An early, deep autumn snow made a spectacular scene at Miner Lake north of Ketchum, Idaho.
Miner Lake, Smoky Mountains, Central Idaho
Surprises, unplanned elements, the unexpected - these things make some adventures more memorable than others. When I experience adversity or surprises, I feel a deeper connection and appreciation for our awesome American West. Filed in the “special adventure” part of my memory is the hike where I fell into a cold Imogene Lake in the Sawtooths while walking on an unstable log bridge, and the time Fred and I were caught in a summit lightning storm on Engineer Peak near Durango, Colorado. There was the snowstorm we walked in as we hiked toward Sunset Mountain Lookout in Idaho – and across the valley, a couple would spend the night in the freezing wilderness after getting lost in that same storm.
Miner Lake in the Smoky Mountains north of Ketchum, Idaho at 8,770 feet
Reflection in Miner Creek
A September snowstorm changed our plans to climb Norton Peak in the Smoky Mountains northwest of Ketchum, Idaho last weekend. When we got to Miner Lake just below the peak, the snow was 18 inches deep at 8,770 feet elevation, we realized we would need crampons to hike the rest of the route to Norton Peak, at an elevation of 10,300 feet. What we saw at the lake was incredibly stark and beautiful. Fred and I noticed immediately the lack of sound – no wind, no water, no leaves rustling, no animal sounds. Thick powdery snow covered green shrubs and grasses, and it weighed down fir branches. It was a winter scene that looked strange with the angle of the late summer sun.
The Prairie Lakes trail was easy to follow for the first 2 miles. Prairie Creek still had enough water to require rock and log-hopping to get across in order to keep dry boots. When we crossed this trail earlier this year on the Prairie Lakes/Miner Lake loop, the water was deep and we doffed boots in order to cross. As soon as we crossed Prairie Creek and started to climb south to Miner Lake, we found our way through ever-deepening snow by following tree blazes. Fred led the way by following a faint trough in the snow that marked the trail.
Coming out of the trees, a glaciated valley opens up with flanks sweeping up toward Norton Peak. Most of the rock was covered by deep snow. As we neared Miner Creek, the air was crystal clear and we could see still reflections of heavily snow-laden fir trees upside down in the water. The white-covered branches stood out against the azure blue waters. We had an easy trek through deep, light, fluffy snow to the shore of Miner Lake. The more you get out there, the greater chance you have at seeing a pristine, just-after-a snowstorm scene. We hit it just perfectly that day.
Silver and gold mines nearest to Miner Lake are the Solace, Weblock and Vienna mines near Smiley Creek, to the northwest. To the south, the abandoned mining town of Carrietown lies near the Big and Little Smoky Rosetta district where ores rich in silver, zinc, and lead were discovered in the 1880’s. Mining was the impetus for the Wood River Valley’s initial prosperity.
Approaching Miner Lake
During the last mile of this hike, as with all of our other adventures, Fred and I realize how much we love to hike together. We discuss what we just have experienced – the silence, the snow condition, the clear lake water. To be able to hike with my husband gives me even more happiness than the gorgeous nature of Idaho Mountains. It’s then that I realize I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but where I am at that moment.
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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