Hiking in the Chamberlain Basin was going to be a new for us, and it presented a different sort of challenge to start the trip. Not only would we be driving along many dirt roads just to get to the trailhead, but we didn’t know exactly how long it would take us. And so, the plan was to start early on Sunday morning so that we could take all day if we needed to. If we got to the trailhead early enough, then we could start hiking and get a few miles done. Otherwise we’d camp at the trailhead.
This plan required something special for the night’s dinner. We had to have a dinner that would work just as well at the trailhead as it would on the trail. That meant nothing that needed to be cooked on the car camping stove, and we wouldn’t want to do a dehydrated meal at the trailhead. Ambrose thought some bun bo xao would be good, but I countered that idea with pizza.
For some reason, my idea won.
We drove north to Cascade and then turned east to Warm Lake. I’d been there before, though it had been nearly ten years. That, however, was not our last stop. We kept going, farther into the backwoods of Idaho than I’d ever been before until we reached the town of Yellow Pine.
We stopped there and pulled into the Silver Dollar Grill (for sale, if anyone’s interested) and had some pretty good burgers for lunch. I thought about having a beer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned driving out for backpacking, it’s that I have trouble staying hydrated in the car. Beer would only make the hiking miserable later, so I had water like a good little backpacker.
And then we drove on, because as remote as Yellow Pine felt, we were heading to Big Creek, a place that boasted a rural air strip and a lodge in the process of being rebuilt after a fire. And, on the narrow, rutted, one lane road we almost got run off the road by a truck hauling an RV going in the opposite direction. We moved over to the right side of the road as far as we could and Ambrose could have reached out and touched the end of the RV as it squeezed by us.
That had to be the scariest moment of the entire drive, and we got past it, so I guess that’s a good thing.
As we drove into Big Creek, we saw a woman on the road riding a horse ahead. I don’t know a whole lot about horses, but I have more experience with them than Ambrose does, so he asked me what he should do. I advised him to stop the car and wait for the woman to ride past us, because the horse would be easier to handle if we were still than if we were moving. When the woman drew abreast of us, she called us brave for bringing a Ford Focus on these crazy roads.
After an achingly slow crawl on the rocky road past the air strip, we made it to the trailhead before 3pm. Plenty of time to start the backpacking day and get a few miles in.
|The information board and parking lot for the Big Creek trailhead.|
We parked next to a couple who heading in the same direction for a little day hiking fishing trip on Big Creek. We waited until they walked off before changing into our hiking clothes and leaving the car behind.
|Crossing Smith Creek on the road.|
The road led down to a bridge crossing what was labeled as Smith Creek, though our maps called it Big Creek. And then we saw the Big Creek trailhead. It had no parking area, but it did have a place to register and a monument to Frank Church. According to our guidebook, the trail we were about to hike used to be a road.
|The trailhead board.|
|The trail began past this monument to Frank Church.|
|A different kind of registration card than the one we usually fill out in the Sawtooth Wilderness.|
After Ambrose and I registered, we started our hike into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
At first, there were areas where we could walk side by side, and we did. I was feeling extra worn out because it had been only a little over a week since I completed my 70 plus mile solo hike on the Idaho Centennial Trail. I couldn’t get my pack to settle comfortably and I was hungry after the long road trip. Sure, we’d had a burger, but I hadn’t had any of my normal snacks between breakfast and lunch and lunch and starting to hike. The pizza in my pack smelled delicious, but I knew we had to get a few miles under our belts before stopping for that dinner.
|Where the trail was wide, we walked side by side.|
The trail followed the creek, mostly flat to start, with a little bit of climbing where the trail clearly diverted from the original path of the road. Ambrose wondered why it didn’t stay low and I pointed out where there must have been a landslide. Rocks and logs were jumbled into a pile that was probably too much of a hassle to move. Easier to move the trail.
Ambrose started his hike-long habit of taking out the new-to-us GPS unit we’d acquired just before my solo. I didn’t take it on the solo because I didn’t want to take untested equipment on that hike. This trip was the time for us to test it. I carried the maps and Ambrose carried the GPS, getting to know it.
