Wilderness Expedition

Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho     Photo: Glenn Oakley

You Have: Done a few multi-day hikes.
You Want:
To trek through one of America’s most rugged wildernesses.
The Trip:
This 53-mile trek—scouted for us by local ultrarunner Jeremy Humphrey—is everything your first multi-day backpacking trip should be: navigable but isolated. “You can go days without seeing another person out there,” says Humphrey. It’s also home to plenty of bears; go with a group, which diminishes the chance of an encounter. Day one: Catch a shuttle flight from Salmon Air in McCall to the Indian Creek landing strip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River ($100). Hike northeast, crest a small ridge, and drop into the lush Indian Creek drainage. The trail then climbs upward as the canyon narrows. After ten miles you’ll reach the Kwiskwis hot spring. Set up camp in nearby Kiwah Meadow. Soak. Day two: Your most scenic day of trekking is also your toughest: you’ll gain and lose 8,500 feet of elevation while covering nearly 15 miles. The trail leads southwest past Pistol Rock, a 700-foot granite spire, and up to the top of Big Baldy Ridge. From there hike eight miles at 9,705 feet, taking in views of the Salmon River Mountains and the Gospel Hump Wilderness. Camp at Buck Lake. Day three: The ridge continues climbing toward Big Baldy’s summit, where you’ll find a lookout tower. (Climb it for views of the Sawtooths, the White Cloud Peaks, and the Middle Fork itself.) Retrace your way back to the Big Baldy Ridge Trail, then head on to the Garden Creek Trail before making your final descent back to the landing strip.
Essential Gear:
Going light and fast is the name of the game. Long-distance backpacking guru Andrew Skurka’s new book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trails ($20), is packed with hundreds of tips on everything from how to choose the best maps to how to take care of your feet to how to bear-proof your campsite. Packing a rescue beacon like the Spot ($170) is a good idea.

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