Thursday, September 6, 2018

A great Idaho bucket list item -- Float the Salmon River from Headwaters to the Sea

Karoline Woodhead runs Big Mallard on the Main Salmon River of No Return 
Hi all,

Jeff Hennessy, one of the river guides
My outdoor tip this week is about Floating the Salmon River from Headwaters to the Sea. It's a 900-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, OR, and 425-mile trip from Smiley Creek Lodge to Lewiston.

Some friends of mine did the whole enchilada last summer. I wrote up their trip in an article for the Statesman Outdoors and Lewiston Tribune Outdoors.

Follow those links to read all about it! Pretty impressive! Thirty days on the river is pretty great therapy for just about anyone!

On Saturday, Wendy and I are off to ride Cycle Oregon in NE Oregon for a week of road riding with about 2,000 other roadies. Seven days and 383 miles, including some quality time in the Wallowas. Starts and finishes in Baker, OR. Should be fun! I'll tell you all about my trip after I get back ...

- SS

Hanging out in camp on a sandy beach ... one of my favorite parts of a river trip. 
Bob Beckwith, trip leader, went all the way
from Smiley Creek to the Pacific Ocean

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Here's at least 25 last-minute outdoorsy destinations for Labor Day weekend

Folks could go camping in Stolle Meadows and look for spawning salmon 
Just a faint bit of smoke haze at the top of Brundage today. Beautiful temperature up there! 
Hi all, 

Labor Day weekend is upon us, the typical last weekend of camping in the summer season, so I'm dishing up some last-minute tips for the three-day weekend. 

Before we get into the camping ideas, both Bogus Basin and Brundage Mountain have some fun stuff going on this weekend. 

Mountain bikers ride the Deer Point lift FREE on Friday! On Saturday, Sept. 1, marks the final segment of Music on the Mountain at Bogus Basin for the summer, highlighted by the Aldape Bootstompers and Jeff Crosby. The event feature live music throughout the afternoon in the nicely andscaped base area outside of the Simplot Lodge from noon to 6 p.m. Fun Zone activities, including summer tubing, bungee trampoline, gem panning, and climbing wall, will operate from 11 am to 7 pm., and so will the Deer Point Chairlift.

Bear Valley is a nice off-the-beaten-path spot for camping these days. 
On Friday night, Aug. 31,  Brundage is hosting a free concert with Jeff Crosby and the Refugees. The seafood boil is sold out, but other dinner food will be available during the concert. The Bluebird quad will be running from 10 am to 5 pm Friday through Monday. I saw it running today, but I rode up from McCall! 

Now, on to the camping ideas and other Labor Day ideas ... the weather looks stellar camping, hiking and biking this Labor Day weekend, with daytime highs in the 80s in the Boise Valley, and the 70s in Stanley, Sun Valley and McCall.
  • Close to home, you could work on the Boise Foothills Trail Challenge, essentially work on riding all of the trails in the Ridge to Rivers trail system in one month. People are doing the challenge in memory of Jason Delgodilla, one of the founders of Boisetrails.com, who died earlier this year.  
  • Also close to home, hike Mt. Kepros or Mt. Cervidae, both part of the Boise Grand Slam Peaks. 
  • Cascade area - Stolle Meadows and Landmark are my favorite camping areas in this neck of the woods. There are tons of primitive car-camping spots in both locations, east of Cascade, off the Warm Lake Highway. Plus, there are hot springs in the vicinity. FYI: There should be salmon spawning in Stolle Meadows this weekend. Take Forest Service Road #427 to Stolle Meadows. Once there, you can take the road south up to a trailhead for Rice Lake and Rice Peak. Nice and easy hike up to Rice Peak, and you can explore ridge tops from there ...  
    Lick Creek area in the Payette National Forest 
  • McCall area - Camping, hiking and backpacking in the Lick Creek area NE of McCall should be fabulous. Some of the nice mountain lakes up there include Box, Snowslide, Duck, Hum, Enos and Thirty-three lakes. Pick up a Payette National Forest map or a McCall Adventure Map to get the details for access. Also, check my blog from earlier this summer on five easy-to-access kid-friendly mountain lakes in the McCall area. 
    Stanley Lake 
  • Stanley area - I'm sure the Stanley area will be hopping with lots of campers at Stanley Lake, Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake and points along the Salmon River. Backpacking in the White Clouds should be dandy, particularly from the East Fork side, being a three-day weekend and all. Don't forget the Marsh Creek Trail as another potential destination ... great hiking and fly fishing spot. Hike up to the junction of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks, and there's a huge glory hole right there. 
    North and Middle Forks of the Boise River ... car-camping mecca 
  • Idaho City area - The North and Middle Forks of the Boise River work great for car camping. See my post from last week.  
If you're staying in town, I'm hearing that some people will be taking in the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, going on from Thursday through Sunday. There are supposed to be more than 5,000 balloon launches.

