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 > Central Idaho Mountains, Trip Report

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insp1505

Oregon

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Posted: 05/10/11 03:04pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

This last week off I had a decision to make, spend a bunch of money on fuel and go camping or stay home and prepare for a class I am teaching next fall. With diesel prices near $4.20 I could have easily stayed put but staying home sounded like too much work to me so I filled up the tank and took off to the central Idaho mountains in hopes of getting some nice scenery pictures before all the snow melted. What I later discovered is that there was no hurry to get there before the snow melts this year.

I began by heading up Idaho highway 75 past Ketchum & Sun Valley up the Big Wood River Valley towards Galena Summit.

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Head waters of the Big Wood River.

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As I neared the summit the snow got deeper and deeper. The road was nicely plowed open but looking around it felt like I stepped back a season into winter.

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At the top of 8,701 foot Galena Summit the views were impressive.

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Heading down in to the Sawtooth Valley I was surprised how much snow was left on the valley floor. You can see the highway winding down the mountain from the lower right and crossing the valley in the bottom third of this picture.

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At the bottom I crossed the headwaters of the mighty Salmon River where it begins a nearly 7,000 foot drop in elevation over 425 miles before meeting the Snake River in western Idaho near the Oregon/Washington border. It looks pretty small here but it quickly gains volume. By the time it gets to the north end of the Sawtooth Valley less than 20 miles away it is a fairly substantial looking river from all the tributaries flowing into it from the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains.

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Looking southeast from highway 75 up the valley where the Salmon River begins.

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My intention was to camp at Little Redfish Lake but I was disappointed to find that the roads into all the campgrounds of the valley were still closed due to snow and locked gates. One lane had been plowed open all the way to Redfish Lake lodge for access. I think it was so people could be making preparations for the coming tourist season. The gate was locked to all those without a key and access to any of the Redfish area campgrounds was closed as well so I had to get creative with where to stay.

Down the road about a mile from the Redfish Lake area is Sunny Gulch campground. It’s gate was also locked but being a south facing entrance the snow had melted back some from the highway mainly due to people pulling off the highway and walking through the campground to access the Salmon River for steelhead fishing.

It looked like the perfect place to stay, far enough off the highway that I couldn’t be seen until you got right to the campground entrance. I backed as far into the snow bank towards the locked gate as I could and set up camp. The traffic wasn’t very busy, just a few cars an hour passing by plus it was free and I was only a couple of miles from Redfish Lake where I wanted to be anyway. A quick ten minute mountain bike trip was all it took to get over there.

Here is where I stayed for 3 days.

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The view out my dining room window was pretty nice from here.

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The next morning I got out my cross-country skis to do some exploring near camp but it was so icy from the 25 degree overnight weather that I couldn’t really get around without falling all over myself so I just gave up on them and hiked through alternating bare ground near the trees to knee deep snow in the open areas on foot.

Here are a couple of photos from that morning.

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This is what the Salmon River looks like at Sunny Gulch campground. I met a guy who was fishing and he said they extended the steelhead fishing season another two weeks until the 15th of May. I didn’t bring any steelhead fishing gear being that I thought it closed the end of April but for anyone who read my 2011 steelhead fishing trip report you know I am not very good or patient with steelhead fishing anyhow.

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The rest of the day it clouded up and blocked the mountain scenery so I mostly just explored the area. I took a mountain bike trip up to Redfish Lake just to check it out as I had never been there before. It was still completely frozen over. Hope it warms up soon or there are going to be some pretty disappointed campers/boaters on Memorial weekend.

Little Redfish lake had a small open area at the inlet creek and also at the outlet creek area where the birds were all congregating. I did get some photos of Redfish Creek as it flows between Redfish and Little Redfish Lakes that afternoon.

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That evening it started to rain hard, alternating between snow and hail. It rained all night and turned to snow at some point because there was about a half inch of new snow the next morning. I was also a bit disappointed to see the valley was covered in clouds so no views of the mountains this morning.

I had my alarm set for 6 am to get some early morning sunrise photos but not today due to the cloud cover so I went back to sleep. I got up around 8 am and as I was making breakfast when I noticed the clouds were beginning to break up so I hurried and ate and went outside for some pictures.

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As the day progressed the skies began to clear even more so I grabbed my camera gear, hopped on my bike and headed to Little Redfish Lake where I was finally able to get the pictures I had came for.

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A close up of 10,299’ Mt Heyburn.

