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