Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't miss out ... go catch a steelhead!

Rick Gerrard with a fresh Hells Canyon steelie

Steve and Quinn with B-run Clearwater River steelhead (it fed 12 people)

A wild Middle Fork Salmon River steelhead (this fish was released)

We had a great float trip on the Snake River in Hells Canyon recently, and we brought home a gorgeous steelhead on Sunday afternoon after I guided my friend Rick Gerrard into a perfect fishing hole with my 16-foot raft, and he nailed a nice one.

We had been catching rainbows and small-mouth bass frequently, so Ricky wasn't sure what he had at first ... Then after about 30 seconds, he whispered "this feels like a big fish, Stueby," to which I leaped from the captain's chair and grabbed our fish net in the bow. We brought more of a trout net than a steelhead net, so when I had a chance to net the steelhead, I scooped it up and brought the fish into the bow of the boat, only to have the dang thing leap out of the net!

Luckily I had these neoprene gloves on with special grips in the palms, so I was able to grab that thing like an oversized football and wrestle it to the floor of the boat.

We checked and it was a fin-clipped fish as expected (no wild steelhead venture into Hells Canyon anymore to my knowledge), so we kept it and ate it for dinner with about 8 people a couple days later. Yee-haw! Great way to round out an awesome cast-and-blast weekend in Hells Canyon.

My outdoor tip this week is to urge everyone to reserve some time in your busy schedule to go steelhead fishing this fall. The steelhead run this year is more than 2x the 10-year average, with 200,000+ fish forecast to move into Central Idaho to spawn the next generation. The mighty steelhead -- ocean-going rainbow trout -- are found on the Snake in Hells Canyon, the Salmon River from Riggins to Salmon, and the Clearwater River in the Lewiston-Orofino area. Go bank fishing, take your own boat or hire an outfitter and guide.

I personally am not too proud to hire a guide. It definitely can increase your chances of success. I booked a trip with the Guide Shop in Orofino a couple years ago and brought home a beautiful B-run Clearwater steelhead. I'd always heard that the B-run fish are huge (they stay two years in the ocean), and put up a great fight, and there's no doubt about that!

When I was working on my book Salmon River Country with Mark Lisk, we went steelhead fishing with Jerry Myers and Mark Troy from Idaho Adventures, and we caught a bunch of fish on a five-day trip from Corn Creek to Mackay Bar ... big Middle Fork wild steelhead that were nearly as big as the Clearwater fish I caught.

The guides are out on the river every day. They know the exact holes where they caught fish the day before. They know what kind of lures, bait or flies are working. Put some friends together and book a trip of a lifetime.

On the Salmon River, near Riggins, you can book a trip with a jet boat or a drift boat. The jet boats can go upriver or downriver and cover a lot of ground in a day. They often will pull plugs or "hotshots" and drag them on the bottom of the river in deep steelhead holes, and that often can be a very effective technique. Drift boats are very maneuverable and can fish practically every patch of fishy water as you move downstream.

Fly fishing for steelhead is another possibility for those so inclined (more skill required). Here's a web site with some tips on what kinds of bait/lures/flies to use.

So I say go for it and celebrate one of the finer things in life as an Idahoan. Even if you don't bring home a steelhead, maybe someone else in your party will, and it will be a memorable day on the river no matter what. - SS

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hike or Bike to Sunset Mountain or Pilot Peak

9.5 miles up-and-back to Sunset Mountain Lookout

7.9 miles up-and-back to Sunset Peak

Steve and Quinn when he was 10 months old

Dad towed him up the mountain in a Kelty baby trailer

Sunset Mountain Lookout (elev. 7,869')

Well, the weekend forecast is definitely "iffy," with temps in the 40-50s in the mountains -- maybe much lower than that -- but here's a trip for hard-cores who might not mind getting wet or even getting into some snow ...

Drive up Idaho 21 past Idaho City to Mores Creek Summit, and either hike/bike up to the top of Sunset Mountain Lookout (directly south of the highway) or hike/bike to the top of Pilot Peak, followed by an optional big 14-mile downhill cruise back to Idaho City (shuttle required).