Also, Labor Day weekend is chock full of big sales at your favorite outdoor retailers in the Boise area, places like Idaho Mountain Touring, George's CyclesBoise REI, Greenwood's, McU Sports, Alpenglow Mountain SportIdaho River Sports, and Shu's Idaho Running Companyall have some fantastic clothing and gear on sale right now. Great deals! Go get 'em! 


- SS

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Smoke-free weekend? Sawtooth Salmon Festival or visit South Fork Salmon River

South Fork Salmon River Road is about as wide as a driveway. Great place for a secluded road bike ride.
Caution: Vehicles should go slow around blind corners! 
Chinook spawning on the Salmon River near the Sawtooth Hatchery. Those fish take my breath away!
They travel 800+ miles to reach Stanley from the Pacific Ocean. SS photo.  
Hi all,

Smoke from all the wildfires has been depressing to me, but it appears that we might get a break this weekend! I hope that's the case!

For this week's outdoor tip, I wanted to share a few details about the Sawtooth Salmon Festival going on Saturday, Aug. 25, in Stanley this weekend, and some thoughts about road biking, camping and sight-seeing in the South Fork Salmon River area and Warm Lake area.

The Sawtooth Salmon Festival is a long-standing event, sponsored by Idaho Rivers United, for people to come up to Stanley and see Chinook salmon spawning, learn about how Chinook and sockeye salmon runs are doing right now (not well), enjoy live music, drink beer from Sockeye Brewing, and of course, you can vector off to go hiking, biking or camping in arguably the most scenic part of Idaho.

Tours of the Chinook spawning grounds will occur every two hours at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday. According to the fish counts at Lower Granite Dam, 38,500 Chinook salmon have crossed through the dam and are heading upriver to Idaho. The 10-year average to date is 80,800. There should be some Chinook salmon spawning down below Sunbeam Dam in shallow gravels, where it's easy to see the magnificent fish. About 1,000 Chinook have returned to the Sawtooth Hatchery, a few miles south of Stanley. That's another place where I've seen a lot of Chinook swimming in the gravels, directly below the Sawtooth Hatchery, north of Stanley.

If you go, this is a great teachable moment for your kids to observe salmon spawning and learn about the salmon life cycle. The way the Idaho salmon and steelhead fish numbers have been crashing lately, you have to wonder how long the fish can survive. The lower Snake and Columbia dams cause most of the mortality to our salmon and steelhead runs, in both directions, while we have hundreds of miles of pristine spawning habitat in the Salmon River and its tributaries that are awaiting the adult fish to arrive and spawn the next generation.

To paraphrase what someone once said about this situation, we have a 5-star hotel for salmon and steelhead in Central Idaho -- some of the best habitat remaining in the whole Columbia River Basin. The lights are turned on, but most of the bedrooms are empty. Sad tale, indeed.

