Upper Redfish Lakes – Sawtooth Wilderness

The second weekend of July 2010 found myself, Brady Cannon and Lance Stewart backpacking in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Central Idaho.  We had initially set our sights on Lake Kathryn but the snow report made us develop other options.  Two contingencies were either go to Cramer Lakes or Upper Redfish Lakes.  The former, though a lengthy hike, has a trail the entire way; the latter is a strenuous partially off-trail hike that would put us very close to our original destination.

As we began hiking we were leaning more towards the Upper Redfish option.  Discussing snow conditions with a backpacker from Alpine Lake on a hike out made us feel very good about this decision.  At Flatrock Junction we split from the trail and spent the next half of the hike pushing through brush, forest and the occasional marsh while intermittently enjoying a long forgotten trail.  After passing a cliff high above us we started to gradually climb the approximate 2000′ that had to be covered over the next mile or so.  It was much more exhausting than I remember!

After a few rest stops we finally laid our eyes on one of the Upper Redfish Lakes – six hours and seven miles later.  Lance helped us make the wise decision to camp here instead of continuing on…after all, we wanted to be able to walk the next day.  We found an excellent campsite that offered views of both lakes.  The night was cool, the mosquitoes plentiful and the body weary.  During the night I awoke three different times to rain.  However, the morning was quite nice and the day turned out to be beautiful.

After my morning photos and breakfast at camp, we set out with renewed strength for Lake Kathryn.  I was very grateful we decided not to camp there the previous night.  There was still a lot of snow and the lake was about half frozen.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sight which we spent about 30 minutes simply admiring.

We hiked back to camp, ate a little lunch and relaxed by the lake.  After a refreshing time of relaxation we set out again.  This time our destination was two lakes above Upper Redfish Lakes.  The hike proved longer than expected, but was simply beautiful.  These lakes were situated just above the tree line, so we found ourselves in a massive boulder field right against steep, rugged cliffs.  Multiple crystal clear outlet streams tumbled over rocks and through grassy areas creating a euphoric state of mind.  There were still many snow patches that had to be navigated.  The uppermost lake was almost completely swallowed by snow.  Brady and Lance continued another 300′ to a saddle while I stayed back taking pictures.

We arrived back at camp around 5:00 (I think).  More relaxation was in order and then supper.  As the afternoon slipped into evening, the mosquitoes dinned once again on any exposed flesh.  They seemed to have built up an immunity to DEET!  Not being in the best location for sunset, I wandered around the area taking more intimate shots of the inlet streams.  The next morning, I awoke at 5:30 am again.  The wind was unceasingly blowing across the whole area.  After being out for about 30 minutes I decided that the conditions weren’t any different from the day before and felt more tired that photographically creative.  The wind helped me decide to go back into the tent and rest for awhile.  All three of us started to stir and take down camp amidst the incessant gusts that hadn’t died down.  The lengthy, exhausting hike out was accomplished in almost two hours less than our hike into the lakes.  Our ultimate reward was pizza at Papa Brunee’s in Stanley, Idaho.  It was a delicious ending to a tiring yet rewarding weekend.

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