Thursday, December 20, 2012

Great news! Idaho City Park and Ski yurts have been reopended for public use immediately

The yurts are open! The yurts are open! 
I'm psyched! The Boise National Forest and Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation have resolved their differences regarding the permitting issues and liability insurance related to the operation of the Idaho City Park and Ski yurts.

The popular six yurts located amid the Idaho City Park and Ski trail system will be reopened for public use immediately, according to a press release from IDPR:

BOISE – (December 20, 2012) The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) announced today that operations have resumed for the Idaho City Backcountry Yurt Program.
IDPR will be contacting backcountry yurt customers by phone today and tomorrow to reinstate previous reservations that were cancelled, with arrival dates from today’s date forward.
Customers will be given the opportunity to reinstate their reservation for the dates they originally booked,” said Tammy Kolsky, IDPR Reservation Program Manager.  “If customers wish to reinstate the reservation, payment will be taken at that time, or the reservation can be cancelled if the stay no longer meets the customers’ plans.”
All remaining inventory will become available on Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 8 am Mountain time online at or by phone: 1-888-922-6743.
I want to thank everyone who wrote letters to Boise National Forest and IDPR officials regarding the recent yurt closure. I fired off a quick note to them this afternoon, saying: 
I wanted to send you a quick note of thanks for working quickly to resolve issues related to the special-use permit with the USFS for the ID City Park and Ski yurt system. I received a phone call this morning from Jennifer Okerland, indicating that IDPR will be contacting people who previously held reservations for this winter and fulfilling those reservations. That’s great news for everyone concerned.

Again, thanks and I hope the Boise National Forest and IDPR can have a long and enduring partnership regarding the yurt system operation.

Best, Steve Stuebner 


Be sure to check out my previous blog post on skiing/riding Grand Targhee, if you happened to miss it ... 

I promised to share a few Christmas gift ideas for the outdoorsy man and woman ... Here are some goodies that will be sure to please ...

  • Tie Boss easy tie down rope and pulley system. $14.99 for 1/4-inch rope and $19.99 for 3/8-inch rope. For tying down your recreation toys on the roof rack or in the back of the pickup, whatever.
  • Carbon Comfort bike seat, the brainchild of Jeri Rutherford of Boise. I haven't been able to test-drive one myself, but quite a few people like the seats, both men and women. They're carried by McU Sports and Ride Out Technologies
  • Biggest Swiss Army knife you've ever seen. The Victorinox Champ Swiss Army Knife. Only $75 at REI. This one deserves a picture: 


There you have it! See you out on the slopes!
- SS 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Grant Targhee, the snow magnet, is the place to be right now; great destination for the holidays

Monday was a powder day at Grand Targhee. That's Quinn between the cars. 
Waiting for the patrol to drop the rope at 9 a.m. Everyone was excited. 
Mountain map ... click to enlarge
Hi all,

If you've been thinking about planning a ski vacation for the holidays, Grand Targhee is a sure bet right now, with plenty of snow (67-inch base) and some excellent ski-and-stay lodging deals. The rooms are filling up quickly, though, so you should act fast.

My son, Quinn, and I skied Targhee on Monday. We were in Idaho Falls for a hockey tournament over the previous weekend, and decided to play hooky. Six inches of snow had fallen the day before, and 12 inches were forecast for Monday. We were psyched for a big powder day.

We stayed at Targhee the night before in the Teewinot lodge, and I had time to take a nice long hot tub before dinner. There were a bunch of folks soaking in the spacious outdoor tub, and they were all psyched about the ski day on Sunday. One woman was there from Denver, and she had gone cat skiing for the day.
Deep powder! 
"Best ski day of my life," she said. The snow had been knee- to waist-deep in the backcountry surrounding Targhee, and the *pow* was nice and light. She nailed it. "It's nice to be able to ski here cuz there's hardly any snow in Colorado."

Other folks in the tub were from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and several others were from Colorado as well. They had done their Internet research, and Targhee was -- and still is -- the place to be.

Quinn and I were ready to go when the patrol dropped the rope for the Sacajawea lift, which serves Peaked Mountain. High winds were forecast for Monday, so we figured that area might be a little more out of the wind than the main Dreamcatcher lift, which goes to the top of Fred's Mountain. Turns out, Dreamcatcher never opened Monday because of high winds, so EVERYONE went to Sacajawea and the new powder got skied up pretty darn quick, even on a Monday!

Nevertheless, we took the Dreamweaver run down the ridge, and then drop into Quiver, a black-diamond glade skiing area, and found fresh pockets of powder for several hours. By noon, Peaked had been carved up pretty good. I wished we had been able to stay for several more days ... I bet Tuesday was phenomenal once they opened the other lifts.
On a clear day, the views from the top of Grand Targhee are totally spectacular.
I've been a big fan of Grand Targhee for decades. I remember years when the snowpack was thin in Idaho and the region, and Targhee always seemed to have the most snow. It's located near the Continental Divide, and when the storms circulate into the Northern Rockies, Targhee seems to be  ideally situated in a zone where they get hit with a ton of snow, one wave after the next. The base area is at 7,800 feet (which is 200 feet higher than the summit of Bogus Basin), so that means that Targhee will get snow even when the snow level is at 7,000 feet, like it was earlier this month. Average annual snowfall is 500+ inches -- that's over 41 feet!

