Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Moving Slow in the Heart of Idaho

Not too far from the trailhead
This fourth of July Ty Draney, Matt Irving, and I decided to celebrate Independence Day by going way off the grid into the heart of Idaho.  We planned on visiting a place that we had been before, although not all together as had been planned.  During that trip, Ty and I missed Matt by a couple of minutes and ended up having a full epic.  Check out that story here.  This time we all left the trailhead together, walking, with backpacks.

I haven't done a ton of backpacking, particularly since I started trail running. When during a long run day you can easily double the distance that is normally covered while backpacking, it makes it difficult to see the benefit of carrying a heavy pack over just a few miles.  Even though I don't love backpacking that was part of our master plan.  We were headed about 7 miles in from a very remote trailhead to set up a base camp for three days of trail running in one of the most remote places in the lower 48.

I have lived in Idaho almost all of my life and I find a tremendous amount of joy in discovering new hidden gems in my backyard. This particular corner of the Frank Church Wilderness area has been on my mind for many years and I was pretty excited to head out there with this crew. The walk to camp took a little longer than we had anticipated, but before it got dark we found an awesome spot to hunker down and call home for the next few nights.  Shortly after arriving we discovered that, due to the lack of numerous visitors, the mosquitos were extra hungry, and they all called their relatives to let them know we had arrived. We later found out from another hiker, who happened to be from Alaska, that they were the worst mosquitos she had ever seen.  The bonus was as long as you kept moving you weren't eaten alive.  Unfortunately in order to do many things around camp you had to stop moving for a least a couple of seconds, so we resorted to one of man's oldest tricks, fire.
Standing in the smoke eating another delicious meal

For the first time in my life I was constantly shuffling around the fire to stand as close as feasible to the path of the smoke.  After the first of many delicious meals (we brought way too much food), we settled into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep before the o'dark thirty alarms for the next morning.

Luckily it got quite cold during the night and when we woke up in the morning the mosquitos were still hunkered down and not interested in us.  With the trail lit only by the small cone of light coming from our headlamps we made our way past a couple of lakes and up to the pass that was our destination for the morning.  The mosquitos were there to greet us as we waited for the light to get just right to shoot a few pictures during the magic hour of light.
Ty doing his best to fend off the hordes of mosquitos
Terrace Lakes 

When the light got too harsh we made it back to our camp, ate another good meal, took a short nap, and then got our things together for a long afternoon run.
Matt doing his best to keep our enormous food cache safe from intruders. 
We left camp a little before noon with the planned destination about seven trail miles away.  We decided to explore an alternate route up and over the ridges instead of the classic trail.
Handsome Matt finding himself on the other side of the lens
We made our way past the lake that was just below our camp and up the steep ridge separating us from our goal.  The descent off of the ridge got a little spicy, but once down we were in one of the more amazing alpine cirques I have visited.
Ty enjoying a spicy decent
We continued working our way along, passing another couple of lakes, until we reached out goal,  Ship Island Lake.
Ship Island Lake with weather building. 

We had been keeping an eye on the sky watching the weather slowly starting to build.  The clouds still hadn't started to darken so we opted to see if we could get to the far side of the lake. We made it as far as the trail went and we pressed on a little further until we could get back on the shore.  With the weather starting to look a little more threatening, we opted to take a quick dip in the lake and then turned back.
Head's up for the Jenny's Bog near the north end of the lake

Some of the more impressive thunder I have heard pretty much continuously rumbled for the three or so miles we ran after we turned around. Fortunately for us, we somehow managed to be right between two storm cells, and apart from a few rain drops and the background noise, we escaped the weather unscathed.  In our haste to stay clear of the storm we must have missed a turn in the trail and the one we were following abruptly ended.  After consulting briefly with the map, we 'shwacked up towards a saddle where we again found the trail.
Matt taking advantage of a spring running into the trail
Ty gets his turn...

The storms had all mostly passed and we felt comfortable cruising the ridges back towards camp.
Self-portrait with the Rusty Nail in the background

As soon as we got to camp we once again feasted on some delicious curry soup and noodles while we waited for the sun to get a little lower in the sky. Once the light was again softening we headed out for another quick run with the hope of catching a few more photos to document this amazing corner of the world. A little over an hour later we were back at our camp, standing in the smoke, and eating second dinner. With full bellies and nearly 30 miles under our belts for the day, we crawled into sleeping bags eager for a good nights rest.
Ty was stoked to have Matt's head net for the night.

A couple of over slept alarms found us loading our packs, eating as much of the remaining food as possible (so we wouldn't have to carry it on our backs), and getting ready to march back to the trailhead.
Tough to leave a place like this
The walk out was pretty pleasant, not as cumbersome as the walk in (that's for sure), and before too long we ticked off the final mile.  Back at the truck we dropped our packs.  I was honestly quite relieved to get it off my back, but not so eager to leave the wilderness.
Sure is nice to get that pack off
Flip Flops!

As ultrarunners, it probably would have been possible to do all that we did in a single day, but that would have cheapened so much of the experience that we did have.  We would not have the pleasure of hundreds of mosquitos swarming our heads, the joy of waking up hours before the sun rose, napping in the alpine during midday, or to actually sit down and enjoy the sun setting with no real pressure or destination to go to.  The thing I learned most from this trip was that maybe running isn't always the best way to take it all in. Sometimes going slow is the fastest way to really get in touch with the world and I guess backpackers are on to something after all.

One of the best views I've ever enjoyed. 

1 comment:

  1. Funny story. I am going to ship island on Monday. I will pack the bug spray. I was in there one time with the mosquitoes so thick that you could not see a hundred yards. If you are interested I will be going from ship island lake over to the monument(32 miles one way). I prolly won't be running, but will have to keep a pretty good pace to make it by dark. You are welcome to tag along if you want to see that country, along with some new again. The night at the monument will be ultra roughing it, I am so stoked.