Boulder Lake

View towards Boulder Lake from near the trailhead

On August 27, 2010 I was determined to go hiking. My plan was to go to Cramer Lakes in the Sawtooths. I had been there once with Sandy several years ago, but because I left the camera at a trailside rest stop, we didn't get any pictures of the lake. I thought it was time to go back and rectify things.

Just before leaving home I checked highway conditions on the Idaho Transport website. They were showing that a long section of Highway 21 was one way. Since I had just done a trip to Granite Peak near McCall earlier in the week and had to deal with a lot of road construction, I decided to change plans. I would go to Boulder Lake in the Pioneer Mountains near Sun Valley. No highway delays to deal with. It was a long drive but at least it would be efficient.

And I was right about the long drive. Boulder Lake is accessed from Wild Horse Canyon which is on the east side of the Pioneers. So to start, you drive to Sun Valley. That is between two and a half to three hours depending on traffic. I didn't see much because of an early start till I reached the Wood River Valley. But that area is so built up now that there always seems to be a lot of traffic. So it took me two hours and forty five minutes to reach downtown Ketchum. From there you take the road to Trail Creek Summit. The first seven miles are paved but then it turns to dirt (and one lane at that) as it traverses up the side of a steep slope to reach the summit. Not a road for people who are acrophobic. At one point a spectacular view of the Devil's Bedstead East from the main road was enough to keep my enthusiasm up to continue on to the trailhead.

Thought the lake would be here but it's another mile to go

After twenty three miles I reached the turnoff for Wild Horse Canyon. Still a pretty good dirt road. A few more miles and the road forked, one way going to Copper Basin and the other to the head of Wild Horse Canyon. Now I was on the REAL dirt road. I was following the mileages in the Trails of Western Idaho book and they were right on. But now I was past the point I was supposed to reach the trailhead. This was very discouraging. I was just about to turn around when the sign for the trailhead appeared. Whew. I parked my car almost exactly four hours from leaving home.

There were some beautiful peaks further up the valley. But my hike today was up a side valley to Boulder Lake. It was a fantastic day with not a cloud in the sky. My car was the only one at the trailhead so I had the mountains to myself. The view up the side canyon of the Devil's Bedstead East was spectacular.

Within a hundred feet of starting the trail forded Wild Horse Creek. The creek is wide but not that deep. But instead of the usual pile of logs that are at a crossing, there were a few widely spaced rocks for half the width, then a single, narrow, shaky log. Great. Well, I figured if I slipped and hurt myself I could crawl a hundred feet back to my car, so I went for it. It didn't look elegant but I made it across. No one was there to see me anyway.

Devil's Bedstead East from near Boulder Lake

A good trail entered the forest and climbed steadily. It was cool but not cold. There was a breeze but it wasn't windy. It was just about a perfect temperature for hiking without overheating. The first hour and a half was pleasant hiking through the forest, but hard work and no views. About two miles in there is a very nice bridge where the trail crosses a creek. Here the creek is only about five feet wide, and right next to the bridge were great stepping stones. So why couldn't this bridge have been put in at the beginning of the trail?

More steep climbing, then another stream crossing on shaky logs, and then the trail finally came out of the forest. There was a spectacular view of the Devil's Bedstead East. It is an impressive peak. There is a scramble route but it is not easy and requires good routefinding. Looking at the mountain it was pretty clear that the easy way up had to be on the other side. When I got home and checked the Guide to the Idaho Summits, I was wrong! The easiest route goes up from Boulder Lake and is the left hand skyline in the pictures. I could see where the valley curved around to a forested area nestled in a bowl before a steep climb to the upper valley. Looked like a beautiful place for Boulder Lake and it wasn't much further or much higher.

Boulder Lake

Except that when I got there it was just a meadow - no lake. The trail continued to a steep slope of large boulders that climbed to the upper valley. More to go! Another half hour of hard work climbing over big boulders and I reached the lake. Laney would not have liked that section. The lake is at 9520 feet in a barren rock basin surrounded by steep cliffs. The Devil's Bedstead is almost totally hidden from the lake but the scenary is still spectacular. I found a comfortable rock and sat down to eat my lunch. There was a good breeze so I finally put my jacket on while waiting. It was the only time I wore it all day.

Before long it was time to head back. The walk down was uneventful. I had climbed 2200 feet to the lake over four miles. Walking down a steep trail like that is always surprising just how far up you had climbed. Finally I was back to the last obstacle, the crossing of the stream just before the trailhead. It seemed easier in this direction, or maybe I was too tired to worry about it much. Then it was just that long drive again back home.

An exceptional day in the mountains and an expectional place. In my opinion the Pioneer Mountains are the only Idaho mountains that compare to the Sawtooths.