Make It Look Like…

Moon Star camp, Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

“Louie, you should try and make it look like you’re actually doing the activity. If it’s camping make it look like you’re actually camping, if you’re running make it look like you’re really running…” Five years ago I received this advice from a friend who had been working in the outdoor industry for nearly 30 years. I believe he was talking about authenticity and not suggesting my work was too staged, unbelievable, and ultimately, shallow… err, at least I hope he wasn’t.

Kaitlyn Honnold and Chris Call explore Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Fast forward to July 2016. The Scarpa North America team had hatched a plan to create new backpacking imagery for their 2017 season. Being big proponents of authenticity the plan was basic – go backpacking in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and make photos of people using their products in the field.

Backpackers Alexa Ault and Kevin Luby explore the Stough Lakes area of the Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Fully loaded for a night out under the stars five of us set out for the 9-mile hike. We wandered through scenic meadows and vibrant forests before being deposited into Stough Creeks Basin – a lake-filled canyon hovering near tree line with the summits of Atlantic Peak and Roaring Fork Mountain towering along the continental divide above. Stough’s was a fantastic mountain setting that we called home for a day and a half and also the perfect place to, “make it look like we were actually backpacking…”

Above it all. Backpackers Chris Call and Kailtyn Honnold soak up the view of Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

Discovering jems in your own back yard. What new areas have you recently discovered?

This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.


Sunset in front of Cobb Peak.
Sunset in front of Cobb Peak.

After saying good night to my wife and twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and while breathing in the lupine scented air I sensed something new and musky. Unzipping the tent I peered out from the edge of a large alpine cirque to see the sliver of a crescent moon low on the twilit horizon. On a whim to get away and explore someplace new, beautiful and hopefully not too crowded, we chose to backpack into the southwestern corner of the Pioneer Mountains near Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late July and we had just settled down for the night in Hyndman Basin. Above us, in the purple hue of sky, stars winked alive while my eyes adjusted to the light. Soon the silhouettes of half a dozen elk materialized in the gloaming. Near a babbling brook they fed on grasses and flowers before passing through camp, so close I could hear their breathing.

Checking in with Joe Miczulski at the Ketchum Ranger District Office of the Sawtooth National Forest, he agreed that the Pioneer’s, or Pio’s, don’t see as much human traffic as the surrounding ranges. This makes sharing ventures in the region with wildlife that includes black bear, elk, deer, mountain goats, mountains lions, coyotes and wolves, more common. “Even at the peak of summer use it seems you can always find solitude up near Hyndman,.. even more so if you spend the night.” He explained.

Sun Valley Trekking co-owner and Wood River Valley resident for nearly 13 years, Francie St. Onge, echoed Joe’s claim of less traffic and more wildlife. She also recommended it as a place to bring the kids. Francie has been bringing her four-year-old daughter, Neve, to Hyndman Basin since she was an infant. “It’s a great place to bring the kids with several options depending on their ability.” She recommended, for smaller children, making the journey to Outfitter Meadow, which sits at the western foot of Cobb Peak between Big and Hyndman Basin. At 9,000 feet the meadow contains a pond, pine trees, has a small creek running through it and is filled with areas for kids to play and families to camp.

Older kids can make it another mile and 1,000 feet into Hyndman Basin proper. There they can wander through gnarled firs or run through spring fed meadows that overflow with wildflowers. Paintbrush, sunflowers, elephant head, blue camas are only a few of the flowers they can identify. If the kids are up for additional elevation gain and more adventure make your way to the saddle between Old Hyndman and Hyndman Peak and follow the second-class trail to Idaho’s ninth highest point at 12,009 feet. From the summit of Hyndman Peak they will be rewarded with a 360-degree panorama that includes the highest point in the state, Mt. Borah.

An alternative to going into Hyndman Basin is the historic Pioneer Cabin. Parents with older children can easily make it a day hike. Built in the 1930’s by Sun Valley ski instructors this pine cabin, located on the western edge of the Pio’s, is open to the public and may be used on a first come first serve basis. The simple structure, donning an aluminum roof, single pane windows and containing a wood-burning stove offers stupendous views of not only the Pio’s, but the surrounding ranges as well. You may reach the cabin via Corral Creek, Johnstone Creek or Hyndman Creek. These can be out-and -back, through-hikes, or loops.

