After my trip to the Sawtooths with Ivan, I was on my own again. School picked up for him and Ivan was buried in homework. The weather was still perfect so next weekend I had to go back to the mountains. Since I hadn't done Sawtooth Lake yet this year, my favorite hike in the Sawtooths (if not my favorite in the whole world), it was time to do it.
Thanks to Abby I had an early start. I was at the the Iron Creek Transfer Camp and ready to go before 9 am. It was definitely cool out - close to freezing. I figured from last week that it would warm up quickly once I started but I decided to take a long sleeve shirt just to be safe. It didn't take long. After forty five minutes of hiking I took it off. A tshirt was plenty. The rest of the day was sunny and warm.
I have hiked the Sawtooth Lake trail more than any other. I knew it well. A mile to the junction with the Goat Lake trail. Another mile to the Alpine Way Trail junction. Another mile to the stream crossing. Then a mile up the hill to the Alpine Lake overlook.
From the Alpine Lake overlook I had a great view of Alpine Peak. While a hike to Sawtooth Lake is always worthwhile, I was thinking in the back of my mind that I could try to go up Alpine Peak. I had climbed it once before, back in the early 1980's. I had thought about climbing it several times since then. Once I did the Observation Creek - North Fork of Baron Creek Loop. It's a long way from Grandjean - an eighteen mile loop. I though that as I passed Sawtooth Lake I would run up Alpine Peak. Not that time. By the time I reached the lake, I decided to conserve my strength for the long hike out.
Another time I had hiked to Sawtooth Lake and decided to go up Alpine Peak. I went part way, but that season I was out of shape and half way up from the lake I knew that I just wouldn't make it. I gave up and headed down.
So even though I had done Alpine Peak before, I still felt like I had unfinished business with this mountain. When I signed in at the trailhead, I put Sawtooth Lake/Alpine Peak as my destination. I reached the lake after two and a half hours of hiking. I sat down for five minutes at the standard spot to admire the lake. I felt good. It was still early. The weather was perfect. I didn't have a choice. I had to go for it.
The hike to Sawtooth Lake is five miles with 1800 feet of elevation gain. Going to the summit of Alpine Peak would add another mile or two and another fourteen hundred feet of elevation gain. I figured that I could do it easily in an hour and a half.
I started by following the trail along Sawtooth Lake. About two thirds of the way around, I started up slope. It was fairly steep, a lot of work but not overly difficult. It was that way for about the first third of the way up from the lake. After that, the slope eased off and I was able to follow a wide rib up the mountain at a reasonable grade. This was the easy part. Things were going well.
I followed the rib as high as I could but eventually it turned into a steep, miserable scree slope. Going up was hard work. Two steps up, then one step sliding back down. There was nothing for it. I just had to slog it out. The altitude was taking its toll too (it couldn't be that I'm getting old). I was over nine thousand feet after starting from twenty seven hundred feet in Boise. I found that every five minutes or so I needed to stop to rest. The higher I got, the closer the top looked. But at the same time I wore out faster as I climbed, and the more often I needed to stop.
When I left the lake I assumed that it would take me a little over an hour to reach the top. But as I climbed one hour passed, then an hour and a half, then two hours. I was getting close to the crest of the ridge and I could see a rock formation that looked to be the summit. It wasn't far. That was good because I was just about out of gas. My rest stops were getting more frequent and longer. Just a little more to push and I would be there.
Or not. I made a hard push to reach the summit ridge and found out that the true summit was still quite a ways off. Not really a surprise. I had encountered many false summits over the years. I stopped for a long rest. I thought about going down. I had pretty much climbed the mountain and this should be good enough. I still had a long way to go down. After a good rest I could start down. But I wasn't at the top. And no amount of rationalization would make it the same as making it to the summit. So I decided to continue on.
I made it to the summit. The view was spectacular. I could see the north face of Mt. Regan, Sawtooth Lake far below, and about a million mountains stretching off into the distance in every direction. There was a pile of rocks at the very summit that was covered with flying ants or some such bug. They were very annoying. I didn't look for a summit register. I moved a few yards down the ridge. Even then, the bugs were a nuisance so I took my pictures, took a good look around, and started down quickly.
Going down the scree slope was a pain, just as I knew it would be. It was a lot of work. I just about ran out of gas before I reached Sawtooth Lake, but one final long rest and I made it. I was back on the trail. Now I just had to trudge along and I could make it back.
It was a long hike out but I took my time and just kept going. Eventually I made it back to the car. It had taken me five hours to get to the summit of Alpine Peak and four more hours to get back down. Not the best time I had ever done. But for an old guy (sixty one years old) I had climbed an impressive Sawtooth Peak. I felt really good about that.