Congressman Mike Simpson called it "The Elvis version - It's Now or Never!" It was his seventh attempt at a wilderness bill in 15 years. For Idaho Conservation League's Rick Johnson, wilderness for the White Clouds had consumed 30 years of his life.
For both of them - to paraphrase Elvis - they couldn't help falling in love.
That's the thing about the White Clouds. We noticed it back in 2003, when we produced a show called "White Clouds in Waiting." The gist of our film was this: The area had been declared a wilderness study area in 1972. How much longer would it take to resolve the conflict of the Boulders and White Clouds mountains?
We now know the answer. In August of 2015 the President signed into law the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act.
There are now three distinct wilderness areas, and the wilderness acreage is smaller than in previous bills. But, having talked with folks on all sides of this on-going debate, the prevailing sentiment is, Thank God it's finally over!
In 2012 OUTDOOR IDAHO tackled the story of Castle Peak and the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine, in our film "A Sawtooth Celebration."
The election of Cecil Andrus as governor in 1970 was in large part due to his opposition to ASARCO's moly mine in the White Clouds. Two years later, Andrus, U.S. Senator Frank Church, and others pushed through Congress the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which preserved the open space around the Sawtooths, secured a Sawtooth Wilderness, and also made it difficult for the ASARCO mine to proceed in the White Clouds.
I suppose one could say that the conflict in the White Clouds helped protect the Sawtooths. Of course, the Sawtooths have always been the favored child. That range stretches for miles, along two state highways, in full view of everyone.
Not so with the White Clouds, some 20 miles to the east. You have to make an effort to get there. And Castle Peak, the tallest mountain in the range, is not even visible from the highway.
As Rick Johnson commented to me in an interview last May at ICL's Wild Idaho conference, "I think it's emblematic of a lot of things about Idaho. You have to go a little further to catch it. It's not the Tetons or Yosemite. You have to work a little harder."
We knew that no one would take OUTDOOR IDAHO seriously if we ourselves didn't work a little harder; and so, we visited each of the three wilderness areas. We traveled to all corners of the White Clouds. Some of our crew even climbed Castle Peak. We traversed the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, hiking from one end to the other. During that time we also climbed Ryan Peak, the highest point in the Boulders.
And we journeyed around the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness with photographer and author Matt Leidecker, who recently completed a guide book on the three wildernesses. For good measure, we also flew over the three areas, capturing stunning images with an HD video camera.
All of that country is now part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and we have two men to thank for that: Congressman Mike Simpson and ICL director Rick Johnson. Of course, they received help along the way from a host of other luminaries, including U.S. Senator Jim Risch and former governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.
"I will tell you, even if this bill had not been signed into law," said Congressman Simpson when we interviewed him in May near Redfish Lake, "this effort would have been successful, because we have people talking with each other that would have never talked before, would never sit down at the same table. Now they actually talk to each other."
That's quite an achievement in itself. But moving from the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak in the 1960's, to a unanimous vote for wilderness in both the House and the Senate in 2015... now that's the real achievement!
Until recently, the Hemingway-Boulder and White Cloud wilderness areas were a mystery to me. Over the years, I had passed along their western edge driving to Stanley, but my eyes were always drawn to the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains. Rarely did I look in the other direction to the nondescript ridge that hides their soaring peaks. I knew something spectacular was back there, but I had never found the time to explore it.
Fate finally caught up with me when I got a chance to volunteer as a videographer for Outdoor Idaho.
Any trip to the White Clouds, and the fabled Castle Peak, involves hiking. In the summer of 2014, our Outdoor Idaho filming team entered the wilderness at the East Fork Trailhead. This well-used path gains more than 4,000 vertical feet over eleven miles. Not to be forgotten, Mother Nature did her part by providing a wild mix of weather, ranging from sun-soaked to a crackling, mid-August deluge of hail and rain.
But our perseverance was rewarded. Standing on Castle Peak Ridge and capturing the mountain in its changing moods was unforgettable.
This past summer’s trip into the Boulders was a different experience. Our goal was to travel the length of the area on the only north-south trail, along with a side trip to the towering Ryan Peak. This four-day journey had more of an exploration feel to it. Unlike Castle Peak, our route often just disappeared, only to re-emerge further ahead. The central and northern sections of the Boulders are much less visited than the neighboring White Clouds.
But my lasting memory was a quiet one. On the final evening, the setting sun cast golden glows through a smoky sky, courtesy of the Pioneer Fire far to the west. The resulting images are what trips to the wild backcountry area all about: simply breathtaking.
Visiting the hidden wilderness areas of the White Clouds and Boulders requires some tenacity. They force us to move out of our cityfied comfort and be a little…bolder. But, the rewards are unforgettable. We are fortunate to live in a state with so many special places to discover.
By Chadd Cripe
August 8th, 2016
On our fourth and final day in the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, I saw my first person outside of our group.
There were three people sightings in our first three days, but I didn’t see any of them.
