Bikepacking the Idaho Hot Springs Route—South loop: Part 2

We knew we were pretty close to Ketchum and we really wanted a good, solid meal. We got up a bit earlier, packed up, ate a bar, and headed down the road. Ketchum was only about six or seven miles away. We made our way to the downtown area and a restaurant called The Kneadery, for breakfast.

We were feeling pretty tired from the past three days of hard riding and we figured a good solid meal and a little rest would revive us. The meal was delicious, just what we were hoping for. After breakfast we walked over to a large grocery store and replenished our food, which was running low. It’s nice to have places enroute to resupply your food, otherwise you end up carrying a lot, which means more weight and bulk. We didn’t linger too long in Ketchum. We would have liked to check out the town a bit, but we still had another big pass to climb that day.

The first five or so miles out of town are on a nice paved bike path. We then hit the Harriman Trail, which parallels the highway (Hwy 75). The Harriman Trail was pretty nice, a bit rocky in places, but nice to not be on the highway. The trail passes through several campgrounds. It is was along this section that we both realized we were pretty lethargic. We just didn’t have much energy and were riding pretty slowly. Our legs were dead.

At one of the last campgrounds before Galena Summit, we stopped, bought some cold drinks, and took stock of our situation. We could stay at this campground and rest for the day and start fresh tomorrow, or, Jed suggested we hitch a ride to the top of the pass. We decided to head out to the highway and ride and hitchhike when a suitable ride (a truck) came along. We slowly rode up the highway, sticking our thumbs our occasionally, with no luck. A few miles later we arrived at the last campground before the pass and decided to look for a place to camp. Most spots were already taken, except for one pretty lousy one, a sloping rocky field with a fire pit. These days, for most people, camping is pulling up in your RV and calling it good. Doesn’t really matter if there’s a flat spot to sleep or anything else. Jed insisted on trying to get a ride to the top, so he stayed out by the road thumbing, while I secured that last spot and lounged in the shade. After an hour and a half, only a few cars had stopped, and didn’t have room for bikes, so we gave up and set up camp. Prairie Creek was nearby, so we washed up in the icy water, and felt much refreshed. We spent the rest of the day laying around, napping, daydreaming, walking around a bit. It was pretty nice to just relax.

The view from camp.

We went to bed at 9:00 pm, before it was even dark. Jed enjoyed the sunset from bed, while I dozed off. We had a pretty good night, slept about 9 hours. It really helps to be able to wash up good in a river before sleeping, otherwise you’re a sticky mess all night. Wet Wipes work in a pinch but not nearly as good as a proper washing.

Day 4 totals: 31.7 miles, 1509′ gain, 625′ loss.

We felt pretty good when we got up. Our next objective was Galena Lodge, at the base of the climb to the pass. Since we were seriously behind schedule now, we decided to stay on the highway. The Lodge was only 5.5 miles up the road. It’s a really beautiful lodge with a restaurant, bike shop, and a nice patio area in a spectacular setting. We talked about coming back up and riding the trails unloaded and car camping in this pretty area. We took a break, drank a soda, and mentally prepared for the next big climb.

Galena Lodge

We were feeling pretty good as we started up the climb. We again chose to stay on the highway to make up time. Up to the lodge the trail parallels the highway, often within sight of the road, so we didn’t feel too bad riding the road. We had also heard that the Old Toll Road (dirt) up to the summit still had snow on it. The riding wasn’t too bad, no walking. We took a break part way up and ate some snacks. And then we rounded a corner and there was a sign signaling downhill. We couldn’t believe it! Almost always on a these long climbs you think the top is just around the next bend, and it never is. And you play this game forever it seems. This was one of the very few times where we arrived at the top way before we thought we would. We were elated, and still felt really good. The rest day really helped revive our sore tired bodies.

Looking back the way we had come.

We didn’t stay long on top. The descent went all too quickly and before long we were down in the Sawtooth Valley. We stopped for another break and some cold drinks at the Smiley Creek Lodge.

The Sawtooth Valley

From here we had about 25 miles, fairly flat with a downhill trend, all the way to the small town of Stanley. We were looking forward to making good time on this section. Again, the trail paralleled the highway so we opted to stay on pavement, to make up lost time and miles. We still had a long way to go to get back to the car in Idaho City. Much to our dismay, we had stiff headwinds the entire 25 miles. It was not easy going like we had anticipated. We had to pedal hard into the wind the whole time. Fortunately the Sawtooth mountains were spectacular. This was a really beautiful section of the route.

We took a break alongside the Salmon River and filtered water, then pressed on. It was a great relief to get to Stanley where we were looking forward to another solid meal. Our fuel canister was also empty so we bought a new one at a gear shop there. We had nice sandwiches at a bar and restaurant there in town. What a magnificent setting. Stanley is truly a beautiful place right there at the base of the Sawtooths.

Looking out the window of the restaurant.

Again, we didn’t linger too long, because we were still behind schedule, had to make up miles from our rest day. We continued on the highway. Fortunately traffic was not heavy, and the views were still great.

