This past summer I was dropped off at the Power Plant trailhead just past Atlanta. I had food for a day and a half, a water filter bottle, half air pad, sleeping quilt, ground sheet, GPS device, cell phone for pictures, and a waterproof notepad for writing down data points all loaded up in a 15 liter pack. 

I first found out about the Idaho Wilderness Trail in July through the Idaho Conservation League’s website. 

After cowboy camping at the Power Plant campground, I got a pre-dawn start heading up the Middle Fork Boise River Trail. This trail sticks pretty close to the river as it steadily climbs the 16 miles up to Spangle Lakes, crossing many creeks and even the river itself several times. As I climbed higher toward the headwaters of the river, the scenery started to open up more and the views were worth all the sweat equity I’d built up over the first ten miles or so.

As a former thru-hiker, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about distance hiking trails in the U.S., but when I couldn’t find any additional information about this particular trail, I decided to stop by the ICL office one day after work. 

I made it up to the Spangle Divide just before noon and took a moment to enjoy the scenery of the Ten Lake Basin below me. This is where the trip really started to get good. Not that the trip up the Middle Fork Boise River wasn’t great. It was beautiful in its isolation and ruggedness. But from Spangle Lake to Sawtooth Lake, this trip was continuous jaw-dropping scenery and really showcased why the Sawtooth Mountains are the gem of the Gem State.

Upon walking into ICL and asking for information on the IWT, I was connected to Lana Weber. She told me that the project was in the planning stages in cooperation with The Big Outside and that what they needed most was for people to actually go hike the trail, take pictures, and collect data. 

After dropping down into the Payette River drainage and skirting around Ardeth Lake, there was a short but steep climb up to a small unnamed lake. From there, I began a descent past Vernon and Edna Lakes before beginning the climb past Hidden Lake and up to the Cramer Divide. After seeing several hikers around Ardeth Lake, I enjoyed the solitude of this section. I thought the lack of other hikers was partially due to the increased difficulty of the climb and partially that I got lucky. The view at the divide is pretty breathtaking, elevation puns aside. It is the high point of the entire Sawtooth Wilderness section, but the rocky cirque and overhanging peaks are also quite a sight to see. If you’ve never been up to the Cramer Divide, I would have to say it’s one of the most dramatic views in the whole range.

I had already been working on my own wilderness project since March and many of my weekends were already full, but I knew that I wanted to be involved in the IWT project as well. 

From the Cramer Divide, I began a long descent past all the Cramer Lakes, with their numerous campgrounds, many visitors, and the pleasantly surprising waterfall that drains Upper into Middle Cramer Lake. This took me all the way down to the ford at Redfish Lake Creek and the beginning of the climb up to the Baron Divide. The initial climb up to Alpine Lake (the first of two Alpine Lakes on this trip) afforded sweeping views up and down the Redfish Lake Creek drainage. The three Bead Lakes offered a final respite before the last push up to the divide. This spot definitely deserved to be savored, as both Baron and Upper Baron Lakes could be seen below the jagged peaks above.

When Lana told me that ICL would support my trips, I started mapping the first section of the IWT through the Sawtooth Wilderness, figuring out logistics and gear, and picking a date on the calendar when I could head out.

By this point it was getting into the evening, and I wanted to get as close to Sawtooth Lake as possible by dark. I had arranged a ride back to Boise the next day from the Stanley Bakery, and I wanted to get there in time to enjoy a meal before my ride showed up. I hustled the 7.5 miles and 3,700 ft of descent all the way down Baron Creek to Upper Baron Creek, stopping only to take a few pictures, write down a few notes, and chat briefly with a young man that was carrying a hardback copy of Stephen King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes. If you’re familiar with this book then you know how funny that was. I managed to make it a few miles up the North Fork Baron Creek Trail before finding a cozy spot in some trees and bushes to cowboy camp for the night.

The Final Stretch

I awoke at first light and quickly packed up, eating breakfast on the trail while looking for my first water source. Luckily there are many streams that cross the trail on the way up to Sawtooth Lake. I passed many backpackers all around the pass and the lake that were just waking up and doing their morning camp chores, stopping to chat with a few and more importantly, to pet a couple dogs. 

The lighting around the lake and on Mt. Everly was perfectly picturesque, and as always I was torn between standing around to continue soaking it in and hustling down the trail and past the second named Alpine Lake of the trip toward Stanley Lake and hot food and coffee at the bakery.

The three mile trail down to the Iron Creek/Alpine Way junction was the first long runnable section I had gotten to that day, and it did wonders to warm me up and help work out the soreness from the 45 mile day before. By the time I got to the bottom and started heading up the last climb of the Sawtooth segment on Alpine Way, I was feeling much better physically and mentally. This last section was more heavily forested and not as scenic as the rest of the trip, but the single track was so smooth and runnable that I didn’t mind at all.

With only a mile and a half to go, I exited the Sawtooth Wilderness, forded the last creek, and turned onto the Stanley Lake trail. The last mile to the trailhead was wide double track, and I kept looking back over my shoulder at the peaks I was getting farther and farther away from. 

Very luckily, I ran into a running acquaintance from Boise in the parking lot that gave me a ride into town. I walked up to the bakery at noon and had two hours to eat and relax before my friend arrived to take me home.