Chamberlain Basin

2006-08-14 -> 2006-08-25
Chamberlain Basin was the heart of the portion of the Frank Church Wilderness Jason and I backpacked across. Our ten day, 100+ mile adventure took us from the South Fork of the Salmon River up and over into Chamberlain Basin. From there we worked our way to Big Creek, which we followed to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. From the Middle Fork we worked our way into the Big Horn Crags at met up with horses, fresh food and resupplies at Barking Fox Lake.


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Trip Report

Chamberlain Basin was the heart of the portion of the Frank Church Jason and I backpacked across. Our ten day, hundered plus mile adventure took us from the South Fork of the Salmon River up and over into Chamberlain Basin, though the basin to Big Creek, down Big Creek then up and over the Big Horn Crags. In the Big Horn Crags we met up with John, Derek, Lizzy (dog), Red and Bo (horses) and ended our trip at the crags camp ground.

  • August 14, 2006 - The Preparations

    Jason met me at my house in the early afternoon. We took our time eating some good food, visiting with David and putting our gear together. After we got packed up, David was generous (thank you) enough to drive us to the trail head. We stopped by the McCall Brewery and had one last good meal before being dropped off along the South Fork of the Salmon River. David returned to Boise, leaving Jason and myself at the beginning of our journey. We set up a quick camp and didn't get up until the next morning.

  • Augst 15, 2006 - Up Up Up Chicken Peak


    After a nice breakfast and packing up our bags we began to work our way across the Wilderness. As we passed though the South Fork Ranch, we ran into a rancher and he shared some knowledge about the trail ahead of us. We worked our way though the ranch and made it to the trail and headed down the South Fork.


    After a few miles we hit the bridge across the river at Porphery Creek. There we took a nice break and checked out a good camp along the other side of the river which had an old orchard (a few apple trees) and a possibility of a structure. After enjoying a nice snack and the site we had found, we got back on the trail.


    From here the trail went up towards Chicken Peak. The start was a massive number of switch backs heading up out of the river valley. And we started with our heavy packs this first day on the trail trying to make it up them to a camp near Chicken Peak. According to the rancher there was a nice place where we cross water about 3/4 of the way up and it was a pseudo goal to make it there for the night.


    After getting beyond the initial switchbacks and on the long ridges that worked their way up a large thunder shower rolled into the valley. So as we made our way up towards Chicken Peak we begin to get rained on and have lightning in the hills a ways above us. I was determined to make it to the place near water and call it a night. The thunder had stopped after a bit, and the sun had set, while the rain continued. I had ended up taking a quicker pace than Jason as I was on my way to the speculated camp.

    After walking for a little over an hour in the pitch black with my head lamp, and still haven't made it to the camp site, I drop my bag under a tree on the edge of the mountain. We are now out of the valley in moderate forest with lots of underbrush. Everything is soaking wet and the rain is still dropping on us fairly hard, I decide that I must find Jason and we need to at least not be separated. Without my pack I continue back down the trail to find Jason and group up. Behind me about half a mile I do find Jason, who is also soaking wet and tired as this first day's challenge was a bit much. We made it back to where I had stashed my pack and made a decision, to either bunk up here until the rain is gone or make it to the known camp. With the fatigue we have generated by walking though four miles of hard rain we decided to bunk up here as the camp was an unknown distance along the trail. Throwing up Jason's small 2 man tent, we found a flat spot under a tree and tried to stay as dry as possible though the night.

  • August 16, 2006 - Drying out on Chicken Peak


    After a rough night, I crawled out of the tent and was looking at a nice cow elk looking back at me. Getting out of the tent I threw on my wet cloths and began moving around to warm up for the day. After packing our wet packs together as best as we could, we ate a light breakfast and continued up the peak. We got on the trial and found the camp we were hoping for about 20 minuets up the trail, go figure.


    We finally made it to the top of Chicken Peak and noticed that the rain clouds from the previous night were starting to clear up. We decided to make camp on the side of Chicken Peak to give us time to eat a good hot meal and dry out our wet gear from the night before.

    We spent most the afternoon drying our stuff out, sitting around and enjoying a fire, a good hot meal and the view from the old lookout that was sitting atop Chicken Peak. After a relaxing day on the peak we saw all the clouds brisk away and give us a beautiful sunset followed by a starlit night.

  • August 17, 2006 - Sheepeater Ridge


    After a restful night sleep on Chicken Peak, we got up the next morning, enjoyed a good hot breakfast, packed up and hit the trail. This day's plan was to make it to the lakes on the back side of Sheepeater Peak. The trail was well maintained and worked its way down and back up a real nice broad ridge. We got to walk though all the major forest types that day. The older forest that is fairly dense and healthy, the recently burnt forest and the beautiful areas that have recovered from a burn a few years back and are recovering nicely, full of fresh life and smells.


