Thursday, November 3, 2016


All things must come to an end. Goodbye, Blogger. Feel free to get ahold of me at my new site. Heads up–it's a work in progress.

Thanks for stopping by, and for supporting this blog,
- casey

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grave Peak Lookout

The mighty Lochsa. Bitterroot Mountains. Grave Peak. This land is one of history.

Bud Moore, who knew the Lochsa country better then anyone before or since, watched the last Bitterroot Grizzly exterminated here in the 1940's. Bob Marshall was treed by a silvertip just below the summit in the 1930's. And of course, a young Norman Maclean was stationed here as a lookout in the summer of 1919, five years before the present D-6 cupola was erected to give permanent shelter to those in that line of work.

The peak sits at 8282' on a prominent ridge across the valley to the west of the Big Bitterroots. Jerry Johnson named the peak in 1886 after his friend Isaac, whom he buried at it's base. On that occasion Isaac was extremely ill, but ventured into the mountains guiding Johnson to where a spectacular seam of gold lay. Before Isaac could make the ridge, he looked at Johnson, pointed east and said "See snow. Sun", and then passed. To this day no one has found that seam.

We were not up here chasing gold legends, but the last rays of summer before the Lochsa surrendered to the inevitable autumn snow cycles. For me, it was also a chance to spend time with two good friends who for various reasons (Shaun, injured. Jeff, weekends full of music gigs.) haven't been able to get into the mountains much lately.

The north ridge was the choice route. An unofficial one mile trail leads to a high point. From there, it's 3.5 miles to the summit. After 3 of those miles, and before things got real - in the form of actual scrambling - we dove down to the largest of the Wind Lakes to set up camp, take a nap, and enjoy the sun. The summit was accessed from the trail leading over Friday Pass. It didn't seem a trail could crawl up the south spine, but someone built it, and we made it. Even Jeff's dog, Bentley.

The precariously perched tower is the last remaining D-6 cupola standing in Idaho, and is in decent shape. An effort was made in 1998 to reenforce its shutters and stabilize the structure. Although, a full restoration is not on the horizon. Grave Peak Lookout suffers the fate of lying one mile on the wrong side of a Wilderness boundary. If a restoration plan would take shape, time would need to be budgeted for inevitable lawsuits to run their course, and maybe a Congressional hearing or two.

Not that any of that was on our minds as we stared at the immensely layered spaces in every direction. Breathtaking scenes that have barley changed since that August day in 1919 when Maclean stood on this pointy rocky top and thought "When I looked, I knew I might never again see so much of the earth so beautiful, the beauty being something you know added to something you see, in a whole that is different from the sum of it's parts... From where I stood to the Bitterroot wall, which could have been the end of the world, was all windrows of momentary white. Beyond the wall, it seemed likely, eternity went on in windrows of Bitterroot Mountains and summer..."

After an hour on the summit, our empty water bottles told us it was time for retreat. We took a cutoff trail down to the upper Wind Lake, past the spot where Maclean pitched his tent 94 years ago, and the following morning left these mountains, and with it, summer.

On the playlist: Alt-J - Ms

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tobacco Root Packbike

David Chenault just below the Tobacco Root Divide.

Ever since I started looking into possible packbiking routes, the Tabacco Roots have been on my radar. The nice thing about the mountain range is the absence of designated wilderness. Which means mountain biking is legal. But at the same time, there's a logistic catch which prevents traditional (and contemporary) mountain bike touring: no road or trail crosses the steep 10000ft divide. So, it's ether go around the Tobacco Roots on pavement. Or, head off-trail through them.

Dave and I chose the latter, heading out from just east of Sheridan, and up the South Fork of Mill Creek on a rough old mining road. We hit snow line, and hike-a-biked until postholing forced our bikes on to our backpacks. The climb was as gentle as it looked on the map, but a 30ft cornice changed our evening destination from South Meadow Creek Lake, to the Mill Gulch Basin.

On top of the 30ft cornice that caused a detour into the upper Mill Gulch Basin.
Heading down a couloir into Mill Gulch Basin.
Beers and brats and a perfect camp spot at 9000ft.
We camped on the seemingly only semi-dry piece of ground in the basin, and in the morning, we shot up a steep talus-y slope. Then, staight down a mash-potato-snow-filled 45 degree couloir. Which, put me a little out of my element, but with Dave laying a great track, I managed to fumble my way down without too many incidents. After a brief stop to fish South Meadow Creek Lake, I was in my element again, descending a techy mining road past the ruins of old gold claims. Norris Hot Springs was a sight for sore eyes, but our eyes just got more sore after too much sun, beer, and hot water. We were both in the tent by 6pm, trying to fight back dehydration.

Tenkara fishing on South Meadow Creek Lake.
Old mining road along South Meadow Creek
The early morning hours at Norris Hot Springs.
In the morning, all was well again. Coffee and laughs at the Norris Gas Station, and we were off. A road that didn't exist lead us away from the town of Pony, up past the Sureshot Lakes, and down to a refreshing little undeveloped hot springs near the old Potosi Hot Spring Resort. Dave tried to fish the creek, but it was still running too high. Then, we made a dash for Bell Lake. And by 'dash', I mean a 3 mile hike-a-bike. The lake provide the best campsite of the trip.

Camp on the Bell Lake Dam.
Heading up the pass above Bell Lake.
After worrying for days about getting corniced-out on our final crossing, the route up in the morning was a breeze. Hard snow down low. Bare ground to the tiny pass. Dave got on his bike and headed off for some high singletrack, and I almost got lost on the descent to the lake. Then, after a 20min dirt road descent, we were back at the car.

Almost there.
On top of the Tobacco Root Divide, looking south towards Branham Lakes.
Back on the bike.
A few days later, Dave's final take on the trip was: "My favorite, most accurate way to measure trip depth is the severity of re-acclimation sickness. This trip was pretty bad for a 3 night, 3 day affair. Just like a good beer, a perfectly balanced adventure is not something to drain away without regret."

I don't think I could've said it better. With a ridiculous amount of variety, the perfect partner-in-crime, and just enough unplanned situations to keep my heart pumping, this was a good one. And, one I don't think I'm going to top anytime soon.