Here are a link to a YouTube video of skiing/riding at Targhee.

It's also a great place to ski for a powder hound. The slopes are mostly wide open, with a little grooming here and there, and tons of tree-skiing everywhere. With a continuous vertical drop of 2,176 feet, it'll make your legs burn. Targhee added a lift on Peaked Mountain a number of years ago, so that really adds to the terrain as well. Before that lift was built, I used to skin up Peaked on my tele skis and ski untouched powder after the slopes got carved up.

Targhee also has 15 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails immediately adjacent to the base area, an outdoor pool and hot tub, on-mountain ski-in ski-out lodging and dining, snowcat skiing and a tubing hill. Basically all of the amenities are there for families or adults.

Right now, the best lodging deals include:

  • Stay four nights or more, and you ski free at a rate of $55 per person per night. 
  • Stay three nights and get the 4th night free. 
  • Combination snowcat trips and lodging specials are available through the holidays and in January, there are some screaming-good deals available.  
How to get there: Grand Targhee is located near Driggs, Idaho. Quickest way to get there from Boise is to take I-84 to Idaho Falls, U.S. 26 to Swan Valley, ID 31 to Victor, and ID 33 to Driggs. It takes about 5.5 to 6 hours to get there, depending on road conditions and how fast you drive. 

Last weekend, a number of my friends headed over to Sun Valley to take advantage ski-and-stay deals for $79 per day. That was smart because those lodging deals end tomorrow (Dec. 20), and rates go up for the Christmas holiday. Still, Sun Valley also has good snow coverage with 55 inches on top and 36 inches at mid-mountain. They have opened Seattle Ridge as well.

Brundage Mountain has 71 inches at the summit, so they have excellent snowpack. I'm sure a lot of people will be heading to McCall for the holidays. Tamarack is reporting 16-61 inches of snow. They've got some great lodging specials going on right now. Glad to hear Bogus Basin will open Friday. I recommend taking your rock skis.

Have fun! I'll be doing another blog this week on last-minute Christmas gift ideas for outdoorsy guys and women.  
- SS

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Frustrated by the closure of the Idaho City Park and Ski yurts? So are we! Here's how to help

The Lanza family serves breakfast inside the Skyline Yurt 
Quinn Stuebner plays in the snow by Skyline Yurt. 
Hi all,

I'm sure a lot of cross-country skiers, backcountry skiers and snowshoers are just as upset as I am about the temporary closure of the Idaho City Park and Ski yurt system.

Last fall, when someone in the Boise National Forest discovered that there wasn't a special use permit on file for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to operate six yurts in the Idaho City Park and Ski Areas, the yurt system was shut down, and IDPR had to refund $26,155 in rental revenue to hundreds of unhappy customers.

The agencies have had several months to get the permitting and liability insurance issues worked out, but they haven't reached agreement. I've been talking with my friend Mike Lanza, Northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, about this, as well as a number of other folks, and we feel it's time to apply a little political pressure to get this situation fixed.

So we crafted a letter that we're sending to the decision-makers tonight, and we're going to launch a social media campaign tonight and earned media campaign tomorrow in hopes of elevating the priority for resolving this issue. We'd like to see the yurt system opened by New Year's Day.

How can you help? Write or call the following point people on this issue:
Here's the text of our letter and some background:

Dear Ms. Seesholtz, Ms. Faurot, Ms. Merrill and Mr. Strack,
As recreationists who frequently use the Idaho City Park and Ski Areas and the wonderful companion system of six yurts contained therein, we are disappointed that the Boise National Forest and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation have yet to reach an agreement that would allow cross-country skiers and snowshoers to use the yurt system in the winter of 2012-2013.

It's our understanding that the Boise National Forest wants IDPR to obtain a special use permit to operate the yurt system, and provide a certificate of liability insurance coverage for the yurt system.

This should not take months to resolve. It's our opinion that the Forest Service is making a "mountain out of a molehill" with respect to concerns about liability insurance to indemnify the Forest Service from self-guided people using the Park and Ski trails and the yurts.

Here are the facts:

·         The yurt-rental system has been running seamlessly on a sustainable basis since the first yurt was built in 1996, without any significant concerns or complaints—or any lawsuits.
·         The Idaho City Park and Ski Area yurts are used by approximately 2,500 people per year—mostly in the winter—and yurt rentals generate approximately $80,000 in revenue, according to IDPR. The temporary closure of the yurts in Fall 2012 resulted in the loss of $26,155 in revenue.
·         The Idaho City Park and Ski trails and yurts were initially a collaborative partnership project between the Idaho City Ranger District and IDPR. The first yurt, Banner Ridge, was built in 1996. Volunteers from the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association (SWIMBA), Nordic Voice and REI helped build the yurt. Since that time, there has been significant community investment in the yurt system on an ongoing basis.
·         Former Idaho City Ranger District Recreation and Trails officer Terry Sexton was instrumental in the creation of the Idaho City Park and Ski Areas and yurt system. The Idaho City Ranger District should be a partner in the trail and yurt systems and assist in making the program successful, not erect bureaucratic obstacles. 
·         Yurt-rental revenue is critical for paying for grooming the cross-country ski trails. By temporarily halting the yurt-rental program, the Forest Service and IDPR are jeopardizing the revenue stream that makes the Park and Ski trails usable by winter recreationists.

