Saturday, September 17, 2011

Idaho Adventures

Near Lewiston, ID.
One fortnight and some four days ago we left Washington for the final installment of our road-trip.  Our early plans included simply checking out a sport cliff around Riggins, and some Idaho Hotsprings, along the way to Utah and Colorado.   However, we couldn't have imagined finding so many interesting and beautiful sidetrails along our way.   What originally entailed a few days of sport climbing and soaking soon morphed into nearly three weeks in Idaho.  To me, that is one of the best features of long road trips.  Having loads of time really enables flexibility and latitude of itinerary.  And, as often happens when traveling, there are all kinds of places that one might not have heard of; some being worthy of serious investigation.   And so, it was only late last night, after a longish day of climbing at the City of Rocks, that we finally said our farewells to the Potato State as we crossed the Utah border.  Here's how Idaho went down.

Nearing Riggins.  Former Nez Perce homeland.
After spending our first night at Hayden Lake, visiting our friends Eddie & Jodi Whittemore, we carved heartily South, enjoying the rolling hills, lakes, and sweeping vistas into Eastern Washington along the way.  It was a significant improvement over the previous days drudgery, which involved that mind-numbing section of i-90 between Ellensburg and Spokane.  We took in a viewpoint down to Lewiston at one point and marveled at the mighty Snake River.  There were also lots of historical markers scattered along the road, most of which we blew by.  Early in the evening, we rolled into Riggins, situated along the famous Salmon River.  Temps were sizzling in the 90's.  Not exactly rock climbing weather by my standards.  Shortly, we were laboring up the Seven Devil's Forest road and gaining serious altitude.  Within 20 minutes we had cooled off into the mid 70's.  Ahhhh, that's better.  We were pretty wiped out when we arrived at the dusty trailhead/camping area.  Driving with little exercise thrown in tends to leave us lethargic.  After getting lost on several cow trails, Tiff managed to locate the Projects Wall, our objective for the following day.

Looks cute, but he is a fierce warrior.
We enjoyed some nice limestone sport routes in the Projects and the Amphitheatre over the next two days.  The cave with most of the hard routes involve lots of drilled out pockets; and naturally, the holds weren't installed with a 5' climber in mind.  I knew this going into our time at Riggins, but I didn't know to what extent I would be limited.  There was one 12c I tired to onsight.  I think I was through with the crux, but then got shut down with a long drilled move that I couldn't quite span.  Eventually I figured a way through, but, it felt more like V8.  I did manage 'Chicken Dinner' 13a second go.  Though I found the climbing at Riggins not suited to my stature, it still yielded a valuable pump!

Taking some downtime at the Projects Camping area.  No, this isn't a log cabin, it is a van.

The Projects wall at Riggins.

5 nights, 6 days, and 7 devils:

Beautiful mountain Trout.
While investigating rest day activities for Riggins, I came across a mountainous area just up the road from the climbing.  I'd never heard of it, but it looked on paper like there were lots of trails and lakes.  Further research revealed a popular 27 mile loop around the Seven Devil's Wilderness area.  Trip reports and pictures only whetted my appetite.  And, the rumor of excellent fishing peaked my curiosity to the breaking point.   Having missed the opportunity to backpack this summer because of my knee and the unusual snowpack in the Cascades, I was hooked.

Dog lake, elevation 7900ft.

Day one: The following morning we left the Windy Saddle Trailhead (around 8000ft) and headed South for Dog lake.  9 miles later we stumbled into an eye catching alpine basin and the Lake.  The last 1.1 miles were somewhat complicated by sections of 'missing' trail and downed trees.  With nobody around, we had our pick of several choice campsites along the lake, all adorned with fire-rings.  After settling in, I put together my rod, grabbed a select few crimped lures, and worked my way along the shore, testing out promising spots.  It wasn't long before I started hooking into beautiful Western Cutthroat.  Though I've caught lots of little trout up in the Cascades, I've never hooked so many big fish.  Most of them were 13-17 inches.   I was in trout heaven.

