After spending a night at Redfish Lake we were heading back to Boise and the next day the Finley's would be flying back home to Madison. Since we were up in the mountains though, there was still a chance to do another hike and head back later in the day. Lynn, Dan, Colleen and Sandy all opted for an easy day. They went to the Stanley Baking Company and Cafe for breakfast, stopped at a few viewpoints, and drove home early. Devin and I were the only ones who opted to do another hike.
I picked Goat Lake. The last section to the lake is not a maintained trail, just a hiker's track. I had only done it once before and I remembered that it was very steep. It would be a little more of a physical challenge which I knew Devin would like. It is also more of a route finding challenge, which I thought would give Devin a better idea of what off trail hiking was like in the Sawtooths.
We had a short drive to the Iron Creek Trailhead, the same trailhead as the hike to Sawtooth Lake I had done the week before with Sandy and Shannon and Jimmy. The hike follows the same trail for the first mile and a quarter. At one point there is a large boulder bedside the trail. The previous week, Jimmy and Abby had climbed to the top and we took their picture. I told Devin to climb the same rock so I could take his picture there and he could send it to Shannon and Devin. I told him to caption it "Look familiar?".
Shortly after crossing the boundary of the Sawtooth Wilderness, we turned sharply left to cross Iron Creek. Now we were on new ground. There were lots of logs and the crossing was easy, but we had trouble picking up the trail on the other side. That was strange. After about five minutes we found it. A large tree had fallen right next to the strean and covered the trail, so we were looking in the wrong direction. Back on track (or more precisely, trail) we moved quickly again.
We reached a shady, open slope where the trail switchbacked up. I mentioned that the other time I had hiked the trail, I had seen a deer right at this spot. Moments later on the very next switchback we saw a large doe grazing alongside the trail. Like the deer the night before, she didn't seem to be afraid of humans. We got to within twenty feet of her before she moved, and then she just casually wandered off.
Most of the hike was through forest, but at about the three mile mark we crested a ridge. Now we had some nice views to the north of Williams Peak. It also meant that we were going gradually downhill, elevation that we would have to regain on the way back. It was only for about a half mile though. At three and a half miles we reached the spot to leave the trail. There was a large granite slab we had to cross on a rising traverse. At the other end we could make out the signs of a rough hikers track that led to the lake.
The next quarter mile was bruatlly steep. It seemed like half of the total elevation gain for the whole hike was in that short stretch. It required great care as the route crossed slopes covered with lots of ball bearing scree and loose dirt. It would be easy to slip. To make things worse, it was very hot on the open slope in the sun and I was constantly wiping sweat out of my eyes. Because we moved slowly (or at least I did), the flies took advantage and closed in. It was time for my Zen meditation. I just tried to keep breathing deeply and regularly, focused on where I was placing my feet with each step, and climbed as slowly as I could on the unstable ground so as not to burn out. It seemed to take a long time but eventually we reached the top of the steep section, where the slope relented and we had a beautiful view of the upper part of Goat Falls.
Here the track split into many faint trails which led into heavy brush or boulder fields and were tough to follow. Once or twice we had to backtrack a short distance. But after we crossed the stream on a series of logs, we found an easy track that followed along the other side of the creek for the last quarter mile to the lake. We were in the coolness of the shade again now, and the beauty of the upper basin quickly replaced the memory of the tough climb up. The outlet of Goat Lake fell in a series of lovely cascades with a backdrop of sheer cliffs on Mount Merritt.
Finally we reached the shore of the lake. Devin just said "Wow! Oh wow!" That pretty well summed it up. I found a comfortable spot in the shade on a cool granite slab, took off my pack, and kicked back to enjoy the view after the hard climb to get here.
Devin is more adventurous than I am so he wanted to jump in the lake for a swim. I knew the water would be really, really cold. He had me take a video of him as he jumped in. When he came up he just shouted "Oh that's cold!" and got to shore and out of the water as quickly as he could. Unfortunately due to my operator error I didn't get a good video. Take two was much better, but by then Devin had had enough of swimming in ice cold water.
The lake was an incredible spot. It was one of those places you would just like to stay. But eventually it was time to get up and head back. It was a lot of work going down the steep slope to the trail, and we had to be very careful not to slip. The previous time that I had done this hike, a hiker had fallen and broken her ankle descending from the lake. At least it went faster on the way down and we made it back to the trail without incident. Compared to the rough track, the trail seemed very luxurious, that is until we had to climb back up to the saddle. Once we made it there it was easy hiking the rest of the way back. We only spotted two other parties on the trail, one couple and a guy with his dog, who were heading in as we hiked out. We had the cool of the morning for the uphill climb and had the lake to ourselves while we were there. I didn't envy them tackling that steep slope in the heat of teh afternoon. There is a lot to be said for early starts.
After we reached the car, we saw a strange sight as we drove out to the highway. We passed a UPS truck going in. Since the only thing up the Iron Creek Road is the parking area for the trailhead and a small campground, I'm not sure where they were going or what they were doing. After a quick stop in Stanley to gas up and get cold drinks, we passed the truck coming back to town, so apparently it had been making a delivery to a campsite. I have to admit I was impressed. UPS is definitely serious about logistics.
Devin slept most of the way back. I guess I tired him out. We got back to Boise in time to join everyone for a last dinner with the Finley's at Louie's Italian Restaurant. After some delicious pizza, we ordered a huge piece of chocolate cake and, of course, mud pie. I got to see a Finley Feeding Frenzy one more time.
I think the Finley's enjoyed all of the activites on their vacation to Idaho, but I think they felt that the time in the mountains was the best part.