Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sawtooths Backpacking Trip -- Day 4

July 31 -- Note to self: bring lots of Beano. Less for the gas but more for Bryan behind on the trail.

Left Edna Lake and set off for Cramer Lakes. So far I've had to replace my GPS and camera batteries. My small 4 oz bottle of Pocket Rocket fuel has held out well. Envious of Bryan's JetBoil system, but still happy with mine.

We had two massive climbs ahead of us. First, it was up to Hidden Lake (great camping lakeside on the western shore) and then a push over Cramer Pass at 9,500 ft. The view at the pass was epic. For the first 10 minutes, the only words out of my mouth were "awesome!"

Duct tape on my blisters was effective. Not fun, but grateful to have brought it along. Got in at 2:15 and set up at the falls between Big and Middle Cramer lakes. Swam, cleaned up and washed some clothes. Lots of bugs here, but we learned to tolerate them to some degree. After the trip I discovered that my friend Lewis Hall had passesd our site while we were there. Too bad we didn't look out for each other.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sawtooths Backpacking Trip -- Day 3

July 30 -- I got up early and walked around Rock Slide Lake, taking photos as the sun rose. It was refreshing to be bug-free for a few hours. We left Rock Slide Lake at 8:15 a.m. taking an optional route out to Ardeth Lake. It was a steep descent to the lake and a steep one out, but the vistas were beautiful. From there we proceeded on to Edna Lake. We found a much better site than the last.

My heel blisters bugged me a bit and my creative taping lasted 4 hours. It was as if my legs showered my feet with sweat. Foot powder was useless. The scenery was overwhelming, which was a welcome distraction to my blisters. Note to self: try sock liners on the next trip.

Vernon Lake was idyllic. Wooded. Quiet. But we noticed more people on the trail like a Boy

Scout troop out of Nampa (good kids we kept running into along the trail. Not so isolated but relatively alone compared to California trails. One pair of bikers were headed in the

opposite direction and they were kitted out with ice axes and picks. Must have been disappointing to carry that gear with little ice to be found.

I managed to perform a graceful face plant on an egg-shaped rock. Bryan got a hell of a good laugh at my expense. The dirt in my mouth resulted in a full mouth rinse since the trail was littered with pack animal shit.

Set up camp at 3:15 and ate in relative peace due to a cool breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay. We dipped in the cool lake, fished to little success, checked out the area and hit the sack 

by 9 p.m.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Sawtooths Backpacking Trip -- Day 1

July 28 -- Bryan talked his dad, a mining hobbyist, into driving us up to the trailhead in Atlanta early in the morning. Atlanta's a former mining town with a population of something like 21 people, but rich in mining history. And it's a three-hour drive from Boise, with two of those hours on a winding dirt road into Atlanta. Bryan's dad was into it since he'd have the expensive gas paid for and a day to kill putzing around the small wooden buildings of what's called "town."

At 9:30 a.m. we arrived at Power Station campground. After firing up my GPS, we discovered that the official trailhead was 2.35 miles further down the trail (my only GPS error of the trip) which meant that we'd have to do 10 miles our first day out. We said our farewells, hitched our packs and headed up the trail. 

We saw lots of ponderosa pine, fir trees and ferns. Very green and lush. Despite the bear warnings posted at the trailhead, we saw little evidence of animals big or small. Just birds. And we ran into freshly cut deadfall, which meant that someone had just come through to do some trail maintenance. How far we'd get on a cleared trail, we didn't know. 

We followed the Middle Fork of the Boise River all of the way. After three cold river crossings, I got tired of switching between my boots and Keen water sandals and did the last three miles of the day in my sandals. The river water was higher than normal due to the late-season snow melt. While it was cold going, it was refreshing to my hot feet. 

While looking for a spot to make camp, Bryan spotted an established camp site across the river. It was located in an ideal spot, and they had pack horses. It had to be the maintenance crew. We made camp two miles further upriver, around 7,400 ft, just before our fifth river crossing. Finding a level spot was challenging, but we were ready to chow down on something other than trail food. 

I ran down to the river to fetch some cooking water, and on the way back I ran into a couple of people from the trail maintenance crew. Sure enough, they were there for the week and confirmed our trail was clear for the next five miles. I was relieved.

