I took a vacation this year, all by myself, to Idaho, with two objectives in mind - hike the Sawtooths, and visit my friend Hailey for the eclipse. Resounding success, on my part. :-)
I left the house at 4:30 AM on Tuesday, the 15th, arriving after 12 hours at Grandjean campground, where I spent the night in the cab of my pickup, not wanting to unpack stuff. I had a nice evening, exploring the trails along the river. The campground is situated just downstream from the confluence of the NF and SF Payette Rivers, and occupies a gently sloped area north of the river, in a pine forest. It's an inviting and open area, connected by a road and numerous trails to the Sawtooth Lodge and the very small summer village connected to that. Many areas along the river are used for distributed camping, and along its length, this valley can hold a lot of recreationalists. Quads are popular here.
I was up by 6:30 AM, and on the trail by 8:00, arriving at the NF Payette crossing at 9:45 AM. The trail to this point is rather gentle, passing through open pine forest and a burned over area filled with berry bushes. Crossing the NF requires either very good balance to cross over on a broad log, or enjoying the icy waters on one's hot toes. I chose a wet crossing, and took a break with a little chipmunk on the far side. He was a cheeky little bastard! I think he was quite certain I was going to feed him.
About 5 miles into the hike, I crossed Moolak Creek, and took another break, watering up and having a snack. The forest has thickened through here, and I see more Doug Fir than Pine. I am gaining elevation. It looks very much like the dry-side Cascades I am used to. The rock in this area is almost entirely quartzite and granite, and is crumbly. I am beginning to see interesting wildflowers, and also a lot of aspen, which leads me to think this must be a grand trail to follow in the autumn.
Having reached Baron Falls at 9 miles in, I take another break. The sun has been hot, the shade scant, and I am starting to gain real elevation. Here, the heavy forest has dropped away, replaced by many open, rocky spaces, meadows, and groves of mountain hemlock. A lot of bare white granite creates a bright landscape. I arrive at Baron Lake (the middle, and largest of three) at 4:30 PM, after 10.8 miles and 3436' elevation gain. Not bad! I am tired, however, and not being familiar with the area, I am at first uncertain as to which lake I am at. I later determine this is the middle lake, with lots of camp sites spread about the north shore, but for now, I am only interested in having a rest.
I end up setting up my hammock very near the lake shore (bad, don't do that!) right at the lake's outlet. The views were stunning. A large group of ladies (and one man) were at the group site next over, and about a dozen people were camping further along the north, near the stock site. I had a very restful evening, sitting right at the water's edge, eating dinner and drinking tea, watching the light play on the mountaintops. The lake is full of fish. Such stunning scenery.
The next day, I continued up the trail, sans pack and gear, for Upper Baron Lake and the pass at the top of the trail, at an elevation of roughly 9140', where I was able to look down on Alpine Lake, and the headwaters of the SF Payette River. Along the way, I was terminally distracted by an amazing wildflower show, and a spectacular bonsai-writ-large display - many of the pines on this mountainside are very old, and very twisted. I explored Upper Baron Lake along the way, finding a number of nice campsites, but nowhere to hang my hammock. When I go back, I'll need to be prepared to sleep on the ground. Afterward, I spent the evening just as I had the last - watching the light play across the mountains while the fish attempted to kiss the sky.
The next morning, before breaking camp and heading out, I brewed up a cup of coffee, and set off for the far shore of the lake. Along the way, I discovered the many campsites on the nothern shore, but most importantly, I discovered that the best (and most isolated) camping would be at the far end of the lake. Bonus - a perfect waterfall, dropping off a short cliff into an ankle-deep pool that made a perfect morning shower. And it made me want to stay an extra day.
The hike out was uneventful, in as much as elbowing one's way through an ascending conga-line is uneventful. I encountered over a dozen hikers headed up, including one crazy old white guy and a pack string. Every campsite along the trail was occupied, and just in the folks I encountered along the way, every campsite at the lakes would be full by the time I reached the trail head. What I found there, however, made me grateful I did not stay that extra day.
At least thirty people were getting ready to hit the trail, and that was when I finally exited around 6:00 PM. I don't know where they thought they were going to stay, or when they thought they would get there. I am sure they were all resigned to night-hiking (which, btw, I think might be fun in that area). What a horde! The hiker parking area was overflowing. The campground was overbooked, and every space on the way out was full of people. This area would be prime viewing for the solar eclipse - I, however, was headed for Hailey for that.
I explored a couple of side roads, but decided to drive out and sleep in my truck along the hiway. After passing the lodge, however, I happened to glance down at the river below the road - it sure looked like somebody had gone to great trouble to create a number of rock-lined pools along the river's edge... and why are people parked here? Omigod! It's a hot springs! Well, you can imagine where I spent the next six hours. The sunset, as viewed from about 18" above the water's steaming surface was sublime.
I ended up getting to the hiway around midnight, only to be entertained by one of the strangest scenes I've ever encountered. A taxi, hours into the mountains from Boise, screeches to a halt at the avalanche equipment staging area I've parked at - a very wide shoulder along the hiway, just up from the Grandjean road. The taxi sits there, idling, for about 10 minutes, the takes off, rapidly, up the pass. Just a few minutes later, it screams back down, and turns down Grandjean Rd. Again, it returns after just a moment, and parks, next to me, facing downhill.
After a few minutes, a lady steps out of the taxi - the driver, and lights a cigarette. Two young men, they can't be more than 20, step out. They are pretty. Pretty in that the hair is beautifully cut and coiffed, their clothes perfectly clean and tidy, their equipment, which they unload from the trunk, brand new. One crouches and unloads his pack as fast as he can, only to hurriedly stuff it all back in. The other watches, then pulls out a map.
"The river is right over there," he points with his hand and headlamp. They then both don their packs, and step off into the forest, seeming to follow the sound of rushing water - some quarter mile or more distant. "We'll camp there tonight and get an early start." It's 2:00 AM.
Now, I'm not afraid of the woods at night, nor of the dark in general, and everyone knows I love a foolhardy adventure... but these boys were downright stupid. Of course, I simply watched, as who am I to get in the way of an adventure - ill-advised or not? I wonder if they made it to where ever they were headed? I also wonder if they, too, were headed for Baron Lake?
Goal #1 accomplished, I caught a few zzz's and headed over the pass and Banner Summit in the morning for the Big Wood River, stopping along the way for a wash-up and cowboy shave at Buckhorn. I really enjoyed the drive along the Salmon River. Such inviting countryside, great rock formations, views of the Sawtooths, and open sky - even ghost towns to explore, and Galena Pass was lovely. Driving through Sun Valley into Hailey left me wanting to follow all the trails in the area - and I know now that I need to return very soon to do just that. My time in Hailey was great, and I got to enjoy a bike adventure to view the eclipse.
Images taken on a 3-day hike to Baron Lakes, Sawtooth Wilderness, SNF, ID, August 16-18, 2017