We chose the basin. Leaving the Hyndman Creek Trailhead that morning the three of us crossed a footbridge heading east. Following a gently graded, abandoned mining road we wandered through fields of grass peppered with firecracker penstemons, sego lilies and dancing aspens. For three reasonable miles, that eased Josie, my stepdaughter, into the hike, we passed and were passed by a few others before the trail steepened. Here it quickly climbed 600 feet depositing us in a meadow filled with the blooming lupine. Strolling by the vacant Pioneer Yurt, which is operated by Sun Valley Trekking during only the winter months, we found a comfortable spot beside the creek. Taking shelter from the sun beneath the trees we discovered vibrant columbine flowers. Refreshed by the passing water and cool breeze we lunched and discussed camping in the meadow. Unanimously we chose to make the final push into the basin. There we found a secluded site for our camp, set up and immediately ventured to the frosty waters of a small alpine lake. As we waded and skipped stones, a string of hikers meandered by, emptying the basin as the hour grew later. It was here that we encountered our only neighbors for the night; a group of five who had come to summit Hyndman.

Elephanthead wildflowers in Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.
Elephanthead wildflowers in Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.

In contrast to their neighboring ranges of Boulder, Smokey and Sawtooth Mountains, the Pioneers tower above not only in elevation, but also in their geological variety. According to geologist Darlene Batatian, who did her graduate work mapping the range, the creation of the Pioneers left visible layers of gneiss, quartzite, schist and other rocks for those who experience the area. The edge of Hyndman Basin, hanging above the canyons below on the rising side of a detachment fault, is an example of a Mylionitic zone, the place where the shearing force of the land either pulverized the rock into tiny crystals or morphed its structure into something else; the result being an array of color in the land that is both amazing and breathtaking.

Back at camp we spread a geology map in a field of wildflowers. Doing my best to find our location then identify different rock types, the sun dropped lower in a royal blue sky. The deepening hues were a rainbow of earth tones in the setting sun. As I read each description Josie pointed to the areas that seemed to match. The main peaks of Cobb, Old Hyndman and Hyndman, serrated and jagged, appeared to be gneiss, grey, featured and beautiful. Tilting rapidly off the southwestern slopes of Cobb and Duncan Ridge was a softer layer of yellow dolomite, eroding its way down into the canyons below. Casting our gaze West, toward Bald Mountain, we saw layers of orange tinted quartzite glinting off the lesser peaks and points before being swallowed by the greens of sage, pines and aspens that blanketed the land below.

That evening, after the elk had moved on, I fell into a deep slumber only to wake in the wee hours of the night. I crawled from the warmth of my bag and tent and stood still as the breeze caused goose bumps to rise from my arms. Above our tent ran the span of the Milkyway, streaking south from the summit of Hyndman across a star filled sky. It seemed to touch down in the Snake River Basin. I heard the wind whirling around the peaks, the stream passing by and the breathing of my wife and daughter, deep in slumber. I had one thought in my head before returning to bed, “We should always go on a whim.”

Milkyway above Easton Rimrock 2P tent, Hyndman Basin, Pioneer Mountains, Idaho.



Guide Book: Hiking Idaho  Ralph Maughan and Jackie Johnson Maughan  A Falcon Guide

Maps:  Hyndman Peak USGS quadrangle

For current conditions and restrictions Sawtooth National Forest Ketchum Ranger District  208-622-0090

Sun Valley Trekking:  208-788-1966

Outdoor stores:

Elephants Perch  208-726-3497

Sturtevants  425-454-6465

Backwoods Mountain Sports  208-726-8818

When to visit:

Visit midsummer for the height of flowers season, bring bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes and deer flies, and then return in autumn when the aspens leaves have changed from their usual green to a vibrant tangerine.

Getting to the trailhead:

Turn off Highway 75  5.5 miles north of Hailey. Drive 6 miles East. Take a hard left at sign that reads North Fork of Hyndman Creek. Drive 3 miles to the crossing of Johnstone Creek. Cross Johnstone Creek and continue another 1.5 miles to the parking area.


Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’57” N Longitude: 114-07’51” W

Pioneer Cabin = Latitude: 43-44’35” N Longitude: 114-11’29” W

Old Hyndman Peak = Latitude: 43-44’27” N Longitude: 114-07’01” W

Cobb Peak = Latitude: 43-43’52” N Longitude: 114-07’35” W

Duncan Ridge = Latitude: 43-45’03” N Longitude: 114-08’43” W

Big Basin = Latitude: 43-43’33” N Longitude: 114-07’09” W

Super Moon of the Grand Canyon. Where can you find solitude?

This was published in the Fall 2012 issue of Utah Adventure Journal.

“Where do you think the moon will rise?” I asked. Seated on a boulder made of scarlet sandstone, above the Esplanade Trail, in the southern border of the Kanab Creek Wilderness, Rachel pointed to the southeast horizon. Scanning past a gaping gorge in the surrounding desert stone our eyes rapidly climbed the spotted slopes of sandstone, shale and limestone and stopped at a juniper cover point beneath a sunlit cloud. It sat 3,000 feet above our current elevation and another 3,000 feet above the canyon’s floor. Lin, Rachel’s husband, guessed to her left, my wife, Jacki, guessed to his left and I to her left.

Saturday May 5, after the sun had gone, the four of us waited for the Super Moon. When Lin and Rachel invited us to backpack in Jump Up Canyon they promised an awesome weekend in a very special area of the Grand Canyon where “we’d explore like kids in a candy store… rock art, springs and blissin’ out”. This along with the full moon made it an easy sell, but I was still skeptical. I’d yet to visit one of the most popular destinations in the West over reluctance to share it some many others, but seated on our “Moon Rock”, having wandered the area for the day we had not seen another soul. As the sky deepened to cobalt blue any doubts I had about this weekend faded with the final light of day.

According to the Grand Canyon Park Profile 2012, compiled by the National Park Service, the area saw over 4,360,466 visitors last year. 4 Million of those visitors were passengers of the park shuttle, 132, 365 were train passengers, 106,467 floated the Colorado River, and 93,178 were backcountry users. Of the backcountry visitors only 41,000 used trails outside the corridor between the north and south rims. Fewer of these backcountry users spent the night and the number became even less for visits to Jump Up Canyon, a wash that feeds into the Kanab Creek, which joins the Colorado River from the north.

At 5:40 on a Saturday morning in May, my watched beeped. Lying among the low brush that popped from rusted soil south of Fredonia, Arizona, I left my bag. Friday night we had camped on the BLM land twenty miles north of the Jump Up Canyon Trailhead. The morning air smelled of sage. A large blood-orange moon hovered above the horizon.  Looking to the east the coming sun burned thin clouds into shades of red, pink, purple, orange and blue. There was no wind.

An hour later, driving south on highway 22, we entered the Kaibab National Forest and from the plains of sage we drove into woods of juniper and pinion, eventually finding ourselves in large stands of Ponderosa. 13 years before the Grand Canyon was designated a National Park; Theodore Roosevelt made this area of the Kaibab Plateau a game reserve in 1906. Hunters came from around the globe to bag deer, elk, big horn sheep, bobcat and mountain lion. In the reserves first 15 years there was a huge push to exterminate the cougar population. It was thought that the cats were in direct competition with hunters for deer. In less than 20 years the deer population exploded from 4,000 to 100,000. From 1924 to 1926 over 60,000 mule deer died of starvation. Biologists at the time argued the decline in mountain lion population was direct cause for the deer boom and bust. They predicted that had the cougars not been pursued in such an aggressive manner they’d have regulated the deer population to a level that could survive off the surrounding land.

1906 was also the year the forest service constructed the cabin at the Jump Up Canyon Trailhead. Today this simple and sturdy structure made from planed yellow pine set above a stone foundation dons a new tin roof along with stovepipe. A few single paned windows are nailed into place and two doors allow entrance. Finished wood floors, a card table and wood stove are the only furnishings. Open to the public, it was an option to camp at the cabin, but the destination was five miles down canyon to Lower Jump Up Springs. Ours being the only car at the cabin raised my hopes of a secluded weekend.

