After much trial and error I have finally recreated the best cake I’ve ever had – inspired by my sister’s wedding cake (the recipe for which is closely guarded and wasn’t able to be retrieved by a lowly home baker such as myself), a luxurious huckleberry-infused white cake that tastes like it’s straight from heaven. Moist and fluffy, decadent and refreshing, this has quickly become a family favorite and has converted even a self-proclaimed cake-hater.
The secret ingredient that elevated this cake from its plain, dry predecessor is sour cream, one of my favorite secret weapons in baking. I use it in biscuits, muffins, and even my famous chocolate chip pancakes!
Any fresh or frozen berry can be used in this unique bake. Pair this with your favorite frosting recipe like my white chocolate cream cheese frosting for a dessert that won’t require refrigeration – there won’t be any left to tuck away!
Mixed Berry Cupcakes
My most vetted recipe to date, this deliciously moist cupcake recipe is what berry-lovers dreams are made of. The main liquid in this recipe is made of berry puree, and because of the high acid content of the fruit it doesn't rise much during baking. For a spectacular cake, bake two 8" rounds and fill with fresh berries!
Combine sugar and berries in a small saucepan on low heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. If seeds are not desired, press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8" springform pan and/or line with parchment paper.
Using a stand or hand mixer at medium speed, cream together butter, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. When well combined, continue mixing at high speed until light and fluffy.
Reduce mixer speed to low and incorporate egg whites a little at a time. Ensure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.
To add the cake flour and berry mixture, spoon in about 1/3 of the cake flour and mix completely, then add about 1/3 of the berry mixture and mix completely; continue in this fashion until all the flour and berries have been incorporated.
Scrape bowl and fold mixture a few times to make sure everything is mixed propertly. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until firm, not browned.
Cool for at least 1 hour before removing from pan. Use a knife to separate cake from the sides of the pan and overturn onto a cooling rack or frosting plate. Top with your favorite icing and garnish with berries. Serve chilled.
Cream cheese frosting is my favorite for any occasion! I don’t do a lot of fancy piping on my cakes and cupcakes so it holds up just fine for birthdays and family parties. This is a quick and easy recipe that takes a classic flavor to the next level with creamy melted white chocolate.
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
This decadent frosting is just thick enough to hold its shape but isn't too rich. Use high quality white baking chocolate for best results.
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If you’re anything like me you may have reconsidered your choice of cleaning products after having a baby. I know I didn’t used to care what I sprayed all over my household as long as it worked and it was cheap! Now that my son is one step behind me (all day, everyday) I am much more conscious of what I am using on my hard and soft surfaces to keep them clean and baby-friendly.
My Bona mop is something I use every single day and couldn’t possibly live without! Aside from having a huge mop pad one of my favorite features is that it is meant to be refillable, so no expensive refills or plastic waste (ahem, Swiffer.) After scouring the internet for kid- and pet-friendly floor mop recipes I finally settled on making my own. Most of the mixtures I found online used way too much vinegar and didn’t smell that great as a result!
The streak-free, degreasing secret ingredient I use in my mop solution is Simple Green. My husband has been using this cleaner in construction for over a decade and it’s the most underrated household cleaner of the century, in my opinion. It cuts grime like a mother, it’s biodegradable, and it doesn’t have an unpleasant chemical odor you might expect from a heavy duty cleanser. We buy ours in the concentrated liquid and mix it ourselves.
I’ve included a handy printable recipe for this mop refill solution. I use lemongrass to keep my floors smelling fresh but you can use any essential oil you like. Just pop the reservoir out of the mop, unscrew the cap, and add your ingredients. Don’t forget to give it a little shake before each use to keep the essential oils mixed into the solution!
Our family is a dessert family. That’s why when I say these turned out amazing, I am not afraid to toot my own horn! Pastry dough has always intimidated me because in order to get that perfect, flaky golden crust, the directions must be followed exactly: knead this many times, roll that many times, fold just so… And I’m just not that precise of a cook. But after a hankering for a fresh turnover and nowhere to get one during this pandemic nonsense I busted out the beloved Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and gave it a try. My husband and I have this running joke that anything that we deem exceptionally good we would put on the “bed & breakfast” menu. These are definitely b&b worthy!
My inspiration for this creation came from a pastry of my past: when I worked for the District Attorney’s office as a file clerk a local bakery used to deliver fresh baked goodies every Tuesday, and each week for the entirety my internship there I bought a raspberry cream cheese turnover that was to die for. I have yet to find its equal. This is the very item I had in mind when I slapped together an array of recipes to get what you see here.
