Thursday, August 23, 2012

Some useful resources for navigating fires and smoke in SW Idaho and Central Idaho

Courtesy NASA (taken on Aug. 18)
Hi all,

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's run into road closures and maddening situations in the last several weeks as we try to travel to the mountains, musical events, campgrounds, etc.

The big whopper I endured recently was when a new fire cropped up near Banner Summit and the Forest Service closed Idaho 21 late in the afternoon on Thursday, Aug. 9. There was virtually no forewarning that there might be any road closures in that area, and suddenly, boom. So much for making it to the Braun Brothers Reunion concert that night. I drove over 10 hours that day and never made it to Challis before collapsing near midnight at the Mt. Borah Earthquake interpretive area.

I felt humbled when I read a story about some very unhappy boy scouts who had driven to the Cape Horn area to camp at the boy scout camp near Beaver Creek, only to discover that the Halstead Forest Fire had shut down that road and camping area, and the boys had to drive home. Wow! That made my trip seem like a jaunt to the corner quick stop.

Planning a recreation outing in Central Idaho these days can be quite challenging because we have a trio of  large fires in Central Idaho that are are burning out of control with no containment in sight. The prevailing winds generally blow west-to-east, and so they are pushing smoke from the 98,000-acre Trinity Ridge fire into the Sawtooths and Stanley areas, and of course all of the recreation areas near Pine and Featherville and the Trinities are off-limits. And then you have the Halstead Fire burning north of Idaho 21 and Idaho 75, making much of that area inaccessible, and the smoke from the Halstead fire is pushing into Challis and Salmon.

It's hard to figure out where to go, but here are a few trip-planning tools that will be helpful:

As I mentioned in last week's blog, McCall and Cascade are good bets close to home, although it was quite smoky and hazy in McCall when I was there earlier this week. Eastern Oregon also could be a good place to go -- the Wallowas and Eagle Cap Wilderness are beautiful locations. Natalie Bartley wrote a piece about scenic drives in the Wallowas in today's Statesman.

The west side of the Payette National Forest north of Weiser has some good camping areas and mountain bike trails. My book Mountain Biking Idaho has a cool advanced ride called the "Parlor of Pain," (named by locals), which is 19.5 miles. You go up the Mann Creek Road, north of Weiser, and start the ride at the junction with Hitt Creek Road #573. Climb that road for a ways and then veer right on a singletrack, climb the Parlor of Pain section, and then cruise by Hitt Peak and Sturgill Peak, before flying down the Mann Creek Road #009 back to the start.
New singletrack on the Payette Rim Trail
If you do go to McCall, I recommend riding the Payette Rim Trail, which is featured in my book, Mountain Biking in McCall. The Rim trail is a longtime favorite ride in the McCall area, but logging two years ago really tore up the trail. Locals have since re-routed a singletrack trail around the logging impacts, and it takes you all the way down to the corrals by Bear Basin, creating the possibility of riding the rim trail and then making a loop around the Bear Basin Trails to add another 5+ miles to the ride. Thanks to McCall mountain bikers for the awesome re-route!

Another option this weekend is to float rivers. Tons of people have been floating Cabarton on the North Fork of the Payette River, not to mention the South Fork Payette, and the South Fork Boise is still running at summer flows. The Riggins day trip on the Salmon River is another option. The Upper Salmon near Stanley is closed to private boaters but 4 outfitters are running trips there daily.

Canoeists might want to try Elk Creek or Bear Valley Creek and camp nearby. The Landmark area and Deadwood Reservoir should be fine as well.

At least it's going to be cooler this weekend! I'm looking forward to that.

Have fun and good luck escaping the smoke! Tell me what you find!

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