Thursday, July 23, 2020

A multitude of mountain lakes and hikes beckon in NW McCall

Hi all,

It seems that many visitors to McCall are attracted to the Lick Creek Road area for hiking to high mountain lakes for day trips or backpacking. Actually, the high country around McCall has high mountain lakes in many locations. But you shouldn't overlook the hikes and lakes off Goose Lake Road.

That's my topic this week.

Previously, I've blogged about numerous kid-friendly short hikes in McCall, including going to Upper Hazard Lake off the Goose Lake Road. Most of the hikes/lakes in that area are kid-friendly, from super young kids to teen-agers. Think about bringing a fishing pole. Don't forget your bug stuff, either.

Wendy and I joined our COVID buddies Mark and Laurie Anderson for a super pleasant hike to the Grassy Mountain Lakes last Saturday. Wendy and Laurie also were interested in climbing to the top of Granite Mountain, but since Mark and I had done that a number of times, we went for the Grassy Mountain Lakes.

Driving up the Goose Lake Road, it's pretty obvious that Goose Lake itself is well-known and popular with campers, paddlers, anglers, SUPs, etc.

It took a little over 30 minutes from McCall to the well-marked trailhead for Grassy Mountain. It's only two miles to the lakes. We hiked to the top of Grassy Mountain for a bigger view of the whole countryside, and my oh my, what a view! The Wallowas way off to the west. Cuddy Mountain. Seven Devils. Bruin Mountain. Hard Butte. Patrick Butte. The Little Salmon River canyon. The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. And then looking back to McCall, you can see a whole series of peaks and ridge-tops that comprise the Payette Crest. In other words, it's God's Country!

All of that is really inspiring to me, refreshes my soul.

We even found some snow on top of the mountain for Huck to check into for a fresh drink.

Looking west, we also could see Coffee Pot Lake, Disappointment Lake and Lake Serene. We'd leave those for another day, since we were day hiking.

On our way back, we took a dive in upper Grassy Mountain Lake, and that was super refreshing ...

Farther up the Goose Lake Road, you'll also should check out:
    - Hazard Lake and Upper Hazard Lake - car-camping, hiking and fishing at the main lake, with an option to hike to Upper Hazard on an easy trail. 
    - Twin Lakes, Hard Butte Lakes, Rainbow Lake - Much longer drive to the end of the Goose Lake Road to reach those lakes. Park and hike from there. I've biked to Twin Lakes and Rainbow Lake.
    - Climb Hard Butte if you're in the 'hood.

Pick up a McCall Adventure Map or a Payette National Forest map for driving directions and general reference. I also like to create a more detailed topo map for my hikes for easier route-finding.

Have fun!
- SS


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Break out of the Covid duldrums with a thrilling Tamarack zipline adventure

Hi all,

The adrenaline and excitement started for me before I even arrived at Tamarack Resort this afternoon for a zipline adventure. And that felt great -- what a welcome break to do something exciting during these weird times with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last time I did a zipline tour was in the jungle in Costa Rica to cap off a week-long whitewater paddling adventure. On that trip, we did zips through the jungle, landed on top of a waterfall, and then rappelled down the face of a flowing waterfall. That definitely took me out of my comfort zone! The water was very warm, but the footing was definitely slippery!

We had six people and two guides in our group today at Tamarack Resort. We were all masked up as we checked in at the Sports Dome, got our zipline harnesses on, and got an orientation talk from our fun guides, Austin and Bryant. We took the Tamarack Express chairlift to mid-mountain to begin our adventure.

We started with a couple of "baby zips," and then things ramp up to some really fast, long spans across the deeply forested canyons in the folds of West Mountain. 

"If you scream all the way across you'll have more fun," Austin advised.

Everyone had a blast. I felt nervous at first, but I knew the guides had me in all of the proper safety gear to hold me as I zipped across the canyons. There are eight zip spans altogether and two suspension bridges to experience as part of the tour. You hike on Tam trails in between most of the zips.

After the third or fourth zip, one of the tricky maneuvers is on a deck after you've landed from a zip. To get to the next zip, we all had to rappel off that deck about 20 feet or so. It's definitely a "leap of faith" to trust the system and drop off the deck. My ride down was kind of a goofy as there was some extra slack in the rappel line, and I kind of bounced off the deck before whirly-birding down to the landing. I probably didn't step off correctly in the first place. Good thing for the safety harness! I heard the guide mutter that one customer had taken 20 minutes of coaxing to drop off that deck. 

Following that little maneuver, we did a zip called "Leap of Faith" because there is no runway whatsoever, just leap off the deck and go! With each zip, I felt more comfortable and thoroughly enjoyed the rides, watching the trees whiz by, taking a quick glance of Lake Cascade below, and just enjoying the beautiful scenery all around you at Tamarack Resort.