Since we live in Idaho I just had to make my turnovers with huckleberries. My mom and I both have a few handfuls of the juicy purple jewels left from last year’s harvest so I’ve been trying to think of new ways to use them up. These tasty turnovers were perfect for the cause! #huckleberryerrythang
One of the secrets I used to speed up this recipe is the freezer (in classic Elizabeth fashion – I have very little patience for such things.) Since puff pastry has to be chilled consistently throughout the rolling process I cheated a little and chilled the dough between each rolling in the freezer, and in just half the recommended time. It worked flawlessly and there was no difference in the consistency of the dough in my opinion. This is not a French bakery, after all, and there weren’t any left for anyone to examine that closely anyway!
Of course you could substitute pretty much any other berry in this recipe. I’m going to try raspberries next because they’re another thing we’re have stocked up in the freezer from last summer. I can’t wait!
A "cheater" version of traditional puff pastry that is still worthy of a bed and breakfast menu! Any berry can be substituted for the huckleberries, as well as using prepared or frozen puff pastry instead of making it from scratch.
Sift flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Cut up 1 cup of the butter into small pieces, leaving the remaining ½ cup of butter in the refrigerator to keep cold.
Place the cut butter into the mixing bowl and using a pastry blender (or the whisk if you’re using a KitchenAid), blend until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the cold water. Using your hands (or the dough hook) to gradually blend the water with the flour mixture, mixing just until a rough, sticky dough is formed. Wrap dough in cellophane and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Place the remaining ½ cup of chilled butter on your work surface. Using your fingers smash the butter until it can be shaped, being careful not to over-work the butter and warm it too much. Work into a 5-inch square.
Remove the dough from the freezer and place on a lightly floured work surface (you may want to flour your rolling pin as well.) Roll into a circle about ½” thick, being careful not to stretch or tear the dough as you would a pie crust. Place the butter square into the center of the circle and fold the edges of the dough over the butter, pressing to seal the edges. You should now have a square of butter encased in dough.
Using a rolling pin, roll the square into an 8”x16” rectangle. (The dough may need to be pounded with the rolling pin several times to allow the butter to become more pliable.) Fold the rectangle 3 times as you would fold a business letter.
Turn the dough so it faces you lengthwise and roll into another 8”x16” rectangle.
Fold again 3 times as you would a business letter. Wrap it back up and freeze for 30 minutes.
While the dough is chilling for the final time, preheat the oven to 400° and prepare the filling: beat softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until well combined – make sure no lumps remain.
Combine berries, sugar and corn starch in a medium mixing bowl. Gently toss to combine.
Beat the egg white with the water and set aside for egg wash.
For the icing, whisk together powdered sugar, half & half and vanilla.
Return the dough to a lightly floured surface and repeat the process of rolling the dough into a rectangle, making 3 business-letter folds, twice more. Wrap the dough and freeze for another 30 minutes.
Return the dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll dough 1/4" thick and use a pizza cutter to cut into six 7" squares. Add a tablespoon of each filling in the center, then fold the square in half to form a triangle.
Dip a finger in the egg wash and run it along the seam. Press to close. Also brush the tops of pastries using the egg wash and a basting brush. Sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired.
Bake for 15-17 minutes or until golden. Cool for 15 minutes, then drizzle icing on top.
Breakfast is definitely the most important meal at the cabin, especially on the weekends! Every Saturday and Sunday at the very least I make a traditional farm-style breakfast; more recently I’ve been experimenting with various baked goods, and much to my husband’s enjoyment have been blessed with wild success. One of those creations is a simple twist on a classic buttermilk pancake recipe that uses a secret ingredient: Greek yogurt! I know, it seems weird. But the savory yogurt adds a delicious creaminess and tang to your everyday pancakes that’s similar to the richness of sour cream cake. Don’t knock it till you try it! Top this treat with a whopping dollop of homemade whipped cream and you’ll enjoy the kind of breakfast that deserves a mid-morning nap.
I used to have an electric nonstick skillet that I loved cooking pancakes on but since we’ve been adding to our collection of cast iron cookware my new favorite is a flat #9 skillet. With just a small lip around the edge it makes flipping a breeze! This particular piece we found at a yard sale (!) and after my husband refinished it with a grinder and seasoned it in the oven it was back to brand new.
Don't let the name fool you – these pancakes are anything but ordinary! One secret ingredient takes this classic breakfast comfort food to a whole new level. If you don't have any plain Greek yogurt laying around, sour cream can be used in a pinch. Use any kind of chocolate chips you like or have on hand – milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and even white chocolate would all be delicious!
After I published my post about our visit to Shorty Peak Lookout I realized I had finally gotten to a point where I was actually happy with what I had packed for the trip. I’ve been backpacking about a dozen times now, and I’m sure if you’re a novice packer like me, every trip you find yourself wishing you’d left this, or brought that.
