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TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

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TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

Postby Eiprahs » Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:02 am

Prologue: Heresy in 1966, glowing reports about the Sawtooths as a 'best place' from co-participants on a Sierra Club "Clean Up" trip to the Ediza-Thousand Island lakes area. How could anything be better than where we were? 1998--a family road trip passes by the Sawtooths. Magnificent! 2009 we make it for an 8 day 55 mile Sawtooth adventure.


Day 1. August 29. Faster than a herd of turtles. Goal: Elk Lake, 11.6 miles.

Grandjean sits on the South Fork Payette River. At 5250, it is the lowest elevation Sawtooth Wilderness trail head, making it a good entry point for us out of shape lowlanders to get back in the groove.

Our travel plan was to leave as soon as I got off work—grab burgers at a favorite spot a half hour out, drive thru the night, and arrive at the trailhead early. At the burger stop I realized the bear canisters were at home on the kitchen floor! We backtrack.

Following a long night of high speed interstate, gas and snack stops, uneasy cat naps and twisty roads, we pulled into the parking lot at Grandjean’s Sawtooth Lodge 13 hours later. What the heck, let’s have breakfast, we are on vacation!

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After breakfast, we moved to the Grandjean trailhead. Our first clue to Grandjean’s popularity was the trail head parking area, all of 9 spaces, 5 of which were filled. But the toilet was new and clean. Then we discovered that despite hours of preparation, packs needed repacking as a lot of our clothing plus the bear canisters were loose in the car.

At 9:45, that’s 10:45 local time, we finally hit the trail, which was sandy, dusty, and very well-traveled. After a few hundred feet, we climbed up to a wonderful foot-bridge over Trail Creek. Oddly, the trail drops down on the other side. The stream bed at the bridge is higher than the ground on either side, so a future flood will leave the bridge high and dry.

Past the Trail Creek trail intersection we passed through an open forest of big trees. The canyon walls blocked the sun preserving the morning cool. Soon we came to the Baron Creek trail junction and the Baron Creek ford. Here Dave took a quick look upstream for a crossing log. Finding none, Susan switched to sandals and forded the creek. Dave, however, chanced crossing on some small pine logs which did not look sturdy. Not bad the first half, but the second half they bent underwater. Committed, Dave made it across with the aid of trekking poles and cursing. Chris, having watched his parents’, opted for the logs.

Shortly, we came upon two groups of three white-haired women back packers. The Granny Brigade told us it had been hot, and they were hard pressed to do more than 5 miles per day. They were the only people we saw. Two looked like Margaret Fuller and her travel companion—Margaret wrote the most popular trail guide for the Sawtooths.

Then we were back to the sand slog, although now the sun had risen clear of the canyon wall, and the forest, due to past fires and present pine bark beetle infestations, was a forest without shade. The sun beat down thru a high haze and the trail narrowed with brush encroaching the tread. No wonder we didn’t see hikers using trekking poles.

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Soon, we were abreast of Goat Creek, an approach route to Sawtooth climbing objectives Warbonnet and Tohobit. Goat Creek had left its primary channel, which was nearly dry, and was coursing through several secondary channels. Dave’s search for a crossing log paid off but the crossing log was high above the water, none too wide, and had lots of broken stobs to fall upon. Susan wisely took the short and safe path through the water, while the men folk went the long and hazardous way, basically because they were too lazy to change footwear.

The trail became narrower and brushier as we reached the North Fork Boise River trail junction. A quick watch consult confirmed why our stomachs were telling us it was break time. We were slow with the heat! Fortunately, we had water for our snack, but the day waxed hotter with no breeze and we were now dry. We resumed our trek south, the brush scratching our legs. Shortly we arrived at Taylor Spring, but we don’t like the looks of it, so we pass it by. We are feeling really thirsty, as we start a sustained grade.

The trail stays away from the river, but the map shows it closing shortly. What it doesn’t show is the river is inaccessable in a vertical sided gorge. Chris, after a couple aborted attempts, says “I’ll go ahead and pump water and we’ll break when you catch up”.