Mr. Strack has indicated that the Forest Service is asking for more liability insurance than IDPR can afford. Forest Service officials say that a special-use applicant that receives all of the revenue from a yurt operation should be expected to pay for liability insurance. The question is, how much?  

We urge the USFS and IDPR to find a short-term fix this month so that the yurts can reopen by New Year’s. Postponing this matter any longer would, we strongly believe, be a great disservice to the public that has long cherished and financially supported these trail and yurt systems.

Thank you for your immediate consideration of this matter of great importance to many Idahoans.


Steve Stuebner
Outdoor recreationist, blogger and author

Mike Lanza,
Outdoor recreationist, Backpacker Magazine Northwest Editor, blogger, and author

Dean Meer 
Boise REI store manager

Chris Haunold, owner
Idaho Mountain Touring

Tomas Patek, owner
World Cycle

Tom "Chel" Chelstrom
Former Boise REI store manager

Joyce Fabre
Boise Women's Hiking Network

JT More
Backcountry skier and frequent yurt user

Mike Needham
Boise Trailheads Meet Up Facebook group

Mark Menlove
Executive Director, Winter Wildlands Alliance

Brad Acker
Patrol Director, 705 NSP Backcountry Ski Patrol

Santiago Rodriguez
National Ski Patrol—SW Idaho Avalanche Instructor Trainer
Author of “Mores Creek Summit” Blog

Sandy Epeldi
Recreationist, vice president of the Idaho Outdoor Association, author

Branden Durst
State Senator, District 18, Boise

Mat Erpelding

State Representative, District 19 House Seat A

Holli Woodings
State Representative, District 19 House Seat B

Janie Ward-Engelking
State Representative, District 18 House Seat A

Lauren McLean
Boise City Councilwoman, recreationist, skier

Suki Molina
Recreationist, skier

Kay Hummel
Backcountry and Nordic skier and volunteer

Marianne Nelson
Recreationist, skier

We know that there are hundreds, if not several thousand people who feel the same way we do about this situation. Write the decision-makers and make yourself heard!

Many thanks!
- SS

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Head for high country to find snow; plan a road trip to go skiing in Sun Valley or Grand Targhee

Skate skiing at Galena is perfect right now ... they never got any rain. Yay! 
Galena Lodge as of Sunday. They have snow in spades! (Courtesy Galena Lodge)
Grand Targhee ... dig it! 

Hi all,

The weekly outdoor tips are back from yours truly.

Winter is getting a slow start because of the warm weather and rain we've had in the lower elevations, but above 6,500-foot elevation, there is quite a bit of snow accumulating.

"Tell them to head to the high country," says Ron Abramovich, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Snow starts accumulating around 6,500 feet in the Boise Basin, and it gets deep fast as you increase in elevation. Trinity and Atlanta Summit SNOTEL sites have about 50 inches of snow on the ground. In the Payette basin, the Deadwood site has the most snow in the state with 83 inches of snow on the ground."

Wow! It'd be nice to have a snowmobile or your own personal snowcat to reach those spots ...

If you'd like to go play in the snow this weekend, here's what I'd recommend:

  • For cross-country skiing, head for Galena Lodge, north of Sun Valley. They've got more than 48 inches by the parking lot, and lots of kilometers open for Nordic skiing. There's a FREE demo day going on Saturday, and a race Sunday. Trail passes cost $10 Saturday, and kids under 12 ski or snowshoe for free. "We've got so much snow it's ridiculous," said David, who answered the phone this afternoon. Note the picture above! Their conditions are stellar.  
  • For snowshoeing, Galena Lodge would be great, or if you're heading for Cascade or McCall, you could try Big Creek Summit on the way to Warm Lake or drive up Lick Creek Road until you run into snow and make your own adventure. Leo Hennessy is leading an Idaho Outdoors trip at Big Creek Summit on Saturday. See the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group to learn how to sign up. 
  • Another possibility for xc skiing and snowshoeing would be the Harriman Trail, north of Ketchum and Sun Valley. The Harriman trail is reportedly open from the Sawtooth NRA to Galena Lodge. That's an easy-going trail that winds along the Big Wood River. Great place to go. 
  • For downhill skiing, the best bets right now appear to be at Sun Valley and Grand Targhee. We're talking road trip! I saw a great video of people power skiing at Sun Valley last weekend that made me really jealous. Look for stay-and-play deals at Sun Valley to save money. I saw one package for $79.50 per person (lift ticket and lodging). See more here.
  • At Grand Targhee, which is reporting a 57-inch base right now, you can book 4 nights lodging and ski free. More details here. Grand Targhee and Sun Valley are probably going to be VERY POPULAR at Christmas time.   
  • Just so you know ... there isn't much snow yet at Mores Creek Summit. Just 6 inches. And the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas need more snow, too. Leo said there isn't even enough snow yet to ski or snowshoe on the roads! 
There you have it! If you're wondering what's happening with yurt rentals in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas, tune in next week, I'll have more information then.