Please note that I am not in any way, shape or form an advanced packer, nor do I invest in expensive or specialized equipment; I have what works and what is affordable for me, and the contents of my pack reflect that.
So here’s my layout of what I bring and why.
This includes items that I consider absolutely necessary to backpacking, but my needs may not be the same as yours: our walkie-talkies, a solar-powered battery bank, my fitness band (I wear a Garmin, more on that another time) sunglasses, lantern, headlamp, and first aid supplies. I have to take an inhaler and an Epi Pen because I have ashtma and allergies, but they’re never a bad thing to have around anyway. You never know if someone is going to get stung by a bee or bit by a spider and have a terrible allergic reaction… four hours away from civilization and outside of cell range. I also pack small quantities of Benadryl for the same reason, but all of that should be in your first aid kit. Rather than making your own, a small kit can be purchased for a reasonable price at any major sporting goods retailer.
Obviously this will vary for your destination, but here in Idaho even during the summer months we have hot days and cool nights. Just last year we took a trip to Crystal Lake on the Fourth of July weekend, and the temperature ranged from 84° to 39° low. That’s a 45° differential! So we always have to take a variety of clothing, much more than I would have taken during a summer packing trip in California; but instead of packing a different outfit for each climate, it’s best to practice layering wherever you can to minimize pack weight.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that taking jeans is not worth the weight for me personally. I am totally happy wearing leggings (or shorts, or a bathing suit) all weekend long, and especially because I’d consider backpacking a recreational sport, I’d prefer to wear activewear anyway. The benefit of this is that activewear is often much lighter and more effective than your regular everyday clothing. Thus I have opted to pack leggings, thermals, and a variety of tops that I can layer to keep warm (or remove to keep cool.)
Not pictured is my American Eagle down jacket that is easily compactable, lightweight and warm. If you’re not able to invest in high-end packable outerwear a light down jacket or windbreaker is always a good choice.
Socks are a whole subject by themselves and it varies largely depending on the type of shoes you wear backpacking. I always wear hiking boots and bring a pair of flip flops which I tie to the outside of my pack. Bearing this in mind, I make my choice of which socks to bring very wisely. I am familiar with how my boots fit, so I would never take thin cotton socks backpacking; my boots would be loose around the ankles and cause blisters, which is never fun. I need to wear sturdy wool socks with my boots so that is what I bring no matter the time of year (I wear wool socks with boots all summer anyway.) Always make your choice of socks based on how they fit with your hiking shoes and if you’re not sure, try them out at home!
Boots are also an item I could do a whole separate post for, but I’ll keep it to the main point: your hiking boots should be well broken in. I don’t care what kind they are, whether they’re high or low ankle, lace-up or Velcro; you should ALWAYS put at least a few miles on a pair of boots before taking them backpacking. You are carrying a substantial amount of weight, so making sure your feet are comfortable and well-supported can make (or break) an entire trip. Trust me, I know this from experience. A bad pair of shoes can ruin everything!
So take your boots on a couple day hikes before putting them up to the task of backpacking. You’ll be thankful you did!
Also on my list is headgear. I usually bring a ball cap, a beanie and a headband, which may seem like overkill but I used all three. The reason why I like to take a headband as well as a beanie is so that i can layer it underneath my ball cap when my ears are cold but I want the benefit of shade from the brim of my hat.
I’m sure that men could almost skip this section altogether! My husband usually brings just soap and deodorant, so this portion of the post will mostly be for all my mountain-trekking ladies out there.
I’m going to address the least pleasant subject of toiletries first: periods. You may think that you’ve scheduled your trip while not in danger of meeting Aunt Flo, but let me tell you – we’ve all been wrong before, and it could happen again! So no matter what type of feminine products you use, always take enough to last you the length of your stay. One time I started my period literally as we were strapping up to hike in to our campsite. Luckily I had a menstrual cup in my glovebox, but had we left the car I would’ve been very ill prepared.
And if you’ve never heard of or used a menstrual cup, get with the program girl! They’re the best thing ever, especially for active women. Instead of taking a dozen tampons with me everywhere I just throw my little cup (in its carrying bag) into my purse or backpack and away we go, worry-free.
Which brings me to my next weird feminine product that I absolutely couldn’t live without: the She-Wee! Once you get over the ew factor, it’s really a wonderful thing to have around. I take wet wipes with me anyway, so when I go to use the restroom I just grab a wipe, use my funnel (no disrobing or squatting required to pee), wipe myself with the wet nap, wipe out the funnel with the same nap and you’re done! I keep one in my car at all times just in case we’re out traveling, at the shooting range, camping or hiking and there’s not a restroom available. They make collapsible models for backpacking as well, which is what I carry in my pack.
