Ambrose asked me the other day where I got the idea to explore the trails leading up to Lucky Peak. He thought that perhaps it was something that my boss mentioned. I couldn’t recall exactly, but I think it was some web search I conducted. I was looking for trails in the Boise area, hoping that there might be some miraculously free of mud where I could practice my sport.
The trails are actually part of the Ridge to Rivers trail system, but I hadn’t even seen them mentioned in connection with Foothills trails. Once I found that there were trails leading to an actual peak in a relatively short distance (5 and a half miles up on a short route), I wanted to do it. I admit, there was a certain romance to the idea of actually hiking to the top of a mountain.
The conditions were not ideal. When we checked out the trailhead around noon on Saturday, it was fairly soft. However, I had a plan to deal with the soft conditions.
And my plan was something that I would never have thought to suggest in any other year of my life. I told my husband, we’ll just get up really early and hike while the trail is still frozen. I’ll set the alarm for 5:30, we can be at the trailhead by 7.
To give a little background, I have always loved sleeping in. I used to sleep in so much, any chance that I got. For me to suggest getting up at 5:30am on a Sunday was, to me, an mark of dedication. To my husband and to myself, I was proving how important backpacking is to me.
We did get up at 5:30, and only hit the snooze button once. We left the house around 6:30, and, after changing into boots at the trailhead, hit the trail in the dark at 7am.
I haven’t done a lot of hiking in the dark, but when Ambrose and I go to the coast this summer, there will be mornings we will need to start by 3:30 to beat the tides. It’s something that I want to get used to well before then.
And I knew that the sun would be up soon. I turned back to see if I could see Ambrose’s light behind me a few times. Our plan was that I would hike to the peak and turn back, and he would turn back when I caught him. I passed the first intersection without a problem, but when I got to the spur that would take me to Shaw Mountain road, I needed to pull out my Map My Run app to verify which trail I was taking. On the map at home, it looked like I would be taking a left, but the trail actually jigged a bit – I had to take a right and then a left.
I stopped and debated with myself. Should I press on and hope that Ambrose figured out the route for himself, with no map and no app? Should I wait until he caught up so I could show him the right trail? I didn’t want a repeat of the Snowslide Lakes incident…
In the end, I was too cold to stay still and wait, and too paranoid to just press on. I turned back instead and quickly found Ambrose, who was quite surprised to see me. I explained about the trail and how to find the correct one. Then I turned back and headed on.
As the sky lightened, I began to see deer, first in pairs, and then, after I had reached Shaw Mountain Road, over a dozen in a group. Next time I hike that trail, I’ll be bringing my Pentax camera, but the phone managed to capture a few nice images.
|There are deer in the picture, I swear.|
|And in this one…|
|I wouldn’t take pictures of just landscapes – the deer are there.|
Shortly after getting onto Shaw Mountain Road, I encountered the last intersection of the hike. Straight, on a trail that headed down, or right, staying on Shaw and heading up. I conferred with my app, but knew I was sticking with Shaw. Ambrose told me later that he went down the other trail for half an hour before realizing his error and turning back.
I think half an hour is probably an exaggeration, but I was chagrined that I hadn’t explained the trail more clearly, since I was leading this trip.
|As the sun came up, I couldn’t help but admire the view.|
|It’s hard to believe there’s a city in sight in the other direction.|
When the sun came up, it made the clouds laying in the valleys east of Boise glow. In the direction of the sun, the wild landscape seemed to suggest that I was miles from civilization, if not hundreds of miles, in a fantastical land untouched by the hand of man. A glance to the west disabused me of that fancy quickly, displaying the city sprawl under a thin layer of gray fog. Even the peak was marked by towers and solar panels.
Objectively, I knew that I would be experiencing a lot of gain on the hike. Subjectively, the actual process of seeing the road go up at every turn, just up and up and UP, was at times discouraging. I do prefer hiking up, but even I like to take a break now and then.
|The trail goes up.|
|And then it goes up some more.|
|And I did see more deer.|
At the top of Hornet Loop, the trail settled into being snow covered. I stopped and put on my Yaktrax. The non-snow covered ground was frozen so hard that I wasn’t making any footprints, but once I got into the snow I began to leave tracks.
|Snow on the higher elevations, painted with sunshine.|
The snow portion started out a bit easier with a slight downhill slope, but then resumed the interminable climbing. The snow got deeper the higher I climbed, leaving me susceptible to post-holing. I told myself that post-holing burns more calories even as I cursed and dug my boot out of the snow.
I could see the tower atop the peak now, and I was pretty sure that the 5.5 mile estimate that I’d mapped for my route was an overestimate. And I saw a curious structure, one that looked like the tiniest of houses. It couldn’t be a bathroom, I thought. No way they’d have a bathroom way out here. It’s probably some sort of tool shed for the tower or a substation or –
It’s a toilet!
|This toilet has a halo and a soundtrack (Hallelujah!).|
After confirming its toilet nature, and the fact that the door was unlocked, I kept on to the peak. I took a couple pictures of the benchmark and ate a peanut bar. Then I headed back down, because I wanted to get down before the trail thawed too much. I’d made it before 10am, which was my bare minimum goal.
|The city of Boise below Lucky Peak|
|More city in the distance and the foothills to the north|
|The trail back down|
On the way back, I made use of the miraculous facilities, and then continued my way down the snow. Just before the snow ended, I caught sight of Ambrose coming up the trail. I was surprised that he had come so close to the peak. We paused when we met and chatted. He gave me the car key since I hadn’t brought mine.
|I found Ambrose on the trail.|
Then I headed down, knowing he was behind me, chasing me. I must admit, I went as fast as I could. And not just to beat Ambrose, but also to try and beat the thawing which was already beginning around me.
|Clouds seeping through the mountains|
At one point, I walked through a cloud and thought about how I always think being in a cloud will be more romantic than it actually is. My imagination is this misty world of enchantment and reality is cold and damp. And cold.
|Cloud over the trail|
The deer were no longer in evidence, and I didn’t see any other forms of life either as I tore down the trail. The ground was beginning to mud in sections and I tried to walk through it when possible and step lightly. At this point, there was nothing else I could do but get off as soon as possible.
|Going this direction, I could see cars driving on Highway 21 in the distance.|
I made it to the car by noon, giving me an official time of 5 hours, though my app had the time a little under 5 since I paused it when I debated about waiting for or going back to Ambrose. I took off my boots and spent the next 25 minutes relaxing in the driver’s seat with my feet up on the dash.
Since Ambrose still hadn’t appeared by then, I spent the next 15 minutes after that thinking about how long I’d wait before I went back out after him.
I decided on an hour and got back to relaxing.
He showed up 47 minutes after I arrived. He got his boots off and thanked me for being ready to drive home.
|For perspective, a shot of Lucky Peak from street level. It’s the tiny high spot in the distance, and I’ve been there.|
Next week’s plan is to get off the trail before the thaw begins in earnest.
And that has almost nothing to do with the Superbowl.