Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My favorite trail-running route close to home

I live on N. 39th in NW Boise, near Hill Road, 36th Street and Hillside Junior High, so it's really convenient to go hiking, biking or trail-running in the Hillside to the Hollow foothills open space area. I had a small window of opportunity at lunchtime today, so I went for it.
It's a 5-mile 55-minute run from my house. I head up to Hill Road to the 32nd Street entrance to the Hillside to the Hollow area, and then I climb the heinous 32nd St. ridge to the top of the mountain (500 feet of gain). Puff-puff. A contour trail takes you downhill to a saddle, where you can take a hard right above a big white water tank, and then contour back toward Hillside Jr. High. It's a gentle downhill grade for quite a ways, and then you have to climb again to the 32nd St. ridge, and then a higher ridge above Hillside. Once on top, it's a steep downhill (take small steps) to the junior high, and then a mile back to my house.
The thing I love about this run is that it spanks your butt on the steep climb up to the top, and then you have awesome views on the way back, overlooking the city. It's like you can reach out and touch it. And then you have a second steep climb back to the Hillside ridge at the end. You will get a workout on this run.
Anyway, in case you haven't heard about it, there is a citizens group called the Hillside to the Hollow Coalition that's working on preserving the area by calling on the Boise Foothills Levy Committee to strike a deal with the private landowners in the area and purchase the last, best foothills open space area close to Boise.
Please see http://www.hillsidetothehollow.org/ for more information.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sweet day on the river

River trips evoke emotions in people, especially in the rapids. On the Cabarton section of the Payette River on Sunday, the river experience felt like nirvanna the whole way for me.

Light downstream breeze. Perfect river flow (medium-high). Perfect temperature. Not a single cloud in the sky. Ospreys. Eagles. Good friends.

A perfect day in a mountain paradise.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Loon Lake Loop trail is in great shape

I got a late start on Saturday afternoon, but I couldn't wait to mountain bike the 10-mile Loon Lake Loop from Chinook Campground in the Payette National Forest (20 miles north of McCall) and check out the setting after a 215,500-acre wildfire burned hot and long last summer.

Turns out it was a gorgeous late-afternoon ride. The mushroom pickers were out in force, combing the countryside for fresh morels, and I ran into a trio of horseback riders, several groups of mountain bikers, a group of backpackers heading up to Loon Lake, and a group of llama-packers, who were camped in the penstamin-covered grassy meadow just before Loon Lake.

The wildfires had burned in a "mosaic" type of random pattern through the countryside, sparing some meadows and mountainsides, darting through others, and blackening whole slopes. Judging from a map of the lightning-strikes associated with the Zena-Loon wildfire, there had to be scores of small blazes burning amid the big one.

The fire's impacts on the Loon Lake Loop were insignificant, thanks to the efforts of the Payette National Forest trail crew and a high amount of use by commercial pickers due to the morel-money-making potential. My feeling is that forest trails on sustainable grades often smooth out when they're getting lots of use.

So going over to Loon Lake on the Victor Creek Trail #081, the trail was buttery-smooth, and FAST! But you couldn't let things get too out of control because there's always those unforeseen rock formations, or other people on the trail. I was zooming along, and then I saw a guy on horseback coming up a steep grade, just as I was about to banzai down there. I managed to slam on the brakes and avoid a collision.

I climbed the multiple grades to a point where you reach a mini-perch and can see the big meadow approaching Loon Lake. Now, after the fire, you can see Loon Lake through the trees. That's kind of a cool new feature of the scenery. Overall, the fire has cleared out a thick lodgepole pine forest canopy and opened up the views. Nice secondary benefit.

I saw fire impacts all the way to the Secesh River and then back along the Secesh to Chinook Campground. Along this section, you'd ride in and out of the fire impact area throughout the ride.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The North Fork Payette that's overlooked

We went back to one of my favorite flat-water river trips on Friday the 4th and paddled the North Fork of the Payette River in between McCall and Hartsell Bridge, north of Lake Cascade. I included this little-traveled section of the Payette in my book Paddling the Payette but it's been slow to catch on ... which is just fine.

