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Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

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Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby Eiprahs » Sat May 23, 2015 1:25 pm

Prologue:


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Ever wish there was a magic door to your favorite place? You’d ease that door open, slip through, and there you would be— civilization far behind, thousands of feet higher, air clean, sun bright, everything perfect. Well, the Sawtooths have a back door.
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The Sawtooths are a single granitic batholith, a giant dome of rock that has pushed thru the earth’s crust and now lies exposed. Very much like the Winds or Oregon’s Eagle Cap, there is a heart or plateau, from which water drains away in all directions. The trail system follows the water, the paths of least resistance. But if you cross the grain you can reach the heart in half the miles. Not quite a magic door, but close.
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The 2014 Sawtooth cast consisted of myself, Susan, Chris, and our pup-dog, Mrs Arabella Figg, aka “Figgy”. Let’s see, car keys—check. Trekking poles—check. Boots—check. Lawn chairs—check. OK, good to go. And, in our usual madcap fashion, we cram into the car and speed east as fast as we dare.
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Unlike recent years the air is clear, cold, and smoke free. Not solid on our approach timing, we find ourselves coming into Stanley, ID as the clock passes midnight. The stars are incredibly bright, the center line streaks by, and, suddenly, a fox sprints across the road in front of us. Half asleep, I mumble something to Chris about omens. 45 minutes later we are on the Alturas Lake road. In several places alluvial fans of gravel and rock lay on the pavement. Wow, it really rained hard here for gravel to be deposited 12” deep. Don’t they have a road maintenance budget—this is hazardous! Or maybe we have to slow down.
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1:15 AM, we pull into the TH parking lot which is 2/3 full of cars, it now being the Monday of labor day weekend. The car thermometer reads a balmy 28 degrees. Do we start hiking? Or do we hunker down in the rig? Damn, why didn’t we set up the third seat so we each could have a whole seat? I get the passenger seat, and try to wrap myself in a car blanket. Slowly the car cools, becoming uncomfortably cold. Finally, interminably, the sky lightens, frost everywhere. The car thermometer reads 22.
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We are like molasses on a 22 degree morning. It takes forever to change clothes, eat a meager breakfast of over-priced Starbucks bars and mocha. The sun rises before we stumble to the trailhead. A dad and his two young daughters appear—yep, first trip for the girls and they are heading out for pancakes. The girls are still sleepy and sit on their backpacks to wait for Mom and the car. Dad takes our photo for us.
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Day 1 Knock Knock Knocking on Heaven’s Door
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At last we are on trail, our destination Flytrip Basin. The maintained trail ends in 3 miles, but unmaintained trail continues another three miles to lake 9167. First we pass thru a typical “U” shaped valley, small trees interspersed with sagebrush.
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We hit the end of the maintained trail, made obvious by the sudden abundance of fallen trees. And the grade changes from pleasantly gentle, to rudely uphill. As we climb we meet party after party exiting.
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The terrain becomes wilder.
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And finally we arrive at lunch, Lake 8523. Someone has leaft a small collection of mushrooms—the giant boletes are supposed to be edible, the russulas not so much.
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Lake 8523 appears frequently visited, but a very pleasant spot we have to ourselves.
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Resuming our upward progress, we pass a small tarn, replete with small fish
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cross the creek, and traverse a meadow to a rock band where the trail becomes sketchy, but at the top of this rocky segment a fallen tree shows ancient axe marks—we are still good.
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Above the rocks we find ourselves in rough terrain with all views blocked by a thicket of sapling Engleman Spruce. I followed what appeared to be the tread, cleared the sapling grove, and found myself in a rocky area with no trail. Below, next to a small tarn, a tread was obvious
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Regaining the use trail, we cross the creek and continue up, arriving at Lake 9167, where we locate a reasonable camp site. Oh yeah, we had thought we’d get further, but the next segment is X-C, involves crossing a pass followed by a long, long talus slog. It can wait till tomorrow. And there are things to look at and explore right here, like yellow paintbrush:
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We have a leisurely dinner followed by wandering about as the sun leaves and the light fades. Doesn’t that rock on the left skyline look like a smiling frog?? My companions edge away.
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Day 2 Passing the Portal
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I crawl out of the sack before dawn and snap a picture of Lake 9167 and a pass we have dubbed ‘North Pass’. Our intended route is around the lake on the right, pass the cliff on the left, and follow the green to the col.
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The route is fine, although one area of the Lake 9167’s north shore promises a bath if you take a tumble. A few nice sized fish are cruising the lake bank—supposedly there are grayling here—I’ve seen photos!
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The route is straight forward and while exposed to the rising sun the air is fresh and cool.
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The other side delivers what the sat photos promised—lots o rocks.
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And Figgy, who is about 10” tall at the shoulder, goes on a sit down strike in protest. Chris drops his pack and retrieves her.
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Finally clearing the rock glacier, we make the highest lake, a little jewel.
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We follow the outlet stream to the next lake, one whose moraine doesn’t really hold water, leaving sandy beaches as the water drains slowly away.
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The third lake is another wonder, with a panoramic view of Flytrip Basin’s east headwall.
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The fourth lake, “P” lake, is the largest yet, fishy, and bear poopy.
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We drop down to the fifth lake, Heart Lake, where we camp at a well used site on a small isthmus. With all the bear sign, we cook in a clump of trees well away from our sleeping area. Never warm, the air cools quickly, and we enjoy, for our first time since 2009, a Sawtooth campfire.
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Success! We made it thru the backdoor and are now in the heart of the Sawtooth Range. By any other route we would have logged a minimum of 16 miles to make Heart Lake.
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Day 3 Layover in Flytrip
Today we explore around. Heart Lake by dawn light.
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First up is Camp Lake, which proves smallish and greenish. While there are small trout in the outlet stream, we see nothing in the lake itself. We explore the area around the lake.
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Susan returns to mind camp and read her book. Chris and I venture north to the col east of Glens Peak. We pass thru some rock bands and an expansive meadow area where we find:
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The excavation looks fresh and I think better of sticking my hands down to measure the diameter of the burrow. What I think made this hole is infamous for sticking it to any sized animal that messes with it.
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We cross the meadow and labor up the steep slope to the col, where we have an expansive view North to 10 Lakes Basin. Glens peak at left, center left on skyline is Elk Peak.
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Returning to camp, we pick up an unmapped extension of the Flytrip basin trail, which continues past Heart Lake and higher into the basin. At camp we find Susan has moved from reading to other pursuits.
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And dinner had a bonus fish course. Good thing we had a pot lid to use as a plate!
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Day 4. Over to Ingeborg
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We left Heart Lake by picking up the Flytrip Basin trail. Below Camp lake the trail negotiates a few switch backs. A very inconspicuous cairn marks the departure point for the cross country route in Margaret Fuller’s book. I expected the route to have some sign of use, but no, other than the cairn, we see nothing.