Now, on to more run of the mill products!
Shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, and other necessities I buy in travel size. The only non-travel size item I carry is bug spray, and the kind we get I want to mention specifically is a DEET-free spray we’ve been using for years that really does work: Repel brand Lemon-Eucalyptus bug spray. It’s available at Walmart in the camping section and it’s a great investment for your backpack. We take a full-size bottle because, well, sometimes you just need it.
A compact mirror, a flosser, and hair ties are little extras that come in handy, as well as a travel hairbrush. I just can’t use a comb or else I would bring one to kill the extra weight.
I’ll put all non-necessity items under this header.
My fanny pack and walkie-talkie are two items I would almost put under the necessity header for myself because we do a lot of day hiking when we backpack, so they’re items I never leave without.
Kindle, playing cards, and knitting are things that I could probably do without but are nice to have because there are lots of opportunities for quiet time when enjoying the great outdoors, and I get bored easily. My selfie stick and Action Cam fall into the same category – not a necessity but I wouldn’t leave them behind because I take a TON of pictures when we go on trips.
My choice of camera focuses (haha) mainly on a weight to megapixels ratio. If we’re going on a short tip and I have extra room, I’ll often bring my Canon Rebel, which I enjoy using. But for this last trip, an extended stay with lots of clothing and food needed, I opted for just my phone and action camera, which I also use my stick for. Many of my pictures I post come off my Action Cam and I love that it has great quality photo and video in a small package. I used to always take my Fujifilm waterproof camera with me, but it’s an older model so it’s about the same weight as my Action Cam but the photo quality is lesser.
A Bluetooth speaker is a recent addition to my pack but we love it! Smooth jazz has been our selection for the last two trips and music always makes the hike in go much faster. We also like to announce our presence to surrounding wildlife and this is a great way to accomplish that.
If you’ve seen my post announcing our first pregnancy you’ll know how overjoyed we were to have received such good news. Just two weeks after finding out we were expecting everything changed – mentally, emotionally, and in some ways physically. For the sake of context I’ll start from the beginning.
My husband & I found out we were pregnant very early on. I got my first positive pregnancy test a few days before I was expecting my period. For those of you who are up on the TTC (trying to conceive) lingo, that was CD26 (cycle day 26) and 10DPO (10 days post ovulation) which is pretty early. I continued to take tests every other day until I got a solid line five days later (15DPO).
We got to enjoy this news and adjust to the life change for about a week before I started having some strange symptoms. I believe I had what would be considered implantation bleeding around 8DPO. This is, of course, normal. But when the intermittent spotting didn’t stop I became worried. How much bleeding is normal? What color should it be? When should I be alarmed and when should I see a doctor?
At this point I was only 5 weeks along and hadn’t had my first prenatal visit. I had chosen to use a certified nurse midwife for my regular pap smear just a few weeks before so I gave that office a call hoping I could get some clarification. At this time I won’t be disclosing what office or which provider I spoke to. Because the midwife who had done my exam wasn’t on duty I spoke to the midwife on call. After describing some of my symptoms the best answer she could give me was “I don’t know if that’s normal.”
Disappointed (and quite frankly, pretty shocked) that the midwife had no idea if what I was experiencing was normal, I asked if she thought I should come in to confirm my pregnancy and possibly do some bloodwork. She responded in the most demeaning way I could have imagined.
“Is this your first pregnancy?”
Indeed, it was; regardless, I was having some symptoms that to my knowledge were out of the ordinary, and cause for at least some preliminary tests. Just her tone indicated she did not take me seriously at all. By the end of the conversation the verdict that she had reached was “wait & see.” She quite patronizingly explained that sometimes when women first fall pregnant they can be hyper-aware of what’s happening with their bodies and may panic if they see something out of the ordinary. She told me to call back in a week if my symptoms persisted.
Dissatisfied with this answer I scheduled my first prenatal appointment with an OBGYN in a different office. I described my symptoms and she said there were two things that could be happening: either I was having a miscarriage, or I had developed an ectopic pregnancy. The latter seemed unlikely for my age and stellar health history, but she asked me to keep a close eye on my symptoms and to call if anything changed.
Within 48 hours my spotting had increased to steady, fresh bleeding accompanied by moderate cramps. That afternoon I rushed from work to the doctor’s office in desperate need of answers. I had been scheduled for a transvaginal ultrasound a few days away, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I was examined by the doctor and then had an external ultrasound performed which ended up being inconclusive. This early on in a pregnancy, the doctor told me, it’s often hard to see an embryo through the abdomen. Off I went to the ultrasound tech to have an internal exam done, which was pretty quick and totally painless, contrary to popular belief. After that I was sent across the hall to have some blood drawn and then was released to go home.
Not an hour had passed since arriving home when I received a call from my doctor with the results of the ultrasound. The embryo hadn’t made it out of the fallopian tube, and had implanted there and would need to be removed, either via medical treatment or surgical intervention. Because of the appearance of the tube on the ultrasound my doctor recommended surgery, and immediately. I had begun to cry a little while on the phone with the doctor, told her I needed to discuss everything with my husband, and as soon as I hung up the phone burst into completely unabashed tears. How could something so joyful suddenly turn out so badly? I had to collect myself before I could even tell Aaron that our first pregnancy had failed. We discussed the options and quickly decided I should go ahead with the surgery and opt to have the entire tube removed. Making haste, we showered, dressed and packed before leaving for the hospital around 7pm.
I had arrived home after my appointment around 5:30pm and was admitted for surgery by 8:00. There had been a nurse waiting for me in the lobby at the hospital, and they had already processed most of my admitting before I got there in order to expedite the check-in process. It wasn’t fifteen minutes before I was being wiped down, gowned and put on IV to wait for the surgeon, who happened to be my regular OB – she happened to be on call at the very same hospital that night. After a quick debriefing I was left in the capable hands of my husband and a nurse to await surgery. I would be having my entire fallopian tube removed via laparoscopy, a minimally invasive procedure also used for appendectomies.
The procedure only took about 45 minutes total, and after a couple hours to come out of the anesthesia we were cleared to go home.
What I learned at a later appointment is that my tube had actually ruptured in two places before it was removed. I had told my doctor that if there was too much risk associated with leaving the damaged tube in place to just remove it entirely. She had attempted to save it before finding the second rupture but unfortunately there was too much damage for it to be salvageable. One of the dangers of ectopic pregnancy is that is can be very hard to stop any bleeding in that area, which is the potentially fatal aspect of the condition. I’ve read that if there’s excess bleeding the removal of certain portions of the reproductive system may be the only way to prevent hemorrhaging.
We were very lucky to have caught this in time. I was not in a large amount of pain (this can possibly be contributed to high pain tolerance and physical resilience; I’m a pretty tough cookie!) but I already had 200ml (about 8oz.) of blood pooling in my abdomen. The surgical staff as well as my doctor did a wonderful job and I felt very well cared for during my brief hospital stay. Except for 3 tiny scars and the loss of our baby, it’s almost like it never happened.
Another factor in this event was the discovery of my blood type and what it means for myself as well as our children. I am RH negative, which determines the minus following my blood type. This indicator is called Rhesus factor – or RH factor – a misnomer for the presence or absence of the D antigen on the surface of your red blood cells. This just means that people with negative blood types have to be extra careful when receiving transfusions or becoming pregnant. Because my husband is O+ and I am A-, there is a good chance that any babies we have will have positive blood types and my body will try to attack them. This is because a negative blood type cannot come into contact with a positive blood type without dire, and sometimes fatal, results.
It is imperative that people with negative blood types only receive RH negative blood if they need transfusions, and even more important if you are a woman of childbearing age: if you are exposed to a conflicting blood type, whether it be via transfusion, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or labor & delivery, you can become what is called RH sensitized, and it is irreversible. After your immune system builds up antibodies due to that first exposure, it can prevent you from having a successful pregnancy in the future by causing RH disease, a condition of severe anemia which results in birth defects, and even causes preterm miscarriage and stillbirth.
During my recovery I perused the TTC forums and discovered that many women struggle with conceiving and experience multiple miscarriages before ever finding out that they’re RH sensitized. This is one of the reasons why I decided to share my story online. It would have been much easier to not have to talk about it or revisit the pain that comes with losing a pregnancy. But if reading this helps even just one person it will be worth the heartache.
Please, if you are thinking about getting pregnant or find yourself expecting, seek proper medical care. Most providers will include blood typing and RH antibody screening in your preliminary bloodwork, and most routine prenatal care is fully covered by your medical insurance. For those uninsured, there are many options out there for you to receive quality prenatal care at little or no cost to you.
Don’t hesitate to seek medical care as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. So much of the development of your baby’s brain, spine and major organs happens in the first few weeks, so it’s never too early to start thinking about the health of your baby as well as your own. It might mean the difference between having future children and not.
Until this past year I hadn’t fully understood the importance of tapioca pudding in my life. It’s something my husband used to buy for his weekday lunch. Little plastic, foil-topped pudding cups full of corn syrup, food coloring, added flavors and saturated fats… Ew!
But since visiting his grandmother’s house this year and discovering her recipe, it’s changed the course of our entire lives.
Aaron now refuses to eat store-bought.
