Today was supposed to be a bit of a recovery day. We got a really late start from Smiley Creek Lodge, having had a big breakfast and bought enough food to last us another 3 days. We slowly got our stuff together, and bid farewell to the oasis in the big valley. The carved outdoor chess bears were a delight to look at, too bad I only noticed them on the way out or I may have coaxed Lee into a game.
Our route wasn’t quite clear, yet. After the last couple days, we weren’t sure if we’d be biking strong together, or how much effort we both could sustain for the next 3 days. So, we sort-of left it at that, and followed a track south that seemed to go over the mountains and short-cut to some tracks that I had planned along the Alternate Idaho Centennial Trail (“alternate” because it bypasses the wilderness section). The Smiley Creek Road quickly brought us back into the mountains.
And from there, we spotted the Smiley Creek trailhead.
The Smiley Creek trail is rather new, 4, 5 feet wide in most places and fairly decent ascent ratio made it a fun ride. My topomap didn’t quite have the latest version of it; another indication that it has been updated very recently.
We met a couple motorbikes coming down and then encountered a lone hiker coming down, too. He had found himself in deep snow at the ridge and lost the trail. This didn’t deter us much, and wanted to take a look at this snow. Our hiker, Richard, asked if he could come along in case we find the way with our GPS. And so we did: Richard hiked up quickly in front, then us bikers pushed and pedaled slowly up to the ridge.
The snow drifts were pretty deep, so we walked around those while keeping the GPS track nearby.
After 20 minutes we had traversed the 0.3 miles of snow patches and were on clear and dry ground again. Emma Creek trail went downhill, so we bid Richard farewell and asked him to check in with us when he reached his destination on Willow Creek, I think he said.
Emma Creek trail was a pretty good mixed bag: at times rocky and loose, at times techy, then later on through woods, and back out into the open rocky scree fields. 95% rideable single track, and one moto had cleared the trail for us. No other tracks were visible, besides a bear! The surrounding valley was sheer beauty, an indication of other things to come – though we didn’t know that yet.
Since we had had a pretty easy&quick ride down Emma Creek, we turned right on National Forest Development Road#79 towards Atlanta or Featherville. This sometimes-steep&loose double track was backing us good – it was getting warmer day by day and there were no clouds or trees to hide behind on the pushing-up portions.
At the junction with Johnson Creek trail we had a decision to make. The Alternate route of the Idaho Centennial trail goes along this trail, but then there was a perfectly fine double track that we could take and cut out about 2500 feet of single track climbing. We hummed and hawed and decided to skip the single track.
As we clipped into our pedals, I exclaimed “But, Lee! Look, it’s so pretty up there!”, and Lee agreed that we should check out the trail for little bit at least. The beginning of Johnson Creek trail was amazing smooth, then it got a little steep, but still rideable and then a couple creek crossings. Sometime 5, 10 minutes along we were obviously committed to riding it – as per usual, it’s almost impossible to turn around unless a big brick wall would have stopped us cold. This is the Idaho adventure that I had been looking for.
Though it was still plenty bright, we were beginning to think about finding a camping spot for the night before the trail would rapidly ascend to 8600 feet. We finally found a place, not too close and not too far from Johnson Creek – with a couple trees, just perfect. Lee made a little fire by which we enjoyed warm toes and hearty meals. Time to pitch our tents and rest up for the next big day.
Check out the other days and gpx track of route on the main page.