Pioneer Cabin

Flower-filled meadows and Johnstone Peak

As part of the Finley's visit to Idaho, we had planned a couple of days in the mountains, starting in Sun Valley and ending up at Redfish Lake. We needed two cars for all six of us so I drove up with Colleen and Devin. We left early so that we could do a hike in the Pioneer Mountains. Sandy, Dan and Lynn planned to follow later and meet us in Sun Valley for dinner.

The hike I picked was Pioneer Cabin which I had done twice before. I hiked it with Sandy a long time ago and did it four years ago with my brother. It isn't a long hike. It's just under eight miles round trip but it's almost three thousand feet of elevation gain. I figured it would be a good workout for us.

We drove to Ketchum and then went five miles towards Trail Creek Summit. We turned at Corral Creek and followed a dirt road 3.7 miles to the end where there was space to park. Strangely, one of the spots had a handicapped parking sign. WTF? A special parking spot for people who can't walk a few extra steps but are going to do a hard hiking trail? Weird.

The trail climbed steadily up the valley and then started a series of steep switchbacks up a forested slope. Working hard going up the hill, the shade in the forest was welcome. I was moving slowly so Devin and Colleen eventually were way ahead of me. I just kept going at my own pace.

11,650 foot Cobb Peak from the saddle

Eventually the forest started to thin out. There were previews of great views, but it also meant the trail was sunnier and hotter. And buggier. As it got warmer, the flies appeared. They weren't terrible but they were annoying. Colleen and Devin got spooked because they thought that the large horse flies and deer flies were bees. I told them that they don't sting but they definitely do bite.

There were also lots of flowers, one of the more spectacular wildflower displays that I have seen hiking in Idaho. Not quite like the flower fields in the Cascades in places like Summerland in Mt. Rainier National Park or Snowgrass Flats in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, but definitely impressive for Idaho. When I finally came completely out of the forest into the high meadows, there seemed to be flowers everywhere. They provided a beautiful foreground for spectacular views of the north side of Johnstone Peak and the Smokey Mountains in the far distance. The trail even leveled out for a short stretch, there was a nice breeze blowing, and the hiking was just about perfect.

Colleen strikes an intrepid pose

Of course, the trail was just teasing. The first time that you do the hike, you think that you have done all the climbing and come out into high meadows and only have easy walking left. Not so. Soon the trail started up again. There was one more ridge to climb over to reach our destination. After a few last switchbacks, we topped out at a saddle on the ridge.

We could see Pioneer Cabin only a few hundred yards away. Behind it was a spectacular view into the heart of the Pioneer Mountains. They are a beautiful mountain range, my second favorite in Idaho after the Sawtooths. But they are shy mountains. The Sawtooths are easily visible from Highway 75 and provide incredible views from the east. The Pioneers are hidden behind extensive foothills. There are only a few places where you can get a glimpse of them from a highway, a hint of impressive mountains far off in the distance. To see them requires driving up dirt access roads, sometimes a long way, and then doing hard hiking to reach viewpoints like the one at Pioneer Cabin. But when you invest the time and effort, you are rewarded with gorgeous views.

Talking with other hikers at the cabin

After checking out the inside of the cabin, we moved off a few hundred yards to some rocks to sit down and enjoy a snack while we contemplated the views. There was a nice breeze that cooled us off after the long climb and kept away the bugs. We took a lot of pictures.

Just as we were starting back another group arrived at the cabin. Talking to them, Devin and Colleen found out that one couple was from Hartford Wisconsin. One of them had an internship job for the summer in Ketchum. They had a friend who lived in Marshall, close to Sun Prairie. Small world.

The group also had two dogs with them. One of them looked like a labrador retriever but it was an unusual fox red color. I asked the lady about her dog and she said it was a red labrador. I didn't even know they existed. But the fact that it spent the whole time rolling around in a puddle in the middle of the meadow kind of clinched the fact that it was a lab, no matter what color it was.

Hikers on the long trail down to the valley...and the car

The hike down was work but was a lot faster. Afterwards we met up with the rest of our group at the hotel in Ketchum. We had dinner at the Pioneer Saloon, an old favorite of Sandy and I, famous for it's prime rib dinners (and the #1 ranked restaurant in Ketchum on TripAdvisor). Dinner was excellent but I was also determined to have dessert.

Years ago when we would go to Sun Valley for work retreats with HP, the Pioneer Saloon was considered to have the best mud pie in the state. Sandy and I split one and I encouraged the Finley's to try it. They were hesitant, since they had never had mud pie and didn't know what it was. Eventually I talked them into getting one to split among the four of them. I think that they must have liked it because as soon as it arrived it vanished in a Finley Feeding Frenzy. It was an amazing sight to see. The mud pie was gone so fast that Sandy and I cut off about a third of ours to add to theirs. I put it on their plate (using a very long fork - for safety reasons) and it completely disappeared in a few seconds too. It was certainly impressive.

It was a good day all around and a good start for the Finley's mountain holiday in Idaho.