As June ended and July unceremoniously began, a summer vacation still seemed far off. I must have spent all of June unconsciously hoping things would improve enough for us to take a small, week-long trip somewhere outside of Idaho, maybe even British Columbia like we thought we’d do back in February. With July 4th come and gone, the month creeping past, I realized we couldn’t hold out anymore. Canada was wisely keeping its border sealed, and I still wasn’t permitted to leave the state by my employer. Our hope needed to meet with reality. With the uncertainty surrounding the school year, we decided it would be best to go at the end of July. By that point, I could only take four days, but it felt like plenty to make a camping trip seem like a vacation.
We decided to split our time between two regions in Idaho, the Sawtooths and Swan Valley. Unsure whether we would commit to a full weekend of Sawtooth camping this summer, I wanted to go for a day or two, bask in the glow of those jagged peaks, and fit in a small hike. I also needed to satisfy some sense of wanderlust by visiting a new locale.
We set off late Tuesday morning for the Sawtooths. We knew there was a chance for afternoon thunderstorms, so we didn’t expect to do much other than find a site and set up. We decided to check out the area around Alturas Lake, first driving by the campgrounds which were full as expected, and then cruising along the dirt roads that criss-cross through forest east of the lake. We found a great site, not far from the main road to the lake, with plenty of space and cover. With dark clouds and occasional rumbles looming nearby, we decided to wait out the coming rain in the car and keep our supplies dry. Anticipating a passing shower, we were surprised by the downpour that ensued. We remained car-bound for two hours, resorting to popping open beers and enjoying our afternoon snack in the front seats. Ultimately, the rain gave way to clear skies, and we were able to set up our site, cook dinner, and pass a pleasant if a little chilly evening.
Shortly before our trip, Truman’s back disease (IVDD) had flared up again. We wanted to continue with the trip, but decided he shouldn’t do any hiking. He had finished his round of medication, but even with a mild flare up like this, we try to make him rest for a month. That altered my hiking plans. Although we have a backpack for him, it’s not a comfortable alternative for more than 4 miles or so. I turned my focus to the White Cloud Mountains, located across the Sawtooth Valley, and an area we have been interested in exploring. Many of the hikes in the White Clouds are long and better done as multi-day treks, but to get a sense of the range, I thought we could hike into Fourth of July Lake. It is a shorter trip, less than 2 miles to the lake with an elevation gain of 637 feet, certainly some climbing but nothing too intense. We didn’t get an early start, opting instead to start in the afternoon and stay for a couple hours lakeside.
Truman had been strutting around our campsite, and we thought he would be restless in the backpack, eager to walk on his own, but he seemed to enjoy the free ride. We hiked up the trail which was forested and littered with an array of wildflowers still in bloom. We crossed the burbling Fourth of July Creek a couple times and after a slightly steeper climb, found ourselves at the lake, set in a cirque of trees and rising above the treeline, the imposing face of Patterson Peak. It was an incredibly picturesque scene, and I understood why this was a popular destination for day hikers and backpackers alike.
We walked around the lake in search of a place to set up for the afternoon and managed to find a quiet spot on the lake’s western edge. Hikers came and went, backpackers arrived to set up their camps, but it never felt crowded. There was ample space to spread out around the lake’s entire perimeter, and we’re always surprised by the brevity of many a day tripper’s lakeside stay. We enjoyed a languid afternoon, letting Truman amble around and cool off in the lake from time to time, taking turns laying in the hammock with its picture perfect view. We circled the lake on our way out, enjoying the shift in perspective. We were some of the last day hikers down, and we passed a couple more groups of backpackers on their way up for the evening. It was a great introduction to the White Clouds and only increased my desire to see more of the range.
After dinner, we wanted to sit on a beach with a beer. We drove over to the Pettit Lake day-use beach, surprised to find it deserted, and set up our chairs to watch the sunlight disappear. It was peaceful for the most part, punctuated by barks from across the lake and from our own dog at the sight of a chipmunk. It was alluring to watch the light transform into a muted darkness. Back in the valley, the sky was full of soft hues, families of antelope, and sandhill cranes. Entranced, it was a moment I wished lasted longer.
The next day, we planned to pack up and leave for Swan Valley. I was tempted to call it off and stay in the Sawtooths, in this perfect bubble, but I knew it would be our only chance this summer to get out of the close-to-Boise radius. So, we rose earlier, packed up, and drove up to Alturas Lake for a morning paddle before departing. It took us a couple of attempts to find a good avenue to the water, but ultimately we found a pullover large enough for one car and a path leading to a small beach on the shores of the lake. Zach set off first while I stayed with Tru, and then vice versa, each of us taking a turn enjoying the calm of the morning waters and the soft light. It was a great start to what would be a longer car day traversing a less than exciting route to our next base.