Usually, when we backpack in Idaho, we’ll drive up and drive out the same day. Well, sometimes we go ahead and drive up in the evening and do a car camp overnight, but we haven’t done that this year to avoid crowded campsites. For this trip through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, we drove up nearly the whole way and used a dispersed camping site where we had no neighbors to spend the night. That way, we could get an early start at the trailhead the next morning.

It was a nice, quiet time. Mostly. We had the time to talk about our relationship and how my working from home was affecting us both in different ways. Not the most comfortable of conversations, but something we needed to do. Better to talk things out than hold words and emotions inside where they can fester. 

In the morning, we packed up the tent rather quickly. The tent, surprisingly, was not very wet from morning dew or condensation or the light rain that came before dawn. The plan was to stuff it in the trunk so it would be out of sight while our car was parked in the Big Creek trailhead lot. We ate breakfast, took care of morning business, and drove on over to the trailhead, driving past the lodge and the air strip in short order. 

Ambrose is ready to start hiking!

Oh, and there was a bear trap in the other parking lot.

We weren’t actually heading out on Big Creek this time, but we did fill out a permit at the box there since we’d be exiting that way. Last time I saw the Mosquito Ridge trailhead permit box, it was on its side and had no permits, so I wasn’t going to count on using it this time. After we stopped by the permit, we headed up the road. 

Not taking a right this time. 

Time to hit the road. 

The road gained elevation slowly, and passed by a number of falling apart structures.

I was feeling pretty spry, and so was Ambrose. I was faster, but I kept hanging back or waiting for Ambrose to catch up so I could chat with him about ideas that came into my head, thoughts on our trip to come or just on random things. It was nice to hike along a wide road together, because usually the trails we hike don’t allow us enough room to hike side by side. 

Just as we got close to the cutoff trail, we heard an approaching motor vehicle. It was an ATV going by, and we waved at the driver. Then we started heading up. I mean that quite literally. The cutoff trail strikes out just a bit and then starts a series of very steep switchbacks. It is a shorter distance to hike than taking the road the whole way, but it’s no less high of an elevation. 

If the road was flat, Ambrose would catch and pass me when I stopped for photos.

But I pulled ahead when I started moving again. 

It’s cool to think about what this would have looked like when it was new. 

The sun’s coming out!

Ambrose taking the shady side.

The start of the cutoff trail.

I powered through the switchbacks, leaving Ambrose pretty far behind. But I did pause to let him know that lunch should be soon, and asked whether he wanted to eat lunch on the cutoff trail or wait until we reached the top of the cutoff. He chose top of the cutoff and I pushed on through the climb until I got to the Werdenhoff mine at the top of it. The ATV driver was there and I heard her say something as she drove off, but I couldn’t quite make it out over the roar of the engine.  

Trail starts off at a reasonable slope.

These huckleberries were very close to being ripe…

Right after that old cabin, the trail starts climbing in earnest.

Here comes Ambrose, up the trail.

The switchbacks were short and STEEP.

But the views were pretty nice.

And someone was recently through with a chainsaw for some maintenance, hurray!

I sat and waited by the cutoff trail sign for Ambrose to show up. Once he arrived, we got to lunch, which was ramen noodles broken up into quart freezer bags. I boiled the water and got them to “cooking.” While we sat and ate, the ATV driver came up again, and brought some friends. Over a dozen people drove up in ATVs and motorbikes and parked not too far from us, They were exploring the mines, no masks. One of them walked over to us and said she remembered us from seeing us at the lodge a couple of years ago. 

Then they went one way and we finished lunch and went the other. But then we stopped pretty quick to fill up our water. They passed us here, close up, with no distancing, and gave us the wrong directions to where we were going. I ignored their directions, because I was sure I knew which way to go, and sure that they’d not hiked up here much if at all – drive, yeah, but hike? Naw. I knew this road from having walked it twice already, albeit in the other direction. 

Nice and empty when I arrived.

But crowded by the time we left.

Ambrose filled up on water here; I figured I didn’t need more until I got to camp.

So, I panicked a bit, but followed my instincts. And they turned out to be correct. I thought about waiting for Ambrose to catch up so I could assure him we were going the right way, but he was being too slow so I just kept going up until I hit the campsite and waited for him there. 

Oh yeah, big switchback where water runs on the road, I know this place.

Goodbye Big Creek, see you in a week!

The road has a lot of ankle turners after this point. 

Our home for the night. 

Once Ambrose arrived, we took a look around to see if we wanted to camp anywhere other than the site we used before, which is pretty flat, but a bit rocky. I ended up deciding that it would be the spot again. Our triplex tent is pretty big, so I prefer to have a nice big spot to pitch. 

We had a good amount of time to relax that afternoon and evening. Dinner was a new one for us – Mountain House Mexican Rice. It was not a favorite… I’m not very fond of red sauce without good heat, and Ambrose’s appetite wasn’t there. Plus, we didn’t use enough water at first and needed to add more to let the rice plump a bit and allow the sauce to be sauce instead of paste. 

After my Lucky Peak training hikes, I’ve been able to keep myself pretty revved up, so I did have quite an apptetite. And a good thing, because I was hungry enough to eat whatever Ambrose wasn’t able to. He was totally ready to bury the food he didn’t eat, but I was ready to eat it. 

Decent pitch, bear canister and my pack in the background on the right.

The temperature chilled pretty fast once the sun disappeared over the trees. Not really sunset, because we were pretty much snugged up against a substantially tall ridge. The wind blew steadily, but I slept comfortably and well. Ambrose didn’t even snore very much. 

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