If you're stuck in town, the Ridge to Rivers Trails have been drying out after the rainstorms, and the trails that are most sandy are best to rely on. Be sure to check on the Ridge to Rivers web site to check on the current trail report.

Have fun!
- SS

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Steve is on hiatus during hunting season ... will return after the snow flies and ski season begins

Hi all,

Because of the hunting seasons going on, I'm going to take a break from my weekly tips between now and when the snow flies. I'll be back with winter tips after we get some snow.  Let's hope we get some precipitation soon! Is it going to be an El Nino or La Nina winter?

In the meantime, take heed of my post last week regarding hunting seasons and wearing bright colors in the backcountry ... it's a smart safety measure.

Have fun!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Be careful when hiking, biking on public lands during hunting season; wear bright colors

Hunting season is upon us. 
Hi all,

General deer season opened on Wednesday, and that means a lot of hunters will be out in the woods with high-powered rifles pursuing mule deer and white-tailed deer throughout the state.

Deer season will run from Oct. 10-24 in many parts of Idaho, and in some units, it'll run from Oct. 10-31. General elk season opens Oct. 15 in McCall and the Sawtooths, and it opens Nov. 1 in Unit 39, in the Boise River drainage. Elk season continues for several weeks, depending on location. In Unit 39, it's over on Nov. 9.

And then special weapon seasons continue, including seasons for hunters using muzzle-loader rifles and seasons for cow elk, antelope, moose, mountain lions, black bears, etc. If you'd like all the details go to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game web site and check out the big game regulations. The hunting seasons are set up according to big game unit. It'll take a few minutes to figure out the regulations ... they are very complicated to say the least.
Blaze orange vest for your dog. 
My point in bringing this up is that non-hunters who want to continue hiking and mountain biking activities in our national forests or BLM lands at this time of year should be aware that hunting seasons are going on. Watch out for hunters in the woods and wear bright colors on your person (think blaze orange) to avoid getting shot. Sad but true, hunters have killed or wounded people by mistake, thinking they're a game animal. Hunters also might shoot a dog by mistake. So be sure to put some blaze orange on your dog(s) to protect them.

So, you may wonder, where can I go hiking or biking in the next several weeks and not worry about co-mingling with hunters?
  • Ridge to Rivers trails in the Boise Foothills will be a good bet. The roads and trails in the Boise River Wildlife Management Area, including Trail E heading up to Lucky Peak, will have deer-hunting activity going on. Ditto with the Boise Ridge Road. You'll see road hunters up there and hunters on ATVs.
  • State Parks. Ponderosa State Park in McCall will be a safe haven (no hunting is allowed in the park), and so will places like Bruneau Dunes State Park and Three Island Crossing State Park
  • Owyhee Front, BLM land. Trails on the front side of the Owyhees should be safer than the trails in the Owyhee backcountry, where there will be many deer and antelope hunters scattered about. Try the Wilson-Reynolds Creek Loop in my book, the Boise Trail Guide
  • The Sawtooth Wilderness has some hunting activity going on, but not so much compared to the White Clouds and other parts of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Day hikes in the Sawtooths should be a safe bet, but dress warm! 
  • Popular trails close to McCall and trails near Ketchum-Sun Valley also should be a good bet. 
  • As the fall colors begin to kick in, it's a good time to take a scenic drive. The Statesman recommended a number of scenic drives in their outdoor tips this week, and VisitIdaho, Idaho's tourism office, offers a great listing of scenic drives in Idaho. 
Coming up on Saturday, Oct. 20, is an opportunity to help work on the Harrison Hollow Nature Trail, next to Bogus Basin Road and Healthwise. Volunteers will be working on the trail from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sign up online through REI. They need a total of 40 volunteers, and there are only 10 spots left! 

Because of the hunting seasons going on, I'm going to take a break from my weekly tips between now and when the snow flies. I'll be back with winter tips after we get some snow.  Let's hope we get some precipitation soon! Is it going to be an El Nino or La Nina winter?

Have fun!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Enjoy super-smooth new greenbelt pathways in Marianne Williams Park in East Boise

Aerial view of Marianne Williams Park (looking east to west). 
Hi all,

This week's tip focuses on a new park in East Boise called Marianne Williams Park that has a number of sweet new pathways to enjoy, including a brand new super-smooth 1.5-mile greenbelt section from Bown Crossing to Eckert Road. The park also has a beautiful nature trail along the Boise River.

