Thursday, January 29, 2015

No new snow ... might as well try winter hiking in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Moon rise in Leslie Gulch (courtesy 
Leslie Gulch is a paradise for hiking and scenery
The view coming into Succor Creek State Park 
Some of the caves at Succor Creek Park 
View from the upper deck of Succor Creek, looking across at McIntyre Ridge.
That's Steve walking with son Drew a few years ago ...  
My boys Drew and Quinn on the China Ditch Trail in Reynolds Creek 
Hi all,

Winter weather seems to have turned into the "off" mode lately, and it's been getting pretty darn balmy in the afternoon, with temperatures at least in the mid-40s, if not higher. Seems like the higher you go, the warmer it gets. And this is still January?

So if you're sick of skiing the groomers, and you're not heading up to the McCall Winter Carnival, consider taking the family or your friends out to the Owyhee Canyonlands for a little hiking adventure! This week, I'll recommend several hikes close to home. All of them come from my latest guide, The Owyhee Canyonlands: An Outdoor Adventure Guide. 

Please note that the trails in the lower Boise Foothills are extremely muddy and they're getting hammered in a bad way. See the latest trail update. Please stay off muddy trails!

Before we get into the hikes, remember to dress in layers for your hiking adventure. It might be chilly in the morning, but by the afternoon, you'll be peeling layers. Bring a light backpack for extra clothes, food and water. Also remember a hat and mittens.

Just so you know, all of these hikes listed below can be accessed with a Subaru-type vehicle. Venturing off into secondary roads in the Owyhees without a full-on 4WD could be a bad move right now. The ground is pretty soft because of the freezing and thawing and recent rainfall.

The hikes:

  • Wilson Creek-Reynold Creek Loop - This is a 7.4-mile hike in the Owyhee Front, south of Nampa, about 45 minutes from Boise. You take ID 45 south of Nampa toward Murphy. Cross the Snake River, turn right and head for Marsing. Watch for Wilson Creek Road on the left. Take Wilson Creek Road to the BLM trailhead for Trail #300 on the left side of the road. Follow Trail #300 over to a junction with a dirt road. Go left on Road #410 and follow that over to the China Ditch Trail #600 in Reynolds Creek canyon. This is the best part of the hike. Go upcanyon on Trail #600 and enjoy the redrock canyon of Reynolds Creek. Good place for lunch. When the canyon opens up, you'll see a junction with Trail #510, which heads back over to the junction with Trail #400. Take that trail back to the parking lot.
  • Succor Creek State Park - Multiple hikes can be done from Succor Creek State Park, just across the border in Eastern Oregon. It's a great place for kids and families. It has a rest room, and you could camp overnight there if you want. There is hiking to the east behind the camping area, or you can explore caves across the road, or hike above the caves to McIntyre Ridge and get a great view of the whole area. Getting there: Take I-84 west to the ID 55 exit in Nampa. Follow ID 55 west toward Marsing. Turn right on Chicken Dinner Road, and then left on Homedale Road to go to Homedale. Drive through town and go west on Highway 19 and Oregon 201 to a signed turnoff for Succor Creek State Park on the left. It's 16 miles of gravel road to the park.
  • Leslie Gulch - It should be a nice weekend to explore Leslie Gulch, one of the most scenic parts of the Owyhee Canyonlands, considering it's the end of January. By going now, you can beat the rush of people who normally go there in late March, April and May. You could go there for a day trip or camp overnight, your choice. Getting there: Take I-84 west to the ID 55 exit in Nampa. Follow ID 55 west to Marsing. West of Marsing, turn left on U.S. 95 and go south about 16 miles to a signed turnoff for Leslie Gulch. Follow signs to reach the park. It's 22 miles from the highway. Allow two hours from Boise to get there. In Leslie Gulch, you can hike around on the cool rock honeycombs with the kids, or a do a little more serious hike up Juniper Gulch to the top of Yellow Jacket.  

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pick up a fat bike and ride! 5 tips on where to rent bikes and ride in Southwest Idaho

Dave Williams rides a fatty in the Snowy 45 at Jug Mountain Ranch
The cross-country ski trails loop around Jug Mountain Reservoir. Very scenic 
There have been times this winter when fat biking is perfect on foothills trails.
That's not the case right now except when they're frozen in the early morning. 
Hi all,

With High Pressure dominating aloft and the ever-familiar layer of yucky inversion fog blanketing the Boise Valley for the next 10 days, it's paramount for your mental health to head into the mountains and go for an adventure.