Sunset L.O. and Pilot Peak are great destinations in the summer or winter. It's a 5-mile trip to the top of Sunset, and 3.8 miles to Pilot, so it's a steeper climb to reach Pilot Peak. You have to climb over 2,000 vertical feet to summit either one. Both of the routes are featured in Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home and in Mountain Biking Idaho.

Both of them are equally fun. Great views of the Boise National Forest open up as you gain elevation, culminating in a great view at the summit. This weekend, the view may be obscured by weather ... who knows? To this powder hound, it's profoundly invigorating to cruise through a few inches of fresh snow, thinking about the promise of a great ski season ahead with tons of fresh *pow*.

Note: If you want to climb Pilot Peak and take the optional descent into Idaho City, it's a 20.8 mile ride through ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests; 14+ miles of it is downhill. Click on Mountain Biking Idaho and look up page 62-67 for a detailed description.

Stop in Idaho City on your through and check out the frontier downtown. Great food and drink and genuine hospitality.

- SS

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hike the Station Creek Trail in Garden Valley

Trip map

Google Earth GPS map ... do the loop counter-clockwise

Wendy strikes a pose. Typical open slopes with big views.

Bow hunters are in the hills so bright colors are a good idea.

The weather forecast for the weekend looks fabulous, so it should be a perfect time for a hike in the Boise National Forest. I'm recommending the Station Creek Trail in Garden Valley, a sweet singletrack that climbs 1,300 feet over several miles to the top of the ridge overlooking the broad valley. It's a 4.5-mile hike round-trip.

The Station Creek hike is featured in my book, the Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home.

The trailhead is about an hour from Boise on the Banks to Lowman Road, east of Crouch and Garden Valley, and directly across the highway from the Garden Valley Ranger Station. Take Idaho 55 north to Banks, turn right and watch for the trailhead on your left after passing through the little town of Garden Valley and the grass airstrip on the right.

The trail winds through neatly spaced ponderosa pine trees and climbs at a moderate pace to an initial ridge at mile 2.1. You'll notice a right-hand turnoff on the way up for a short loop. Ignore that one unless you have young kids and you can only do the short hike. At the top of the ridge, you'll see a sign directing you toward the downhill loop toward the Alder Creek Bridge, which crosses the South Fork of the Payette River. Take the left fork to walk a series of ridges back to the highway or circle back toward the trailhead. As my book notes, the downhill trail fizzles out as you leave the top of the ridge, but you can see the valley below the whole way, so you can just enjoy a ridge-walk downhill.

As an alternative, at the top of the ridge (mile 2.1), you can go right and follow the trail to Bald
Mountain for a bigger view and a little more exercise. Return to the ridge junction and cruise back to the trailhead or the Alder Creek Bridge.

After the hike, you can hit a local hot springs and/or have a burger in Crouch at the Longhorn Saloon. There are many places to camp in the area, particularly along the Middle Fork Payette Road north of Crouch, or you could stay at a Bed & Breakfast, the Garden Valley Hotel, or rent a private cabin. Check out the Garden Valley Chamber of Commerce web site for more information.

- SS

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nice weekend for a river trip

Rainbow Bridge

Wet Spot

Quinn Stuebner, left, Drew Stuebner and Elena Lansing (Wilson)

The new boat slider at higher water

Just after we finished the ramp

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

Hi all,

With temperatures expected in the 80s this weekend, it should be a great time to float the Payette River.

The South Fork is too low to float, and the Middle Fork is done, but North Fork of the Payette River is running about 1,200 cubic feet per second (cfs) elow Cascade Dam, so there's still enough water to run the Cabarton Class 3 section of the North Fork or canoe from Cascade to Cabarton. Both trips are featured in my book Paddling the Payette.

The water will be a little bit low and scratchy on the Cabarton run (normal summer flow is 1,500 to 1,800), but still totally doable. The fishing can get better when the water is a little lower. Visit the Payette River page on my web site to check river flows in the future.