Below, I'm also highlighting several events coming up, including a two-day ride on the full length of the Weiser River Trail, and a fun, season-ending SWIMBA event.
My GPS tracks on the Greenbelt and Nature Trail loop. 
If you've grown tired of riding over the many cracks and bumps on the old greenbelt as you're riding out to Lucky Peak Dam or Discovery Park -- riding parallel to the highway east of Warm Springs Golf Course -- you can take a small detour on the new greenbelt pathway in M.W. Park and enjoy the sweet ride out to the Eckert Road pathway. Then, you head north a half mile and rejoin the greenbelt near Lucky 13, and continue your ride.

I noticed that several roller-bladers have discovered the new pathway, but for the most part, the paths are pretty quiet in M.W. Park because the park hasn't officially opened yet. Boise Parks & Recreation officials say the 70-acre park will open next summer after several buildings and rest rooms have been built and completed. Some landscaping remains to be put in place as well.

Another very cool opportunity for hikers, runners and anglers has been created with a new nature trail in the park. The trail runs alongside the Boise River, on the north side, for more than a mile, and then it joins the paved greenbelt for a half-mile before landing at the Bown Crossing area and the East ParkCenter Bridge. Combine this new trail with the existing nature trail from the Barber Park area, and you have a new 3.5-mile loop that you can enjoy. A Figure-8 loop could be done as well if you're walking or running from Municipal Park out to Barber Park. Or, you could run or walk on the greenbelt in M.W. Park and loop back on the nature trail.

BPR officials say the nature trail will be open to walking and running only when the park opens.

Families with young kids will find plenty of pathways to enjoy on an easy-going bike ride in M.W. Park. Besides the greenbelt pathway, there are a number of wide sidewalks that you can ride on that loop around a large pond and fountain. Cap off the outing by stopping in at one of several eateries in Bown Crossing for a meal and beverage.
Park master plan by the Land Group
Many thanks to the Larry and Marianne Williams family for donating the land for the park. It's a huge addition to the "Ribbon of Jewels" -- the wonderful series of parks that we have adjacent to the Boise River that are tied to together by the Boise River Greenbelt.

If you're ever wanted to ride the whole length of the 84-mile Weiser River Trail, there's a great group ride going on this weekend that presents a perfect opportunity to ride the trail downhill from the north end near New Meadows to the town of Weiser over two days. They're calling it the "October Trek."

Weiser River Trail officials will haul your personal and camping gear to the overnight spot at Mundo Hot Springs,  3 miles north of Cambridge. Mundo Hot Springs is brand new ... a grand opening was held in late September. The photos I've seen make it look very similar to Gold Fork Hot Springs near Donnelly.

The two-day ride will cover a little over 40 miles each day. That's a perfect pace for recreational cyclists of all abilities, and you can enjoy all the sights along the way. Just so you know, the top part of the Weiser River Trail runs downhill as it winds through the Weiser River canyon between New Meadows and Council. But once you're out of the canyon, the trail is mostly flat, even though it runs slightly downhill, you'll have to pedal the whole way. I would rate the difficulty as moderate.

Contact Craig Kjar, event director for the October Trek, at 571-7447 or email

Next week, on Oct. 13, SWIMBA is hosting a member-appreciation event and pub crawl from Joe's Crab Shack to the Dutch Goose and back. Costumes are encouraged! "Classic lounge wear" is the theme. Think Dean Martin. These guys know how to have fun! See you there.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nice weekend to head to Lucky Peak summit, see hawks, song birds at ID Bird Observatory

A juvenile red-tailed hawk poses for a photo before being released  atop Lucky Peak. (Courtesy IBO)
The weather looks fabulous this weekend, and it'd be a perfect time to hike or bike to the top of Lucky Peak (aka Shaw Mountain), and take in all of the exciting activities going on at the Idaho Bird Observatory. This is where IBO staff and volunteers count between 6,000 to 8,000 raptors, band 1,000-1,500 raptors, and band 5,000-6,000 songbirds in the fall each year.

This is a great educational activity for kids, families, seniors and adults. Pairing the trip to the top of Lucky Peak with a hike or bike ride just adds to the overall experience. You can drive to the top with a 4WD vehicle, if need be. I'll provide directions and a map for doing either below.

I've always been fascinated by birds of prey since I was in college, when I first saw bald eagles swoop down and catch kokanee at West Glacier in Montana. I took hundreds of photographs with a long lens, and sent framed photos to all of my family for Christmas that year.
Morley Nelson with a golden eagle and his first wife, Betty Ann, with a prairie falcon on her fist 
When I had the privilege of writing a biography, Cool North Wind (Caxton Press 2002), on the great national champion for birds of prey, Morley Nelson, I learned much more about raptors and raptor conservation. Morley was a guy who always understood the need for environmental education, and he took tons of people under his wing over the years to show them all of the cool falcons and eagles at his hawk house in the Boise Foothills.

"You've got to show people how they can feel being a part of the environment," he always would say. "That's a beautiful thing.
Looking for raptors in the sky ... (courtesy IBO)
When you see raptors flying toward the top of Lucky Peak, watch them get lured into a trap by live quail, and see them up close and personal after being measured, banded, etc., it's an unforgettable experience.

