Bench Lake

First view of the Sawtooths - Ivan at the Park Creek Overlook

So far it had been a great summer for hiking. Sandy and I had done a trek in the Andes in Peru, as well as hiking trips to Strathcona Provincial Park in British Columbia and the Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Washington Cascades. On my own I had done hiking in Olympic National Park and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. By Labor Day I'd managed to hike in a lot of different mountain areas but I hadn't done a hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness yet this year. I've done more hiking and climbing over the years in the Sawtooths than anywhere else. I consider them my home mountains. Sawtooth Lake is the hike that I have done more than any other and I try to do it every year if I can. The past two or three years smoke from forest fires have been a problem in the Sawtooths, but this year the fire situation had settled down by late August. It was time for me to go to the Sawtooths.

Often I hike and climb alone in the Sawtooths but this time I was going with my friend Ivan. He grew up in Mexico and moved to Boise five years ago. In all that time he's been busy with work and school and has never explored any of the mountain areas in Idaho. He was intrigued by the pictures I took on my hiking trips that I post on Darth Dog (and he has to listen to all my stories about the trips when we're at work). We talked about doing a hike together in the Sawtooths for a long time. Labor Day looked like the perfect opportunity. The weather forecast was excellent. The wind was favorable so we didn't expect smoke from distant wildfires. We could both get away that day. We were ready to go.

McGown Peak rises above Stanley Lake

We wanted to get an early start so Ivan was at my house at 6:45 am. That's awfully early for a day that we don't have to work. Hiking requires dedication.

We had driven most of the way and were in the northern end of the Stanley valley when we saw an unusual sight. Ahead of us on the highway was a bear. It grabbed an animal that was lying on the road and dragged it off into the brush. Since I was driving Ivan could see it more clearly than I could. I had to keep watching the road. He said it looked like the animal was still alive and struggling with the bear. It was going to lose that fight. Our best theory was that an animal was injured by a car and was lying in the road and the bear came across it. Bears are extremely opportunistic feeders. Although I have seen lots of bears in Canada and in the Sierras, in my 35+ years of hiking I have only seen a bear in Idaho one other time. It was pretty cool.

Since this was Ivan's first trip to the Sawtooths I stopped at all the standard viewpoints. First was Park Creek Overlook with it's view of the northern Sawtooth peaks. It has a nice, rustic wooden fence that makes a great foreground for photos of the mountains. Next we took the short detour to Stanley Lake. It's a standard for post card pictures and I think one of the prettiest spots in Idaho. We zoomed through the town of Stanley and made a final stop at Little Redfish Lake, one of the few places that you can drive to that can give Stanley Lake a run for it's money. Little Redfish was quite still and the mountains were reflected in the water.

By now we had spent enough time car touring. It was time for hiking.

Little Redfish Lake

Originally we were going to do Sawtooth Lake. That is probably my favorite hike in the Sawtooths. But Ivan was a little worried about how well he would do. Three years ago his ankle was badly hurt in a motorcycle crash and he wasn't sure how well it would hold up on a long hike. So I changed our destination to Bench Lake. It's a beautiful spot. It's reached by a nice trail that is easily accessible. And the distance and elevation gain is less than for Sawtooth Lake. At four miles each way and 1200 feet of elevation gain, it was still a respectable hike.

When we reached the backpacker parking lot at Redfish Lake, there must have been fifty cars there. That's the most that I have ever seen there. I guess a lot of people were taking advantage of the good weather on a three day weekend. We didn't see them on our hike in though. On the way to the lake we only saw three parties. One guy was on a mountain bike was heading up and passed us. The other two groups were backpackers heading down. Six people on a hike that was this accessible, on what is probably the busiest hiking holiday of the year, isn't bad.

Ivan on the Bench Lake trail with the Grand Mogul behind

It was a perfect day for hiking. There wasn't a cloud anywhere in the sky. The temperature was about sixty degrees with very little wind, which was very comfortable while we were hiking. We barely stopped at the first lake. The mountains behind the lake are not that spectacular and the lake is quite small and shallow, sometimes overgrown with lily pads. I was afraid that Ivan would wonder why I had dragged him all this way for that. The second Bench Lake is larger and very pretty. We hiked a short way around the east side till we had the best view. There was big log just at the edge of the water that made a perfect bench for us. We had comfortable seating in a spectacular spot while we ate our lunch. We were the only ones there. We had the lake all to ourselves for the whole time that we were there.

We saw more people on the way back but it still wasn't bad. Ivan's ankle held up well. He didn't have any problems so he can probably do just about any hike he wants next time.

We have Bench Lake all to ourselves

Afterwards we went to the lodge. During the afternoon they serve food outside at a gazebo. We each got a cheeseburger and french fries. We sat at a park bench with a view of the lake, under an umbrella to provide shade. Very nice. Since we had done a hike, we didn't feel guilty having a self-serve ice cream cone afterwards.

Before heading back we had to stop at the store. Because it was Labor Day and near the end of the season, they had 30% off all of their Redfish Lake Lodge tshirts and caps. I couldn't pass that up.

Ivan said he really enjoyed his first trip to the Sawtooths. On the drive back to Boise we were already talking about what hike we could do next.