Thursday, May 18, 2017

Morel-picking season is upon us! Where to find them in the Boise National Forest

Fresh-picked morels 
Wendy was excited about our haul last year ... we picked in the Teepee Springs fire zone
Hi all,

Finally, a really nice weekend is coming our way weather-wise! Highs are predicted to be in the 70-degree range in Boise and in the lower elevations in the mountains! Blue sky and perfect weather for just about anything!

I've been seeing some pictures of morel mushrooms on Facebook, so clearly the morel-picking season has begun in the lower elevations. Now we'll have some sunshine in the forest for morels and other forest-dwelling fungi, plants and wildflowers to pop! Bring it on!

Morel-picking for private use is legal without a permit in the national forests in Idaho. Consumption is limited to 5 gallons per day. Commercial pickers are required to pay a fee. In the wake of the Pioneer Fire, the Boise National Forest is asking people who are picking for personal use to carry a brochure and map with them. The map details the locations where people can pick in the fire zone for personal use and for commercial use. There are many areas in the fire zone that will be closed to morel picking as well. Check out the map.

Blue hash marks are for person use, green for commercial pickers. 
Word has it that morels are sprouting around the Lowman area, according to the Boise National Forest. Lowman has an elevation of 3,750 feet. As things warm up, and the snow melts, morels will popping up at higher elevations. They haven't been seen too much around Idaho City yet, but it's still early.

It's also fine to pick morels anywhere else in the Boise National Forest, Payette National Forest or other forests in Idaho.

What's so special about morels? If you like to eat mushrooms, morels are a delicacy. They are positively delicious, especially sauteed in butter and garlic, and mixed with eggs or served with steak, mixed into soups -- there's just all kinds of applications.

Basidiospores at a microscopic level. The spores
fly from one mushroom to start a new fruiting
body nearby in the forest floor. I have a chapter
about the wonders of mycelia and morels in my
book, "Idaho Microbes."    
Morels are fun to pick because they're very distinctive ... they have a conical shape, kind of like a Christmas tree, but with honeycombs inside. My suggestion is to walk very slow through the woods, and stare at the ground, looking for morels. Once you see some, you'll find more. The grow prolifically the spring after a forest fire, but you can get into quite a few of them even several years after a fire.

I seem to find them more under fir trees than pine trees on open ground. If there's a lot of beargrass growing on the slope, it's not a good site for morels. Sometimes you'll find groups of morels popping up underneath the brush. Once you find a fertile area for morels, you'll keep coming back to those spots for more.

This also should be a great weekend for spring camping. Here's a previous post about some spring camping spots I'd recommend. Pick up a copy of my Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide for tips on 55 hikes and mountain bike rides in the Big Wide Open, plus a guide to the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.

Have fun!
-SS

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Five easy Boise Foothills trails for Greenbelt walkers who might dare to try the dirt!

Hiking on Red Fox Trail above the Hulls Ponds 
My son Quinn on a hike in Military Reserve 
You feel as though you could reach out and touch Boise from the Seaman's Gulch Trails 
Hi all,

The weekend weather doesn't look that promising -- it's expected to be unsettled and cool, with a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday, 50% chance on Saturday, and then a slight chance of rain forecast Sunday morning. So Sunday looks to be the best day, but at this time of year, who knows? You have to go with the flow!

With most of the Boise River Greenbelt closed right now, I bet that a lot of walkers and runners are wondering about the best trails to try in the Boise Foothills? For my tip of the week, I'm going to recommend 5 easy trails to consider at a variety of trailheads across the foothills.

All of the routes are featured in my Boise Trail Guide - 90 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home. I organized the book as a step-by-step guide to hiking and running in the greater Boise area, starting with flat Greenbelt sections stretching from Eagle to Lucky Peak, and then stepping it up a notch to Easy Mountain Trails, which have short distances and a small elevation gain. And then after you master those, you step up to Moderate Mountain Trails, which are longer and have more elevation gain. And then you might graduate to Strenuous Mountain Trails -- great workouts that involve some pain -- or Epic Mountain Trails, which would take you to the limit!

Boise Trail Guide is your ticket to discovering the splendor and diversity of the hiking and running opportunities in the SW Idaho region. The guide takes even native Idahoans to trails they've never experienced before ...

So let's get right to it ... 5 Easy Mountain Trails to get you started. All of these are kid-friendly:

  • Eagle Bike Park - A number of the trails at the Eagle Bike Park are open to hiking and trail-running, including Rabbit Run, Junk Yard, D-Chaos and Twisted Sister. These are short, singletrack trails that tour around the west foothills near Idaho 55. Take Old Highway 55 north of State Street to get to the park. It's also a fantastic place to bike, with flow trails, a pump track and big-air opportunities for expert riders, and features for kids to practice and build their skills. 
  • Seaman's Gulch - Located on Seaman's Gulch Road, heading toward the Ada County Landfill, you'll see a trailhead for the Seaman's Gulch trails by a giant water tank on the east side of the road. The short singletrack trails here take you out for a fantastic view of the city. Distance is 1-3 miles. Less than 500 feet of gain. 
  • Harrison Hollow - Take the trail up the draw to get a feeling for Harrison Hollow. It's about 1 mile up the canyon to a saddle with several more trails. There also are trails on the ridges heading back to the trailhead, or you can return the way you came. This is a dog-friendly area. Please pick up after your pets. 
  • Camelsback Park - Owl's Roost - Red Fox Loop. 2.2 miles. Start at Camelsback, pick up Red Fox in the east side of the park and follow Red Fox out to the crossing of 8th Street. Go across the dirt road, and hike past the Foothills Learning Center on Kestrel to a right-hand turn for Owl's Roost. This trail will take you back to Camelsback. Excellent hike for kids in the backpack. There will be lots of people on these trails ... it's a popular area. 
  • Miltiary Reserve - Go to Fort Boise area in Boise and find Reserve Street. Go north into the foothills and turn left on Mountain Cove Road. Proceed about 3/4 of a mile to trailhead after a sharp right-hand turn in the paved road. At this trailhead, you can take Toll Road Trail up to a right-hand turn and creek-crossing. Cross the creek, and pick up Cottonwood Creek trail going back toward the trailhead on the other side of the creek. This is a scenic low-key hike, great for kids and dogs.
 ------------------------------------

Notes: Next week is Boise Bike Week, May 13-20. The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and Boise Bike Project always serve up a bevy of events during this time. See their web site or facebook page for details. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Climbing Mount Heinen, the toughest of the Boise Grand Slam Peaks, is a rewarding trip

Looking back at Mt. Heinen on the north side ... very steep approach from this side. 
Jack, Joanie and Steve on top of Mt. Heinen 
Celebrating the completion of Steve's Grand Slam on top of Mt. Heinen with Jack, Joanie and Judy 
Hi all,

I've been pecking away at the two remaining Boise Grand Slam peaks this spring to complete my Grand Slam, and by climbing Mt. Heinen with three friends on Saturday, I did it! 

At 6,390 feet, Mt. Heinen is the tallest of the Grand Slam peaks, and definitely one of the most strenuous hikes. But we hiked it on a gorgeous sunny day last Saturday, with temps in the mid-60s, and it felt wonderful to be out hiking in wildflowers, green grass and relatively warm weather! 

Just for background, the Boise Grand Slam was created by Tom Lopez, a retired lawyer and the author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide. The concept is to give Treasure Valley residents an early goal of hiking the Grand Slam peaks to begin getting in shape for the summer backpacking and mountain climbing season. 

Joanie with her pup in the snow field on the north side of Heinen. Hiking poles were very handy on this trip. 
The other three peaks are Mt. Cervidae (closest to Boise and shortest, but still hard -- 2 miles straight up, 2,000 feet of climbing), Mt. Kepros (10 miles and over 2,000 vertical feet), and Lucky Peak/Shaw Mountain, the top of the eastern flank of the Boise Foothills.   

There are multiple approaches to Mt. Heinen. We drove up to the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead in the Boise National Forest, about 1.5 hours from town, next to Arrowrock Reservoir. We hiked one steep ridge up to the main ridgetop leading to Heinen Peak, and hiked another steep ridgeline back to the trailhead. It was a great adventure tour with no real trail most of the way, but pretty easy route-finding staying on the ridges. 

My friends Joanie Faucie, Jack Van Valkenburg and Jody Thorne went with me. We made for a good group, all hiking at about the same pace. We brought lots of water, a lunch, wind breaker, hiking poles and GPS for the trip. It took us about 4.5 hours to do the whole hike. Mileage was 7+ miles. Vertical gain over 3,300 feet. It'd rate the trip strenuous. 

Our route took us up a ridge above Garden Gulch, through the forest and then on a main ridge heading for Mt. Heinen.
From Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, we went back down the road toward Arrowrock Reservoir for a short bit, crossed the creek and climbed up a ridge above Garden Gulch. Be sure to respect the private property in the vicinity by the creek bottom. Once on the ridge, we climbed steadily through grass sagebrush terrain and wildflowers until we reached the timber zone, and then we had to navigate a little brush to reach the top ridgeline. Once on that ridge, we ran into a couple that was hiking to Heinen from the South Ridge, or Irish Creek Campground by the reservoir. This route is 4.5 miles one-way, with 3,880 feet of gain. Our route was more direct, but perhaps more punishing. 

It was super pleasant on the ridge, and an easy walk up to Heinen. We had almost no wind up top, so we could hang out and eat our lunch. There are two rocky peaks on Heinen that seem to be the same elevation, but the peak furtheast west is the one with the USGS marker on top, and a water bottle containing some note paper for hiker notes. I signed my name. 

The descent off the north side of Heinen was super-steep! There was a snow field that we slid down on our boots laterally, and then we hiked down the face of the mountain over the ridge we planned to descend. It was a delightful walk downhill along the backbone of a steep ridge, with major elk habitat in the dense timber, and open brush, or bird and deer habitat on the sunny side of the ridge. Huck flushed three big blue grouse on the way down, and at least two on the way up. 

Matt Clark of the Idaho Trails Association says he calls climbing Heinen, a Heineken-type of hike because you earn your beer -- and your dinner -- on that one! I sure was glad to have a hot tub to jump into when I got home, with a PBR in hand. 

See more pics on my Facebook page. 

Have fun! 
- SS