Near the top of the climb, the forest has transitioned into an old burn zone. 
Now, on to the South Fork Salmon River ... Wendy and I went over to the South Fork Road from McCall via Lick Creek Road last Saturday to put in some training miles on our road bikes. We're training for Cycle Oregon. The smoke wasn't too bad. The South Fork paved road is exactly 31 miles from Lick Creek to the Warm Lake highway. It's a single-lane paved surface with pullouts, so it's kind of tight for a vehicle, but perfect for a bike.

What struck me during our ride was how quiet, desolate and beautiful it was back there on the South Fork. Perhaps the smoke was keeping everyone closer to home. I'm sure a ton of people were out and about earlier this month during the Yellow Pine Harmonica Festival. But we did not see hardly a soul  back there until we got within a mile or so of Warm Lake.

Deep green pools are visible as you ride along the South Fork 
Before early October, when rifle deer season starts, consider checking out the South Fork for a quiet camping spot next to a beautiful river, go hiking, mountain biking, hot-springing or do a road bike ride. I found the ride to be especially nice in the first 15 miles, where we rode through big green ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, and pedaled close enough to the South Fork that we could see the river. Later, you ride in a giant burn zone, and it seems like a bomb went off back there and stripped away all the forest cover. It's still super raw many years after those forest fires.

I was looking for spawning salmon, but I didn't get out and peer into the deep pools. I stayed on my bike because we had a lot of miles to clock. Our plan was to go over to Warm Lake and back for a 65- mile ride. It took us longer than expected to cover the first 31 miles to Warm Lake. There are several big climbs to Profile Summit, and it's generally uphill going from Lick Creek to Warm Lake. My GPS said I'd burned 2900 calories by the time we reached North Shore Lodge! We were ready for a burger! Seemed like I drank 3 quarts of water during lunch.

A couple of happy anglers at Warm Lake.
The main cafe, cabins and picnic tables by the North Shore Lodge. 
North Shore Lodge is a great destination, BTW. They've got a beach, docks, a place to launch your boat, a bar and cafe, cabins for rent, supplies -- just a great place located there right on the shoreline of Warm Lake. People were having a great time chilling next to the lake, hanging by the beach, having a beer on the outdoor deck of the cafe, or hanging out by the cabin. We sure enjoyed our time chilling there, and topped it off with a big huckleberry ice cream cone.

At that point, our truck seemed like a world away! I knew Wendy couldn't ride all the way back, she had some hot spots on her feet (new riding shoes), and I didn't really feel like doing the whole thing either. Lucky for us, some hot-springers offered to take us half-way down the South Fork, and then we had an easy 16-mile ride mostly downhill to the truck.

Hard-core road riders that do the 90-mile version of the Cascade 4 Summit Challenge ride do most of the South Fork road after they scale Big Creek Summit. If you're super fit, riding the South Fork both directions is totally doable in a day. For more casual road riders, you might try riding one-way from Warm Lake to Lick Creek, it's much easier that way. Place a shuttle rig at Lick Creek Road, or have a friend run a sag wagon and pick you up. Maybe they could soak in a hot springs, go fishing or hiking while you're out on the ride.

If you'd like to explore the South Fork Salmon River area, consult a Boise National Forest and Payette National Forest map to plan your trip. The South Fork actually is split between the Boise and Payette forests. Maybe you have online mapping software. The developed campgrounds back there are Buckhorn, Camp Creek, Poverty Flat, and Penny Spring. From the Lick Creek side, you're only 15 miles from Yellow Pine, which is definitely worth a visit. Salmon spawning season is just beginning on the South Fork, according to IDFG, and if you'd like to see some fish spawning, look for them in the Stolle Meadows area.

I feature a fun mountain bike loop on the South Fork in my Mountain Biking in McCall book. It's called the Teapot Mountain Loop. It's a narrow two-track four-wheeler trail, 11 miles in length that circumnavigates Teapot Mountain. The ride features 2,100 feet of gain. Travel time is 1.5-2 hours. The ride goes from Buckhorn Creek to Jakie Creek and then you circle back on the South Fork road.

Hope we all have a weekend with no smoky skies!
- SS

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Last weekend before school starts! 5 of my favorite car-camping spots in C. Idaho

Need a good 4WD truck to reach Railroad Ridge
Flowers were everywhere ... feeling on top of the world in Central Idaho ... 
Hi all,

Don't panic but this weekend is the last one of the summer vacation before school starts! That is, Boise Schools and Boise State University both start on Monday, Aug. 20. If you're still ginning to go camping, I thought I'd share five of my favorite car-camping spots in Central Idaho. Some have easy access; some of them require driving on gnarly 4WD roads.

But once you arrive at your destination, you'll be perched high on a mountaintop or ridgetop, with beautiful mountains and meadows as far as the eye can see. Or, you'll be hanging out in a lawn chair with the sand sifting through your toes by the Salmon River.

All of these camping spots are excellent for dark sky and stars. But with all of the fire smoke, you never know! BTW, here's a cool interactive smoke map with the latest fires and smoke conditions. 

Here we go, my top five:

1. Railroad Ridge, White Cloud Mountains, near Clayton, Idaho. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Stanley, and Idaho 75 past Yankee Fork and Clayton to the turnoff for the East Fork of the Salmon River Road. Head up the paved East Fork Road about 10 miles to Big Boulder Road #667. Go right on #667 and proceed to the Livingston Mill. A Forest Service sign indicates the turnoff for the primitive single-lane 4WD road to Railroad Ridge. You, no, the truck, must climb from 7,200 feet to elevation 10,600 feet, 3,400 feet of gain over just a few miles of steep road. It's WAY COOL! 

It took us, no, the truck, less than an hour of climbing, and we were cruising up the backbone of Railroad Ridge, which was absolutely smothered with multiple layers and colors of wildflowers. We hit it at the peak! Sweet! Perched at 10,600 feet, it was so cool to look at eye level with 10,000-foot peaks in theSawtooths to the west, and the Frank Church Wilderness to the north, while the higher Lost River Range and Lemhi Mountains lorded over the eastern side of the state. We were on the rooftop of Central Idaho! 
I hiked down to Crater Lake to fly fish, just in time for a thunderstorm to hit and lightning bolts to land around the edges of the lake. We had a great evening watching a storm hammer the Lemhi's and the Borah Peak area. The only downside with the spot, is that there's no cover anywhere, no trees for shelter, no rocks, nothing. You are totally exposed. Bring a good tent! 

Stanley Overlook map ... Click to enlarge 
2. Stanley Overlook - South foothills overlooking Stanley, with the Sawtooth Wilderness smack dab right in your face! Getting there: Go to Lower Stanley and take the Nip and Tuck Road (the turnoff is off to the north, kind of hidden), a public dirt road that climbs over to Stanley Creek. There are spur roads that peel off to the left, climbing up to the hilltop overlooking Stanley. 4WD is necessary. 

I've sipped cocktails with friends on that knoll, sitting in a lawnchair on a gorgeous summer evening, taking in the spectacular views, feeling lucky to live in Idaho! In the morning, sandhill cranes echoed from the Valley Creek meadows below. 

The camp is a great jump-off point for day trips around Stanley -- biking the Potato Mountain Loop, Fisher-Williams, riding up to the Basin Butte Lookout, or hiking in the Sawtooths and White Clouds. Be sure to leave some stuff there while you're gone for the day so someone doesn't take your spot. 

Steve loves to ride Bear Pete Trail! 
3. Cloochman Summit - Great overlook campsite north of McCall, next to the trailhead for Bear Pete Trail. You're also in the vicinity of Burgdorf Hot Springs, Loon Lake Loop, etc. Getting there: Take Warren Wagon Road north of McCall, past Upper Payette Lake, to a signed turnoff for Bear Pete Trail and Cloochman Summit, Forest Road #492. It's only about three miles to the summit. 4WD rig is recommended. Chainsaw recommended. There's a couple of pullouts that make for a great car-camping spot right at the summit. One of them looks south over Squaw Meadows, 20-mile lakes, the Payette National Forest peaks, and lots of burned timber from a big forest fire in the early 1990s. Go hiking or biking on Bear Pete Trail ... it's an ass-kicker of a climb uphill from the trailhead, but once you're on top of the ridge, it's a promo skyline trail.  

