During our stay in the Tetons we felt a growing itch to get back on the road. We departed towards Stanley, Idaho in the Sawtooth mountain range with a two day three night back packing trip planned that we had found in one of our Backpacker magazines. The overall stats for the entire hike was nothing too overwhelming, 8000 ft elevation gain over 30 miles, however this would be assuming that the gain was spread out evenly over the entire length of the hike. Looking at an elevation profile of the first day it should have become instantly apparent that we had bitten off more than we could chew.
The hike began uneventful enough, winding through a forest of soft woods passing over streams running over due to the late snow melt. As the path turned up the slope of the mountain, paralleling a stream bed, we were passed by a pair of day hikers. Once the path turned across the grade we met up with the day hikers and shared in their rest. The couple was local to the area and gave us some suggestions as to how to waste a few more days if we wished to hang around the Stanley area after our hike. After we parted ways, it wasn’t long before the route departed from the trail. When we first read about the 3 day hike in the magazine, it described part of the trip as being partly off trail. This had originally made Jill a bit nervous; however knowing we would have the GPS in hand I convinced her it would be just fine. When we reached the point we were supposed to part with the trail we were face to face with a rocky crag of a summit with a difference of about 1,500 ft between us and the peak. I quickly looked back at the GPS, and sure enough, the route we were supposed to take went straight over the summit. The daunting task that lay in front of us felt like a punch to the stomach. No more than two hours into our three day hike we realized that we were way out of our comfort zone. Most likely in a state of denial we wanted to see if we could salvage the trip and make our way to the other side of the ridge while avoiding the rocky peak. We began to scramble our way to the saddle in order to get a better lay of the land. Unsteadily hopping from rock to rock, we became very aware of how the extra weight we were carrying affected our center of gravity. Once we climbed to the saddle we were able to peer over the edge of the ridge to see nothing but snow pack on the windward side. Left with few options we began to consider the inevitable, which was to give up our original route and head back to the path. Although our stubbornness is strong, in this case it did not win out against our safety.
Once we came back to the path we soon met up with the day hikers as they were on their return trip. After admitting our defeat they assured us that if we were to continue along the path we would be lead to an alpine lake which would make for a beautiful camp site. Knowing we had a destination for the day our emotions were calmed and we were able to sink back into the meditative state of the trail.
The following morning we decided we would keep our site at the lake for a second night and fill our time with a day hike through the valley. Although the weekend did not turn out as planned, we were able to salvage a very relaxing couple of days out in the wilderness. On Sunday we returned to the trailhead not yet satiated by Idaho. We took the day hikers up on their suggestion to visit Redfish Lake. With the warning that we might have to battle with a few tourists, once we laid eyes on the lake it was apparent why people flood to its shores. The large lake was crystal clear, with a backdrop of the rugged peaks of the Sawtooths. We spent the rest of the afternoon being warmed by the sun and resting our tired legs. As the sun began to drop we drove down the road from the lake to a free camp site along the Salmon River where we set up for the night.
The following day we planned a day hike to Sawtooth Lake just west of Stanley. The trail was well maintained and adequately sprinkled with switchbacks. The ascent was breathtaking, as there were views of the surrounding peaks in practically every direction. Each time the trail cut back in the opposite direction you were provided a new view which each time seemed to beat out the former. The hike climaxed with a high alpine lake still scattered with floating ice bergs. Neither Jill nor I wanted to rush our way back down. We enjoyed our lunch and a quick nap underneath the warm sun before beginning our descent.
Sadly we had to leave Idaho behind and start making our way back to Jackson in order to fly back east. As one last reward for the miles we covered in the Sawtooths we stopped by a bar in Carey just outside Craters of the Moon National Monument. Our hope was to battle the heat with a cold beer and possibly strike up a conversation with some locals. Unfortunately, our only company at the bar was a flat screen television and Family Guy. After we downed our pints we scrambled our way to the outskirts of Craters of the Moon which is an ancient lava flow which covers 618 square miles. Aptly named, the park was just too weird of a place for us to take in from the van. We made our coffee in the parking lot of the visitor center first thing in the morning, and then crawled our way to a summit to drink our brew while taking in the rising sun. With each sip we finally felt like our thirst for Idaho was being quenched.