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Stuck in the Snow! Washington Basin

July 5, 2019.

For most of us, the night passed peacefully. It was reasonably warm and calm, the creek flowing through the meadow gurgling rather than rushing by. I mean, there was that one UTV that revved its way by camp around 1:00am, but what can you expect on the 4th of July, really?

Unfortunately for Mikey @pizzaviolence however, the action in his tent more than made up for the rest of us. Riggs, who'd been feeling a bit under the weather the previous day had an accident around 2:00am. Luckily, according to Mikey, it was mostly contained to the towel on which Riggs was sleeping - unlike the second accident that took place around 2:05am as the first was getting cleaned up.

Sorry Mikey!

Luckily, we were in no rush the following morning - we had only a short drive into Stanley, where we planned to meet up with Will @willhaman21 and Angie who would be joining us in their 3rd gen 4Runner for the rest of the trip - so we took it easy, everyone having a leisurely breakfast as I explored the meadow in my now indispensable Muck boots. Teeny-tiny eggs for breakfast anyone?

We finally broke camp around 10:00am and hopped on the highway towards Stanley, Ben @m3bassman promising to keep the speeds slow given our aired down state. Apparently, despite his assertions otherwise, Ben's slow is still Idaho slow (where the speed limit is 80- vs. 60-mph) because I was soon left in the dust as I toddled along at 49mph.

No matter, we weren't going far - not even to Stanley - before stopping at one of my favorite views in the state, an overlook of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Still much earlier than we needed to be, we decided to hang out - basking in the glorious views and plentiful wildflowers - while we watched the highway for Will and Angie.

Right on schedule, or perhaps maybe even a little ahead of it, we saw their 4Runner cruise by and called out on the CB for them to give us a second to catch up. Begrudgingly - as you can imagine is generally the case when we run into other folks we know in the middle of nowhere - they did, and we caravaned our way into Stanley for a round of introductions and reunions, smiles all around.

A quick top-off of everyone's fuel tank and we were on the road again. While this first part of the day may have gotten off to a slow start, we were all looking forward to what the afternoon had in store - we were exploring a place none of us had ever been before, a place that promised splendiferous views and avalanche levels of excitement (literally).

We were headed to Washington Basin.

Of course, we didn't want to encounter all that excitement on empty stomachs, so we pulled over just a few miles up the dirt road to explore a historic ranger station, and raid our pantries for sustenance.

For 21 years, this station as worked by Bill Horton, who kept a daily diary of his experiences and chores.

June 23, 1915
Rode to top of summit to boundary Laidlaws sheep. Gone over this a.m. and came back to cabin for dinner. Supervisor Benedict came from Hailey. Rode over the telephone line we are going to build to Redfish Lake with Mr. Benedict. Stopped at Clarks and had supper.
Grazing 6 hours
Redfish Lkae Tel Line 4 hours.

Sept 11, 1915
Guard Gilman and Kaulter left here to work on the fire line and Redfish Lake trail. Rode up sheep trail to foot of Summit. Saw one band of Bill Newmans sheep going to Stanley to pasture. Saw a smoke on Jacksons reserve. Rode up there and found a fire. Someone had camped there and left their fire and the wind carried it to a bunch of Sprice timber. Rode back to newmans camp and got a bucket and shovel and went back. Dug a trench around the fire and packed water and smothered it out. It burned about 2 rods square and burned about 3 big spruce trees. Think it was a hunting party that left their fire as there were chicken feathers around the camp and automobile tracks. Think I have it all out as I can not see any smoke but will go back in the morning.
Grazing 2 hours
Fire suppression 7 hoursBill Horton, Ranger

Hot and with little shade, our lunch stop was much shorter than Bill's stay at the station, and we were back on the dusty road - headed up towards Washington Basin's scree fields - a little after 1:00pm.

As the miles ticked by, Ben came over the CB to let us know that he'd talked to a ranger who'd been up the road just a couple weeks earlier, and he suspected that we'd soon be stopped - not by snow, but by an avalanche that had covered the road. Before that though, we had a reasonably-sized (but not difficult) water crossing to contend with, Ben making his way through before I even pulled up to the end of the line.

Will was up next, having a bit of fun as we snapped pictures from both banks.

Mikey followed, his 2nd gen on stock wheels/tires/suspension having no trouble at all as he piloted through.

Deciding to have a bit of fun, it was at this point that I asked @mrs.turbodb to pop out of the truck and take over the camera duties. See, on our previous trip to Death Valley with Ben, he'd blasted through the Amargosa River, putting on quite the show. Now, it was my turn. I put it in gear and pressed the skinny pedal.

I didn't get going all that fast, but even at 15mph or so, when you've got the right depth of water, the effect can be dramatic. Everyone loved it, I think. I know I did.

It wasn't far from this water crossing that we hit the obstacle that Ben was sure would be the end of the road - an avalanche that had flowed thousands of feet down the mountainside, carrying thousands of tons of trees right along with it. These trees - now over the road - were what the ranger had suggested might stop us in our tracks.