Having fun on the Salmon River beach scene 
4. Salmon River Beaches - Love those white sandy mansion-like beaches along the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins. Getting there: Turn right on the Salmon River Road as you drive into Riggins. The river road goes for 25 miles past French Creek to the Vinegar and Carey Creek boat ramps. There are oodles of places to camp along the road, particularly on some mansion-like beaches. Go early on a Thursday or Friday to snag a primo spot for the weekend. Potential nearby activities include rafting, kayaking or SUPing on the Salmon River. Launch from your campsite and position a shuttle vehicle downstream. Or go hiking on the Wind River Pack Bridge next to the Carey Creek boat ramp and climb a nice Forest Service trail to the Bullion Mine or beyond. 

Floating Bear Valley Creek (Courtesy Idaho Rivers United)
5. Bear Valley Campground - Great spot for folks who like to paddle a canoe or flatwater kayak. The Campground is located at the junction of Elk Creek and Bear Valley Creek, both of which are excellent for canoeing. Getting there: Take Idaho 21 to Banner Summit, between Lowman and Stanley, and then watch for a left-hand turn on the Boundary Creek Road. Follow the road to Bear Valley Campground. This is an area where you might see elk in the early morning or late evening, and you might hear a wolf howling. The meadows around Bear Valley can be spectacular when the flowers are blooming. You could also go mountain biking on the Wyoming Creek Trail and return via the Fir Creek Trail and Boundary Creek Road. You could fish the streams in the area, or drive over to Dagger Falls and hike the Marsh Creek or Middle Fork trails. 

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Get your costume together for Boise Goathead Fest and Pedal-Powered Parade Saturday

Monster Mash is the overall dress-up theme 
Hi all,

The smoke from all of the fires burning in the West is already getting tiresome here in the Boise Valley, but we should not let that prevent anyone from participating in the Boise Goathead Fest on Saturday. There are already more than 1,000 people signed up! Let's see if we can surpass 10,000 or more!

In case you haven't heard about this, the Boise Goathead Fest is a new twist on a previous super-popular event called the Fat Tire Festival ... New Belgium Brewing created the Fat Tire Festival concept, and they partnered with local bike-advocacy groups in multiple communities including Boise to host bike festivals and raise funds for the non-profits to improve bike trails and facilities.

Boise peeps came out strong in support of the Fat Tire Festival in the past. One year, 16,000 people rode in the Fat Tire Parade. I rode in several of them, and they're just plain fun ... having the streets closed to cars, and checking out everyone in their costumes. For one small moment in time, BIKES RULE!

On Saturday, I think it's important for everyone to come out in force to support our local bike community in the Boise Goathead Fest, an  event powered by the Boise Bike Project and other non-profits like the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, SWIMBA, Dirt Dolls mountain bike club for women, Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and more.

So get your costume together for the Pedal-Powered Parade on Saturday (starts at 11 a.m.; on-site registration is at 10 a.m.). Suggested registration cost is $5. You are encouraged to register online because it's much easier! Go to Boise Goathead Fest and do it! It took me about 2 minutes to register Wendy and me.

Jimmy Hallyburton of the Boise Bike Project said people can help support the Goathead event in two ways -- sign up to volunteer at the event (easy to do on the web site) or pre-register for the parade online.

Show up at the parade, pedal around a 2-mile course downtown, and then have fun in the afternoon at Cecil D. Andrus Park by the Statehouse. This year, there are more activities for kids and more options for beverages other than beer, although 6 local breweries are participating. There will be live music throughout the afternoon and different activities going on. One of the stages will feature people cranking electric generators with pedal-power to show the potential of pedal-power ...

The parade route runs from the Statehouse down Jefferson Street to 14th Street, then back on Bannock to 2nd Street, and then back to the Statehouse.