It is a beautiful float by any definition -- there is bird life galore ... herons, kingfishers, ospreys everywhere, bald eagles soaring overhead, and many different types of songbirds -- we found some frogs on shore, the fishing is quite good, and many white-tailed deer hang out in the riparian zone along the river.

Some of the challenges associated with this trip is that it's a day-long paddle, 5-6 hours, with stops, at low water, you need to set up a shuttle before you go, and you need to portage around some big logs that block the river about two-thirds of the way along the journey.

But all of these obstacles are easily overcome. Damon Yerkes at West Mountain Gear & Grind in Donnelly arranged a shuttle driver for us, and we rented a hard-shell Jackson Sports Little Tripper for Ellie, Wendy's 14-year-old daughter, so she could paddle her own boat. The portage isn't that bad, if you take the right channel and scout your path from a perch above the river bank so you can find the easiest way through the maze.

Wendy and I paddled our 16-foot Mad River Explorer, which is a perfect boat for this river section. At 250 cfs, the river was low, but there was enough cushion to make it through small riffles. You did have to pay attention to your lines through the riffles to stay in the deepest water (usually part of the tongue).

We stopped several times so I could cast in the deep dark pools for rainbow trout, and I caught a bunch. Unfortunately, I lost a big one when the fish leaped at least three feet out of the water to toss the hook. It looked like at least an 18-inch fat fish, and I tried to get it to bite again, but mature wiley rainbows are normally too smart to get hooked a second time in the same hole.

Anyway, it was a good time had by all. Our arms were tired of paddling by the time we reached Hartsell Bridge, and we were hungry for dinner. It's only an 8-mile trip, according to the USGS topo map, but with all of the oxbows and goose necks in the river, it seems like twice that long. I'll have to bring my GPS next time to confirm the distance.

Check out this unsung section of the North Fork sometime when you have a full day of time and good weather. It's a treat.

Precious Moments on the Huck

We got to our cabin in McCall Thursday evening just in enough time to head over to Ponderosa State Park and ride a quick loop on the Huckleberry Trail on our mountain bikes before dinner.

The low-angle evening light was beautiful on the thriving, velvety green vegetation in the park, and there were quite a few white-tailed deer scampering about in the woods.

We took the singletrack near the park entrance over to Pilgrim Cove, and then took the shady two-track trail to Fox Run Trail, and climbed Fox Run to the fast downhill before heading off on “the Huck.”

I love riding the Huck because even though it’s relatively short, it has many features – technical tree root sections, steep climbs, narrow tree-openings and basalt rocky sections – that one might encounter riding anywhere in a Central Idaho national forest. It call it “true mountain conditions.”

Wendy and I slalomed through the Huck and then we rode over to Osprey Point to check out the fabulous view of Payette Lake at the north tip of the peninsula. A few boats were out and about, water skiing or just crusing around, but mostly it was quiet – the calm before the storm on 4th of July weekend.

On the way back, we zipped down the main dirt road back toward the park beach and rode along the lakeshore to the park entrance, enjoying the scent of the forest and fresh wildflowers. To top off the day, I saw twin fawns that must have been just a couple days old, with their mom, hanging out by the edge of the trail. We paused to look at the cute newborns, their brown coats speckled with white dots, and it was precious.

Simple reminders about how much we love being in McCall.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Running on the Boise Greenbelt

I took a break from work today and went running on the Boise River Greenbelt, from my workplace at Drake Cooper, to the Anne Frank Memorial near Capital, to the ParkCenter walk bridge, and then back on the ParkCenter and BSU side of the river. It was a delightful run, but given that it was going to hit 95 degrees today, it was already quite hot at 12:15 p.m.

Still, despite the balmy temps, it reminded me that it was great to work near the Greenbelt, and have a shower at my workplace, so I could cram in a 5-mile run inside of an hour. And the river is always there, if you get too overheated. The Boise River is like 55 degrees! Quite refreshing.

To beat the heat, get out early. But even getting out at noon is a far cry better than not getting out at all.

- SS