Thursday, March 23, 2017

Seize the day and plan a trip on the Owyhee River! You've got a little over a month to do it!

Wendy and Huck as we leave camp on Sunday morning ... the sun came out a few minutes later ... 
Now we can see some sunshine deep in the Owyhee River Canyon ... 
Caves to explore next to a potential camp site a few miles from the Birch Creek take-out
Hi all,

Spring is finally coming to SW Idaho after such a long winter ... and all of the luscious powder we enjoyed in the mountains is flowing down the mountains and into our favorite rivers. Last weekend, Wendy and I saw a decent weather window opening up last Friday-Sunday, so we seized the day and floated the lower Owyhee River, from Rome to Birch Creek, a 45-mile scenic trip just across the Idaho border in Eastern Oregon.

We had three rafts and six people. It's always cool to float with a small group when you're doing an impromptu trip. That makes the prep so much easier -- especially if you're going with experienced people who have all the necessary gear.

It's a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to the BLM put-in by the Owyhee River bridge on U.S. 95 in Rome. We stopped in Jordan Valley to buy 2017 invasive species permits at the hardware store. That was a smart move because an Oregon State Police officer was checking for them at the put-in ... didn't see anyone from the BLM.

We launched on a sunny day on Friday, with temperatures in the low 70s, and the river was running in excess of 6,000 cubic feet per second -- a sweet, fast flow. The Owyhee already has peaked this year in February, when it rocketed to 20,000+ cfs when we had that big warm up period, and rain on snow. That melted a lot of the low-elevation snow.

Last year, the Owyhee and the Bruneau rivers had a nice long season, but I was busy running off to my son's out-of-state hockey tournaments or work trips. So this year, I was not to be denied! And if you run the Owyhee in March, chances are you might be able to run it again in April or early May!

If you've always thought about running the Owyhee River, this is a great year to do so. The river may be peaking about now, according to the snow survey experts. The Mud Flat Snotel site has melted out, and more than 30 percent of the snow has melted from South Mountain -- those are the typical indicators when the river peaks, according to the experts. But the Owyhee should have boatable flows through April, and possibly early May, depending on how much more precipitation we get, how warm it gets and how fast the river runs off.

Why float the Owyhee? To see and experience the Owyhee Canyonlands, a vast landscape full of hidden caves, slot canyons, big canyons like the Owyhee River, spires, hoodoos and more. The scenery and geology are spectacular ... be sure to bring a book along like "Roadside Geology of Oregon," to learn about the volcanic episodes that dominated the Owyhee region for millions of years, plus the various basalt lava flows and rhyolite lava flows and outcroppings.

And bring your camera and video camera to document your trip.

For me, another key attraction is camping out on the river. It's so easy to haul all of that stuff on your boat, and you can camp in style with the big camp table, Dutch oven meals, lawn chairs, iced coolers full of your favorite drinks, and dry boxes to carry all of your dry goods.

I just love camp fire in the evening on a March river trip ... the regulations are to pack-in your own firewood.
The Rome-to-Birch Creek section is pretty friendly in terms of whitewater ... the rapids are mostly Class 2 and 3 on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being a steep waterfall. Because the river was moving so fast, and bank-full, we made great time on the water, traveling at least 5 mph without even trying to push downriver. With fast pushy water, however, you do need to anticipate your moves well in advance, and sneak the inside corners when you can see hazards on the outside corners when you're approaching rapids. Whistling Bird and Montgomery are typically the biggest rapids on the river, but at 6,000-7,000 cfs, Whistling Bird was super easy, and Montgomery was the typical pull to the right to avoid the wall and hole at the bottom.

The BLM has an excellent map booklet available that provides a mile-by-mile guide to the lower Owyhee River, as well as the other forks of the Owyhee and the Jarbidge-Bruneau. You can find the river map at the BLM State Office on Overland and Vinnell in Boise, or also at Idaho River Sports. I highly recommend it. The map marks all the rapids and the designated campsites.

