|Backpack||30.70 Miles||6 Days |
|9,820 ft AEG|
||no linked trail guides|
|This trip took a lot of prep. You could say it had a year and half of prep since we had the Sawtooths planned for last summer. But we found out Noel needed to donate her thyroid to science so things got interrupted. Before returning to the planning, I had forgotten how much we had already plotted out.
Noel secured us some cheap plane tickets, car rental, and researched lightweight food options. This was personally our most-days-out trip. She got food down to 1 lb/day/person. I left my First Need water purifier home in favor of Katadyn Micropur tablets (we worked out a system with me carrying the Camelpak and her with a Nalgene). And I left my big boy tripod at home after making a lightweight mount system.
Subtracting water and our 6lbs of food each, we were at 24lbs each. I call this budget lightweight...
Fly into Idaho Falls and finally get someone to turn the carousel on for checked bags.
Grab some stove fuel at Idaho Mountain Trading Co and some fast food.
Drive the rental the 3.5hrs to Redfish Lake Lodge.
Put on rain gear (didn't need it long) and take the boat shuttle across the lake (saves 5 boring miles, costs $17/person RT - on demand with 2 or more people) to the Redfish inlet trailhead.
We begin our hike at 5:10pm and leave the main trail around 6:45.
After log crossing the creek, we go into route finding mode, mostly staying along the east cliff bottom. This whole part is steep and sometimes we know we are on a trail while other times we are playing it by ear. We finally reach the first Saddleback lake and pick out our camp right at sundown, 8:54pm. We only saw one other person up there, who happened to be our friendly shuttle-boat co-passenger. Happy to have made it before it got too dark, we went about setting up a camp and taking some photos.
It was just too pretty up there to get going early. Another day up here would have been awesome. I woke with the sun and hiked around the lake to the upper Saddleback where I was treated to some otter-play, on and around the logs at the outlet. I thought they were all 3 the same age but once they finally spotted me, it was clear that one was mom. She kept snorting at me while the 2 others (equal to her in size) kept trying to climb and ride on her back which made it hard for her to stay a float to keep an eye on me as they slowly retreated. I started back to camp and found Noel awake and moving. We took our time and started down at 11am.
We took a better way down that had also been used before. It wasn't less steep, just a little easier to follow and closer to the creek cascades. It took a half hour less on the way down, and once we crossed the creek on an amalgamation of log jams, we continued back on the real trail up to Alpine lake.
My original plan was to get to Alpine and then continue over and down to Baron Lake for camp. I had heard Alpine can get a lot of traffic (even equine) and wanted to keep solitude on the trip at a max. The con to this plan was of course extra mileage and then the next day we'd just have to hike back over towards Alpine again for our off trail ascent (for giggles, you could also off trail ascend the pass from the Baron side with some creative route-finding in the boulders). Alpine was big and quiet, we were tired, and I could see the pass we'd have to conquer tomorrow, so we found an awesome camp on the south side, hung up the hammock and took the rest of the day, from 2:50 on, as leisure. After the 6 day hikers left, there was only a small family across the lake, and a small group on the far NW side camping. You could barely see them when they came down to the water and they were too far to hear and too far to distinguish what was swimsuit and what was skin.
This is the day that I almost pumpkined up. Because this lake was on-trail and popular, the chipmunks knew people=food, and they were quite relentless. Finally tired of their bravery, I tossed a rock at one. I missed of course, but I did hit my only pot (of the titanium variety). Shouldn't be a big deal... oh, crap. I had dented the mess out of the thing. The lip forever caved in and cracked and other areas all dented up. Low and behold though, the lower damage spots somehow did not go all the way through so she'd still hold and boil. Point one, chipmunks.
Shortly after dinner and sundown, a powerful rain came through and we fell asleep to it.
At 9:30 we started hiking up the couple switchbacks to where we left the trail for good.
This was the first part of the trip that really felt off trail. Every once in a while you could make out a game path but not much else, then you'd get into the boulders and just keep plodding upward with a point picked out on the horizon. When we started nearing the ridge, we saw three guys coming down. We finally met up and they were surprised at our plan. His biggest qualm was regarding the boulder field down from Blue Lake. It seemed like he didn't even think we'd make it past that because there was no mention of the final climb out, just that horrible rock garden.
Well we finished the ascent to the ridge and now we were staring at the "climbers trail" up around the peak and over to the true saddle. It was intense and I honestly needed a moment. Once we were on it and moving, it was ok and the scree stayed mostly put. There was an amazing view behind us down to the Baron Lakes (dubbed the butt cheek lakes). We made it to the saddle and the amazing views doubled. Of course we were now looking down a mostly dirt slope to the Warbonnet Lakes. I wouldn't wish this down-climb on my worst enemy without hiking poles. There were a few tiny switchbacks to help the 800' slide down. We made it dustily down between the two lakes and had lunch and soaked our feet (1:30pm).
We talked about the plan next. Now that we were on the other side, we could play it all by ear. I had read that people used Blue Rock Lake as a base camp especially when just one-nighting it over here, but I wanted two nights for more sightseeing. We took our time and hung out a bit around the Feather Lakes, then hiked up and looked down into the Bead Lakes. I had thought on paper they may make a good camp (climbers will camp there), but ultimately, that second Feather was a beaut and we were leaning towards camping there. Somewhere around our return to them, we met the only two people we'd meet on this side of the cirque and they were thoroughly surprised to have seen anyone at all. We talked a little bit and they were definitely headed to camp at Blue Lake. They were good people and a good meet. He wasn't sure about my idea for the way out. He had been to the beautiful lake (his favorite) on the other side, just not from this way, and had heard that it was super tough. My plan to just hike down the mountain once at that lake to rejoin the main trail instead of heading up, down, up, down back to Alpine was too much for him too. Idahoians seem to like off-trail and ridge climbing, but not boulders and bushwacking. I think the latter is what Arizona mostly is, with a some cacti and snake sprinkled in. Anyway, Feather Lake #2 won out unanimously for our camp at 4:50pm. There were a lot of trout here. One red striped beauty in particular just hung out at camp all evening and morning after we fed it a few oats.
9:15am we began to head further down. At first we went up high where it looked like our friends had descended. That caused a little backtrack back to the drainage and following the creek ended up being the best choice prettiness and footing-wise. We met our friends again at their camp on Blue. We talked some more about routes and such then continued on.
From here, we had to hoof it just about straight up the hill that separated Blue Rock from the Goat Creek Drainage. The up had plenty of footholds but the side down was another dirt ski (Noel's least favorite) to the dreaded boulder field. Honestly, the rocks just felt like a day in Fish Creek and weren't that bad. The distance from the hill down to McWillards Lakes did look intimidating to me though.
It started sprinkling as we went past McWillards but stopped once we got to Oreamnos. Online photos had told me this was a pretty lake and it was. There's plenty of places to tent down too. We considered it but I thought it may be nice to finish the day with Packrat Lake so that our biggest obstacle of the trip would be ready to start fresh in the morning. That stretch between lakes is superb. The creek even widens, fields run alongside it and there are a lot of wildflowers. Packrat is beautiful too. We chose the east side to line up with our next day but I think you could start on either side. There's pretty much only one spot on the east side for camping though (not that you'll see anyone here).
From camp, we could see the mountain ridge above and the small green ramp we'd be shooting for tomorrow. It was 3:45 when we set up the tent hurriedly in lieu of the dark storm clouds converging in every direction. I think we had 2hrs of on/off rain. We napped, noted, and played cards to the pitter patter. It was always crazy to think we had until 9pm until the sun finally went away.
All clear, let's do this! 9:45 moving.
I liked the route on the east side of the lake. Pretty much you're hiking up steps in a lightly flowing wildflower covered drainage until you get to the meadow above. Then it's your choice on how you want to broach the boulder field up. I was able to find online 2 rough routes that had been taken over the pass before (best guess is that it gets a handful of people a year). I like the one we did as much as I can. We did in fact shoot for the green ramp as seen from below. The mountain goats seem to like this route too. This was the, remember-we've-got-all-day-talk hike.
However you find purchase, just keep doing it. Sometimes the scree took 3 steps to move a 1/4 step. Sometimes the poles helped. At least twice I went to my hands and literally dug my way up. Rocks that stayed still were a blessing but a rarity. I was able to make it alongside a side ledge towards the top where my left had could use it to pull while I used my collapsed hiking pole in my right to dig. Then that awesome ledge turned into pullaway rock and I was left with nothing stable so I made a quick jump to where bushes had finally started growing. Noel fell and slid once but there was nothing I could do for her but I knew she wouldn't slide far. Our centers of gravity very different, she figured out how to take her own path to meet back up with me. We used the now growing bushes and trees to finish our ascent and caught our breath and snacked like we meant it at the top. It was a little after 12 noon.
Annd the down climb is a lot of boulders and some snow. It looked straight forward enough so I stopped incessantly looking at the GPS. From up here, we could not only see our next lake, but even the boat ride lake. So down we go, avoid the snow, hoppity hop hop, etc, and now we're hiking another awesome creek with flowers along it. Sweet! And now the lake is coming into sight and that must be the island and wait this can't be an island, and oh, we're at the wrong lake. We somehow skipped Lake Kathryn and are now standing between the Upper Redfish Lakes which we aren't supposed to see until tomorrow (I blame being spoiled on Route Scout and trying to remember how to use my old Garmin instead [battery life]). More snacks, and definitely a feet dip. Wow this is still a really nice lake. Noel reminds me that the only two people we passed said Kathryn was THE pumpkin. After affirming she was sure she was up for it, I decided to take us my Option 2 way to Kathryn since we had essentially already done Option 1. It is the quicker option with less elevation but more route finding but I recommend it. Towards the end (beginning?) you get to do the creek/wildflower thing again up to Kathryn's outlet. We picked our exceptional camp spot at about 4pm and got in the water. Kathryn looks to be a super deep lake. You get a ledge to stand on and then only deep blue darkness.
