Giving Up on Murdock Creek Trail and a Collection of Random Sawtooth Adventures

The morning following our hikes in Chocolate Gulch and the Adam’s Gulch area we started off on another of the ranger’s suggestions: The Murdock Creek Trail. Our plan was to hike the 6 mile trail in the morning and then pack up and head north to find some open trails on the other side of the Sawtooth Mountains.

The creek trail started off in the mouth of a glacial valley and led directly into the trees along the water. The first mile or so was practically flat but no sooner than I commented on how relaxing a stroll this was following the excursions of the previous day than we crossed the creek, exited the shade of the trees and began a very abrupt climb up the rocky face of the canyon. We were happy enough about the first couple steep ascents – particularly when we were presented with some views of the Boulder Mountains – but as the trail deteriorated and the rocky climbs continued we reassessed: We were just not feeling it. It was a perfectly nice hike and had we not had the calf-tightening climbs the previous day we would have finished it, but on that day it just wasn’t something either of us felt like doing.

And so we returned to pack up camp and headed north a few hours earlier than planned. We made the almost obligatory stop at Galena Summit which overlooks the headwaters of the Salmon River where I was reminded of the fact that both Chinook and sockeye salmon travel over 900 miles from the Columbia River Basin to spawn here every year. That migration still boggles my mind. We then coasted down the mountain towards Stanley and, after dropping the trailer, headed to the ranger station there to acquire a batch of new recommendations.

Seeing as neither one of us felt like more than an easy walk for the remainder of the day we decided to go explore the Ghost Town of Custer, an 19th century gold mining settlement that preserves the history of the massive mining and dredging operations that overran the Yankee Fork Valley. This place today is still very remote, bordering the Frank Church Wilderness, and it’s difficult to imagine it full of small settlements, multiple large mining operations, and even a mill.

After leaving Custer we decided to finish the day with a short walk around the infamous Stanley Lake, one of the many gem lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains. Unlike most of the national forest this area is relatively developed with campgrounds and is quite popular – understandably so. If you can’t get out to hike, Stanley Lake will give you a real taste of the wilderness as its ringed by snow-capped peaks and thick forest.

The following morning we set off on a hike which I’ll blog about in the next post but the day after that we decided to move one since all of our planned wilderness hikes were inaccessible. On our way west however we made a stop at the Grandjean Area which provides a backside view of the Sawtooth Mountains. Unfortunately the hike we did on the Baron Creek Trail was also blocked by high water and so we only ended up doing 4 miles that day, mostly through forest. Still a few views worth having however: