Labor Day excursion: Rapid, Pete's, and Cougar Lakes


The old guys take it easy on a four-day sojourn to visit McCall lakes you've never heard of.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Labor Day weekend. Time to get the hell outa McCall.

We started with an early Friday departure from the Boulder Lake trailhead. Craig shuttled us, and Dave had left his rig at Kennally Creek trailhead the day before (but with a warning: there were 4 or 5 giant horse trailers where we normally park, which potentially could impact our solitude later in the trip).

So starting this morning in glorious light was the "main" trio of Dave, Tom, and I, plus our moral support crew of Craig and Susan. And about a thousand dogs.

Note: Although we spent four days, a strong hiker could probably do this whole trip in a long day...but why be in a hurry?


It was a pleasant morning, cool and relatively non-smoky. So we marched right past Boulder Meadows and headed for Rapid Lake. Although there was plenty of annhilated plants, poofer dust, and chocolate chips, we did not see the dreaded sheep dogs.


When we got to Rapid Lake the place was empty, as hoped, although later in the day two guys set up camp on the opposite side of the lake. We were only mildly offended.

Tom was last here in the snow, and Dave was here last fall, so for them it looked vaguely familiar. Neither Craig nor Susan had been here previously. They thought it was probably worth the hike.


Craig was pretty quick to whip out the fishing tackle. With equal rapidity (see how I fit that in?) he had also pulled in a few fish. From this angle you can't see his smile.


Dave and I each caught a big one.


Craig took them home with him. Apparently they were delicious.

Craig Strang photo.


While Craig and Susan each headed home for various personal reasons, our trio of hard men watched the sun lower in the western sky while we admired the colors on Rapid Peak.


Hard men, indeed!

Day 1 map,
Boulder trailhead to Rapid Lake
The next morning we were up early (not! - at 7 o'clock in September it's barely light) headed for Vic's Lake. Oddly, the two guys on the other side of the lake had already broken camp and departed. Maybe they found us offensive? Trailhead

We didn't bother fishing at Vic's. But it is pretty.

Just past Vic's, I took a wrong turn and did a short detour headed for Fogg Lake amidst tons of horseshoe prints. This mistake provided Dave a source of humor for the rest of our trip.

Now in addition to worrying about sheep dogs, we were worried about sharing a lake with a dozen horseback riders (and of course, their horses). Note- it's not horses that are a bother- if there had instead been a school bus at the trailhead, we'd have worried about running into a passle of kids. We're just spoiled like that.


A little while later and we were looking into the Kennally Creek drainage from Kennally Creek Summit. Time to leave the trail (and our worries about sheep dogs and horses- as long as the horses hadn't gone to Cougar Lakes?).


The plan? Roughly follow the route Jim and I had taken on our 2016 ascent of Pete's Peak, the bump right of center. No, not the close one; that would be too easy. We have to go over/around that one to get to the one to its left in the background.

At first the off-trail work was pretty easy It never got that bad, but this sort of thing is a lot harder with full packs. Trailhead

For better or worse, there's our final objective for today, Pete's Lake. Just know that there is no trail shown on the map.


As Dave and I stopped a bit below the summit to drop our packs, Tom attacked on the final climb to get full summit points.

We didn't really mind- we all got awesome summit views, albeit somewhat filtered by the trees. Looking north, that's Buckhorn Mountain Lake where Dave and I were last week.


Can't find the lake even after clicking for the bigger version? Here, allow me....

After a leisurely summit lunch, we discussed our options. Although there appeared there might be a shortcut available to the left here, we opted to live longer lives and strolled down the ridge. Trailhead

We had enough to deal with just following our old route down to the lake. It's steeper than the camera shows. And looser, too!


But well worth the effort.

We spent a few minutes setting up camp and hydrating, then Dave set off to chase trout.


Meanwhile, Tom, Ruby and I headed for Upper Pete's Lake, which I had not previously visited.

It's very pretty, but shallow; about 70% covered with lily pads and grasses.

When we got back to the main lake, we were again stunned by the beauty. Then we spied Dave on the other side. Trailhead
Moments later, now in full zoom, he was showing off. Click to see his grin. Trailhead

We all went down to the lake and did a little fishin'.