This week, I'm recommending that you try FAT BIKING as your travel mode of choice. The snow is freezing hard at night and warming up in the afternoon in SW Idaho. It's key to hit the trails when they're frozen hard in the early morning for the most efficient ride. The weather is perfect for that right now.

Below, I'll recommend five places to ride close to home in Southwest Idaho, and where to rent a fat bike.

But first ... why ride a FAT BIKE? Personally, I was sold after riding Jug Mountain Ranch last winter with a bunch of guys from Boise and McCall. We got out in the morning when the corduroy-groomed xc trail was hard and firm, and we rode up to Brundage Reservoir and then looped around back to the clubhouse via a mix of singletrack and xc trail. I loved bouncing up and down on the big tires ... it just makes you giggle. Fat bikes climb slow, but they're super stable on the downhill, and they're basically the bike of choice on snow and ice.

Here's what Ryan LaBar said about fat biking in Bike magazine: "Before these mutant bikes became available, the cold, dreary, daylight-choked winters of the midwest had to be dealt with by skiing, snowshoeing, sitting on the couch drinking beer and eating nachos or, God forbid, actually riding the trainer. 

"Not to say that these activities aren’t fun (except maybe riding the trainer), but, really, nothing compares to the escape from “reality” that shredding trails on two wheels gives you.ile fatbiking on the snow is generally much slower than riding dry trails, the lower friction and alien texture of snow–when conditions are good–replicates the sensation of ripping trails at full speed. It is a blast. Shallow pitches become technical descents, crashing doesn’t hurt nearly as much and power sliding corners has never been easier or more fun."

I bought a custom-built fatty in December from Vibe Cycles in December, and I'm really enjoying it. The bike weighs only 27.5 pounds because it has carbon rims, 45Nrth Van Helga tubeless tires, a carbon front fork and carbon handlebars. It rides great.

So ... how to get started? Rent a fat bike from a local bike store and go ride! See how you like it!

  • Meridian Cycle rents fat bikes for $50/day. 
  • Idaho Mountain Touring rents for $50 for 1/2 day, $75 for a full day. 
  • World Cycle rents for $80 for a 24-hour period. 
  • Ken's Bicycle Warehouse rents for $50/day. 
  • Eastside Cycles rents for $50 for 1/2 day, $85 for 24 hours.     

Check with the bike shops on the type of bike they're renting and size(s) available.

Now, where to ride? Here are five sure-fire places to ride this weekend:

  • Rocky Canyon Road - Watchman Trail Loop East Boise Foothills - Start from the end of the pavement on Rocky Canyon Road, ride up to the Five Mile Trail junction, go left and climb Five Mile to the Watchman Junction. Caution: Rocky Canyon Road is super icy in places. I rode the Five Mile Trail last Saturday, and it was in perfect shape ... either snow- and ice-covered or sandy. Take Watchman down Curlew Ridge to Shane's and back to Rocky Canyon. Hit it early when the trails are frozen. Total distance is 10 miles. 
  • Skyline Trail - Summit Trail - Beaver Trail - Elkhorn - Ralph's - Skyline Loop - This is a big loop in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Trail system, starting from the Gold Fork parking lot and then climbing Skyline Trail to the Summit Trail, drop over to the Beaver Trail and do a long climb to the Elkhorn Trail, Banner Ridge and so forth. Loop back to Skyline on Elkhorn and Ralph's to finish the ride. Approximate distance 15 miles. Here is a video of fat bikers touring the park n' ski trails. Idaho City Park N' Ride from Aileen Frey on Vimeo.
  • Middle Fork Payette River snowmobile road - Ride the groomed snowmobile trail about 9 miles one way to the Silver Creek Plunge hot springs pool. 
  • Jug Mountain Ranch, Lake Fork, Idaho - Fat bikes are welcome to ride on the JMR xc trails. Dogs are cool too. Great place to ride. Start from the clubhouse and do a big loop up to Jug Mountain Reservoir and back to the clubhouse. Did I say it's a great place to ride? BTW, JMR is hosting the Snowy 45 fat bike relay race on Feb. 28.  
  • Roads and trails in the Owyhee Mountains - It's been an unusually wet winter in the Owyhees this year, but often times, the trails and roads out there can be great for winter riding, especially when they're frozen or dry and sandy. My friend Eileen Frey highly recommends the Wickahoney Loop, south of Bruneau. I'd recommend the Wilson Creek loop or the Barking Spider loop in my Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook. Both of those are pretty close to home.  