"It's hugely important that kids get outside as much as possible because we're losing that with our culture," says Greg Kaltenecker, executive director of the Idaho Bird Observatory.
A young girl gets ready to release a sharp-shinned hawk.  
Kaltenecker launched the hawk-trapping operation on the top of Lucky Peak in 1993 with Boise State University professor Marc Bechard. They tried several different locations and quickly discovered that Lucky Peak was the best place to catch hawks and other birds of prey. It's become one of the most active raptor- and songbird-monitoring locations in the nation.

A friend of mine, Paul Hilding, volunteered at the bird observatory last week. He had a great time.
"For raptor fans, last week was a very good one, and this week should be great as well," Hilding says. "If you like to see raptors up close, IBO in September is the place to be!
Northern pygmy owl (courtesy IBO) 
"While the IBO “Hawk Watch” crew goes on duty at 10 a.m., we seemed to see the most birds in early to mid-afternoon," Hilding continues. "My favorites were two local golden eagles that did a south-to-north fly-by almost every day, early afternoon, flying low into a ravine just behind the hawk traps. So much bigger than anything else, one of the HW crew calls them the "semis" of the avian world.

"Also fun to watch were a peregrine falcon, a couple northern harriers, and numerous kestrels that dove and swooped on the bait birds, mostly avoiding the nets and tormenting the trappers in the blind. The Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks did not share their skill, and seemed to be, by far, the most common catch. We saw at least half a dozen migrating broad-winged hawks, some ospreys and Swainson’s hawks, and a few large kettles of turkey vultures and red-tails, soaring high on the afternoon thermals."

If you drive to the site, Hilding recommends bring binoculars, a lawn chair, sun block, and some treats for Josh and Teague, the two skinny HW staffers who are out there counting birds 7 hours a day, rain or shine. "They seem to be particularly fond of cookies, sun flower seeds, chicken chili and bacon," he says. 
Typical scene on top of Lucky Peak, looking for raptors in the sky ... 
No matter what, definitely bring a good pair of binoculars, a hat and sun block. There's not much shade on top of Lucky Peak. 

Nowadays there are two ways to get to Lucky Peak on foot or by bike:
1. Easiest way - Take Idaho 21 east of Boise to Highland Valley Road, a left-hand turn before you get to Hilltop Summit. Drive 1.3 miles to the intersection with Trail E. Park your rig and either hike or bike to the top of Lucky Peak from here. It's another 4 miles to the top and more than 2,000 vertical feet of climbing to the top. Good workout.
Easy way to the IBO
2. Hard way - Take Warm Springs Ave. east to Harris Ranch. Go past Lucky 13. Turn left on Council Springs and follow that road a quarter-mile to a gate. Hike or bike on the Homestead Trail #12 for 2.2 miles to an initial summit. This is an advanced-level hiking/biking trail because it's so steep. Go left at the Y-junction on Trail #8 and climb another 4 miles more than 2,000 vertical feet on the very steep dirt and rocky road. This route is rated "epic gonzo" in my Boise Trail Guide for hikers and trail-runners. If you're in good shape, though, you'll enjoy the challenge. Hilding's wife, Stephani, trains on Trail #8 to prepare for climbing Mount Rainier. Trail #8 intersects with Shaw Mountain Road just below Lucky Peak. Climb another 300 vertical to the top. Make a loop and take Trail E on the way down, and then peel right on Trail #11 to take a singletrack trail down to the Crow Inn. Total route is 12.7 miles and 3,158 vertical feet of climbing. You should allow at least 3 hours to make the climb. 
Hard way to the IBO (from Boise Trail Guide
The Hawk Watch activities on top of Lucky Peak go through mid-October. "The owls are great this year," Kaltenecker says. "We're banding LOTS each night and we're not even to the peak of the migration yet."     

If you're interested in volunteering at the Idaho Bird Observatory, Kaltenecker suggests that you visit the site and see what goes on. Volunteers working at the site can help you get signed up.

Have fun! I hope to take my kids up there on Sunday.
- SS

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Boise woman conquers all 9 of Idaho's 12,000-foot peaks in 1 year; who's going to do it next?

She's summited all nine 12ers in Idaho! Irene Vogel on the summit of 12,228-foot Leatherman Peak
Hi all,

I like to climb mountains, and I know a lot of you do, too. But I'm not a technical rock-climber. I had a really close call on the side of Mount Washington in Montana while I was in college that almost got me killed, so I'm much more comfortable bagging peaks that are doable as a walk-up or a hands-and-feet scramble.

I noticed on Facebook this summer that Irene Vogel of Boise was on a quest to climb all nine of Idaho's 12,000-foot peaks -- the highest peaks in the state -- in one year. That's something that I've never done, but it's definitely something I'd like to do, so I thought I'd share her story in case it's something you'd like to do as well.

