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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Plan a trip to Wallace to ride the Route of the Hiawatha and Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes

Inside the St. Paul tunnel well-illuminated by good night lights! (Courtesy Spokesman-Review)
The Route of the Hiawatha is surrounded by green trees in the St. Joe National Forest. Note the high trestle in the distance.
Hi all,

I've always felt that the Route of the Hiawatha Rail-Trail near Wallace, Idaho, is one of the neatest rail-trails imaginable. I've ridden it several times since it was opened in the mid-1990s, and I even had the opportunity to do an early test ride on the trail before it was open to the public. Every time I ride it, it's an invigorating and beautiful biking adventure.

The reason it's so cool is you ride through 10 unlit tunnels, including the 1.7-mile-long St. Paul Pass tunnel on the Idaho-Montana border, and seven high trestles as part of the 15-mile trail. If you take a shuttle, the ride is completely downhill, and it's totally family friendly.

Several years ago, USA Today published an article about the top 10 rail-trails in the United States, and the Route of the Hiawatha was listed as numero uno!

So when you're planning your vacations or long weekend getaways this summer, try to work in a long weekend in the Wallace or St. Maries area and ride the Route of the Hiawatha. The trail is managed by Lookout Pass Ski Resort, located on the Idaho-Montana border on I-90. Lookout Pass provides shuttles, trail passes, etc. The ride is featured in my Falcon Guide Mountain Biking Idaho.
This is the 20th anniversary season for the trail. Amazing how time flies! 

You'll see some interpretive signs along the way about RR history and mining. 
Here's a video about the trail and the railroad history. Believe it or not, former Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, had a big hand in obtaining federal funds to develop the old railroad line into a rail-trail. There was a very progressive recreation officer working for the St. Joe National Forest at the time when the trail was only an idea, and she worked closely with lots of people in Wallace and St. Maries to create the trail and a new tourism draw in a town that was reeling from the decline of the mining industry. It's always sweet to see a dream project become a reality.

You should stay in the Wallace Inn (formerly the Best Western) or other lodging properties in Wallace while you're in the neighborhood, and check out the Oasis Bordello Museum, or you can camp at the foot of the trail by traveling from St. Maries up the placid and scenic St. Joe River (fly fishing is good!) and camp in the national forest. Bring a canoe, kayak or SUP if you'd like to paddle the St. Joe as a side trip opportunity.

Be sure to bring a BRIGHT and POWERFUL light for riding in the dark tunnels, if you have them. Lookout Pass has lights available for rent for $5, plus they have bikes and helmets available for rent, if you don't want to take your own. I've found that night-riding mountain biking lights work great.

Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is beautiful with smooth pavement. 
More experienced bike riders will enjoy the challenge of riding the Route of the Hiawatha from the Pearson Trailhead, near Avery, in the St. Joe drainage. It's 13 miles uphill at only a 2 percent grade, and then 1.7 miles of riding through the St. Paul Pass tunnel on the Idaho-Montana border, for a total of 15 miles. Then you can turn around and cruise downhill back to Pearson, for a 30-mile ride. It took me less than an hour to climb the trail, and about a half hour to zoom down it, pedaling all the way.

While you're in the 'hood, carve out some time to ride the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a fairly new paved trail along the Coeur d'Alene River. You can access the 71-mile trail in Mullan, just up the hill from Wallace, and ride downriver to Harrison and Heyburn State Park, if you want to ride the whole thing.

If you bring the kids, you have to stop at Silverwood Theme Park, north of Coeur d'Alene, where you can enjoy 65 rides, including roller-coasters, insanely steep and fast rides, and water slides. Silver Mountain in Kellogg also has an indoor water park that the kids would enjoy.

As you can surmise, it'd be easy to spend a week in the Silver Valley-Coeur d'Alene area for a great and affordable Idaho stay-cation. Have fun!
- SS

Friday, July 6, 2018

Here comes the heat! Five primo spots in SW Idaho to take your Stand Up Paddle Board

SUP'ing to Shoshone Falls makes you feel small. (Courtesy Idaho Stock Images) 
Wow! (Courtesy Southern Idaho Tourism and Visit Idaho)
Hi all,

We sure had a nice long spring, but it's July, and here comes the heat! Temperatures are forecast to be in the 90s in the next 10 days, so grab your Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) and go paddling to stay cool!

Here are five primo spots in SW for a SUP adventure:

1. Paddle the Mid-Snake to Shoshone Falls -- The trip starts from Centennial Park in Twin Falls and goes upriver to a portage around Pillar Falls and then to Shoshone Falls. Allow 5-6 hours for the journey. Many of you went down to see Shoshone Falls flowing in all of its glory this spring. It's one of the most unique paddling trips in Idaho to paddle under the Perrine Bridge, where you might see base jumpers launching into the canyon, and paddle upstream on the Snake to a point just below Shoshone Falls. There is very little river flow and current in this reach in mid-summer, allowing you to travel upstream. See my blog post for Southern Idaho tourism for more information.

2. Boise River - Last year, the Boise River was closed in July. Not this year! Float the Boise River from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park or pick a different section of the river that works for you.
Details on floating the Boise River and shuttles are found here at Ada County Parks & Waterways.

3. Quinns Pond and Esther Simplot Park - Very convenient but gets pretty crowded pretty fast and hard to find parking. Rentals available at Idaho River Sports. Get there early!

Cascade to Cabarton ... lovely! 
4. Payette River - Cascade to Cabarton - This is an easy flat-water float with moving water starting from the put-in on the south end of Cascade and float down to Cabarton Bridge. It's a 9-mile float at a leisurely pace. The river is running about 1,500 cfs right now. Bring a lunch and some beverages. Shuttle a rig to Cabarton Bridge before you go or drop one on the way up!


5. Payette River - Montour Section - This is another easy flat-water section of the Payette ... it's 3.5 miles long from the Montour Bridge put-in near Sweet to the backwaters of Black Canyon Reservoir. You can do a bike shuttle, just bring a lock for your bike.

There you have it! All of these trips would be great for sit-on-top kayaking or canoeing as well.

Here are a couple of other links on best SUP spots in Idaho ...

Have fun and stay cool!
- SS