But not today! Luckily, someone with a chainsaw had come through ahead of us - a nice path carved through the trees, the smell of Christmas all around. We continued - cautiously - grateful for the opportunity to explore further.

With only the bright blue sky as our limit now, we wondered if anything could stop us on our quest to reach the top of Washington Basin. Suddenly, we had a new problem - Ben had planned to meet Kyle @KP907 and Nicole somewhere along this road, possibly later this evening - the assumption that we'd be reasonably close to the highway, blocked by the avalanche. Ultimately, we needed have worried - Kyle and Nicole weren't able to get off early, and we ended up meeting them the next morning in Stanley - but for now, as we passed through burned forest, we wondered just how it would all work out.

The further we climbed, the more pleasant it got outside - the temperature dropping, patches of snow appearing on the side of the road. Of course, the views also improved - as tends to happen with elevation. It was still early - not even 3:00pm - when we stumbled upon this fabtacular camp site; unfortunately, too early to stop for the day.

Of course, on the edge of a cliff and with amazing views, I filed the spot away in my internal rolodex, hoping that we could return - either this trip or another - to enjoy this special place.

We pushed on. Up and up. Not the highest road in Idaho - we'd hit those later - but up over 9000' before reaching the namesake of the area we were exploring - a basin under Mt. Washington.

This place too provided a possible camp site - the view not quite as nice, but the draw of "no cliff," attractive to some. And, there was an old mine to explore - rusty equipment and deep holes full of ice and snow sprinkled around the hillside.

In the end though, we continued on - excited to find the end of the road - wherever that may be - to see if it presented an even better spot. Because - you know - why settle when you're in paradise?

It was less than a mile when we reached our goal. The views at the end of the road were better than we could have imagined. All around, mountains rose above and below us; the sun shown down on us. Alas, flat ground in this spot alluded us, and a reasonably unanimous decision was made to pick one of the other spots we'd seen earlier in the day.

First though - we'd passed an offshoot that we decided warranted exploration. It was a bit snowy, but appeared to wind its way up to a idge that might provide us with the best of all worlds - flat, cliff-less views high up in Washington Basin.

Happy to snow bash, Will headed up first while the rest of us watched from the end of our road. Shortly, we saw him get stuck in a drift, followed shortly by revving, bashing, and then silence. We waited. Two minutes passed, then five. Eventually though - after about 10 minutes - we heard the familiar sound of his 5VZFE starting up, and then a minute later he came over the CB to tell us that he was through and continuing up the trail, having dug his way through the drift.

It was then that things went a little sideways - literally - though not for Will. Mikey, having seen Will get through the drift, pushed forward himself, his stock tires not quite up to the same task of keeping him on the trail. He was stuck.

Luckily for him - though the rest of us may have suggested it was lucky for us (!) - this was just the kind of thing that we reveled in - rescuing a truck, with no real danger involved. We got started by digging - three shovels moving snow off of the trail - the frist step to almost any snow-based recovery. Soon after, traction mats hit the ground, along with snatch straps - hooked to Will's truck, to aide in the escape.

And then, the moment of truth. Really, it was moments, as we leap-frogged the traction mats up the trail each time Mikey made it a few feet further. But, with some digging and careful tugging, Mikey was free.

It was a great time all around, Mikey's apologies for getting stuck easily set aside, as this was quite easily the highlight of our day!

Truck freed, it was officially time to decide on a camp site. Really, there were two possibilities - the lake in Washington Basin, and the cliff across the gorge from Croesus Peak. Ultimately, we decided that the lake was disqualified - the stagnant water and possibly tainted mine tailings a hazard for the dogs - so it was back down the trail to the overlook we'd seen earlier that afternoon.


Along the way - to free ourselves from the dust that trucks in front of us were kicking up - we made a short stop to explore a couple of old mining cabins, one perhaps still used as a hunting/snow cabin given its reasonably good condition. It's always fun to run into these places, to wonder about the history behind them, to wonder who crossed the threshold and what caused them to eventually abandon the place.

The dust settled, we pointed the truck downhill, and a short time later pulled into camp right along with everyone else. Perhaps predictably, I immediately setup as close to the edge as possible. For me, it never gets old.

Even with the excitement of digging out a truck, it was still before 7:00pm when we had firewood gathered and chairs setup around the warm flames. These long summer days were a huge boon - something I think we all wished could persist year-round, but that we nonetheless were grateful for on this beautiful day.

Plenty of wood, the campfire twinkled late into the evening, everyone having a great time. Dinner of steak and potatoes, with s'mores for dessert capped off what was a great day. A day that presented us with opportunities we never thought we'd have. A day that got us high into the Idaho mountains - a preview of what was still yet to come.

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  1. Erik Dahlen
    Erik Dahlen July 30, 2019

    Amazing shots! Really making me want to go explore Idaho now which I might do in a month!

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 30, 2019

      Thanks! Definitely a beautiful spot. Worthy of exploration for sure. Lots more Idaho coming in the next set of parts. Spent almost all of July there.

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