I have been turned into a tapioca-making slave.
I had to invent a way to make a homemade puddin’ porta-pack for his lunches.
In order to feed this demanding pudding-fueled creature that is my spouse, I took his grandmother’s recipe, changed from instant to traditional tapioca pearls, and tripled the quantity. So without further ado, here it is for your snacking pleasure!
Aaron’s Favorite Tapioca
This recipe came to be through weeks of tasting and experimentation to yield my husband's absolute favorite tapioca pudding. It's more tapioca than pudding and makes a batch large enough to pack one serving in a week's worth of lunches, plus have some leftover for dessert.
Combine tapioca, milk, egg yolks and 1/2 the sugar sugar in medium saucepan. Let stand 5 min.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites in small bowl with mixer on high speed until foamy. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating constantly until soft peaks form.
Bring to full boil on medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Quickly stir egg white mixture into hot tapioca in saucepan until well blended. Fold in vanilla. Cool 20 min. Stir before serving.
To make portable snack packs, pour into portion-size plastic baggies while still hot. Using a canning funnel can make this much easier. Chill before serving. To eat, snip the corner of the baggie and enjoy!
First off: I didn’t know how many Crystal Lakes there were in the PNW until I tried to Google our destination just south of Cataldo, ID. If you instead search for Crystal Lake Wilderness Study Area you’ll get a better idea of where you’re going.
This was the first backpacking trip Aaron & I took in Idaho, as well as our first solo backpacking trip (usually we go with family) so to say we were excited would be an understatement. Having been cautioned about the bears in north country we decided to venture southeast for our excursion and were not disappointed by the location. You can reach the Sheep Springs trailhead from either Cataldo or St. Maries, but our house is a short jaunt on the I-90 from Cataldo, so making the drive from the north side was easier for us. From the highway you’ll travel south for a few miles before the pavement turns to winding dirt access roads. It’s not a terrible drive so I wouldn’t say that a 4WD vehicle is required. It was mostly flat, graveled and well-maintained with no downfall blocking the road in early August.
With temperatures in the 80’s during the day, the hike was warm but not unbearable (especially considering our history of summer backpacking in Northern California, the land of ungodly temperatures). The terrain varied quite a bit, so the short hike was very interesting. Nearly the entire trail switches back and forth along a prominent ridge, which makes for lovely scenery, and the landscape ranged from dense forest to shale quarry. About a quarter mile into the hike we realized we had forgotten our dinner in the ice chest in the truck, so Aaron dropped his pack, hiked back to get it and ended up running into a large bull moose! Thankfully he made it back with our dinner intact and we continued on our trek.
Upon our arrival to the modest 5-acre lake we were immediately disappointed to see other campers before we even laid eyes on the crystal clear water. We are typically the type of people who backpack to get away from civilization, so a crowded camp is always a slight nuisance to us, personally. Regardless it ended up being a fun trip, even with the dozens of day hikers and other campers trailing the edge of the lake like human ants.
Anyhow, the first couple of hours were really pleasant – we pitched camp and settled in to cook one of the best backpacking dinners we’ve had to date – two wonderfully rare steaks cooked over the campfire paired with mashed potatoes, coffee and tea.
After this lovely meal we attempted to wash our dishes with a package of Coleman camp soap sheets we purchased, and this was one of the things that nearly ruined our trip. They don’t work AT ALL. Not on dishes, hair, body, or clothes. I wouldn’t even wash my dog with that stuff, so FYI: don’t buy it.
On the second day we took a trip to Reed’s Baldy, a short uphill hike from the lake to a great overlook and a surprise patriotic monument. There was no marker of any kind but it made for a memorable day! The feeling of accomplishment after finishing the hike was compounded with pride upon seeing a pretty sizable American flag blowing atop the peak in quiet solitude. ‘Merica!
Aaron got to do some fishing and through some (highly amusing) experimentation discovered that dragonflies make the best bait for the elusive trout that inhabit alpine lakes.
After a lot of hard work gathering up grasshoppers, crickets and even a cicada, he gave up on these unsuccessful baits, wielded his fishing pole in what struck me as a ninja-like fashion and proceeded to swat the dragonflies right out of the air! It paid off, because he hooked a nice 12″ trout which he immediately released.
What ended up being the big kicker for this trip was that even in August, the hottest month of the year in our part of the state, it was so cold at night that even with freezing-weather rated bags we got next to no restful sleep. The first night wasn’t so awful that my extremities were cold. But the second night I literally chattered my teeth till morning and even then didn’t emerge from my hammock until I’d had enough sun to warm my fingers and toes fully. Aaron had gotten up in the middle of the night, built a fire and fallen asleep propped up on a rock in front of the fire pit.