Well, Susan and I struggled along seemingly forever, till we come to a beaver pond and small creek right on the trail with no sign of Chris. Odd, he passed by water—or perhaps he forgot our JMT ‘rule’ of leaving your pack on the trail to mark where you took off. I said to Susan, “Let’s stop here. I’ll run ahead to make sure we haven’t passed him, and I’ll be right back”. A surprising distance ahead I found Chris’s pack. So back I came to Susan and we reached Chris’s pack just as he arrived laden with full water bottles. Reunited, we sit right in the trail for a grand drink and a bite.

We finally pass the opening of Pinchot Creek, then walk thru a grove of larger Ponderosa pines with good views of the steep canyon walls.

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Soon the creek is back at our side and the brush closes in. Fortunately, like a mirage, a white sand beach appears just below a waterfall. Elk Lake it was not, but home for the night it was. 5 PM and we felt every minute of the 7 hours we’d been on the trail.

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Dave got dinner going, while Susan and Chris, the tent erection crew, argued whether we needed the tent. “Lets sleep under the stars” Susan would say. “No” Chris would say, “We have to set up the tent.” Around and around. As the sun left, the air cooled and Dave, feeling chilled, said, “Let’s go with the tent”.

By the time the tent was up, soup was done. Soup—cuts the hunger, rehydrates the body, soothes the soul, starts the discussion of the day. Now the main course: Chicken A La King with a pouch of Chicken Breast added. With the extra chicken, dinner was great. Dave produces a half bottle of wine from the depths of his pack. The wine goes down really well, its main problem being that a half bottle runs out a lot sooner than a whole bottle.

Susan declared that the trip would be worth it if all meals were this good. Everyone felt full, so rather than dessert course we had hot drinks, and washed up a bit and hung our food—not from bears, but from rodents. Nothing can be left out for a minute. Oh, there are bears, too, so you can’t get complacent about them, but the rodents are far stealthier.

Chris the worrier says “Do you think we need the rain fly?” “Nah”, Susan and I answer. It’s getting dark now, and there are a few clouds here and there, and I’m washing up and out of the corner of my eye, I think I see a flash from Chris’s headlight. So I look up and yes, Chris is wearing his headlight, but it isn’t on, so did I imagine that flash? Then there’s another flash; surely not his headlight. Soon, its flash-flash with thunder. On goes the rain fly.

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So Jeez, here we are 3’ above water level at a 90 degree bend in the river. Oh, and this nice sand beach is actually a deposit from a seasonal creek. So Chris and I take a quick look up trail for flat spots big enough for our tent, and of course, there are none, and as we get back to our now dark camp it starts to rain. So we duck into the tent, rationalizing “Well, this country is so dry, it’ll sponge some up”.

Well, I don’t know about Susan and Chris, but I’m lying there awake and the lightning gets closer and closer: Flash 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005 boom, boom, kaboom, changing to flash one thou KABOOM. Then, oddly quiet until a new cycle of flashing/kabooming begins. During the quiet interludes a gentle rain falls.

I was tired, and despite the hot beverages, dried out, so I slept well after awhile, and no one complained about my snoring thanks to the waterfall. It was a tough 10.5 mile day followed by a splendid night with a lightshow, sound effects, wine, a water feature, a soft bed, and no mid-night “gottago” adventures.

Day 2. Original plan Elk Lake to Ingeborg Lake, 9.9 Miles. Revised Plan: Fern Falls to Benedict Lake 9.1 Miles
Actuality: Fern Falls to Avalanche Meadow 9.9 Miles


The next morning I was up first. There were a few clouds, but they dissipated. Could this be so!! Clearing and nice weather today?? The forecast was a 70% chance of thundershowers and rain through tonight. Could we have lucked out? For fools, hope springs eternal.

Well we eat breakfast and break a dry camp, but the sky has refilled with clouds, and, as we don our packs, it starts to sprinkle, then shower, then rain. Worse the trail-side brush soaks us despite our flailing at it with trekking poles. As we arrive at Elk Lake, which seems dark and dank, it starts hailing, and the lightning show does an encore. Our Fern Falls campsite with open skies was the better camp.

So we hunker under spruce trees at the lake and eat Susan’s Hot Tamales, which are liquefying into fluorescent red goo since they aren’t packaged in water resistant packaging.

Past Elk Lake the trail is wider with less brush, and we slosh along to the South Fork Payette River ford. The water is low and Susan, whose boots are completely saturated, walks right across. Dave and Chris figure that their stuff isn’t soaking wet yet, so they sandal-up. Surprisingly cold, the water removes the feeling from their feet by the time they get across.

