Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
– Mark Twain
So a couple weeks back I receive a message from my friend Jason. Jason is planning a multi day trip at the end of August and was wanting to recon the area around Ross Fork Basin for a possible route from Smiley Creek.
Of course I’m in for this, so Yeah lets go. Next question, single long day or as an overnight? …. my vote is overnight!
I’ve been wanting to explore up into the Ross Fork for a while, and now is my chance. I have mulled it over on the map multiple times wondering what might be at the end of these roads that wander up into the southern tip of the Sawtooth’s. The weekend was set!
As the date drew near, Jason started sending route options. Our plan was to bee line it up into Ross Fork to a little puddle called Goat Lake. We would then drop our gear and explore some of the surrounding trails as short cut possibilities for his up coming dual sport trip.
Route selected ….
Our chosen route would depart through southeast Boise taking the old Oregon Trail over to Blacks Creek Road. From there we would run Blacks Creek up to Prairie, then Meadow Creek Road (128) over House Mountain to Fall Creek Road (129), down to Lester Creek Road and to Pine where we would need to take on fuel.
From Pine we would continue through Featherville and along Baumgartner Road (227) to an area I refer to as Big Smoky. We would then head north on (012) following the S Fork Boise River towards Ross Fork Basin and our eventual destination approx. 140 miles from home.
Departing Boise along the Oregon Trail ….
Jason and I decided to stretch out a bit in order to mitigate dust inhalation. I would run behind Jason 5-10 minutes most of the trip, which worked out well. (Jason’s con trail off in the distance)
We agreed on preselected meeting points along the way so if any issues presented themselves we wouldn’t separate so far preventing assistance.
First stop … Bonneville Point
A quick stop with only enough time to snap a few pics, we’re eager to ride, so Jason departs. We’ll have a few miles of pavement before we jump onto the dirt of Blacks Creek Road. The air is still cool and the ride is nice …
Y Stop Store will be out next meet up …
Along the way there is an overlook down on the S Fork headwaters of Arrowrock. I stop here at this point almost every time I pass, so I kind of feel obligated. Our air is filled with a smokey haze propagated by regional wildfires … hopefully they won’t last and we’ll get our air quality back!
Another familiar spot along the S Fork Boise River canyon …. this particular point really details how the earth appears to have just cracked open.
Looking back from where we came in….
…and looking forward
We will peel away from the river at this point and climb up to the plateau referred to as Prairie.
Jason and I make our first meet up point at the Y Stop Store. We take a break, drink a pop, and play fetch with a local pup.
After our break we point the bikes east through Prairie towards House Mountain. Fall Creek Road will meet us on the opposite side, connecting Lester Creek Road into Pine.
Making our run towards House Mountain, backside of Prairie …. looking forward.
Looking back ….
Near the pass on House Mountain … the faint strip centered in the pic was our route out of Prairie. The Danskin Mountains in the background.
As we crest the pass and start our decent into Fall Creek we clearly see the aftermath left behind by a previous years wildfire.
Even though a lot of these fires are natural caused (I can’t recall the cause on this fire) … it is still a hard pill to swallow since this area was once lush forest. The effects of the fire run almost all the way into Pine. It was nice to see that they were at least harvesting the usable timber along Fall Creek Road …. whether or not this was facilitated by the Forest Service or private land owners, I don’t know?
Fall Creek Road / 129 Junction, North would take us up into the Trinities, but today the road takes us southeast to our next meetup point, Lester Creek Road.
Lester Creek Guard Station …. no one was home.
After encountering a few ATV’s along Lester Creek… man they can kick up the dust! … we arrive in Pine. Pine is our last fuel opportunity before Ross Fork, so we stop. It is noticeably warmer making our return to the road a priority …. after Jason stopped drooling over a 1190 KTM sitting in que!
After passing through Featherville, another small community about 10 miles up the road, we head east along the South Fork Boise
Jason and I make our next meet up at the Big Smoky junction. We stop to stretch our legs before heading north up Rd 012. The last section along Baumgartner Rd was nice, but we both commented that it sure seemed longer than anticipated …
After some good ole PB&J …. we head north into Ross Fork!
We turn our direction north up road 012 over the 6000′ Fleck Summit.
Our destination will actually be Bear Creek Road which will ultimately deliver us to Goat Lake ….
West off Fleck Summit ….
North off Fleck Summit, our direction towards Goat Lake…
Invisible Bike, Idaho Country! … no potatoes up here!
Once over Fleck Summit the road turns to 079, we continue on for a few miles until we reach an intersection ….
Right is the continuation of 079 and concludes in Ross Fork Basin. This would not be our destination this trip, but will be our excuse to come back and continue our exploration!
Left is Bear Creek, 080. Bear Creek is pretty much an old mining road. We follow 080 up for 5-6ish miles keeping an eye out for an ATV trail turning off to the right.
The ATV trail appears and makes a steady advance up the mountain side!
Goat Lake is up top there …. somewhere
The ATV trail resides itself to being a mix of loose rock included with a respectable grade. The bikes do there work and motor up with little difficulty so long as their pilots are able to maintain balance and direction. My only concerns would be the lack of fan on my DRZ and the constant 1st gear grinding as we head for the top. The DRZ did well only spilling a touch off coolant right when we reached our upper destination. Jason’s 500 KTM never missed a beat and flaunted it’s cooling fan every time we made a stop.
We arrive at the final stretch, approx. a mile of single track that will deliver us to the lake. A couple of UTV’s are parked at the trailhead, which was no surprise as Goat Lake appeared within some fishing discussion forums during my previous google searches.
….. the single track was a welcome change from the loose and rocky obstacle course of the ATV track. Both Jason and I are anxious to achieve our destination, which we know to be a short mile away.
