A celebration that falls annually on July 24th in Utah, Pioneer Day celebrates the day of the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
The first week of November, I celebrate a different sort of Pioneer day in the mountain range of the same name in south central Idaho. Often referred to as the “Alps of Idaho”, the Pioneers reach over 12,000 feet at their highest point on the summit of Hyndman Peak, a lofty objective in this part of the country. While at this time of year, the days are shorter, colder, and the summits and approaches requiring full winter gear, a lack of early season snow allowed for a decent hike up the Corral Creek drainage to a ridge that overlooks the highest points of the range, and access to the famous Pioneer Cabin.
Pioneer Cabin was originally built by the Sun Valley Company in the summer of 1937 as a ski touring hut. While the vast majority of skiers were seeking to utilize the ski lift built by the company, a few led by the guides of european descent who favored ski mountaineering utilized the hut for a backcountry ski shelter. The cabin is still used today by hikers and skiers year round as hiking destination, or for a base for ski touring into the basins and peaks that surround the cabin.
The day dawned in the teens for me in early November, but with a deep blue sky. The cold temps allowed for the snow guns to pump away the manmade white stuff on Bald Mountain, with only a skiff of the natural snow to be seen. From Ketchum, a short drive past the Sun Valley lodge up the Trail Creek road leads to the turn off onto dirt for Corral Creek Road. A few miles up Corral Creek the road forks, with a sheepherders corral signifying the junction. A left here and a short drive later, the road dead ends at the trailhead. In peak summer months, this is one of the more popular hiking trails in the area, today-not another vehicle in sight.
The trail winds through the placid woods, becomes steep and switches back sharply as the elevation gain increases. The north facing aspects of the trail were cold and were holding snow, and once the plateau is attained, the crusty snow deepens to just over my ankles. The trail was still easy to follow, and I was comfortable in my light hikers. The trail gains another 500 feet before cresting the final ridge with a dramatic view into the heart of the Pioneers with the Cabin situated just below the ridge to maximize the views. The summits Handework, Hyndman, Old Hyndman and Cobb Peaks all pierce the sky. A quick inspection of the inside of the cabin, and a brief lunch on the front step keeps me warm in the early winter sun. Previous visitors have all left enough supplies to make the cabin habitable, and a stash of wood tucked underneath will provide warmth when burned this winter in the stove inside, but the accommodations would be very stark at best. The view however, and the surrounding terrain begs for a return visit, and the thought of leaving a rhythmic pattern of turns through fresh powder on empty slopes causes me to make metal notes of what to bring…next time.
I retrace my route back down the trail, and head for an early dinner at where else- the famous Pioneer Saloon, for a slab of prime rib in downtown Ketchum.