Needless to say it was quite an adventure but not a place we’ll be revisiting anytime soon.
What a weekend we had at Shorty Peak Lookout! Standing in solitude atop Shorty Peak in the Cabinet mountains of far northern Idaho, this primitive cabin is a special treat for those who have the gumption to reach it.
To begin, I’d like to stress that fire lookouts are a wonderful getaway, but are EXTREMELY hard to book. Six weeks after the booking window opened I was only able to reserve a mid-week stay at the tail end of the season – in fact, we were the last reservation of the year and were on our way out of the lookout when the Forest Service lockup crew arrived. So if you are planning on booking a lookout in 2019, be sure to be online at midnight on January 1st to get the days you want at the location you want!
That being said, it was an adventure as unforgettable as they come.
Day 1 – It began to rain as we suited up to hit the trail. Before we hit the quarter mile mark we had to stop three times and take refuge beneath the massive pines that stand tall and proud alongside the trail. They made for dry shelter while we waited for the worst of the storm to pass. After that it continued to sprinkle all the way to the lookout – and when I say ALL the way, I mean it in the nicest way possible. While the trek is relatively short at only 2.5 miles, it is a moderate one, and a long-winded journey with fully-loaded packs. Our stay would cover the better part of four days, so me with my 35lb pack and my husband with his 37lb pack, took almost 2 hours to reach the top. Although I do have asthma and require frequent stops to recover my breathing rate I still feel like we pushed through at a pretty good pace. Even hiking unburdened it takes over an hour to reach the top – but more on that later.
We reached the antique cabin by about 4pm, and while we brought two half-full bladders of water for the hike it wasn’t nearly enough to get us through the night, so we dumped our packs and headed back down the hill to the “spring” to pump water. I use that term loosely because while there was relatively fresh water to be had – barely more than a puddle – we were lucky it was there at all. Another hiker told us that some years it is completely dry, and while the USFS web page does mention either to A.) pack in your water or B.) bring equipment to purify, it does NOT in any way state that there’s a possibility of no water supply. That being said, I strongly suggest you make this determination prior to departure to avoid a hike back to the trail head to find another water source and haul 4 gallons of water back up to the peak.
By the time that was all said and done we were swiftly approaching the first sunset of our trip, shrouded unfortunately by thick, ominous-looking clouds rolling in from the west. We quickly changed out of our sopping wet clothes before retiring for what would be a minimally restful night.
On a side note, when Aaron attempted to hang a clothesline for our damp clothes he learned the hard way that there was a map hanging from the ceiling on a piece of painted particle board. Upon stretching the line tight it unlatched the map which swing down with incredible force and struck him straight between the eyes. He wrote a warning on the map but he suggested I mention it here just in case – it did leave a nice shiner and a pretty good ache on his forehead.
I snapped some pictures of the storm breaking just before dusk which was a surreal thing to watch. You could see the rain coming down in sheets starting half a mile a way, then creeping steadily toward the cabin with what seemed like alarming speed for weather. I’m sure the improved visibility made this seem more abrupt than it really was.
Luckily there wasn’t any thunder or lightning, so we didn’t have to get out of bed in the middle of the freezing night to stand on the glass-bottomed chairs that inhabit the cabin in case of a storm. It was a cold and windy night but we stayed relatively warm bundled up together in a double sleeping bag, and Cookie settled into her kids’ mummy bag nicely.
Day 2 – We awoke to the wonderful warmth of sunshine on our faces on the morning of the second day, and we probably would have done some exploring had our shoes dried out at all. After the rainy hike in our feet were swimming in their socks, and although we laid them out to dry overnight, none of the moisture had left them in the freezing temperatures. Aaron built a fire in one of the pits below the cabin in an effort to dry them out, and after a day of hard work, we came away with dry shoes and some toasted socks! Luckily he had a few pairs to spare.
Spending the day tied to the cabin (there was no way I was going hiking around in socks or bare feet in that weather – can you say frostbite?) gave me a great opportunity to photograph the interior of the lookout and get some fantastic photos of the panoramic views we came for. I had made the decision to leave my Canon at home this trip because with a four-day pack, our longest backpacking trip to date, I knew I’d need to cut ounces wherever I could, and given the quality of my cell phone camera and my Sony ActionCam, I decided the weight wasn’t worth the reward. Regardless I managed to capture some breathtaking shots with my Google Pixel phone camera and my ActionCam, a Sony product similar to a GoPro, although a much better product in my humble opinion.
The day indoors also allowed for me to lay out and photograph everything I like to take backpacking, which I will discuss in a later post. I am very particular about what I pack and I’d like to offer an in-depth explanation for other backpackers who have struggled with the ever-changing luxury-to-necessity ratio that plagued me as a novice packer.
