It was definitely a different trip from the start, getting everything and everyone together had its usual kinks. We had to abandon the original plan because we couldn't secure permits to Glacier National Park (it ended up being on fire that week anyway...), I had to cut the group size because of difficulty finding another vehicle and the people I was used to traveling with couldn't come. All of these issues ended up melting away though and I ended up with a great group of people and having an amazing time along the way.
As usual, we drove through the night to the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho and as usual it was a fun and goofy, yet uncomfortable night. We arrived in a completely different landscape than the one we had left behind, with cooler temperatures, fresh alpine air and towering mountains all around us. I knew the first day would be difficult because of the elevation gain and our exhaustion, but I also knew the milage was low. We hiked up and up and up, through boulder fields, past alpine lakes, streams and waterfalls onward to the Twin Lakes. When we arrived we were all tired from a long drive and a good day of hiking, we made camp and curled up in hammocks along the crystal clear lakes for a quick nap. It was a beautiful afternoon and a glorious feeling to be back among the towering mountains of the west.
The next day, we knew we had a few big uphills and possibly some bad weather coming our way, but we pushed forward. We were all rejuvenated after a good night's sleep and the plan was to go over the first pass (in the photo above the red hammock on the left), down into Toxaway Basin and back up about 1,800' over Imogene Pass to camp near Imogene lake about 8 miles away, there was a little pushback on the idea. It was a difficult hike and some thought there might be a better way to do it (I honestly thought there was a better way to do it and I planned the damn trip...), but we all stuck together and pulled through. After a long hike we arrived at what is probably one of my favorite campsites ever. The day involved a lot of dust, a lot of gain, a few lightning strikes, running from the clouds, making some friends and a much needed waterfall swim.
We were still about an hour's climb from the summit of Payette Peak at 10,221', but it seemed like we were already higher than that. A quick consult with the map, and admittedly my phone (great signal at 10,000' in the Sawtooths), I found out we were just off of the summit of Hidden Peak at 10,336' (technically just part of the summit of Mt. Cramer to the east), so we decided to push upwards another 100' feet for it. After moving through some difficult class 2 climbing we arrived at the unofficial summit, had lunch, signed the summit register, took some photos and headed back down to camp. Honestly the hike down was almost worse than the hike up. We wanted to get off the ridge so badly we went straight down hill towards one of the unnamed alpine lakes, which was admittedly a great place for second lunch but, when we tried to bushwhacked the way we came we discovered a 100' cliff we needed to work around. After awhile, we found a better way down, arrived on a pretty obvious trail and got our way back to camp for a much needed swim and a good reunion with our abandoned friend.
We woke up on day four and huffed it out to the car. I think I spent every 20 minutes of the hike thinking about how to flip the trip and pack everything in better to give us more time somewhere else. We powered through the day, with some difficult terrain hidden right at the end of the hike. After packing up the car we made a run for Craters of the Moon National Monument to camp for the night. We loaded up on food and meds and made it south just in time to grab one of the few remaining campsites. It was a stark contrast from where we had been earlier in the day, but it was nice to have running water (although sulfury) and a real toilet seat.
Crater's was a lava hell scape, somewhere that millions of years ago, the earth had oozed up through its skin to form this desolate and barren landscape. It was definitely weird to go from our alpine lakes to the rocky desert. We slept on the soft rocky pumice and woke up the next morning to crawl through lava tubes, climb ancient cinder cones and explore where long ago there had been volcanos dominating the area. We ended the day with a stop at Pickle's Place for dinner and a campsite 5,000' below the summit of Borah Peak. It was an uneasy evening for everyone, there were different levels of nervousness all around, some about the Class III section though Chicken-out-Ridge, some about their ability to complete the climb and others, a nervous uneasiness that they wouldn't make the top because their group would all turn back (me). I tossed and turned all night long, wanting to wake everyone up and get moving early to give us more time for the hike, but I held back and stuck to the plan.
We woke up at 5AM for breakfast and hit the trail by 5:30. Right out the gate we lost one climber to foot problems, but we continued on. As we climbed under the light of our headlamps, the sky slowly grew brighter and I got more and more worried that I would lose the rest of my group. My partner and I were keeping a good pace up the steep slopes but the other two were already decently far behind, although still moving forward. As we found the ridge up to Chicken-Out, my partner and I made two friends out of another duo aiming for the summit. They were surprised by our pace and for the next hour or so we played leapfrog up and onto Chicken-Out-Ridge where we waited for our friends. Again, above 10,000' in the Sawtooths, great cell signal. I called the other two climbers in our party and they said they weren't far behind us so we patiently waited in the cold 20 degree morning air. It was bitterly cold and my partner and I did not have the proper clothing to sit where we sat but we wanted to give our friends a chance to catch up. As they slowly approached, one of them (who has a fear of heights) started to break down a bit. I was proud of him for having made it as far as he had but I knew that here would either be a growing point for him or it would be a turning point in the climb. Three of us continued up through Chicken-Out-Ridge.
We already knew there was a group in front of us and we hoped we could spot them and follow their route but they were already far ahead of us. Luckily between the other two and myself we had a pretty decent group and found our way over the Class III ridge and its rocky towers onto the summit saddle with relative ease. I was proud of the other two I was with and happy that we had come together where our skills complimented each other.
The last 900' of climbing was in no way easy, the scree filled slopes would fall away at your feet and there were paths everywhere that all looked like they went to the top. We knew our route, kept our line and slowly pushed upward with the cool morning air keeping us going along with a thirst for the summit.
The 12,662' summit was amazing, it reminded me how much I had missed the mountains after a long break from any western journeys through the summer. As usual, we got a snack, rested up, took some photos and talked to others as they made their way onto the summit behind us. It was a relief to have made the summit, but I knew we still had a long way down and a long drive home. We definitely enjoyed that moment and it was a growing moment for all three of us who got there and I'm sure even for those who didn't as well. Reaching the roof of the world is always one of those tingly and body numbing feelings and you never want to leave but before I knew it we were heading down through the ridge. We continued down the steep slopes and were in the car heading for a cushy grass campground with hot showers, lakeside views and our only campfire of the trip before I knew it.
After a terrific night of sitting around a campfire, stuffing our bellies and knowing that our bodies were in for a long rest we continued home. On our way we stoped at my favorite post trip dive for a much needed dinner, Pizza Ranch (3451 Mountain Lion Dr, Loveland, CO 80537 or 1761 S Pueblo Blvd, Pueblo, CO 81005), only eat this if you've been gross and in the wilderness for a week or it won't taste the same. We gorged on pizza before finishing the overnight drive back to Ohio. It was an amazing trip, filled with awesome memories and it got me excited for my next journey. I thought about everything else I needed to do, all the mountains still left to climb and areas to explore. I forgot about life and I was in a different world while I was out there traveling. I came back rejuvenated.
The Hopeless Wanderer