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When the light breeze that was blowing would die down the water would become smooth as glass making for some very nice reflections.


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I took at least a hundred pictures from every angle I could find around that open water area of Little Redfish Lake in those few hours when the clouds cooperated. I was getting hungry so I headed back to camp for lunch. That afternoon the clouds moved back in and the picture taking wasn’t as good. That late morning session at Little Redfish Lake was the best it got and I was so happy to have been there when it happened.

The next morning I decided it was time to move on to another area of the state for some more photo opportunities. One last photo before I broke camp shows how much the snow had receded around me in the three days I had been there.

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I decided I wanted to head over into the Pahsimeroi Valley between the Lemhi Mountain range and the Lost River mountain range so I could get some sunrise and sunset photos. What I was hoping for was to position myself between these two mountain ranges so I could get good backlighting on one range during sunrise with good front lighting on the other at the same time and then just the reverse at sunset. I could photograph two mountain ranges at the same time with totally opposite lighting. All I would have to do is just turn around to get the same effect as waiting all day for the sun to move across the sky.

I also wanted to photograph Idaho’s highest peak, Mount Borah at 12,662 feet, from the east side which I have never done. I love photographing this time of year when the low valleys and foothills are bare and the mountain peaks are white with snow. I think the contrast that it makes in the photo is just spectacular.

I left Sunny Gulch campground and headed through Stanley Idaho and down the Salmon River to the town of Challis. It rained most of the way so I just drove through, no pictures. I filled up my tank in Challis at $4.39/gal and after having gone 310 miles I used 26 gallons of diesel. Not my best ever fuel mileage at 11.9 mpg but I did climb some pretty good mountain ranges and had a good headwind coming across the Arco desert so I wasn’t too worried.

I am however worried about having to spend $114 to fill my tank when I still had 10 gallons of fuel left in it. That means it would cost about $160 for a complete fill up. WOW!!!! I hope prices come down soon or the camping trips will start being much closer to home and I don’t really want to do that this summer. I want to get out and explore places I have never been during my week off. That’s just wishful thinking I guess though.

One thing in Challis I was excited to find was this RV dump station. I know, what is so exciting about a dump station you ask in a town with more than a dozen of them? Well, I finally have validation that the $120 I spend every year for my RV sticker and license is going toward my RV experience. I am sure there are a lot of these around the state so I am just being sarcastic. I also know that the fees go towards campgrounds and other places as well so I am ok with paying it and at least it goes down every year as my camper value depreciates. Too bad my asset has to devalue to get a break on a sticker price though.

I usually haul my waste back home and dump it in the same place so I have never seen one of these signs but with the showering, using the toilet and washing dishes for days I thought there is no need to haul all that extra weight up the mountain if I don’t need to so I stopped at this state park and saw this sign. By the way, thanks to all the non-residents who leave their $5 monetary donation along with their sewage donation, we really appreciate it.

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I headed up the Pahsimeroi Valley and got off the main road headed toward where I thought would be a good spot according to the map because once again my view of the surrounding mountain peaks was obscured by the clouds.

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Winding out through the vast, desert-like bottom of the valley I was surprised to come across these 3 elk out in the middle of nowhere with no cover for miles. Normally I am use to seeing elk in more forested areas. They were once common out on the open plains but now they have mostly been pushed into the high country which is actually where I found these elk. Although we appeared to be in the desert we were also at about 7000’ elevation here with the mountains rising up in every direction at the edge of this wide mountain valley.

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About 16 miles from the main highway, and nearing my destination point, I came across a left over snow drift in a small drainage. It appears that the previous person to attempt going through this was pulled to the left and off the side of the road but they did make it through.

Now I don’t know if they went left on purpose or not because that was the shallowest part of the drift but I am pretty sure they weren’t in a 13,000 lb truck camper when they did it and I didn’t really want to spend the rest of the day digging myself out or tipping over on the side of the road so I called it quits. Hope the person that went through found another way out because I only saw the one set of tracks.

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Perhaps they came from the other way and that is how they were able to make it without getting stuck because gravity helped pull them down through it. Whatever happened I wasn’t ready to risk getting stuck out in the desert 16 miles from the main road. Although the next day 2 BLM trucks came out there and neither one of them tried to bust through it but at least I would have been found if I had tried it. I don’t know how I would have slept or got the fridge to work being stuck on an incline like that though.

