Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sawtooth Trek 2017

Thompson Peak from the Williams/Thompson saddle

Last year “Super” Dave Pahlas threw out a proposed map for a four night backpacking trip through the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains, but unfortunately life got in the way and we were not able to make it happen.  This year Dave was up for another outing and I suggested that we do his previously proposed route.  Of course, he was all in!  Like most of the trips I take that have been planned by others, I neglected to fully research the peaks, mileage, or elevation gain required.  If I had done that bit of work for this trip, I might have decided to stay home.  I did know that this trip would allow me to climb the majority of the iconic Sawtooth peaks, though.

Friday Sept 1st
It was a bit smoky on our drive from Boise to the Iron Creek trailhead.  Considering the forest fires in the area, the air was relatively clear but warm, when we started our hike towards Goat Lake at 10:30.  We made good progress until the trail steepened below Goat Falls. Here we took a short break before muscling our way up the mountain to Goat Lake.  Though I have seen many photos of Goat Lake, I was still surprised by how gorgeous the lake was.
Our first view of Goat Lake
Goat Lake

We had a great view of our first peak of the trip, Merritt Peak, as we carefully picked our way around Goat Lake on the dwindling trail.  We stayed low through the valley until we reached a lake west of Point 9088, there we dropped our packs and filled our water bottles. 
Hiking above Goat Lake
I had done a bit of research on Merritt Peak, but other than an airy summit and a waterfall, I did not have much beta.  I just couldn’t find the time to watch the complete YouTube videos I'd found online.   We had fun climbing up through the waterfall and into a hidden snow filled cirque.  This would have been a bit more exhilarating had there been more water flowing, but it was still fun.   Once in the small cirque we just headed straight up to the ridge scrambling through the loose scree until we hit some solid rock.  Rather than work our way to the left to some low angled rock, we just scrambled up the steep solid rock until we hit the ridge.
Dave climbing the lower section of the waterfall

Approaching the ridge


We had to slow down on the ridge as it was a bit precarious, with big drop offs on both sides.  The final move to the summit rock (not block!) required one airy move.  It was a big rush to look between your legs while crossing.  The summit was only big enough for one person, so we traded places for photos.  As Dave moved off the summit, he discovered the one rock that moved, making it a bit more exciting!  It was then a simple matter of carefully retrace our steps back down.
Dave on the summit of Merritt Peak
My summit shot (D. Pahlas photo)

Downclimbing the waterfall (D. Pahlas photo)
Once back at the lake, we shouldered our packs and moved up the valley, looking for a premium campsite.  We found it next to a small pond at 8900 feet.  It had been a long day, and after setting up camp, taking a bath in some 32.1-degree water, and dinner, we hit the sack. 
Night 1 camp
Day one stats
Time:
Distance: 7.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 3700 feet
Peaks: Merritt Peak (10,312), Class 4


Saturday, Sept 2nd
With four, possibly five, peaks planned for the day, our second day was going to be a tough one.  We were on our feet by 9AM, heading up towards the saddle between Williams and Thompson peaks.  The beauty of the upper valley helped sooth the pain we were feeling as we rock hopped up the 1000 feet to the saddle.
Dave with Williams Peak behind him
Dave had a bit of beta from Tom Lopez’s book on Williams Peak.  We were supposed to find a large gully east of our position to escape some class 4 climbing along the ridge.  Since we were coming from the peak in the opposite direction as described in Tom’s book, and did not feel like sidehilling the talus slope to obtain the correct gully, we just picked a line and went up.  And, after obtaining the ridge, guess what?  We had a bit of class 4 scrambling along this ridge before obtaining the summit (10,612 feet) at 11:30   Though the valleys were filled with smoke, it was a clear morning up high, and our next objective, Thompson Peak, was staring us in the face.
Looking down from Williams

Thompson Peak
Williams summit shot
Dave coming down Williams
We carefully scrambled back across the ridge and then down to our packs.  Once again, we shouldered the loads and proceeded to cross the rocky terrain below Thompson Peak to gain the ridge between Thompson and Mikey’s Spire, at 10,400 feet.  Here we rested briefly before climbing up the last 300 feet to Thompson Peak, at 10,751 feet.  After a few photos, it was back down to the packs.
Dave heading up Thompson