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Somehow we walk right by Smith Falls without noticing. We take the Benedict Creek trail, which clearly enters a different vegetation zone as it switch backs up into Benedict’s hanging valley. While this trail isn’t well traveled, it isn’t brushy. We step around a huge fresh bear poop. The rain has come right along with us, but at least the hail and thunder backed off.

We pass by nice meadows. A large grove of trees bordering one meadow has been developed into a great camp site by horse packers—hitching rails and big, level tent areas—wouldn’t be surprised to find planks for a table and seating stashed close by. This camp is right about even with a hanging valley.

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The rain slowly keeps building in intensity. Finally we come to a clearing where we can see ahead to Mt Plummer, which is barely visible¬ for the rain. “I gotta eat something” I say, so we hunker down under some big trees for a break. Magically and thankfully, the sky lightens and the rain stops.

The next mile or so is delightful—if hiking can be delightful after you’ve hiked 6 miles in rain and your boots go squish-squish with each step. We walk on boardwalks through meadows, groves of small trees, and flower fields and cross real bridges on up to the trail junction with the Queens River trail. The Benedict Creek trail switchbacks besides Benedict Creek, which here hasn’t cut a channel into the monolithic granite. The sky is clearing as we arrive at Heather Lake, which is small, has no camping, but does have fish. Chris, who had gone ahead to scout a camp site and pump water at Benedict Lake, comes back to tell us the lake is just ahead but all camp sites are taken. What, we haven’t seen a soul all day and now the lake is jam-packed?

At Benedict Lake we flop our packs down on a flat rock. Chris and Susan reconnoiter the lake to confirm the lack of camping options while Dave searches the map for a plan B. The campers, the only people we’ve seen all day, are sullen. We move on.

The map shows a flat bench West of the trail where it crosses the creek. Sure enough, where the trail crosses, a use trail continues towards the bench. We follow it to find a totally great campsite in trees right at the edge of a meadow with a just-right perfectly flat tent space and a cook rock bigger than our dining room table. But we can’t figure out why there are broken trees and branches in camp, like someone intentionally tried to hide it.

Well its clear and sunny now, and we set up camp and get dinner underway. The soup is yummy leek and the main course is beef stroganoff, which turns out is delicious, if not the gastronomic epiphany of the previous supper. Dave produces another half-bottle of wine, which suffers from the same problem as the previous bottle, and we once again have hot drinks instead of dessert.

A shoulder of Plummer Peak is to our West and the sun slides behind it by 5 PM, so we enjoy a prolonged dusk with our dinner. Susan has built a marvelous fire pit and has a warming fire going. While clear when the sun went behind Plummer Peak we are alarmed to notice a shower coming over the ridge to our South and a towering thunderstorm anvil cloud not far behind.

Sure enough, about 7:00 PM the lightning starts up, only now we are a lot higher and the surrounding terrain isn’t volunteering for lightning rod duty. We retire shortly after 7 and listen to the thunder and the rain. There’s a definite rhythm or cycle which starts with a few very large drops that smack the tent loudly. Then the number of drops picks up as the drops get smaller. The sound builds to a crescendo that slowly fades away. But before fading to quiet, the next drum roll of large drops begins. And the pattern continues thru the night into the next morning, with occasional thunder, lest we sleep too soundly.


Day 3. Layover Day At Avalanche Meadow.


During dinner the previous day we decided to hang out at our present camp rather than move to Ingeborg Lake to get back on itinerary. Anyone wanting adventure can hike to Three Island Lake and, if that isn’t enough, then XC up and over a low pass into the Boise River drainage.

Everyone is content with this decision so we rouse out of the tent at 9 AM, more because we’ve got to go potty than because we want to do anything. Skies are still gray, but slowly lighten with only an occasional build up and growl to our North.

It is all of 11:30 by the time the breakfast mess is squared away. I say I’m going to mosy to Three Island Lake. Neither Chris nor Susan are interested, so I wander off around the meadow to what looks like, from a distance, an attractive campsite inside an elevated circle of trees. However, the ‘campsite’ turns out to be an elk stomping ground—totally tracked out just like a cattle feed lot. And just beyond, at the far edge of the meadow, is the trail to Three Island Lake.