At supper time I got everything out and thus occurred my 2nd pumpkin-up of the trip. I always bring two sources of fire. A crappy lighter and waterproof matches. I was really trying to be weight-cutful on this trip so I went with matches only. The matches were totes fine - the box striker was done for. The roughness wasn't enough to start the matches. I ripped holes in that thing trying, then prayed a match to light and we went on about cooking, knowing they few matches left and shredded box wasn't going to get us hot coffee in the morning.
Sweet fancy downhill! 8:30ish start time. Cold coffee is my jam anyway.
Down the drainage and back around the hill, then over towards a track I had saved from some other numbskull downhillers online. They had made a diagonal down the mountain to Redfish Lake Creek. We took it with a grain of salt and picked the paths of least resistance. Unless I'm missing something on the topo, you really just could hike alongside the Upper Redfish Lake outlet. The topo lines are pretty far apart and that was the nicest looking part on the way down. We actually hiked along the next creek just north (not on map) for a good deal of the time. Picture if Flagstaff was on a slant and there were no people, and there was rushing water sounds everywhere. That was the extent of most of the bushwacking. It was cake. We crossed the creek (10:45) and chilled on a log over the water then continued. This next part was not cake. The west side of the creek up to the main trail is a true bushwack and it's also very moist. It took a while to do this, but much of it had to do with morale, knowing the main trail had to be close, I was told there was no more uphill, etc. I'd still do it all this way- maybe shoot more north along the creek first to get out of all the bogginess and downfall?
Anyway, hey a real trail (11:15)! So we're back on the official Craters of the Moon Trail and now it's just sailing back down (5mi left of the 7.5mi) all the way to the boat shuttle. We made it to the dock around 2pm and were able to fit on the next boat (you have to pretell them a time for insurance purposes and we guessed 3pm). We made it back to the lodge (and the 100's of people trying so hard to pretend they are at a California beach) and had a burger because it was there. We chose not to stay there shell-shocked long and hurried back the .5mi to the free backpackers' parking lot to our rental and drove a different way back to Idaho Falls. Noel had planned it where we would have an little over-garage Air BbB to stay at to recuperate the next two nights before flying home. It was a good plan.
If for some reason you should want to attempt this route, please reach out and speak to me for more information. I think these are the kind of routes people hesitate to post up because they are remote, can change each season, and heck sometimes there is just a better way once you are on the ground.
Deet - Not optional. Noel decided to be organic for a minute on this trip by bringing her fancy natural stuff. It will not do a thing. Because of the horror stories I read online, I brought the Repel 100 - 98.11% Deet, 4 fl oz, and between the two of us we used all but a few drops. This will not be a fun trip without it. I would probably have turned around.
Trekking poles - I would not have been able to do this route without them. Bring the rubber tips too since you'll be on rock a good few times. Look at the map and how the topo lines really want to love on each other- They're practically all piled up there in at least two places. How else do you think you're going to dirt and scree ski down those things?
I drank from a few of the creeks and a spring. You could probably do this the whole time...
Temps were not as cold as expected. I expected a 80/35 split. Even at 12am, it was probably over 50. It wasn't even cold (per se) in the morning. The only time I added a shell was once when a storm was sitting over and it was windy and wet out.
Wildlife: Chipmunks ruthless at Alpine. Just regular munks everywhere else. Almost no bear skat. Saw plenty of tracks but just one deer. Saw tons of mountain goat evidence including tracks, skat, and trails, but sadly no sightings.
Trout are everywhere. Recommend: Feather, Oreamnos, Packrat and Upper Redfish.
One camera battery made it.
2 AA's made it in the GPS even though I brought 3 extra sets.
Noel requests some little box wines or beer. I want those little root beer packets.
I did, and didn't miss fires. There are a lot of spots that you just plain can't have one and others you must use a fire blanket/container. It wasn't worth it figuring out all the specifics and bringing extra materials. Sunrise is at 6:30 and sunset is at 9, and it's not cold enough.
You can definitely do this trip in less time. There is plenty of daylight to keep moving. We're just not those people. More leisure time would have actually been welcomed.
I have to believe the Sawtooths is one of those areas where if someone came across you naked, they'd be like, "I get it," and just move on.
As soon as you cross over into Warbonnet, an overwhelming urge to have rented a sat phone/location device washes over you.
Do hike up to Saddleback and Alpine during the weekdays for fewer people.
Add Three Lake or Cramer Lakes in for easy additions.
There were a good deal of people (25?) coming in on Sunday heading towards Alpine including climbers, fishers, and campers. People will ask you as you are coming out, and they are heading in, where you are coming from. Definitely list all 19 lakes in a row really fast so they look at you in awe and let you continue on your way. Pregrow your hair and beard for added effect.
|May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;|
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
Armchair Crisis Design