Lance Stewart had invited me to join him for a July 4th weekend backpacking trip into Thirtythree Lake (so named for its 33 square acre surface area) northeast of McCall. My expectations were admittedly low after a few trips throughout the Sawtooths and White Clouds. However, both Lance and I were pleasantly surprised by the terrain and scenery. There is no trail going to 33 Lake. However, we did find a trail where we parked but quickly found that it had long been abandoned. After about a half mile, we left the forest and the trail was swallowed up by the brush and fallen trees. After making our way through the dense, swampy brush we were back in the forest. Ultimately we came out into a nice meadow. After consulting the topo map and surveying the peaks as best as possible we continued in a southeast direction. We began the expected steep ascent and came to an open granite area. Once again, we consulted the map, assumed our location, and continued. After weaving through snow patches we gained an unexpected view of a lake. There were two high points and saddle which we assumed was the saddle over which 33 Lake awaited, but what about this other lake we found? Looking at the topo it didn’t make sense. Fortunately I was able to dissuade Lance from climbing the snowfield and saddle and we opted to camp at the unknown lake. The evening gave way to wind and (much) cooler temps for which we were slightly unprepared. This sent us to bed quickly after eating supper, all while studying the topo and convincing ourselves of this lake’s existence.
The following morning, I drug myself out of the tent at 5:20 am in the name of photography. the conditions weren’t optimal but I persisted. After spending about an hour and half unproductively taking pictures, I retreated to the comfort of my sleeping bag. I slept for about another hour then Lance and I got up and had a very late breakfast. We decided to hike down to the boulder field below the lake. This lead us to a large meadow. After studying the topo map again, we were finally able to pinpoint or location. We had gone more directly south than east the previous day. Had we climbed up the saddle we would have just seen more forest and ridges…no lake. I was relieved this mistake was avoided. Now having a bearing on our location we went back to camp, had lunch, then hiked to 33 Lake. Again, we miscalculated our elevation but found the elusive saddle. It wasn’t extremely high but was steep and covered in snow and boulders…it would have been a tough climb. We still didn’t have a view of 33 Lake, so we climbed to the top of the ridge. Finally, we beheld the lake. It was a great view. There was still a lot of snow present along the shore, so finding a camping spot probably would have been difficult. We were both content with finding the lake, but also with our current campsite at the unnamed lake.
After a 30 minute break, we headed back to camp. Although, it was only about 5:00 pm, we decided to cook supper to avoid fighting the wind and cold again. The wind wasn’t as bad later in the evening but it did frost again over night. Once again, I woke up at 5:20 am, peaked out the tent and saw Sawtooth Peak in beautiful alpenglow and a cloudless sky. I quickly put on my layers, grabbed the gear, a cereal bar, and headed around the lake. After taking some photos there, I went back around the lake and uphill about 200′ to gain a nice viewpoint of the lake and peak. Here are some of the shots from that morning.
We waited until the sun poked over the ridge to start taking down camp. Our exit hike took a different path than our hike in. Though being off trail about 80% the time, we hiked out in over half the time it took us to hike in. Spending time in the mountains is awesome but getting back to civilization, even if its just your vehicle, is always just as rewarding, at least to me. Even though we weren’t successful at camping at 33 Lake, the trip was worth it. GPS would have been very helpful but it was much more adventurous using the topo while traipsing around the wilderness.