If you're more into a flat-water paddling trip, the 9-mile trip from Cascade to Cabarton is a beauty. The current is slow, and the gradient is table-top flat, so it's a totally low-key canoeing trip through Valley County cattle country and one heron rookery. You'll also likely see kingfishers and ospreys. Bring your fishing pole if you like to fish. This section could be floated in a fishing cat or inflatable kayak as well.

The Cabarton run may be quite popular this weekend because it's "the only game in town," so to speak. Be aware of that. Go early or late to avoid the peak crowds.

I like to take my kids on Cabarton because we can fish, and it's a relatively easy whitewater float. The rapids are rated Class 3, with Howards Plunge, the last and biggest drop on the river, rated a Class 3+. It's the climax to a great day on the river.

If you don't have your own kayak or raft, you can go with several outfitters run Cabarton, including Cascade Raft & Kayak, Idaho Whitewater Unlimited, and Bear Valley River Co. You also could rent rafts or kayaks at Idaho River Sports or Boise Army-Navy.

At the put-in at Cabarton Bridge, you'll notice a new boat ramp. We got a whitewater license plate grant two years ago to pay for the building materials, working through Valley County. They were a great partner for that project. The Idaho Whitewater Association also has been working on putting in a new rest room this year at the Cabarton put-in.

Little trivia: The name Cabarton comes from a logging boss named C.A. Barton who worked for the Boise-Payette Lumber Co. in the vicinity many moons ago.

Check out the river maps and photos and have fun! I'll see ya there.

- SS

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tour the Snake River wine region by bike

(Click on map to enlarge)

I recently learned about a new 53-mile backcountry byway in southwest Idaho called the Snake River Canyon Backcountry Byway. The byway was recently recommended by the Idaho Travel Council as a great place to take a scenic drive to enjoy fall colors, fine wine, fresh home-grown produce, history and more.

The Snake River Canyon byway is unique because it tours a number of secondary roads in Canyon County on the north side of the Snake River, and thus, would be an outstanding venue for road biking. But the real bonus is that it passes by a number of great wineries in a very close proximity to each other, making it a perfect destination for biking and wine-tasting. The wineries include Bitner, Koenig, Sawtooth, Ste. Chappelle, Hells Canyon and more.

So ... to take a page from the Provence region of France, I'd recommend doing 70-mile road-biking tour that passes by many great wineries from Kuna to Parma. Ideally, you should start the ride in Boise, so you get some exercise for 20 miles before the wine-sipping begins in Kuna. It'd be best to do the trip in two days -- while staying in a bed & breakfast or hotel along the way in Melba, Nampa or Caldwell -- so as to maximize on the wine-tasting and provide enough exercise in between each wine-tasting stop so you can pace yourself and enjoy the whole experience.

Options for lodging include a new Bed & Breakfast at the Bitner Vineyards, the Snake River Log B&B in Melba, Mrs. Hood's B&B in Caldwell, or a number of hotels in Nampa and Caldwell.

Watch for a detailed map on my web site in the coming weeks to provide a road-biking guide to the Snake River wine region in Ada and Canyon counties.

- SS

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some ideas for Labor Day Weekend ...

Wah Hoo Review

The Big Hitch

I'm sure a lot of people already have plans for Labor Day, but here are some ideas in case you're still on the fence about what to do:

It's going to be crowded in many popular outdoor locations this weekend, so you might as well dive into the crowds in Ketchum/Sun Valley to experience the Wagon Days Celebration. This is a great outing for families. The Blackjack shootout is at 7 p.m. Friday on main street in Ketchum and the Big Hitch parade on Saturday begins at 1 p.m. The parade is billed as the largest non-motorized parade west of the Mississippi. Your kids will love seeing the covered wagons and people decked out in pioneer garb.

Check out the Ketchum/Sun Valley Chamber web site to look for the best deals on hotels, or you can camp out north of Ketchum or even in the Stanley area. Here's the calendar of events for the weekend.