Then it was to camp, where we marveled at the number of fire rings, yet no sign of recent use. My theory: at some point there must have been an easier way to get in here.

Day 2 map,
Rapid Lake to Pete's Lake

It had been a really warm night, made to seem even warmer by the freezing I got the night before at Rapid. This night, I didn't even zip up my sleeping bag.

But when we got up, the smoke had moved in. And the super-steep 500' climb back up to the ridge was tough on tired legs. But once on the ridge, the going wasn't too bad.

Not that there were no obstacles..... Trailhead
Knowing that today's hiking distance was pretty light as long as the ridge didn't get too nasty (but who knew?) we took quite a few breaks along the way. Here I have been playing NTP so zoomed in on the highpoint here, Nick Peak, another recent trip of Dave and I. That's Rainbow Peak in front of Nick. Trailhead
As we worked our way across the ridge to South Fork Buckhorn Summit (saddle), we held our group breath. There was supposed to be on old trail across the ridge, but the Payette Forest Service trails conditions map said it hadn't been maintained since 2010. When from above we could see the tread, we rejoiced. Trailhead

When we got down to it, we were a little less thrilled. This hillside is fine-ground granite, almost like sand. And sometime recently there was a weather event that loosed a large volume of water on it, eroding the hillside in many parallel rivulets.

A challenge: click on the photo to see if you can see the trail (using Ruby to find the trail, which is what we did, in this case is cheating).


Although chasing the imaginary trail took some work, we did finally get to Cougar Saddle. This photo is provided here to challenge your spatial skills.

Hint: It's over there, to the left.

From the saddle, you can see some of the Cougar Lakes. And again, we were back on terrain that Dave and I had visited previously. Trailhead

It's just over a mile from the saddle to the biggest Cougar Lake. And since Dave and I had been here before, we had a pretty good idea of where was wanted to camp. Right... THERE!

(but read the next section because it was still early in the day)

Day 3 map
Pete's Lake to Cougar Lakes

The ITA (Idaho Trails Association) had hinted at being interested in clearing this trail, so we decided to get some fresh intel. This trail goes to a spot called Aspen Flats, so we were interested in that, plus we had walked the lower part of this trail last spring on our way up Miners Peak.

It's a gorgeous trail, and here we got a view of a recent peak we had climbed. Trailhead
There it is zoomed in now, the rocky summit of Majers Peak. Trailhead
This photo does a god job of showing this trail; log down, some pretty terrain, and a cut log. How are your trail eyes? Trailhead

On our way back, we hiked to the lower Cougar Lake. In an unusual situation, the upper lake does not drain into the lower lake. We checked by walking all the way around it, and then we hiked back up to the upper lake. Then we went around the upper lake, too.

That's Blackmare Peak in the background.

As we closed that last loop, we got to our campsite and sat out in the wind to avoid the annoying bald-faced hornets. We're not sure what is going on, but these bees had been buzzing around us for the last few days. They were driving Ruby nuts. No stings, thankfully. The Paddy's had a pleasant sting. Trailhead

Cougar Lakes explore map

1.7 miles, 334' gain, 1:08 c-c


We fished late into the evening, Tom especially enjoying the boiling lake. Then in the dark we were serenaded in our sleeping bags by a couple elk bucksnorting and clomping around the meadow next to our tent. As accompaniment, Ruby was woofing; such a good guard dog.

The next morning, the lake was back to full boil.


But we had already caught a lot of fish, plus we had our longest day ahead of us. After trudging back up to Cougar Saddle, it was time to head down the hillside down to Kennally Creek. This hillside, like the ridge yesterday, was suffering from recent heavy erosion. And a LOT more downed trees than back in 2018. Dave and I remembered the trail being in great shape- not so much anymore.

We got down to the Kennally Creek trail, which had recently been cut out- maybe by the horsemen?

Then followed a fast-paced sashay on smooth, broad tread back to Dave's waiting truck. Along the way we had a pleasant conversation with two mountain bikers.


Day 4 map
Cougar Lakes to Kennally Creek trailhead


This was a great trip. A little fishing, a peak, lots of new terrain, great views, wonderful partners, some new lines on the map, and over four days only four other people. Mission accomplished!


For more photos and story, read Dave's blog: (as available)

Day 1
Nighttime photography
Day 2
Day 3
More nightime photos
Day 4


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