Outdoors Blog

Four days in the Idaho wilderness: ‘It’s gonna hurt’

The “dead end” sign marked where we needed to turn to reach our trailhead. We drove past it anyway.
The “dead end” sign marked where we needed to turn to reach our trailhead. We drove past it anyway.

Editor’s note: Playing Outdoors writer Chadd Cripe last month joined the crew from “Outdoor Idaho” on a journey into the rarely explored Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness. This is the first of a four-part blog series detailing that trip. The third part, about climbing Ryan Peak, will appear in Wednesday’s newspaper.

I’m camped on an old mining road, listening to the roar of the creek that washed out the road 3 miles southeast from East Fork Salmon River Road.

Technically, I’m not in the new Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness Area — unless I take a few steps to the right or the left, off the road that was carved out of the wilderness area created by Congress and approved by President Barack Obama on Aug. 7, 2015.

But tomorrow morning, I’ll start a five-day journey to explore the wilderness area through a partnership with “Outdoor Idaho,” Idaho Public Television’s long-running series exploring Idaho’s wild places and adventure-minded people (the trip was eventually shortened to four days — more on that in a later post). It’s my first time camping in a wilderness area or without access to a car.

The show’s host, Bruce Reichert, and I traded several emails shortly after I became the Playing Outdoors writer for the Idaho Statesman in February. Quickly, we decided some collaboration would help both of us.

And the first project Reichert mentioned was “Beyond the White Clouds” — an upcoming “Outdoor Idaho” episode (airing Dec. 4) that will explore the three new wilderness areas created last year: the White Clouds, which is the most popular for recreation; the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak, which includes vital habitat for fish and wildlife; and the Hemingway-Boulders, a lightly used plot of land with few trails and some impressive peaks.

The Boulder Mountains are best-known for the view of them you get from Ketchum of Galena Pass. If you look north from town, or the Sun Valley Resort ski area, the Boulders are right in front of you. The large pyramid-shaped peak is Glassford.

Reichert was planning a trip to visit the Boulders — a rare area of the state he hadn’t seen. He invited me to come along. The plan: Drive to the West Pass Creek trailhead off the East Fork Salmon River Road, which branches off Idaho 75 just east of Clayton, on a Saturday, camp at the trailhead, hike into the Boulders to set up a base camp on Sunday, split up to find out what the area has to offer Monday-Wednesday and hike out the other side of the wilderness area, just outside Ketchum, on Thursday.

To make the trip a little more doable, and account for all the work gear we needed to bring, an outfitter was hired to shuttle our supplies by horse to base camp and back out.

As we started to make final preparations in the week before departure, some of us set our sights on the highest mountains in the area: Ryan (11,714 feet), Kent (11,664) and Glassford (11,602).

We reached out to several knowledgeable folks. The consensus: All were doable, but Kent would require some technical skills.

George Reinier, who has summited all three of those peaks as well as every 11,000-footer in the state, thought we might be getting a little too ambitious when I told him there was chatter about climbing all three.

Midway through our conversation, he started laughing.

“I’m laughing,” he said, “because it’s gonna hurt.”

He also cautioned us against assuming that we had more than enough time to explore the area, which had so few trails there were few outings to plan.

“You don’t have as much time as you think you do,” Reinier said.

One of the problems we faced in planning this trip was the lack of solid information on the area. Even the people with significant amounts of knowledge often hadn’t visited the specific places we targeted for several years or more.

Even something as simple as where the trailhead was and how far we’d have to hike to base camp was a mystery. At one point, the estimate was 8 to 10 miles to base camp. By Saturday morning, when I was picked up at the curb outside my house with a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp chair, day pack, work pack and duffel bag, the estimate was down to 2 miles.

And when we finally saw the trailhead on Saturday evening, the estimate climbed to 4 miles.

So we don’t really know what to expect tomorrow.

If it’s anything like the travel day, it’ll include some beautiful scenery, friendly people and a lot of laughs.

After arriving at camp, Reichert put together the first of five dinners he planned for us: buffalo burgers. He also has planned to cook five breakfasts. We’re more than a bit spoiled — but that didn’t stop anyone from teasing him around the campfire.

Before dinner, Reichert broke out a bottle of champagne. He popped the cork and hoisted it.

“To a successful trip,” he said.

Part II: Our hike into the Boulders and first impressions of the area.