Our own private Idaho
Leaving Wyoming behind us we entered Idaho, one of the least populated states in the US where the amount of public land is matched only by the enormity of the sky.
The first stop was the Craters of the Moon National Monument, an ancient volcanic landscape filled with splatter cones, cinder hills and lava tunnels to explore. We did lots of good learning, and nearly died in the heat.
Leaving Craters of the Moon we turned onto highway 75 and drove up through the Sun Valley and into the Sawtooth Wilderness, a place I have been looking forward to visiting ever since we started planning this trip all those years ago. It was everything I had imagined, towering mountains, wide valleys, crystal clear rivers, pine trees draping the hillsides like a giant green blanket and more wild-camping spots than you could need in a lifetime.
One day we donned our backpacks and headed up to Alpine Lake for some backcountry camping. It was the archetypal alpine scene, except the lake was bluer, the snow whiter, the mountains more jagged and the wilderness more wild. We found ourselves a great flat spot right by the lake, made a cuppa and started to relax into a lazy afternoon of swimming, sunbathing and exploring.
Our pleasant afternoon was sadly interrupted by some fellow hikers who spotted a tree on fire on the other side of the lake and asked if I would help put it out. Grabbing our bear proof food cannister, which is effectively a 25l bucket, I ran over to the fire where I was joined by other hikers with whatever pots, pans, cups or water containers they had to hand. We made a human chain and tried to put the fire out, but as soon as we had put one fire out another popped up. I later learnt the fire was travelling underground. When a burning branch dropped from the top of the (now alight) tree narrowly missing one of the other hikers we knew it was time to accept defeat. We had tried, but ultimately we were fighting a losing battle.
The wind was strong, and wild fires can grow quickly. Chatting with my new friends who were more knowledgeable about wild fires, it became apparent that staying in the area was incredibly dangerous, so with that we picked up our packs, and reversed our route back to the trailhead and found ourselves a wild camp in Brenda for the night.
Later in the evening, as we were putting the boys to bed, a Forestry Service officer stopped by our camp. He had heard we had tried to help and came to thank us for our efforts. He also advised that we move on, because if the wind kept up we might be in the fire path by morning, so in the dark we packed up, and drove to a new spot a few miles away. Tired, disappointed, and sad at the thought of all that burning forest all we could do was drink whisky (from the bottle) and look at the stars.
The next few days were spent moving on slowly through the Sawtooth National Forest, and then the Salmon-Challis National Forest following the Salmon River downstream. Idaho has more hot springs than any other US state, and so we spent some time looking for remote hot springs to soak in. Our first target required a crossing of the Salmon river, the flow of which I underestimated and the kids nearly got swept downstream…… we did find an amazing hot spring though.
After 3 or 4 glorious days we finally made it to the end of the Salmon River and turned towards Montana and specifically Missoula.
I had high expectations of the Sawtooth wilderness, and I can honestly say that they exceeded them, and of all the travelling we’ve done I think the last week has been one of the most enjoyable.