Sawtooth Traverse
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Kevin Garrison
(kgarrison) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area
Sawtooth Traverse on 08/27/2013 15:35:28 MDT Print View

This is a trip report for a recent trip that I took with my son thru the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. I call this a Sobo Traverse as the trip started at the Iron Creek Trailhead, near Stanley, Idaho, and ended at the Alpine Creek Trailhead near Alturas Lake. I estimate our route to be roughly 55 miles.

Our plan was to do the trip over 4 days with planned stops near Baron Lake, Edna Lake, and the Flytrip basin. My son had other ideas, however, and we finished in roughly 2.5 days.

Our trip started at the Iron Creek trailhead (6710 ft), which is approximately 6.5 miles from Stanley, Idaho. The trailhead can be accessed by taking Highway 21 west from Stanley for 1.5 miles and then turning left onto Iron Creek road. Iron Creek is unpaved but well maintained. The trailhead itself is a busy place as it is popular with both day hikers and trail runners making the pilgrimage to Sawtooth Lake, one of Idaho’s most photograghed sites.

We hit the trail around 10am and settled into a nice pace. The hike up to Sawtooth Lake starts off with a gentle incline for the first couple of miles and then steadily increases in elevation. The trial passes Alpine Lake shortly before reaching Sawtooth Lake (8430 ft). Traffic along this stretch of trail was fairly busy as we saw 4-5 groups of hikers.

Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake on the way to Sawtooth Lake

Sawtooth Lake
Sawtooth Lake

After reaching Sawtooth, we turned south and followed the trial towards Mt. Regan and the North Fork of Baron Creek.

Mt. Regan from Sawtooth Lake
Mt. Regan from Sawtooth Lake

This segment of the trip is roughly 7.5 miles and follows a lightly used, and very overgrown path along the NF of Baron Creek. The hike down into the drainage was very beautiful with incredible views of Baron Peak to the south and Grandjean Peak to the west. We saw no other hikers on this section of the trail and found out later that it is rarely used.

Cross NF Baron Creek
Crossing the North Fork of Baron Creek

NF Baron Trail
Looking towards the west from the Trail alongside the North Fork of Baron Creek

After reaching the Grandjean trail junction (~5670), we turned south once again, and headed 7 miles up the Baron Creek drainage towards Baron Creek Falls and Baron Lake.

Baron Creek Falls
Baron Creek Falls

Our plan was to find a nice camping spot somewhere along this section of trial. Unfortunately, we only saw one site, which was already occupied. Access to the creek was also extremely limited for the initial 4-5 miles due to heavy under-brush. As a result, we continued on until reaching Baron Lake around 6pm for a total of 19.5 miles, 4400 ft of elevation gain and 2800 ft of elevation loss.

Baron Lake is a spectacular spot in the Sawtooth Mountains. It sits at an elevation of 8312 ft and is surrounded by Warbonnet Peak (10,210 ft) to the west and the Monte Verita ridge to the south. We found a beautiful campsite on the north side of the lake where we dropped our packs and enjoyed the view.

Baron Lake
Baron Lake

Our plan for day 2 was to reach Edna Lake via the Cramer Divide. We got an early start following the path along Baron Lake, up a few hundred feet of elevation to Upper Baron Lake and then up another 500 ft of switchbacks to the Baron Divide (~9150 ft). The view from the Baron Divide was beautiful in the early morning where we could see Redfish Lake to the east, the Cramer Lake basin to the south, Warbonnet Peak to the west, and the Baron Lakes basin to the North.

Upper Baron Lake
Upper Baron Lake

Upper Baron from Divide
Upper Baron Lake as seen from the Baron Divide

Cramer Lakes Basin from Baron Divide
Cramer Lakes Basin as seen from the Baron Divide

We followed the trail down, past Alpine Lake, until we reached Redfish Lake Creek and the water crossing at Flatrock Junction (~7400 ft). The water level was ankle deep. From here, the trail led us uphill towards the Cramer Lakes basin. The Cramer Lakes are another beautiful spot in the Sawtooth Mountains. The waterfall between the Upper and Middle Cramer Lakes was particularly picturesque. We saw a couple of groups on this section of the trail and also spotted two more groups camped at various spots along the trail.

