Peter had been hounding me to accompany him on a white water kayaking trip in Idaho since we moved back the States in October 2015 and I finally gave in to his request this past July and traveled with him to Boise, Idaho and Idaho nearly killed me. Twice.
I saw Mr. Badass Rainier on the flight.
I had the lowest possible set of expectations of Boise and I was oh so wrong. Boise was great! I would totally go back to Boise for a weekend. Boise has a population of about 220,000 residents and is a mecca for outdoor activities. Boise is much larger than Bend, OR, and Walla Walla, WA combined but it still had that same small-town feel. And espresso drinks were only $3.25! I pay between $4.75-5.25 for the same drink in Seattle!
In our prior lives when we were cool and traveling around Europe, we quickly found that we enjoyed secondary cities (Ghent, Krakow, Ljubljana, etc.) more than primary cities (Paris, Berlin, etc.). This is holding true with US cities. I think cities with a population of 100,000-200,000 is the sweet spot. They are big enough to have all the necessities in life and a good restaurant scene but small enough where there is little to no rush hour, people are outwardly happy, and no one seems particularly stressed because life is simpler. Fewer choices. Less fighting of crowds. Less traffic. Less to do so more time to chill. Life is slower. Smaller cities are just better.
We arrived in Boise around noon on a Friday and got into our separate rental cars. I think the car rental counter guy was thoroughly confused as to why we would have separate cars but he didn’t ask questions.
Peter drove directly to the Middle Fork to meet his kayak guide and I checked into the hotel and made the poor decision to hike to Table Rock Cross in 100-degree heat with no tree cover, no sunscreen, and only 475 ml / 16 oz of water. I obviously did not learn my lesson after our experience at Crater Lake two weeks prior.
It was a short round trip hike at only 6 km / 3.8 mi but the heat was an absolute killer. I almost overheated and died. One reviewer wrote this about the trail: “Wooeeee! This hike was a bit more than I anticipated.”
I don’t know what “wooeeee” means but I agree with the reviewer. That hike was much more than I had anticipated and the view wasn’t even that spectacular! (That’s Boise off in the distance.)
Table Rock is a mountain pillar with an 18 m / 60 ft illuminated cross on top of it. The cross has a rocky history and has been the subject of a lawsuit involving the separation of church and state. The cross is implanted on .37 sq m / 4 sq ft of private land, land thought to have been purchased purely to insulate the cross from legal attacks. The cross towers over Boise not quite like Edinburgh Castle towering over Edinburgh but similar. It’s huge. In June 2016, illegal fireworks on Table Rock initiated a 10 sq km / 2,500 acre wildfire.
The plan for Saturday was to wake up and be on the road by 6am destined for the Sawtooth Lake trailhead near Stanley, ID.
For the geographically challenged: My Saturday did not go as planned. Due to insomnia, I delayed the mission and slept until 9am. When I woke, I debated. Hike. Don’t hike. Hike. Don’t hike.
Not wanting to be a weeny like I was with Fitz Roy in Patagonia, I decided to hike.
The drive from Boise to the trailhead was only about 217 km / 135 mi but it was 100 percent mountain driving (gorgeous!) which meant it was a slow drive. There were a lot of narrow and winding roads that are built into the mountainsides.
It took three hours and I lost cell service shortly after the Middle Fork where Peter was kayaking. This was unexpected. I thought cell service would pick back up again near Stanley but it wasn’t until I was back in Boise city limits that had cell service again. I amazed myself by driving to and from Boise with no map or cell service. Road signs are a wonderful thing.
It took me three hours and 40 minutes to complete the hike and that includes the five minutes I spent shivering in a hail storm and the 10 minutes I spent at Sawtooth Lake eating and peeing.
Hiking alone is lonely and sometimes scary. I wondered what would have happened if I rolled my ankle or became incapacitated. I do not think I’ll venture out on a hike by myself again.
About two-thirds of the way to the top I stepped on a loose rock in a stream and it sunk so my right shoe was submerged in icy water. A few steps later I tripped over a rock and ripped the top part of my other shoe.
Soon enough I emerged on top of the tree line and understood why the mountain range was named as it was. The ridgeline looks like the jagged teeth of a saw. Hence, the Sawtooth Mountains.
A few steps later, I passed Alpine Lake which is fed by glacial and runoff water. It’s pretty and there were people camping on its shoreline.
Just before reaching Alpine Lake, the trail branches. To the left will take you down to Alpine Lake and to the right will take you to Sawtooth Lake. I decided to continue the near-vertical climb to Sawtooth Lake and decide on venturing down to Alpine Lake on my way back. This was the hardest bit of the hike because it was very rocky and steep and it was starting to rain.
Five minutes from the lake and 99 percent exposed to the elements, the temperature suddenly dropped 20 degrees and then all hell broke loose and it started to diagonal hail. This is not a photo of Sawtooth Lake but this is how I was dressed. This is not proper attire for a hail storm.
The hail was pea-sized and incredibly painful. I hugged a tree to protect me from the wind and hail. I’m now officially a tree hugger.
Here’s a photo of the small but mighty hail.
As soon as the hail stopped, I pushed onward as quickly as possible. I read that the final bit of the trail was still covered in snow and, yep, there was the snow, just around the bend from my new best evergreen friend.
Things were muddy, wet, and cold at this point. I knew I was close but not sure how close. I walked through the snow which was actually a thick sheet of ice. I debated crawling across it. I wished I had brought my hiking poles. That would have been smart.
And then, in a blink of the eye, the sky cleared and there it was, Sawtooth Lake! Not nearly as pretty as Alpine Lake but still pretty. I sat on a fallen tree and ate my sandwich and then got prepared for my long journey back to the trailhead.
It felt like forever to get back to the trailhead.
I jogged part of the way just to hurry things along. I remember at one point thinking I was nearing the trailhead and had about a mile left. I actually had about three miles left. Time and distance get distorted in the woods.
The drive back to Boise was brutal.
Due to a lack of cell service and no map, I had to rely on road signs which brought me back to Boise on a different route than what I came. I traveled south on 21 through Idaho City. The boxed section of 21 below has to be one of the most dangerous roads in America. It skirts the mountainside and runs along the ridge of the mountain.
The road is narrow and has dangerous switchbacks near Lowman. I was scared. Death is 100 percent guaranteed if the car goes off the road. The highest point of elevation along this stretch is at Mores Creek Summit with an elevation of 1,864 m / 6,117 ft. For comparison, Mount St Helens has an elevation of 2,550 m / 8,366 ft.
I wish I had pictures but the road was so narrow that it did not have guardrails or a shoulder much less overlook stops so I was not able to take any photos except of this one – the highest and most remote rest stop in all of the land.
The rest stop looks more random than it actually was. It is located in the parking lot of Mores Creek Summit and is the jumping-off point for backcountry skiing. I. Could. Not. Imagine.
After my potty break, it was a little over an hour of driving and I was back in Boise and desperate for food. I stopped at Wendy’s. I have not eaten at Wendy’s since I lived in Texas, so back in 2010. It tasted terrible. I arrived back at the hotel in shambles. My shoes were destroyed. I was covered in mud. And I was exhausted but still proud of what I accomplished.
In summary, Idaho is neat. Visit it if you have the opportunity.