“Know The Canyon History, See Rocks Made By Time.” Treading past a band of limestone, Lin gave us a quick geology lesson. The first letter of every word in the saying correlated with the layers of rocks found in the Grand Canyon. Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, Supai Sandstone, Redwall Limestone, Muave Limestone, Bright Angel Shale and Tapeats Sandstone. After the Colorado Plateau was lifted thousands of feet above sea level the Colorado River went to work. Slicing through northern Arizona the river has exposed over two billion years of the earth’s history. Geologists believe the thickness of the crust beneath the plateau has permitted the rock layers to stay intact and allowed them to remain in Superposition; the rock layers appear in order from youngest to oldest, top to bottom.

After our eyes adjusted to the dry look of the canyon Rachel offered us knowledge of the flora by identifying dozens of blooming plants. We slowly picked our way down pausing at each new flower and plant. Mormon Tea, penstemon, globemallow, aster, paint brush, prince’s plume, prickly pear, monkey flower and Mojave blanket flowers kept our gaze low. It was the towering century plant shoots, some up to 20 feet tall, that brought our eyes back up to the kaleidoscope of colors from the cliffs, slopes, trees, brush and sky. Flesh colored stone ran downhill into sparsely vegetated swaths of land separated by scars of red sand gashed from the earth’s side.

1869 was the year that John Wesley Powell began mapping this area of the Colorado Plateau. By floating the Colorado River from Green River, Wyoming to Grand Wash Cliffs, near present day Lake Mead, Nevada, Powell went down in history. The 99-day adventure included numerous rapids for the expedition to negotiate. Before entering the Grand Canyon they would portage their boats when possible. Once in the canyon, having cliffs on both sides they had no choice but to run the rapids. At the final and largest rapid of the journey three members abandoned the expedition. Having heard rumors of enormous waterfalls the men believed they had a better chance of survival trying to climb out of the chasm than running what is now know as Lava Falls Rapid. After heading north from the river the three men were never seen again.

Crossing the Esplanade Trail after drifting down the broadening wash of the upper canyon I realized how hard that decision must have been. Leaving the river for the dry, unexplored terrain above they must have been desperate. Having a map and knowing where the spring was located we continued down Jump Up into a narrowing slot of sandstone. Densely grouped cottonwoods, oaks and willows welcomed us to the lower spring. Croaks of canyon tree frogs echoed off the Supai Sandstone walls. Seeps appeared, trickling down the cliffs and all at once water burbled from the wash. We made our camp near.

May 6, 2012. I awoke before my watch beeped. The desert air was only slightly cooler than when I’d fallen asleep. Alone, I scrambled out of Jump Up Canyon. Instead of taking the Esplanade Trail to the west, back to Moon Rock, I headed east. The sky appeared grey with only the thinnest clouds spreading west to east. The clean smell of desert penetrated my lungs. Leaving the rustling leaves of the spring behind I entered silence. Soft foot steps upon soft sandstone, relaxed breathing from a relaxed being. Coming to a Gooseneck Point I stopped. As the sun kissed the limestone rim to the west I sat in solitude and pondered the landscape.

Today native cultures of the Hopi, Havasupai, Paiute and Navajo, call the Grand Canyon region home. Artifacts dating back 12,000 years have been discovered within and before these present day tribes inhabited the area, Paleo-Indians and Ancestral Puebloan’s hunted and gathered here. Proof of their existence can be discovered in pottery, pictographs, points and mutates found by observant eyes.

Sunday afternoon we wandered deeper into Jump Up. The cliff walls seemed to be swallowing us as we came to a significant drop. Delicately, we used a ladder constructed of sun-bleached timber lashed together to negotiate the “jump”. Next to a cool pool of water below the pour-over Jacki and I waited for Lin to join us.

“It sounds like two men are coming down canyon.” Earlier we’d joked that if we did encounter anyone else it would be someone we knew. Sure enough, Mike from St. George had come for a day hike and of course Lin knew him. Wanting to be home before nightfall, and perhaps not wanting to intrude, Mike quickly exchanged greetings and carried on alone as we slowly wandered among weathered stonewalls and steps of pouring water. As the world shrank back to our small group this one encounter with another person failed to raise my skepticism about the area being overrun.

