My younger brother Mike had a business trip to Boise early this year. He didn't have much free time but Sandy and I were at least able to meet up with him for dinner at Bardenay in Eagle. Since we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years we talked about a lot of stuff. One thing that came up were my plans (ambitious) for the spring and summer to go hiking. Mike indicated that it had been a long time since he had been to the mountains and that he really wished that he could get out into the mountains again. As such conversations usually go, I invited him to come out to Boise in the summer so we could go hiking together. He of course said he would come. Grandiose plans are often made over dinner and a glass of wine and then nothing actually comes of them. Mike took the idea seriously though. A few weeks later he emailed me and started to plan his trip to Idaho. Everything worked out and in mid-September he flew out for a visit.
I've been hiking and climbing mountains for a long time. The first real peak that I ever summited was Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. I climbed it with Mike back in the summer of 1976. I was a graduate student at Stanford at the time. For the next few years he and I would do a mountain trip every summer. In 1978 we did a trip to Wyoming. We climbed Fremont Peak in the Wind River Mountains. On the same trip we climbed the South Teton, the easiest of the three Tetons, by it's standard route. The following year we took a trip to California and climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental US, by the Mountaineers Route. It's nowhere near the hardest route on Whitney but it's a lot more challenging than the trail to the summit. On our last trip together we made an attempt on Diamond Peak in the Lehmi Range in Idaho. There was no climbing guide for the state back then so we just looked at topo maps and picked a route. We tried to climb the northeast ridge but were stopped by a huge gap in the ridge. It was only many years later that I went back and climbed Diamond Peak by the standard route, the east face. After that I continued hiking and climbing but never again with Mike. He was in college and started spending his summers with his girlfriend. A lot more famous climbers than Mike have had their mountaineering careers come to the same end.
But after a thirty year break, Mike was back and ready to head for the mountains. Unfortunately he picked the year of the worst fire season anyone can remember. There have been huge forest fires since July and most of the western mountains are covered with smoke. Usually fire season ends by Labor Day but this year it will probably go till the snows come in October or November and close the high country. In serveral previous posts I described how all summer I was dodging smoke from fires to find places to hike. I made trips to the Sierras, the Cascades and the Wasatch because the nearby ranges like the Sawtooths were covered in smoke. But we didn't have a lot of time to go very far. Mike came in on a Wednesday night and was leaving the following Monday. We would have to do our hiking fairly close to home. Fortunately I found a great website that showed where the smoke was from all of the fires in the West from satellite data.
Since I was taking Friday off I had the afternoon free on Thursday. I thought that satellite data was fine but it would be good to see what the smoke over the central mountains really looked like. After lunch Mike and I drove up to Bogus Basin and did the standard quick hike up to the top of Schaffer Butte. It's a good short hike, especialy for someone from an area without mountains. Normally you can see the entire Sawtooth crest in the distance. The smoke wasn't as bad as I had feared but we definitely couldn't see as far as the Sawtooths. At least the smoke wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Next morning we got an early start. The forecast was for winds straight out of the south so I figured we would have good luck with the Pioneer mountains east of Ketchum. We took the trail to Pioneer Cabin, the standard hike in these mountains. I had done it before and remembered it as having excellent views. It had been a long time so I was anxious to do it again. After an easy start alongside Trail Creek the path switchbacked up a long, steep slope. It was relentless and gained over two thousand feet before coming out of the woods onto a relatively flat area at about nine thousand feet. It was a long hard slog up the hill but we were rewarded with nice views dominated by Johnstone Peak, which Sandy and I had climbed several years before. It was time for a break and some water and a snack. Conditions were good. Although there was a little haze and smoke to the north it was pretty clear. We were lucky - it was proabably the best day since mid-July.
Up to this point we hadn't seen any people. We had the mountains to ourselves. But during our break we were passed by two women coming up behind us. Later there were two more parties coming down. Not bad on the most well-known trail in the Pioneers. After a trail junction we started climbing again towards a pass that didn't seem much higher. Instead we reached several false summits. Each time we topped out there would be a level spot and then a higher ridge beyond. After a couple of these Mike was slowing down. A combination of altitude and his first big hike of the year were taking its toll. But he toughed it out.
Fortunately the next pass was the last one. Only about a hundred meters past the saddle was Pioneer Cabin. But the real destination was the view. Across the broad valley of the North Fork of Hyndman Creek are some of the highest mountains in the Pioneers. Many have unusual names, like Salzberger Spitzl, Florian's Nudl and Handwerk Peak as well as more common ones like Goat Mountain (seems like every range has a Goat Mountain?). To the southeast is the trinary group of Hyndman Peak, Old Hyndman and Cobb Peak which surround a basin that I think is the prettiest in the Pioneers. I remember climbing Cobb Peak and Hyndman Peak in the past and daydream about future climbs of the other mountains we can see.
After taking lots of pictures we sat down to eat our lunch. We stayed for quite a while to rest up and enjoy the view. After a while a group came up the trail out of the North Fork of Hyndman Creek. There were four people (two couples) and two dogs. One of the dogs was a black lab named Tokay who was very friendly. When his group sat down he came over to see us and sat by me while I petted him. After a while I got up to head over to a rock outcrop to take some more photos. Tokay came with me. The whole time we were there he followed me around wherever I went. We talked to the other hikers and found out that one of the couples was from Ketchum. They said that the smoke had been horrible for the past month but that it had just cleared out the day before when the wind shifted to the south. We were lucky to have such a nice day here during such a bad fire season.
Another pair of hikers with another dog showed up but moved off to their own spot a few hundred yards away. Almost as many dogs as people at the cabin. Finally it was time to head down. Tokay started to take off with us and only went back to his owners reluctantly when they kept calling him. Laney would have had a real surprise if he had come home with us. I am pretty sure that she would not have liked the idea. She pretty much views herself as the Big Dog around our house. Fortunately there wasn't a problem as Tokay finally decided to go back to his owners. I guess he could just tell by looking at me (smelling me?) that I was a human who was good for a lot of dog treats.
The trip back was uneventful. It was all downhill but when you are tired that is hard work too. It always seems to take longer than you expect. We continued to enjoy good views all the way down although there some high clouds moved in so that the pictures weren't as good as on the way up. It also meant the sun wasn't as bright with was a good thing as I was getting pretty red by the end of the hike. We only encountered two more people going up as we descended, a couple walking mountain bikes up the big hill. It was enough work hauling just myself up that big hill. No way would I have dragged a bike up as well. I guess they thought it would be worth it for the thrill of the ride down but the way they were sweating I'm not so sure. And they were nowhere near the top when we passed them and they looked pretty close to being out of gas.
There was a small stream only a few yards from the trailhead so we took the opportunity to take off our boots and socks and wash our feet in the cold stream water. We were plenty hot and dusty from the hike. We put on clean socks and shoes that we had in the car for the ride back. We thought about eating in Ketchum but decided to head straight back to Boise. At home we had some wine, told Sandy stories about our hike and then had a late dinner. A great day in the mountains - just like our younger days.