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Sawtooth Loop - Sawtooth Range, Idaho
September 17 - September 21, 2014
Day 1 - Trailhead to Baron Lake Teri and I left Spokane after work on Tuesday and made it as far as McCall Idaho, where we stayed the night in a hotel. The next day, we finished the drive to the Grandjean Trailhead and started down the trail about 10.

With heavy packs on, we were grateful that the fist several miles were mainly flat with a few gentle uphill sections. We reached Baron Creek at about a mile and a half. Straight ahead was a ford of the creek (our return route). We went left and reached our first creek crossing at about 3.5 miles. There was a good log to use but it was kind of high off the water and a little narrow. Teri tried to cross upright but within a few feet, resorted to her tried and true method of butt-scooting. I thought for sure she was going to teeter off into the creek….so I kept the camera at ready. She made it fine and without ripping her pants. We ate lunch here before continuing south on the Baron Creek Trail.

By now the day was getting hot and muggy. And within a few miles, the trail had started gaining some elevation. We could see and hear Baron Falls as we slogged up through the talus. The scenery was getting much better with jaggedy peaks all around us. The “top” was somewhere around 8,000 feet in elevation and since we had just driven from 2k’ and carrying enough food and gear for five days, much huffing and puffing was going on. We zigged and zagged up the open slope next to the falls with frequent rests. The heat was playing hell on both of us and when we reached the top I drank every ounce of water I had and laid down for a nap. From here to Baron Lake wasn’t too bad and there was lots of shade and water along the way. We reached the lake and setup camp in the first available spot. It was flat and right on the edge of the water - a perfect spot. I spent much time trying to rig the food from a cord before passing out for the night. Total for the day was 9.5 miles and 3,200 feet elevation gain.

Day 2 - Baron Lake to Cramer Lake We awoke to a heavy drizzle, which stayed with us for several hours as we climbed the 9,100 foot pass south of the lake. The weather cleared as we headed down the other side to Alpine Lake. It looked like there were lots of spots at this lake but no one around. We continued down long switchbacks to Redfish Lake Creek. The crossing required removing boots and socks and getting pants a little wet but wasn’t too bad. We enjoyed soaking out feet in some small granite pools worn into a flat slab in the middle of the creek. The trail beyond the creek all the way to Cramer Lake was rather dull but arriving at the Lower Lake was a treat. The lower lake is kinda grassy but very colorful. The far end of the middle lake has a waterfall that drains the upper lake - very cool. We camped at the upper lake and took advantage of good weather to wash clothes and bath. There are several very nice spots in the strip separating the two lakes but there were already 2 tents there - worth looking for. Total for the day was about 7.25 miles with 2,200 feet elevation gain.

Day 3 Cramer Lake to Ardeth Lake The tail out of Upper Cramer Lake is very pretty. It starts out through thin tree, switchbacking through granite steps and reached a very open granite filled basin. It’s nicely engineered and the views are stunning. Do it early on a hot day though. It gains about 1,600’ of elevation to a 9,543’ pass overlooking Hidden Lake. The pass was the high point of the loop. From the pass we dropped down to Hidden Lake then to the South Fork Payette River - views were terrific the entire way. From the river, some elevation is gained to reach three pretty lakes before climbing to yet another high pass between Vernon and Ardeth Lake. This pass is flat at the top and has the best camping site on the entire trip. There’s a large tarn at the top with a few gorgeous spots. Our itinerary required us to continue on but not before enjoying a long snooze on the smooth granite next to the tarn. From the pas we dropped down th large Ardeth Lake. There a several camp spots along the lake and all of them kinda sucked - too slanted, too brushy or too cramped. We found one in the trees that was at least flat and roomy even though it was also horsey. There’s not much shore access to this lake and the surrounding scenery is so-so. It does put you in a good position to explore the Ten Lake Basin though - a destination I was too pooped to climb up to. I’ve heard it described as the highlight of this loop, though too late for me. It’s motivation for a return trip though.

That night, a small herd of elk ran though camp sounding like a freight train. I was expecting one to trip over the tent lines but luckily we stayed intact. Total for the day was about 8.5 miles with 2,000 elevation gain.

Day 4 - Ardeth Lake to Elk Lake From Ardeth Lake, we hiked into semi-open terrain right away, traversing past little tarns and up a long talus slope to a pass above Spangle and Little Spangle Lake - two of the prettiest lakes on the route. Little Spangle had a few very nice camp spots and the best views. The lake has character. Above the lake switchbacks took us to Lake Ingeborg, which is at nearly 9,000’ and very isolated feeling. I might mention that we hadn’t met anybody on the trail in days to this point and wouldn’t see anybody again until we reached Elk Lake in the evening. We should have planned for more time at these lakes at the south end of the loop - the trails here and the terrain in general were awesome. We continued on very slowly, taking it all in. We had a long diversion at Rock Slide Lake where a bull elk was bugling like crazy. Teri had an elk bugling ring tone on her phone but it failed to bring him closer J Other than Smith Falls (not visible from the trail), the rest of the hike to Elk Lake was uneventful. Campsites at this lake were buggy and brushy but it is the best spot in a long stretch out. The leg is grassy and the edge a little swampy, at least where we were at. We fell asleep listeing to lots of rockfall tumbling down Reward Peak. Total for the day was about 12 miles with about 1,000’ elevation gain and 3,500’ elevation loss.

Day 5 - Elk Lake to Trailhead Elk Lake to the trailhead is a steady downhill with little to distract other than an occasional cascade in the South Fork of the Payette River. We watched a family of river otters climbing through one of these cascades. This park of the trail was the most difficult on our feet - it was rather rocky. Total for the day was about 12 miles.

We spent one night at the trailhead campground and a relaxing late evening soaking in the hot spring a mile or so from camp. Racoons kept us up part of the night. They were quite bold.

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