At the junction with Sowats Canyon we headed upstream. Arriving at Mountain Sheep Springs we found a panel of pictographs with a flat grinding stone seated below. The gurgle of the spring and the croaking frogs were the only sounds. Before returning to Jump Up we top off our bottles from a pool of water as orange damselflies rushed through the air.

Saturday night, sitting on Moon Rock, Jacki and Lin practiced yoga while Rachel and I absorbed the vast scenery. It was mind boggling to comprehend. A mile deep gash in the earth and there we sat at the half way mark. Filled with ancient history and nobody around, the moment surrounded us. Just before nine a glow appeared on the horizon. Rachel had won the bet.

Dr. Tony Phillips of explains the Super Moon like this; the occurrence happens once a year and it’s when the moon is closest to the earth and is full. From its farthest to its closest position to our planet, the moon’s size varies up to 14%. That sounds significant until you realize the variance is separated by at least six months or six other full moons. The difference when compared with the previous month’s full moon and the one following is about 2%. Still, when backpacking in a solitary section of the Grand Canyon, it was something to see.

Sunday evening we would come out of Jump Up Canyon. We would say good-bye to the spring, pass the junction of the Esplanade Trail and retrace our steps up the cheat grass-covered wash back to the cabin. We’d build a fire in the steal ring out front and wait again for a waning moon to appear. But on Saturday night, May 5, 2012, we sat, mouths open, as a giant, illuminated, sphere soared above the skyline. The evening atmosphere suspended the moon over the south rim of the Grand Canyon and for the moment it was if we were the only four people on the planet.

Rustico. How small is the world?

“Weer yew frome?” asked the tall chain-smoking Italian sitting across the granite table from me.

“The United States.”

“No, weer en da yew ess?”

“Salt Lake City, Utah.”

“Ah! Yew-tahjazz. Kahl Malon… eh… Joan Stoct-tone… Coach Sloan.” He smiled and pulled on his cigarette. I smiled back.













It was just past seven in the morning at the Campana Efra, a small stone hut along the Via Alta Vercasca, an alpen wandern or alpine walk in the Swiss Alps with a rating of 6 that equates to easy fifth-class scrambling with the aid of iron ladders and cables attached to the most exposed sections. I, along with my great friend Stephan, who was still asleep, were three days into the five-day trek and until last night had not shared a hut with any other hikers. After three days of solitude I was open to the companionship of the two Swiss and four Dutch we had shared the bunkhouse with last night.









The man wasn’t really Italian. He was Swiss from the Ticino Canton. In a slow accented drawl he told me how years ago he had played college ball in New Jersey. Maybe before his hair began to grey and he smoked like a chimney, he had played professional ball in Europe. I didn’t ask. As the cigarette in his fingers burned low he removed another from the pack and lit it with the butt of the one in his hand.

















We both looked west. The new dawn was creeping slowly down the horizon. The waning moon hung high in the blue sky. First distant glaciers dispersed between summits lit up. Then the sun line crept lower into the valley below. Passing the rugged grass covered peaks it traveled down to tree line and deeper. It seemed strange to have a tree line below 7000 feet, but at this latitude it was so. Old ranch houses constructed from granite sprung out of the golden grasses of September.














Speaking again he explained how the cheese makers of the past would leave the tree-choked villages below and gather their stock of cows and goats from the high grasslands. From these quaint mountain buildings that are only accessible on foot, they would make an aromatic cheese that contained hints of herbs, alfalfa and flowers during the summer and fall months. Once a week the women would come from below with loads of wood and food for their men. The word “romantic” came to mind.









Rustico, country style, cheese from Ticino is still being produced by driving the cattle down into the villages below where the dairies are near the roads and modern conveniences. Most of the mountaintop dairies are no longer used save a few that we have seen. Many of the stone structures have been transformed into huts and private cabins and some have gone into disrepair.

“Wow! That’s amazing.” I thanked him for sharing. We sat there in silence while he smoked his cigarette down. From below in the village of Frasco the church bell rang 8.

The Ticino man snubbed his butt into the ground and stood up. Pausing, he turned to me with a huge smile.


I smiled back, “Utah Jazz!”