I was nearly where I wanted to be anyway and there were probably more drifts ahead so I made camp right there. Besides, I had my mountain bike to get down the road if I needed to go further.

Here is my out the window picture of my campsite. I cleaned off the back window and used it because all you could see were clouds out the dinette window.

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The clouds never lifted off the mountains that evening for the sunset pictures I was hoping for so I had dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed early. Oh yea, and it started to rain again, hard. Luckily the cloud cover kept the temperature from getting too cold, only 26 degrees that night. The wind sure picked up in the middle of the night and I had to close my roof vents because they were banging around making too much noise and I didn’t want them getting torn off. When I woke up the next morning this is the sight I was greeted with.


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Once again not the sunrise pictures I was looking for of the surrounding mountain peaks but still a nice way to remember my trip. Although I didn’t get what I was after at this campsite I now have a reason to come back here someday and explore the area further. I waited till about 2 pm to see if the weather would change but it started raining again so I thought I better leave. I still had to make it over the pass by Summit Creek Reservoir and it’s on a dirt road.

Everything was covered in mud but I made it through, a bit slippery in places but all in all a good road. I am kicking myself now for not stopping and taking pictures of how muddy my truck and camper were as I thought I would get some when I got home. Unfortunately it was raining so hard coming down Interstate 15 that it was like a pressure washer had cleaned most of it off when I got to town. The good news is I didn’t have to stop at the car wash and spend more money but I didn’t get any pics to remind me. Oh well, just another reason to get back out soon and get dirty.

* This post was edited 05/10/11 03:22pm by insp1505 *

rv2go

Fulltime 15 yrs (Knoxville, TN).or someplace else

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Posted: 05/10/11 03:15pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

That sure beats this blacktop RV parking lot that we are staying in Las Vegas, NV


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~DJ~

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Posted: 05/10/11 03:34pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Fantastic photos!!! [emoticon]

Yes, I am prejudiced, but I don't think there is any prettier place than Idaho!!! [emoticon]


'17 Class C 22' Conquest on Ford E 450 with V 10. 4000 Onan, Quad 6 volt AGMs, 515 watts solar.
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silversand

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Posted: 05/10/11 04:18pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Wow! Excellent story-telling in your photo essay! Extraordinary.

Very much appreciated!!

Q: is that a "thermal blanket" under the rear window?

Cheers,
Silver-

*accumulating more trip reports to up-load to our Sticky in a week or so


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insp1505

Oregon

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Posted: 05/10/11 04:19pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

rv2go wrote:

That sure beats this blacktop RV parking lot that we are staying in Las Vegas, NV


What are you waiting for? Fill up that tank and follow the compass dial north. This is the best time to take in all the Idaho scenery without all the crowds. You could even have the spot at Sunny Gulch. I bet you can back all the way to the gate now that I melted some of the snowpack down for you. You probably wouldn't even stick out far enough into the highway to cause the sherrif to make you move. How long is your MH btw?

The fish and game were moving semi-tractor/trailer loads of fish over Galena Summit last week so your RV should be fine going over. It only gets below freezing for a few hours each night so you shouldn't burst any pipes either. You can't live your whole life on the blacktop, come on out to Idaho and get that thing a little snowy and muddy! I'll even help you wash it before you leave.


~DJ~ wrote:

Yes, I am prejudiced, but I don't think there is any prettier place than Idaho!!! [emoticon]


I'll have to agree, there are a lot of beautiful places in this country but there's nothing like home!

btggraphix

Golden, CO

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Posted: 05/10/11 04:57pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Very very nice TR insp1505. You obviously have some real talent with the photos; I especially like the one out the dinette window. I also love the pictures of the fresh snow from overnight. I just love waking up in the camper to a new coat of white 'paint' over the landscape.

You know, late spring hiking/exploring where there are a lot snow banks but also bare ground is really pretty ideal for snowshoes. I bought my first pair in high school for early summer hiking in Montana and I remember wondering if it was a waste of money (I lived in Indiana!!!) but they turned out to be incredibly useful. I actually still have that pair though they are pretty worse for the nearly 30 years I've owned them. In any case, snowshoes are really easy to take off, but more importantly (depending on the model I suppose) you don't have to take them off to tromp across some rocks or bare ground for short stretches unlike skis. My buddies son made some in Boy Scouts using PVC and some other cheap materials so you can build some on the cheap if you want to.

Thanks for posting your trip!