On Friday and Saturday night, the "Wah-Hoo! Review" puts on a knee-slappin' foot-stompin' Wild West performance at the Sun Valley Opera House. You can do a BBQ and performance, or just the performance to save a little money. The performance costs $20 for adults and $15 for kids; BBQ and show costs $40 for adults and $30 for kids. Reservations: 208-622-2135.

While you're in Ketchum, you can ride the chairlift to the top of Bald Mountain and take a l-o-n-g gravity ride down the Cold Springs or Warm Springs trail on your mountain bike. Here's my writeup in Mountain Biking Idaho. It's 11 miles downhill the Warm Springs Trail or the Cold Springs route. If you don't bike, you can hike down. The descent is more than 3,000 vertical feet, so you'll get big views of the Pioneer and Smoky mountains and the Big Wood River Valley.

If you'd like to go mountain biking or hiking in the Wood River Valley, check out this web site for some trail ideas.

Some other possibilities:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Climb Mt. Borah - it's easiest in late summer

Photos courtesy of

A friend of mine, Scott Turlington, inspired this week's outdoor tip -- climbing Mt. Borah, Idaho's highest peak (12,662 feet) in the Lost River Range near Arco, Mackay and Challis.

Scott took his 12-year-old son on the adventure last weekend. He said it took them 8 hours to bag the peak, and 6 hours to come back down. There were at least 75 other people on the trail on the day they climbed the peak. His legs were still sore on Wednesday. No wonder ... The typical route involves ascending 5,262 vertical feet (1604 m) from the trailhead to the summit in just over 3.5 miles. Whew, that's steep! The trail grade averages 30 percent.

Experts say it's best to climb Borah in late summer when most of the snow has melted from the summit, and the most technical aspects of the climb can be accomplished without ropes. An ice axe might be handy when you're scrambling across "chicken-out" ridge, a narrow rocky spine with major dropoffs on both sides. Scott said the ridge still had snow on it last week.

Most people drive to the trailhead the night before, make camp, get up about 3:30 a.m., and make the summit before noon. Most people do it as a "day hike."

It's all self-support. Be sure to bring lots of food and water. There is no public water at the trailhead. Even if it's hot to begin with, cold and wet weather can roll in, so be prepared for that.

Here are some links with detailed information about the climb and the mountain:
- Wikipedia
- Peak
- This site has driving directions to the trailhead and other useful information.
- YouTube has tons of videos from people who posted their pix and video from the trip. Here are links to a couple that seemed helpful:
- Short clip
- Longer clip: Mt. Borah - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Tips from a woman who's been there

Have fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fat Tire Traverse in the Boise Foothills

Trip map (click to enlarge)

Hi all,

This week's outdoor tip of the week is dedicated to a new trail in the Boise Foothills that's called the Fat Tire Traverse. In observance of the Tour de Fat Festival coming up on Saturday, everyone should know that the Fat Tire Traverse was built by Ridge to Rivers with Tour de Fat Festival funds donated to SWIMBA.

So that means it's a smart thing to attend the festival on Saturday, spend money, drink beer and be merry and enjoy the wonderfully wacky festive atmosphere. The dollars you spend at the festival will go toward more new trails in the future. Wa-hoo.

The Fat Tire Traverse is an awesome new trail that opens up a whole world of new loop opportunities. Check out a short YouTube video. It's a critical connector trail that allows people to travel from the central foothills to the Rocky Canyon foothills, and trails above and below. Only your imagination is the limitation now.

The 12-mile route described here climbs Sidewinder via Owls Roost and Kestrel, and then traverses on the Fat Tire Traverse over to Trail #5, and descends the steep ridge down to Military Reserve. Take the Military Reserve connector over to Crestline and then Kestrel and Owls Roost to Camelsback to finish the ride.

You could climb from Sidewinder over to Watchman, or from Watchman over to Sidewinder. You could go from Three Bears over to Sidewinder and vice versa via Trail #6. The list goes on.

