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dougwalsh64
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dougwalsh64
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PostSun Oct 27, 2019 7:15 pm 
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After having moved to Idaho a year and a half ago, I finally found some time to explore one of the state’s finest areas – the Sawtooths. My friend Scott, who finished climbing Washington state’s 100 highest peaks with in 2017, and Eric, who I’d walked the continental divide trail with in 2005, agreed to join me for the trip.

Now being what you might call connoisseurs of wild places, we put together a north to south high route traverse of the range that was 90% off trail. Since all three of us have walked many an off-trail high route in our days, we were well prepared for whatever the Sawtooths would throw at us.

A few things to note for any adventurers who might follow in our footsteps:

1. The elevation in the range is fairly moderate, with the highest peak reaching 10,751 ft. Most of this route was between 8,000 and 10,000 ft in elevation.

2. The range is granite, which means that is holds water well. This fact results in plenty of lakes, and also mosquitoes. I had originally planned on taking a floorless tent without mosquito netting, but changed my mind last minute after a conversation with a local. That was a good move – mosquitoes were not peak on this mid-August trip, but they were still noticeable/annoying in several places.

3. Given the moderate elevation, the range does not hold much snow by August. I have not needed any kind of water treatment on trips to the higher ranges due to the accessibility of snow melt.  The sawtooths were a different story, however. Were it not for being able to borrow Scott’s filter, I would have had to drink lake water frequently. As it was, I had to do so a few times when Scott was not around.

4. The most alpine and scenic part of the trip is upper Goat Lake drainage in my opinion, which we passed through on days 1 and 2. If you want to save the best for last, you might want to do this trip south to north, which is the opposite of what we did.

5. This route is surprisingly rugged. Also, do not underestimate the route-finding challenges. The danger of getting lost is not high, but the danger of getting cliffed out in places can be (e.g., around blue lake). Much talus and scree, some unstable moraine, steep passes.

6. The route drawn on the map was my pre-trip route. We deviated slightly from what is drawn often as conditions warranted. So don’t take route drawn as gospel. Follow your instincts.

Enough said, on with the trip report.

Route: Sawtooth High Route

Trip Beginning
Trip Beginning

Day 1: We left Iron Creek Trailhead around 11am on Sunday August 18th. The first few miles of the route were on trail. We diverged off the main trail after a few miles walking to take the steep Goat Lake Trail (more like a climbers trail) up to Goat Lake. Once at Goat Lake, we left trails behind and worked our way up into the drainage above Goat Lake to a camp at one of the little lakelets in the upper drainage.

First Tarn in Goat Lake Drainage
First Tarn in Goat Lake Drainage

We went for a few minutes walk above our camp after dinner to explore and were treated to gorgeous views as the drainage opened up.

Goat Lake Drainage Beauty
Goat Lake Drainage Beauty

In retrospect, this basin turned out to be my favorite place on the whole route. We spent some time scanning the headwall ahead to plan our route for the following morning before heading back down to camp. Short day to settle in and acclimatize a bit.

Day 2: We headed up the drainage and climbed the headwall.

Climbing to Upper Goat Lake Drainage
Climbing to Upper Goat Lake Drainage
Upper Goat Lake Drainage
Upper Goat Lake Drainage

At the top, Scott and I did a little side trip to climb Thompson Peak (the highest in the range at 10,751 ft). The climb was easy, with just some short class 3 near the top, and the views were spectacular.

Scott on Summit
Scott on Summit

From there, we worked our way over to the pass between Mickey’s Spire and Mount Carter, and descended into the drainage below.

South from Pass Below Mt. Carter
South from Pass Below Mt. Carter

The route up to the ridgeline to the south was steep and full of scree – not super fun. From there, the view south made us understand why these mountains are called the Sawtooths.

Coming Down off of Schwartz Pinnacle Pass
Coming Down off of Schwartz Pinnacle Pass

Wow! We descended into a beautiful little basin with some gorgeous lakes. A descent into Fishhook creek, followed by a climb to a pass, and another descent into Braxon Lake drainage. From there, we followed the drainage down to connect with the trail near Barron Lakes. We heard great things about Barron Lakes, but they turned out to be a disappointment in the sense there were tons of people camped at Upper Barron Lake. We weren’t psyched about suburbia in the wilderness, so we pushed on over the pass to the lakelets above Alpine Lake for a camp, which we had all to ourselves.

