Adventures in Idaho as We Get Close to Home: Jul. 24-Aug. 2

After our wonderful week in the Winds, we woke up once again with our new summer normal: tired, happy, and without a plan. The Tetons had been next on our list, but we just couldn’t deal with the thought of visiting Jackson on a weekend in July this year. Hopefully, we’ll get back there before too many years because two of my top climbing aspirations are in the Tetons.

After doing the important stuff (laundry supervised by dead moose heads, unpacking in a city park, and finding a much-needed place to dispose of used wag bags), we decided to head for the Sawtooths around Stanley, Idaho. Neither of us had been there, and it seemed like a good place to chill out. We enjoyed a beautiful drive through western Wyoming before crossing into Idaho and spending the night near Idaho Falls at one of the most scenic rest stops anywhere.

When opportunity knocks, the Craggin’ Wagon pulls over, and Sarah found a great opportunity the next morning. As she was studying the map, she noticed that we were only a few miles from Borah Peak, the highpoint of Idaho. Who needs rest when the mountains come calling? We found a campsite, packed for a day climb (yay!), and waited out an afternoon thunderstorm that we hoped would break the 90-degree heat before we climbed the next day.

 We woke up at 4:15 the next morning to try to beat the heat and any potential thunder later in the day. Trip reports vary between 3.5 and 4 miles, but they all agree that Borah Peak requires 5200 ft. of elevation gain over that short distance. The first 40 minutes are pretty mellow, and then you ascend rapidly for most of the way. Steep switchback give way to a long traverse above tree line. We got some nice sunrise views, although the morning sky was a bit hazy.

The technical crux of the climb is a 3rd class scramble, somewhat  exposed, called Chicken-Out Ridge. It didn’t feel nearly as scary as the icy snow bridge we had to cross a few minutes later, though. It was wide enough, but a slip could have high consequences. It was nice to have a fixed rope to get down to the snow, but we were definitely happy once we were across it.

A climber’s trail runs toward the summit, which still seemed suspiciously far away for the given mileage. Much of it was scree, so it was pretty tedious but not overly loose. We popped onto the summit after 4.5 hours (average is 6-7 hours), happy to have a fast time for once. I’d never heard of the Lost River Range, but it was actually quite beautiful! The peaks are multi-colored and very geometric. Several alpine lakes added to the delightful view.

At 12,267 feet, Borah Peak’s summit (#11 for me this year) was most likely the final really tall summit of our trip, so we spent a few minutes enjoying it before heading down to get across that snow bridge before it saw too much two-way traffic. From there, it was just grit-your-teeth and put in the miles down. Luckily, our knees weren’t too wrecked by time we got down. We still aren’t actively pursuing state highpoints (9 is a long way from 50), but it sure has been a fun and spontaneous diversion throughout our road trip.

That afternoon, we headed to Stanley along a tremendously scenic highway that followed the Salmon River. The whole area looked to be an outdoor lover’s dream: fishing, kayaking, rafting, hiking, climbing…so many good things! We’d just climbed 5 mountains in 11 days, though, so it was going to be pretty low key for us. An earthquake this spring had damaged the main climbing objective that interested us, and another earthquake damaged the area a couple weeks after our visit. It seemed like a good time to go slow.

For once, we actually stuck to that plan for our entire stay! We had a great shady campsite not far from the Salmon River, and we spent a good deal of our time, reading and relaxing in camp. Our camp host, Red (who had turned gray), was awesome: big bushy beard, floppy hat, and smiling eyes that somehow managed to shine through all that. He entertained us with stories of his newfound love of driving a potato truck on a farm each fall. Still, when the other Old’s started making fun of us for being lazy, we decided we better at least leave the campground.

Redfish Lake is the main attraction for many people who visit Stanley. We drove around and enjoyed some awesome views of the mountains across the lake, but the resort was too crowded for our taste. There was a long rainstorm the day we had hoped to take the boat shuttle across to do an easy hike, so we will have to come back another time. Instead, we took a quick dip in some hot springs on the river. Good times!

Our eventual destination for the week was actually fairly close to home: Harrison, Idaho on Lake Coeur d’Alene. This time, though, I had my own idea for a detour along the way. In 1978, I spent my first summer in Powell, Idaho, where my dad worked for the Forest Service. I said my first word (“bird) there, and everyone thought it was adorable until I repeated it about 5,000 more times. Anyway, I had only seen it one other time (1997) and thought it would be cool to go back since we were so close.

Powell is only a few miles from Lolo Pass, about an hour from Missoula, Montana. It’s a beautiful area and being back in the forest after so much time on the open range was awesome! The ranger station is only a maintenance building now because a large visitor’s center was built 15 years ago, but we stopped for a quick picture to send my parents—if I look even goofier than normal, it’s because I had to dodge the sprinklers for the shot!

I was worried that Sarah would be disappointed we had driven so far without leaving time to actually do anything, but she seemed to enjoy it. Maybe since it was important to me, it was also interesting to her. I don’t remember a boring stretch of the entire drive, though, and there were a few interesting stops since we were on the Lewis and Clark trail. Even better, we took a refreshing swim in the crystal clear river right about the time the thermometer hit triple digits!

A few hours later, we pulled into Harrison to find that not much has changed in the five years since our last visit, but that’s part of the charm. We were excited to spend time with Dusty, one of my best friends since we were eight, and his family. Our families change more than Harrison does, but the mark of great friends is that you can pick up right where you left off no matter how long it’s been. We had a great time with Dusty, Courtney, and their daughter Cora, who is a very cool kid! As always, Courtney’s parents were fun and gracious hosts.

The Sarah “Splash”

Apparently, we picked the right weekend to visit because the lake was perfect after a string of hot weather. We took full advantage of it while Dusty and Courtney gave us our first wake surfing lesson! Dusty is pretty good at it, so it was fun to watch him. Sarah took to it right away (no surprise), but I drank a lot of water the first time (also, no surprise). I used a bigger board the next day and had much better luck. So much fun! The only bad part was that Sarah got her middle finger stuck in the rope on her last try, which we later learned actually broke the bone.

Our week in Idaho was a little out of our norm; for all our travelling, we rarely wander aimlessly or stay idle for long. This week was what we needed, however. Neither of us ever want to leave anything on the table, but not all the adventures have to come at once. For now, we were content to catch up with great friends, and we were also happy to be getting close to home.

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