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Getting High in Idaho

July 6, 2019.

I went to bed hoping that our position on the ridge would result in some stupendous sunrise photos, but as morning rolled around, it was clear that ridges around us had been inappropriately placed by the Earth, and that all I was going to get was a little bit of orange on the horizon and a view of Croesus Peak out the window.

Thanks a lot, Earth.

Like the previous morning, our plan was to meet another truck before setting out on our next adventure, but this morning we were set to meet much earlier in Stanley - 10:00am - necessitating a much earlier departure from camp, our last view of what had been one of my favorite camp sites coming just before 8:00am.

Heading back down the hill, chatter on the CB was high. Ben @m3bassman, Will @willhaman21 , and Mikey @pizzaviolence were calling out all kinds of weird things in search of their buddy Kyle @KP907 on the off-chance that he and Nicole had found a place to camp up the Washington Basin road the previous evening. I turned down the volume and @mrs.turbodb and I enjoyed the scenery.

Honest ranching here.

We arrived in Stanley right on time, performing the same dance we had with fuel the day before, and then headed out west on ID-75, with a second, 2nd gen Tacoma now in tow.

One might say "of course," but with several non-1st gen Tacoma's, it wasn't long before Will - who was now tail-gunning for the group - called out over the CB that Angie had noticed the rear tire on Mikey's truck was dangerously low. We weren't sure what caused it on the way down the mountain, but something had clearly started a slow leak, and we immediately pulled over to the side of the highway and set to work installing the spare - a quick change with the help of a mid-torque Milwaukee Impact Wrench, seen here working the lug nuts off by itself while Mikey lowered the spare and the rest of us just stood around watching.

Tire repaired, it was time to get back on dirt - this time on Yankee Fork Rd (the Old Custer Motorway). That meant airing down for Kyle (and Mikey's spare), so we pulled over and joked that perhaps the rest of us should also let out a bit of air for what was clearly a gravel highway fit for Civic's.

Driving comfort at an all-time high, we proceeded upstream, past millions of cubic feet of dredge tailings until we found ourselves at the Yankee Fork dredge - the largest in-tact dredge in the lower 48 states; 3-4 times larger than Tony Beets dredges on Gold Rush. Built between April and August 1940 (fast!), the dredge is 54 feet wide by 112 feet long, requiring 8 feet of water to float on its pontoons.

Each of the 71, 8 cubic foot buckets, weigh in at a cool 2,000 lbs - capable of processing 26 cubic feet of material per minute.

Active for only a few years, the dredge was in service until 1942, then out of service during WWII, and back in service for a few years until 1952 when it was finally shut down for good and eventually donated to the state of Idaho, destined to become the mining museum we were experiencing today.

Inside, two older gentlemen who had worked on the dredge were giving tours, and we soaked in the stories of the winch room, control room, trammel, sluices, and engine. As a fan of Gold Rush, it was - I have to say - a pretty cool experience!

Our tour complete, we continued north to what we hoped would be just cool - the old gold town of Custer - where we planned to eat lunch as we explored the ruins. As it turns out, the good folks of Custer had fully embraced the attraction of a reasonably well preserved ghost town, and the whole place was a little too touristy for my tastes - the antiquities laid out along the road, every one of them labeled, regardless of the obviousness of the item.

Because seriously, no one knows what a wheelbarrow is.

From Custer, the real highlight of the afternoon was about to begin. Ben had promised that this trip would be all about getting as high as we could in Idaho - and our first opportunity was going to be a trip to the Twin Peaks Fire Lookout, at 10,394' above sea level.

That meant we had some driving to do, and as we'd done in the past, we held back a bit in order to cut down on the dust and enjoy the back-roads with our windows down. Every now and then however, we'd catch up to the rest of the group, prompting a break at an interesting looking spot along the side of the road.

Homestead Station was just one of these places, described as follows in the Yankee Fork Herald in 1880:

This station has been fitted up specially to accomodate the travel between Bonanza City and Challis and the public may be CONFIDENT OF A SQUARE MEAL when they patronize this station. Everything kept clean and neat.James Dywer, Proprietor

From there, it wasn't long before we found ourselves on North Peaks Road - first through the forest, and then through the tree line, making our way up, up, up. "We're really doing this." piped up Mikey over the CB - the switchbacks through scree fields a little out of his comfort zone.

Of course, though they were through scree fields, the switchbacks were plenty wide - nothing like what I'd experienced the previous year heading up Fisher Mountain  on The Re-Tour - and we all made it to the top with no trouble at all. And there, we soaked in the views - I mean, how could we not?!

Here we were, getting high - the road the second highest in all of Idaho - on a beautiful day.

Eventually, we decided that it was time to keep moving. The plan had been to camp further up the road, but we could see from the lookout that it was covered by a 30' snow drift just a couple miles further along. As such, our camp plans for the night were up in the air and we figured it'd be good to get moving in case we had trouble finding something. So, it was back down the switchbacks the way we'd come.

As always seems to be the case, we never moved quite as quickly as we planned, and there were a couple of old USFS cabins that we stopped at on the way down the mountain. The older of the two was built pre-1888 and was an early prospector and trapper way-cabin - Twin Peaks Cabin - according to a sign posted by the Forest Service. That put it at over 130 years old - a feat for any building, much less one subjected to the harsh conditions and 19th century building tech! I guess there's something to the saying that they don't build them like they used to.

As we continued back toward the highway, it was decided that we'd head towards our next (and last day's) destination - Railroad Ridge - to find camp. That would help us get an early start - something @mrs.turbodb and I were keen on given the ~11 hour drive home that awaited us after we summited the highest road in Idaho.

That decision lasted all of about 15 minutes until we saw a promising looking road leading off of our road and into an adjacent canyon. So easily distracted, this bunch!

Alas, exploration of the road and it's main offshoot didn't result in the stunning camp site we were after, and so we continued on, a little water play from Will and Mikey as we made our way out.

And with that, we were back to the original plan - head south towards Railroad Ridge, through Challis, to find a camp site for the evening. It was by far our latest evening of the trip - nearly 7:00pm when we turned off the highway and set off across the valley and into Spar Canyon, the sun highlighting not only the dust that rose up behind our trucks but also the mountains in our mirrors.

It took a while - Ben and I splitting up and relying on the distance provided by Ham radios - before we found what we could only refer to as "a spot to camp." Clearly a staging area for ranchers, it was flat, reasonably sheltered, and big enough to fit our five trucks.

Now nearing 8:00pm, we all set about deploying camp and starting dinner - our assumption that the day's excitement was done and it would be routine from here. We couldn't have been more wrong. Within minutes, the wind was whipping around camp, ominous rain clouds bearing down from the east. As the drops started to fall, everyone retreated to shelter - some into vehicles, others into tents, and a few brave souls under awnings.

Thankfully, the rain passed reasonably quickly and the warm temperatures meant that everything was dry as a bone within another 5 minutes or so. The wind - still strong - made dinner prep interesting, everyone resorting to their own strategies for keeping the flame lit on their stove. Some with more success than others; I'm not sure I've ever seen someone cook with the tailgate up!

And then, as I was warming our dinner, a scream. Or maybe a yelp - I can't say for sure because I didn't hear it - but after a couple other folks in camp asked if it was @mrs.turbodb, I decided I'd better go check - she'd headed off to use the facilities (aka bushes), and I thought she may have tripped and could use my help.

Well, it turned out tripping wasn't the problem - not by a long shot. As she came scurrying out of the bushes, all she could say was, "There's a rattle snake!" And it took several attempts for me to coax the fact that she was OK and hadn't been bitten, thankfully.

From there, things did calm down quite a bit the rest of the evening. The wind basically stopped, allowing us to start another splendid camp fire. The sunset, while not one of the more colorful ones we've seen on a trip was nonetheless beautiful, and Mikey baked a camp fire cake (lemon blackberry) for Angie's birthday.

It was nearly midnight when we all called it a night and retreated to our tents. All of us glad for the day we'd had, and looking forward to the next, where we'd not only reach the highest road in Idaho, but also revisit one of the creepiest places any of us had ever experienced.

But that's a story for another day.

 

 

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