If you're coming with a group from work or a group of any kind, you're encouraged to dress up in the same theme. The overall dress-up theme is "Monster Mash." You remember that song, right? "They did the mash ... the Monster Mash! They did the mash ... It was a graveyard smash!"

Ultimately the festival is about transforming Boise into the Bicycle Capital of America, and supporting your favorite nonprofits, but there's also been a side benefit, and that's to get rid of goat heads in places where we like to ride ... not only on bike trails but also in alleys and neighborhoods. Jimmy said in the month of July, there was more than 3,500 pounds of goat heads pulled by people in our community. That's fantastic!

Hope to see you at the Goathead Fest! There's also a pre-launch party Friday night at Cecil Andrus Park from 4-10 p.m.



Another alternative this weekend is to head up to Bogus Basin for Music on the Mountain and all of the fun activities available up there for you, your friends and your family. Johnny Boy Kunk with Sam Gates, Shot Glass and special guest are playing on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

At Bogus, you also can go hiking and biking on a multitude of trails, check out the bike skills park, ride the chairlift to start your ride or hike from the top of Deer Point, ride the Glade Runner mountain coaster, tubing, climbing wall, bungee trampoline, and more kids activities. See Bogus' summer activity page for more information and fee schedule.

Next week, I'm heading off to float the Salmon River, so you won't hear from me next Friday ... I'll be off the grid! 
- SS 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Paddle the Middle Fork Boise, Upper South Fork Payette or Arrowrock to stay cool

Middle Fork Boise River upstream of Arrowrock (courtesy John Keys)
Middle Fork Boise (courtesy John Keys) 
Swirley Canyon on the South Fork Payette River would be a good alternative to Cabarton this weekend. 
Upper South Fork Payette River near Grand Jean hot springs 
Hi all,

It's been piping hot this week in the Boise Valley, and if you were thinking about trying to head out of town into the mountains this weekend, you might want to head toward Idaho City, Lowman or Stanley given the uncertain nature of Idaho 55 with the Mile Marker 73 wildfire burning next to the highway.

Check the ITD 511 site for the latest conditions. As of Thursday afternoon, ID 55 was limited to one lane with a pilot car. You can only imagine what kind of traffic back-up that might look like on Friday or this weekend. If you're heading for McCall, U.S. 95 was closed as of Thursday night in the Midvale area because of the Keithly wildfire ... geez!

Cascade Raft & Kayak is hosting a live music event tomorrow at 5 p.m. with Bread and Circus at their boating headquarters, so watch their Facebook page for the latest on highway conditions as well. If they get ID 55 opened up to two lanes, you could go raft/kayak the Payette River in the afternoon and then hang out for the live music event afterward.

Given the potential traffic snafu on ID 55, I'm recommending three paddling trips that are accessible via Idaho 21 ... these trips would be doable for folks who have inflatable kayaks, rafts, SUPs, sit-on-top hardshell kayaks or whatever craft might be suitable.

1. Float the Upper Payette River from the Tenmile trailhead area to Helende Campground, upstream of Lowman. This is a Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. This would be a 5-mile trip. This section would be challenging for experienced whitewater SUP paddlers but probably doable. Do a road scout and see what you think.

2. Drive up to Arrowrock Reservoir, find a spot to hang out by the water, put up your sun tarp, and go paddling in the reservoir. A good truck works great for driving down to the reservoir's edge, and there are some camping spots along the Middle Fork road. Take ID 21 to the Spring Shores/Middle Fork Road and drive up-canyon to Arrowrock and find your spot from there. Any flatwater craft would work on Arrowrock, plus motorboats of course.

3. Drive up the Middle Fork Road past Arrowrock to Troutdale Campground or any other spot of your choosing, and float the lower section of the Middle Fork Boise River. This is a mostly Class 2 flatwater run with rocks to dodge and small rapids. A group of people I know ran this section last week and had enough water flow (450 cfs today) to make it through in hard-shell kayaks and inflatable kayaks. Strong SUP paddlers might want to try it. 

