Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Shake out at Soda Springs

Looking down valley from the Soda Springs Creek Ridge

The first backpacking trip of the year is inevitably a shakeout: a trip where I remember all of the finer points of romping through the backcountry and whip my body into shape for carrying a heavy pack for lots of miles.



I planned my dream trip in the week before we took off: a five day excursion into remote and scenic country.  The route included peaks on three different ridges, a couple lakes, a down day and a hike out on a river valley trail (see map above).  Lots of fun, lots of territorial views, not too many miles but plenty of elevation gain and a splendid way to welcome summer.

The magnificent Bare Peaks ridge

The Soda Springs valley is one of the Southern most of the classic Bitterroot valleys that stretch East to West and crest at the Idaho/Montana state line.  It is uniquely spectacular and as far as I know we were the only people in the area.

There may be a reason for that.

  
The ridge we hiked up at the beginning of the trip was beautiful, waterless and climbed steeply uphill over many minor peaks and bumps at a punishing pace for someone with a heavy pack.


We camped short of our goal on the first night, after we ran out of water and needed to melt snow to drink.  I was not too sad about this because I love to camp up on a ridge and out of the trees where I can see for miles.  We burned through the first of two little fuel canisters after melting about 7 liters worth of snow.  We needed that much water to rehydrate ourselves, cook dinner & breakfast and fill our water bladders for the next day.  I was very glad for the large Sumo cup to our Jetboil stove; it made melting snow much less onerous.

One of the Soda Springs Peaks (front) and Mount Jerusalem (back)

We decided to turn back on day two when we realized that what looked like a gently rolling ridge on the map would require more scrambling and exposure than we wanted with heavy packs...at least for our first time out. Also, our route may have necessitated one more night of snow melting, using the remainder of our fuel and leaving us without hot water to rehydrate our dinners and oatmeal.

Turns out that turning around was a good idea because I later read in the Falcon Guide to Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness that the Soda Springs Creek Trail has been decommissioned by the Forest Service and is in bad shape, "Few other Bitterroot Trails are so consistently scattershot and unfriendly to the hiker...Reconnaissance...revealed hundreds of downed spruce along the upper length of the trail." Yuck.
  

Yes, Soda Springs was a shakeout trip.  My pack was heavier than it needed to be with lots of extra food and too much warm clothing, we didn't carry enough fuel for the conditions, and the route, while worthwhile, would probably be at its best broken into a few shorter trips and avoiding the decommissioned trail that follows Soda Springs Creek.  I feel all shaken out.

But...it was awesome to get out and see new terrain.  The Bitterroot Valley is really mind blowing in its variety and quantity of stellar places.  I will try to head back to the Boulder Peak area (part of our proposed route) this summer.

The Bear Grass is in full bloom


Heading up the ridge




Crossing Soda Springs Creek in my fabulous handmade & lightweight sandals.  We will be posting on how to make these soon.

Next Time: Way Back Blodgett Creek and what we did with the last three days of our backpacking trip...... 



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