The latter part of the day became overcast once more, and after some light showers we were able to enjoy not just one vibrant rainbow, but two! I managed to capture a panoramic shot of one before it faded into twilight and we retreated from the biting wind into the cabin for dinner and card games. That evening was slightly warmer on this night than the first, undoubtedly due to the sunshine that graced the tar roof of the lookout during the day. An overcast but colorful sunset closed out a relaxing day spent at the cabin in the clouds.
Day 3 – After breakfast and some knitting we set out for our only excursion away from the lookout – a hike back to the trailhead, over to Red Top Mountain Trail to find West Fork Cabin, a seasonal hunting cabin maintained by the Forest Service and open for public use.
The hike to the cabin was very relaxing compared to the hike up to the lookout, so it made for a nice, peaceful walk. We stopped to play in the creek before greeting the occupants of the cabin, a group of hunters, joined by a single traveler on vacation from city life on the East Coast.
I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the cabin so I’ve borrowed one from the Forest Service website.
The day was relatively uneventful until the hike back to the truck. On the return trip from West Fork we ran into a black bear! Luckily Cookie barking scared it off, but it was a close call nonetheless. We barely saw the tail end of it before it sprinted down the mountain, leaving us startled and wielding our bear spray. Surprisingly enough that was the only major wildlife we saw on the entire trip! It seemed like the entire area was devoid of any indigenous wildlife. I say that because there was a large number of cattle roaming the national Forest, but these obviously were working visitors.
After making it safely back to the truck we headed up Shorty Peak once more for our last night of relaxation at the lookout. This was the best sunset of the entire trip and it was absolutely breathtaking. It dawned upon me that I could take a video of the whole sunset, which was only about 30 minutes worth of film, and speed it up into a neat fast-motion video.
It also made for some fantastic pictures, the below one of my personal favorites.
It was this night that we decided to make a fire and try to roast marshmallows, but due to the high wind at that elevation the heat quickly blew off the fire and hardly made for a relaxing night. We were both bundled up next to the fire and were still cold!
Soon after our dessert the wind began to blow snow flurries at our faces, with no sign of letting up. We took the hint and headed inside.
Day 4 – Again we awoke to the sun shining but the last morning spent at the lookout was a somber one. I put our entry into the logbook, one of my favorite parts of staying at lookouts. I always love to read the stories of guests who come to the same place on vacation or as a tradition, returning year after year. We drug our feet at the prospect of leaving, stretching breakfast out as long as we could before packing up and tidying the cabin. One of the things I love most about my husband is that be likes to fix and improve things. He used a sharpie to label many of the more obscure items at the lookout, as well as tightening a screw or bolt here and there. I organized the pamphlets and games and swept before we locked her up, just in time for the Forest Service board-up crew to arrive for end-of-season closeout. We were the last guests to stay at Shorty Peak for the 2018 season!
The hike out was much less strenuous with most of our food and water used up, but was a good workout anyway. Hiking downhill with a pack is always hard on the thighs and calves! It was a beautiful day to hit the trail for the pack out, sunny and clear and with the wind at a comfortable bellow.
I am torn on whether or not I would return to Shorty Peak. On one hand, the experience was unforgettable. We had a wonderful time and made some great memories this trip. But given the number of lookouts in Idaho, I think I’ll be trying a few others before I consider returning here. Here’s why:
The wind was so cold. I think even in summer it would make the nights too brisk for comfort. And I’m not sure I’d want to pack up there in summer because there aren’t any bodies of water close to this lookout for swimming. We always like to be able to swim if we backpack in the hotter months. Aside from the chill, it made it difficult to have a fire.
There wasn’t a ton of stuff to do. Once you reach the lookout, that’s pretty much it. There aren’t any major hikes to be taken from the lookout, which for the day-hike kinda people (like us), requires hiking back down to the truck to take a day trip, which makes it almost not worth it. If you plan on staying put for a few days to relax, this is a great trip for you. Those who have children or who are high activity/adventure-seekers, find a lookout that’s on a major trail system. This is not the place for you!
There was next to no wildlife. Aside from some chipmunks and a pair of grouse, there wasn’t as much as a songbird as far as the eye could see – and that’s for miles! We like to spot mammals and birds as well as fish when we can find them, so this was disappointing.
It was a tough trek. We don’t normally attempt difficult hikes with fully loaded packs, and this being our most extended trip to date, I think if I was to return here I would take a shorter trip to lessen the load on our backs. Even the trip down was a fair workout.
All in all, Shorty Peak was a rewarding experience like no other. I’m so glad to have taken my husband here for his first lookout experience. it definitely did not disappoint!