Backpacking to Fault Lake

September 26, 2017

July was a crazy month starting out in Greece and then heading straight to the Clearwater for Megan and Dylan’s wedding after coming home. Just one week later I rode from Seattle to Portland in one day for the STP with some friends. Then we finished off the month with a slew of BBQs (the way we ought to). But it was time for some peace and quite, and a little bro time.

My brother, Kendrich, also had a busy summer working seven days a week at two jobs. Not to mention he just passed his test to apply with PT school with flying colors and was ready for a break as well. Last year for Christmas the family pitched in to give him a backpacking set up, and he hadn’t found many opportunities to use it. I was also itching to get into the mountains, so we schemed about a couple different overnighters all within two hours from Cd’A. Megan had offered up a couple of alpine lakes that were ripe for fishing, and we landed on Fault Lake, a 12.4 mile out and back trek with 2900 ft. of elevation gain. Reading about it on AllTrails reminded me a lot of our trip to North Kootenai Lake last year.

Once the destination was set we just had one thing to worry about – smoke. Living in the beautiful PNW, we don’t worry about hurricanes, tornadoes, or flash floods, and our earth quakes are laughable, at least until Yellowstone explodes. But we have come to expect or at least realize the possibility of a bad fire season. This year has been one for the record books with as many as 137 large wildfires in the west. While the beginning of August was not particularly noteworthy, we did have pretty bad air quality from some fires in Montana, Washington, and B.C. This was concerning because a nearly 3k ft accent with 30 lb. packs was sure to induce some heavy breathing. We waited and waited for the weekend to come and I watched the smoke and air quality reports as well as the live fires to see if the trip would need to be called off. Family and friends were concerned and honestly I was growing anxious too.

But we kept planning as though there were no issues. I would get off work on Friday, pick up Kendrich and make a quick stop to pick up some new hiking boots. Kendrich had nothing to support his feet for a trip like this and I destroyed my last set of boots by keeping them a little too close to the fire on my last trip (lesson learned). A quick google search will show you a couple ideas for drying boots. Always follow the manufacturers instructions and know what kind of material your boots are made out of and you can easy avoid my costly mistake.

By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, the smoke was already starting to clear, so we were good to go. We got out of town a little after 7 p.m. and pulled onto the Pack River Cutoff Road at sunset. We only had about 30 minutes to go but with no cell service and a poor signal on the GPS we got a little turned around. After rereading the directions from AllTrails we soon found our way and arrived at the trailhead around 9:30.

It was a clear night and the weather was pretty warm so we rolled out our sleeping bags in the bed of my truck. Andrea was in Vegas for a bachelorette party so we brought Juneau with us and she quickly made friends with some other people at the trailhead. Some friendly conversation revealed that they were up for trail maintenance and they had just cleared the trail to Fault Lake. Thank you, Idaho Conservation Corps.

We fell asleep under the stars shortly after that.

Hiking to the Lake

Upon waking I found that Juneau had been “patiently” starring us down in the hopes of rousing our lazy butts from sleep, at 5:20 a.m. We had a quick breakfast of Mountain House and packed up our gear to set out before it got too warm. The trail starts with a short stream crossing and then warms up with a slight incline for about four miles. We got a tip from the ICC that there were huckleberries ripe for the picking about that far in. Sure enough we spotted them and took a few minutes to harvest nature’s little treats. They were delicious and we would keep searching for more throughout the hike. As the reviews promised, with about a mile and a half to go the climb became more challenging. We were working up a sweat and looking forward to jumping in the lake.

The trail started to get a little less noticeable but luckily I had read to watch for the cairns (a pile of stones to mark the trail) and we found our way to the lake without any trouble. Reaching that blue and green oasis near the top of the Selkirk Mountain Range was gratifying to say the least.  We immediately doffed our clothes and jumped into the crisp alpine water. After drying off in the sun we staked claim to a campsite on the south end of the lake nestled in between two ridge lines with a clear view of Hunt Ridge. We would end up hiking to the top of Hunt ridge in the morning, minus our packs and with a good night’s rest. The hike wore us out more than expected, and although we did end up fishing a little, playing some cards and learning how to throw an ax, we both ended up taking a nap by the afternoon. We woke for a little more fishing before dinner, during which I hooked a small bull trout and had to release it.

That was the only fish we caught, despite many bites, and we would have to settle for Mountain House once again. Shortly after dinner we laid down in the tent with no canopy to watch the stars. There was supposed to be a meteor shower between 9:30 and midnight, but again, overcome by the days hike, we were both asleep by 9. We woke up the following morning refreshed and re-energized, but soaking wet. I had my camel pack in the tent and apparently cracked open the valve under the wait of my leg. I had diligently filled the entire pack just before bed so there was a good pool of about 2.5 liters underneath my sleeping pad. My last pair of socks and backside of my pack were soaked and would not dry out for the rest of the day. But it wasn’t the water from my pack that woke me up, it was a few drops of rain that fell through the top of the tent that did the trick. In order to keep my pack lighter I trusted there would be no rain and left the rain fly at home (a bold move that barely payed off).

With a third meal of Mountain House and some leftover huckleberries for breakfast, we packed up our campsite and hiked around the somewhat perilous ridge to the place where the trail meets the outlet of the lake. There is a bear box at this spot for the convenience of campers and after storing our packs we made our way up to the peak. We had to choose our route carefully as we had no rope or harness for Juneau. The climb was at the upper limit of my comfort zone with the gear we had, or lack thereof, but Juneau eagerly earned her moniker as a mountain dog. We got to the top, out of breath, and both Kendrich and I noticed that our fingers were tingling, even though it was not particularly cold. There was just enough time for a few pictures before some menacing clouds began to roll in and we realized that the decent would become much more dangerous in the rain. Not even minutes later it started to sprinkle and we would have to select our footing with much care. With a few near slips we made it down safely and I breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.

The hike back to the truck was much easier on our cardiovascular systems than on the way up, but a little bit harsher on our knees, much to Kendrich’s dismay. He has spent the last few years struggling with a running injury and despite much medical attention, has yet to find a remedy. We only stopped to fill our Jetboils with as many huckleberries as we could to bring home to Andrea. No sooner did we reach the stream near the trailhead when Juneau seemed to throw up a white flag of surrender and sink into the refreshing water. The perfect hike.

To me, there is no better way to reinvigorate your mind or satisfy the need for adventure than to get out into the mountains for a couple days. In Idaho we literally have thousands of options no further than a day’s drive, although some would take all of a day to get to. It was equally great spending some quality time with my brother. I look forward to the next backpacking trip. Until then, thanks for reading.

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Getting There

More about Kyle

Biker, triathlete, and outdoor enthusiast. I am not a natural writer. I don't do it by trade and never studied traditional journalistic methods. Even so I've always found that expressing myself through the written word leads to less confusion than when I speak. So I've got that going for me.

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