Ooooooo, Lupine.
Day two: Our next days itinerary was the most demanding day of our backpack, 11 miles.  After descending from Dog Lake back to the main trail, we wound through many small valley's and ridges.  We were glad to have an early start as the sun began to beat down us through the burnt canopy.  Something like 8 wildfires have ravaged the forests around the Seven Devils during the last decade, leaving long sections of trail without the cover of trees to provide shade.  Our gradual ascent led to a long climb up to Horse Haven Pass.  Here we found a perfect lunch spot on some rocks.  Begals with cream cheese and pepperoni, YUM!  After lounging in the sun, drying socks, and airing out the feet we hiked out onto a ridge with commanding views into Hells Canyon.  The trail took us another 6 miles to our destination, Baldy Lake.  Most of that time we encountered sweeping vistas down into Hells Canyon, Lord's Flat (on the Oregon side), and the Wallowa Mountains in the far distance.  A refreshing soak in Baldy Lake brought new life to our trail beaten bodies.  The fishing proved to be just as good as Dog Lake (smile).

Day 2---with Hell's Canyon below.
Ahhhh, little butterfly!
Baldy Lake at sunset.  This lake is a Trout Mecca.  

Ben 'cakes' Gilkison in the office.
Day three:  For breakfast, we had blueberry pancakes with honey.  Needless to say, this was much more stimulating than our standard morning fare of instant oatmeal.  This leisurely meal combined with some extra fishing time put us on the trail by mid day.  In hindsight, this was probably an error.  Though our mileage only amounted to 4.9, the heat, and lack of air movement conspired to challenge us through the entirety of our descent and climb to He-Devil Lake.  Upon arriving at the lake, we didn't think any of the campsites had survived the last wildfire.  But, while exploring the shore and circling the far side we found a small stand of trees and the mother of all Horse Packer sites.  Our mood rapidly improved as we surveyed our score of shade, flat real estate, proximity to water, and most importantly, its three benches and fire ring.  To finish the day right, I managed to reel in a nice 15" Cutthroat.  And, for dinner we made Calzones; the perfect ending to a somewhat onerous day.

Thank you Summit Adventure for hooking me on mountain Calzones.  My forever backcountry dinner favorite.

Talus surfing on the trek to Purgatory Lk.  Triangle lake below.
Day Four: Initially, this was to be a 'move' day, however we vetoed that plan and elected to take a down day, explore the He-Devil area, and catch our breath.  With a light pack we set off to Triangle Lake.  The burnt path led up to another scenic rocky shored lake with, yep, you guessed it, lots of fish!  We kept going though, and eventually climbed another 700 feet up to Purgatory Lake.  No, there weren't any fish here, but the views down to Hells Canyon were expansive and the scope of He-Devil Peak towering.  It was here that Tiff heard something up in the talus filled cirque.  After scrutinizing the slope we located a very large Mountain Goat.  He wasn't too pleased about our presence and was literally running uphill, busting out 5.9 moves left and right.   Upon our return to camp, we each caught a dinner worthy trout, and fried them up.  It was our plan to have Spinach Puttanesca with our trout, but the fish ended up being more food than we had anticipated.  It wasn't exactly a well balanced meal, but tasty nonetheless.

Though we release 99%, these two didn't quite make the cut.

Trout, it is what's for dinner.
Day Five: Not to repeat our mistake, we broke camp early and beat down the a.m. trail for Upper Bernard lake.  Originally, I had intended on taking us to the last major valley with lakes (Basin lake, Sheep lake etc), but we thought it better to see something different.  After descending from the He-Devil lake area we found ourselves wandering in grand forests and plentiful shade.  This lasted for an hour until once again we hit burned areas.  The remainder to Upper Bernard involved traversing a ridge to a high point (with views of the Dry Diggins lookout), and down to the lake 800 feet below.  For a few hours we just lounged at the lake, went swimming, and read our books.  After dinner we grabbed some essentials and headed for the lookout.  It was only a 500ft climb (in a mile) to the Lookout.  We both agreed that the view was one of the best on our trip.  From the lookout one can actually see the snake River 6000 some feet below.  The Dry Diggins also has a good vantage of the Seven Devil's Range and gave us a nice survey of where we had hiked.

The ultimate horsecamp; a wilderness paradox.
He-Devil lake, heavenly.
The Tiffernator hiking robowoman.  Obviously from the future.
Another great look into Hells Canyon.
The Seven Devil's Wilderness with Upper Bernard Lake in the foreground.
The Dry Diggins Lookout.
Sunset over Hell's Canyon & the Wallowa range.