We had packed up our camp, left the gear for the outfitter and started a long hike out to the Ketchum-area trailhead on the south end of the wilderness area — the opposite end from where our journey began.
As we reached West Pass — the 10,060-foot ridge that splits the wilderness into two distinct parts — we discovered three hikers preparing lunch. They had camped the night before and planned to climb Kent Peak (11,664 feet) that day. Kent is Ryan Peak’s more challenging but slightly shorter neighbor.
Hannah Beane of Ketchum, one of the hikers, said this was her fourth visit to West Pass and the first time she had encountered a person outside her group.
“I love the solitude,” Beane said. “I feel like this is what the real Idaho is all about. ... You really feel like this wilderness is your own when you travel back here.”
Sometimes, that can be a scary proposition.
On our third day in the wilderness, five of us set out to explore further the U-shaped valley we found on our first day. It was a short walk —but a grueling one. Without a trail other than those made by mountain goats, we covered more than 600 vertical feet in about six-tenths of a mile.
Then we surveyed our options.
New wilderness designations are always exciting news to me because the combination of political timing and pristine landscapes don’t coincide very often. I hadn’t heard much about the terrain east of the East Fork of the Salmon River until it was Included in the new Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness area. But I knew this place was set aside for its exceptional qualities and I was anxious to learn more about it.
I decided the best way to do that was to get together with someone who did know the landscape. Matt Leidecker was the perfect choice. Matt lives in Hailey and has written three guidebooks about central Idaho. His most recent covers the Boulder-White Clouds and the three new wilderness areas that were designated this year. He suggested that a good place to go in the Jerry Peak Wilderness was Jerry Peak itself. Though not the highest peak in this wilderness, it is a unique feature with a broad high plateau that leads gently to a ten-thousand foot summit.
We decided our route to the peak would be along the Burnt Creek drainage on the southeastside of the wilderness. This path would get us to the plateau in a little over two miles if we coulduse our four-wheel drive vehicle to get close enough. The tough part would then be the two-thousandfeet of elevation gain that we’d have to hike in those rugged two miles.
Leaving from Hailey it didn’t take us long to drive to the turn off to Burnt Creek. It is a seldomtravelled dirt road, and the only people we encountered on this route were a couple of cowboys moving cattle. After a short wait for the herd to clear we were bouncing down the road toward our hoped for starting point.
We followed a couple of faint turnoffs that didn’t get us exactly where we wanted to go but finally found a route along Burnt Creek itself that eventually took us close to the ridgeline we wanted to hike.That’s when our group of four gathered our backpacks and camera gear for the overnight trip toJerry Peak. Matt and I were joined by IPTV videographer Jay Krajic and volunteer Allen Powers who offered to help haul our heavy camera gear.
Our plan seemed pretty straightforward… hike to the Jerry Peak plateau, camp overnight there to get nice sunset and sunrise light for our segment on the area and hike out. Easy right? Not exactly.With temperatures in the fifties Jay assured me it would be perfect hiking weather. Perfect,unless you have a bone-chilling twenty-mile an hour wind blowing on you for the entire hike up.Despite the “breeze” we set out up the ridge. Matt and Jay who are both well travelled backpackersset the pace with Allen and I doing our best to keep up.
There was no trail to follow on this hike, just a rocky, steep ridgeline. For the slightly out ofshape the elevation gain would have been enough to make this a tough trudge. But add the howlingwind and cold, and it quickly became pretty brutal. The was no turning back though, we continued slowly climbing, upward and onward through the elements.
A few hours later, weary and worn, Allen and I caught up with Jay and Matt at the snow bank thatwould serve as our overnight base camp. With no lakes and no running water on the plateau, thissnow was the only water source for our small group. We put up tents to get out of the cold and get a little rest before our final trek to the summit of Jerry Peak. Even mountain man Matt was worn down a bit and was quickly snoozing in his tent.
A couple hours later when we all started stirring again, the wind had died down and the sunwas shining gloriously. Maybe this was going to work out after all. The long, flat plateau sloped gently toward our destination. The light was getting better and better for photography. In this lonely landscape we began our sunset trek as the only four hikers on the mountain. In fact, since our encounter with the cowboys we hadn’t seen any other people. As Matt explained later in an interview, “This place really feels like true wilderness.”
Walking through this empty windswept terrain we noticed gorgeous wildflowers and the gnarled trunks of ancient trees. From the small wonders at our feet to the distant horizon, there was a vastassortment of sights to see. From this plateau on the east side of the wilderness you have incredible 360 degree views. To the south, the jagged Pioneers Mountains; southwest are the Boulders, home of another new wilderness. Northwest is imposing Castle Peak, heart of the new White Cloud wilderness; and to the east the lofty Lost River Range basking in the soft light of the setting sun.Standing on the plateau, we were surrounded by majesty and an extraordinary quiet. It was a magical place of solitude and inspiration.
That long uphill trek in the freezing wind was well behind us. And it now seemed like a small price to pay for the privilege of standing in the middle of such an awe-inspiring scene. It is times and places like these that make you really appreciate the value of wilderness.