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CloudDriver

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Posted: 05/10/11 05:10pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Great pictures and writeup! We really enjoy the trip reports from all the TC folks, as you take us to places we could never go with our Class C.

Last June we drove route 93 all the way from Kalispell MT to Arco ID and really enjoyed it, especially the portion in the Idaho mountains. We topped a rise south of Challis to see Borah Peak and a beautiful valley spread out before us. One of those WOW moments! Fortunately there was room to pull of the road for pictures.

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pa traveler

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Posted: 05/10/11 05:12pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice report and photos.

cewillis

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Posted: 05/10/11 05:43pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I agree with 'Fantastic.'
It sure doesn't look like the 'mighty' Salmon River in the first picture -- what a difference by the 2nd.
How is the area in late summer, August or September? Crowded at all?


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insp1505

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Posted: 05/10/11 06:12pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

silversand wrote:


Q: is that a "thermal blanket" under the rear window?


Yes, it's a five layer thermal cover for that window. I have them for my kitchen skylight and both ceiling vent fans and the two windows in the back door. They hold in heat in the winter, keep it out in the summer but most importantly they keep it dark inside so I can sleep-in during the morning because I don't work till noon. I don't have thermal pane or dual pane windows but with these I don't need them. Made it through last winter just fine down to -14F.



btggraphix wrote:

Very very nice TR insp1505. You obviously have some real talent with the photos; I especially like the one out the dinette window. I also love the pictures of the fresh snow from overnight. I just love waking up in the camper to a new coat of white 'paint' over the landscape.

You know, late spring hiking/exploring where there are a lot snow banks but also bare ground is really pretty ideal for snowshoes.


Thanks for the compliments, I also like how new snow adds an element of freshness to an image.

Snowshoes were on the shopping list for this last winter but I never got around to buying them, the skis were working great until this last trip. Now I am definately getting a pair before next winter hits. Thanks for the tip.

CloudDriver wrote:

Great pictures and writeup! We really enjoy the trip reports from all the TC folks, as you take us to places we could never go with our Class C.


Always glad to have you along for the trip if only vicariously. You could always "upgrade" to a TC and join us in person [emoticon] . Seriously though you could have gone everywhere I went on this trip with your Class C. I only used 4x4 low once this whole entire trip and that was just to make it easier to get up on my leveling blocks.[emoticon]

CloudDriver wrote:


Last June we drove route 93 all the way from Kalispell MT to Arco ID and really enjoyed it, especially the portion in the Idaho mountains. We topped a rise south of Challis to see Borah Peak and a beautiful valley spread out before us. One of those WOW moments! Fortunately there was room to pull of the road for pictures.


Great pictures, Hwy 93 through the Idaho mountains is a very beautiful drive. Looks like you took those pics from Willow Creek Summit looking southeast toward Borah? I was about 15 miles due east on the other side of the Lost River Range looking southwest hoping for the kind of opening in the clouds you got. Looks like you timed it perfectly and I didn't. Well at least I don't live too far away so I can go get them next week off.

cewillis wrote:

I agree with 'Fantastic.'
It sure doesn't look like the 'mighty' Salmon River in the first picture -- what a difference by the 2nd.
How is the area in late summer, August or September? Crowded at all?


It is really cool to see a river build it's volume that quickly. I am always impressed at how small it looks when I pass there and then it looks like a totally different river on the other end of the valley.

The area is great all year if you are talking about scenery, things to do and see but to be honest I don't know how crowded it gets in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which includes the area around Redfish Lake, during the heat of summer. I think it would be a safe bet that there are a lot of FULL signs on the campgrounds (and there are a lot of campgrounds in the area)as the weekend nears. I would recommend trying to find your camp spot during the weekdays in July and August.

Having said that I would recommend going later in the year or early like I just did if you are like me and don't like crowd camping. I am sure that after school resumes and Labor day passes there would be no problem at all getting a quiet spot at most campgrounds. That's why I like going to these places early on and later in the year and it's also why I wanted and purchased an Arctic Fox to extend my camping season to year-round if I wish. I would bet that I was probably the only person RV camping in the whole Sawtooth Valley last week. I have my special hide away spots to go when things get busy or else I try to pick up extra shifts at work during the busy Memorial, 4th, and Labor Day weekends.

One piece of advice, bring your warm clothes any time of year but especially early and late in the year. I was at Stanley Lake on a motorcycle trip to Canada in early August of 1997 and it got down to 30 degrees in the early morning hours.

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