Another place that totally rocks for fat biking in Grand Targhee. All 15K's of their Nordic trails are open to fat biking, and they have two miles of snow-packed singletrack trails. From a resort perspective, everyone says that Targhee is setting the pace for accommodating fat biking. How about a long weekend skiing and fat biking at Targhee in blue sky conditions! Book my room now!!!

Watch the Fat Bike Boise Facebook page for posts from riders reporting on conditions throughout the SW Idaho region and beyond.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Go play in the snow! Over a foot of *pow* forecast for McCall, Bogus, Idaho City

Go find your fresh *pow* this weekend. Should be lots of it! 
This is how things should look on the xc ski trails on Saturday, if there's any tracks at all ... 
Gold Fork Trail in new snow 
Hi all,

The weather forecasts for Bogus BasinBrundage Mountain and Tamarack Resort are looking great for a nice coating of new snow Friday and Saturday in the Boise and West-Central Mountains. The forecasts call for more than 6-8" of new snow on Friday and more on Saturday, so get out there and enjoy the new *pow*!

If you go to Brundage, they've got the "Beer and Gear" event going on Saturday and Sunday, starting at noon each day. Think beer garden hosted by McCall craft breweries and the latest demo gear from McCall ski shops.

The forecast for Idaho City and Mores Creek Summit areas calls for a big dump this weekend, with 5-9 inches expected on Friday and another 5-9 inches expected Saturday night. Oh baby! It's going to be lots of powder fun for backcountry skiers, but perhaps deep snow and tough-going for snowshoers. The groomers are going to have a hard time keeping up!

There's supposed to be a fair bit of wind accompanying the storms, so backcountry skiers and snowshoers should carry basic safety gear (avalanche beacon, probe and shovel), and check the Payette Avalanche Center for the day's forecast before you go.

But it sounds like a perfect weekend to go play in the snow in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas, too.
I'd highly recommend the Gold Fork Loop for a xc ski or snowshoe outing. It's an intermediate trail, 5.3 miles in length. It's a moderate uphill climb to a low summit, and then it's downhill back to the parking area. The trail is well-signed, and it's well-groomed most of the time. Great for a first date-type of situation where you'd just like to go for an easy-going walk in the woods.
Michael Lanza's kids and friends scale the Skyline Trail. (Courtesy The  Big Outside)

Directly across Idaho 21, the Skyline Loop features a slightly steeper uphill climb on a wide surface. It's a 4-mile loop, topping out near the Skyline Yurt. It's also possible to explore some other trails nearby when you reach the Skyline summit, such as Ralph's Trail, Twister or Ridge.

Farther up Idaho 21, you also could try the Elkhorn Loop from the Banner Ridge Trailhead, or climb up to Stargaze Yurt from Beaver Creek Summit. The Elkhorn Loop is 7.3 miles, so it's longer and more challenging than the Gold Fork and Skyline loops. The loop is typically groomed for xc classic and skate skiing. The trail to Skyline is an ungroomed snowshoe/ski trail. It's 1.5 miles up to the yurt, and 1.5 miles back. There are several slopes that make for good backcountry skiing in the vicinity.

Top off your adventure with a nice soothing soak at the The Springs in Idaho City (call ahead for reservations or do it online) or go home via Lowman and stop at Kirkham Hot Springs or Skinny Dipper Hot Springs.

Enjoy the snow!
- SS

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Take advantage of FREE cross-country ski day Saturday at Idaho Parks, BCRD trails

Skate skiing works great on well-groomed trails. Glide wax is critical. 
Snowshoers hike through fresh snow to Stargaze Yurt, located 1.5 miles
from the trailhead. It takes about an hour to get there. 
Ah, the spellbinding view from Stargaze Yurt, near Idaho City
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Ski poles help with balance. 
Classic xc ski technique - kick and glide. It feels really sweet when you get the knack for it. 
Hi all,

Saturday is a great opportunity to try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at participating Idaho State Parks and the Blaine County Recreation District xc trails in the Wood River Valley.

