Sawtooth Mountains

Sep 18, 2017

In late August 2017, three friends and I flew into Boise, Idaho from our respective cities to spend a week wandering around the Sawtooth Mountains. After consumption of much fried potato and a brief sleep, we set off in our rental car.

Our plan was to head to Redfish Lodge and get our car shuttled to Pettit Lake (a service the lodge provides for $30). We’d then hop on the boat shuttle ($12 each) and head up to Baron Lakes for the first night. Then back up a bit and over to Cramer Lakes, over the divide and round to Benedict / Three Island / Rock Slide Lake, then to Edna Lake, on to Alice Lake then out of the Pettit Lake trailhead.

We did go through some very smokey valleys on the drive from Boise to Redfish which was concerning. Wildfires were raging through the PNW and their exhaust was blowing our way. It was definitely a little worrying, we hadn’t flown all this way to spend a week coughing up smoke!

Day 1 - Redfish to Baron

After a suprisingly speedy boat shuttle from Redfish Lodge to the trailhead at the other end of the lake, we disembarked and started using our legs. The trail up from Redfish Lake starts in woodland but quickly emerges to an open hillside with some great views of jagged peaks to your left. At this point we realized that we had steam rolled past the permit box on the way into the wilderness without getting a permit. Two of us ran back down, got a permit and ran back up. Quite the way to get used to the altitude!

Towards Redfish Lake

Soon enough we reached a fork in trail, left to Cramer (where we would go the next day) and right up to Alpine Lake. We hung a right and slogged our way up our first major incline. Upon reaching Alpine we pondered the idea of calling it quits and camping there for the night instead of going over the pass and down to Baron Lakes. We had a few hours of daylight left and from our prior resesarch Baron Lakes seemed like more of a destination, so we decided that it was probably worth the effort. This was definitely the right call! We ended up finding a nice camp on the divide between Upper and Lower Baron Lakes, it was a pretty magical place and an ideal way to start the trip.

Day 2 - Baron to Cramer

What a place to wake up. Definitely worth yo-yoing Baron Pass!

Sunrise at Baron Lakes

After a leisurely breakfast, we made our way back over the pass and down to the fork to Cramer Lakes. The trail from the fork to Cramer lakes is in a valley with relatively few views so not much to report on here. We made it to our destination relatively early and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying another beautiful string of lakes.

Upper Cramer Lake

Day 3 - Cramer Lake to (near) Decker Peak to Hidden Lake

Today was our most adventurous day. The plan was to go off trail up to Decker Peak, back down then hopefully over the Cramer Divide to Hidden Lake. We’d read a few blog posts about this peak and it sounded like a stretch for us but somewhat possible. From our map it looked like we had to follow the creek that crosses the trail just north of Lower Cramer and eventually find a small lake at the base of the peak. We’d then head due east up to Decker’s south ridge and follow that up. Easy right?!

The first part went relatively smoothly. Along the way, one member of the group quite sensibly decided to sunbathe instead of spending the next few hours scrambling up a mountain. The remaining three of us found our way to the little lake and started ascending the boulder field up to the ridge. Parts of it were quite steep and loose which made for less than ideal terrain! However eventually we found ourselves atop of the ridge assessing what lay ahead of us.

Below Decker Peak

The ridge was ridgier than we had bargained for! Lacking belief in our scrambling abilities, we decided that lunch and a swim seemed like a more pleasant prospect. We descended defeated but alive and in good spirits. Said spirits were further improved by a shockingly cold dip in Middle Cramer Lake followed by peanut butter and carbs.

Feeling refreshed, we pressed on to Hidden Lake. The trail over the Cramer Divide to Hidden Lake was probably my favorite section of the trip. Such unearthly and dramatic terrain. Make sure to include this section on your Sawtooth trip!

Cramer Divide

We had a quick rest on the pass, the sun was starting to set but we didn’t have much distance left so we made time to enjoy scenery. The walk down to Hidden Lake was mercifully kind on the knees and afforded nice views of our destination for the night.

Hidden Lake

Day 4 - Hidden Lake to Rock Slide Lake

This was a relatively flat day spent entirely below the tree line. Maybe not the most scenic section but by the end of it we definitely felt like we were in a more remote area of the range. As if to add to the sensation of being ‘out there’, during the last mile or so the skys darkened and we experienced rain for the first time in Idaho!

Storm Approaching Rock Slide Lake

Once we reached Rock Slide Lake we hastily set up camp and dived into our tents to wait out the storm. The rain quickly got heavier and turned to hail. There’s something pretty special about waiting out some nasty weather while being all toasty in your sleeping bag/quilt. Fortunatley it cleared up and left us enough time to have dinner in daylight. All in all, a pretty well behaved storm.

Day 5 - Rock Slide Lake to Tenlake Basin to Edna Lake

This area of the Sawtooths is absolutely dotted with lakes, you barely walk 15 minutes without coming across another one. After weaving past Ingeborg and the Spangles you end up at the top of a pass. We wanted to do some more off trail explorations so decided to head over to Tenlakes Basin before making our way down to Ardeth and over to Edna.

After descending through a boulder field we found a place that seemed like a good spot to start heading east and up to the basin. We crossed a creek and walked straight up a slope and soon found ourselves on a sort of undulating rocky plateau. It was a nice little area but we couldn’t seem to find a great vantage point. In my head I thought that we’d get there and just see ten little lakes all tucked in under Glen’s Peak. Still though, a fun place to explore. I think we found six of the ten in the end.

We made our way down to Ardeth Lake and stopped for lunch and another bracing dip. We thought we were just a quick jaunt from Edna but we had failed to notice on the map that there was a surprisingly large and steep ascent and descent in the way. Oh well, maybe the ignorance helped. Soon enough we found ourselves coming down to our destination and took the first campsite that we saw. Sometimes it’s hard to care about wether you have the best spot!

Edna Lake

Day 6 - Edna Lake to Alice Lake

This day was all about getting up and over two passes. The trail from Edna up to the pass above Toxaway Lake made for a very pleasant ascent. Never too steep, you just have to keep chugging along. Once you reach the top, there’s a small use trail that runs up hill next to the trail to down to Toxaway. We followed that up to a small flatish area 100ft or so above the pass. The views were a bit clearer from up there.

Above Toxaway

We headed down to Toxaway Lake for lunch then started the grueling trek up to the pass above Twin Lakes. It was pretty hot on the way and there was basically no shade to be had, on the trail or on the pass itself. Still the views of Twin Lakes from up there made up for all the sweat and hard work.

Twin Lakes

After this we headed down the trail, past Twin Lakes to Alice Lake. This was the Friday before Labor Day and we were staying at a lake that was about 5-6 miles from a major trailhead. Needless to say, we were suddenly surrounded by people! I chose to think of it as a gentle reintroduction to society.

Day 7 - Alice Lake to Pettit Lake trailhead

Alice Lake

Another beautiful morning in the Sawtooths. We made the best of it, packed up and walked out.

This was definitely one of those times were it all ended too soon. I for one wasn’t ready to leave the wilderness, but to complain about having to go back to work would be childish. This was a fantastic trip. I feel so incredibly lucky to have the means and the time to witness such places. Not to mention close friends who also want to forgo running water, real food and their general comfort in exchange for carrying bags up and down steep slopes for a week.

Done!