There were mosquitos, which are to be expected at this time of year. Their peskiness was minimal, but to get worse. 

Gear notes: Avoid using the Nuun elixir tablets used to fortify your Camelbak water with electrolytes and some flavor. They taste like shit!

Starting Altitude: 5,200 ft
Ending Altitude: 6,800 ft

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sawtooths Backpacking Trip -- Preparation

Naturally, a trip of this length and altitude required a bit of preparation. 

First, we picked a few people to join us. Despite our candidate criteria (cool, in shape, into backpacking and up for a trip like this), every one of them flaked. One even bailed the weekend before heading out. 

Second, we planned a few joint day hikes throughout the spring and summer. We'd start with the foothills around Boise (3,000 to 6,000 ft) and get in some higher elevation hikes over the summer. I surprised Bryan one day by showing up with a 45-lb pack, which turned a three-hour hike into six hours. Bryan is a patient man. It was a hot day. Two lessons learned there -- drop some serious pack weight (and er, reduce my love handles) and plan hiking around the cooler parts of the day.

Third, we talked weight, gear and reviewed our trip plans almost weekly. I made frequent trips to Idaho Mountain Touring and the Boise REI stores to chat with the staff, get input and look over gear.

Fourth, I read a lot of backpacking articles for tips, tricks and insights. By coincidence I began receiving complimentary copies of Backpacker Magazine (a promo effort on their part) and the timing couldn't have been more ideal. 

Fifth, we had to sell it to the wives (and find a way back home). Since we were ending our trip at Redfish Lake we thought the wives would enjoy meeting us in Stanley for a short, romantic weekend getaway. Better yet, we could cap off the trip with a delicious and infamous Black & Blue Steak at the Kasino Club, as well as get in some whitewater rafting with The River Company.

A week before the trip, I called the ranger station in Stanley. Two things had me concerned. Since we were heading out of Atlanta, the ranger said that the trail hadn't been officially cleared in more than eight years and to expect lots of deadfall. They didn't have any current data on trail condition. That could mean logs the size of a truck lying across the trail. The other concern was Cramer Divide (the highest point of our trip at 9,500 ft). A ranger had gone up the previous week and said there was lots of ice and snow on the trail. Given that we were still a week+ away from getting to the divide and that the area was finally thawing, we figured we'd have less ice and snow to deal with.

Our wives said we were obsessed. We were. But when you're in the middle of nowhere and a good day's hike from anyone, we wanted to be mentally and physically prepared for almost anything.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sawtooths Backpacking Trip -- Planning

Back in April, my friend and frequent hiking/snowshoeing partner, Bryan Oakes, told me that he'd always wanted to backpack across the Sawtooth Mountains. He had his eye on a route that took us from Atlanta, heading generally due northeast over the Sawtooth range, and ending up at Redfish Lake. We'd start around 5,000 feet, peak around 9,600 feet, returning to 5,000 by the end of the trip. Estimated distance was 40 miles over five days -- giving us the flexibility to pull off a few long days with some short ones in between to relax by some remote and beautiful lakes. I was into it since I was entering my MBA and knew my long-trip days were over for a year. To both of us, it was also the trip of a lifetime. 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ridin' the Rickshaw

Last night I went out with my friend Brock for a ride on his rickshaw ( I feel a little guilty having a friend pedal while I enjoy the breeze and view. So, I try to make up for it by buying the beer and capturing the event on camera (albeit poor video this time).

After a chat with curious neighbors, we set off for downtown Boise. We stopped in Hyde Park (at the place formerly known as Lucky 13), and then moved on to Bittercreek on 8th, and then closed the night at Bar Gernika in the Basque block.

Brock's got his rig tricked out. Lights front and back, as well as tiny red lights around the top's perimeter. All is battery powered and thanks to LED technology, he doesn't have to replace them often. Lastly, it's powered by strong legs conditioned by frequent rides.

Good times. Talked music, work, our MBA programs and politics. We did this last year and realized that we need to do it more often than once a year. As long as Brock's willing to pedal, I'm willing to buy the beer and ride!