What a weekend folks! A nice long, active, scenic weekend, featuring what could be a once-in-a-lifetime event and some firsts for me. I can’t believe this week is already over so let’s see how good my memory is of just a few days ago.
Work in the morning was a whirlwind of wrapping up calculations and other to-dos before I left the office right at noon. I caught the bus to Kirkland to meet up with Bryan and Jeff. We loaded up Jeff’s Subaru and peeled out of his driveway at 1 pm. We had a good amount of traffic just getting out of the Seattle area but with about a 30 minute delay we were making good progress heading east on I-90, then south on I-82, crossing into Oregon and stopping for a fantastic and ginormous dinner and the Seahawk’s second preseason game around 7:30 pm in Baker City, Oregon. We continued on to the outskirts of Boise, Idaho to pull into our not-the-best Motel 6 in Meridian, Idaho just before midnight (Mountain Time). We were fast asleep with an early wake up call the following morning.
We were up, dressed, and checked out of the hotel and on the road by 7 am. We had a 3.5 hour drive yet to the trailhead, driving through beautiful countryside. We pulled into Stanley, a town of 82 but with some of the best vistas of any town I know of, to get a fueling breakfast at the Stanley Baking Co. Delicious breakfast for all three of us but we couldn’t linger, we had to get a start on the hike. From Stanley we drove 1 hr on the forest service road to the Fourth of July Trailhead, through some burned forest areas and over what was essentially a lake in the road. But we made it to the trailhead, divyed up the food, filled up water bottles, used the last toilet for the weekend, and set out in the sun at 1 pm.
We passed tons of people hiking out which was odd. By the time we reached the Fourth of July Lake (just over a mile and 500 feet of elevation) we had finally found more solitude on the trail. Another mile in (and 200 feet of elevation gain) and we passed Washington Lake. We were making good progress and shortly after we crossed the creek we found shade and took our first break. We were about 4 miles in at that point and had lost most of the elevation that we had gained. It was at this point that we first ran into our newest travel member of the hiking party: Athena. After trail food and water we knew that our ascent over the first pass was ahead of us. We continued on and for the next two miles we climbed nearly 900 feet. At this point Jeff was feeling miserable and Bryan and I were feeling alright with our first views of massive Castle Peak and the Chamberlain Basin below us. We knew we only had a descent to go to get to our first campsite. Athena helped us get Jeff down to the lower elevation of our campsite and Bryan donned two packs down the descent. 6.7 miles from the start of the trailhead we made camp at a gorgeous lake facing Castle Peak. Both sunset and sunrise on the mountain and lake was beautiful. We made a Thai chicken curry with rice dinner that filled us up before going to bed to the eerie quiet of the forest.
Day Totals: 7.0 miles and 1,700 feet of elevation gain
A new day greeted us and Jeff was feeling much better. We got a pretty late start on the trail, taking our time enjoying the views, the hammock and coffee and oatmeal. We packed up and left camp with Athena in tow. We passed another lake before reaching the base of Castle Peak before hiking around the side of it and beginning the ascent to our second pass of the trip. Two miles in and another 750 feet we reached the pass and stopped to take a break and wait for Athena. The views from the top were impressive. The north side of Castle Peak was even better than the south side.
After a good break we had several miles of downhill to go, mostly through the thicker forest area. Three miles of forest trekking and we reached the turnoff to the Boulder Chain Lakes area. From here we had more ascent to reach our campsite. We knew the next day was going to be an early start for the eclipse and a taxing day of hiking so our goal was to do as much as we could Sunday. There are eight lakes directly on the trail in the Boulder Chain Lakes area and our goal was to find a campsite on one of them, but to get as far as we could in. The farther we progressed and the higher we climbed for these cascading chain of lakes. In a little over 3.5 miles more we climbed about 1,500 feet to find our campsite for our second night on Tiny Lake. We had a prime and secluded campsite and somehow managed to get our tents up and our mac and cheese, sausage and broccoli dinner ready in our half-delirious state. Bryan and I soaked our feet in the lake and soon it was time for hot cocoa and bedtime.
Day Totals: 8.5 miles and 2,600 feet of elevation gain
Eclipse day!! We got a much earlier start to the day to get to where we wanted to watch the eclipse at 11:20 am. After breakfast of breakfast tacos and packing our bags we headed up the rocky pass (about 700 feet of elevation in just about a mile) to Windy Devil. We made our to the tairn (high lake) at the top where we joined a few other groups with the same idea. It was only 10:30 am and we had some time to kill. This was definitely our longest break of the trip. We snacked and laid in the sun and then the eclipse started to happen. For about an hour we would watch the sun’s transition through our eclipse glasses. Around 11 am it was noticeable that the light was getting darker and darker. The temperature also was dropping and eventually dropped about 20 degrees. And like that the sun was gone. We took off our glasses and were amazed by what we saw. Total darkness around us but a 360 degree sunset on the horizon. The sun’s corona looked so surreal and we were all in awe. Very quickly the sun came back and we put our glasses back on. The dimmer switch was turning up and the warmth was coming back.
It took us some time to come back to reality after the eclipse. And the very next thing we had in store for us was the scariest pass of the trip; Devil’s Staircase. The climb up to the pass wasn’t my favorite either but then once to the top we had our sights on the descent. A rocky and steep climb 500 feet down. Bryan led us out and we followed in a line with me in the rear. I was trying to be on all fours for us much as I could because I didn’t feel super balanced or stable with my pack. There were many loose rocks and we were trying our best to avoid a rockslide. Once we were about halfway down we were in less steep terrain and I felt a bit more comfortable. It was a lot of work to get down and it took us two hours until we reached the bottom. Relieved, hot and tired we took a break at the lake at the bottom of the pass. Bryan and I got knee deep in the refreshing lake and I took my first dump in the woods ever. That’s how sketched out my body was.
Back on trail we had our last climb shortly ahead of us for the entire trip. The first two miles were through the unshaded meadows of Warm Springs. This valley walking was flat and we even saw a few marmots. Then we started our last climb. Then we started climbing for the last uphill we had. We ascended one area and thought we were done to realize that we had entered Ants Basin and still had another ascent to reach the pass. Another two miles with just shy of 1,500 feet to go and we reached the top. Phew! We were all spent at this point and ready to head down and find a campsite at Fourth of July Lake for the night. We reached the lake pretty quick and scouted for the best campsite. We ended up finding a pretty great one with clear views of the lake and the mountain perched next to it. This night’s dinner was a bit of a labor of love. Bryan made some fantastic pizza dough that we then topped and baked with pepperoni. The pizzas were delicious in the backcountry and we settled in for one last night in our tents.
Day Totals: 7.5 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain
Best day yet! Why? Because we only hiked for 40 minutes. But really, we were tired at this point and even the 40 minutes seemed long enough. We had the mile plus to leave Fourth of July Lake and get back to our car at the trailhead. We nearly beat the sun getting back to the car and were on the road by 9 am. It took us an hour to get back to Stanley, where we had intentions of stopping at the Stanley Baking Co. again but there was a line out the door that got us to try the Stanley Sluice around the corner. Our yogurt parfaits and biscuits and gravys were good enough and we piled back in the car for the hour drive to the Kirkham Hot Springs. Best hot springs ever and best thing to do after not showering for several days and have sore and stiff muscles. The cascading pools and waterfalls were hot while the Payette River running next to it was icy cold and refreshing, creating the perfect mix of temperatures. We soaked in the hot springs for about an hour until we had to force ourselves to change into clean clothes and finally start back towards Seattle. We stopped for snacks, gas, and Pita Pit and Dairy Queen in Pasco, WA. Those were our only stops. We got back to Seattle right at 10 pm to unpack, shower and sleep in real beds.
Day Totals: 1.5 miles and 26 feet of elevation gain
Trip Totals: 24.5 miles and 6,800 feet of elevation gain (although the book we used for our guide states the trip was actually 28 miles and 5,900 feet of elevation gain)
The trip was wonderful in all sorts of ways. I will never forget the eclipse or the beauty of the Idaho landscape. It was difficult to jump back into work on Wednesday but fortunately we had a very short week. In that short week we hosted the second to last Game of Thrones on Wednesday night with an Indian-themed dinner and were at FareStart Thursday night for a rather quiet night of Italian food. Today we have packed our bags again for Arizona. Should be a good time seeing the Miller family.