Have you ever thought about trying xc skiing or snowshoeing? Now is the time to seize the day and give it a whirl -- it's great for exercise, getting outside and enjoying the beauty of the Idaho mountains, and it's an excellent excuse to get out of the yucky inversion in the Treasure Valley and enjoy cobalt-blue sky and warmer weather! Snow conditions are excellent!

There will be free lessons and equipment demo's at Ponderosa State Park and Lake Cascade State Park, close to home, or you can rent/grab your own equipment and try out the Idaho City Park n' Ski Trails and yurts near Idaho City. The Park n' Ski parking lots will be open for free (normally a Park n' Ski parking pass is required), and IDPR staff will serve hot cocoa at Stargaze Yurt and Rocky Ridge Yurt.

All of BCRD's xc ski and snowshoe trails will be open free of charge on Saturday in the Wood River Valley. A day pass costs $17, so that's a great value. The BCRD xc ski trail system is world-class, with more than 160 kilometers of trails available, including the trails at the Galena Lodge, north of Ketchum. See more details on Saturday's event below.

Free xc ski day is a national initiative that's been going on for many years to encourage newbies to try cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on local trails. My motto is: Give it a try! Anyone who can walk can snowshoe. A pair of ski poles helps with balance when snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing is a little more challenging, but it's not that difficult. Plus, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are relatively cheap ways to recreate outdoors in the winter, compared to downhill skiing, which can blow a hole in your wallet in one day.

I've been cross-country skiing since I was a kid growing up in Minnesota. The age-old traditional or classic technique involves a little kick and glide, a really sweet motion once you get the knack. In the mid-1980s, the skate-skiing technique came into vogue. Skate skiing is more physically demanding than the classic/traditional technique, but when you get the knack of skate skiing, and you're properly waxed, you can really sail down the trail -- at least on the flats.

On Saturday, at the parks where demo equipment is available, you could try the old kick-and-glide technique and try a pair of skate skis, and see what you like. Instructors will be on hand to help you with technique.

Here are the details:
  • Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas -  Take Idaho 21 past Idaho City to the signed Park n' Ski areas. It's 17-23 miles past Idaho City to the different trailheads. The Rocky Ridge Yurt is 1.5 miles from the Whoop-Um-Up parking lot. This trail is best for snowshoeing. Yurt rental manager Judy Ditto will be the host at Rocky Ridge from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Stargaze Yurt is located 1.5 miles from the parking area at Beaver Creek Summit on Idaho 21. This trail is good for either xc skiing or snowshoeing, but not skate skiing. It's my favorite of the six yurts in the area because it sits on top of a mountain, affording great views of the surrounding area, and it has great skiable terrain directly below the yurt. Leo Hennessy will be hosting visitors at Stargaze Yurt from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dogs are allowed on the trails, so bring your pups if you wish. No equipment will be available at the Park n' Ski areas. Rent some before you go at Idaho Mountain Touring, Greenwoods or Boise REI. 
  • Lake Cascade State Park - Free xc ski day activities will be hosted by IDPR staff at the Hasbrouck Ranch Nordic Trails on 981 Cabarton Road (this is the road to the Cabarton put-in on the Payette River, 15 miles north of Smith's Ferry). Equipment demos will be available and lessons from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sign up when you get there. Hot cocoa will be served at the trailhead. 
  • Ponderosa State Park, McCall - Go to the park in the east side of McCall and park by the Activity Center. Equipment demos and lessons will be available from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Equipment will be provided by Gravity Sports and Hometown Sports in McCall, and instructors will be on hand from Bear Basin Nordic Center to teach the classic and skate ski technique. Volunteers from McCall Parks & Recreation and the McCall Outdoor Science School will lead snowshoe tours. Hot drinks will be served at the trailhead.
  • Blaine County Rec District -  Free lessons and rentals will be available at the Croy trailhead in Hailey from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Folks can try either skate skiing or classic. The Croy trailhead is located off of Bullion Street west of Hailey. Call Sturtevants in Hailey to reserve your rental equipment, 788-7847.       
The point of all of this is to introduce folks to the sport on Saturday. For the newbies that participate, they'll know a great deal more than about xc skiing and snowshoeing than they did before. Then they can decide what they like best, what equipment to buy or rent, and go do it on their own. What a great community service! Thanks to IDPR staff, equipment vendors and volunteers for putting on such a worthwhile event!

Have fun and enjoy the sunshine!
-- SS