Middle Cramer Lake
Middle Cramer Lake

Cramer Lake Falls
Waterfall between Upper and Middle Cramer Lakes

After a brief lunch at Upper Cramer Lake, we started making our way up to the Cramer Divide (9500 ft). The trail in this section consists of a series of switchbacks through large fields of talus. The view from the top of the Cramer Divide was again spectacular with the Cramer Lake basin to the northeast and Hidden Lake to the south. We met a large group at the top of the divide who were out for an extended trip through the Sawtooths. It’s great to see young people getting exposed to the outdoors.

Upper Cramer Lake
Upper Cramer Lake

North View from Cramer Divide
Cramer Lakes Basin as seen from the Cramer Divide

West View from Cramer Divide
Looking east from the Cramer Divide

Cramer Divide SE
Looking west from the Cramer Divide

The trail now led us down past Hidden Lake, to the South Fork of the Payette River, and ultimately to Edna Lake (8404 ft).

Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake

It was still early in the afternoon so we decided to keep going. We were unsure how far we could make it but we decided to head toward Ardeth Lake (8228 ft) which can be accessed via a small pass near Summit Lake (8866 ft). The group that we met on the Cramer Divide had recommended Summit Lake as an excellent camp site and they were correct. It was beautiful and had a number of great levels spots. Once again, we decided to keep going.

Edna Lake
Edna Lake

Summit Lake
Summit Lake

Upon reaching Ardeth Lake we were unable to find a suitable camp site and the bugs starting to make themselves known. As such, we decided to head on to Spangle Lake. To reach it, however, we would have to climb yet another small pass (8952 ft) and then descend to Spangle Lake (8585 ft). We reached Spangle around 6pm. It was a long day, travelling more than 20 miles over multiple mountain passes.

The plan for our final day was a cross country adventure over a high mountain saddle connecting the Flytrip Creek basin with the Upper Alpine Creek basin. To get there, we followed the trail alongside the Middle Fork of the Boise River until we reached the junction with the unmaintained Flytrip Creek trail (~7520ft).

Trail from Spangle
Trail alongside the Middle Fork of the Boise River

Ridgeline View towards Flytrip
View from the trail leading to Flytrip Creek

The junction itself, was easy to find. The Flytrip Creek trail, however, was definitely not maintained and required considerable rerouting as we crossed numerous down trees along the way. We followed the trail up and into the basin until it ended near Camp Lake (~8510 ft).

Camp Lake
Camp Lake in the Flytrip Creek Basin

We then turned east toward the saddle (~9540) connecting Snowyside Peak (10651 ft) and an unnamed peak (~9900 ft) to the southwest. This portion of the route was cross-country but was fairly easy as we tried to follow the natural contour as much as possible.

Heart Lake Flytrip Basin
Heart Lake in the Flytrip Creek Basin

The final 800 ft or so of elevation gain was a classic Class 2 talus scramble. The talus ranged from refrigerator size to small loose rock the further up the ridge. Overall, it was a fun change of pace from the trail walking that we had done the two previous days.

After reaching the saddle, we had incredible views of the Upper Alpine Creek basin to the south and the Flytrip Creek basin to the north. Knowing that we were probably the only two people in the area made it even more special.

Flytrip Basin from Snowypeak Divide
Flytrip Basin from the Snowyside Saddle

Snowypeak Divide South
Upper Alpine Creek Basin from Snowyside Saddle

The descent from the saddle into the Upper Alpine Creek basin and Lake 9167 was straightforward. The Upper basin is dotted with numerous small alpine lakes and surrounded with spectacular ridgelines on three sides.

Lake 9167
Lake 9167 in Upper Alpine Creek Basin

Route finding from Lake 9167 to Lake 8523, however, was less so, as there was no obvious path through the undulating terrain. We finally made it, however. Once beyond this point, we discovered a very lightly used path that paralleled a small creek down to Alpine Creek and the Alpine Creek trail. The final few miles of the trip were along the Alpine Creek which leads to the Alpine Creek Trailhead (7096 ft) and Alturas Lake about a mile further on.

Alpine Creek TH
Alpine Creek Trailhead


Overall, this was a wonderful trip. The Sawtooths contain scenery that rivals anything that I’ve seen in my many adventures throughout the Sierras. Highly recommended.

Edited by kgarrison on 08/27/2013 19:50:54 MDT.