Copper Basin

This summer marks the 10th year that I have been documenting our escapades. It also marks ten years that Zach and I have been travelling together. It feels kind of momentous. It also felt like it was time to re-evaluate what I was doing and how I wanted to do it. Then a global pandemic gifted me with a lot of time to ponder (read: completely ignore) how I wanted to move forward with this blog. I still don’t have it completely figured out, but it has been refreshing to take a long break from writing, and I think that in and of itself will help me continue to enjoy maintaining this site.

At the end of June, we took our first camping trip of the year. While the pandemic has definitely impacted our desire to travel – even locally – we bought our first house recently, and that had us slightly less interested in venturing out so soon as well. June in Idaho was also remarkably wet, which dampened (hehe) our desire to sleep in a tent. Even still, for our first camping trip of the year to be at the END OF JUNE is astonishing. But, that’s 2020 for ya.

The pandemic has dramatically increased our desire to get out and away from all other human beings. So, we’ve been taking a lot of day trips to what we always hope are more isolated areas. Thus far, it’s been fairly easy to escape people in Idaho as long as we know where NOT to go. With all of that in mind, we planned a 4-day trip with our Utah pals, Lisa and Ryan (who wear their masks and work from home). Ryan suggested an area he briefly visited last summer, and we readily agreed, eager to explore a new part of the state. Ryan sent us the coordinates of our Rally Point and we agreed to meet on a Thursday afternoon.  

The gang

Zach and I had a gorgeous drive to Sun Valley where we took Trail Creek Rd. into the National Forest east of Ketchum. As we closed in on the Rally Point, dry lightning flashed ahead of us and dark clouds loomed ominously in the distance. We were a little early, but wary of being the tallest objects on the horizon, we remained in the car observing the sky. By the time Lisa and Ryan arrived, the storm – though slow moving – had passed by and no lightning had been seen for nearly 45 minutes. Even still, we decided to explore other campsites closer to the treeline, where we might find a little more cover should it be necessary. As we followed Ryan and Lisa into Copper Basin, we were continuously dumbstruck by its beauty. The basin is ringed by a series of peaks, rising and falling away into canyons and valleys of their own, providing a dense texture to the open sagebrush plain in the interior. It felt massive and wild, almost like we were in the heart of an undisturbed wilderness, few humans around to disrupt the natural order. 

From our campsite drive

We ended up with an excellent site situated on a slight rise at the end of the basin overlooking the entrance to Muldoon Canyon. It was quiet – when the OHVs and dirt bikes weren’t racing down the road – and secluded with plenty of room for us to spread out. We set up and enjoyed the evening; it had been some time (Thanksgiving!) since the four of us had been together. The storm had passed, and we had a clear sky as the sun descended and the stars emerged.

Entrance to Muldoon Canyon from our perch

I wasn’t sure where we would end up camping, so I had created a broad list of hikes in the region – some in the basin, others on the opposite side of the mountains. Three of the hikes I’d loosely researched were near our campsite. I knew the lengths, locations, and a brief description from the Forest Service website, but I hadn’t considered the topography. Of the three, I liked the description of Bellas Lakes the best; it sounded like a nice hike through the forest, with meadows, and an upper and lower lake at the end. It was listed at 2.6 miles one-way; not a terrible day hike. The rest of the group blindly agreed, and we prepared to go on our hike. Lisa and I packed snacks, hammocks, and reading material. The guys packed fly rods and beers. When we arrived at the trailhead, there were three other vehicles and a threesome of backpackers prepping to go up for a night or two. It promised to be as sparsely populated a hike as we’d hoped.

As we got underway, the trail led through a nicely shaded forest with speckles of sunlight. We crossed a creek, which was refreshing for the dogs, and slightly more challenging for the humans, and continued on through the forest, a large open meadow, and back into the forest, following the creek toward its source. However, this was no gentle hike, it was a continuous climb uphill. I could feel the looks of anguish piercing my back as we continued toward the lake. When we reached the final creek crossing, we realized we would be ascending nearly vertically up the mountain side to reach the lake. It was a grueling climb on loose sandy soil up the mountain; at this point, we all needed visual verification that there was a lake nearby. We emerged into a gorgeous meadow with the creek trickling by, and we knew, the lake was simply through the trees at the meadow’s end. Tired, maybe a little cranky, and ready for relaxation we found ourselves at Bellas Lake No. 1. Lisa and I set up in an open campsite with lakeside trees for our hammocks, while the guys found a clear part of the shoreline from which to cast. A strong wind blew from time to time, but otherwise, it was a peaceful afternoon.

