July 1 – 14, 2019
Just because we have returned to the fraternity of RV owners doesn’t mean we don’t still love to rough it. Nothing beats summer tent camping and backpacking in the Inland Northwest. With river levels starting to drop and snow melting off the high country, July found us trading the RV for a tent, fishing rods, backpacks, and boots.
Fly Fishing Idaho’s Clearwater River Basin
The tributaries of the Clearwater River in north central Idaho hold some of the clearest waters and best fly fishing we’ve found. The Clearwater Drainage Basin covers a massive 9,645 square miles, most of which has public access on National Forest land. We’re lucky to live so close to this incredible area and we’ve spent over 20 years making camping and fishing trips deep into the basin.
Now that we’re semi-retired, our preference is to lay low on summer holiday weekends. We made two camping trips to the Clearwater with a break in between over the 4th of July. The first trip was just the two of us while our friend Lorraine joined us for the second. We had beautiful campsites, good fishing, perfect weather, and incredible food.
Death March on the Chico Trail
We have a love-hate relationship with the Chico Trial in NE Oregon. We’ve always wanted to love the trail as an early summer conditioning hike, but we’re always miserable once we hit it. The descent to Davis Creek is steep and rocky and footing is always a bit precarious. In May, wildflowers carpet the hillside and Davis is a lovely babbling brook. In July, the wildflowers are gone, grasses are dry, grasshoppers are your only company, and Davis creek is bone dry.
Still, the hike wasn’t all bad. The trailhead is a relatively short and scenic drive from our home in SE Washington and we didn’t see anyone else which you can’t say about too many places on a holiday weekend. Best of all, we got in a good conditioning hike leading up to backpacking season.
Hurricane Creek Backpack
Our regular readers know we love Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness. At 355,548 acres, it is the state’s largest wilderness area. It is also the largest continuous alpine area, home to 60 high alpine lakes surrounded by wildflower filled meadows, towering granite peaks, and stunning glacial valleys. This spectacular area is one of favorite backpacking destinations.
With our cooler than normal summer, snow had been slow to melt off the Eagle Cap, but things are finally starting to open up. We hear the Lakes Basin is still buried under several feet of snow, but the approach valleys are snow free providing excellent conditions for some conditioning backpacks.
For our first mountain backpack of the year, we made a short trip up Hurricane Creek on the eastern edge of the wilderness near the small town of Enterprise. Hurricane leads hikers into the heart of the popular Lakes Basin via a long and relatively gentle climbing valley. We had lots of waterfalls, wildflowers, and far reaching views to take our minds off our heavy packs and the thinness of the air—our packs always seem to weigh twice as much and the elevation effects seem twice as bad on the first mountain backpack of the year.
Our favorite location along the Hurricane Creek Trail is Slick Rock Creek where a stunning waterfall comes plummeting down off granite peaks. Slick Rock is the destination for most day hikers along the trail. At just 6.0 miles round trip, it is one of the better day hikes in the Eagle Cap.
Past Slick Rock, we saw just a few people. Typically only backpackers, equestrians, and trail runners venture further up the trail. At five miles, we crossed Hurricane Creek. There is no bridge here and it is always a bit of a crap shoot what conditions will look like. With a little scouting, we found an easy crossing that was only mid-calf deep. The water temperature was a chilly 42 degrees which made for some numb and painful toes at the far shore.
We found a beautiful campsite at just under six miles from the trailhead. We’ve packed this trail before and knew that this would be the last spot until after the eight mile point. We had incredible 360 degree views and a site just feet away from the creek. Yes, this site would do quite nicely for the night. We had perfect weather during our stay and the mosquitoes were surprisingly tame for mid-July.