There you have it! A couple of other suggestions:

  • Swirly Canyon or the Main Payette would be good alternatives to floating Cabarton, since that super-popular section is closed because of a wildfire. But you might have to drive there via Lowman. 
  • Hiking to Jenny Lake would be a good call this weekend for a cool-off location close to home. 
Have fun! 
- SS 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dan Noakes of McCall just completed the Idaho Centennial Trail in 52 days ... Wow! What an adventure!


Dan and Michelle Noakes at the Idaho-Canada border ... the end of the ICT on the Upper Priest River by a cool waterfall. 
Hi all,

Dan Noakes emailed me yesterday, saying that he had just completed the Idaho Centennial Trail. He shared a video trailer with a few nuggets from the super-challenging 900-mile journey. I took a quick look at the video, and it was a visual feast.

The stream-crossings that he captured on video looked scary and epic, including one where he's doing a belly-crawl across a skinny lodgepole pine tree over the top of a rushing stream. And then there's this segment where he's saying "I'm so cold, I'm so cold," running with his pack on through the forest to avoid hypothermia. Take a look ...



Dan wrote me because I wrote a guidebook about the Idaho Centennial Trail for the Idaho Trails Council in 1998. We didn't have a lot of budget, but it was a first attempt to provide a detailed guide to navigating the trail, albeit with horrible big-picture maps that were scaled to page size and reprinted from BLM and Forest Service maps.

The value of the book is that folks can learn about the history of how the trail was created through the inspiration of ICT pioneers Roger Williams and Syd Tate, who hiked the length of Idaho in the mid-1980s. It was the first time that anyone had done that, to anyone's knowledge, and it served as inspiration to create an official Idaho Centennial Trail route during the Idaho Centennial year in 1990. Williams and Tate took 86 days to complete the journey, hiking at a pace of 14 miles a day. By the end, they each had lost 20 pounds and Tate had a big long beard. "Our legs looked like a weight-lifters and the top half looked like a prisoner of war," Williams said.

Stateline Trail on the Idaho-Montana border
ICT route (courtesy IDPR)
Left route is an alternative
route for motorcyles and bikes
The final ICT route ended up being a little different than the one that Williams and Tate did. It was selected by a committee of ITC people and Forest Service and BLM staffers. But the route overall did fulfill the vision that Williams charted from the get-go -- he wanted it to go through the "Best of Idaho," meaning the Sawtooth Wilderness, the Frank, the Selway-Bitterroot, the Stateline Trail, and the Cabinet Mountains in the Idaho Panhandle.

Noakes, 33, ripped through the 900-mile route in 52 days. He started on May 21 on the Idaho-Nevada border and finished the trek at the Idaho-Canada border on the Upper Priest River trail last week. His wife, Michelle, hiked the last section with him from Clark Fork to the Canadian border. Michelle helped with water and food drops, and Noakes had a friend join him for another segment of the hike. But for much of the route, he hiked alone. Did you know that the ICT hike features 90,000 feet of elevation gain/loss?

Noakes' father got him into backpacking when he was 11 years old. They often hiked the John Muir Trail. "He ingrained in me the spirit of backpacking," Noakes says. "I always wanted to check off a through-hike."

He found out about the Idaho Centennial Trail through a Google search, just looking for big through-hikes. He thought, it's only 900 miles, shouldn't be too big of a deal ... but when he was out in the big wide open Jarbidge and Bruneau desert, hiking the two-tracks next to those big canyons, and realizing how far he had to go, "I realized this was going to be a big deal. It was the real deal."

Noakes planned to hike at least 20 miles a day; sometimes more if he felt he could go farther. He carried a light-weight pack of just over 30 pounds with all of his gear -- clothes, cook stove, food, water, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, etc. He wore Altra Timp hiking shoes, and went through several pairs during the big adventure.

