Sawtooth Mountains Traverse, ID

Late August and time for my annual trip to Central Idaho. A week to visit my brother and sister in law and get in some fantastic hiking and backpacking. Saturday was taken up with the 10 1/2 hour drive to Sun Valley. On Sunday I hiked up to Pioneer Cabin at 9400' to begin getting used to the elevation. Even down in the valley at Sun Valley it is a few hundred feet higher than Denver.

Day 1
Monday morning I was off to the Sawtooths. It is only 49 miles to the trailhead at Pettit Lake. I arrived at 8:50 am to find only a few other cars. This trip would be a variation on my first visit in 2006. Starting at 6996' Pettit Lake and ending at Redfish Lake Lodge. The one way trip crosses three passes over 9250'. This time I was adding a fourth day and exploring a short cut to Ten Lakes Basin. I visited one end of the basin last year but it added a lot of miles and time. I hoped to turn 10 miles with 1200' of gain into just 1.25 miles round trip and see the other end of the basin.

The trip up to Alice Lake is one of my favorites in the area. The whole route is on horse trails and the grade is always gentle. There are six crossings of the main creek and only one has a bridge. My other visits were in mid and late September and the water level was low. With a snowy winter I expected much higher creek levels. The crossings were higher than I had seen but I managed them all with dry feet.

The walk along the side of Pettit Lake quickly turns to a steady climb up the valley. The lower trail is in forest. When it breaks out the granite peaks are visible everywhere above. This place has more granite than the whole Cascade Mountain area where I usually hike. The route crosses meadows and switchbacks up the valley wall. Along here I was passed by a group on horseback heading up to Alice Lake for the day.

Wildflowers began near the start and never really let up for the first three days. Most I recognized but there were a few unfamiliar ones too. Los of Indian paintbrush from end to end and asters everywhere. A little before Alice Lake is one of my favorite places. It's a big tarn or a small lake. Big peaks sit above in the distance. I have had to sit down and just marvel at the view on each visit.

It's not much farther to Alice Lake. El Capitan looms high over the 8600' lake. It's about 12 miles round trip with 1600' of gain and is a popular day hike. I was surprised to see half a dozen morning groups at the lake on a Monday. The crowd would thin out rapidly. I stopped to filter water and have lunch right on the shore. Suzanne and I camped here on a cold late September day in 2007. After climbing above 8200' before the lake I would not be back below it for three days. That's a big change when you live at 220' above sea level.

I enjoy visiting just after Labor Day as the crowds are gone, the bugs are dead, and the days are warm but not hot. That was not possible this year. I had bugs at each stop and highs in the 80s. I'm not much for heat but to get this kind of beauty heat and bugs are worth the price. After Alice Lake comes the climb to Snowyside Pass. The trail is again very gentle as it slowly climbs to the pass at 9350'. The heat and elevation kept me at a slow steady pace.

Near the top I met a hiker/runner who was doing the whole Alice Lake/Toxaway Lake loop. It's 18 miles around and I doubt many do it as a day hike. A little conversation and it turns out he once lived in Seattle just 3 miles from my house. It is a small world. There is still a little snow at the pass though not on the trail. I saw snow in a number of places but could always avoid it if I desired. A short climb above the pass brings some great views. Snowyside Peak is just above. The smaller peak on the other side of the pass is just over 10,000'. It was just too hot to contemplate any more climbing this day. Twin Lakes are just below and I could see tents on the shore. I had a nice long stay at the pass.

Finally I headed down the other side. Rock and scree gives way to meadows and then forest. There were creeks running that are dry by mid September. They were lined with blooming wildflowers. There are two small lakes in the valley. Beyond those the route drops to Toxaway Lake, my destination for day one. The creek in the valley cascades down big rock slabs in a number of places. Near the bottom the trail crosses right below a great falls.

The route levels off and soon reaches Toxaway Lake. It is a big lake, even by Sawtooth standards. I camped at a horsey spot before  but saw a much better occupied one nearby. This time I snagged it. I saw nobody from Snowyside Pass until late morning the next day. Bugs were bad and I used rain gear in camp. Fortunately, it cools off pretty quickly at 8350'. From my granite peninsula at the end of the lake I had a pretty good sunset and views out to the very white White Cloud Mountains.

I took a walk down the lake and turned in just before 9:00 pm. All the exercise must have done me some good as I slept all the way through the night. That's something I seldom do on the first night out. I brought a tarptent and summer sleeping bag and never was cold. Even at my 8866' camp on night two the low was only 42 degrees. On day one I hiked 12 miles with 2500' of gain.

Sawtooth Mountains
McDonald Peak
Up The Valley
Sawtooth Wilderness
Granite Walls
Granite Spires
Beautiful Day
Horses On Trail
Weed Or Flower
Climbing Higher
More Granite
Upper Basin
Down The Valley
First Tarn
Tarn Before Alice Lake
Peaks Behind Tarn
Alice Lake Shore
El Capitan
Crossing Talus Field
Snowyside Peak
Twin Lakes
Snowyside Pass
Two Lakes From Pass
Slab Waterfall
Toxaway Lake
Toxaway Campsite
Setting Sun Over Lake
Almost Dark
White Cloud Mountains
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Day 2

Trips - 2011