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So in order to properly celebrate my birthday last week, my wife and I decided to head up to one of our favorite places, the Idaho Selkirks. We wanted to try getting to the crest of these mountains up Pyramid pass, which is an easier way than the one we usually use, as you can drive pretty close to this pass. This cuts off a day or three of hiking just getting close to the crest.
Pyramid Lake. Some of the ridgeline we were to traverse is seen above the lake.
Looking down to the Kootenai river valley in the distance. Normally we spend a day or so of hiking just to get here. This time we chose a trail head much closer to the ridge line.
The first day we hiked up to Pyramid lake and kept going to lower Ball lake where we set up camp for the night.
Unpacking my mess kit to cook dinner I was quite surprised to discover that I’d left my stove at home! The little brass Trangia alcohol burner normally nests deep inside the kit. I’d recently used this kit and had left it in the kitchen for a good scrubbing, and failed to put the stove back in when I put it away. Packing for this trip we’d simply stuffed “the usual suspects” into our packs and headed out the door!
Well, we already had a fire going so we simply cooked over that. Cleaning out the fire ring my wife had removed some old cans left by other hikers. Often we compact this mess and pack it out ourselves.
After dinner I dug through this trash and found an almost intact aluminum sardine can. I patched a small hole with gorilla tape, put it in my Trangia windscreen, filled it with alcohol and lit it.
It heated water for tea and towel baths just fine! This simple “stove” seemed to work about as well as the brass Trangia burner!
Well, I kept the sardine can and cooked all our meals with it for the rest of the trip!
I’m glad this worked out as well as it did as having to build little fires every time I wanted tea would have been a big inconvenience.
A pleasant camp at Ball Lake
On the hike in we’d run into a couple that told us that Once Upon A Time they had hiked along the crest from Ball lake to Pyramid pass, going around Pyramid mountain on the “easy” west side. They had enjoyed the off-trail adventure very much and were thinking of doing it again someday.
Well, that sounded like fun to me, so the second day we decided to try that for ourselves. We back tracked along the trail to the high point of the pass between Pyramid and Ball lakes, then simply left the trail and headed uphill.
I had a compass and my trusty old tattered and much marked up topographic map of the area, and we stacked small rock cairns every so often so we could easily find our way back down to the trail in the event we decided to give it up and backtrack.
Bushwhacking up to the ridge –
It was steep and rough going, but we figured the ridgeline would offer easier and more open going. We’ve done the Long Canyon loop three times, and the 7,000 foot ridge is some of the nicest and easiest going, and very scenic indeed. Well, at least when it isn’t packed with snow anyway…
We expected similar terrain on this jaunt.
This was our last trip to this area, which also turned out to be more than we’d bargained for…
It turned out to be quite rough. We had two “bumps” to climb over to get to Pyramid mountain.
This is the ridge with Pyramid Mountain in the middle.
We’d stated up the ridge with less than two quarts of water between us. I drank from rain pockets when I could find them, sucking water through my bandana to filter out the dirt.
We also packed water bottles with snow. It would eventually melt and we’d have a cool drink.
Taking a break and looking down on Pyramid lake
Chimney Rock in the distance! A well-known landmark in the Selkirks
The ridge was surprisingly rough. Often we had to detour around impassible boulders and small cliffs. Here Heidi once again demonstrated her superior sense of balance by simply walking up a crack in a steep rock face. I needed all fours to follow!
More snow! This is a dry year, with little snow left on the ridge. This was the biggest drift we'd see all day.
Looking back the way we’d come. The first “bump in the road” was easy. The next, just past Heidi’s head, was quite hard. It was now about 2 pm and even with a break for lunch we were tired!
Next to come was this –
It doesn't look too bad, sure the faces are steep but the ridge to the east is probably no more than 35 degrees, and there are two distinct shelves traversing the west face. We figured to try and head around to the west of it on one of the shelves or failing that simply go up the crest of the ridge and over the top. The ridge on the other side going down looked steeper on my topo map, but we would worry about that later...
Soon the mountain turned into this...
We never found a way around the west side and stuck to the ridge on the east side.
The ridgeline we were trying to follow was punctuated with spots to shear for us to follow, and we were eventually forced onto the east face.
It was getting late in the day and despite two breaks for food and rest, the steep slope simply defeated us.
Probably no more than 100 feet shy of the summit we simply ran out of UP, and bailed off the mountain on the east slope. Going down was steep and difficult, but we found a passable talus slope on the east flank, and went down that.
Looking back up the slope we’d descended.
From there we simply had to bushwhack through the forest at the base of the slope until we came to the pass on the north side of Pyramid mountain, and found the trail. We took a good rest there at the pass, and were never so happy to see a trail!
Now we needed to decide where to camp. We had almost no water, so we needed to find a spot to fill up. We thought about heading down the trail to Pyramid lake and camping there, but I still wanted to see the high ridge by Long Mountain so we headed the other way along to the trail to the ridge. We knew an excellent stream that was very close to the ridge and planned to stop there for a pot of much needed coffee and a packet of ravioli from an MRE, then fill up on water, climb to the ridge and camp at the first flat spot.
The trail was at first quite enjoyable but then became rather steep and tiring. We simply didn’t have much UP left in us!
Funny, but I never remember this trail as being so steep…
Not that it was any easier the last time I’d climbed this trail back in July of 2011…
Well, here things kinda didn’t work out yet again. The stream we were counting on was dry as a bone. We arrived at the high ridge quite exhausted and with just a few gulps of water left between us. It is a dry year and we couldn’t even find snow. We contemplated a dry camp with no dinner, so wiped out were we, but after a rest we left our packs on the ridge and headed down the other side of the ridge we’d just climbed up to Long Mountain lake.
From the ridge a trail drops 500 feet in ½ mile to reach this lake.
We’d always thought this lake was a little boggy place and had never visited it.
We were wrong! The trail takes a turn away from the boggy pond seen from the ridge and Long Mountain lake is a beautiful hidden lake unseen from above!
At first we regretted leaving our packs and thought about going back for them so we could spend the night at the lake. I was fancying a plunge into the icy waters as I was so hot and sweaty from the days rather long scrabble.
We were too tired to go back up for the packs so simply kept going down.
The lake was beautiful…
But the best place to camp on a bare granite shelf at the end of the lake was taken, and the bushy shore along the rest of the lake harbored the worst mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered in my life!
Heidi jumped to a rock in the lake to fill the water bottles I passed to her. Once she looked back at me and saw that I was just about totally covered with mosquitoes! They were so bad I was shaking and could barely hold the bottles.
It was about now that our camera fell out of a pocket and dropped into the lake….
We recovered it, and it seemingly has dried out, but we could take no more pictures of this trip!
We filled up all our water bottles and hurried back up the way we’d came as fast as our tired bodies could go, fleeing from the mosquitoes. Near the top I passed my bottles to Heidi and gathered a big armload of dry wood.
Back at our ridge camp I immediately set about heating a quart of coffee and that MRE ravioli ration, while Heidi built a fire which helped keep off the occasional mosquito, which were not nearly as bad up here on the exposed ridgeline.
After we downed the coffee ( It never tasted so good! ) and food ( MREs still didn’t taste very good ) I set about making a proper dinner and a pot of tea.
After that we set up camp, heated water to bathe, lazed about our fire and eventually went to bed. The night was calm and warm for this elevation. There was no moon and the stars were as bright as I’ve ever seen. Not a single light of civilization could be seen in any direction and on an exposed ridge at over 7,000 feet, that is a very long way indeed.
Heidi remarked that it was a good thing that I didn’t have birthdays very often, as she might not be able to survive them….