I tended to spin around backwards on several zips, approaching the landing deck backwards, which wasn't really my first choice. But I didn't really figure out how to control my spins all that well. The guides will still catch you, no matter which way you land. On my last 3 zips, I spun around 360 degrees, and landed facing forward. Much better~!

Overall, we dropped 3,500 vertical feet on the eight zip spans. Totally thrilling ride all the way. I highly recommend it.
Tamarack zip tours cost $109 plus tax per person. Groups of six or more save 20 percent. Our trip took two hours on the nose. Tamarack has morning and afternoon trips available.

While you're at Tamarack, you might try their excellent mountain bike trails, especially the long, entertaining trails off the top of the Tamarack Express lift. We saw a lot of people riding the trails today, but there's still plenty of elbow room. Tamarack also has waterfront services and raft trips on the Cabarton section of the North Fork of the Payette River.  

More information at

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Explore the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway - A stellar 3-day trip from Halfway to Joseph

Hi all,

The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is not that well-known, but it's a pretty cool scenic drive in my book. The whole loop around the Wallowa Mountains is 213 miles on the Oregon side of the Snake River. Take your time and soak in the scenery.

On the first couple days of Cycle Oregon three years ago, Wendy and I and 2,000 other cyclists rode the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway from Baker to Halfway, and then we all did a HUGE 95-mile day from Halfway to Wallowa Lake State Park via the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and Forest Road #39.

After doing that ride, I wanted to come back and explore the Forest Road #39 area in particular, and just do some leisurely camping and hiking. My buddy Norm Nelson was game to go over there last week, so we did a 3-day trip, hanging out mostly around the Imnaha River campgrounds, and doing some hiking and fishing.

For my blog post this week, I'm recommending a bigger 3-day itinerary for families and friends that covers a few more popular sights along the way.

For Day 1, I'd recommend driving I-84 to Baker, Oregon (2 hours travel time), and then take the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, Oregon Highway 86 to Halfway, Oregon (1 hour+ driving time), the gateway to the southern end of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness. After a half day's drive, take a break, and enjoy the clean mountain air and impressive views of the Wallowas.

In Halfway, perhaps stay at a local Bed and Breakfast like the Inn at Clear Creek Farm, the Pine Valley Lodge, or the Halfway Motel and RV Park.

For Day 2, go east on the scenic byway toward Oxbow Dam in Hells Canyon. About 10 miles east of Halfway, turn left on Forest Road #39 (curvy paved road) and drive 20+ miles over the first big summit and visit the Hells Canyon Overlook. There's a rest room there, parking, and a paved accessible trail to a stupendous view of Hells Canyon.  

Last week, the overlook area was smothered with wildflowers of all kinds. The tell-tale peaks of the Seven Devils poked up on the Idaho horizon. Looking below, I could follow ridgelines plunging over 5,000 feet down to the Snake River (can't see the actual river). It kind of takes your breath away. I've been down in the bottom many times staring up from the river at the forested peaks looming above. 

After visiting the overlook, drop down to the Imnaha River campgrounds. There are a number of campgrounds that you could choose from along the main road, or up a separate road to the Imnaha River trailhead to the Eagle Cap Wilderness. We stayed at Indian Crossing Campground and had plenty of elbow room. We went hiking upriver to try out the fishing (water was very high and fast), and the Blue Hole advertised on the map and signs seemed pretty quiet.

It was still fun to climb down to the river, stand on a nicely-positioned casting rock, and cast some dry flies in the stillwater pool to see if anything might rise to the surface.

The Imnaha River hiking trail was very easy walking ... totally buffed and well-maintained in the lower 3-4 miles.

Other campgrounds in the immediate area include: Coverdale, Hidden, Ollokot, Blackhorse and Lick Creek (top of 2nd summit). There are a number of primitive self-support pull-out spots as well.

For Day 3, I'd recommend taking Forest Road #39 over Lick Creek summit and Salt Creek Summit and head for Joseph and Wallowa Lake State Park. The drive will take a couple of hours. Joseph is a charming little town with cool brew pubs, sidewalk cafes, art galleries and museums.

Book a room in Joseph or camp at Wallowa Lake State Park and you can't go wrong. The views from Wallowa Lake State Park are drop-dead gorgeous of the lake and the north end of the Wallowa Mountains/Eagle Cap Wilderness. There's hiking readily accessible up the West Fork or East Fork of Wallowa Creek. And there's the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which provides a quick trip to the rooftop of the Eagle Caps. There's food and drink available at the top.

According to the Wallowa Tramway web site, in 15 minutes, you ride from the bottom terminal (elevation 4,450 feet) up to the stop of Mt. Howard at 8,150 feet. The mountain is named for Major General Oliver O. Howard, who led U.S. troops in the Nez Perce War of 1877 and drove Chief Joseph and his people out of their ancestral homeland.

On Day 4, return to SW Idaho (or wherever your home might be) on Highway 82 back to La Grande, hop on I-84 and it's 2.5 hours back to Boise.

There you have it!
- SS