Vogel made it a goal to climb all of Idaho's 12ers in one year last January. She thought it would be a neat and challenging thing to do the year she turns 40. She had climbed the state's highest peak, 12,662-foot Mt. Borah and 12,228-foot Leatherman Peak the year before, and she had gotten hooked.
Irene on the trail ... Check out her gear 
Both of those climbs were challenging, she says. "It took me 16 hours to climb Leatherman from the Pahsimeroi side," she says. "I loved it but I was totally exhausted. It was really hard."

Two weeks ago, Vogel achieved her goal by summiting Leatherman again, this time in only 3 hours (the climbing part). Eleven of her friends went with her. Each of them brought back a rock for a cairn they built at Vogel's home, with their name on it. "It's been a really cool journey," she says. "I have so much support from friends who went with me on the climbs, and support from friends and family who live here in town. It's been a great experience."
View from the top of Hyndman Peak in the Pioneer Mountains
Getting ready - training. Vogel says she didn't do any specific training for the big climbs, but she did a lot of biking and hiking on Boise foothills trails, road biking, and snowshoeing in the winter. She also worked on three winter ascents in early 2012 -- Cobb Peak and Hyndman Peak in the Pioneers, and Cone Peak in the Boulders. "That got me in shape," she says.

Planning resources: and Idaho - A Climbing Guide by Tom Lopez. Lopez's book has great information on getting to the trailheads, and details on different scramble routes, and summitpost has helpful notes from other people who have climbed the peaks and posted photos of their journeys.

She didn't quite make it to the top of Hyndman because of winter weather, so that would have to wait.
In May, she climbed 12,197-foot Diamond Peak in the Lemhi Mountains. There was still snow on the mountain (it's recommended as a better winter ascent than summer), and she did the steep ascent with crampons.

Sequence of her 12er ascents: 1. Diamond Peak; 2. Lost River Mountain; 3. Hyndman Peak; 4-5. Donaldson Peak and Mount Church (both can be done in one day); 6. Mount Idaho; 7. Mt. Borah; 8. Mount Breitenbach; 9. Leatherman Peak.

A mountain goat lording over the high country
Vogel had a friend, Jake, who also was working on bagging all of Idaho's 12ers, so she followed his priorities as their weekends allowed. She fit in the other peaks with friends. She and Jake did five of them together, including Leatherman at the end.

She didn't let the smoke from the summer's fires slow her down. She had to deal with some smoky air from time to time, but it didn't bother her lungs. "It might have caused problems for other people, but it didn't bother me," she says. "We had lightning, thunder, sleet, rain, snow, high winds -- weather was a bigger deal."

Storms can come up quickly with little warning at 12,000 feet. The toughest ascent was 12,078-foot Lost River Mountain, Vogel says. The main route to the summit is a "super" gully, described as being "nasty" over a mobile rock scree field. "The snow in the gully was rotten, and we had to climb up the rock scree chute with 45-50 mph winds blowing the whole time," she says. "It was tough on a knife-edge ridge ... I didn't want to get blown off the mountain."
Irene's route up Lost River Mountain amid 45-50 mph winds 
Easiest climb: Mt. Borah "because there's a trail all the way to the top" and Leatherman (this year).

One of the challenges for Vogel is that she's found that she is susceptible to altitude sickness, so she has to force herself to eat snacks on the way up the mountain and hydrate. Her favorite trail foods are trail mix, peanuts, peanut butter pretzels, fruit bars, things like that.

Equipment: She carries a windproof and waterproof jacket for ridgetops and summits. She wears zip-off hiking pants, Asolo hiking boots and gators. Layers of clothing on top that can be peeled. She likes to use hiking poles especially for the way down. For some peaks, she needed crampons or an ice ax. She also wears rubber-coated gardening gloves for ascents. "Rubber is good. It helps with gripping  onto the rocks when you're climbing hand-and-feet on steep slopes."  
Most of the routes up the 12ers are "pretty much straight up" 
For water, she carried a big 4-quart water bladder and an extra water bottle.

All of the climbs are different, she says, but one commonality is "a lot of the climbs are pretty much straight up and all of them have rocks and scree."

Looking at the list of 12ers, you see elevation gains of 4,500 feet, 4,100 feet, 4,200 feet, 5,500 feet, etc. For some, she camped at a trailhead and started out early to head for the summit, returning by late afternoon. For others, she packed into a base camp one day, and climbed the peak the next day.
Why go to the top? "For me, it's the pristine beauty of it. It's so pretty being able to see all of the different mountain ranges in Idaho from the top." And being at over 12,000 feet, you are on top of the world in Idaho, standing above the many 10,000-foot peaks in Central Idaho. "A lot of people think the Lost River Range is ugly, but I love the stark beauty of it."