To plan the trip, Noakes ran across Clay Jacobson's web site, Idaho Centennial Trail.org, which provides a ton of useful information, including the names of the people who have done the thru-hike in recent years. Thomas Ord told him where to do the water drops in the desert section. Another hiker gave him the complete GPX file to the ICT, the trail tracks for the whole route.

There's still just a handful of people who have completed the trail since it was designated in 1990. It's not that well-known, or heavily publicized, and the difficulty level is pretty extreme in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness because of heavy blowdown and trail-finding. That's a sad commentary, compared how things were 30 years ago, when the trails in those wilderness areas were some the most well-maintained anywhere in the state.

Fortunately, Noakes had a good GPS that had the ICT route built-in, and he forged ahead, knowing he was going in the right general direction. He hoped to rejoin the trail when it became visible again. "I lost the trail many, many times," he says. "The trail is non-existent at some points."

Segments of Marble Creek, upper Kelly Creek and Windy Creek had a lot of downfall, but at least things improved after a few hours of walking, he said. The Idaho Trails Association and Frank Church-Selway Bitterroot Foundation have been working on opening up Marble Creek for several years. But once he got into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness section, he said, the route-finding and hiking were miserable.

"That section was the hardest for me. Every day, it was cold, rainy and wet, and the blowdown trees were epic. The challenges in the Selway would make a grown man cry. But what makes it so great, is that after you get through there, you think, dang, I did this. You feel a real deep sense of accomplishment."

Michelle met him at Wilderness Gateway Campground on U.S. 12 next to the Lochsa, and Dan must have been SO happy to see her! Imagine how that experience may help in other aspects in life, when he'll feel his patience tested by whatever, and he'll know that he's experienced far more difficult things on his ICT hike. "I was in pain pretty much the whole time," he says.

When Noakes arrived at Moose Creek Ranger Station in the middle of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, he sniffed a campfire burning and went directly to it. Some pilots were hanging out by the airstrip, and they warmed him up. That was one of his favorite moments of the hike.

He also really enjoyed the Stateline Trail between Idaho and Montana, going north from Hoodoo Pass to Wallace. "The could be some of the greatest backpacking in that area," he says. "But when I was there, I was walking on snow most of the time." He took a break in Wallace, wandered into the public library in town, and ran across my ICT guide. He hadn't seen it before the trip. He loved reading about Syd and Roger's vision and adventure.

In terms of wildlife, Noakes saw a big wolf on a hillside on a stormy day. He wasn't able to get any pics or video. He saw a lot of wolf tracks along the way, a few elk, 1 moose and 1 bear. He heard from another ICT hiker that the guy had gotten charged by a black bear. That would be scary.

Noakes, who's a professional video animator for his company, Motifize.com, plans to release a new video segment about his big adventure each Monday until he's exhausted his video from the trip. The first segment will run on Monday, July 23, on his YouTube channel and continue each week. I know I'll be watching.

"There's something magical about the Idaho Centennial Trail," he says. "I think if you experience it, it might change you for the better. For a lot of people, it could be a life-changing experience, and here it is, right in our backyard."

Kelly Creek country ... it's located in a roadless area that is not official wilderness, but wilderness just the same.
When I did the ICT book, I suggested that every Idahoans should consider making it a lifetime project to experience all the segments of the ICT. Not everyone can do it in one fell swoop, especially if they're working a full-time job, raising kids, etc. Noakes agrees. "Everybody needs to experience the ICT at some point in their lives."

While other long-distance trails can be tackled as well, such as the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. But the ICT is probably one of the most challenging and primitive thru-hikes anywhere in the U.S. You won't see many trail signs. You'll frequently lose the trail. You'll have to deal with a ton of blow-down timber across the trail. You'll have to navigate  super-challenging stream crossings. But it will make you a more skilled outdoors person, and perhaps a better and stronger person overall.

I am hoping to do it in the next 5 years while I still can! Hope you can plan a trip on the ICT too! Thanks to Dan Noakes for the inspiration!
- SS