Camping in a time of Covid

With the threat of Covid, how can a person remain safe but still explore and have adventures?

Camping, of course. With all of the travel refunds returned to us from cancelled trips, my partner invested in a 5th wheel RV to travel here in the US. We safely distance ourselves and have our own meals. An added pleasure of driving, is discovering interesting history or wildlife along the way.

 Our first trip takes us to the Montana/Idaho border where we explored the Hiawatha Bike Trail at Lookout Pass on the repurposed historic Milwaukee rail line that once took elite travelers to Seattle. We wandered the streets of historic Wallace and hiked the Pulaski Trail before the sky-high Lone Lake Trail #138. Driving back towards Montana, we laced on our boots again for the Blossom Lakes Trail located at the top of Thompson Pass. 

                                              The Hiawatha Bike Trail

skyhigh trestles span the valley from Lookout pass I-90 Exit O on the Id-Mt state line

What’s not to love about 15 miles of bike riding through 7 high trestles and 10 tunnels in the middle of the USFS? It is both amazing and terrifying at the same time.

We heard from experienced friends that riding downhill and taking the shuttle back to the top provides terrifying moments in the Saint Paul Pass tunnel, which is the longest at 8,771’. On our day, everyone riding came out of the darkness covered in mud and wet. Conditions were slick. If you ride from the top, you’ll travel 15 miles on a 2% grade.

We chose to ride from the bottom at Pearson and pedal up to Moss Creek, avoiding any bike riding on the roadway or encountering that top tunnel. This route changes the overall mileage to around 22 roundtrip miles. Really, the uphill isn’t bad at all. What I had a little trouble with was inexperienced riders coming downhill taking up the entire width, not realizing that it’s 2-way and most are going way too fast. Trail etiquette needs to be reviewed.

I walked over some of the trestles, mainly so I could appreciate the view and not have an accident. It is quite beautiful. There were two longer tunnels at Kelly Creek and Tunnel 25 that I walked through—because I couldn’t see where I was riding. To be fair, our lights (both on the bike and on our heads) weren’t bright enough. (300 Lumen is recommended).Next time I’ll have a bright torch!

Bikes, helmets and lights are available for rental up at the ski lodge located at the pass. Current price to ride is $13 for adults and the shuttle (if you ride top/down) is $12 for standard bikes.

                                                           The Pulaski Trail

4 miles out and back. 741’ elevation gain. Rated easy. Located just outside Wallace city limits.

The Big Burn (book of the same name. Author Timothy Egan) is what the great fire of 1910 was called. 4,700 miles of Idaho, Montana, and Washington were destroyed on August 20-21 after strong winds created an inferno. Entire towns burned to the ground and many people lost their lives. Today, this area is lush, but try to imagine the water filled with burnt ash and too warm to drink.

Edward Pulaski, a ranger leading a crew of firefighters, kissed his wife good-bye that day, telling her that he might not return and urging her to save herself.

Out in the woods, he realized firefighters couldn’t outrun the approaching tornado of fire. He gave his horse to an older gentleman and told him to ride like the wind. Yelling above the noise of the approaching disaster , he gathered his crew to hightail it to the Nicholson mine tunnel.

This wasn’t without rebellion, as the terrified men panicked. Edward did the sensible thing. He pulled out his gun and threatened to shoot anyone who didn’t lie face down in the mine. Two men did die from the gassy fumes and heat but the rest survived.

The trail ends across the creek and above the mine. This route is dedicated to all firefighters and their heroism.

                                                             Lone Lake Trail # 138

Lookout Pass accessed from Wallace through the Moon Pass. Rated moderate. 5 miles out and back. All Trails App states 1,666’ elevation gain. Our recording showed 2,000’. Rated: Strenuous.

This trail starts out on an old mining road before a rock cairn marks where the trail narrows. It’s all uphill (no two ways around it) but it’s also a good challenge with a fine mix of shade and sun. 

There are so many wildflowers, huckleberries (still green mid-july) and more flowering elderberry than I’ve ever seen on a single trail. As you progress uphill, the mountains close in on both sides and you’ll enter a narrow valley with dense shrubbery. There’s a waterfall you can’t miss right off-trail. Pass that and switchbacks take you up quickly with fantastic views to the Northwest before entering an evergreen forest. You’ll arrive above the lake with minimal downhill to reach the shore. We were all alone up there, enjoying our lunch and watching the trout jumping. Darn! our Montana fishing license doesn’t work in Idaho!

                                         Blossom Lakes Trail  (LoLo National Forest)

Start at the top of Thompson Pass. 5.5 miles out and back. Rated: Moderate. 1,141’ elevation gain. Can extend to do Pear Lake as well for 8 miles.

Hey! We’re back in Montana by a spit. The trail is not signed, but thankfully other people pointed out the trailhead. If you’re facing the forest, it is a narrow trail on the left—same side of street as the parking lot right next to a board posted with history information. 

The flora is much different here than our lush Lone Lake Trail. This one is mostly evergreen forest with a soft needled surface that’s gentle on your feet. Plenty of green huckleberries in Mid-July.

The trail starts flat along a ridge, but don’t expect it to stay that way. It’s roly-poly. Up and down–but mostly up. Several trails intersect, (notice the return is always to the right) Unfortunately, it’s a multi-use area, so expect to hop-scotch around horse dung and maybe a few riders. Of course, there’s plenty of mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies. Along with bug spray, bring bear spray too.

Near the top, there’s one log crossing where I watched baby trout swimming. The first campsite was full of horse poop, so we moved on across the back side of the lake to sit on flat rocks at the lake edge.

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