Mount McGuire is the highpoint of the Bighorn
Crags, near where the Salmon River makes its big turn west,
proving that it really is going to drain into the Pacific after
all. The scenery is spectacular, like a smaller, more
concentrated version of the Sawtooths, but unfortunately there
was a lot of haze and we only got the gist of it.
My hiking partner was Jeff Hunteman who lives in Salmon but had
never been in the Crags before. We met at the Crags
Campground, adjacent to the Crags Trailhead, which are both part
of the Crags Complex. This is the jumping off point for
almost anything in the Crags, and the parking lot at the
trailhead was quite crowded, while the campground was mostly
empty. I gathered that this was the normal state of
affairs, people just drove up here and started
backpacking. Based on the trail registers, day hikers like
us were a rarity. This is understandable, given what a
long drive it is in.
We had a long day ahead of us, so we started at 4am. We
were well inside the wilderness area by the time the sun rose,
and we discovered that we had taken a wrong turn.
In fact, the trail we missed isn't on the paper topo, or the
"historical" map that I had downloaded onto my phone. But
when we arrived at Wilson Lake, Jeff knew exactly what we had
done wrong. We added about 2 1/2 miles to the hike, as if
the hike wasn't long enough already. But the trail was
very good - not a single stick of deadfall blocked it, amazing
in a wilderness area, and the grade was always gentle. A
very stock-friendly trail. The trail was even more
impressive as it descended along the hillsides between Wilson
and Birdbill lakes, although Jeff made a good point that it
would not be a fun place to be in an earthquake.
As we approached Airplane Lake, Jeff found a good place to leave
the trail and contour over to the gully that leads up to the
tarn at 9150.
The hiking up to the tarn was easy. And for some people,
the boulderfield that followed wouldn't be bad either, making
for a very long, easy hike all around. But the boulders
were hard for me, and I added at least an hour to our time as I
stumbled my way up and then down. The boulders extended
all the way up the ridge to the top.
At the top we had a hazy view of Ship Island Lake, and we
couldn't even see the Middle Fork. It was a little
disappointing, but it was still a pleasant place for Jeff to
enjoy his individually-wrapped slice of Spam.
We had seen a campsite at Wilson Lake, but we had not seen the
camper, even though he had seen us. On the way back, we
were past Birdbill lake before we saw our first people of the
day, a family of four backpacking in. I think they
thought they had gotten an early start that morning and
were surprised to hear that we had already made it to McGuire
and back to here, but they were less surprised when they heard
when we started. We saw another backpacker shortly after
we got to the section of trail we had missed that morning, and
then passed a forest service work crew. Finally we made it
to the place where we had made the wrong turn that morning,
about 4 miles from the trailhead. There we met the camper
who had been at Wilson lake that morning.
We stopped to talk to the hiker, who was a philosophy professor
at CWI. We had walked over 20 miles already and I took the
opportunity for a rest, and Jeff didn't seem to mind.
Actually, Jeff didn't seem to mind ANYTHING the entire trip - he
is a very good natured guy in addition to being an excellent
athlete and experienced hiker. While we were there,
another family of four showed up, this time friends of Jeff from
Salmon. They had forgotten to pack all their food, and
were running low, so we gave them what we had. We
continued out shortly after that, with the CWI guy, who I think
was named Ian.
We got back to the trailhead exactly 14 hours after we left,
having hiked a total of 24.6 miles and over 6000 feet of
gain. Our detour and my stumbling up and down the
boulderfield cost us at least 2 hours, and fitter hikers could
shave off another 2 hours, but it 's probably a long day for
just about anyone. I can see why people like to
incorporate McGuire into a backpacking trip.