From the cairn, approx. 43.932850,-115.010144, you contour over to a briskly flowing creek. Cross the creek and stay below the talus field, which extends much lower than is shown on the topo. You want to travel in the transition zone between the talus and the woody brushy undergrowth. You soon arrive below a waterfall.
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From this point, cross the creek and climb the ridge to the west. Once above the marshy terrain, follow close to but not on the ridge top keeping an eye on the green, marshy areas to the east (right). At a point where the marshy terrain extends almost to the top of the ridge, cross to the ridge’s west flank and contour into a small stream drainage. A very colorful snag marks the critical point. Here you pick up the old trail alignment, which you follow north until it joins the new trail.
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We followed the maintained trail past Lower Spangle Lake to the trail intersection at Upper Spangle Lake.
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We turned left at the trail junction and made our way to Ingeborg Lake, where we set up in an established camp on an isthmus extending into the lake. Here we are enjoying another peaceful evening.
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That night, after sleeping a bit. I felt restless. Stirring, I sat bolt upright. To my total astonishment, a fox trotted by so close I could have touched him if my arms hadn’t been in my bag. In the full moon’s light the fox moved about 30’ away, turned, and looked at me. After a moment the fox circled back behind me to our cook area—great, a different kind of camp robber. Knowing everything was stowed, I dozed off.
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Map link to the route in—click back arrow to return:
http://tinyurl.com/k3qoruc

Day 5 A Trip Through Rock Creek Basin
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Ingeborg Lake and the Rakers.
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Todays exploration was over ‘Low Pass’ into the Rock Creek Basin. Low Pass:
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We dropped down to Low Pass Lake, which had been the location of a wildfire some years earlier.
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And then made our way thru a very steep little slot to Confusion Lake, from which we ascended a drainage past more bear sign, to a large tarn.
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And up over a pass into the South Fork Payette drainage where we intersected the trail into Three Island Lake, and back to camp.
Here’s a link to a map showing the day’s approximate route: http://tinyurl.com/jwkal26