Day 3: We found what appeared to be a climber’s trail heading up to a pass north of Old Monte Verita. We lost and found the trail off and on as we headed up. Just below the pass, the trail became more distinct and easy to follow as we wrapped around Old Monte Verita.

Traverse Around Old Monte Verita Peak
Traverse Around Old Monte Verita Peak

The route into the Warbonnet Lake drainage was steep and hard packed. There was a climbers trail down, which I was glad about, as the slope was steep enough to be dangerous (given the hard pack condition of the ground) without a trail.

Descending above Warbonnet Lake
Descending above Warbonnet Lake

Once down in the drainage, it was easy going until we had to wrap around to Blue Lake. The route down to blue lake and beyond is too complicated to describe. Much possibility to be cliffed out. Just use your intuition and follow the best route you can discern. Our route stayed north of Blue lakes inlet (the route drawn on map not representative of what we did), and it worked out well. There was some kind of traveled route that stayed right next to creek that we did not try. Beyond Blue Lake, the route drawn on map is indicative of what we did, and it worked out well.

Traversing Just Past Blue Rock Lake
Traversing Just Past Blue Rock Lake

We wrapped around into the Goat creek drainage and walked past gorgeous Limber Lake.

Packrat Lake (AKA Limber Lake)
Packrat Lake (AKA Limber Lake)

Above Limber Lake, we headed up to a pass near Reward Peak on steep scree. Not fun. Once at the pass, Scott and I climbed Reward, while Eric went down to Lake Kathryn to find a camp.

Looking North from Reward Peak
Looking North from Reward Peak

Lake Kathryn camp was really beautiful. Maybe my favorite camp of the trip.

Lake Kathryn Camp
Lake Kathryn Camp

Day 4: We headed south of Lake Kathryn into unpleasant moraine below Elk Peak – really big unstable boulders.

Moraine Near Elk Peak
Moraine Near Elk Peak

Fortunately, it did not last too long before we descended into Upper Redfish Lake Creek. Looking back down this drainage was very scenic as we climbed to a pleasant pass.

Approaching Pass at Head of Redfish Lake Creek
Approaching Pass at Head of Redfish Lake Creek

From this pass, we descended down into a scenic basin dotted with lakes as we worked our way down slowly to trail south of Hidden Lake. Once on trail, we strolled south past very scenic lakes before dropping into Ten Lakes Basin for a camp.

Day 5: We could have easily finished the trip on this day, but wanted to linger a bit, so we did a very short day. We headed south out of camp over the easy pass into a lake basin where the lakes had all dried up – global warming. We continued past Heart Lake up to a very rocky pass below Snowyside Peak and down to a scenic camp at the highest lake in Alpine Creek drainage.

Highest Lake Below Snowyside Peak
Highest Lake Below Snowyside Peak

Eric and I were in the mood to be lazy, so we relaxed as Scott went and climbed Snowyside Peak. The pictures he took were spectacular, and in retrospect I wish I would have joined him.

Day 6: We diverged from the route drawn on the map, as we found a climber’s trail down Alpine Creek that connected up with the trail out Alturas Lake where our car was waiting for us.

All in all, this was a great trip, albeit very rugged and aerobic. Lots of up and down, and a lot of scree and talus to deal with. The Sawtooths remind me a lot of the Sierra’s, although the basins are not quite as big and the views not as expansive. Still, I would put this trip as a must do for any high-route aficionado. This range is well named, beautiful, quite unique, and if our experience was any indication, you will likely have the off-trail areas to yourself.
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RichP
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PostSun Oct 27, 2019 7:22 pm 
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Jeff
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PostSun Oct 27, 2019 7:26 pm 
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That looks like a great trip. Thanks for sharing!
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cascadetraverser
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PostMon Oct 28, 2019 8:47 am 
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That is very cool....I always wanted to go over there.  When did you go?
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dougwalsh64
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PostMon Oct 28, 2019 9:29 am 
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Just 2 months ago.
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Felpudo
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PostTue Nov 05, 2019 2:59 pm 
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Awesome!
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