This tree had a beard.  So weird.

Brilliant wildflowers above Sheep Creek.
Day Six: Knowing that the final 8 miles had lots of elevation gain and loss, we opted for another early start.  Ok, it wasn't too 'alpine', something like 5.  We happily avoided sunshine on the final 1300 ft climb up from Sheep Creek.  The final miles went fast, until that last 500 ft climb up to Windy Saddle.  I'd say that the Seven Devil's Backpack was one of my personal favorites.  Our mileage with all our excursions tallied up to around 40 miles.  I'd have preferred to have more forest cover and less burn, but then, it was cool to witness all the plant regeneration and natural reforestation taking place across the range. ---Back at the Vansion, we were pleased to observe no mice infestations and a fully charged battery bank.  With lunch on our mind we rolled a few clicks down to the Seven Devil's campground to refuel and clean up from our hike.

Once accomplished, we headed down to the Amphitheatre one last time.  Though tired from 8 miles on the trail that morning, Tiff graciously offered me a couple hours at the cave, and an opportunity to get pumped.  Honestly, after six days on the trail, I didn't think I'd actually finish anything.  There were a few locals from Spokane at the crag including Brian Raymon, who pointed out a sweet looking line called Tractor Boy.  And, after warming up on the nice 11d, I gave a solid onsight effort.  I think I fell around the 6th bolt.  Pulling back onto the wall I rested a bit, and then worked out the moves to the top.  The climbing on the upper headwall wasn't nearly as drilled out, and I was stoked!    With only one more try remaining in the hour glass I managed to clip the chains of Tractor Boy 13b/c second go.   Very pleased with some unexpected sendage, we bailed.  Back down in Riggins we picked up some killer milkshakes and aimed South for McCall.  In another couple hours we pulled into this small resort town and found some juicy burgers at "My Father's Place".

Tackling steep terrain on Tractor Boy 13b.
McCall & Hot Springs

The sandy beach in McCall, ID.
Following our backpack, our number one priority was laundry and shower time.  The next morning, after spending the night along the shores of Little Payette Lake, we commandeered some showers at the State Park.  11 days of no showers + 40 miles of trail = smelly bodies.  Laundry, shopping, and swimming along the shores of Lake Payette filled up the remainder of our day.  In the evening we busted South, then East, then North to wind up along the banks of the South fork of the Salmon River, and some sweet hot springing.  The Sugah (mile 16) hot springs were a perfect ending to this day, and we had them all to ourselves.  There are two pools here.  The larger of which hovers around 100 degrees and the smaller pool 104.  In the early morning the following day we had another soak & casually watched a black bear scurry across the hillside.  It was an extra special encounter as you could imagine.

 From Sugah we traveled back down to the Warm Lake area and checked out Trail Creek hot springs.  There were a couple people already here, but plenty of room for extra bodies.  After getting our fill of hot water, and lunching up, we were back on the road.  Working our way back to the 55, we then headed South down the North Fork of the Payette River.  So many rivers!  At Banks we turned East up the South Fork of the Payette.  Temps really cranked up in this area.  Soon we were headed down forest road 524 towards the Grandjean section of the Sawtooth's Wilderness.  Towards the end of this washboard ridden dust-fest we found more free camping in a grove of pines along the Payette.  Though thoroughly ensconced in mountainous terrain, the temps still managed to soar in the mid 80's.  We set up camp (including our hammock), and chilled for a few hours.  After procuring dinner, we took a stroll down the road and found the Sacajawea Hot Springs.  The moon was out and soon we were exploring the many small pools.  One pool in particular drew us in.  But, as we soon found out, finding the balance between burning and freezing wasn't easy.  Still, we had us a nice soak.

Sugah Hot Springs along the S. Fork of the Salmon.  One of our favorite primitive springs.

