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The Sawtooths

David and Brad grew up in Idaho, home of the Sawtooth mountain range. So in 1999 we decided to venture up north to the great land of the “pointy peaks”.

We left on our usual Monday departure for Idaho. It was a long drive of maybe 8 hours or so on I-15 up through the valley with the Wasatch off to the east. Then we headed west on I-84 towards Twin Falls, ID and then north on route 75 on to our destination near Stanley, Idaho. We would make our way to a small campground near Stanley called Iron Creek campground which would be our trail head the next day.

On Tuesday we began our hike on a cloudy and drizzly morning. The rain was not a huge problem and eventually gave way to some sun and clouds as we made our way along a winding trail towards Goat Falls. The climb was not too bad and the trail was in the shade of a nice pine forest…all in all, a very nice walk. But then we got to the falls itself. The trail became very steep and not as much of a trail. In fact, it was more of a large vertical sandbox. Two steps forward, one step back. And the falls were in the direct sun. With increasing sand in my shoes, I remember being hot and wondering when the climb would be over. After maybe 800 feet of vertical we finally got to the top of Goat Falls. We stopped for a little lunch and a nice cool washing of our feet in the 35° water. It felt good to get all that sand and sweat out of our boots.

Goat Falls drained out of, aptly named, Goat Lake which is what we began hiking around after lunch. There were many trail options for getting around the lake including a high road which was fairly high up the shoreline and included a lot of up and down, and a low road with flatter terrain but a soggy/muddy footing. I chose the low road and slopped along working my way around rocks and boulders on the shore.

After about 45 minutes or so we got to the far end of Goat Lake and had a considerable discussion about whether to camp or continue on up to the next lake. There was a good campsite and plenty of water where we were. But (as usual) some of our group, ahem, David, ahem, Hansen, ahem, wanted to make better progress and get to the higher lake for a longer, more accomplished day. After all, it was only around 2pm or so. But the weather was the bigger concern as the sun had gone and clouds were looking like rain. And setting up camp in the rain is a drag, so we decided to stay put for the night.

We cooked dinner early and I believe shared in a delicacy of Jamaican BBQ and maybe some Thai Chicken Brad picked up from a surplus shop in Salt Lake. Not a bad way to spend the first evening in the back country.

The next day we woke to a fairly clear morning. We broke camp and hiked up a steep rocky face up to a snowfield which was a fun slogg up to the next higher lake. The views back towards Stanley and Redfish lake were beautiful. At the end of the snowfield was a small very blue lake lined with a large snowfield at the far side. It had a nice mirror reflection of the peaks ahead. We hiked to an area above the snow and had lunch. Dave Crockett’s sons (Kevin? names?) had fun trying to kick a large chunk of snow into the lake. All the while we kept thinking, if they slip, they will fall 20 feet into the 32.5° lake and have no way out. Stupid game. Thankfully it did not end in disaster.

After lunch we hiked up a bit further over the next head wall and found our campsite near a small lake/pond and stream flowing off of the snowfields above. This camp would ended up being our base camp for the next two days as our planned loop trip around Sawtooth Lake would prove impossible given the terrain.

Once at camp we enjoyed a nice afternoon with warm sun broken up by some clouds which became more numerous as the afternoon wore on. The boys played on a nearby snowbank, glacading down repeatedly. Endless energy. The group decided to do a quick day hike up to the highest point they could see….and since trees were growing on the side of the hill leading up to that point, well, as the Hansen Theory** goes, it was climbable! I decided to stay back and rest as the weather also looked like it was changing for the worse. 4pm thunderstorms were in our future.

** Note: Hansen Theory has been proven scientifically ludicrous on many occasions. It is more of an incorrect hypothesis.

Sure enough, the storms blew in on schedule as the group was climbing up the side of the hill. They must have had a fun time of it, but they seemed to make good progress and the storm was short. They screamed at me from the top 30 minutes later. I think they wanted me to take their picture with my 24mm lens…I resisted. When they returned they said the view was incredible. I would have to wait to the next day to enjoy it myself.

We had a nice dinner and enjoyed a peaceful evening. After crawling into our tents, the famous “Name three stupid people” game commenced. [need to remember some of the questions and answers]

The next day we climbed up the snowfield at the end of our little canyon and up to the pass above. The weather was looking nasty around noon but we continued on. Once we got to the top, the storms blew in. Fog, lightning, sleet, and rain came down in a fearful manner. It is impressive to be on top of a 10,000 or so foot peak in that kind of storm. I was hunkered down about 100 feet from the exposed summit next to a rock…but others were in much more exposed places as you can see from the pictures.

As the storms passed, the views were incredible. With the clouds hanging on the peaks and blue sky above, I clicked off a few roles of film. It was impressive to see the weather being made by the mountains all around us…and in some cases be in the weather. But eventually it all passed and we were left with a sunny day.

After realizing that our goal of a through/loop hike was dashed by the rugged terrain and lack of a trail, we returned to base camp. The return trip was fast and fun….sliding down a very steep snowfield. When we got back some of us bathed in the ooooh soooo cold water.

The next day we would hike out in the rain once again and realize that we got fairly lucky with the weather for this time of year. After all it could have been a total wash-out.

Once back to the trail head at Iron Creek, we decided to drive up to an old gold dredge on the Yankee Fork River as we had some extra time to kill before returning back to Salt Lake. The dredge is a must see for anyone up that way. It is huge and the devastation it brought to the environment in that river valley is not to be missed….all for some gold. The tour is a lot of fun, given by friendly and funny guides. They give you all kinds of staggering numbers about the dredging operation and it really impresses you how much trouble these guys went to to harvest the gold in this valley.

After the gold dredge we drove to a small town [where?] and found Cafe.com which back in 1999 was a very unusual find especially for the middle of no where. We checked our email and got a nice meal as I recall. No wifi back then, but terminals were available for use. Not bad!

Next stop was Craters of the Moon National Monument. This whole area in Idaho has a very long history of geologic turmoil. The land is dotted with old cinder cones. And this park is no different with has a lot of cool stuff to see including large lava flows of various types and even a lava flow cave that you can go in and explore – bring a flashlight!

After exploring the volcanic park, we made our way back to Salt Lake concluding one of our most memorable adventures.

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