If you don't have your own river gear, there are a number of outfitters that do Owyhee River trips, including Far & Away Adventures, Barker River Expeditions, Wilderness River Outfitters, and ROW Adventures. All of those outfitters are really solid and put on great trips! Be sure to get in touch and reserve a date before their trips fill up.

For vehicle shuttles, we used Eva Matteri, 541-586-2352. The cost was $160/vehicle. Well worth it!
Notes: In case you missed the Facebook post earlier this week, my blog, Stueby's Outdoor Journal was selected as one of the Top 20 outdoor blogs in the Northwest by the Outdoor Authority. I thought you'd enjoy seeing some of the other blogs mentioned in the top list. They all sound really good. My friend Mike Lanza's The Big Outside always has quality content, featuring world-class trips and a lot of tips about outdoor gear.

Greenbelt underpass closures and flooding closures: If you're been looking for a comprehensive list of Greenbelt closures, the Statesman had a story in today's paper with the latest closures. The river is supposed to go up to 8,000 cfs today ...

Bogus and Brundage winding down: Brundage's last day of operation is Sunday, April 9th, with a pond-skimming event set for April 8th. The last day of operations at Bogus will be Sunday, April 16th. The last opportunity for night skiing is this Saturday. Nordic operations will close following this weekend as well.
- SS

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring skiing rocks at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort - double it up with Targhee!

Hard-cores hike a boot trail to bowls on the backside of Jackson Hole 
Jackson Hole is a skier's mountain! 
Big groomer boulevards are super fun to ski in the sunshine. Heading down to the Thunder Chair. 
Hi all,

I managed to break away to ski Jackson Hole recently, and it was a real treat! I've got a lot of great memories from skiing Jackson over the years, even going back to when I was a high school senior and skied 6 days of fantastic spring corn in April ... an experience that cemented my feelings about going to college out West.

And then there was that time when I blew out my ACL on the first run of an 18-inch powder day in the 90's, but that was a mere blip in the whole time horizon.

I visited on a bluebird day, Friday, March 3rd, and it was so great to be there on a day when you could see the Tetons in all of their splendor, and experience the whole 360 degree view of being in Jackson Hole. It's definitely one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, in my opinion. And Jackson is pure and simple, a skier's mountain. They have something for everybody, including plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain for destination skiers from all over the nation, if not the world, but they have a ton of black diamond terrain, double black diamond steep shots and chutes, hike-to chutes and big powder basins for the experts.

On top of that, Jackson has 4,139 feet of vertical, so it's like more than 2X the vertical of Bogus or Brundage ... you might try to ski top to bottom, but it's going to eat your legs, even more so than Sun Valley.

To start, I took the Bridger Gondola up the east side of the mountain, and took a cat track over to the Thunder Chairlift, one of my all-time favorites. While we're riding up the gondola, there was a young ski instructor who had two of his own kids in there with us, and he's talking about how easy it was to jump into Corbet's Couloir for his kids, who were maybe 6 and 9? I'm like you've got to be kidding me! He's like, "Oh there's so much snow this year, it's easy to drop in."

It's true about the snow ... Jackson had a chart on its web page indicating that it had received something like 499 inches of snow, compared to Alta in the 450 range and others in the 400 range ... so they really got nailed this year. And now they're celebrating "March Radness" 500+ inches of snow. The routine is to "Shred Party Repeat" day upon day upon day.

From the Thunder chair, I skied the Thunder bump runs, taking me back to my teens, and then I hit the Alta chutes and other fun black diamonds from the Sublette quad. There wasn't any fresh powder, so I avoided the Hobacks, but boy, they can be something else with lots of fresh snow. HUGE amounts of open glades and tree skiing with a steep fall line. I toured around Casper quad, the Teton quad and the Apres Vous quad as all of the snow was turning to perfect easy-skiing spring conditions. And there was no one around on those lifts, compared to Thunder and Sublette and the Tram.

