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I’d been hiking on an old jeep road near Hailey for over five miles by the time it finally broke free from spruce and fir into the broad, rolling meadows of Big Basin and, while the scenery was magnificent, I was almost more struck by the fact that I hadn’t seen another person since branching off the main path to the adjacent Hyndman Basin several miles back.
The trail had been easy, though the elevation was giving me a bit of a hard time. The trailhead into the area begins at a lofty 7,000 feet above sea level and climbs from there, albeit gradually for much of the hike. After briefly dropping across the North Fork of Hyndman Creek, the path leads gently upwards for a few miles through open grassy meadows and sunny Aspen groves with a few patches of late-summer wildflowers—Purple Aster, Paintbrush, an occasional Bluebell (most of the Lupine had been scorched by abundant August sunshine.) The leaves of the Aspen trees at times showcased slightly-yellowed edges, harbingers of the oncoming autumn season, and the meadow ryegrass had long shed any semblance of green in lieu of a harvest hue.
Cobb Peak, an impressive massif with a gnarly south face, dominated the horizon for the majority of the hike. When I finally emerged into Big Basin proper a world of peaks and valleys unfurled before me. Old Hyndman, my main objective on this excursion, began to poke its serrate head up over a formidable headwall to the north while the massive bowl wrapped almost a full 360-degrees around me. The valley progressed, stepping up successively in golden humps to steep, talus-covered escarpments and a few stubborn patches of snow that, no doubt, were beginning to celebrate their survival of the hot Idaho summer.
After pitching my tent and hanging my food from one of the scant White Bark Pines I continued up the next headwall to the north, finding a strenuous path up a grassy vein between boulders and into the upper basin below Cobb and Old Hyndman Peaks. Two lakes rippled lazily in the midday breeze and a few larger snowfields stretched up into the moraine. Aiming for the lowest point on the saddle above and to the east of Old Hyndman Peak I picked my way up the loose scree and across two snowfields, eventually gaining the ridge just above 11,000 feet. From here the views opened up across the entire heart of the Pioneers, dropping off the sheer north face of Old Hyndman and Hyndman Peaks, down to Arrowhead Lake and further north into Wildhorse Canyon some 4,000 vertical feet below.
This last section of the climb proved to be easier than I’d anticipated and in what seemed like no time I’d topped out through a notch onto an exposed talus slope dropping west into Hyndman Basin. Hyndman Peak rose along a stark, serpentine ridgeline to its prominence as the tallest peak in the range and Cobb Peak’s impressive north face connected along a ridgeline to the south. Behind me was a 4,000-foot drop straight down into the valley below and views to the east extended from the summit all the way out to Mackay and the Lost River Range’s 12,000 footers. Alone on this remote peak, I was awestruck by the horizon-to-horizon views of gorgeous peaks and valleys.
After a brief break to gawk at the mountain eye-candy around me, I began my final push to the summit above, a bit nervous at the sight of the Black Rock Dike, leading from the top of a broad apron to the summit. From most angles, the narrow ribbon of jet black sedimentary rock looks nearly vertical and perches above a long runout of boulders down to a formidable cliff. But as I gained the saddle and circled the summit to the east, it became clear that the dike is much friendlier and its true pitch came into focus. Donning my helmet, I began the slog up the last 600 or so vertical feet, carefully picking my way along loose scree, testing each step to ensure the rock underfoot would hold.
After signing the summit register, I began my descent, eventually landing back at camp in the valley below where the Milky Way rose as the sun set, only to be replaced a short time later by a bright, waning three-quarter moon. Alone in the valley that night, I was reminded of exactly what it is that makes Idaho so special. After warming myself in the sun the next morning, I packed up camp and returned via the same trail I’d taken in, stopping to swim in the breathtaking waters of Big Basin Creek.
- The Milky Way rises over the southern horizon over camp in a small, isolated basin below Cobb Peak. Photo Credit: Nick Lake.
Passing just a pair of bow hunters (and a pair of elk who were just lucky enough to have narrowly missed those bow hunters) I arrived back at the trailhead ready for another quick adventure in Wildhorse Canyon to the north. Passing through Ketchum and the Sun Valley Resort, I circumnavigated the western flanks of the range, grabbing views of the Devil’s Bedstead (a brutal-looking peak if I’d ever seen one) eventually dropping south into the canyon along a dirt road. Camping along the roadside is permitted and abundant and I found a quiet spot in a meadow beside Wildhorse Creek to spend the night, rising a few hours before sunrise the next morning for a quick jaunt up to Moose Lake.
The trail to Moose Lake begins along Falls Creek and bisects a wide valley filled with sagebrush before cutting steeply up and into an alpine basin. The trail is heavily wooded until abruptly breaking free into a stunning moraine ringed by toothy peaks. Moose Lake is calm and reedy and, once again, I found myself alone to enjoy the views and solitude. Heading back down the trail, I saw nary a soul until returning to my car where I headed off for a quick, relaxing soak in Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs west of Ketchum.
Though only getting a small taste of the Pioneers, it was evident that they’re yet another of the Gem State’s magical, underrated gems. Sipping a pint of Pilsner and going to town on a burger at the Sawtooth Brewery back in Ketchum, watching puffy, white clouds skip across the sky, I was able to reflect on just how incredible the last four days had been and began jotting down the peaks and basins I planned on visiting on my next trip here. It won’t be soon enough.
Feature imaged credited to Nick Lake.
Nick Lake is a freelance photographer, writer, and videographer living in Seattle, Washington. He loves to tell stories about adventures in the outdoors and you can usually find him in the mountains hiking or skiing with his wife and puppy. Follow his adventures on his Website, Instagram, and Facebook.
Published on October 31, 2017