Friday, April 29, 2011

Plan ahead for hikes

Idaho Conservation League hikes offer a variety of experiences

Express Staff Writer

Hikers enjoy Railroad Ridge in the White Cloud Mountains, which has beautiful wildflowers, one of the many features that hikers experience on Idaho Conservation League hikes. Photo by Brett Stevenson

In a few weeks time or even less, the snow on Baldy will disappear, plants will begin to emerge from the ground and Sun Valley, known for more sunny days than not, will warm up. The Wood River Valley is an outdoor playground with extensive hiking trails for all levels of enjoyment. One of the best ways to see the valley and the many mountain ranges surrounding it is to hike. With long days of sun ahead, hiking, besides being inexpensive, accessible and some of the best exercise any person could do, is spectacular in south-central Idaho.

Guide books on hikes are aplenty in the valley. The include one by local resident and avid hiker Matt Leidecker, "Exploring Sun Valley—A Comprehensive Guide to the Boulder, Pioneer and Smoky Mountains."

Another approach to hiking in the Wood River Valley is to take a hike with the Idaho Conservation League. This summer the organization's hiking series will offer a variety of hiking themes and physical difficulty.

"The themes are a valuable addition to the hikes, with each leader offering something different," said Brett Stevenson, the organization's Central Idaho associate. "All the hikes will have different leaders, and they're free."

Stevenson said the leaders are inspirational local hikers who will share their skills and knowledge of trails in the valley. Hikes will include birding in Sheep Bridge Canyon to watercolor painting at the Picabo Hills.

"It will be a fun and interesting way to see some spectacular spots in our backyard," said Keri York, Idaho Conservation League's stewardship coordinator. "We will search out the headwaters of the Big Wood River with a hydrologist and learn about riparian ecology of Trail Creek with a biologist. The ICL is excited to be joining the Wood River Land Trust to host the bird outing at Sheep Bridge Canyon and The Nature Conservancy for the painting outing in the Picabo Hills."

The first hike will take place on Saturday, May 7, at Sheep Bridge Canyon with Gary Stitzinger, a local birder, and will include bird watching with the hike. Bald eagles, swallows, raptors and even the yellow-billed cuckoo may be seen among the mix of sagebrush-steppe, riverbed cottonwood forest, basalt cliffs and volcanic outcrops.

Hikers can learn to identify birds visually and by song, particularly neotropical migratory birds.  Bring binoculars and a bird identification book if available.

On Saturday, June 4, the Idaho Conservation League will take a hike dubbed "Picabo Hills: Watercolor Painting," with Dayna Gross, an artist and manager of Silver Creek. The Picabo Hills are beautiful in the spring and offer a spectacular view of the Wood River Valley and Silver Creek. The group will take a short hike up Mosquito Hill, an ideal spot for painting. Hikers should bring watercolors or other painting or drawing supplies. This is an easy to moderate two-mile hike.

Other hikes include one on Saturday, June 18, dubbed "Trail Creek: Riparian Exploration"

with Hannes Thum, a biology teacher at the Community School. Participants will hike off-trail in moose territory while enjoying an interesting discussion about the intricacies of riparian habitats. Off-trail hikes are an adventure. This five-mile hike will be easy to moderate.

On Wednesday, July 13, a hike dubbed "Timber and Federal Gulch: Pioneer Mountain" will be led by Mike Stevens, Lava Lake Land & Livestock president and Pioneer Mountain Group co-founder and managing member. Stevens will lead an exciting hike and discussion about the heritage and geography of the Pioneer Mountains, as well as conservation efforts there.  The group may decide to continue up nearby Grays Peak. The hike is eight miles with a 2,500-foot elevation gain and is moderate to difficult.

On Saturday, July 23, "Mill Lake: Meditation in the Mountains" will be led by Lacey Segal. Segal is a healing-touch Theta healer and meditation teacher. The hike to Mill Lake offers a look at the geological process that helped shaped the Sawtooth Mountains. Beside the startling barren moraine cradling Mill Lake, Segal will lead a meditation. The hike is four and half miles with a 1,000-foot elevation gain and is easy to moderate.

On Saturday, July 30, "The Headwaters of the Big Wood River: Water of the Wood River Valley" will be led by Wendy Pabich, a hydrologist and environmental scientist. This is an off-trail adventure following the river to the source. The hike is four and half miles with a 1,500-foot elevation gain and is moderate to difficult.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, "Hyndman: Peak Climb" will be led by local athlete Muffy Ritz. Hyndman Peak is central to the Pioneer Mountains and one of the peaks most admired from the Wood River Valley. At 12,009 feet, it is Idaho's ninth highest peak, and the route is rated class 2. The hike is 12 miles, 5,000 feet in elevation gain and is difficult.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, "Surprise Valley: Wildlife in Idaho" will be led by Hannes Thum. The hike will go to this high valley above Fall Creek Canyon in the Pioneer Mountains. Thum will take hikers to a small, unnamed lake nestled in a carpet of wildflowers under Standhope Peak and Pyramid Peak. Hikers may see animals and will be able to have extensive discussions about Idaho's wildlife. This is an 11-mile hike with a 2,200-foot elevation gain and is difficult.

Hikers who plan to join the Idaho Conservation League hikes should be in good physical condition as well as prepared for all types of weather. They should bring rain gear, a warm layer and gloves. In addition, hikers should bring lunch, extra water, insect repellent, sunscreen and a hat. Some hikes will require four-ply or better tires for backcountry roads. Dogs are not allowed.

Hikers need to make reservations with the Idaho Conservation League for location meeting and times. For details, call 726-7485.

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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