Sawtooths: Elephant's Perch

Who's that girl?
In the cool morning air, we bumped it back to the 21 and booked it towards Stanley.  For years I had heard stories of featured Alpine granite up in the Sawtooths wilderness; and pulling into Stanley and surveying the Eastern escarpment of this range sealed the deal.  With a photo copy topo of some routes on the Elephant's Perch, we opted to check it out.  By lunchtime we were packed up and skipping along Redfish Lake.  The Redfish lodge offers roundtrip fare to the far end of the lake for 15$ a person.  This saves 5 miles of dusty horse pack trail along the lake; leaving a scanty 3.5 miles up to Saddleback lakes and the Perch.  Our trusty boat driver really opened up his 200 HP outboard, and it couldn't have taken us more than 10 minutes to gain the far shores.  Once back on terra firma we picked up our wilderness permits and were on our way.  The first mile of trail was hot, with little tree or cloud cover to shelter us from the searing sun.  But, near the Perch turnoff the clouds soon formed sweet relief.  And to our surprise, during the final leg it actually started to rain.  We hadn't seen rain since Seattle.  After sitting out a short squall we hoofed it up to the lake.  There were a nice couple of dudes from Austen, Tx at the Lake already.  We chatted it up and learned that they were planning on doing the Mountaineers route the next day.  The Mountaineers route is touted as the most popular route at the Perch.  But, it also has the stigma of loose rock.  So, with that in mind we decided to try an easier version of Astro-Elephant.  

Cows, mountains, and smoke.  What else could a man want?

This place gave me such great hair.
The Elephants Perch is a striking bulbous cliff that rises over a thousand feet above Saddleback Lakes.  It reminded me much of walls up in the Enchantments back in WA or stuff I'd climbed up in the High Sierra.  Around dinner time the remnant cloud cover broke and the alpenglow lit up the Perch.  It was beautiful!

Please enlarge for facial expression.
Our adventure the following day on Elephants Perch was short and sweet.  After climbing 5 nice pitches up to the halfway point, lightning and ubiquitous thunderheads made the decision to bail easy.  It was at this point that our route traverses up and left 400 feet, making retreat a really nasty option.  We found the lower half of our climb riddled in flakes and other neat features.  One pitch even had for or five natural two finger pockets.  I was thoroughly impressed with the climbing and hope to make it back to this outstanding alpine crag someday.

Tiffers hauling Big Red.
The Elephant's Perch.  Stunning.

With a 5pm or 7pm boat pickup looming, we opted for the 5pm and hustled it down the descent gully, back to the lake to break camp, and down the trail to Redfish lake.  We arrived with ten minutes to spare.  On the way out we ran into Matt Kerns from Seattle and another gentleman named Tim who were coming into the perch to do some climbing.   It was a cordial meeting.  Matt's one of the nicest guys and it was great to see him.  Its a small world.

Tiffany finishing off pitch 5, Elephant's Perch.  Saddleback lakes in background.
Back at the boat dock, a hiker from Hailey was offering advice to another couple about potential restaraunts.  I did some listening in, and learned about a small spoon in Hailey with a tremendous beer selection, called the Powerhouse.  The burgers were supposed to be good... and as you know (unless you're a vegi) there's nothing quite as satisfying as some greasy burgs, fries and beer after a couple days in the mountains.  ----  Around 7 we pulled into Hailey and ate dinner.  It was indeed delicious.  Check it out if you're ever in the area:

Adios Sawtooths!

The next day on our way South we checked out a neat little sport crag down in a lava tube near Shishone.  It was somewhat difficult to get directions to this place.  But, we eventually did obtain them.  Not sure what I climbed since there is no Topo.  You gotta love local cliffs.

One steep lava tube jug haul.  Not sure grade.
Cumuli gargantuis.

To wrap up our Idaho tour, we spent the last few days climbing at the fabled City of Rocks.  This National Preserve sits on a mountainous spur just North of the Utah border.  Our days there were filled with perfect temperatures, rock, and scenery.  Honestly, I can say that this place has the most uniquely featured granite that I've run across.  It is very much like Joshua Tree down in Southern Cal, but the rock is simply much better.  If you've survived this blog, I congratulate you; and likely, you are either my Mom or Dad, or another beloved relative.

The City of Rocks.  Yes, it rocks.

Idaho really was a treat and we're psyched to check out Maple Canyon Utah next!  Stay tuned...

Tiff floating thin Slice 10a.

The amazing arete of Cairo.  11a.