The first week of July, I headed into the Boulder-White Clouds with my husband and 6 friends. 40 years ago, the Boulder-White Cloud mountain range was part of a failed National Park proposal, and advocates have been working to protect the region since then. For months, I’ve been working on the Outdoor Alliance campaign to ensure that the Boulder-White Clouds are permanently protected and that it remains accessible for human-powered recreation, including mountain biking, so it was incredible to experience the place firsthand.
After loading up our packs with the requisite chocolate bars and whiskey, we set out from the Fourth of July trailhead in the direction of Ants Basin and the Born Lakes. After a short climb past the Fourth of July Lake, we reached the top of a ridgeline overlooking Ants Basin, where we admired an enormous valley meadow dotted with trees and bordered by jagged pale-gray peaks. We climbed down into the valley to spend the night at the turquoise Born Lakes, ringed by the peaks we would climb over the following day.
The next morning, we set out to tackle the most challenging stretch of our trip, an off-trail scramble across a saddle between Blackman and Patterson Peaks. Informally, this steep gully of scree is called the Devil’s Staircase, a name we all agreed was more than fair once we reached the top of the saddle with more than a few scrapes and bruises. But once at the top, we were treated to a panoramic view of both the east and west side of the mountain range.
That evening, we camped at the lower chain lakes. Bordered on one side by a rocky moraine, Hatchet Lake looked like it was beamed in from Yosemite Valley, only with far fewer people. To escape the evening mosquitos, we skinny-dipped in the clear water, while two friends who hiked in fly fishing rods caught a half dozen trout that they fried up for dinner.
The next day took us past the rest of the chain lakes, each one clearer and more stunning than the last. After a stretch through a forested valley, we began to ascend Castle Divide, one of the most spectacular stretches of trails I’ve ever hiked. As we crisscrossed up the pass, we had incredible views of Castle Peak, a mountain so enormous, so powdery-white, and so delicately-wrought that it felt as much like a spiritual experience as seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. That night, we swam at the uppermost lake in Chamberlain Basin and camped on a rocky ridge just above it, adjacent to a waterfall tumbling down the cliffs.
On our final morning, we were treated to perfect reflections of the sun rising over the mountains in the Chamberlain Lakes during our hike out. It is easy to see why people cherish this special place, and why years ago, they saw the potential for a National Park among the jagged peaks and alpine lakes.
You can learn more about Outdoor Alliance’s work on the Boulder-White Clouds and sign the petition to protect this place and the incredible hiking, mountain biking, and skiing it allows, right here.