Dave approaching the summit of Thompson
The next plan was to climb Mickey’s Spire, at 10,680  feet.  Rather than traverse across the steep scree slope between Mickey’s Spire and Mt Carter (10,590), we elected to climb up with our packs.  We got to a little above 10,600 feet, dropped the packs, and started poking around the class 4 ridge looking for a way to get to Mickey’s Spire.  We did not have any beta on Mickey’s, and Dave, who had climbed this peak a few years back, could not recall the route.  After searching for a way to get around a particularly nasty gendarme, I decided we should just move on.  It was now 3PM, it was hot, and we still had two peaks and a few miles to get to our planned camp.
Coming down from Mickey's Spire
The broad flat top of Mt. Carter
We again carefully retraced our path across the loose ridge to our packs and then down the loose, steep terrain to get to the saddle between Mt Carter and Mickey’s Spire.  The saddle was flat, and it was a relief to be on flat, easy terrain for a change.  Rather than drop our packs on the saddle and climb Mt Carter, we opted to attempt a traverse between Carter to Mt Limbert (10,395) with our gear.  All our vantage points from Thompson and Mickey’s Spire showed that there was a possible route.  However, we quickly found out that there was not a safe route across the ridge without dropping down several hundred feet of sketchy ground.  So, it was back to Mt Carter, down to the saddle, and then down, down, down to a cirque at 9600 feet.  Ugh.  It was hot and we were getting low on water.  The headwall of the cirque looked steep and we had no idea of what the other side looked like.
The cirque between Carter and Limbert
Looking back - we desended the saddle on the left
Our last objective for the day, other than get to camp, was Mt Limbert (Peak 10,395).  As we approached the headwall, Limbert was on the right side.  It all looked steep, so we just decided to go up.  The final few hundred feet to Limbert was a classic, class 3 scramble on solid rock.  Very enjoyable, even in our fatigued state.   We found a register on top with only one signature from 2006.
Summit of Mt. Limbert

The south ridge of Mt Limbert (D. Pahlas photo)
Coming off  Mt. Limbert
Now it was time to drop down the 1500 feet to our proposed camp, at the lake below Peak 9854.  With the back side of the ridge a big unknown, all we could do was stay on Limbert’s south ridge until we found a spot to traverse to the east ridge.  We were both apprehensive as we crossed a few dicey spots, and we eventually made it to a rocky notch in the ridge that had a few pine trees.  Once I looked on the other side, my spirts lifted as there appeared to be a straightforward way to get down.  Dave quickly joined me on the other side of the notch, and he too breathed a sigh of relief.  We took our time getting down, mainly because we were exhausted and our feet were starting to hurt.  We reached the largest lake below Peak 9854 at 7PM and set up camp.  Another long, but fun day in the bag!

Day two stats
Time: 10 hours
Distance: 9.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 4300 feet
Peaks:   Williams Peak (10,635), Class 4
              Thompson Peak (10,751), Class 3
              Mt Carter (10,590) Class 2
              Mt Limbert (10,385), Class 3


Sunday, Sept 3rd
Dave figured we had our toughest day behind us, after looking at the map and the three peaks we had on our agenda for the day, I agreed.   However, it was going to be another hot day.  Neither of us slept with rain flies on our tents nor with our sleeping bags zipped up, and we were at 8800 feet!

Though my feet and legs didn’t hurt when I woke up, I was feeling generally tired.  I did not ask, but I am sure Dave felt the same.
Peak 9854 in the sunshine to the left of center
Our first goal for the day was an unnamed peak (9854) directly above us.  After ditching the packs, we just headed straight up.  Unfortunately, this peak was not going to be just a walk up.  Steep rocks, mixed with vegetation kept us breathing hard and on our toes. Though steep, it did not take long before we were on the summit enjoying the smoky views of yesterday’s peaks.  After a quick look around for a non-existent summit register, we dropped back down and grabbed our packs.
Dave enjoying the view of Mt. Ebert while on our way up 9854
Since it was going to be a hot day and there would not be any water for the majority of the remainder of our route, we had an extended break at Lake 9189 to try to catch up on our hydration.  After the brief rest, it was time to continue up and over a "saddle" at the base of Baron Peak.  Though the map showed a straightforward route, the view we had showed otherwise.  After a bit of debate, we decided to follow some pine trees to the right of the low point.  It wasn't long before we were resting in the shade of a pine tree looking up at Baron Peak.
The saddle below Baron Peak - we went over by the trees to the right of center
Goats!!
Heading up Baron
Once again we dropped our packs and scampered up Baron.  From the saddle it was only a few hundred feet to the summit.
Baron summit shot
Across another saddle was our last peak for the day - Peak 10,330 a.k.a. Moolack Mountain.  So once again we dropped back down, grabbed our packs and carefully traversed across the base of Baron to the saddle.

I'd climbed Moolack Mtn with John Platt back in 2013. Though I remembered the slog to get to the mountain's base, I did not recall the summit block.  Unfortunately, we had to drop down a couple of hundred feet before we could start up.