The riding wasn’t too bad. We had lots to look at as we pedaled. We occasionally took breaks to eat and stretch our legs. We were looking at a big day in the saddle. We wanted to get over Banner Summit knowing it would be a long downhill on the other side. This is where the North loop begins so we were familiar with this part of the route. Highway 21, is called the Lowman Cutoff, because it literally bisects the route into north and south sections.

Topping out on Banner Summit at about 7:30 pm.

We continued riding well, though Jed was complaining of a sore knee. His IT band was getting quite sore, especially when we would rest, then start back pedaling. This day his knee was really starting to bother him. We had one low pass, Blind Summit, before we arrived at Banner (7020′). We were pretty warm still from riding, even though the sun was getting low in the sky. We began bombing down the other side, but had to stop after a mile or so. We were freezing. I put on arm warmers, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt. Another mile or so and I had to put on my puffy jacket (which Jed had already done). It’s so nice to glide down a nice steep descent after struggling so much. We decided to keep going until it started getting dark, then find a place to camp. Being a Friday night, all of the official campgrounds were full, but we found a nice spot along the South Fork Payette River. We rolled into camp at 9:00 pm, a full twelve hours after leaving camp that morning.

We saw quite a lot of wildlife on this trip: countless deer, mountain goats, fox, skunk, marmots, pikas, squirrels, chipmunks, herons, and many other birds.

Beautiful camp on a bluff overlooking the river.

It was too cold to bathe in the river, we were really tired, and it was nearly dark, so that meant for a very sticky night of sleep. We cooked dinner, and went to bed, and actually slept quite well.

Day 5 totals: 86.4 miles, 3707′ gain, 6113′ loss (a daily mileage record for Jed).

Last day. We had two more climbs, but they didn’t look too bad on the map elevation profile. After a few miles we stopped at a campground to refill our bottles. Jed’s knee was in serious pain, like wincing and yelping with nearly every pedal stroke. He was worried. I was worried. Then I noticed that his saddle seemed a bit high. I said he should take some ibuprofen and try lowering his saddle a bit. He then remembered that when he swapped out his clipless pedals for the platforms he was riding he hadn’t adjusted his saddle height. At that moment, he said the pain in his knee was a an 8 out of ten. He took some ibuprofen, lowered the saddle about a centimeter and we took off. We rode mostly downhill about 10 miles to the tiny town of Lowman and stopped at the only store in town. Closed on Saturdays. Really? We were hoping for a cold drink. Instead we had a nice chat with a touring motorcyclist from Washington state. We actually chatted with him for about 30 minutes. And guess what? The pain in Jed’s knee was down to a 2 out of 10. Amazing what a simple saddle height adjustment can do. We then had 21 more miles down the highway before our turn off on Alder Creek Road, including a pretty decent climb. It was nice to be off the highway and on the last road that would take us to Idaho City. After about a mile, the road turned to dirt.

By this time, it was about 2:30 pm and really hot, probably in the mid 80’s, and there was very little shade on this road. We were sweating profusely and stopped every so often to soak our heads in the creek and soak our bandanas to keep us a bit cooler.

The climbs were not terribly long, but they were really steep and we were really hot and tired. They took both a physical and mental toll on us. We finally topped out on the first climb and descended down into the quaint little town of Placerville. To our surprise there was a nice little general store with all kinds of food and drink. We bought cold drinks and had a nice conversation with the 80 year old owner of the store, who was originally from the area. He was a delightful old guy who had some really colorful stories from his past. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with him.


We rolled out of town with high hopes of ending this ride soon. The road rolled up and down for awhile, then began climbing again. And the climbing was relentless, with 3-4 mini summits before we finally topped out. There was lots of pushing. But finally we had a long fast downhill into Idaho City, and boy did it feel good to finally close this loop. We felt an immense feeling of satisfaction at having completed this very difficult ride, and we also felt incredible relief at the thought of not having to ride tomorrow.

Day 6 totals: 63.1 miles, 4938′ gain, 5533′ loss.

Trip totals: 345.9 miles, 23,969′ gain.

This was definitely a Type 2 fun kind of trip. My kids and friends are always accusing me of loving a sufferfest, but this was next level for us. This trip really wore us out and we have vowed that our future trips will be more enjoyable, less riding, more swimming, exploring towns, enjoying camp, fishing. On the drive up Jed and I were talking about how most people think of a vacation as relaxing, sitting at the beach, napping, fine dining, luxurious hotel rooms. And us? Riding and pushing bikes for hours on end, eating freeze-dried meals, sleeping on the ground, bathing in ice cold rivers. Was it a fun trip? It was a hard trip, with spectacular scenery. The North loop was much more enjoyable for us. The climbs weren’t as steep or long and the route overall was shorter. I’m glad we did, because now I’ll never have to go back and do it again. Would I recommend it? Yes, but make sure you are fit and have the time to complete it at your own pace.

Jones Plus SWB, Revelate frame bag, Apidura seat pack, Tribulus Endover handlebar pack, DIY top tube and bar bags.
Salsa Timberjack, DIY frame pack, Broad Fork Bags seat pack, Timbuktu top tube pack. He also has a Trek carbon fork with built in front cradle rack.

The end.

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