Three Island lake does indeed have three small islands, and a small cliff right into the water a la Precipice Lake. I spy an easy route to my pass into the Boise River drainage, but as skies remain uncertain, I turn back.

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Back at camp, the camp meisters have whipped up the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, which is surprisingly good. As most everything got damp we spend the afternoon drying clothing and equipment. Chris kind-a melts his sandals by spotting them too close to the fire. I make a make-shift clothes drying rack out of our trekking poles and some rocks. This allows us to gently dry our wool socks—and that smoke aroma covers up the other aromas pretty good for the rest of the trip!

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Dinner was soup and freeze dried Chicken-and-Rice with extra Chicken. But alas, no more wine. After hot beverages Susan and Chris retire, but I trundle about with my camera and tripod, hoping to capture the ultimate alpen-glow photo. Well, the alpen glow doesn’t happen, but during my search for a good photo vantage point I find snapped-off and splintered tree trunks above our camp—the tree limbs in camp are avalanche debris. Somehow the avalanche didn’t damage the trees at our camp where it dropped the debris.
Dave



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Re: TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 2

Postby Eiprahs » Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:49 am

Day 4. Avalanche Meadow to Edna Lake. 8.2 miles

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Plummer Peak at Sunrise

We head across the meadow to pick up the Three Island Lake trail, which we follow back to the Benedict Creek Trail. We follow gentle switchbacks to Rock Slide Lake, which takes a surprisingly long time to walk around. A good camp site is North of the lake’s outlet. Then we climb over some granite lumps, ‘roche moutonnees’. After the lake, we go by a steep pass with a prominent game trail leading straight up and over. While we’ve only seen elk prints, both mountain goats and sheep live here, and somebody is sure using ‘Low Pass’ to get to the Boise River side. Spinning around, we see the ‘Rakers’, an impressive peak formation in the distance.

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We walk beneath ‘Low Pass’ to reach Ingeborg Lake, which has an air of wild, alpine desolation. Trees are short, storm battered, and sparse with the ground bare granite with only an occasional clump of duff and undergrowth. This is a much more exposed place than our Avalanche Meadow camp. A few larger trout were cruising Ingeborg’s shoreline.

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We circle Ingeborg to its East side, where Susan spots large mountain lion tracks in the trail. While they are rain weathered, they certainly were made after the heaviest part of the deluge—yesterday morning some time? The key in the photo is 3 ¾” long, so you wouldn’t want to meet this kitty on a dark night.

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Just past Ingeborg lake, the trail offers a very impressive East view. Below us are the Spangle Lakes, which are all spangly in the morning sunlight. We pick out our trail’s route between the Spangle Lakes and up and over the divide to Ten Lake Basin. Having climbed to here in shadow, the sun’s warmth feels great. Skies are a cloudless, deep, clear blue! We quickly reach Upper Spangle Lake. Lower Spangle Lake lies just to our right only a few feet below us as we cross the narrow granite rib separating the lakes. We pass the trail junction to Atlanta and gradually climb to the pass into Ten Lakes Basin.

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From the pass, we see a few of the Ten Lakes. The largest, Ardeth, is our lunch destination. Out of sight to the East are another half dozen. We begin the descent and find the new trail nicely graded—the old trail is still visible—one of those straight up-the-slope tracks originally made by animals, then ‘improved’ by humans—which leads us to a long conversation about how trail mileages seem to be way off here in the Sawtooths, and who is responsible for mileage accuracy what with all the trail re-routes, anyhow?

To be continued--I can't seem to post more than to this point.
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Re: TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

Postby austex » Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:00 am

Dave, LOVE it. A nice perspective of an area which I've fished and car camped/day hiked as my brother-in-law lives just outside Boise. We went to the Salmon on foot as compared to the floaters in the surrounds of Stanley. Write on and I look forward to the next installment as I'll visit him early July.
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Re: TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

Postby maverick » Tue Apr 15, 2014 10:07 am

Thank you Dave for the great TR and pictures you've posted so far of an area I have
always been intruiged by. Looking forward to reading the rest of your TR. :)
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Apr 15, 2014 9:13 pm

Ditto. My wife and I drove through part of the Sawtooths last summer and we both were enthralled with the area, even when viewing it from a car window.
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Re: TR: Our Introduction To Idaho's Sawtooths--Part 1

Postby Jason » Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:40 am

Sweet! Thanks for the report. Looking forward to the next part.
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