    After a full day of walking along Sheepeater Ridge we made it near the Peak. Here I dropped my pack and walked up to the peak while Jason headed down to the lake to test his fishing ability. I made it up to the modern lookout atop Sheepeater Peak. The area was well maintained and had a great view of the heart of the Frank Church. There was no one at the lookout and the flag was only raised to half-mass. Slightly curious as to the reason, I finished my time atop the peak and headed down to the lakes.


    I found Jason fishing at Sheepeater Lake. I dropped my pack and made my way out to the fishing point he found. I get there just in time to see him reel in his first fish, a 16-18 inch cut throat. We tried to get another fish, but after a few casts we got a few bits and one fish on the line shortly but were not able to reel him in. We didn't spend the time to get another, lucky that one fish was big enough for the two of us, and we set up camp and cooked it up for dinner.

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  • August 18, 2006 - Three-Blaze trail where are you?


    Chamberlain Basin was our destination. I usually prefer to walk up on the ridges and follow nice forest trails though them as opposed to being down in a creek valley. This is important because we had two options for heading to Chamberlain Basin, one along a ridge, called three-blaze trail, and the other down the drainage from Sheepeater Lake.


    Three-blaze trail was our decision, and we headed towards it. The back side of the trial up out of the lakes was fairly nice and we made it to the small summit where three-blaze trail cuts off. At this point we saw the burn that had covered the ridge the trail was on and the unfortunate part was the trail has not been maintained since before the fire.


    The trip down three-blaze was more working our way down a ridge with no trail and having to cross over tons of fallen trees, like walking though a huge pile of toothpicks fallen on their sides. Though use of the map we were able to follow the basic direction of the trail and found ourselves finding it and loosing it several times down the ridge. So what I was hoping to be a nice easy walk down a ridge like Sheepeater Ridge the day before turned into a slow tough trek down the edge of a partially burnt ridge.


    It took us a bit longer to get down the ridge than had hoped, but we finally made it down to the main trail. There we took a break and had a good snack as we needed a bit more energy to finish the few mile trek to Chamberlain Basin Guard Station. Slightly before dark we made it to the guard station and air strip. There we saw a group of two biologists tagging the wolfs in the area and a camp of two back country pilots in an old Cessna. After talking with both groups briefly we made our way to our camp site and set up for the night.

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  • August 19, 2006 - Up, Over and Around to Sliver Creek


    From Chamberlain Basin we headed in a southern direction towards Big Creek. We found our trail and began to work our way over Moose Meadows Point. This area deep in the Frank Church is mostly rolling mountains covered with forests, thus the meadows in the dense forest stick out.


    After making it over Moose Meadows Point and to the meadows beyond it we ate a late lunch. From there we had a few more hours until dark and continued on. According to the map the next nice place was Club Meadows about 3-4 miles away. This seemed doable and we ended up on an extremely nice trial that has been recently redone though the forest. The disadvantage of this nice trail is it had been completely rerouted from what we had on the map. So after walking far longer and it getting dark we found the four way trail junction that let us know where we were.


    The trail had been rerouted to stay up on the ridge line and never dropped down into Club Meadows. We ended up walking around Club Meadows and made it to a trail head another few miles on the back side of the meadows. We were tired and I had been walking on a sore foot for about half the day now and was ready to find camp. We headed down into Silver Creek from the ridges and by some strange act of luck found this wonderful camp site slightly off the trail in the pitch black.

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  • August 20, 2006 - Down a Crooked Creek, well almost


    The next day we took our time getting moving. After the extra long hike the day before and the fact my foot was still sore we decided not to push it. It turned out that I had a slight sprain in my left ankle, which I assumed came from walking down three-blaze trail. The sprain slowed me down slightly but wasn't so bad that I couldn't go on, it was just slightly painful each step for the rest of the trip.


    While we rested our tired body, I took a slight hike back up to the trail junction above us to get a look around. This hike was nice as it gave me time to walk out the sprain before I put my full pack on. From the top I was able to see all the forested hills and feel that I was deep in the Frank Church. The trail junction had no markings and from here it was a long walk to anything that would of resemble civilization.


    From our camp on Silver Creek we worked our way down to Big Creek. The trip would start down Sliver Creek then quickly head down Crooked Creek. Instead of heading down Crooked Creek the whole way to Big Creek, we took a detour and went up and over a small ridge to head down Coxey Creek instead.


    The trails were in good shape and they were okay walking, for having a slightly sore foot. There was a small issue where the nice main maintained trail went up and around to what appeared to be a nice meadow area and there was a grave yard marked. After we noticed that the trail was not going to head back down the creek, we quickly adjusted our path and made it down to Coxey Bar on Big Creek just at dark.

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  • August 21, 2006 - Down a Big Creek around a Big Hill


    Big Creek could easily be called small river. This grand creek was like another fork of the Salmon in both size and feel. By now the smoke from the summer fires had filled up all the valleys and we weren't fortunate enough for another rain storm to clear it up. Day eight consisted of a long 20 mile walk down Big Creek in a hot and smokey summer day.