In my mind, it's great to experience different ski areas to gain different perspectives on skiing. Jackson will test your skills in a way that few mountains will. Enjoy the photos and reserve time to ski Jackson and maybe hit Targhee on a double-dip spring weekend to put a nice exclamation point on your ski season.

See the Jackson Hole Chamber for information on food and lodging. Hopefully there are some special spring deals to be had! Jackson Hole is open through April 9th.

More hike-to terrain visible from the main ski area ... ready to drop in? 

Looking up the barrel of Corbet's Couloir ... 

Broader view of Corbet's Couloir 

Looking back toward Jackson and Snow King Resort  
Sleeping Indian Chief across the valley in the Gros Ventres Mountain Range 
Beautiful bowl all skied up from fresh powder earlier in the week 
Salute to the Grand Teton and the Teton Range 
Have fun!
- SS

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Go visit Shoshone Falls - the Niagara of the West! Plus, spring hike at Centennial Park

Shoshone Falls in 2011, with big flows coming over the 212-foot drop. 
Hi all, 

With snowpack in the Upper Snake River region ranging from 130% to 160% of normal -- that's really big folks -- the Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing flood-control water from all of its Upper Snake reservoirs, bringing the Snake River flows to 10,000 cfs in the Middle Snake region, as of today. That means 212-foot Shoshone Falls is gushing with life in a big, thundering way!

The City of Twin Falls just opened Shoshone Falls Park yesterday, and they're open for the season, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. My recommendation is to go see the impressive falls for a fun day or weekend trip. Maybe hit a hot springs along the way, go to the Twin Falls Sandwich Company for lunch, or select from this Trip Advisor menu of top local dinner spots. If you'd like to RV camp or grab a hotel room, here's a listing of RV options and hotels.

Sharing this drone video of Shoshone Falls from Reeder Flying Service, shot in February when all of the low-elevation snow came off and flooded the region:

I'm recommending this trip this weekend because the snow level is expected to go over 7,000 feet on Thursday and stay there for several days, so that will make the skiing iffy if that snow-level holds true. Keep your eyes on the weather because things could change ... no matter what, there will be a ton of snow at high elevations. Watch for avalanche danger as well.

If this weekend doesn't work for Shoshone Falls, know that the flows will continue to be coming over the falls for at least the next three weeks, according to the BOR. I'd guess that it's going to run strong for the next 8-10 weeks, given the deep snowpack. I'm just guessing ... no guarantees. But it will be interesting to see how high the flow gets ... if it gets into the 20,000 range, that will be epic ... not only for viewing Shoshone Falls but also for running the Class 4 Murtaugh reach of the Snake River. Idaho Guide Service offers guided trips in that area, and I can tell you, it's a kick-ass float trip for the adventurous! Big rapids, big roaring whitewater.

Closer to home, I'd also recommend an early-spring outing at Celebration Park, south of Nampa. I liked former Idaho Statesman outdoors writer Pete Zimowsky's blog post about five things to do in the canyon via Celebration Park. The 4-mile hike to Halverson Lake is detailed in my book, Boise Trail Guide: 90 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home. Centennial Park is a great place for kids and families. There are lots of petrglyphs on the big boulders in the parking lot, providing a teachable moment.

Did you see the article about summer plans for Bogus Basin in the Statesman? General Manager Brad Wilson has a great vision for the future of Bogus, in my opinion. Hats off to the whole board of directors as well! They are going to reinvent Bogus as a four-season resort, and snowmaking is part of the mix.

BTW, if you head out for a Greenbelt hike this weekend, remember that many places along the pathway are getting flooded, so use caution! The Boise River is ripping fast and strong right now.