Cool tradition: She took a cotton American flag to the summit of each mountain, unrolling it for a photo each time. The flag comes from her grandmother. In each picture at the summit, Vogel held her flag and Vogel would show which peak she had summited in the progression, such as No. 5, No. 8 or whatever, with her fingers.
Irene carries her grandmother's cotton American flag to the top of all the 12ers
Advice for others: Try climbing Mt. Borah, see how you do, and go from there.
  • Bring at least one buddy on all of the trips. 
  • Get in good shape before you begin doing the summit climbs.
  • Listen to your body and know when to turn back if you're not feeling well. 
  • Know when to pull the plug if bad weather sets in. Don't play chicken with lightning. 
  • If you get into a steep rocky area that has no foreseeable scramble route (it's getting too technically challenging and scary), you should turn around and find a better route. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drink lots of fluid and snack food on the way up. Some people may cramp up from dehydration. 
On the rooftop of Idaho. Nice going you guys!  
Vogel has met hiking mates through the Meet Up Boise Trail Heads and the Idaho Hiking Club Facebook groups, and the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group. I'm a member of those groups, and there are people making open invites for a wide variety of trips all the time. Leo Hennessy is leading a mountain bike ride in Silver City this weekend through Idaho Outdoors. Check out the web sites and join these groups if you're looking to join group hikes, bike rides, paddling trips, backpack trips, etc.   

I hope you fine Vogel's story inspiring. I know I did. I'm not sure I'll be able to knock off all of the 12ers in one season, but in my opinion, it's a laudable goal to try to notch them all in a lifetime. It's a cool bucket list item for the outdoorsy Idaho soul -- the Idaho equivalent of notching all the 14ers in Colorado (there are over 50 of them).  There are actual speed records for bagging all of Idaho's 12ers -- Dave Bingham and Rob Landis of Hailey did them all in 1 day, 14 hours and 50 minutes. My god! Nick Stover, a former adventure racer in Boise, did them all in 3 days, 11 hours and 16 minutes. Wow! 

You decide what kind of pace you want to set. 

Have fun! 
-- SS 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Boise Bike Crawl is happening on Sunday in Ann Morrison Park, plus Avimor Demo Days Saturday

Hi all,

In this week's outdoor tip, I'm focusing on two events coming up this weekend -- the Boise Bike Crawl Sunday at Ann Morrison Park and Avimor Demo Days Saturday at Avimor.

The Boise Bike Crawl will occur from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. by the Old Timer's Shelter in the east end of the park next to the Boise River Greenbelt. I will be there working for, giving away free helmets to adults and kids, plus I will be promoting the Idaho mountain bike license plate to support trails statewide, and providing information on where to ride your road bike and mountain bike in SW Idaho.

The bike crawl is a great partnership event. Participating groups include Boise Parks & Recreation, Let's Move Boise, Boise Bicycle Project, SWIMBA, the Treasure Valley YMCA, Idaho Transportation Department pedestrian and bicycle program, Ada County Highway District ped and bike program, Boise State Cycle Learning Center, Look Save a Life, and Safe Routes to Schools.

Tree City Juice & Smoothie is our food and beverage vendor. They'll have delicious drinks and food available throughout the duration of the event.

Stop by and learn about:

  • Bike etiquette on roads, trails and the Greenbelt. 
  • Rules of the Road for people riding on streets and highways - local laws and safety basics. Like, which way are you supposed to ride on streets? Against traffic or with traffic? 
  • Helmets - Why it's important to wear them, proper fit and distribution. 
  • Bike Maintenance - Do you know how to fix a flat on the fly? Do you know how to fix your gears when they skip in between sprockets? 
  • Connectivity - Bike route maps, safe routes to schools and other resources for commuters. 
  • Wellness - How to tap into the many indoor and outdoor fitness activities in the greater Boise area. 
For more information, contact me at 208-484-0295 or send me an email at 

On Saturday, Avimor is serving up a real fun fest from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. "Enjoy all the dirt, beer, wine, food and music you can handle," organizers say. Avimor is a new community located along Idaho 55 several miles north of Boise. You can't miss it on the right-hand side as you're traveling north. They have 90+ miles of trails to explore. 

SWIMBA will provide a beginning mountain bike class for the uninitiated, and it also will lead a 7-mile and 14-mile ride on a mix of new and existing trails. Group rides are meeting at the SWIMBA tent at 9:45 a.m., and riding at 10 a.m. I'm planning to go out there to experience the new trails, listen to music and hang out with friends.
As the name implies, there will be demo bikes on hand to try out from local bike shops like Reed Cycle, Meridian Cycle, George's Cycles and Ridgeline Specialty Sports. Steve Fulton is the headliner for music. The tunes will crank up at 1 p.m. and go till 4 p.m. 
Riding to the top of Sheep Rock is one of the longer rides at Avimor. 
One thing that's cool about riding or hiking at Avimor is that you've got the place to yourself. It won't be that way forever. 

Seems like a great opportunity to ride the latest and greatest in mountain bike technology, check out new trails you've never ridden before, enjoy live music while hanging out with your buddies and sipping on a cold beer.

The new trails built by SWIMBA at Avimor include:  
1. Willow Creek
2. Bovine Nirvana
3. Shooting Range
4. Twisted Spring
5. Harlow Hallows
6. Harlow Connector
7. Broken Horn Trail

BTW, Boise Parks & Recreation is asking for public input on the Boise Foothills Management Plan. Three public meetings are being held in the coming weeks to get input on a wide variety of topics and issues. For more information, contact Julia Grant, or (208) 493-2533.

Have fun! 
- SS