There were a lot of berries along the trail, but I couldn’t eat any of them, because I couldn’t positively identify them. There were several that I thought were blueberries, or close enough to blueberries, but without a positive ID, I had to restrain myself. I won’t take that risk – at least, not at the start of a hike.
|They look like dried up blueberries, but were they really?|
|Ah, red berries, unlikely to be edible.|
About an hour in, we passed by a possible campsite, but it was well below the trail and we didn’t want to stop so soon.
|I was tired enough to walk at Ambrose’s pace.|
|The trail climbed above the creek.|
|More berries that I did not eat.|
|Ambrose getting his GPS fix.|
We hiked on and I hoped that my aching back would not be so painful the next day. Sometimes I just need a day to get used to the pack weight. Though this pack weighed more than any of my other trips this summer…
|More berries I didn’t eat.|
|A site that has been used for camping, but not a site we wanted to stop at.|
|Ambrose steps over a log.|
I kept seeing plants that I thought might be edible, but still nothing I could positively identify. We hiked by cut trees that showed that this part of the trail, at least, received some maintenance. I could smell the pizza with every step and I really just wanted to stop. I knew from the maps that we would be taking a left at some point and following a different stream, and I fantasized about insisting that we eat a piece of pizza when we got there.
|There’s some maintenance going on here.|
|I’m glad this big log was cut.|
|Hm. Can I eat white berries? Better not.|
Just before the GPS insisted that we had just about arrived at the intersection, we came across a divergence in the trail. I figured the grassy path to the right probably lead to a campsite, but I dumped my pack on the ground to go check on it while Ambrose fiddled with the GPS. It was definitely a campsite, so I came back to tell Ambrose about it.
|A rocky section preceded the trail divergence.|
|The water is just past the trees, but I didn’t check accessibility before returning to tell Ambrose.|
He asked if there was access to water. The creek was right there, but I tramped back to double check that there was good access. There was.
We decided to call it a day and brought our packs into the campsite. My first priority was eating. Ambrose settled down and did other things. I found a spot leaning against a log and brought my bird seed bag, my baggie full of pizza and my Kindle. I sat down and pulled my boots off and then started devouring my pizza while reading a library book.
|Another angle on the campsite.|
|Ambrose walking into the campsite. We pitched the tent near the tree to the right on the tall grasses.|
I kind of tuned the entire world out while I satisfied my hunger with the most delicious cold pizza I’ve ever eaten. I might have been a bit moody with hunger and ignoring Ambrose just the tiniest bit. I came perilously close to rolling my eyes at him when he called me over to the river, but I figured he would have a good reason so I just groaned as I pulled myself up and joined him.
Turns out, he had a really good reason for calling me over. There were fish in the water! Pairs of them spawning. Huge fish, actually. They seemed bigger than would be reasonably expected in a stream of that size. Though I don’t know all that much about what to expect in fish. We were unable to positively identify the fish, but they were likely salmon.
|The fish were not easily visible in any of the pictures that I took, but our eyes had no problem spotting them.|
After I had sated my hunger on three slices of pizza (in the time it took Ambrose to eat two), I set about pitching the tent. The area near the fire pit wasn’t very well set up for our tent in my opinion. The dirt didn’t have enough flat space and was too close to the water. I pitched it closer to the trail in some tall grass near a pine tree. I had to pick the area clear of pinecones, but there weren’t too many.
When I got around to hanging my bear bag, I found my strength ebbing. I had to throw my rock several times on the end of my length of orange paracord before I hooked the cord over a suitable branch. Ambrose watched me trying and tried to give me pointers about how to throw it, but I knew my technique would get me there eventually. And it did. He didn’t notice where I tied it up, so when I joined him in the tent (after consuming my fourth piece of pizza), he asked me what that red thing in the trees was.
It was my orange cord, tied down to a sideways tree.
It was a fairly warm night, so we left the vestibule doors pinned open and got settled into bed. We had a head start on the next day’s hike which would turn out to be not just nice, but even necessary.