I took a line that resulted in a steep, loose, and sandy grunt to get to the summit block.  Though Dave's line was steep and loose, I think he missed a lot off the sand by staying on the ridge.  It wasn't long before we were standing below the two rocky summit blocks trying to figure out how to get on top.  I eventually found a steep class 4 chute that led us to the top.
Heading up

Dave approaching the summit
It was getting late and we still had quite a few miles to travel before making camp that night.  So we stuck to the loose sandy portion of the mountain and boot skied our way down.  After another grunt up, we were back with our packs at the Baron/Moolack saddle.
"Skiing" down Moolack (D. Pahlas photo)
We were now at the southernmost point of our trip and it was time to turn north.  Once again we were heading into an unknown, rarely (if at all) traveled area.  We tried our best to remain upright as we dropped down off the steep saddle through a mixture of scree, snow and boulders.  We were both in awe of how beautiful this glacial cirque was in the fading sunlight.  An amazing place!
Looking back up the Baron/Moolack cirque
Once out of the cirque, we dropped down to the creek in the trees hoping to find a trail.   We did occasionally find an elk trail to help us out, but for the most part it ended up being a bushwhack.  But, it was a nice bushwhack - we had beautiful scenery, a few cow elk, a couple of creek crossings and even a hornet's nest.  Luckily, we each were only stung twice.
Heading down into the trees

A perfectly clear pool in the middle of the forest (this picture does not do it justice)

Elk

Improvised bridge
We eventually hooked up with the trail coming out of Sawtooth Lake and could relax a bit and just walk.  It was after 8PM when we staggered into a campsite near Lake 8721 east of Mount Regan.  We were whipped puppies!  Feet hurt, legs hurt, back hurt, and hornet stings hurt!

After a bath and a half assed attempt at eating dinner, it was off to try and get some sleep.

Day three stats
Time: 11 hours
Distance: 7.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 3400 feet
Peaks:   Peak 9854, Class 3
              Baron Peak (10,297), Class 3
              Moolack Mountain (10,330) Class 4



Monday, Sept 4th                
I was feeling pretty beat on Monday morning.  Three days of cross country travel had taken its toll. Not feeling too much like climbing another peak, I mentioned to Dave that there were cheeseburgers waiting for us in Stanley.   Fortunately, Dave opted not to respond, and we continued packing up camp.

Mount Regan was the other peak that I had researched a bit prior to the trip.  Because of this knowledge, I was a little anxious about this climb, and Dave didn't relieve much of that anxiety as he recalled his Regan climb.    

So,with tired legs, we started up.  After circling around the south side of the mountain, we started up a steep gully.  As that gully faded into cliffs, we turned to the left and climbed up a ramp to gain the ridge.
Mount Regarn
The ridge was steep, and we were tired.  We took many breaks to catch our breath and gawk at the mountain.
Almost to the summit block
Once on the summit block, the plan was to follow a series of ledges with steep drop offs on the right.  Just focus on finding handholds on the left and don't look over the abyss and you'll be alright.
A cairn marking the entrance to the ledges
 Once past these ledges, it was a matter of following the occasional cairn, climbing the steep moves when required and just focusing at the task at hand.  I stopped occasionally on the way to add a couple of extra cairns just in case.
Dave carefully climbing up

Steep drop off with Sawtooth Lake below
Me climbing up (D. Pahlas photo)
We zigzagged our way up and eventually made the summit.  We did a half-hearted high five, knowing that we still needed to descend.
Feeling nervous at the top
The first portion of the descent went well as we followed the cairns.  We then reached a point where we couldn't find any more cairns!  Hmmm, which way to go?  I thought I found a route as I downclimbed a steep ramp to a rocky landing, but it didn't look familiar.  But then, everything looked the same by this point.  Dave quickly joined me, and we agreed that this wasn't the route.  So we climbed back up to our last known position.

We took a break here to access the situation and refuel.  I tried to eat some peanut butter crackers, but I couldn't swallow them due to my dry mouth and the big lump in my throat.  A little nervous at this point I guess.

We continued to look down for a route, and it wasn't until I leaned way over the abyss and looked up that I noticed the next cairn.  Ahhh!  We had forgotten that there was a big dip in the route.  A few moves later and we were off the ledges and starting down the "easy stuff".
Dave exiting the ledges
Home free!
Our adrenaline remained pumped, and it took a while for our heart rates to drop as we climbed down the ridge.  Dang that was fun!  We were still talking excitedly about the climb as we made it back to our packs 30 minutes later.

We hung out at the lake for a while to try and get hydrated since it was getting hot.  All we had left was about 5 miles of well packed trail, a little uphill grind to Sawtooth Lake and then a glorious downhill back to the car.  Sounds easy, but in the heat it was relatively painful.  Nonetheless, we were back at the trail head in 2.5 hours.

Day four stats
Time: 9 hours
Distance: 9.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
Peaks:   Mount Regan (10,190), Class 4

This trip exceeded any expectations that I may have had.  The beauty, the number and variety of peaks, the physical toll, the unknown route, all made for an excellent adventure with a great partner.

Dave's trip report: http://idahoalpinezone.com/index.php?p=4_130                

Trip total stats
Time: 4 days
Distance: 34 miles
Elevation Gain: 13,500 feet

Peak Count: 9

A map of our route courtesy of Dave

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen