Alice Lake

A beautiful, calm morning at Petit Lake

My friend Bryan moved to Boise and started working at the University of Idaho two years ago. I remember that when I was first helping him set up his PC I noticed some mountain pictures that he had hung in his new office. We started talking about mountains and quickly realized that we were both avid hikers. We resolved that we should go hiking together ... sometime. I think that we even got his PC working although I don't remember for sure.

Like most resolutions that "we'll have to do that sometime...", sometime never seemed to come. Then a few weeks ago I ran into Bryan in the hallway at work. Sandy was out of town and I had just finished making arrangements with someone to watch Abby so that I could go hiking that Sunday. Since I had a definite date, I asked Bryan if he wanted to go along for a hike in the Sawtooths. He said that he still hadn't made it up there so he would check at home and see if it was ok. His wife encouraged him, so after two years we were finally set to go hiking together.

Bryan on the trail

Or not. As the weekend got closer, the forecast got worse and worse. Doing a hike in the Sawtooths in a day from Boise is a lot of effort. It requires a very early start, which is always painful on a weekend, and five or six hours of driving. I don't usually commit unless the forecast is pretty much a sure thing. With a prediction of bad weather for the weekend, Bryan and I agreed to let our hike slide out a week.

Rainy weather did indeed come through Boise that weekend. Afterwards the Redfish Lake webcam revealed a healthy dusting of snow on the Sawtooth peaks. We had made the right choice. But after that the weather cleared and the next weekend looked good. Better than that, it looked perfect. When Sunday rolled around, it was time to go hiking.

Bryan was at my house at oh dark thirty on Sunday morning. Well, actually it was 6:30 am, which is pretty darn early and it was still very dark. It took us three hours to drive to the Petit Lake trailhead.

My original plan was to hike to Cramer Lakes. I had only done the hike once before, many years ago, with Sandy. The trailhead is at the far end of Redfish Lake so you have to take the shuttle from the lodge. I used to do that a lot more when I was younger and doing more climbs, but lately it seems like I often hike alone in the Sawtooths. The problem is that the shuttle boat will only take a minimum of two passengers. Since on this hike I had a partner, this was my big chance.

We climbed high enough to get a view of the White Clouds

Or not. The day that we were hiking was the last day of operation for Redfish Lake Lodge before it closed for the winter. When I called them the day before to ask about the shuttle, they said that the marina was closing at noon. I'm a slow hiker, but even if we ran the trail to Cramer Lakes, there was no way that we could do a fourteen mile hike and be back in time to be picked up by noon. Curses, foiled again. I guess we'll hike to Cramer Lakes next year.

The good thing about the Sawtooths is that there are lots of excellent hikes, so it was easy to come up with an alternate. I picked Alice Lake, a trail I had done a number of times before. But it had been a while. The last time I was there was in 2005 with Dave Thiel and Laney. We had done the marathon eighteen mile loop that goes to Alice Lake, Twin Lakes, over a high pass to Toxaway Lake, to Farley Lake, and then back to the trailhead. Most people take three days to backpack that loop.

Unnamed peaks beyond Alice Lake

This time our goals were more modest, just a hike to Alice Lake and back, "only" twelve miles round trip. Alice Lake is in a beautiful high basin, ringed with high peaks, none of them even having official names. It's as pretty a place as any in the Sawtooths. I thought it would be a good first Sawtooth hike for Bryan. The only drawback was a longer drive to the trailhead, about three hours. The odometer, which I reset before pulling out of my driveway, read just a few tenths under one hundred and fifty miles when we parked the Petit Lake Transfer Camp.

As we started out on the trail I told Bryan about my original intent to go to Cramer Lakes. Then I told him about my only other hike there. Sandy and I took the shuttle to the end of Redfish Lake and arranged a pickup time. We allowed for a leisurely hiking pace. But when we stopped at the lake I set my camera down and forgot it when we headed back. We were a good mile down the trail when I noticed that I had left it behind. Sandy waited for me while I hustled back to get it. By the time I retrieved my camera and got back to her we were an hour behind schedule. Now we had to hurry to make our rendevous with the boat. If we missed it, we had an extra five miles to hike back to the car. At the end of a fourteen mile hike we were practically running. It was a good thing Sandy was out of breath or she would have been calling me all sorts of names. It had a happy ending since we made it in time to catch the shuttle but we were both pretty wiped out at the end.

Bryan at Alice Lake - I thought he'd never leave

As I was telling Bryan this humorous story I had a funny thought. Did I have my camera? I stopped and checked my pack. No, I had left it in the car. So history repeated itself, more mildly this time, as Brian waited as I hurried back to the car to get my camera. Fortunately we had only been hiking for five minutes. I think my image as the super experienced Sawtooth hiker was a bit tarnished by the episode though.

We had perfect fall weather for our hike. We started by hiking along the shoreline to the far end of Petit Lake, then climbed up a typical Sawtooth valley. As we got higher we had great views of the White Cloud Peaks across the valley. The aspens has turned a bright gold to add color to the scene. It was a great hike in and took us three hours for six miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain.

When we reached Alice Lake we found some nice rocks along the shoreline where we could sit and eat lunch. We had a great view of El Capitan to the south and many unnamed peaks to the west. Bryan talked about doing the loop trip as a backpack with his family. Usually I only take about a half hour at my hiking destination before heading back but it was easy to linger at Alice Lake. The view was gorgeous. The temperature was perfect. There were no bugs. Before I knew it, an hour had gone by. Reluctantly I mentioned to Brian that we should probably head back. I collected my stuff, put my pack on, and got up. "Time to head back" I said.

A beautiful alpine tarn below Alice Lake

Or not. Bryan made no sign of moving. He seemed perfectly content and I thought that he might just stay at the lake. But after a few more suggestions that we leave (and maybe some threats of abandoning him there), he was ready to head back.

Bryan is a man after my own heart. Instead of feeling satisfied with a great day of hiking, he spent the whole way back to the car talking about possible future hiking trips. I thought that I was the only one who did that.

When we made it back to the car we headed to lower Stanley and stopped for dinner at The Bridge St Grill. We sat out back on the patio, right above the Salmon River with a great view of the Sawtooths. We talked about how great our hike had been, and about hikes that we would do in the future. And the food was good too.

A great day in the mountains.