horton peak.

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This was our “big” day hike, so we woke with the sun to get the best of the weather. The drive to Horton Peak’s trailhead is long and winding and beautiful…until you reach the 5-mile stretch of bumpy dirt road and aren’t sure whether your Ford Fiesta will survive being tipped 180 degrees. Maybe I’m exaggerating. We did make it to the trail just fine. We only saw one other hiker, two fetching border collies, and thankfully, no bears. The view from Horton Peak is spellbinding; you can see four alpine lakes (Alturas, Yellowbelly, Petite, and Rainbow) and the White Cloud peaks on the horizon. We took a break at the top to eat chocolate bars and take in the scenery. But in the typical style of this trip, we felt a drizzle and started frantically running down the steep trail. Well, one of us ran. One of us danced down like the hills were alive with the sound of something. After a few minutes, it clearly wasn’t going to rain, but we kept our pace and ended up making it down in less than half the time it took us to hike up.

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We took the scenic route from Horton Peak back to Boise – up Highway 21 through Stanley and the Boise National Forest. I can’t believe how much beauty there is in Idaho. It’s never-ending. Even driving is enjoyable there because every inch of landscape is mesmerizing. Highway 21 reminded me of Highway 1, which we drove last summer to Big Sur. Instead of California’s beaches and sea cliffs, though, Idaho has mountains and canyons and rivers and waterfalls. Illinois has….just kidding, Illinois has nothing.

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Part of the beauty of the Sawtooth trails is how few people hike them. Everything in Idaho seems so untouched and secret. From many of the peaks, there isn’t a road in sight. The downside to all of that is there isn’t much information about these places online, so it’s really hard to plan a hike from afar. I was really worried that Max’s plan to “bag a peak in the White Clouds” was too much for me (and our little rental car) to handle, so we stopped at Sawtooth’s visitor center to get a map and some advice. The volunteers ended up being this adorable, elderly couple who bickered back and forth about what we should do and what they would have done when they were our age. I’m so glad we stopped, because not only did they help us with the next day’s plan, they also steered us away from spending the evening at Craters of the Moon and toward sneaking in a shorter, nighttime hike to an alpine lake. So, off we went to hike Titus Lake Trail. The storm from earlier in the day never fully subsided, and the clouds still loomed overhead, threatening more rain.

Titus Lake may have been my favorite hike of this trip. Rounding the corner of the trail at the first point where you can see the lake in the distance was such a rewarding experience. Reaching a mountain’s peak doesn’t even compare to reaching a pristine, peaceful alpine lake in a clearing where all you can hear is the sound of silence (sorry if Simon and Garfunkel are stuck in your head for the rest of the day) and the flicker of your camera’s shutter. I felt like I an explorer discovering the mountains, happening upon nature’s greatest gems, and seeing what no other human had ever seen. Obviously, according to the guestbook at the trailhead, five other people had seen it earlier that day, but you know what I mean. It felt unreal – like it existed only for us in that moment.

On the walk back to the car it actually did start to drizzle, and when I mistook thunder rumbling on the horizon for a bear growling in the distance, the walk turned into a run. Ugh, irrational fears.

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Shoutout to Max for being brave enough to climb possibly-dead trees for the sake of a picture, coining the awesome word “bearanoid” (or so I thought, until I Googled it), and for taking such stunning photos of green stuff on his hand.

twin falls as the rain falls.

For our only full day in Ketchum, the plan was to drive to Twin Falls, rent kayaks from Centennial Park, and see Perrine Bridge and Shoshone Falls from the Snake River. We were told it doesn’t really rain and to ignore the looming forecast of flash flooding. Of course, in a town with a monthly rainfall of one inch, it would rain six inches the day we show up! With the park flooded, we couldn’t even rent kayaks, so we compromised for less-than-spectacular-but-still-amazing views of the bridge and waterfall from the road. After the rain stopped, we bouldered around Centennial Park for a bit, and ended up with a pretty perfect view of the river, canyon, and bridge after all.

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and on the third day of Idaho, my true love gave to me…

…a mini-trip to Sun Valley! Ok, well, actually Ketchum.

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We drove from Boise to Ketchum and had an early lunch at KB’s, which was so good, we went back the next day for dinner. We still had time before our hotel check-in, so we went over to Bald Mountain to hike the 5.5-mile trail up and take the gondola down. The funny thing is that this was supposed to be our easy warm-up hike, but it ended up being the longest of the whole trip. It didn’t feel that way, though, because the trail wasn’t very steep and we stopped often to admire the wildlife (okay…a caterpillar we named Slinky) and wildflowers and cute puppies. When you get to the top, you actually have to take a chair lift down to where the gondola starts, and being up that high with your feet dangling 30 feet above the ground is not really my cup of tea. But the views were so worth it, and it made me wish there were a lift down from every summit. When you’re hiking to the top of a mountain, the climb is the fun part, reaching the peak is the rewarding part, and the descent is just a dangerous race back to the bathrooms and restaurants below.

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After Baldy, we went to a “bike bar” for dinner. We weren’t sure if we were walking into a Harley haven or a spot for cyclists. We took a chance, though, and luckily, it ended up being the latter. They had great burgers and I finally found a beer I like (Samuel Smith Raspberry Ale)! I enjoyed eavesdropping on the group of local 50-something-year-old men next to us as they discussed what they’d be bringing to Burning Man this year. And on the drive back to the hotel, 20 elk walked across the road right in front of us. Idaho is weird. And great.

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rafting the south fork.

On our second day in Idaho, we woke up early for an all-day rafting trip on the South Fork of the Payette River. The rapids were class threes and fours and super intense. It’s hard to “KEEP PADDLING!” straight into a five-foot wave when you really want to just focus on keeping all your body parts in the boat. With that said, it was a blast (literally – we got blasted with piercing water about 20 times) to spend the day navigating a river between sky-high canyon walls, and we made a few cherry-on-top stops throughout the day. First, we paddled over to a little waterfall spilling off the mountain into a natural Jacuzzi of pristine 90-degree water. In Idaho, they call this a “hot springs,” but I call it a miracle. And I’m not telling you where it is. It’s mine.

Our second stop was to portage a 45-foot waterfall, because we decided not to try to go down in the raft, because we felt like staying alive.

We also paused to have lunch on a little beach on the side of the river. These little untouched beaches really boggled my mind. The rivers’ water levels rise every year in the spring, and when the water line falls, tiny hidden beaches are revealed along the riverbank. They pop up in different spots every year and they never look the same as the year before. If that’s not reason enough to go back every year, I don’t know what is.

Our last stop was to jump off a cliff. Maybe it was more like a big boulder, but from the top, it definitely felt like a cliff. Plus, the guide called it a cliff. So yea, I’m sticking with cliff. Anyway, the jump was scary, the landing was freezing, and overall, the experience was really uncharacteristic of anything I’d normally do.

And because my camera is not waterproof, here’s a picture of our feet. Yay Keens!

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