The first quarter mile or so is fairly benign, a nice “flowy” trail bed with a few rocks and a couple of smooth switchbacks. I soon start to revel in the thought that the lake is near …. at about the time the mountain decides that we have yet to meet our rock quota, the trail bed transitions into basically a rocky creek bed… which for all purposes the bikes handled with ease. As we clear what were hoping to be the final section I look up to see Jason negotiating yet another switch back set, but this time he has stalled his bike indicating more rocky pleasure in my near future.
I stop at one of the below switch backs at about which time we hear a yell from above …. my first thought is of “Oh shit…. we’re not suppose to be in here” …. I hear the yell a couple more times and then Jason relays down to me that we are being told that the trail gets better above. A series of recently cut deadfall was also an indicator of motorized access … not many hikers are going to pack in a chainsaw to clear trail.
We continue up through all the rocky goodness to meet two hikers on the way up and three coming down … we wave, give out thanks, and push on to the end ….
About a 100 yds past were we met the hikers we reach our destination … Goat Lake.
Both Jason and I are in awe as the lake comes into view … my first thought is that of disbelief that we are still allowed to actually ride to a destination such as this, but that feeling quickly turns to appreciation along with a stark reminder that responsible use of these trails is the only thing that will keep these trails open.
At lakes edge ….
As we rolled up to the lake we realized that we were not alone…. there were about six or so horses tied off. The riders were enjoying the view from the waters edge just behind some bushes. We wander over to say a quick hello and receive a friendly greeting back. We learned a bit about the area as they are frequent visitors, one of the riders actually trail rides on a bike a bit as well. I inquired if the had knowledge of some of the trails accessing Smiley Creek (Emma, Vienna, Etc) and their condition compared to what we had just rode up …. his response was that they were very similar with possibly a bit more technical in spots. This pretty much answered Jason’s question on whether or not to route through these parts during his up coming ride …. bigger loaded bikes on tight “techy” trails are not a good mix.
Shortly after our visit with the horse riders… they saddled up and departed with a wave. The hikers we had previously met on the trail had also arrived which we had a nice visit. They as well frequented the area and had good local knowledge of trails, lakes, and an old time miner that had worked this particular area. They departed after our visit leaving Jason and I to decide which camp spot would best suit us for the night.
…. camp Jason
….. camp obrianmcc
…. a few misc pics from around the lake
….. the shadows grow long, so we make good use of the existing fire ring with a camp fire.
We had originally planned to drop our gear at the lake and then continue to explore, but I think we were both a bit surprised at what it took to just reach the lake … the riding wasn’t necessarily hard, but in combination of riding a total of 140 miles just to get there I was feeling a bit beat. Every time I would stand up I’d feel dizzy and light headed. A quick splash in the lake helped, but my enthusiasm to ride more that day was quickly fading. It then dawned on me that we were at approx. 9000′ …. Altitude!
We both decided that chilling around the fire, eating some dinner, and sipping some libation sounded like a good tactical plan!
As evening drew close, the fading light and changing shadows altered the visual of the surrounding landscape enough that Jason decided another quick hike over to the creek was required to take a few more photo’s. Little did he know that the skeeters would be laying in wait within the foliage for the next passer-by. Fighting off the best he could of skeeter mania, he snapped a few pics and retreated back to the safety of the campfire.
I chose to stay behind and tend the fire just in case such a retreat was to occur!
We spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fire sipping beverages of choice ….
One nice thing about camping at a place such as this…. as evening falls and the sun sets, the sky becomes dark and the stars come out in force. It amazes me how long one can both stare into a campfire and at the stars, both having equal hypnotic qualities.
The Milky Way started to become visible, so Jason set up his camera for some extended exposure shots. One shot in particular came out awesome, which he has posted up in his blog.
Midnight drew near and beverages depleted, so we figured we better catch some in preparation for tomorrows ride.
We woke up the next morning to a nice chill in the air, it wasn’t cold per say, but felt nice compared to the warmer temps we’ve had lately in the valley.
Morning by the lake….
We wasted no time in brewing up the morning joe … all coffee tastes good in the mountains!
Breakfast was consumed, camp broken down, and bikes packed. Time to head down.
First switchback…. I attempted a reverse switchback maneuver where one turns up hill and hops the bike around to exit the switchback turn. I assumed the added rear weight bias might help, but I was wrong. My reverse maneuver turned more into a squid maneuver, but I made the turn in the end!
Jason descending into some rocky fun …
Contemplating his next move …. or the excuse he’ll give when he drags his brothers up here!
Off the single track we start our ride down the ATV track….
Our route below …
Regrouping at the bottom …
We continue our ride out along Bear Crk Rd …
Until we come to a creek crossing we had negotiated the day before (Bear Crk) ….
I opted to walk the bike across due to slippery slimy rocks along the stream bed … Jason wanted to retain his man card, so he rode across!
Once across the creek and back on 079 we headed south back over Fleck Summit and into Big Smokey. From there we made our way back into Featherville and Pine were we stopped for fuel and food at a local café. This was evidently the same café that Jason said he had stopped at during an IAMC Group Ride, the group was large enough that the servers freaked out … evidently that was a lot of pop cans they had to open, but this day our business was welcome.
After lunch we made like bandits retracing our previous days route back into Boise. Jason jumped back over the Oregon Trail and I split off another way that was a bit more direct for my home base.
In the end I can conclude all bikes and gear worked flawlessly (OBR ADV Gear), that we had a great two days of riding, found an awesome camp location, and we gained knowledge of a previously unknown area. I definitely want to visit the Ross Fork again as there is still a lot of country to explore.
For the true story visit Jason’s Trailimage blog
…. his pictures will not disappoint!