    The walk down Big Creek was long and steady. We started at Coxey Bar and in a few miles made it past the old airstrip (well grass field) at Garden Creek and made it to Cave Creek. Cave Creek has a fairly large cave slightly above its confluence with Big Creek. We put our packs down and enjoyed a good snack and explored around the natural cave a bit, before working our way down Big Creek again.


    Just past Cave Creek, the valley opens up from being steep and narrow to a nice open valley where Big Creek just slows down and meanders though. I recall thinking how this reminds me of the movie 'A River Runs Thought It' as I saw a lone fisherman out in the middle of Big Creek searching for a bite. After making it though the Cabin Creek bowl, the valley quickly narrowed again for the rest of our walk down Big Creek.


    We had about 20 miles to walk down Big Creek today and still had slightly more than a third left. The major point sticking north of Big Creek and West of the Middle Fork is just called Big Hill on the maps, so we had to spend the rest of our following Big Creek around the Big Hill. So after a good lunch at Cabin Creek we were on our way, trying to make it to the Middle Fork before dark.


    Over all Big Creek was a good day of hiking. The trail was maintained by the outfitters in the area. And with the out fitters, the pack trains and the air strips, Taylor Ranch (University of Idaho research ranch) it was nice to see people being a part of the wilderness. Just past Taylor Ranch we ran into some Big Horn Sheep that were more interested in the natural salt lick and let us sit and watch them.


    And sure enough at a decent time in the late afternoon we made it to the Middle Fork. After enjoying the magnificent river we made our way just slightly up Waterfall creek to a stock camp I knew of above the falls where it flattens out a bit. We set up camp there and ate what little food we had left. Our rations had gotten fairly low at this time, but we had to maybe make them last one more day before getting resupplied at the Big Horn Crags.

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  • August 22, 2006 - Up Waterfall Creek


    This was going to be our final climb, from Waterfall Creek to Barking Fox Lake on the back side of the Bighorn Crags was 14 miles or so up hill. By this time in the trip we were low on supplies and food and just worn out from multiple 20 mile days. We have been eating small rations, and had enough food for one more day. I was unsure if we were going to find John in the Big Horn Crags tonight or tomorrow as we were one day early. With a slow and steady pace and worked our way out of the Middle Fork up into the Bighorns.


    The day was slow and long. The trail was a constant uphill grade and I was searching for energy anywhere I could find it to keep on moving up and up and up into the Big Horn Crags. The air was filled with smoke and it was another hot day, but sure enough I kept putting one foot in front of the other and the vegetation kept on changing with the elevation, well what vegetation was left from the fire that burnt Waterfall Creek only a few years before.

    After a full day of hiking we make it to Barking Fox Lake where John and Derek were waiting for us. They had arrived at camp a few hours before and already set it up. Alas most of our trip was over and we felt like worn out champions after crossing the majority of the Frank Church. We set up camp and spent the rest of the evening eating fresh food that John was nice to bring us.

  • August 23, 2006 - Rest at Terrace Lakes


    And on the tenth day we rested. We spent the whole day at Barking Fox Lake and the Terrace Lakes slightly above us. A storm had blown in the night before but the day was nice and peaceful as we fished and relaxed and just enjoyed the fact we didn't have to carry our packs. After a full day of rest and relaxation we ate another good meal and then didn't wake up until the next morning.

  • August 24, 2006 - The Hike Out


    The rains had moved in on us and we woke up wet from the night before. Though our original plan was to stay in the Bighorns another day we decided that it would be best to get out a day early and head back to our other life, which by now seemed only a distant memory.


    After spending most the morning and early part of the afternoon waiting to see if the weather would clear up we discovered it wouldn't and packed up and headed the last 14 miles to the Crags Campground. Lucky for this last part of the trip the two horses Red and Bo were nice enough to carry our luggage and we were able to spend the day walking with just a day pack on.


    The hike from Barking Fox Lake to the Crags Campground first takes us up and over a high mountain pass above Terrace Lakes. From there the trail drops down into Wilson Creek and heads back up to a ridge below Cathedral Rock and then follows a hilly ridge to the Crags Campground.


    The Big Horn Crags are composed of granite from the Idaho Batholith which have been cut into lots of crags and high mountain glacial lakes. Away from the main cluster of crags and lakes sits Cathedral Rock and the ridge below it is covered with large granite rocks that you can see sticking out above the tree line along most the hike back to the Crags Campground.


    After one last full days hike we made it to the Crags Campground and headed back to Salmon. With a total of 11 days and 110 or so miles we had made our way thought the middle of the Frank Church, River of No Return Wilderness. With our adventure over, we headed back to civilization with stories to tell and more trails to find.

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