- SS

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Take a stand for Idaho's public lands Saturday, plus Les Bois Film Festival

Skiing Snow Bowl in the Lolo National Forest circa 1978. Note cheap ski attire ... wool pants and mittens.
Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness circa 1979
Hi all,

I'll never forget the first time I visited a national forest. I was 16 years old, a junior at Minnetonka High School (Minnesota), and a good friend had invited me to travel to Red Lodge, Montana with his family over Christmas vacation. It wasn't a great snow year, at least in December. And I had brand new skis, Dynamic Freestyle 180 cm, for hot dogging around the resort.

We skied Red Lodge Mountain and absolutely shredded our skis from hitting rocks -- multiple cuts through the petex layer to the core. Damn! The metal edges were trashed. But we were there for a week. My buddy's brother suggested we go hiking in the nearby Beartooth Mountains in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

We drove up to a trailhead, saw a sign for a trail, and took off. Coming from the suburbs of Minneapolis, I couldn't believe that there was no entrance fee or parking fee. You could just show up and go! It was FREE! And I was FREE! It just blew my mind!

We hiked up the trail a ways, found a spot next to the creek and built a fire. We hung out all afternoon, and I just loved it. Montana was for me!

I ended up going to the University of Montana as an 18-year-old and totally immersed myself in the outdoors. I climbed peaks, paddled rivers, backpacked everywhere in NW Montana, skied Snow Bowl, Big Mountain, Bridger Bowl, and rode my road bike to Lolo Pass and on century rides. I felt like I was living! I saw grizzly tracks, bull moose, bull elk and bald eagles. We explored the Mission Mountains, the Rattlesnake, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, all very close to Missoula. All of those areas are in the national forest system.

My captivation with the mountains and nature completely changed my life. It steered me down the path of getting a journalism and history degree at Montana and led to a fulfilling career as an environmental/outdoor/natural resources writer, author and video producer. My passion for the outdoors has always been a vital part of my life with my partner Wendy and our kids as well.

It's a gift that keeps on giving -- as long as we have our public lands!

On Saturday, at 11 a.m., there's a major Public Lands Rally at the Statehouse to make a very important and spirited statement to our elected officials in Idaho and Washington D.C. that we want to keep our federal lands and national wildlife refuges in federal hands -- the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While those agencies have their issues, trying to transfer ownership to the states is a wrong-headed idea that has no legal merit.

The state of Idaho can't afford to take ownership of 32 million acres of federal lands in our state -- that's 20M acres of Forest Service land and 12M acres of BLM land. One mega forest fire or range fire would break the state budget. It costs $435M for the feds to manage their lands in Idaho. Knowing the state can't afford to manage the lands, the agenda of state takeover advocates would be to eventually sell off our public lands to greedy developers, oil and gas interests, etc. That's the big hidden bugaboo with the state takeover campaign.

The Public Lands Rally is being co-sponsored by the who's who of Idaho's outdoor conservation organizations, including the Idaho Conservation League, Conservation Voters of Idaho, Trout Unlimited, Wilderness Society, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and many more.

Put on a funny outdoorsy costume and make yourself heard! The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, see the ICL events page.

Also on Saturday, the Les Bois Film Festival, a fundraiser for the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, will be offering an afternoon and an evening show this year. I highly recommend it. The afternoon session starts at 2 p.m., so you could go to the Public Lands Rally and then head over to watch some great short films about nature. See the event schedule for details about the films.

Here's a link to the trailer for the event.

If the weather cooperates this weekend, and you're up for a hike, try scaling Cervidae Peak near Lucky Peak. It's featured in my Boise Trail Guide. It's 2 miles straight up, and 2 miles down, 2,000 vertical feet of climbing. Great workout! Take a pair of hiking poles with you. The hike is in the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, so be aware that it's winter deer and elk range. Leave dogs at home.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kite-skiing in the Fairfield area puts a different twist on skiing and riding

Kite-skiing near Fairfield ... this pic was taken during an annual event several years ago. 
Hi all,

This winter is showing no signs of easing up as we near the end of February this weekend. Temperatures will be taking a dive in the mountains with highs in the low 20s, and lows in the single digits. Even Boise will barely get above freezing on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday looks to be a day of sunshine, even if it will be brisk, and the alpine, cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing should be stellar. That's because the cold temperatures should keep the snow conditions nice and cold for high-quality turns! Don't forget the season pass sales going on at Bogus BasinBrundage Mountain, Soldier Mountain and Tamarack Resort right now -- people who buy early get the best prices and most benefits. Go for it!

In the meantime, I'd like to share a blog post I did for Southern Idaho Tourism this week about kite-skiing in the Fairfield area. This is something I've heard about off and on, but I've never personally tried it. I interviewed Eddy Petranek of Boise, who is not only an expert kite-skier, he also a paraglider and a kite-boarder on lakes and the ocean. He's one of those guys with all the toys and the skills to have fun with them!

Petranek used to give people kite-skiing lessons on weekends in the Fairfield area, but a few years ago, he started a family, so he's been too busy to teach lately. No local lessons or rentals are available at the moment.

The way to plug in with kite-skiers is on SnowkiteIdaho, a Yahoo group.

The bottom line is that a huge snow-covered area on the east side of Cat Creek Summit along U.S. 20 has emerged as the best place to go kite-skiing in the state of Idaho. It's got the open terrain, consistent wind and a lot of clear days to enjoy cruising around in the hills. Petranek has a big kite that carries him some 30 feet into the air.

"It feels like you're in the air for an eternity," Petranek says. "It's a really cool feeling. And then you land like a butterfly."

The ideal thing, it seems, would be to double-up on a day trip to Soldier Mountain near Fairfield and then go kite-skiing. You might stop at the Soldier Creek Brewery in Fairfield for coffee, lunch or dinner. They've got great coffee and food!
Notes: I wanted to share a couple of stories that appeared in the Idaho Statesman's Playing Outdoors section recently:

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Drip drip drip snow snow snow? Go to high elevations for best skiing; or go hot springing

Big series of wet storms coming our way ... area in green is expected to get 13-28 inches of snow by Monday.
Courtesy Idaho Daily Snow Report
The Springs at Idaho City 
Bonneville Hot Springs near Lowman 
Hi all,

We've got another big burst of storms coming our way this weekend, and continuing into next week, and it's a pretty warm system, so pay attention to the snow levels to find the best skiing.

This weekend also kicks off season pass sales at Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain, Tamarack and Soldier Mountain. See their web sites for details. But this is the time to plunk down the bucks to buy a discounted season pass for next year, and you can use the pass for the remainder of this season as well. Good thing to do to support your favorite ski areas into the future.

As I drill down on snow levels, it may be a bit soggy at times at Bogus Basin, which will be on the cusp of rain and snow, according to the National Weather Service. At least it's going to freeze on Saturday night and Sunday night, so that should bode well for the following mornings on this long weekend. Watch the Bogus Basin web cams for the latest.

The situation at Brundage Mountain looks to be slightly better because it will freeze at night, every night, in the coming days, and snow during the day. According to the Idaho Daily Snow Report, put together by a skier who's also a professional meteorologist, she's predicting 13-28 inches of new snow by Monday in the West Central Mountains. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing might be good, too, especially in the mornings.

The upper chairlift at Tamarack will be good because it services the top 1,000 feet of the mountain, and that should be above the snow line. Same goes with skiing Sun Valley ... the top chairlifts will be in the snow zone and the bottom chairs may not be ... at least in the afternoons.

In Stanley, they're hosting the Sawtooth Winter Fest on Friday-Sunday, but the main event is on Saturday with a long calendar of activities, including a snow bike race, ice skating, street party, live music, three-legged races and all kinds of fun stuff. Unfortunately, highway Idaho 21 is closed due to avalanches, so you'll need to get there via Sun Valley if you decide to go.