Many thanks to Fat Tire Brewing, SWIMBA and Ridge to Rivers for creating this outstanding connector trail.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Make it a lifetime project to tackle the Idaho Centennial Trail

Hi all,

Back in Idaho's Centennial Year (1990), the Lasting Legacy Committee of the Idaho Centennial Commission created the notion of developing a statewide north-to-south trail that become known as the Idaho Centennial Trail. We have Roger Williams, a retired Idaho Fish and Game biologist and avid outdoorsman, to thank for creating the vision for the trail and charting the course.

The ICT is a 900-mile route that weaves through the most scenic portions of Idaho’s wild country, from high desert canyonlands in southern Idaho to the Sawtooth Wilderness and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho to the wet mountain forests in North Idaho.

Right now, Ken and Marcia Powers are cruising the length of Idaho along the ICT, and they're more than three-quarters of the way to the finish line at the Idaho-British Columbia border. Check out their trip journal for notes and photos along the way. Their motto is "gotta walk." Love it.

When I was president of the Idaho Trails Council in the 1990s, I helped the non-profit group publish the first-ever guidebook to the ICT. Its titled Discover Idaho's Centennial Trail. The book is still available, but the best information about traveling on the ICT rests on the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation web site. Here you can trace the entire route on a detailed topo map, learn about strategic food drops, mail drops, access issues, etc.

It's a very challenging trip to do on foot because of the rugged country to pass through in the high desert along the Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers, not to mention walking through the Sawtooths and the Frank Church, and then continuing north through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Kelly Creek, the Stateline Trail on the Idaho-Montana line, and then the Cabinet Mountains and the Selkirks in the Panhandle. Long-distance hikers like the Powers are beginning to discover the ICT.

I have personally been on many sections of the ICT but have never done the whole thing. I plan to make it a lifetime project to not only experience the whole thing, but also take my kids on it as well.

Few states have the kind of diverse countryside and awesome scenery that we have in Idaho. The ICT is a perfect way to experience that up close and personal. - SS

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Go zipping with Tamarack Canopy Zipline Tours

I've always looked at eagles flying in the sky with a bit of jealousy. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could fly like an eagle? Hang-gliders might come close, and so do para-sailors, but both of those activities carry a fair amount of risk, and the downside is really bad.

But to go flying on a zipline adventure is really close to flying, and there is really no risk at all. You stap on a climbing harness, a carabiner is clipped from your harness to the cable, and you step off the platform and zip down the cable to the next zip station, flying along at high speed several hundred feet above of the ground. It's a rush!

So I was psyched to hear that Tamarack Canopy Zipline Tours were back in business as of last weekend. They're running multiple tours Wednesday - Friday of every week until the snow flies. It'd be a great activity to enjoy this weekend or anytime.

Reservations are required. Call 208-325-1006 to reserve your spot. Groups of up to 8-10 can be accommodated. It costs $99 per person.

Kids over 80 pounds and adults up to 275 pounds are welcome. There are no age restrictions otherwise, but young kids can get scared of heights, according to Tamarack zipline operations director Randy Hall of McCall. There are two guides per group. The zip course features eight different zips, with big views of the surrounding countryside and the canyons below.

The word about Tamarack's zipline tours reopening has traveled fast. They've had 70 people taking zip tours in the last four days. Wa-hoo!

Here's a YouTube video that shows what it's all about.

Don't worry about the weather, Hall says. Some of their most exciting days have occurred when people are zipping through the fog or the clouds. If it's raining, bring a raincoat and it's no big deal.

Have fun! - SS

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sift the white sand through your toes on the Salmon River

Our private Idaho

Tommy made a monster

Elena found some tadpoles

Camping on the other side of the river from the road is ideal

Tom and Carolyn clown around

My son Drew and Elena

The beaches on the lower half of the Salmon River, upstream of Riggins or downstream from Whitebird, remind me of the Caribbean.

