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.

Lucky Peak

The city of Boise below Lucky Peak

More city in the distance and the foothills to the north

The trail back down

The benchmark!

Obligatory selfie!

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.

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