandoned tungsten mine. Old log buildings litter the area and a tramway cable still ascends up to the mine. Information on this historic site can be found here -

Currently a non-profit group, along with help from AmeriCorps workers, is working on replacing rotten logs to "arrest decay". If you are into solitude, Johnson Lake is not a good choice this summer. The group expects to be up here into September. The trailhead is several miles down Snake Creek so it has taken much effort to maintain a work camp up here above 10,000 feet.

The trail down the Snake Creek canyon from Johnson Lake is the old, steep, rough, now impassable by vehicle, truck road to the mine. After a couple miles of descent, we were so pleased to leave it and begin the climb over the ridge back to the Baker Creek side.

We reached the divide between South fork Baker Creek and Timber Creek. This is one of our favorite places, high mountain meadows bordered by thick groves of aspen. The steeper ground has pinyons and junipers and bristlecone pines show up on the high limestone ridge to the east.

Our route was down the Timber Creek Trail, and a long steep drop back to our campsite along Baker Creek.

This was an over 15 mile loop for us with just under 4000 feet of elevation gain and loss - a good day. Monkshood lined the banks of the now joined forks of Baker Creek near our camp.

The campground had several open sites now that it was Sunday night. It was quiet. Turkeys roamed at will, several times dashing between us as we ate dinner outside. We watched them on our evening walk. The Lady was unaware that these large birds roost in trees overnight for safety. We chuckled as a group climbed the steep canyon side to the top of a cliff and used that as a launching pad to fly over into a tall fir tree near our camper. Here they spent the night.

Turkeys wake in the morning at first light. So did we.

Monday was a day of driving for us and we covered around 400 miles. Highway 93 took us into Idaho where we turned onto highway 75 to access our next destination, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

We know the area well and drove through Sun Valley and up Trail Creek. We found a nice dispersed campsite for the night along Wilson Creek.

Dispersed camping is allowed only after getting away from Ketchum and Sun Valley.  We did see that many seasonal workers appear to move trailers, campers, and camps around in this area for cheap seasonal living.

Early Tuesday we took care of resupply and getting my Idaho fishing license in Ketchum. We don't much care for touristy kinds of towns but Ketchum has a charm we enjoy. We like Ketchum. Early in the morning when the shops are just opening is the best time. We enjoyed chatting with the young strong kid at the fly shop.

"You two ought to go to Goat Lake!" he said after talking with us awhile.

"What species of trout live there?" I asked.

"I don't know, " he answered honestly. "I don't fish. I swam and laid in the sun!"

"Both of those are noble pursuits," I replied and he smiled.

We picked up two excellent cinnamon rolls at the Bigwood Bread Cafe.

They were gobbled up and gone before we reached the top of Galena Pass and our drop down into the beautiful Sawtooth Valley.

We have made several backpack trips into Idaho's White Cloud Peaks. The first two were with my cousin, The Big Guy, and my oldest brother, Fastshot. In 1998 we did a multiday circle of Castle Peak from the Fourth of July Road trailhead, fly fishing all the lakes along our route. We were in a creative mood and penned limericks throughout the trip to celebrate people, places, and events. Most of them were collaborative efforts. One of us would begin with a theme and the group would weigh in. It was an infectious endeavor. The Lady also served as scribe.  I remember us both being aroused from sound sleep at first light one morning by the Big Guy's voice booming from his tent.

"Julie, get your pencil and paper!" his voice echoed around the high basin. "I've got one for you to write down!"

Our next stop on this trip was returning to Fourth of July Road and doing a long day hike into the spot where we spent our last night backpacking in 1998 and a subject of several of our limericks.

One they wrote about me -

The fly fisherman from CA
his hair was starting to gray
with nymphs and dry flies
he could always get by
at the high alpine lakes where he'd play

We found a nice secluded dispersed spot to camp for two nights away from the busy trailhead. The White Clouds is one of our newest Wilderness areas, a wonderful outcome after many decades of work.

After setting up camp we hiked up the 4x4 road to the Phyllis Lake trailhead and continued up to the lake.

We were alone up here and the wind had a cold bite to it on this warm afternoon. We wouldn't go for a swim. But we still relaxed the afternoon away.

An outcropping of the classic white limestone that gives the White Cloud Peaks their name rose up above us.

It was great to see information about the reintroduction of wolves back into Idaho and back into the key role they play in the ecosystem. 

On our quiet walk after supper we watched the rustle of wild creatures around our camp.

This deer was undisturbed by our presence. The Lady called her "Mom", easy to differentiate from the others with her notched right ear.

This doe carried scars and was cautious. Her name was "Skiddery." 

Still, they and others were our companions around camp. In the photo above, "Skiddery" is beside us and intently watching an outfitter come out in the evening after packing in a client's camp into Chamberlain Basin.

We slept soundly even though we were so excited about the next day's trip into that remembered spot in the White Clouds.

Our adventure continues in Part Two - Please Click Here

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