Thursday, November 15, 2018
In Search of Silver Lake
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A little autumn color is interspersed among the pine on the rugged mountain slopes lining the hike to Silver Lake.
 
Saturday, October 27, 2018
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The last time I visited the Silver Lake area it was with a goat viewing party. We thought we’d gotten skunked until we noticed what we thought were rocks get up and begin moving on the slopes directly across from us.

This is the furthest south natural populations of mountain goats have migrated, according to resident goat experts like longtime wilderness ranger Ed Cannady and Nappy Neaman. And they’re the embodiment, the essence of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

As Cannady says: “They’re charismatic, they’re spectacularly beautiful…they’re just a unique animal to have in your backyard.”

 
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A mountain goat appears to find something to nibble on the rocky slope.
 

Mountain goats are so prolific in the area that there’s a viewing scope a few miles to the north at the Billy Bridge Nordic ski area. And I’m never disappointed when I hike the Silver Lake area, as well.

But, while I’m always hopeful of seeing one goat or more, this time I had come to the rugged mountains opposite Baker Creek Road for another purpose. I was determined to find Silver Lake—a destination that had eluded me up until now.

We had found a pond once, following a sketchy trail that paralleled Silver Creek. But, always, the hikers I was with had run out of time—or stamina—before we found what I could consider a real lake.

This time I had brought along Susan Giannettino, who was just back from a month’s trip hiking in the Swiss Alps. And we were determined to make good.

 
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This picture frame of a tree is just one of a myriad of interesting knickknacks in an area that includes sheepherder carvings on aspen trees and some unique rock formations.
 

To get there, we drove about 16 miles north of Ketchum just past Baker Creek Road. We turned right onto Silver Creek Road at the end of the Baker Creek snowmobile parking area. And we followed it across the bridge overlooking Silver Creek.

When we reached a fork in the road, we followed Road 174 to the right.

Those with four-wheel drive can drive the dirt road to a parking lot at the trailhead. Our Subaru might have made it, but we elected to play it safe, parking in a pull-off where people often camp.

We had scarcely gone 50 yards before we spotted a sheepherder wagon, its herder talking on his cell phone as he washed his socks. Looking towards our right, we spotted sheep grazing along a stream a couple hundred feet to the south.

 
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Susan Giannettino muses what the meadow looks like earlier in the summer when wildflowers are in bloom.
 

In the distance, looking back towards the Wood River Valley, were gorgeous stands of aspen—some yellow, some orange.

We made our way around a switchback and elected to leave the road, walking up through the sagebrush on a clearly delineated path. It took us to a makeshift parking area in a grove of large aspen.

When I first moved to the Sun Valley area 19 years ago, people complained of getting lost as they tried to pick their way along sketchy trails in this area.

Today there is a definite trail leaving from the parking lot. It winds its way up through woods, occasionally offering gorgeous views of rugged rock cliffs on both sides, their complex geology told in grey and red rock.

 
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Silver Lake sports a variety of colors.
 

The deep crevassed valley behind us added to the panorama.

The trail from the parking area is reportedly 1.58 miles in length. It starts at 8,347 feet and gains slightly more than 1,500 feet, maxing out at 9,704 feet.

It is open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. But, for my money, there are a few tight rocky areas I would not feel comfortable on bike or even horse.

To our left we spotted a goat grazing near a clump of trees. We watched it for about five minutes until it retreated into another clump of green pines.

We continued on, the 10,998-foot Boulder Peak looming above us on our right. The peak is the first of the picturesque Boulder Mountains one sees driving north along Highway 75. To its south is the ghost town of Boulder City--once Idaho’s highest settlement at more than 10,000 feet.

I had once explored a cirque below it on the Silver Creek side to find parts of a snowmobile sitting on scree. It was difficult to fathom that snowmobilers had driven up here in winter, but even backcountry skiers make the journey, occasionally.

The trail up Silver Lake was probably developed to access mines in the area. The Million Mine on the ridge dates back to 1910—that’s 118 years ago! And there is also a mineral prospect dubbed Fox Tail in the area.

Supposedly, Silver Peak was named for its location above an old mining town.

The trail got a little steeper as we continued on. A picturesque waterfall cascaded over rocks as the creek and trail came closer together in the narrowing valley.

Even though it was fall, we spotted a few red paintbrush and tiny lavender lupine in bloom. We could see the skeletal remainders of sego lilies and larkspur.

Finally, we came to a meadow area full of tiny streams spilling over moss. It was surrounded by a cirque dominated by the 11,112-foot Silver Peak.

We continued across the meadow and up a small hill where a depression looked as if it might harbor a lake. Sure enough, there was a small but beautiful turquoise blue lake that reminded me of some of the thermal pools at Yellowstone just southwest of Silver Peak.

A quick flick of my fingers in the water, however, showed me that this was definitely not a hot springs. It was ice cold.

We figured it was probably much bigger in spring and early summer, as the area around it was spongy. Given the lack of rain this summer it had probably dried up earlier than usual.

A hiker with his dog told us there were a couple smaller lakes just to its west but that they might be dried up by now.

A few weeks earlier a group of first-time backpackers in the Wild Gift leadership program had hiked due east from the lake up a large shale slope to crest the ridge and hike further into the Boulder Mountain and White Cloud wilderness areas.

“But the rock can be a little rotten in a few places,” said Ted Angle, a Wild Gift board member.

We elected not to follow in their tracks and instead retreated down the path we’d come up on, rewarded by the colors of autumn coming back into view.

We passed the sheepherder wagon again. This time the sheepherder was standing just inside the door, still on his cell phone. Hopefully, I thought to myself, he occasionally looked up to drink in the beauty of the scenery all around him.

 

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