That's why we love to go there ... not only to float the whitewater on the Salmon River, but to camp on those enormous white sandy beaches, let the kids make sand castles at the water line, play badminton and volleyball, and about once every 15 minutes, you dive into the Salmon River to cool off, and do it all again.

If it's especially hot, set your lawn chair in the water and submerge at least half of your body to guard against the heat. The water temperature right now is absolutely purrrfect!

For this week's outdoor tip, I would recommend heading up to the Salmon River upstream of Riggins, and go camping on the beach, float the river and camp along the way, or do some combination thereof.

If you don't have your own raft or kayak, you can book a trip with Exodus in Riggins while you're up there and enjoy a bunch of super-fun whitewater Class 3-4 rapids on the Riggins day trip section. It's an awesome place for water fights and rapids that make the kids scream with delight. Half day trips start at $66/person.

Check out this video from Exodus on rafting the Riggins day trip.

If you plan to go there, remember that this is a popular destination, especially this time of year. So try to get up there early on a Thursday or Friday to nail a great campsite, or go on a Sunday when everyone is heading back home for work.

Don't forget your sunscreen and a big sun tarp that can withstand a major wind.

So why are the beaches so huge? Because the Salmon River is free flowing with no dams for 475 miles from Galena Summit north of Sun Valley to the mouth in Hells Canyon. It's a natural fully functioning river system. During high water, sediments are carried from hundreds of creeks and deposited high on the river bank. Beaches move around each year as the river dynamics always change. There aren't any big beaches left in Hells Canyon because of the high dams. But the Salmon will always be free flowing because it's a federal wild & scenic river.

How to get there: Take Idaho 55 north to New Meadows. Go north on U.S. 95 to Riggins. It's about three hours from Boise. Turn right in Riggins on the Big Salmon River road and cruise upstream to find your campsite. It's about 30 miles to the end of the road. If you have your own raft, you can nail some beautiful camps that are across the river from the road, so that will give you a distinct advantage.

Have fun! -- SS

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cool off at Loon Lake in McCall

The loop is best done counter-clockwise

Secesh River bridge; sweet singletrack along the river coming up

Flowers amid the burn

I ran into people camping with llamas last year in the meadow 1/4 mile from Loon Lake

Bear Grass in bloom next to the trail

It's going to be sizzling hot this weekend, so you've got to head for higher elevation to get cooler weather, and you need to be near cold water for cooling off. Duh. If it's 100 in Boise, the temps will be nudging 90 in McCall or Ketchum. So I'm recommending going to McCall, and doing a 10-mile (round-trip) hike or mountain bike ride to Loon Lake.

One could backpack into Loon Lake, too. There are some great campsites near the lake, but a lot of people go there, so it's not, shall we say, "secluded." Car camping at Chinook Campground, the Loon Lake trailhead, also is a beautiful spot.

Check out this video on YouTube about mountain biking the Loon Lake trail by Kevin Mullin of Boise. It's got great flow ... just like the ride itself.

Loon Lake is a major-big mountain lake. It's more than a mile across. You might see a moose or a loon. Certainly a merganser. But one thing that's really neat about Loon Lake is that the water is shallow, so it warms up nicely by this time of year, and you can swim a long ways out into the lake and really enjoy it. (I have a story about Wendy swimming naked out there -- and getting stuck out there -- when some Boy Scouts showed up, and she couldn't come back into shore for some time!) Most high mountain lakes are so fricking cold that you can't do anything more than a quick skinny dip! Wendy was out there for like 20 minutes!

There's also a plane-crash site on the west side of Loon Lake that provides information about these guys who miraculously landed a B-23 Dragon bomber in the snow in the dead of winter and survived. They hiked out, and they were 50 miles from civilization! Whoa. It's worth hiking to the wreckage site if you haven't done so already. The Forest Service has put up interpretive signs that tell the story.

Check out the wildflowers along the way to the lake. Watch for salmon in the Secesh. And hit Burgdorg Hot Springs after your trip, if you're so inclined.
-- SS