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Day 6 Point 9918 and the Airplane Wreck
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Susan felt up for a camp day, so Chris and I ventured north of Ingeborg, scrambling to point 9918. This gave us a commanding view of 10 Lakes Basin from the West and to the White Cloud Mountains on the horizon. Castle Peak, the highest White Cloud, is near center.
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Looking West, we had another great panorama with Ingeborg Lake, Low Pass, Rock Slide Lake, and Three Island Lake visible left to right. At right is the ridge crest we are going to follow to the trees. Once into the trees we find bits of metal and plastic including a complete trapezoidal window—a plane crash site.
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Link to NTSB crash report: http://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviat ... 053&akey=1
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View to the north about half way towards trees. Now there’s a rock glacier!
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Map of the day’s route: the Airplane Debris Field starts where we turned around. http://tinyurl.com/kfl4ud7
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Day 7 Ingeborg Lake Back to Lake 9167
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Today we start the trip home. I got up early, pumped water, and to my surprise, the fox trots thru camp and down to where I pumped water. Knowing that he won’t come back thru camp--Chris has gotten up--I climb to the little high point to catch the fox making its way back the other side of the isthmus. And there he is!
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We pack up, retrace our steps back to Camp Lake via Margaret Fuller’s X-C cut off. You go off trail just after you ford the creek out of the Spangle Lakes at 43.941509,-115.023740. Climb up the bank above the down pine, which has obscured the old trail alignment. Continue along the old trail to where it and the little creek abruptly turn right, marked by the brightly colored pine snag on your left. Move up onto the ridge crest to your left (east) and follow it south, staying on the east side of the ridge’s crest. When you hear the waterfall, start a diagonal descent into the creek drainage until past the waterfall. Once past the waterfall drop straight down slope, then cross the creek and move uphill to pick up the transition zone between talus and forest, contouring south thru the transition zone to a rushing creek. Cross creek and climb to your right, not straight up the slope, until you gain the nose of the ridge, then contour SE and E to the Flytrip Basin trail.
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Just shy of Camp Lake, we went off trail, crossing the outlet stream from Heart Lake and following a low ridge past P Lake to the inlet stream on P Lake’s south shore.
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We followed along this creek, which drains a hanging valley, to approach what we named ‘South Pass’.

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A closer view of the pass:
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A super close view:
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And the amazing other side:
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Lake 9050 as we descend from South Pass.
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Here’s a map that makes our return route clearer. http://tinyurl.com/lqrfpxs
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It has been a tough day, so we haul into our first night’s camp at Lake 9167. With hot showers beckoning, we decide to forgo our last day—an exploration of the side valley ending at lake 8980. Tomorrow we head for the car.
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Day 8 Out and Home.
In the week we’ve been in, this hill side of huckleberry has turned—Fall is in the air.
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We descend past lake 8523, which is beautiful, and, on our way down to the official trail, Chris and I succeed in lifting one old log out of the trail tread. And we see our first people since Day 1.
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Epilogue:
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Making the car, we throw in our gear and are on our way home. As we pass the Fourth of July Road, with its trail head sign, Susan asks, “What do you think about the White Clouds”. One door closes, another opens.
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Happy off trails!
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Disclaimers and stuff:
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Maps show approximate routes, are not exact, and are provided to illustrate the narrative. They are not intended to be navigation tools. PM me if you want/need greater accuracy.
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SNRA fire regs require use of a fire pan or blanket at all times when/where campfires are permitted. We did not do so and received a warning from a back country ranger. Arguably the language of their fire regs, which I read before and after our trip, is unclear on this point for ‘out of season’ fires (after Labor Day). I also question the LNT lets-dig-mineral-soil-for-our-fire-blanket policy as the best land management policy. That said, LNT fire protocol is the official policy of the Sawtooths which the ranger is charged to uphold—to mix metaphors, when you find yourself in a hole, best to stop digging—unless you need mineral soil!!

Edited 5/25 to correct spelling, correct links to three photos, add hole digging joke at end.
Last edited by Eiprahs on Mon May 25, 2015 7:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby rlown » Sun May 24, 2015 11:46 am

A wonderful report! :thumbsup:

I think the lawn chairs were amazingly perfect. What do they weigh? can't be enough to care, but I liked them.

Love the kitchen rock shot as well. I like all kitchen rock shots.. :)
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Re: Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby Eiprahs » Sun May 24, 2015 4:44 pm

Yes, we love those lawn chairs. We try all the back packer chairs at REI and we just don't find them as comfortable. The classic aluminum lawn chairs run about 4 lbs each, but you can get em lighter. Chris has one that is 2.5 lbs and reclines, but he left it home and took my clunker classic.

The one draw back is that webbing has no insulating value, which gets kinda important on those nippy evenings. My sleeping pad just fits my chair perfect, making it padded, insulated, and bug bite proof.

It was a great trip and I started planning a new trip this week! I'm glad you enjoyed the report.


Photo: Susan bogarting my chair, pad, and using her pad for extra insulation one bitter cold morning.

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Re: Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby maverick » Mon May 25, 2015 2:20 pm

Thank you for another great TR. Love the peaks behind Ingeborg Lake, reminds me of Cathedral Peak. The shot from point 9918 looks spectacular, and love the shot of the fox too.
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: Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby cefire » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:31 pm

Nice!

"My companions edge away" - classic :D
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Re: Sawtooths 2014 Backdoor to Paradise; Year of the Fox

Postby gary c. » Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:52 pm

Beautiful pictures and report. :thumbsup:
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray
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