Meanwhile, it's going to be rainy all weekend in Boise, so if you don't want to go play in the snow, maybe you could take an umbrella hike on the Greenbelt (foothills trails are very muddy; please stay off  of them), or go for a road trip and go visit your favorite hot springs. Maybe you'll decide to do a movie marathon at home. Go ice skating at Idaho Ice World. Catch up on the laundry ... who knows?

Some hot springs suggestions include:

  • The Springs in Idaho City - Hang out in the pool and order drinks and food with the pool-side service. Fun place to go! Be sure to call ahead and make advance reservations. 
  • Gold Fork Hot Springs south of Donnelly - Beautiful pools, reasonable price, but it can get crowded in the tiny changing rooms when it's busy. 
  • Thousand Springs Resort, Miracle or Banbury Hot Springs near Hagerman. All great places to take the kids and family. Private pools available. 
  • Primitive hot springs like Skinny Dipper, Kirkham or Bonneville Hot Springs near Garden Valley and Lowman. See the Idaho Hot Springs web site for details. 
  • Givens Hot Springs near Marsing. I've heard mixed reviews about this commercial hot springs, but you be the judge. 
Have a nice long weekend!
- SS 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Drip drip drip ... outdoor tips for the weekend despite the soggy weather; sunny days ahead!

Elk in Garden Valley along the Banks to Lowman Road (courtesy 
Pine Flats Hot Springs next to the South Fork Payette River 
Hi all,

I suppose you could try to ski this weekend, but it seems the conditions might be pretty weird depending on how much it rains or snows after the rain goes away. We've been receiving a big deluge of rain mid-week with snow levels over 8,000 feet on Thursday, which really screws up the snow in the mountains! Plus, flooding is expected Friday in multiple locations -- cross your fingers that there aren't any major mud slides! Avalanche danger is very high as well. Be safe!

The good news is that it's supposed to be sunny and clear on Saturday and Sunday in Boise, with temperatures in the 40s during the day. So for this weekend, I'm recommending a low-key Greenbelt loop in East Boise or a scenic drive to see wildlife in Garden Valley and maybe hit a hot springs as part of the trip.

Marianne Williams Park-Barber Park Loop - Foothills trails are going to be duck soup, so I'm recommending that you take a 4-mile hike starting and finishing in Bown Crossing, with optional coffee, lunch or beer afterwards. Pick up the Greenbelt on the north side of the Boise River in Marianne Williams Park and follow that pathway east to the nature trail. Go right on the nature trail and continue to the Eckert Road bridge. Cross the river, and walk west through Barber Park on dirt pathways back to Bown Crossing. Be sure to wear your snow boots for the walk! The dirt trail will be muddy or slushy. Carry some water, take your time, bring the bino's and look for birds and wildlife along the way.

Garden Valley Wildlife Tour - Take Idaho 55 north to Banks and drive east on the Banks to Lowman Road through a deer and elk winter range to see wild turkeys, elk and deer. Bring your camera and bino's. You should see quite a few animals, particularly between the Garden Valley airstrip and Pine Flats Hot Springs.

Potential primitive hot springs to visit on the trip include Skinny Dipper, Pine Flats, Kirkham Hot Springs, or Bonneville Hot Springs, 25 miles east of Lowman. See the Idaho Hot Springs site for details. Circle back through Idaho City on the way home via Idaho 21, if you wish, to make a big driving loop. If you do that, the Springs in Idaho City would be another potential hot springs stop. Advance reservations are required.

Let me know if you see some wild game!

Just so you know ... river season is upon us! I posted a snowpack map on my Facebook page today, noting the big numbers, and then I checked on Idaho river flows, and the Owyhee River is flowing 8,000 cfs at Rome, Oregon, and the Bruneau is running at 2,000 cfs. Several people said they're hiking in to run Five Mile Rapids on the Bruneau ... hard core! I bet there will be some people running the Owyhee, too! The Payette was just barely rising, 2500 cfs ... that might be different tomorrow!

Have fun!
- SS