The final meadow
Zach & Ryan fish
Lisa & Sasha

We stayed at the lake for three hours before calling it quits and heading back down. The descent was steep, but much quicker than our arrival, and we were back at the car before we knew it. That evening, everyone was tired – especially the dogs – and we all turned in fairly early. Zach, Ryan, and I stayed up just long enough after dusk to witness three bats flapping above our heads, swooping down, left, right, gobbling the mosquitoes that had tormented us. It was entrancing to watch their movements – the rapid beat of their wings and their abrupt changes in flight.

Goin’ down

The next morning, refreshed, we re-grouped to determine the day’s activity. I was game for another long day hike, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the consensus. The group had lost their faith in me – I’ll restore it on the next trip. Instead, Ryan pitched driving down Muldoon Canyon to Green Lake. On our maps we could see a 4×4 road called Green Lake Road that led to a short trail to the lakeside. We piled in Ryan’s 4Runner – 4 humans, 3 dogs – and departed.

The drive down Muldoon Canyon itself was gorgeous. Peaks rose along each side of us and the canyon floor was wide and bursting with life. A branch of the Star Hope Creek created a lively marsh with towering willows and all sorts of waterfowl and birds while wildflowers carpeted open grassy areas. We arrived at the turn for Green Lake Road, and it appeared to be a rather tame dirt road. That perception quickly changed as we rose higher and higher. This was not a Subaru-approved road! Luckily for us, Ryan is experienced and his 4Runner was well-equipped to transport us to the trailhead with ease. I was the only one sweating as I peered at the sheer drop (and gorgeous view!) outside my window.

Stellar views from Green Lake Road

Safely parked at the trailhead, we ascended the short but steep trail to the lake. The trail traversed a large scree field – not Tru’s favorite walking surface – and led us past an abandoned mine. 0.3 miles later we were at Green Lake, admiring its picturesque setting in the basin of several jagged peaks. However, our elevation also meant the cool front blowing in was not blocked. It was blowing quite furiously at the lake, and fishing was difficult for the guys. There were five other people fishing when we arrived, and they had all stationed themselves on the opposite side of the lake in an attempt to shield themselves from the wind. Lisa and I didn’t have a great place to set up our hammocks, so instead Lisa spread a blanket at the base of a log, and we used it as a backrest. The wind made it much cooler than the day before, and the incoming clouds often blocked the sun’s warmth for minutes at a time. In the end, we didn’t stay terribly long. It was such a gorgeous lake, we were all happy to have made the trip regardless.

Zach leads the way to the lake
Green Lake!

There was still quite a lot of daylight left once we returned to our camp. We had lunch, and then the guys attempted to fish in Star Hope Creek, a brief walk from our site. When that didn’t work out, they decided to return to our Rally Point and fish a quiet spot farther up on Star Hope Creek. I decided to tag along with Tru, so I could get some photos of the Basin and their fishing escapade, while Lisa stayed behind with their dogs. While it had appeared from Green Lake that it may rain, it never did. The clouds continued to roll in and out, but as the day wore on, it became even nicer. The sky cleared, and the sun remained. It was immeasurably peaceful while they fished. The persistent gurgle of the river, the way the light began to turn from harsh to warm, even their movements as they fished, flicking the line out and back, tricking the fish with the fly. I remained in a zen-like state, glancing up from my Chekhov stories to watch a cast or observe the light change on a nearby hill. It was really lovely. On our way back, I got my wish. I took several photos of the Basin set in a magical golden-hour.

Back at camp, Lisa greeted us with a roaring fire and a prepped dinner. Though the clouds continued to roll in, there didn’t appear to be a threat of rain. I enjoyed watching the clouds roll over the expanse of the Basin. I hoped for a sensational sunset – the night before had been bland – and soon it appeared. The Basin was transformed into a palette of color casting pale pastels and then golden fireballs on the parading clouds. I was ecstatic. And then the darkness rolled into the Basin, and we settled back into our chairs to wait for the bats to emerge once again. 

Just as we retired to our tents, there were a few lightning strikes accompanied by a massive clap of thunder. I thought we were in for a helluva night; I was ready to retreat to the car. (Ok, I briefly did.) But, nothing ever followed. Aside from a few minutes of fat raindrops, it was a calm and quiet night. When we awoke on Sunday though, the cold front had fully arrived making it tough to sit around. We had a quick breakfast and began to break down camp. The sleet began just as we were parting ways.

Since we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, we assumed that the emptiness of the Basin would inevitably become busier as the weekend progressed. But, that never happened. A few more campsites popped up here and there, there were other people at the lakes we visited, but overall, it remained a serene place. I don’t know if we’ll be able to replicate this magic on our next visit or if it was simply the right place, right time, but it’s a trip I’ll cherish in my memories.

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